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SOUNDTRACK: THE DISMEMBERMENT PLAN-Tiny Desk Concert #323 (December 2, 2013).

I always think that The Dismemberment Plan is a loud punk band (understandably with that name).  But this Tiny Desk Concert sees the band with acoustic guitar, keyboards and brushes on the drums.  What I didn’t realize was that the band had broken up and reunited and had made a new album in 2013:

When the newly re-formed band finally did make its way to our offices — on the heels of Uncanney Valley, its first album in 12 years — it unsurprisingly made for an odd fit.  According to the group, these particular arrangements of songs from Uncanney Valley were sorted out just a day before this Tiny Desk Concert.

“Let’s Just Go To The Dogs Tonight” is a fun bouncy song full of mildly amusing wordplay and naughtiness.  There’s a call and response section: “when I say ‘Outta’ you say ‘Luck’ and when I say ‘Cluster you’ say ‘Fuck'” (singer Travis Morrison flubbed the call-and-response portion of “Let’s Just Go to the Dogs Tonight,” he professed nervousness at making the NPR staff holler F-bombs. (No one seemed to mind)).   I like the simplicity of the guitar chords, but I really like the fun bass line–not funky exactly, but just meandering around in a really tuneful way.

“Lookin'” is a slow ballad with a simple guitar melody.  It’s a plaintive song that’s lightened by a bouncy bass line and some cool synth sounds near the end.

For the final song, “Daddy was a Real Good Dancer,” Morrison switches to keys and the keyboardist switches to guitar.  They say that the guitar is brand new for the show–“we went to Guitar Center for you guys.”  Bob says they need to break a string to break it in.  This song is lighthearted and a bit goofy, about a dad who used to dance until he had him.  Once again, the bass line really makes the song (and the drums are pretty great, too.

It’s a lighthearted and fun concert–surprisingly so for a band with dismember in their name.

[READ: June 6, 2016] Sex Criminals Volume 2

I really enjoyed Volume One of this series.  I was shocked to see that it had been almost two years since I’d read it.  And I was thrilled to see Volume 2 in the library.

The only problem with Volume 2 is that it assumes you have just finished volume 1, so there’s no playing catch up if you read it two years ago.

Especially since Book 6 opens with Suzie saying “So I’ve been digging in to pull off a fundraiser to make up the difference and keep the place open, so uh… The end?”  But of course it is not the end.  And when Jon tells us that things aren’t over, he pulls down his pants to show that he has nothing there–he’s like a Ken doll.  What happened?  In book 1 these two were going at it like rabbits.

It turns out that the Sex Police had a kind of tracking device–a Cumpass–that monitored everyone who had an orgasm and entered The Quiet (see book 1 review to figure out what the hell I’m talking about).  Things get really stressed out for Jon over the next few days and he begins seeing symptoms of something–which he looks up online and decides is canceraids (it isn’t). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: OK Go-Tiny Desk Concert #278 (June 3, 2013).

I love OK Go’s music videos.  They are stupendous. I have watched all of them several times.  And yet I can’t remember a single song.  But that doesn’t diminish my appreciation for them.

When NPR was moving offices, they made a “Tiny Desk Concert” of the band proceeding from their old location to the new one.  And in OK Go fashion, they made a great video to go with it.  The music is live (I believe), even though they must have shot the footage hundreds of times.  It’s sort of a stop motion video, except that it’s not single frames but short 2 second clips spliced together.

You can watch as the old office is dismantled, as they walk through the halls to the moving truck.   As they play on the truck in the streets of D.C. and then as they enter the new building.  There are cameos from NPR colleagues: Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, David Greene, Guy Raz, Scott Simon, Alix Spiegel, Susan Stamberg and more.  There’s a hilarious moment with Karl Kassel who gives them a dirty look.  And then they march through the offices, the news room and into the new Tiny Desk location where they finish the song.

The song is fun and catchy and even has new lyrics that reference the NPR move.  It has to be seen to be appreciated.

And if you like figures here are some details from the shoot:

  • Number of video takes: 223
  • Number of seconds Carl Kasell spent in the elevator with OK Go: 98
  • Number of times Ari Shapiro played the tubular bells: 15
  • Number of days it took to shoot: 2
  • Number of cameras: 1

Incidentally, NPR and I are out of sync with our counting of Tiny Desk Concerts.  I can’t figure out what happened.  The reason mine is correct is because I have written down every concert and numbered them.  So I feel that for them one doesn’t count?  They say this was number 277.  Someday they’ll read this and we’ll get to the  bottom of everything.

[READ: April 1, 2016] No Mercy Vol. 1

Because of the way books are being handled at my work now, I don’t get to see as many books as I used to. So i was pretty delighted to get this graphic novel on my desk.  Even if I didn’t quite know what it was about, I wanted to read it.  And boy did I enjoy it.

I had no idea that the cast was a group of aspiring Princeton University students on a per-freshman trip to an underprivileged county (I like the t-shirts that say Building Bridges Helping Hands with a kinda Princeton P on the front.

We meet the cast in a cool way–each one steeping forward a bit in the crowd and giving a bit of information about themselves…mostly through text messages. Oh and I loved the way the opening colophon pages looked just like Facebook (or whatever) with a timeline photo and then on the right side–sponsored images with drawings of the author and the illustrators and an ad for an other Image comic by Alex de Campi called Valentine–genius layout idea.

There’s also a comment under the photo which says “OMG how sad, they were also young.”  So you know something bad is going to happen these poor kids. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: NICK HAKIM-“The Want” NPR’S SOUTH X LULLABY (March 24, 2017).

It’s always interesting to hear someone with a big hairy beard sing in high falsetto, and that’s just what Hakim does here.

This song is very simple with twinkling synths and programmed beasts all underneath Hakim’s delicate voice.  The blurb introduces Hakim to those of us who don’t know him:

Nick Hakim begins with a bit of a fake-out — languorous strings like something out of a Stars Of The Lid record rumble from a sampler, somber and hesitant. But as he begins to sing in a heartbroken falsetto, surrounded by optical fibers hanging from the ceiling of SXSW’s Optic Obscura installation by Raum Industries, the ambient intro morphs into a quiet, psychedelic croon.

“The Want” will appear on Hakim’s full-length debut, Green Twins, but for now, this solo version is only backed by Mellotron and the reverb’d rhythms of what sounds like a Casio preset. It’s soul music for outer-space, performed in a room that looks like outer-space.

This blurb makes this song sound a lot more trippy than it actually is.  To me, the only psychedelic bit is one harp line.  Otherwise it sounds like a very spare, echoing, simple song.  The end does add some interesting layers of sound, but maybe the recorded version is more trippy.

[READ: June 1, 2016] The Good Neighbors: Kith

I didn’t really love book one in this series.  I enjoyed the premise, but found the execution flawed–both in the “script” and to an extent in the drawings–there a bunch of characters who all look vaguely similar.  But I did like it enough to want to read Book 2.

There’s a handy recap that catches us up.

Then we see Rue sad because of her sullen boyfriend who might be breaking up with her.  But he’s a dick anyhow as are most of the characters, frankly.

About 30 pages in something interesting happens when they discover a knife in a tree. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: PHOEBE BRIDGERS-“Smoke Signals” NPR’S SOUTH X LULLABY (March 22, 2017).

Bridgers’ “Smoke Signals” is a beautiful haunting song that reminds me a little of Liz Phair in her delivery.  I had heard this song before and really liked it–I especially loved the arrangement, which had echoing guitars that reminded me of Twin Peaks.

“For this Tiny Desk, Bridgers and percussionist Marshall Vore came to Bob Boilen’s hotel room just before midnight to play the striking ‘Smoke Signals.'”  The music is great with Bridgers’ open chords, and Vore’s suitcase percussion, children’s toy bells and vocal harmony.  The cho and vibe are removed in this version which means you must really listen to the words–which are pretty intense.

I like how she talks about musicians in such an interesting way:

Singing ‘Ace of Spades’ when Lemmy died / nothing’s changed LA’s alright

and then later

Its been on my mind since Bowie died/ just checking out to hide from life

The toy bells and harmonies are a really nice touch, but again, it’s those lyrics:

I went with you up to
The place you grew up in
We spent a week in the cold
Just long enough to
“Walden” it with you
Any longer, it would have got old

This song is a little too slow for my preferences, but it’s very beautiful. I’d like to hear more from her.

[READ: February 5, 2016] The Good Neighbors: Kin

This book was on the new shelf at my library.  And since I like Black and Naifeh I was grabbed it.  Then I saw that it actually came out in 2008. Whatever.

It also turns out that my library has book two of this trilogy but neither had book 3 (which came out in 2010).  What gives?

Holly Black is best known (by me anyway) as having written The Spiderwick Chronicles.

This story is actually a YA graphic novel and it definitely skews older.  But like Spiderwick, it deals with a normally unseen world coming into contact with out own. (more…)

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harpers-magazine-march-2017-4 gucciSOUNDTRACK: GUCCI MANE-Tiny Desk Concert #585 (December 12, 2016).

Usually when someone is popular I have heard of him or her.  So I’m always surprised when someone gets a Tiny Desk Concert and I don’t know them (especially given his story).

Gucci Mane sounds kind of familiar, but I don’t think I’d ever heard of him before.  So what does the blurb say:

Gucci Mane’s smile makes you feel like there’s still some good in the world. He’s really earned it, and that thing is infectious. We asked him to come to NPR because we wanted to be a part of the victory tour he’s been on this year: In the past six months or so, Gucci Mane was released early from the federal penitentiary; he proposed to his girlfriend on the kiss cam at a Hawks game, and she said yes; he’s releasing a total of three albums, all over which he celebrates his newly committed sobriety; he and Courtney Love look like they get along; and he remade “Jingle Bells.”

In this Tiny Desk concert, Gucci Mane performed with just his longtime producer and friend, Zaytoven, on piano. Their version of stripped-down is a minimal backing track and plenty of church-groomed trills. They performed with the understanding that everyone in the room knew their songs — one from 2009 and two from this year — and knew that this performance would represent a surreal dip into a parallel universe where ingenuity is rewarded, snobbery is gone and love is real. Gucci Mane agreed to this unlikely set as a gesture to those people — for remembering his work while he was away, and for cheering on his resurgence, his health, his charm and his singular nature.

Gucci does the three songs, “First Day Out,” “Waybach,” and “Last Time,” all accompanied by Zaytoven, easily my favorite stage name and the absolute highlight of this show for me.

Gucci Mane’s flow is a kind of slow drawl.  It’s kind of charming and engaging.  I find it really strange that he’s rapping over himself (I guess).  But it’s so stripped down that it’s weird to hear his backing track so clearly.  But that live piano totally make the show fantastic–Zaytoven has some amazing chops.

[READ: February 21, 2017] “Sinking Ships and Sea Dramas”

The introduction to this story was pretty fascinating.  This piece is an except from a manuscript in progress inspired “in part by lines from the work of Ben Lerner, the poetry editor of Harper’s

This was translated from the German by Isabel Fargo Cole.

I’m not sure what Lerner wrote that inspired this, but this “cycle” consists of 6 ruminations on death and the sea. (more…)

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semonSOUNDTRACK: RUN THE JEWELS-Tiny Desk Concert #596 (February 6, 2017).

When Killer Mike and El-P walk out to the Desk, El-P drinks from a formerly unopened liquor bottle (E&J), which Bob says has been aging for 8 years.

Then as the music from DJ Trackstar begins, EL-P says “I insist that you clap your hands like this, lets see if NPR has rhythm”–and after a few claps everyone is way off, to much laughter.

The blurb says

Like any good pair of twins, Run the Jewels have a freaky sort of unspoken fraternity. When El-P (née El-Producto, née Jaime Meline) — rapper, producer, and all-around godfather of the backpacker scene of the late-90’s — and Killer Mike strode in with their usual uniforms — Mike in a gold chain as thick as a garter snake, El in a fitted Yankees cap and pair of blue-mirrored sunglasses — the two didn’t have to do as much as nod to one another before upending three tracks from their latest LP, RTJ3, in strange and perfect symbiosis.

On “Talk to Me,” I feel like Killer Mike’s flow is a little better than El-Ps at least in the beginning.  El-P also says fuck a lot, which I noticed when I first downloaded their album, as well–lots of fucks, which is kind of lazy, I think.  Or maybe I just like Mike’s lyrics better.  Like this:

Born Black, that’s dead on arrival
My job is to fight for survival
In spite of these #AllLivesMatter-ass white folk

After he says this line, they stand back to back, middle fingers raised.  El-P says “this is the pose we do in this song.”

Before “Legend Has It” El-P grabs a banana like a microphone and says it feels more natural that way (Mike then signed the banana for Bob and he had it laminated).  As the song begins, Mike says, “y’all can dance to it your boss ain’t looking.  It’s a little slower and El-P has his flow on and has some great lines:

I am the living swipe right on the mic, I’m a slut
I don’t know how to not spit like a lout
I’ll spill a pound of my kids on your couch

and

I don’t play chicken, you prick, I’m a fox
You wanna kick it, I’ll give you the rocks
You kiss the wood chipper blade if you balk
I’m fuckin’ magic, in fact I’m a warlock of talk
I got a unicorn horn for a (stop)

But the crowd is on it this time when they chant and the crowd goes “RTJ!”

As the song ends, El-P says “You know why they do these things because for that least one week you cannot complain about your jobs.”

The final song is “A Report To The Shareholders.”  Before it begins, El-P says.  “It’s oddly awesome to be here.”  Then he takes one more swig.  Mike shouts, who got the weed?

It is much slower, almost spoken. Each guy gets a verse, between them, there s little instrumental and El-P says ” we haven’t figured out to so in this part.”  My favorite line of the show comes in this song:

“ooh, Mike said ‘uterus'”
They acting like Mike said, “You a bitch”
To every writer who wrote it, misquoted it
Mike says, “You a bitch, you a bitch, you a bitch”
Add a “nigga” for the black writer that started that sewer shit

The two do indeed play off each other perfectly–echoing the last lines of each other’s words.  And despite how angry they sound i the words, they are a surprisingly genial bunch.

[READ: December 8, 2016] Demon Vol. 1

I’ve really enjoyed pretty much everything that Jason Shiga has created.  I love the style of his characters–seemingly very simple yet very expressive.  And I love that his stories are bizarre, complex and mind-blowing.

I’m delighted that this series is being distributed by First Second since I like just about everything they do.  Although I am a little surprised that the published it, given how icky it gets.

Shiga has drawn some books that were kid friendly, but this book IS NOT!  It is about suicide and murder and bad language and all manner of adult things.  Indeed in the forward Shiga notes, “It’s been a dream come true working on this project, pushing past the limits of common decency–of good taste–with every new page. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MARGO PRICE-Tiny Desk Concert #581 (November 28, 2016).

It is my fervent hope that I will wake up this morning and the world will say April Fools, and that these last few months will all have been a prank.  Or that this day marks the first day in formal steps to get the buffoon out of the White House before more people get killed.

Barring that, I can post these Trump-based pieces.

Margo Price is beloved by NPR.  I find her a wee bit too country for my tastes.  And yet, once again, a Tiny Desk Concert changed my opinion of her.

Price came to NPR on the day after the election.  I was in a fog of disbelief that day.  I can’t imagine how she managed to play and sing.  Here’s the intro:

When I greeted Margo Price in the NPR garage before her Tiny Desk performance, tears were streaming down her face. It was Wednesday morning, Nov. 9, the day after the 2016 election. For her — as for many Americans — it was a stunning and bewildering moment in time, a day when life and the everyday took on new meaning. And so when she and her band began to play “All American Made,” a song she’s sung many times before, those words about America’s changes and failures in the 21st century seemed even more powerful.

As this Tiny Desk progresses, even “Four Years Of Chances,” her song of a love gone wrong, feels less about a lousy husband and more about presidential politics. She dedicates her third and final song, “About To Find Out,” to Donald Trump; she says it was originally written about a “musician acquaintance of mine who’s a complete sociopath.” When the song ends, she rips open her red cowboy shirt to reveal a T-shirt with the words “Icky Trump”— a play on the title of The White Stripes’ song “Icky Thump,” which criticizes the U.S.’s immigration policies. She smiles, wipes a tear away: It seems cathartic, but temporary.

The music includes piano, guitar (of course), some slide guitar and harmonica.

“All American Made” plays down the twang in her voice and the lyrics are great.  It was written for her previous band Buffalo Clover.

1987, and I didn’t know I then
Reagan was selling weapons to the leaders of Iran
well it won’t be the first time and it wont be the end
They were all American made.

I was just a child
Unaware of the effects
Raised on sports and Jesus
and all the usual suspects

It’s a slow folk song with harmonica and a nice guitar solo.

“Four Years Of Chances” is actually about a failed relationship.  And we can all only hope that we don’t have to wait as long as she did in this song before ending this relationship.  It’s a faster song with good slide guitar work.  There’s a guitar solo, a piano solo and I like the way it goes up two steps after the solo.

I gave you four years of chances
But you threw em all away
I gave you one thousand, four hundred sixty-one days

“About To Find Out” seems so uncannily about Trump it is hard to believe it was written about someone else (as it says, it was originally written about a “musician acquaintance of mine who’s a complete sociopath”).

Well I’ve had about enough of your two-cent words
And the way you’re running your mouth
No you haven’t got a clue or another thing to do
Except to take another picture of yourself
You’re living high on the hog looking down at us all
You may have come so easy and happened so fast
But the harder they come, they fall

You have many people fooled about your motivation
But I don’t believe your lies
You blow so much smoke it’s bound to make you choke
I see the snakes in both of your eyes
But you wouldn’t know class if it bit you in the ass
And you’re standing much too tall
You may have come so easy and happened so fast
But the harder they come, they fall

Tell me what does your pride taste like honey
Or haven’t you tried it out?
It’s better than the taste of a boot in your face
Without any shadow of a doubt
You better learn where the line is
You missed a lot you’ve gotta learn about
How’s it gonna feel to be put in your place
Well I guess you’re about to find out

Some folks today have got nothing to say
Except to talk about their wealth
But the poor’s still poor and the war’s still war
And everybody wants more for themselves
Like a rich man’s child you never walked a mile
One day you won’t have nothing to sell
You may have come so easy and happened so fast
But the way I see it you fell

Uncanny.

So yes, this Tiny Desk Concert has totally won me over to Price.  Although I really need to never hear “Hurtin’ (On the Bottle)” again–it is just waaay to twangy for my sensitive ears.  But more importantly, I hope she hasn’t given up the fight.

[READ: March 12, 2017] “It Is I Who Styles Donald Trump…”

My only other exposure to Crosbie was in the April 2012 issue of The Walrus, in which she wrote a couple of short pieces.

Obviously, I am all for hating on Trump, for ridiculing him and making him look as pathetic as he actually is.  And this entire issue was more or less devoted to the horror that is Trump.  So having a story that mocks him is something I can appreciate.

But, as with the comedians who mock Trump’s hair or skin rather than his racism, bigotry, lack of knowledge of the world, lying and everything else, this story is strangely superficial, and overall, just kind of strange.

It begins amusingly enough: “Last night I dreamt I went to Mar-a-Lago again.  I stood shuddering at the gates–was I to be the mistress of an estate named in colloquial Spanish?”

It even seems like it might go for an interesting angle: “as he sleeps his lips purse, and his hands fly our, defensively.”

But, as the title states (so I guess I was expecting too much), this is mostly about Trump’s hair: she “quickly took over this industry.” (more…)

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