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Archive for the ‘Zoos’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: GUSTER-Live Acoustic (2013).

There was one more Live Guster release around the time of those three full album recordings.

This one is called Live Acoustic and it comes from a tour in 2012.  There’s no dates or locations assigned to the songs and indeed they are all done acoustically.

The most notable aspect of this disc is that none of the rockers are included.  This is good because it means they aren’t trying to strip those songs down.  But at the same time, it means that the disc never really takes off like a Guster show would.  It’s not all ballads, mind you–most of the songs from Easy Wonderful that are included are uptempo, and of course “Satellite” is a super fun single, but there’s nothing like “Fa Fa” or “Barrel of a Gun” or “Amsterdam.”  It speaks volumes to Guster’s songwriting skills that I didn’t even miss these favorites until I really looked at the track listing.

They include songs from all of their albums (except Parachute which was all acoustic) and a “deep B side” from the Satellite EP.

For the most part these songs sound great in an acoustic setting.  My only quibble is that some of the songs have really great orchestration which I miss (but that’s personal preference I suspect).  A bunch of the songs have strings which are a nice addition, especially on a song like “Either Way” and the amazing wild violin solo in “Satellite.”  This reminds me of when we saw them with Kishi Bashi and he played the violin on “Satellite”

The one really nice factor is that with everything stripped away, the guys’ voices sound really powerful.  And as I say, because the tone is somewhat mellow the song selection works to this and you don’t miss the bigger songs.  Plus any show that ends with “This Could All Be Yours” is a great one.

  • Backyard [KEEPIT]
  • Do You Love Me [EASYWON]
  • Long Way Down [KEEPIT]
  • That’s No Way to Get to Heaven [EASYWON]
  • What You Call Love [EASYWON]
  • Beginning of the End [GANGING]
  • Diane [KEEPIT]
  • Rocketship [GOLDFLY]
  • Empire State [GANGING]
  • Rise and Shine [SATELLITE EP]
  • Two Points for Honesty [LOSTANDGONE]
  • Either Way [LOSTANDGONE]
  • Satellite [GANGING]
  • Rainy Day [LOSTANDGONE]
  • Hang On [GANGING]
  • This Could All Be Yours [EASYWON]

[READ: January 19, 2017] “Maybe It Was the Distance”

I enjoyed this story so much, I could have read twice as much (and it was pretty long).

This is the story of a Jewish family: Irv and his 43-year-old son (Jacob) and 11-year-old grandson (Max).  It begins very amusingly with them heading to the Washington National Airport (they refuse to call it Reagan National).  Irv also hates NPR (which they were listening to) because of the flamboyantly precious out-of-no-closet sissiness and the fact that they had a balanced segment on new settlement construction in the West Bank.

The first half of the car ride devolves into an argument between the three of them about opinions and Jewishness.  Jacob is frustrated by his father and Max is both precocious and still a child–it’s all very funny.  Especially when they argue while the light is green.

They were heading to the airport to pick up their Israeli cousins.  They were picking up Tamir, who was Jacob’s age, and his son Barak.  Jacob and Tamir’s grandfathers were brothers in a Galician shtetl that was overlooked by the Nazis.

Issac (Irv and Jacob’s family) moved to America while Benny (Tamir’s family) moved to Israel.  They would visit every few years.  Isaac would show off his American lifestyle and then spend two weeks complaining about Benny after they’d left.  And then Isaac died (he had outlived cancer and Gentiles). Tamir surprised everyone by coming in for the funeral.

Jacob discussed Isaac with Tamir and said that basically he did exactly same thing every day (and the details are very funny, if not sad). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKCŒUR DE PIRATE-Live at Massey Hall (July 8, 2014).

I known of Cœur de Pirate more from reputation than her music.  But everything I’ve heard I’ve enjoyed.  Cœur de Pirate is Beatrice Martin a Francophone singer from Montreal who sings almost entirely in French.  And yet despite that, she sells out to Anglophone audiences because her music is so darn catchy.

In the opening she notes that it’s crazy that she’s a French-speaking artists singing in french selling out a venue like Massey Hall.  She feels special and can’t wait to hear what it sounds like.

The first song is “Le Long du Large.”  She is playing piano with a great band behind her.  The song grooves along smoothly–it has a great catchy chorus with terrific backing vocals.  There’s an acoustic guitar (Renaud Bastien), a lead guitar (Emmanuel Éthier), bass (Alexandre Gauthier) and drums (Julien Blais).

On “Francis” it’s just her on piano.  The song has a very Regina Spektor vibe in her playing style and singing delivery.

“Ensemble” is bouncy and upbeat, just super fun.

Golden Baby” opens with a melody like “Come on Eileen” but as soon as the electric guitar soars over, it is a very different song.   I love that she sounds like she smiling throughout.

It surprised me that she did an encore so soon in the show, but there’s clearly a reason for that.

Before the encore, she plays “Adieu”  our “last song.”  Shes off the piano on this one, only singing.  It’s got a heavy rocking beat and guitar and it’s really great.

When she comes back for the encore she sits at the piano and asks “More songs?”

“Place de la République” starts as solo piano and it sounds lovely.  After a verse or so, they add a bowed bass and strummed acoustic guitar  which builds the songs nicely.  Half way through, drums come in to give it even more power.  It’s a terrific song.

She is quite sweet saying that “it makes no sense that a French Canadian girl could sell out Massey Hall…. just got to hold it together.”

She invites everyone to sing along. If you don’t know French, just pretend.  It works too.  This is the last song.  Make it fun make it magical.  She says that the song, “Comme des enfants” is being taught in French classes.  It was a huge hit and the audience sings part the last verse.  It’s a wonderful moment and always cool to see an artist overwhelmed by her fans base.

[READ: March 28, 2018] Cici’s Journal

The book (there are two books in this volume) opens with Cici talking about her journal.  We meet Cici and her mom.  We learn that Cici hangs out a lot with the neighbor Mrs Flores, a writer.  Her mom doesn’t love that she hangs out with am older lady, but Mrs Flores is pretty cool.

Cici’s two best friends are Lena and Erica  The pair knew each other since they were babies;  Cici moved to the neighborhood when they were all little.  They have been best friends ever since.

I give Carol Klio Burrell a real thumbs up on this translation. I didn’t realize that it was a translation until well into the second book.  But I didn’t love a few aspects of the story.  The problem here I think comes with the friends.  Lena is sweet and has the soul of an artist.  Meanwhile, Erica “complains constantly, but she has a good heart.”  That’s not a very complex or desirably character trait.  And that aspect of her comes out a lot in the second book, which is kind of annoying. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE WEATHER STATION-Tiny Desk Concert #689 (January 8, 2017).

The Weather Station played a show in Philly a while back.  I knew that Bob Boilen really liked the album, and I thought about checking them out live.  But things came up and I didn’t.  And now here they are at a Tiny Desk.

It was the first song here, that Bob especially liked:

It’s called “Thirty” and in less than four minutes and nearly 400 words, singer Tamara Lindeman paints images of joy intertwined with the awaking jolt of turning thirty.

The dollar was down
But my friends opened businesses
There were new children
And again, I didn’t get married
I wasn’t close to my family
And my dad was raising a child in Nairobi
She was three now, he told me

The song is a pretty, shuffling song (spare drums from Ian Kehoewith a speedy rhythm guitar (from Lindeman), a roaming bassline (Ben Whiteleyand some cool guitar licks (William Kidman) over the top (both of which are really lovely).

The musicians in The Weather Station underpin these words with delicate playing and by sitting quietly but poignantly under Tamara Lindeman’s beautiful voice. Her soft voice shifts pitch with a rapid flow in a Joni Mitchell-sort of way, never coming up in volume more than a quiet, table conversation level.

There’s a great (relatively) wailing solo that really pushes the song forward and which ends perfectly when Tamara starts singing again.

“You and I (On the Other Side of the World)” has a slow slinkiness that I rather like.  There’s also some nice, understated backing vocals (deep male voices under Tamara’s higher register).  I love the bass work at the end of the song, too.

Tamara’s voice sounds very much like someone else or maybe a number of people: I hear Laura Marling and yes, Joni Mitchell, but maybe Margo Timmins as well.  In other words, all good benchmarks.

In fact, the final song, “Free” has a real Cowboy Junkies feel with the big slow echoing rhythm guitar that opens it.

On “Free,” there’s some great lead guitar work once again as well as a wonderful bass line.

a song Lindeman describes as about being both free and not free at the same time, there’s restraint in the voice and a release in the powerful guitar chords. That tension and release is an essential element to The Weather Station’s sound and one of the joys I’ve found listening to their enchanting music.

Initially I wasn’t blown away by this concert, but I found myself hitting replay over and over, enjoying it more each time.

[READ: August 20, 2017] Fierce Kingdom

I read about this story on Skimm, a daily news digest that I have since read is geared to women (and according to some criticism, treats women like they are dumb.  I have recently stopped subscribing to it because I do find it rather dumb and subtly right-wing (how could a site for women not be pissed that Hillary lost? #RESIST).  But whatever, the book sounded interesting so I put it on hold.

The premise is fairly simple: a woman and her young child (4 perhaps), are in a zoo.  Right around closing time two gunmen enter the zoo and start killing people.  What will she do?

For some reason, the blurbs didn’t reveal that there were gunmen, just that “something” happened. Well, honestly what else could it have been but gunmen. So, perhaps I spoiled that part but it came out pretty early anyway.

The story begins with a time stamp 4:55 PM. The zoo closes at 5:30 and Joan and her boy Lincoln are sitting in their favorite spot waiting to leave the zoo.  As they head toward the exit around 5:30, she notices bodies on the ground.  She had heard explosions earlier but didn’t think much of it,  But when she sees the bodies, she quickly puts things together and takes off.

Now the blurb for the book on the inside cover says “an electrifying novel about the primal and unyielding bond between a mother and her son, and the lengths she’ll go to protect him.”  That’s not wrong exactly but I feel like that puts a weird focus on it being about mother hood instead of survival.  Must be some kind of marketing thing.  I didn’t get the sense in the book that it has anything to do with motherhood–I mean frankly any parent would do that for his or her child and I’m sure any person would do the same for anyone they loved.  The fact that the child is younger and doesn’t have the same cognitive skills make the story more compelling.

Because, frankly, as she hides in an abandoned animal enclosure, there’s no reason she would ever have to leave such an enclosure–she can’t be seen, she is well protected, and it is dark.  She even has her cell phone and she talks to her husband (I find it a bit hard to believe that the police wouldn’t listen to him if he has a text from his wife in the zoo, but that’s what happens).  The bad guys even come into where she is and don’t see her.

So, end of story right?  At least I couldn’t imagine why there would be more story when she is safe and the police are coming. (more…)

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2016-12-05-21-06-09SOUNDTRACK: LAURA GIBSON-Tiny Desk Concert #200 (March 5, 2012).

I’d published these posts without Soundtracks while I was reading the calendars.  But I decided to add Tiny Desk Concerts to them when I realized that I’d love to post about all of the remaining 100 or shows and this was a good way to knock out 25 of them.

gibsonLaura Gibson performed the first Tiny Desk Concert in 2008.  The whole enterprise was started because of her.  Bob had seen her in a club and her quiet music was overpowered by the audience.  So he invited her to play in his quiet office.  And now, here it was 200 shows later and Gibson is back–the first person to headline twice.

Things have certainly changed since then.  There was one camera on her face and another on her guitar.  There was minimal editing and the sound was fine.

Since then they have stepped up the game–multiple cameras, professional lighting and, as Stephen Thomspon writes: Bob’s desk “permanently houses a microphone that’s worth more than my car. (Three hundred dollars!).”

2006 was the release year of her debut album.  She had put out her third album in 2012.  She was quite back in 2006 and is still quiet in 2012.  But for this show she has brought along some help:  Brian Perez – Vocals, Percussion; Matthew Berger – Drums; Johanna Kunin – Vocals, Piano, Flute; and Jill Coykendall – Clarinet.

The songs are very quiet.  “Feather Lungs” begins with some lovely harmony vocals and then Gibson on keyboard.  The flute and clarinet add layers of music which really fleshes out this quiet song. The thumping drum that opens “La Grande” really sets the tone of a much heavier song.  This proves to be a romping song with Gibson on guitar and a lot of intensity behind her.

“Milk-Heavy, Pollen-Eyed” slows things down again, with quiet percussion and Gibson’s delicate guitar and vocals.  She says that the last time she was there it was a Monday morning and there was not much enthusiasm to sing along with her.  But since it’s a Friday afternoon, she invites eveyone to hum a long to “The Rushing Dark.”  Of course, she has backing vocalists so it’s unclear if anyone else joins in, but this a capaella song sounds lovely.

[READ: December 6, 2016] “Bestiary”

Near the end of November, I found out about The Short Story Advent Calendar.  Which is what exactly?  Well…

The Short Story Advent Calendar returns, not a moment too soon, to spice up your holidays with another collection of 24 stories that readers open one by one on the mornings leading up to Christmas.  This year’s stories once again come from some of your favourite writers across the continent—plus a couple of new crushes you haven’t met yet. Most of the stories have never appeared in a book before. Some have never been published, period.

I already had plans for what to post about in December, but since this arrived (a few days late for advent, but that was my fault for ordering so late) I’ve decided to post about every story on each day.

“Bestiary” is an interesting “short story” because it is not exactly a short story.  It’s not even exactly fiction.  Rather, after an excellent epigram from Robert Kroetsch “We are the animals who talk the fables in which the animals talk.  We are talking animals, claiming that animal’s don’t talk.”  The piece consists mostly of factual stories about animal behavior.

Each one opens with a title that ties into the piece beneath it. (more…)

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hippo SOUNDTRACK: RAHIM ALHAJ-Tiny Desk Concert #487 (November 13, 2015).

Rahim AlHaj plays the oud, an ancient stringed instrument alhajcommonly played throughout the Middle East, North Africa and countries like Greece and Turkey.  He was born in Baghdad  and learned to play the oud at age 9.

AlHaj wrote protest songs opposing Saddam Hussein’s repressive regime. He was imprisoned twice–once for a year and a half–and was regularly beaten by his captors. In 1991, AlHaj was forced to leave Iraq because of his political activism, and ultimately found a home in New Mexico.

Despite all of this his songs are about hope and he seems like a generally positive guy.

The first song, “Dream” is a solo performance.  It is intended to serve as a voice for millions of displaced and murdered Iraqi children whose cries will never be heard.

For the next three songs he is joined by Palestinian-American percussionist Issa Malluf.

“Warm Voice” is for his students.  He says he was very mean to them, and this song is for them to have fun.  It is actually for oud and string quartet.  Malluf plays the daf, a large circular drum with a hardwood frame, and a stretched and shaved goat skin that produces a gently melodic tonality. It looks a like an Irish bodhran but it is played with the fingers (especially the finger tips) producing a rich melodic sound.

For the next two songs Malluf plays the dumbek a goblet-shaped drum with a tight head made of goatskin.  It looks like it is lit up and that’s because it is heated by a lamp that keeps the skin taut in order to produce a consistent tone.  This instrument has a much higher pitch tap and is quiet distinctive.

“Friendship” begins as fast romp but the middle slows down with some interesting, fast-picked melodies and some big two note bom bom stops.

“Flying Bird” is a faster song with some very intense riffing going on.  There are some cool moments when the scales ascend and descend and the drums add little fast, tight triplet notes.  And then the whole song stops and there is a kind of drum solo before the speedy notes resume again.

When the set ends, he comments, “Thank you very much and go to work now, please.”

[READ: September 1, 2016] Hippopotamister

First Second is known primarily for graphic novels, but they also do children’s picture books that are kind of in a graphic novel format.

I loved the title of this book.  The premise of this story is that the City Zoo is really run down. No one comes any more, and even the monkeys are lethargic.  Red Panda and Hippo live in the center of the zoo (which really does look quite gross–I assume the health inspectors would have stepped in before this happened).

Red Panda decides to take off.  And he comes back everyone once in awhile wearing a new hat and telling hippo that life outside the zoo is great and his new job is awesome!  Finally hippo says he wants out, too.  Panda tells him that if he wants to blend, he must become a hippopotamister.

And so. (more…)

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zooboxSOUNDTRACK: THE NOT-ITS-“Nose in a Book” (2014).

notitsIs it okay for parents to enjoy children’s music?   Like, even if your kids don’t really care about it?  I heard this song on the radio the other day and I thought it was so much fun.  My kids weren’t even in the room but I sang along anyway.

The song starts out with an interesting bass riff and feedback!  The guitar is nicely fuzzy–this is not a typical kids song.

Then the lyrics start–“Dad told me to turn out the light, but I just wanna read a couple more pages.”  The music in the verses is cool and even a little dark.  The chorus, on the other hand, is very poppy and fun to sing along with.

The bridge is a chant of Chapters 1-8, and the end of the song really rocks out.  It’s a totally great song, and clearly, I can relate.

Check it out at their bandcamp site.

[READ: March 26, 2015] The Zoo Box

As part of my decision to read all of the First Second publications (which I have been doing I just haven’t had a chance to post many of them recently), I knew that I wanted to read this book.  But I was delighted to see that Sarah brought it home to read to the kids.  And it seems like a good book to talk about for Easter.

The Zoo Box opens with two parents going out for the night.  They leave their older daughter in charge of their younger son.  There’s no fighting–the daughter is happy to be in charge, but the son isn’t upset by it.  And if they promise to be asleep when the parents get back, they will go to the zoo the next day.

As soon as the parents leave, the daughter suggests they play dress up in the attic.  I love that this is the idea she has and that he is excited by it.  And I love even more that dress up consists of full sized tiger and ape costumes.  It’s fantastic.  The kids growl and play (the attic is locked, but it seems very nice with a bed and plenty of space) and then they discover a box that says Do No Open. (more…)

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