Friday, February 12, 2016

Band Review: TYSON, aka DJ EAR.2.EAR

Twitter was rocked recently by a strange interaction between a rapper and an astrophysicist that started out weird but just kept getting better:

That's why today's review is of TYSON. I can't review him as a DJ, but listening to the tracks available on Soundcloud has been a good experience.

I started out with the view that this was something interesting and I should check it out; it ended up being something where my feelings were more along the lines of gratitude and relief. That sounds like it might be overstating, but so often reviewing Hip Hop becomes a chore because it is so repetitive and unoriginal, often crude and misogynistic. At times like that I forget how good Hip Hop can be; TYSON reminded me.

You would probably expect a track defending astrophysics and the roundness of Earth to be on a high level intellectually, but it doesn't stop there. There is more science in "Star Talkin'" (also featuring his uncle), there is environmentalism in "Mother Earth" and political awareness in "#BLACKLIVESMATTER" and even analysis and defense of Hip Hop in "Four Elements".

That higher level of engagement can have some unexpected effects. "#BLACKLIVESMATTER" names several victims of police brutality, including Akai Gurley. I listened to the song for the first time shortly after reading this:

"The defense for #PeterLiang, during their summation, telling the jury, "Yes, #AkaiGurley was innocent, but don't feel sorry for him."

So hearing his name right after that felt a little raw. That's appropriate. These are real issues, and Hip Hop - perhaps more than any other form of music - has been about addressing them. That return to meaning and quality has been a treat.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Band Review: The Gyro

The Gyro is a four piece funk band based in London.

You can hear other influences as well. "Heart and Soul" reminds me of old standards, but jazzier and livelier. Still, more typical tracks for the band would probably be "Bottle" or "Make Me Smile".

These lyrics often point to a life full of trouble and disappointment, but the with Siobhan Hesketh's sweet voice, accompanied by the groove set by Dario, Ben, and Derek Lewis, the songs don't generally feel down.

There is a sense of maturity and professionalism. The band has done a good job of creating a web presence, with music on all of the usual sites, and is keeping live dates scheduled. This includes the promise of a 4 track EP to be released at their next appearance, Vault Festival on February 26th in London.

The Gyro band should be poised to do well.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Enforced stillness

Once a year I go to the ophthalmologist for a diabetic eye exam. For her to see what she needs to see, she dilates my pupils.

There is some physical discomfort with the drops, but the real issue is that lights seem too bright and I can't focus that well.

The worse problem with this ever was that I once got on the wrong bus. Peering at the sign told me that it was the 20, which is what I needed, but what I had not realized was that at that stop (St. Vincent's) the bus does a loop, so both the Eastbound and Westbound bus come by the same stop. I suddenly found myself heading into Portland and had to get off and cross a busy street while my vision was impaired. Now I am careful to check for the destination.

The worst of it doesn't last for very long, but print stays hard for a bit longer after that. I am typing now, and I can read it, but it's still not quite in focus and I want to close my eyes some more.

As most of what I do for work and play involves books or print on the computer, this has an impact. My next most favorite thing to do is going for a walk outside, and it seems a little bright out there.

That turns today into kind of a rest day. I lay down for a while. I put on some music and listen to it only, without also reading or typing. I close my eyes and bury my face in cat's fur.

It's really not for that long, and breaks can be good.

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

In praise of Galavant

"Galavant" has wrapped up its second season, and is probably over as a series. There is an opening left for a third season if they are lucky enough to get one, but no unbearable cliffhangers like at the end of the first season. (And thank you for that!)

That was no easy task. It was possible to be equally fond of Gareth's relationship with King Richard and Madalena, but happy resolutions for both seemed impossible. What did end up happening felt plausible and satisfying. Yes, that is how it would play out, and again some room was left.

There were a lot of things that were done right, including an affection for minor characters that meant that they could grow into not-so-minor and even favorite characters. The Jester could easily have been abandoned early on, but instead he kept around, and kept relevant, until it was reasonable that he would sing the recap leading into the finale. Not only did it make sense, he did a great job.

It makes sense to have that much respect for the characters given the talent of the cast that they found. I don't know which came first; maybe it built on itself. We need a good cast, this cast is phenomenal, we need to do more with them.

The series also did a great job of balancing the serious with the silly, and they did that by a healthy grounding in reality. Yes, an army of the undead is a fantasy element, but once you accept that happening, then trying to lead them would probably go a lot like they showed.

But I really need to talk about the music.

Okay, you expect Alan Menken to deliver, but delivering three songs per episode and two episodes per week is challenging for the time element alone, and time is a factor in a different way as well. With the amount of plot that needs to be covered, along with the desire to include fun bits that may not advance the plot but they do enrich the overall experience, the songs need to do a lot of work.

Some of that comes from bringing in the familiar. That was something I noticed more this season. In an episode when you have a fight between giants and dwarfs, the rumble feel is added to with a number reminiscent of "Cool" from West Side Story (as well as one that sounded a lot like "Officer Krupke").

I think the best illustration is the scene that takes part in The Enchanted Forest.

First we learn that we are near the Enchanted Forest, ruled over by an evil queen, and people go in and never come out. The first thing that does is reference "Once Upon a Time" - the show for which "Galavant" acts as a mid-season replacement. It references and then differentiates as we see a sign that shows us that The Enchanted Forest is a pub. Then we see that this pub has an all-male clientele, and we find that people do come out, though our two heroes are briefly trapped until a beautifully silly solution presents itself and some answers.

In between, though, we get the musical number "Off With His Shirt". Besides being fun, it enhances the scene in two ways. The title reminds of us "Off with his head!" putting us well within the realm of dangerous queens in storybook lands. Simultaneously, the disco beat reminds us of "It's Raining Men", putting us well within the realm of this type of pub.

It works brilliantly.

I'll miss you "Galavant". I hope to see the faces you made familiar in many other shows.

Monday, February 08, 2016

Looking for why

I had mentioned a breakthrough that was pretty devastating a while back. I am comfortable with the issue itself now, but sharing the details feels a little tricky because those involve other people, and it's very current. Still, I'm going to try.

It relates to my church callings. I was recently called to junior nursery. If you don't know, that means that during the class portion of church (Sunday school, etc,) I am watching over the 18 - 24 month old children.

My family was greatly offended on my behalf, because they feel it's a waste of my abilities. I don't feel that's right in general, because all callings are important and you learn a lot from doing different things. This is my first calling in the primary (children's) organization ever. Spending so much time in the singles ward, which did not have a primary, sort of ensured that.

In my family's defense, there are still people who remember me as the best Gospel Doctrine teacher ever, though that's been about twelve years. As Emergency Preparedness coordinator I put out a very popular newsletter, stayed organized with the response plan, and kept track of people constantly moving in and out. They think of me as having skills that not everyone has, but those skills may not be the ones currently needed.

When we came into our current ward I was called as librarian. At least one person said she has always wanted that job because you don't have to do any work for it. I believe she meant preparation during the week, which is true. She is also kind of dumb. but I also know other people who have done it and really liked it. I grew to like it too, though at first it was frustrating because I needed to be there at exactly the same times that I would normally use for hunting down some visiting teachees who would talk if approached in person, but never responded to phone or e-mail messages. Once the route was changed that became a lot less stressful.

One thing that made that calling important to me was that I realized early on that it threw me into contact with someone that it was important to have contact with, and we have become good friends. When I got the nursery calling, I felt like there was a similar situation, putting me into contact with a person I needed to spend some time with. Having the attitude that any calling is beneath you still feels terribly wrong anyway, so of course I accepted it.

I felt like there would be benefits for me too. I like young children, and I don't get to spend a lot of time with them. No one really enjoys a screaming tantrum, but a child who just needs to be held a little bit while they whimper because they are feeling the separation from parents - that's in my wheelhouse.

At the same time, there was this creeping question of why everything that happens to me has to be for the sake of someone else. After my family protested and I told them that I thought there was a good reason for the call, one of my sisters asked that same question, and I admitted to wondering that myself.

It was weighing on me. I knew that these things that seemed to be more for others helped me too, so that was worth something, but there was this nagging feeling, wondering why my life couldn't be about me. It felt very unfair, and then the answer came: that's the only way I do it.

If something was just for me, I didn't prioritize it. It bothered me feeling like God prioritized other people over me. Realizing I set it up that way was something else.

I've made peace with that too. That gaps in my self-worth and how they play out in the rest of my life are exactly what I was working on when the calling happened. I'm not sure that I have made great progress yet - actually a train of thought from Saturday could be a pretty good argument that I haven't - but awareness is a good starting place.

There are other things about nursery that have felt hard, and yet they are getting worked out.

We use sippy cups that need to be washed every week. I was handed them for the first two weeks, but it was assumed I would just run them through the dishwasher. We don't have a dishwasher. For part of the time we take the kids to the gym. There's not a clock there. "Do you have your phone with you?"  I don't currently have a phone. We give them snacks that periodically need to be purchased. I can turn in receipts for reimbursement, but that takes weeks and I have been broke.

All of those have been working out. One person found out I didn't have a dishwasher and she has been taking the cups. I have some extra money right now where needing to buy snacks was not a problem. There might be a watch around here I can wear. It was just amazing how quickly the reminders came that I do not have things that are apparently so normal to have that no one even asks if you do. You'd expect the big reminder to be that I have never had a husband and children. I guess that's old news.

So that's where I'm at for now. It's okay. It wasn't what I expected, exactly., but it usually isn't.

Friday, February 05, 2016

Band Review: Fefe Dobson

Fefe Dobson is one of the names I encountered when I was working on the #BlackGirlsRock play list, and one where I knew I wanted to go back.

This Canadian singer and songwriter is generally classified as pop or rock, and that's fair, but what keeps bringing me back is the strong punk influence.

I notice it most on "I Want You" and "Stupid Little Love Song" - songs from two different albums released seven years apart - but it pops up in other tracks regularly, not as a phase but as a part of her core. It feels like she must have been influenced by the Riot grrrl bands in the '90s, even if her own output is more mainstream.

The pop aspects are real. "Legacy" was not only on a "Degrassi" soundtrack, but is also remarkably catchy and has a fun video.

The most apt comparison may be Pink, whose fans should check Fefe Dobson out. She can be in your face, but not at the expense of the musical quality.

Good listening all around.

Thursday, February 04, 2016

Band Review: Scott Barkan

I originally intended to review Scott Barkan right after Blinking Underdogs. I didn't have another Star Wars-themed band for the week, but I am aware of Scott Barkan because he had some art done for him by Portland comic book artist Benjamin Dewey. (You can easily spot Dewey's work at I felt like this at least tangentially connected Barkan to Star Wars via the broader world of geekery.

Then I went on hiatus.

I might have waited longer and at least posted the review, except there was a part of me that felt like I still hadn't gotten the music right, and it made me hesitant to write about it. Keeping at it, I have been listening to him as both Scott Barkan and Barky for just over a month.

I think it is that the different albums pull me in different directions.

Solo/Acoustic/Live and Trio/Electric/Live are both good times. They capture the feeling of a live show and make you want to be in that audience. As much as I like them, I keep going back to Flightless Bird from 2014.

First off, I have to give the title track credit for making me think more than I ever have about what it means to be a flightless bird. At first I rebelled against the harshness of the lyrics, and then I had to admit that they made sense. Some of the other tracks work toward finding one's place and accepting it, but this song faces it in the most direct way.

"Flightless Bird" did some work in pulling me in, but the song that won me over completely was "Crank Radio". Mostly spoken, there is a guitar accompaniment that reminds me of Santo & Johnny's "Sleepwalk", striking chords along the spine and weakening resistance. As the speaker and his companion deal with a power outage, there is the practical prose of solving issues like no dinner and melting ice cream that also describes a comfort and satisfaction. Any of the inconvenience of lost power feels generously compensated for.

Although another song, "Gone Away" sits between "Crank Radio" and "They're Playing Our Song", my head puts them together, in a natural correlation.

There is a tweet from November that Barkan retweeted. Along with a picture of him playing, "It's @scottbarkan singing songs about murder and dying and self loathing and psychological trauma." (from @nerdsherpa)

Barkan does cover heavy themes in serious, and even dark ways, but that's not all he knows. There is fun and comfort and delight as well.