“The world has raised its whip; where will it descend?”

Put in the context of the past couple weeks, that is one timely quote from Virginia Woolf’s great novel, Mrs. Dalloway. In just ten words, (only eleven syllables!) the quote delivers a brusque promise, not an empty threat. Woolf brilliantly captures a sense of stark anxiety and certain danger.

Something mightily fucked up is coming. Really coming. Not if, but when? What will it hit? When? And with what crackling, savage severity?

The knowledge that the lash is up and is certain to strike somewhere leaves us wrapped in a thick fog of unknowing. It leaves us with a crippling sense that nothing will ever be the same as before.

Stick around. Or don’t.

This evening I should be packing my bags. I am scheduled to take a six o’clock flight tomorrow morning. Jude and I were going to take a trip to visit friends, hike, and get away. Instead, for the foreseeable future, we will be getting away, as usual, to the local bike path and the neighborhood sidewalks for our hiking.

No complaints – it makes me happy that we can do that. Among the many confusions and disappointments of these days, something like the normalcy and simplicity of these neighborhood excursions will provide a consolation and a boost.

Anyway, instead of packing, I sat down to think a few things through. What would I want to tell my current self with the hindsight of coming weeks or months? Maybe this.

Don’t play down big disasters, but stay positive – you have very much to be grateful for.

Keep making plans, but accept things you can’t control.

Don’t waste time, but relax.

Identify problems, but focus on solutions.

Keep listening to lots of music, it will make you feel better.

And especially this, look out for others whenever you can.

Maybe we’ll all know a little more about what’s happening on April 3, when bass master, Thundercat, releases his new album, It Is What It Is. The man’s long list of collaborators includes Flying Lotus, Childish Gambino, and Kamasi Washington. He has a distinctive but familiar sound; funky and soulful. He has favorably addressed past comparisons to the magnificent artist Shuggie Otis, and OH MAN the single below sounds like a Shuggie song. Hope that the whole thing is in this vein. Dig these.

Bassist Thundercat

Black Qualls by Thundercat, (with Steve Arrington and Steve Lacy,) from It Is What It Is (2020 Brainfeeder).

Inspiration Information by Shuggie Otis from Inspiration Information (1974 Epic).

Inspiration Information

Please note that the musical artist is no relation to the master pouncer, Thundercat, who shares space with Judy and me. The name is quite a mouthful, but I love the nickname that our sister, Linda, has given him: Thundy.

Pouncing meditations ala Thundy.

Meow meow. Ciao ciao.

19 March 2020

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Books for self-isolation.

As you hunker in place while the virus spreads, you may choose to open a book or two or three -depending on how long the assault lasts. I loved Judy’s last (and spookily prescient) write up on The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker. It is a great read. My post today is focused on books filled with people, because it might be nice to have a bunch of characters rattling around the house with you while The Dreamers landscape comes into sharper view outdoors.

Will the scene outdoors eventually come to this?

Strangers and Cousins by Leah Hager Cohen takes place in a crowded historic home as people gather for a wedding. The parents of the bride and owners of the house are Walter and Bennie Blumenthal, a long-married couple who are also hosts of the backyard wedding. Walter and Bennie have four children (and are secretly sprouting a fifth), and it is their oldest, Clementine, who is marrying her college sweetheart. Family and friends gather over several days and to no surprise attendant family and guests don’t help as much as Walter and Bennie hoped and actually end up complicating plenty. This is especially true of Clementine’s eccentric college buddies who set up camp in the backyard and hatch plans to turn Clem’s wedding into an absurdist pageant.

The characters that fill this book are charming. Their energies, affectations, and personal histories alone are enough to propel a reader through the book. But there is another story line that makes this book more than a jolly family romp.    

This story line made me uncomfortable enough that I thought about putting the book down a couple different times. Here’s why; on some level Walter and Bennie remind me of myself. We’re about the same age (okay, they’re younger, but not by that much) and they are educated, liberal, love their community, and like to think of themselves as open-minded and free of prejudice. But their community is changing and that change is causing a rift between the otherwise tight couple and it is exposing a flaw: it’s that their liberal self-satisfaction may not be defensible.

Walter and Bennie’s town is gaining new residents, members of the Haredim, a sect within Orthodox Judaism. The Haredim have a history of moving into communities, buying homes, and then integrating themselves onto school and city boards. Their beliefs and customs are contrary to how the community traditionally functions and from some viewpoints, the Haredim undermine the honored status quo by working to change the community to align with their religious beliefs.

I sympathized with Bennie and her concern about the changes a Haredim population would bring to her town. But Walter’s righteous argument, that welcoming outsiders into a community has to be a universal response for those who wrap themselves in liberal cloth, made me uncomfortable because he was right and I couldn’t get there. There were times when I was reading the book (those times when I wanted to stop reading the book) that I felt Cohen was smartly poking at her readers and their liberal facades but finally I realized it was Cohen’s writing that was leading me to question myself. This is a charming and clever novel rooted right in the middle of everything. 

The Most Fun We Ever Had by Claire Lombardo is her first novel. And it’s another fun family sprawler. The book takes a look back at a 40-year marriage and the 4 daughters that sprang from Marilyn’s and David’s union. Each daughter gets to tell her own past and current day story and each is a distinct fireball. A major story thread is dedicated to unraveling a life-altering secret two of them share. It’s a doozy. And it broke apart my preconceptions of the sisters’ feeling for one another.

But the daughters are all alike in this, they believe their parents have had a perfect marriage and they will never be able to achieve similar passion and companionship with anyone. Ever, never. This incorrect assumption about their parent’s marriage has led the sisters down some unnecessary paths, but their side trips make for good reading.

The lesson here, it’s not just the low-performing bummer parents that screw up their kids.

The Lager Queen of Minnesota: by J. Ryan Stradal. This is another wide-ranging and energetic family saga, this one told from alternating points of two sisters. Edith and Helen grow up on a dairy farm in the late 50’s. Edith is a homebody, bakes blue ribbon pies, graduates from high school, and marries soon after. Her life is good but never is it a big or easy one. Helen on the other hand decides to go to college, hones a gold star beer palate, and marries into a brewery family. As Belizians would say: Helen went there strong.

There are the standard story lines in this novel about family that include long-time grudges, fortunes made, and quick deaths. But this novel is special because of the author’s development of the older women characters, who branch out into new professions late in life and always say ‘yes’ when others their age retire quietly into a corner or when authors write them into a corner.

Here’s a cool side bar to this novel: the older women are a composite of some of the women closest to author — Stradal’s mother and grandmothers. Stradal has noted in interviews that he was not reading characters who were strong Midwestern women like those who raised him. So he wrote those characters himself. Big thanks to him.

Stradal and his book, honoring strong Midwestern women.

And just in case you are wondering, yup, there are multiple examples of ‘Minnesota nice’ in the book.

From deep inside my house on this rainy Friday night, I wish you all health and good reading with a bunch of entertaining characters. We’ll get through this together.

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Free of Constraints

Breezes from the south are intoxicating with the nuzzling promise of springtime. Days shine brighter longer. Occasionally, we walkers of the Great Plains can even move about outside without keeping our shoulders reflexively up around our ears, and we can roam free of the constraints of layers of protective gear. Come, spring!

And talking of throwing out constraints – MUCH LOVE to the artists who resist working within the constraints of a particular genre. They make more exciting songs. Check out these two genre-bending artists.

Archy Marshall is King Krule. He is my dude. On the two singles that you may link below, you’ll hear why there is SO much anticipation for the release on 21 February of his newest, Man Alive! At just 25, London’s King Krule is already a full, growling decade into his recording career.

King Krule

Marshall keeps listeners off-balance with a thick and woozy swirl of guitar, bass, and electronic effects. His vocal delivery creates constant drama by mixing tons of restraint with sudden bursts of urgency and abandon. It is like watching and listening to someone who is hypnotized. They grab your attention with steady whispers, then in a flash they shake out of their thousand-yard-stare trance, and they give you the loud, wild-eyed meat of a mystical message.

There are elements of jazz, trip hop, and rock, threaded through with King Krule’s own brand of demented lounge. So many great sonic ideas – all of them shrouded in darkness and even danger. (Listen for the 10CC sample in the second tune below.) Dig it.

Alone, Omen 3 by King Krule from Man Alive! (2020 True Panther Records).

(Don’t Let the Dragon) Draag On by King Krule from Man Alive! (2020 True Panther Records).

The composer/drummer Moses Boyd is also based in London, and he has a wonderful new release called Dark Matter. It is a great example of a jazz artist embracing the possibilities of multiple musical genres. The Guardian calls Boyd’s efforts “cross-pollination,” and “London-hybrid jazz” — those descriptors seem just right. This new record is a powerful cocktail of jazz, dance, afrobeat, grime, and electronica.

 

Moses Boyd

Boyd and his players give us highly imaginative, super energetic music. There is a half and half mix of instrumental tracks to tracks that feature vocals. Sounds like the future. Get funky.

Y.O.Y.O. by Moses Boyd from Dark Matter (2020 Exodus Records).

Shades of You by Moses Boyd with vocals by Poppy Ajudha, from Dark Matter (2020 Exodus Records).

Thunder Does Dishes

Time for a check-in from you-know-who — Our Thundercat instinctively diversifies the genres he works in — refusing to be pigeonholed. He is as comfortable helping with the dishes as he is with laundry, with sweeping, and making beds. Thunder says, “I am not just one thing. A whole host of amazing talents will not be contained.”

Thunder Does Laundry

Ciao ciao. Meow meow.

20 February 2020

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The Dreamers – another excellent book of doom

Judy says, The Dreamers  is another excellent book of doom by Karen Thompson Walker.

Remember The Age of Miracles  by Karen Thompson Walker? It was published a while back. It was about a girl coming of age in an apocalyptic world. It wasn’t just her teen years that made everything seem apocalyptic, though the main character was an awkward outsider with boy trouble whose parents’ marriage was unraveling. In the story, the world was actually ending. The sun was burning up the earth and destroying habitats. First the birds died off. And the mammals, including humans, were sure to follow. Despite such despair, it was a good book. Beautifully written. Walker’s sweet words and phrases made it impossible to put down.

Well, Karen Thompson Walker has written another excellent book of doom.  This one is called The Dreamers. It begins on one floor of a college dorm room in a small California college town. A young college student passes out after a night of drinking. She doesn’t wake up hungover though…. She just never wakes up. She sleeps on. And then another student falls asleep. And another. And then more of them. And then a college janitor. And then a healthcare worker. And the count rises.

Epidemic.

The college is quarantined. Next the hospital. Followed by the city. The illness spreads.  People are falling asleep (for good) while driving, making tea, standing in grocery checkout lines. Children are left unattended by parents who succumb to the illness. Stray dogs are running around still leashed.  The ill are clearly not the only victims. Casualties abound.  That’s Walker’s style. She writes with an old testament hand. If you are born a character in a Walker book, your future, if you have one, is not bright. Several times while reading, I just closed the book to shake my head in wonder over the cruel fate of a character I had been rooting for. But it could also be a metaphor for other ills that spread, as though airborne, and have the potential to ruin humans and take down humanity –  like uncivility, hatred, intolerance, racism. The name of the book alone, The Dreamers, connotes the spread of hatred toward our Mexican neighbors thati s perpetuated by our own government.  Is Walker suggesting that hatred such as this is invisible at first, like a germ, and can spread to even healthy-minded individuals?

If you’re a Walker character…better watch your back! She’ll use you and abuse you.

Too, The Dreamers could be a take on the age-old stoner quest for truth: What if I’m just dreaming and you’re all part of my dream. Whoaa, freaky.

As depressing and scary as this story seems, it is compelling and thought provoking. It’s a gripping page-turner. It goes on my list of recommendations. I can’t wait for you all to read it so we can talk it over.

As the epidemic rages on, resources run thin. Civilians outside the city cannot get in to help with supplies, childcare, or any type of respite. Many begin to doubt the validity of the mushrooming illness. Paranoia and rumors of conspiracy spread like their own type of malignancy.

Walker gives us many angles to consider.  I read The Dreamers at the same time the Coronavirus began spreading through China and leaking into other countries. Supplies such as masks and hand sanitizer are running out in major cities. The Dreamers could be a straightforward story about a deadly epidemic that takes over the world.

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You Look Like You Could Use a Hug

You look like you could use a hug, and Thundercat is here to answer your wish.

Hug from Thunder

 

Oh, dear lads and dear, dear lassies, ‘tis February on the Great Plains, and this shortest of months, with its still-shortened daylight, typically takes what feels like a long and very cold time to pass us by. Along with your warm embrace from a sweet snuggling kitten, here are some glowing new tunes to help get you through until the bright spring comes. 2020 is shaping up.

Sparkling guitars, lush synthesizers, and pretty vocal harmonies are all wrapped in a fresh swirling breeze of electronic effects. These sounds have characterized the music of Pia Fraus for over two decades. The five-piece outfit from Tallinn, Estonia, have created a lovely, easygoing new entry to their dream pop catalogue called Empty Parks. It has quickly become a favorite from this young year.

The group’s influences, Stereolab, Lush, and My Bloody Valentine, are in evidence here. Insistent drumming drives the songs along, and the band continues its experiments with feedback and pedal effects. The assured and soothing sweetness of the vocals are in counterpoint to the urgency of the instruments and the surprisingly playful sonic effects, and they serve to balance the intensity.

Keeping shoegaze vital, check out Pia Fraus.

You’re Not In Love and Hidden Parks by Pia Fraus, from Empty Parks (2020 Seksound Records).

Some deep grooves are being laid down in Florida. The new act, Flow Ensemble, has a haunting new self-titled release. This is the fine experimental jazz project of the charismatic multi-instrumental artist Chad Jasmine and the superb trumpet player Marcus Parsley. Jasmine, who is also an extraordinary vocalist, has put together Flow Ensemble as a purely instrumental and super vibey exploration of tone. This is a soundtrack for contemplation and reflection, and it stars trumpet and bass guitar.

Jasmine handles the bass, providing a superior, cool rhythmic foundation. The duo share keyboard and drum programming duties. Dipping into comparison, the effect of Parsley’s delicious, meditative brass playing puts the listener in the mind of saxophonist/genius Joseph Shabasen, whose solo work, as well as his work with Destroyer and War on Drugs, has been commended on this page for years. Both players are comparable in that they are always effortlessly elevating the ambience with their amazing fluidity and flow.

Are you looking for something marvelous to play at the cookout or the cocktail party? Check this out and turn your friends on to it. Available on Apple Music, or streamable in its entirety on youtube with the link below.

Flow Ensemble

Flow Ensemble by Flow Ensemble.

My main man and poetic ghost, Dan Bejar, leads Destroyer, and you need to get involved with the group’s latest, Have We Met. This is Destroyer’s best since 2011’s masterpiece, Kaputt, and it will be in heavy rotation around here.

Piano and guitar are often out in front, and complex arrangements provide a platform for Bejar’s elaborate lyrical genius.

Keeping Adult Oriented Rock vital, listen here:

Dan Bejar

 

It Just Doesn’t Happen and Crimson Tide by Destroyer, from Have We Met (2020 Dead Oceans).

1 February 2020

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