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Archive for the ‘YA Books’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: beabadoobee-Loveworm (2019).

beabadoobee is Beatrice Kristi Laus, a 19 year-old singer-songwriter who was born in the Phillipines and lives in London.  She has released some six EPs since 2018 and has been played on the radio on WXPN.  I see she’s also headlining a small tour over here in the Spring.

Yesterday I listened to the bedroom version of this EP, and here is the original release in all of its glory.  Interestingly, the sound isn’t all that much bigger, but there is a lot more instrumentation.  And some of these songs definitely rock harder.

“Disappear” is played on a gentle electric guitar with swirling keys and a simple drum clicking sound.  When the bass comes in after the first verse, the song feels really full (with a sprinkling of keyboard sounds added on top, too).  The middle third has a nice little section with bells as everything else fades out for a moment.

“1999”s guitars sound a bit more downbeat, deeper.  The middle has some lovely overdubbed guitar parts. I really like the repeated guitar melody that flows all the way to the end,

“Apple Cider” is wonderfully upbeat in this version.  Bouncy guitars, more bells and her soft vocals make this sound like a perfect 90s alt-rock song.  Just as I was about to say this song was perfect, it added some “oohh la las” which don’t quite fit.  However, the crazy guitar solo(s) are very cool and more than make up for it.

“Ceilings” remains a quiet ballad with some nice falsetto vocals and trippy backing sounds that turn into a synthy solo.

“Angel” sounds different on this record too, with some staggered guitars and a fairly complex drum pattern.  There’s some noisy electric guitar on this song too.  I love the way this song rocks out at the end.  The rocking continues on “You Lie All the Time” (which still sounds a bit like Juliana Hatfield).  It rocks all the way through to the end,

The final song “Soren” is a slow ballad.  With the two guitars it does actually sound quite different from the bedroom version, which is kind of cool since they are for the most part pretty similar.

I enjoyed both versions of this EP, but I like this one more. There’s more variety and the songs rock a bit more.  I’m curious what her first full-length will sound like.

[READ: January 10, 2020] The Babysitters Coven

I don’t usually read books like this, but the cover caught my eye (I love judging a book by its cover) and I’m so glad I read it. It was fun and funny and mashed up ideas from existing stories into something all its own.

Esme Pearl is a babysitter.  She and her best (and only) friend Janis started a Babysitter’s Club back in junior high. There were of course four of them in the club and each girl paralleled one of the girls in the original series.  [I have never read those books, so I don’t know how much is taken from that series.]

I enjoyed Esme as a character for a number of reasons.  She was a believable seventeen year old, but a shy and kind of solitary one.  She uses some abbreviations, but the whole book is not littered with them.  Lines like “the number one perk of babysitting is OPP–other people’s pantries” is a good example.  Esme has a great tone of being above her school while still being unpopular (but not hugely so).  She lives in Spring River Kansas home of the Bog Lemmings (“apparently by the time they’d gotten to Spring River all the good mascots had been taken”).  About the cafeteria food: “I’d never seen a food that wasn’t brown.”  Later she grabs what she things is curry but which turns out to be gravy.

She and Janis coordinate outfits every day.  [I love the detail that Janis’ full name is Janis Jackson].  They don’t wear similar things at all, they just discuss the night before what their fashion choices will be and then show them off the next day,  They both love going thrifting, so their outfits are unique.  If I had one complaint about the book it’s that there’s no way a backwater town like Spring River would have such amazing thrift stores.  Anyway, today “Janis was ‘Denise gets a step-daughter’ and I was “Sylvia Plath goes to prom.'”

Esme loves babysitting and she takes it very seriously–she does not wan any other kind of job, like where you wear a uniform–and she has built up a reliable collection of clientele.  She and Janis really are the only game in town.

As the book opens, Esme is babysitting Kaitlyn, a demon baby.  Not literally.  She is just a wild girl who is high maintenance. But Esme thinks of her as baby Satan (Kaitlyn managed to get a Sharpie and draw all over the wall while Esme was peeing).  But usually once Kaitlyn is asleep, she’s down.  This night things are different.  Esme heard a loud thunk and went upstairs,  The door was locked–Esme would never lock the door.  She somehow got the door open an saw that the bed was empty and the window was open.  She looked out the window and saw Kaitlyn on the roof.  Esme managed to get her back to safety.  When Esme asked what happened, Kaitlyn described a guy who looked like David Bowie’s character in Labyrinth. She knew that Kaitlyn watched a lot of movies so she assumed it was a nightmare. But there was so much unexplained…. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MEREBA-Tiny Desk Concert #919 (November 27, 2019).

Who the heck is Mereba?

Very few artists get to return to the Tiny Desk, and fewer still return twice in the same year. But after contributing background vocals behind the desk for Dreamville artist Bas in early 2019, we invited Mereba back for a solo set that puts her eclectic, major-label debut The Jungle Is The Only Way Out into sharp focus.

As with many singers I’ve never heard of, I’m not sure if these songs sound like this on the record or if they are more dancey.  I do quite like the simple, organic sounds that accompany these songs.

The stripped-down soundscape Mereba achieves live with her four-piece band is equally dreamlike here, drawing from influences as wide-ranging as the many places she’s called home (Alabama, Philly, North Carolina, Atlanta, Ethiopia). As she pulls from genres as seemingly disparate as folk, rap and spoken word, her set reflects the years she spent perfecting her craft on live stages in Atlanta cafes and clubs, where she attracted the attention of the indie creative collective Spillage Village  before joining them in 2014.

She sings three songs and recites a poem (all on the album).

When “Black Truck” started I thought she sounded exactly like Alanis Morissette.  The way she says “and I said world would you please have some mercy on me” sounds very uncannily like her.  The song is a quiet, mellow piece that starts with a simple bass line (including some harmonics) from Chris James and guitar washes that turn into a nice picked melody from Sam Hoffman.  After a minute or so, Aisha Gaillard plays a simple drum beat and the song kicks into higher gear.

Through all of this, the backing vocals from Olivia Walker were just beautiful.  The end of the song turns into a kind of rap as the guitar and bass fade out.  I say kind of a rap because Mereba is also a poet and she has more of a poet’s delivery than a rapper’s delivery.

For “Stay Tru” the guys switch instruments and the bass takes on a slightly more lead role.  But this song is also very mellow.  Mereba’s vocals sound a bit more Jamaican in his song.  Midway through, James switches to violin and Mereba plays keys which adds a whole new texture.  I didn’t like this song as much because the chorus is kinda lame with a lot of repeating of “cut the bullshit, this time” sung in a sweet voice.  It also seems to drag on for a really long time (although it is very pretty).

“Dodging The Devil” is a poem she wrote when things just didn’t seem to be going right.  After a couple of verses, a quiet guitar line fills in the background.

On the last song, “Kinfolk,” Mereba plays the main guitar line while Sam plays single soaring notes.  The song kicks into gear with a simple guitar riff and some prominent bass.

I really enjoyed this set.  I thought the music was beautifully restrained and her voice distinct enough in each song to show such a range of sounds.  It’s always nice to be surprised by a new musician.

[READ: November 15, 2019] Cursed

I saw this book in the new YA section at the library.  I was attracted by the cover and fascinated by the “soon to be a Netflix Original Series” sticker.

I have known of Frank Miller for years.  I’m sure I’ve read graphic novels by him, although I don’t know if I’ve read Sin City (maybe a long time ago?).  Mostly he drew superhero comics which is not my thing.  Turns out I really don’t like his artistic style in this book (at least for the way he draws the heroine–I rather like the way the bad guys are drawn).  If the series was in any way designed to look like the art in the book I don’t think I’d watch it.

But the story itself is petty darn good.  It took me a while to read it for some reason. I guess maybe the opening was a little slow because there’s so much going on it takes awhile to really get settled in this universe.

But the description of the story is pretty intriguing: Whosoever wields the sword of power shall be the one true king.  But what if the sword has chosen a queen?

For this is a story of Arthurian legend with many many twists.  My knowledge of Arthurian legend is surprisingly minimal.  I love the story and I know the main participants, but there is a lot of information in here that I didn’t know about–or even how much Wheeler is making up. (more…)

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[LISTENED TO: August 2019] The Schwa Was Here

I know about Neal Shusterman because Sarah really loved his Arc of a Scythe series.  I love the cover design of that series, but I haven’t read the books (yet).

I was looking for audio books for our summer vacation and found that Shusterman had written a lot of books before the series.  Including this one, The Schwa Was Here.

I have always loved the word “schwa.”  I never full understood it I just knew it was represented by the upside down e [like this: ǝ].  The epigram of the book actually explains a schwa pretty well.  So here’s the simple version:

The schwa sound is the most common vowel sound. A schwa sound occurs when a vowel does not make its long or short vowel sound.

I also had no idea that this was part a series until I looked it up.  The series is called the Antsy Bonano Novels.  Now I ‘m curious to see where this series goes.

I loved the audio book because Shusterman reads it in his greatest Brooklyn accent. And while the characters aren’t thoroughly diverse is voice, they are diverse enough to keep the characters straight.  But his accent is awesome.  And it’s relevant because Antsy is a Brooklyn boy through and through and he addresses the way they talk.

As soon as his brother says a bad word, their mother “hauls off and whacks him on the head in her own special way… ‘You watch your mout!’  Mom says ‘mout’ not ‘mouth.’  We got a problem here with the ‘th’ sound.”

They also have problems with vowels.  He is Anthony, but known as Antny (which became Antsy).  And, his family are Catlick. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE HOOTERS-“All You Zombies” (1985).

WXPN played this song on the day after Halloween and the DJ said she couldn’t believe they hadn’t played it as part of their Halloween show.

It made me laugh about what people consider a Halloween song (and I know I need to let up on this).  Like so many other songs, the simple fact that there’s a monster reference in the title does not make the song a Halloween song.

Indeed, this song is about as far from a Halloween song as you can get.

The song itself is catchy as anything.  A great guitar riff and some tension-building synths support these rather dramatic lyrics:

Holy Moses met the Pharaoh
Yeah, he tried to set him straight
Looked him in the eye,
“Let my people go!”
Holy Moses on the mountain
High above the golden calf
Went to get the Ten Commandments
Yeah, he’s just gonna break ’em in half!
Interestingly, there’s no real chorus to the song.  The “All you zombies” part follows the same musical and vocal pattern.  The third verse is, like the first, Biblical.
No one ever spoke to Noah,
They all laughed at him instead
Workin’ on his ark,
Workin’ all by himself
Only Noah saw it comin’,
Forty days and forty nights,
Took his sons and daughters with him,
Yeah, they were the Israelites!

The Hooters guys say there was no explicit message to the song.  A 1985 interview with the Chicago Tribune, co-writer Eric Bazilian (with Rob Hyman) said

We really weren’t thinking at all when we wrote it. We were working on something else, and, true to the spirit of the song, it just came to us, like a vision. We were sitting there working on another song, and all of a sudden we started singing, ‘All you mmm-hhhmm-mmm.’ Then I heard something about Moses in my head, and I started singing, ‘Holy Moses.’

We just chased it down. We stopped what we were doing to go after this thing, and an hour later, the song was written, start to finish. We’re still trying to really understand the song. People ask us what it’s about, and while there’s a lot of heavy stuff in there, the weird thing is we didn’t consciously put it there. Who knows? Maybe in some bizarre way it came from somewhere else through us.

Interestingly, it got banned on several stations and there were some Christian stations that refused to play it.

So, not Halloween-related at all, but super catchy and lyrically unexpected.

Also interesting is that Hyman and Bazilian went on to work with Joan Osborne on her album Relish, with Eric writing “One Of Us” another religiously themed song.

[READ: September 2, 2019] Dead Weight

I haven’t read a graphic novel by Oni Press in a while.  They were once my go-to comic book publisher.

Then they stopped doing single issues and started publishing only graphic novels.  Nothing wrong with that but I had been collecting single issues back then, not books, so they fell off my radar.  I have to get them back on my radar because I really do enjoy their books.

I didn’t know what this was about, but the title and cover art appealed to me, so I grabbed it.

This story is set at a fat camp–Camp Bloom.  We meet many of the kids who are there for the summer as well as the counselors who are there to help them get through the summer. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: LUCY DACUS-“In the Air Tonight” (2019).

For 2019, Lucy Dacus has been releasing songs that correspond with the holidays (to be pt out on an EP soon).  For Halloween she decided to cover Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight.”  I have heard the original song a million times.  I loved it, then I got sick of it and then started to really hate Phil Collins and really never wanted to hear it again.

So it’s fun that Lucy has dug it from its grave to release for Halloween.

In a n interview she was asked why on earth it was this song.  She said that she knew this song from her childhood–it was one of the first songs she remembers hearing with her mom (who used to sing along with the radio in the car all the time).

Lucy–like everyone–could never hold back on air drumming to the big drum part in the middle.  Her band was listening to it one day when everyone air drummed along and they knew then they had to record it.

She also said you never realize quite how dark the song is until you really listen to the words.

Well if you told me you were drowning, I would not lend a hand
I’ve seen your face before my friend, but I don’t know if you know who I am
Well I was there and I saw what you did, I saw it with my own two eyes
So you can wipe off that grin, I know where you’ve been
It’s all been a pack of lies

Lucy’s version is pretty great–understated and whsipery.

It starts with the drum machine and some distant keys.  Lucy’s voice is quiet with a soft echo–possibly with a different take in each ear?

The synths stay quiet and subtle throughout the verses.

By the midpoint the music grows louder–to good effect–and there’s some creepy echoing on her voice.  Her delivery lets me understand lyrics that I never knew before (and her vocal processing is much more subtle too).

The big drum part is pretty great and the live drums continue throughout to the end.  I don’t honestly recall what the music of the original end part sounds like (apart from that prominent bass) but Lucy throws in some cool distorted guitar noises throughout to add just some more chaos to the proceedings.

And then the chilling matter of fact ending.

[READ: October 20, 2019] Fake Blood

Lots of times I don’t know what graphic novels are about before I read them.  Usually if someone in my family likes it, I’ll check it out.

I didn’t really even give much thought to the title (and cover) of this book before reading it.  I just read it because my daughter liked it.  So I didn’t really think to much about how vampires would appear in this book until people started talking about them.

AJ is entering sixth grade and he believes things are going to be different.  But things aren’t.  As he heads toward the bus his friends Hunter and Ivy race past him–seeing who can be first–because everything is a competition with them.  Like always.  When they reach the bus stop, Hunter is thrilled to be first but AJ is upset because they actually missed the bus…again.

As they walk to school, Hunter tells his story about his wild summer bungee jumping.  Ivy talks about hiking to the top of Mt. St. Helen’s.  And AJ… read like ten books. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: DAMIAN ‘JR. GONG’ MARLEY: Tiny Desk Concert #888 (September 8, 2019).

I’m not sure if everyone with the last name Marley becomes a singer, but it sure seems like it.

I had not heard of Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley before, but of all of the Marleys, I think I like his music best (he is Bob’s son).  I had no idea where the “Jr. Gong” came from, but the blurb helpfully says “Jr. Gong” is after his father’s nickname of “Tuff Gong.”

Even though the blurb describes the music as reggae, this set is pretty far from what I consider reggae.  Some components of reggae are there, but it’s mostly in his delivery (and accent) and the backing female vocals–from Roselyn Williams and Sherieta Lewis.

But the main element of reggae–the beat/rhythm/staccato guitar–is completely absent.

“Slave Mill” starts with delicate keys from Sean “Pow” Diedrick.  The song is catchy with great lyrics.  I really like the percussion from Courtney “Bam” Diedrick.  I assume those are brothers known as Bam and Pow, which is great.

I like that the blurb addresses the issue of Bob Marley and yet I feel like Damian is his own musician, with a distinct (if slightly familiar) voice.

Damian’s father cast a giant, magnificent shadow on the world and it can’t be easy to follow in those footsteps as a songwriter and musician.  Damian seems to be undaunted by that legacy and instead draws on it for inspiration and guidance. Not to mention there is more than a hint of his father’s unmistakable singing voice that so often preached the same messages of self-identity and self-determination that his youngest son is now doing so successfully.

He says the second song “So A Child May Follow” is one of his favorite tracks on the album.  He thinks about his nephews and nieces who are young adults now.  The song:

addresses the troubles youth confront around the globe and how to persevere to succeed.

It’s an acoustic ballad.  I like watching Bam play, because after each piano melody, he stops and pounds his fists in the air as the song pauses and resumes.  The main verses features a gentle acoustic guitar from Elton “Elly B” Brown.  It’s a lovely song of optimism in the face of trouble.

They end the set with “Speak Life” which “sums up the message of his music: live a life that will enable us to survive life’s slings and arrows with dignity and love.”

speak life and lead a humble and meek life.

All three songs feature great bass work by Shiah Coore.  I also really love the backing “woah ohs” in the song.

Damian says that they made a video of this song which was shot in Ethiopia and is subtitled in Amharic.  He says that as Rastas, Ethiopia is very close to their hearts.

The end of the blurb makes me wonder if I would enjoy the recorded versions less, since that what I enjoyed so much:

But what makes his music stand out on this session is the prominence of the acoustic guitar and piano in the arrangements, which makes the familiar sound somewhat new.

But he is very charming and funny and he ends the set talking about boxing Babylon vs Natty Dreadlocks.  Then he shouts, “We did it boys.  In the big leagues baby!”

[READ: July 21, 2019] This Was Our Pact

I really enjoyed this graphic novel.  S. had told me about it and told me I’d really like it.  She was right!

The pact of the title is simple.  There are two rules: No one turns for home and No one looks back.

The narrator is Ben.  He is one of five young boys who have made this pact.  The pact revolves around the Equinox Festival, in which the townsfolk send hundreds of lanterns down the river.  Every year a group of kids hopped on their bikes to follow the lanterns.  Usually everyone petered out.  But this year they were going to go all the way. The wondered, “Did they really journey far into the stars, like the old song sang?”

The boys set out following the lanterns.  As soon as they head out, they are followed by, “nerd alert!” Nathaniel.  None of the boys (except Ben) is friendly with him.  Even when Nathaniel says his mom made Rice Krispie treats, they don’t turn around and let him join.

The imagery of the book is beautiful.  It’s largely in blues because the story takes place at night.  The lanterns are little white spots in the blue and black rivers. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: “BE MORE CHILL” Tiny Desk Concert #862 (July 1, 2019).

Be More Chill is a musical based on the YA novel by Ned Vizzini.  I hadn’t heard of the musical, but this Tiny Desk Concert makes me wish I had seen it [it closed August 11] (or that they make a movie out of it).  Or at least I’ll read the book now.

This performance was done on the night after the Tonys [June 9] where it went 0 for 1.

winding down a disappointing awards season. Even its big Tonys moment — a skit in which host James Corden parodied the musical’s breakout song, “Michael in the Bathroom” — passed by without anyone bothering to name the source material.

But you wouldn’t have known it the next morning, as the Be More Chill crew — composer Joe Iconis, all but three members of the principal cast and a handful of musicians, each of whom held a key role in shaping the musical’s sound — bused from New York to NPR’s D.C. headquarters.

Their arrival was a genuine event: For our Sesame Street Tiny Desk concert earlier this summer, we’d encouraged our coworkers to bring their young children, but this time around, we asked for their teenagers — the young theater enthusiasts in their lives, and anyone else they knew who’d fallen under the spell of Be More Chill and its pair of prolifically streamed cast albums.

All the performers seem to be having a great time (especially Lauren Marchus who is a treat to watch).

From the moment they arrived for their Tiny Desk debut, the cast and crew of the Broadway musical Be More Chill radiated kind exuberance. They posed for selfies behind the desk, shared stories from the previous night’s Tony Awards and clowned around with cast member Jason SweetTooth Williams, who’d torn a muscle in his leg 48 hours earlier and used a wheelchair to get from the charter bus to the desk and back

Joe Iconis wrote the music and plays piano. He also introduces the story of an avergae kid named Jeremy.  But there’s a thing called a squip, a supercomputer inside of a pill which tells you how to behave.  The story is how Jeremy now navigates high school.

Iconis also explains that this isn’t a show where people play instruments (like Once), but everyone in the cast CAN play an instrument, so they decided to rearrange the songs for the Tiny Desk.  In the show, the music is

set to wiry, hard-driving synth-rock music.  The show has been a true cult phenomenon, with an intense online following and one of the youngest audiences Broadway has ever seen.

So rather, for this show, there is acoustic guitar, upright bass, melodica and even a washboard.

The blurb is one of the longest and most detailed of any Tiny Desk Concerts as it provides a lot of context for the songs.

In the run-up to “The Pants Song,” Jeremy’s recently divorced dad (played by Williams), who’s been embarrassing his son by moping around the house in a bathrobe, senses that Jeremy is in trouble. So he enlists Jeremy’s newly estranged best friend Michael (played by George Salazar) to step up and intervene. As lighthearted as it is, the song conveys a powerful message about loyalty, parenthood, friendship, forgiveness and advocacy, all wrapped up in a simple mantra: “When you love somebody, you put your pants on for them.”

It is funny and really catchy and features the show’s musical director Emily Marshall on melodica, Charlie Rosen who did the orchestration on upright bass, Gerard Canonico who plays Rick on guitar and Tiffany Mann who plays Jenna Rolan with a tasty backing vocal part.

Britton Smith  washboard

A Guy That I’d Kind Of Be Into” is a showcase for Jeremy’s crush, an oddball theater kid named Christine, who’s played on Broadway by Stephanie Hsu. But Hsu couldn’t make the Tiny Desk, so she’s replaced here by the charming Lauren Marcus, who normally plays Brooke Lohst onstage. It’s a sweet song about the early flowering of romantic interest, but it’s also a wise and insightful nod to the way declarations of young love can be so guarded and tentative that they seem, by design, almost nonexistent.

This song is catchy and very funny.  It’s a wonderfully endearing song.  I can’t comment on Hsu, but Lauren Marcus is terrific.  She plays ukulele and is so visibly emotive.  She totally makes the song come alive.  Britton Smith who plays Jake also does vocals [he played washboard in the previous song].  There’s backing vocals from Emily Marshall and Will Roland who plays Jeremy.

“A Guy That I’d Kind Of Be Into” holds its emotions at arm’s length, but “Michael in the Bathroom” is an atomic bomb of teenage feelings — not to mention one of the most broadly relatable songs from any genre in recent years. The backstory is simple enough: Michael, having been abandoned by his best friend, shows up at “the biggest party of the fall,” only to sequester himself in the bathroom and practically dissolve under the weight of his alienation, self-doubt, betrayal and regret. How George Salazar didn’t get nominated for a Tony will have to remain a mystery, because his performance — like the song itself, which feels like a true standard — will be talked about for years.

George Salazar is really fantastic in this performance.  He is funny and nervous and mad and scare and his voice is terrific.  I love the little Whitney Houston musical quote.  Emily Marshall adds xylophone to the melody.

Before the finale, Iconis says that after Vizzini killed himself, Iconis was able to complete this finale in Ned’s memory.    He then notes that this is the first time they’ve done this arrangement so it could be a total train wreck.  But it isn’t.

Finally, “Voices in My Head” closes Be More Chill — and this Tiny Desk concert — with a rousing celebration of Jeremy’s return from the brink. Played by Will Roland, Jeremy seizes center stage here, taking mental inventory (“might still have voices in my head / but now they’re just the normal kind”) as the other cast members pipe up with their own commentary on his life. Above all, it’s wonderfully rousing, building to a buoyant finale.

Will Roland really impresses with his singing–especially at the end when his voice really soars. The whole cast chimes in in sequence: Jason SweetTooth Williams, Gerard Canonico, Tiffany Mann, Lauren Marcus, Britton Smith.

I really enjoyed this and am very curious to hear what the original soundtrack is like.

[READ: July 1, 2019] “Son of Friedman”

This is an interesting story of a father, a son and fame.

George was once a famous actor.  He could pick his own scripts and lived fairly large.  He had divorced twice.  He was meeting his old friend William.  He and William worked together on many projects, although William’s star never really sank like George’s did.

While they are sitting in the restaurant, George is aware that people are checking out William–but ignoring him.

When George’s son Benji was born, George asked William to be the boy’s godfather.  And he was a great godfather–he celebrated Benji and spoiled the boy.   George and William hadn’t been in touch much in the last decade because of their mismatched celebrity.

But Benji brought them together–somewhat inadvertently. (more…)

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