Album Review: I’ll Be Your Girl by The Decemberists


AlbumI’ll Be Your Girl
Artist: The Decemberists
Release Date: March 16, 2018
Favorite Tracks:

  • Once In My Life
  • Severed
  • Everything is Awful

Thoughts:

Of the two albums by bands I really like released this week, I didn’t expect to like The Decemberists more than Yo La Tengo, but I do.  Sometimes a band goes for a new sound, and in this case The Decemberists go for several sounds from 80s synthpop to a Laurel Canyon, but overall there’s a much more electric sizzle compared with the acoustic folk sound of previous albums.  Like any album of 2018, the lyrics have more of a political bent as well.

Rating: ***1/2

Album Review: All Nerve by The Breeders


AlbumAll Nerve
Artist:The Breeders
Release Date: March 2, 2018
Favorite Tracks:

  • Nervous Mary
  • Spacewoman
  • Dawn: Making an Effort

Thoughts:

The Breeders’ Last Splash is a masterpiece of 1990s rock music.  All Nerve is the first album with the same personnel that made Last Splash, and sounds very much like a follow-up if you ignore the 25 years and 2 albums with different lineups in the interim.  I find the album hit or miss, but The Breeders definitely have an energy and talent on display that show they’re still a vital band, especially compared with the blah Pixies album released a few years back.

Rating: ***

Album Review: There’s a Riot Going On by Yo La Tengo


AlbumThere’s a Riot Going On
Artist: Yo La Tengo
Release Date: March 16, 2018
Favorite Tracks:

  • Shades of Blue
  • Above the Sound
  • Forever

Thoughts:

Even as a diehard Yo La Tengo fan, I felt apprehensive that their new album is named identically to a classic Sly & The Family Stone album.  Having listened to it, I suspect this is the quietest riot ever.  I enjoy Georgia Hubley or Ira Kaplan singing quietly over a guitar or piano track, but previous Yo La Tengo albums always mixed in some rave-ups with the gentler stuff.  This is not a protest album so much as a retreat from the horrors of the present day.  I think this album will grow on me with more listens, but I don’t think it will ever live up to the statement made by its title and the history contained within it.

Rating: ***

Book Reviews: Dig if You Will the Picture by Ben Greenman


AuthorBen Greenman
TitleDig if You Will the Picture
Narrator: Peter Berkrot
Publication Info: Tantor Media, Inc., 2017
Summary/Review:

I received a free advanced reading copy of this book through the Library Thing Early Reviewers program (although I ended up listening to an audiobook from the library)

Greenman’s book is the story of Prince’s career largely told through Prince’s music with a focus on his role as a cultural icon and sometimes generous/sometimes rocky relationships with other musicians.  Prince’s biography is in there too, but it’s more of the details fall into place around the examination of his music.  Greenman is a devoted fan of Prince so his own experience as a Prince fan emerges several times in the book, but unlike Rob Sheffield who makes the fan’s experience a window into a greater understanding of an artists, Greenman’s personal reflections seem more an intrusion.  Nevertheless, it’s overall a great attempt at understanding the life work of someone as mercurial and hard to define as Prince.

Recommended books:

Rating: ****

Blogging from A to Z Challenge 2018: Theme Reveal #atozchallenge


For the third consecutive year I will be participating in the Blogging A to Z Challenge in April. The basic gist is to post something every day of the month (excepting most Sundays, but this year it includes April 1st, fool!), on something starting on each letter in the alphabet in alphabetical order.

It’s a lot of fun, and if you have a blog you should consider participating. You can sign up here: http://www.a-to-zchallenge.com/2018/03/master-list-sign-ups.html  More information on WordPress, Twitter, and Facebook.

In 2016, I documented my home neighborhood of Jamaica Plain in Boston in JP A to Z.

Last year, I practiced using my new camera by taking an original photograph every day (yes, I failed to post a Z).

And now my theme for 2018.  I like watching documentary movies.  I have a long Netflix queue full of documentary movies.  So I’m going to watch and review a documentary every month of the challenge.  From A to Z.

 

Podcasts of the Week Ending March 17


HUB History ::  The Curious Case of Phineas Gage

The fascinating story of the most famous brain injury.

Planet Money :: Rigging the Economy

Liberal-tarians agree!  The economy is rigged.

Planet Money ::  XXX-XX-XXX

The history of the Social Security number.

Afropop Worldwide :: Roots and Future: A History of UK Dance

Caribbean music traditions and US dance beats come together in the only place they can: the United Kingdom.  A history of jungle, garage, drum & bass, and grime.  This made very nostalgic for the dance tracks of yore.

Have You Heard? :: Strong: Lessons from the West Virginia Teachers Strike

Reporting from the West Virginia teachers strike, featuring interviews with many, many teachers.

Invisibilia :: The Other Real World

Using a reality talent show to counter Islamist extremism in Somalia.

BackStory :: Wherever Green is Worn: The Irish in America

Archbishop “Dagger” John Hughes, the Molly Maguires, and other Irish Americans of lore.

Re:sound :: Analog

When I was a kid I recorded myself as the DJ of a “tape radio” station called WLTS, so I feel a kinship with Mark Talbot. Also a repeat of the Ways of Seeing story I highlighted last summer.

 

Movie Review: Mascots (2016)


Title: Mascots
Release Date: October 13, 2016
Director: Christopher Guest
Production Company: Netflix
Summary/Review:

Christopher Guest returns with a new “mockumentary,” this time set at a competition of sports team mascots from around the world convening in Anaheim.  Those of you who’ve watched movies like Ollie Hopnoodle’s Haven of Bliss or Robin Hood: Men in Tights may recognize the feeling I had of watching something that resembles the beloved movies that preceded them but just don’t have the laughs.  I think one reason is that there seems to be less of an attempt by Guess and co to make this look like a documentary, and it feels more scripted. Secondly, while community theater (Waiting for Guffman), a dog show (Best in Show), or a folk music concert (A Mighty Wind) are all set in reality that’s familiar, I don’t think there really is international mascot competition, and even if there is one, everything in this movie is designed to make it look totally fake.  Finally, there’s a cynical feel to the movie overall where the sense I got is that your supposed to think all of these people are losers and be happy to see them fail. The conclusion is all the more odd when Tom Bennet’s character puts on a lovely performance as Sid the Hedgehog. The scene doesn’t go for the big laugh that’s expected and nothing prepares one for the fact that this movie is actually trying to have heart.  The sad part is that a lot of the regulars returning for Mascots (Guest, Parker Posey, Jane Lynch, Fred Willard, Bob Balaban, et al) really seem to be trying, but just missing the mark. Only Chris O’Dowd consistently made me laugh, perhaps because he was playing the character who clearly didn’t care.

Rating: *1/2

Album Review: Cocoa Sugar by Young Fathers


Album: Cocoa Sugar
Artist: Young Fathers
Release Date: March 9, 2018
Favorite Tracks:

  • Fee Fi
  • In My View
  • Turn
  • Tremelo
  • Wow
  • Wire

Thoughts:

Critics call the music of the Scottish trio Young Fathers genre-defying, or that Young Fathers are their own genre, and I’ve seen the music of Cocoa Sugar described as art-rap or rap deconstruction.  Whatever you call it, Cocoa Sugar is an excellent collection of dense, lo-fi, rock/rap/electronic folk music.  Take a listen and discover it for yourself.

Rating: ****

TV Review: Hunter Street (2018)


Title: Hunter Street
Release Dates: 2018
Season: 2
Number of Episodes: 20
Summary/Review:

My son encouraged be to binge watch this Nickelodeon tv series about a family of foster children in Amsterdam who solve mysteries in Amsterdam.  As a child of the 80s, I can’t help be reminded of “The Bloodhound Gang.”  The mystery of “Hunter Street” is leavened by cornball comedy.  I think if you just read the script it wouldn’t really seem all to well written, but the kids in the cast of this show just ooze charm and are eminently lovable.  Plus every episode ends on a massive cliffhanger so you just have to keep watching.  We’re going to have to track down season one now that we’ve finished this binge.

I find it curious that although everyone involved in creating this show is from the Netherlands and the show is clearly set in Amsterdam, they went to a lot of effort to make the show for “export.”  The characters all speak English even when it would make sense for them to speak Dutch, the kids wear bike helmets, the police read a Miranda warning, and a thermostat shows the temperature in Fahrenheit.

“Hunter Street” is good family television.  Check it out.