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SOUNDTRACK: BLOOD ORANGE-Tiny Desk Concert #820 (January 29, 2019).

One night when I was going to a concert at the small club The Foundry, the main stage Fillmore had sold out for someone called Blood Orange, whom I’d never heard of.

And now he is at a Tiny Desk Concert.  From the name (and the popularity) I assumed it was an intense dance show.  I don’t know what Blood Orange normally sounds like but nothing could be further from loud dance music than this Concert.

Devonté Hynes is the main man behind Blood Orange.  He is “a groundbreaking producer and songwriter” and “a composer who fits as comfortably in the worlds of R&B, gospel and electronics as he does in the classical world of someone like Philip Glass.”

Blood Orange addresses

themes of identity, both sexual and racial, through the eyes of a black East Londoner (now living in New York).

For me the most powerful song was the first one, “By Ourselves.”  I don’t love the saxophone sound, but it’s the words that are so moving.

The opening song at the Tiny Desk, “By Ourselves,” features Dev Hynes on piano, Jason Arce on saxophone, Eva Tolkin and Ian Isiah on vocals along with a powerful spoken word performance by Ashlee Haze. Ashlee’s story is a tale of finding herself and her identity in the words and music of Missy Elliott when she was, in Ashlee’s own words, an eight-year old, “fat black girl from Chicago” who discovered “she could dance until she felt pretty” and “be a woman playing a man’s game.”

Her spoken word is amazing–moving, powerful and inclusive in many ways.  It will resonate, I hope.  And Hynes’ piano playing at the end is just lovely.

Ian sings the opening melody with a gorgeous falsetto.

“Jewelry,” the second song performed, welcomes Mikey Freedom Hart on piano while Dev moves on to electric guitar and vocals reminiscent of a languid Jimi Hendrix, with soul-baring lyrics of pride.

Hynes switches between spoken word (with his great deep, accented voice) and delicate singing.  Then the song shifts gears entirely as he starts playing a gentle echoed guitar.  I don’t hear Jimi Hendrix (maybe in his echoed guitar playing), I hear more of a Prince vibe.

The group then offers a rendition of “Holy Will,” inspired by the Detroit gospel group The Clark Sisters, as singer Ian Isiah takes this song of praise to a whole new level.

Introducing the song he says, “This song, my family Ian Isiah is gonna… tear the fuck up.  Can you swear on this?  You put the thing before hand that says explicit language, right?”  And Isiah does tear it the fuck up.  It’s a quiet song but Isiah’s voice (especially when paired with Eva Tolkin) is almost otherworldly.

For the final song, “Dagenham Dream” everyone but Ian and Eva leave.

Dev Hynes works an organ sound while singing about being beaten and bullied as a school kid in his hometown of Dagenham in east London.

I love the cool organ sounds and the way the seem to rise out of the deep darkness into a bright note of hope.

The power of each of these songs is magnified by the way Blood Orange has woven this performance together. He’s a rich, rare and caring talent we first met 11 years ago in a grassy field in Austin, Texas back when he still used the moniker Lightspeed Champion. Now his thoughts are deeper, his message of finding one’s place in this world more deep-seated, with a clarity few artists ever achieve.

[READ: November 2, 2018] “Friday Black”

I’m not sure how many Esquire issues have a short story in them.  I thought about going back to previous issues and seeing just how many stories there are over the course of 85 years.  But it’s a little hard to read their website when it comes to what’s actually fiction and what just talks about fiction.

So, I’ll be content with stories like this one, which I loved.

The story opens with ravenous humans howling at a gate.  The narrator explains that he is sitting on a cabin roof with an eight-foot metal pole.  He uses it to grab hangers off the highest racks and to smack down Friday heads.  For this is a zombie story about Black Friday.

(more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: LA FORCE-Live at Massey Hall (June 15, 2018).

I’d never heard of La Force.  Turns out La Force is Ariel Engle, vocalist and newest member of Broken Social Scene.  In her pre-show interview she says something that concludes with “life’s a bitch and then you die,” which didn’t bode well, but her sound is interesting (if maybe too much saxophone).

The show starts with “Upside Down Wolf.”  I love the weird square guitar she plays (and the cool sound that comes from it).  There’s also an acoustic guitar, sax and drums.  The drums from Evan Tighe are really dynamic with some great unexpected rhythms (and electronics).

The blurb describes “You Amaze Me” as infectious.  It’s a more dancey song with lots of drum-triggered sounds.  The sax from David French works pretty well here because it adds to the swells of music that are triggered by the drums.  And when the sax does add a solo, it;s a nice deep sax, which is a nice change of sound.

“Lucky One” opens slowly with a great guitar sound–a slow intro that is accented wonderfully by the acoustic guitar (there seems to be a cool echo on Warren Spicer’s sliding his hand up and down the strings).

“The Tide” swings faster.  Both guitarists add some cool sounds while the drums shuffle quickly.  Before the next song she explains she got the name La Force from a tarot card.  The La Force card had a picture of a woman opening a lion’s mouth and she loved the idea of the power that represented.

“Can’t Take” is a moody, slow piece, with some cool lead guitar from Spicer while Engle plays a very pretty minor key melody.

“TBT” opens with a simple two note guitar riff (that’s quite infectious) and a cool tribal drum beat.  The end of the song is a wonderful jam of the guitar, sax and drums totally rocking out.  It’s my favorite moment of the show and a great end.

[READ: January 20, 2019] Scarlett Hart: Monster Hunter

I get the feeling that this book may have been initially intended for an older audience and then they brought it down to be more family friendly.  Or maybe it feels more like a pilot episode than a confident story.  It just didn’t feel natural.

I enjoyed a lot of the book, but it felt forced in places.  Especially because Scarlett says all kinds of exclamations that seem odd–Leaping Lizards! or Gaskets! or Piston Heads!  I mean, she’s not a car person, so why would she scream car epithets?

I also didn’t love the darkness of the story.  I realize times are bleak, but the art doesn’t have to be.

The premise is that Scarlett Hart is a monster hunter (duh).  But by law, she is too young to fight monsters (not sure how old she is or what the age of consent is, but she is younger than it).  This seems like a strange law, but many laws are strange.  She has help, though, from her butler Napoleon White and his wife.  They also helped her parents fight monsters.

But her parents were killed several years ago while on the job.  She can’t get revenge against the monsters that killed them but she can become the best monster hunter she can be. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: NOW, NOW-Tiny Desk Concert #672 (November 15, 2017).

I really enjoyed the Now, Now album Threads.  It had a synthpop feel but with some cool slightly darker elements that kept the listener guessing.  The blurb describes it like this: “Its songs carried in them a weary recognition of how desire and nostalgia linger in the body and mind.”

I had no idea that it was released five years ago.

So I was pleased to see them on the Tiny Desk Concert.

But in the intervening years, their sound has become more poppy with (at least in this recording) many of the darker elements smoothed over somewhat.

Now, Now took the Tiny Desk stage with a minimal setup (dig the sampler as drum kit) that laid the vocals bare, but still lent the songs a room-filling pulse. Among those songs were “SGL” and “Yours,” the two singles that heralded the band’s return this summer (a full five years after Threads, with a pared-down lineup and no album yet announced, though the rumors say next year).

I hadn’t heard those singles.  But they are poppy and KC Dalager’s voice has become much more breathy.  Bradley Hale’s synths are very bouncy and sort of 1970s-sci-fi documentary sounding.

Jeffrey Sundquist and Daniel O’Brien join them, but I’m not sure who does what.  The guitar is quiet and echoed, adding textures to the songs.

Before the final song, they thanks NPR for their support and then KC says, “This [Tiny Desk] is the one thing we’re doing that my mom was really excited about.”  The final song, “Separate Rooms” is from Threads.  It retains some of the feelings of the original, but the synths still have the newer bounciness which is a little disconcerting.  The original also has a lot more guitar in it.  I almost don’t recognize the song.

It’s hard to know how different these songs would sound with a big drum sound (it’s funny to see the drummer standing there with his hand behind his back the whole time).  But I definitely don’t enjoy them as much as the original.

[READ: May 2, 2017] Junior Braves of the Apocalypse: Book 1

I saw this book at the library and I was intrigued by the title.  And, seeing it was from Oni Presss, I knew it would be a good read.   And, boy was it ever.

Without trying to reduce the story too much, call it a male version of Lumberjanes but with a whole end-of-the-world, zombie vibe thrown on top.

The book begins on Day 1 as we see a gruff and, frankly, angry-looking dude waiting for someone.  Turns out he is Padre Ron,the adult leader of the Junior Braves.  And over the next few panels we meet the braves.  There’s Travis (a bossy, jerky kid) and his (dorky)brother Marvin.  There’s Lucas, who is mad that they don’t say prayers. There’s Johnny who is Native American living with a foster family.  He is sullen and quiet.  And then there’s Raj (whose mom is overly cautious and thus, so is he) and Amir, a rough kid who knows Krav Maga.   And then there’s Dylan.  Their other adult leader is a recent graduate named Buddy.

Padre Ron is, as I said, kind of jerk, telling the parents that their boys will go out as children and come back an men and blah blah blah.  Exactly the thing that would make me hate the Scouts if we did that now.

Then Padre lets Buddy know they are not going to the promised camp.  The are going to a very secluded spot that proves to be very cool indeed.  Everyone has a pretty good time (except maybe Johnny) for 7 days.  But as they head back home, something… everything is wrong. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE ENFIELD TENNIS ACADEMY-The Dark (2017).

The Enfield Tennis Academy is one of the major locations in David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest.  So, of course, a band that names itself after it must be listened to.

This is the second release by the band (which states “The Enfield Tennis Academy is TR.”

The Dark is described as

This EP is a collection of remixes and covers of Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark”, from the 1984 album “Born in the U.S.A.” It is not ironic. “Dancing in the Dark” is © Bruce Springsteen and Columbia.

And that is literally what this is. Five tracks that rethink “Dancing in the Dark” each one called “Dancing in the Dark.”

Track 1 opens with someone doing a kind of Elvis impersonation (or is it actually Bruce?) of the first line of the song: I get up in the evening…”  It then gets echoed and looped on itself until it is inaudible.  After a minute a guitar comes in strumming music backwards, I believe.  The big takeaway is the rolling “I” repeated over and over.  After 1:30 there’s a rather pretty sax solo. which may be from the song, I don’t know it that well.

Track 2 is an ambient piece with electronic claps and a kind of slow almost pixelated pipe organ version of the main melody of the song.  There’s some of those 80s processed “ahhhhs” added to the end.  It would eerily make you think of the song without knowing exactly why.

Track 3 is a noisy track.  Electronic drums played very rapidly and then some glitchy guitars playing the melody in triple time.  It is the least recognizable of the five pieces.

Track 4 is a fingers-on-chalkboard electronic screech with what I assume is the song played in reverse.  It’s a tough minute before the noise clicks away and we’re left with the backwards vocals.  If you didn’t know it was “Dancer in the Dark” you might not recognize the melody but if you do, you can kind of hear it.

Track 5 plays the original song in the middle ear. But in the left ear is another song (as if the radio was staticky and in the right ear is another even louder song.  But Bruce is squarely in the middle.  It’s pretty disconcerting.  Ultimately, the left ear gives way to people talking and the right ear reveals itself to be “You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman.”  It fades and for about ten seconds during which you can hear pretty much only the Bruce song, but then it all falls apart into glitchy noise.

The longest track is 2:15; the rest are about 2 minutes.  No one will say this disc is enjoyable, but it is kind of ugly fun.

[READ: January 30, 2017] Liō ‘s Astonishing Tales from the Haunted Crypt of Unknown Horrors

I have observed before about the maddening publication life of Liō books.  It’s going on four years since a new collection has been published.

But at the same time there are a number of books that cover the same territory.  Like this one.

This book collects “Liō” (which I take to mean Happiness is a Warm Cephalopod) and Silent But Deadly.  But what puts this book head and shoulders above the others (and just about any other collection of any series) is that it is almost completely annotated.

I didn’t compare the two books to see if all of the strips were indeed included.  But I’ll assume that claim is true.

Tatulli doesn’t comment on every strip but he does on a lot of them.  Like the very first one (in which he criticizes his–admittedly horrible-looking–spider.

He has at least three comments about what a genius Charles Schulz was.  Including the first time he tried to draw Lucy and Charlie: “I wanted to use the retro 1950s Peanuts look, but it was a bitch to reproduce…Schulz just make it look so simple.”

He’s also very critical of his drawing style of Mary Worth: “I won’t even tell you how embarrassingly long it took to make this lousy copy.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE ENFIELD TENNIS ACADEMY-“My Missing Eye” (2017).

The Enfield Tennis Academy is one of the major locations in David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest.  So, of course, a band that names itself after it must be listened to.

This is the first release by the band (which states “The Enfield Tennis Academy is TR.”

The bandcamp site describes this song as

“Garbage thrown together on a free trial of Reason. Song’s about missing a fucking eye. Real music soon.”

This is two minutes of noisy instrumental metal math rock.  There’s a lot of different sounds in this two minute song.

It opens with some staccato pummeling sounds–the guitars are interesting in that they sound like they are chords yet ringing out at the same time.  The middle is a really fast pummeling section that reminds me of Ministry.  Those opens stringed chords come back late in the song, and they sound really cool.

I’m curious to see what TETA’s “real music” is going to sound like.

[READ: July 20, 2017] Reheated Liō

I have really enjoyed the Liō books (going forward, I’m leaving off that line over the o, because it’s a real pain).

The strip has been going on for some 12 years now, which is pretty amazing.  And yet, there don’t seem to be any new or recent collections out.

So Lio is strip about a boy named Lio.  Lio is a dark, dark kid.  He has a pet squid, he loves monsters and he’s delighted by chaos.  Over the years his character hasn’t changed much but Tatulli has given him some surprising tenderness, which is a nice trait. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKPHISH-“The Unsafe Bridge” (MGM Grand Garden Arena, Friday 10, 31, 2014).

In honor of Halloween, these Ghost Box stories will be attached to a recent Phish Halloween show [with quoted material from various reviews]. 

Known for dawning musical costumes to celebrate [Halloween], Phish broke with tradition last year to offer a set of original music.  The Phish Bill read that Phish’s musical costume would be a 1964 Disney album of sound effects – Chilling, Thrilling Sounds Of The Haunted House.  But it wasn’t a cover set. Phish played original music set amongst an incredibly psychedelic, theatrical graveyard stage accentuated by zombie dancers and a ghoulish MC.  At the start of the set, the stage was cleared before a graveyard came to the foreground.  Smoke filled the air, zombie dancers appeared, and music filled the venue. A haunted house was brought to the front of the stage, which eventually exploded, and all four-band members appeared, dressed in white like zombies. 

“The Unsafe Bridge” was Phish’s version of a Spaghetti Western soundtrack with elements of Genesis and The Beatles worked in. While the band played these songs, lasers and other effects not usually seen at a Phish show were added to the insane spectacle.

This song definitely a spaghetti western vibe from Mike and some appropriate piano from Page.  Trey plays some simple guitar melodies.  And then a pretty solo.

This piece is nicely catchy but also really short at only 3 minutes.  I could have listened to this one for longer.

[READ: October 16, 2017] “The Late Shift

Just in time for Halloween, from the people who brought me The Short Story Advent Calendar comes The Ghost Box.

This is a nifty little box (with a magnetic opening) that contains 11 stories for Halloween.  It is lovingly described thusly:

A collection of chilly, spooky, hair-raising-y stories to get you in that Hallowe’en spirit, edited and introduced by comedian and horror aficionado Patton Oswalt.

There is no explicit “order” to these books; however, on the inside cover, one “window” of the 11 boxes is “folded.”  I am taking that as a suggested order.

This story started in an amusing way–kids returning from a 2 AM screening of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre stop at a convenience store to but some alcohol.  It’s Macklin and his friend Whitey (who is Native American–real name is White Feather).  At the store, the clerk is acting really weird, just repeating “Please, thank you, sorry” and seeming to be really out of it.

They recognize him as Juano, a guy they know from another store, but he seems to have really hit the skids as they say. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BLEACHERS-Tiny Desk Concert #648 (September 12, 2017).

I didn’t realize that Jack Antonoff, lead singer of Bleachers, was the lead guitarist (but not singer) for the band fun.

I really don’t like the lead sax by Evan Smith on two of the songs.

I particularly don’t like the sound of the sax on “Everybody Lost Somebody.”  When the sax is gone, the song which is otherwise just piano (Mikey Hart) sounds pretty great.  Antonoff’s delivery is quite interesting on this song, it reminds me of The Mountain Goats’ John Darnielle–an almost-speaking, somewhat arch style..

After the song ends, Antonoff asks, “How often you guys do this?”
Bob says, “We got another one in an hour.”
Then he continues, talking about how NPR seems like a nice place to work.

For the second song, “Don’t Take The Money,” Antonoff says: “If you ever see Bleachers live, it’s two drum sets and it’s big and it’s kinda like this big statement that I could hide behind the tears with this big rock show. But the songs are written like this.”

This is kind of funny since the drums are played on a boombox and are quite loud.  The synths really fill the room, too.  Oddly the song segues into the chorus of Queen’s “Radio Gaga.”  Of the threes songs this is my favorite.  There’s no sax and Smith is playing along on a second set of synths to really make a full sound.

My favorite part of the song is at the end when he tries to get the boom box to stop.  He hits the button (trying to get a percussive sound), but it doesn’t turn off.  He and the pianist turn it into a cool improvised ending.

He says, “that’s cool we’ve never played that song like that.  That’s how it’s meant to be.  In some ways.  That’s what I love about playing live is to trick people–trick them into getting really sweaty and then going home and having weepy moments.”

After the song, Antonoff talks about the live show.  The blurb helps out:

“My manager says, ‘When you play for 1,000 people, don’t talk to one person. It’s only cool for them,'” Antonoff said. It was offered as an apology — he had just finished aiming a monologue about the link between dancing and crying at a single NPR staffer in the audience — but it was also a perfect encapsulation of the connection Antonoff’s songs create. Bleachers makes truly conversational pop, songs that sound expansive but retain a sense of intimacy, even when aimed at the masses.

This final song is called “Foreign Girls” and he tells the band, “I guess we’ll do it… like we talked.”  The sax is back and is almost obscured by him “la la la’ing” but it does peek through.

It’s interesting hearing them like this, but I don’t know what they sound like all big and dancey, so I can’t really compare.

[READ: October 1, 2016] Ms Marvel: Super Famous

Confusingly, this book collects issues 1-6, but they are definitely not the first issues one to six.  This is a whole new story line which follows the previous books and is listed as Volume 5.  The book has three artists: Takeshi Miyazawa (issues 1-3) , Adrian Alphona (part of issue 1), and Nico Leon (issues 4-6).  And it starts off almost where the last series ended.  Except it’s 8 months later and a few things have happened.

Like Ms Marvel has officially become an Avengers (there’s a cool two page spread of them coming down the alley (although I don’t recognize some of them, actually).  And Ms Marvel is doing pretty well.  However, Kamala, the girl who is Ms. Marvel is having a hard time keeping up with schoolwork, friends and family while fighting crime at night.

Oh and somehow in the last 8 months, her best friend/crush Bruno has started dating a wicked cool girl named Mike.  How did she not notice this romance blooming?  And can she take it out on Bruno?  Well, she can until she looks up and sees her image (well Ms Marvel’s image) on a billboard.  And this has her fighting mad, even more so when she finds out who is responsible for the billboard.

Turns out it is a bunch of developers creating Hope Yards–a plan to clean up Jersey City by making it unaffordable for undesirables.  And what’s worse is that the people protesting the unannounced building of Hope Yards are naturally associating her with the project. (more…)

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