Archive for the 'music' Category


“Double rainbow all the way!”

First, watch this:


Now, watch this:


Double rainbow ATW. Awesomesauce.

(Nathan Fillion is insane, by the way.)


What’s not to love?

Seriously–how can anyone not like something called “100% Good Vibes Music“? This awesome Afrobeat-reggae album is CC licensed and available for streaming or free download.


Lucky again

Back in October I won a contest over on Largehearted Boy’s amazing music and literature blog. (Pop over there and take a quick look at it. Pretty amazing, isn’t it?) The prize package arrived recently and contained a whole bevy of stuff that’s sure to please any little kid (and any parents who seek fun, intelligent, and creative fare for their kids), including the new book (yes, you heard me correctly) by They Might Be Giants, called Kids Go!, along with their latest CD, Here Comes Science. (The timing for this arrival in our couldn’t be better, because Sylvia is currently obsessed with “doing science.”) There’s also For the Kids III, which we somehow managed to miss until now. Considering how much like its two predecessors, I’m sure this one will be a hit with my family, too.

Last week another prize box arrived in the mail, this one from Jen at Fashionably Late to the Party. For about three weeks starting in mid-November she ran a contest in which commenters won entries for a random drawing for what she described as “a box of random stuff.” (Her posts are always interesting, and I usually have something to say there anyway. So entering this contest actually required no extraordinary effort on my part.)

And random it was. The box contained some awesome salt-and-pepper shakers (which are so awesome that I think they deserve an entire blog post all to themselves some time), lots of cookies and snacks from Japan, a giant prescription bottle full of beads, and all sorts of odds and ends. My favorite item, though, was this one:



Life update

Reading: Water for Elephants, by Sara Gruen. For the past year or so, I’ve been part of a book group. We are far from hoity-toity in our selections: in the summer, anyone interested in leading a discussion proposes one or more books, then we vote on what we feel like reading. We meet only every other months during the school year, so the reading load isn’t heavy volume-wise. I am enjoying the opportunity to sit around and talk books with grownups every once in a while, and I also appreciate being prodded to read things that have long been on my to-read list (e.g., The Omnivore’s Dilemma) and introduced to things that would not have caught my eye otherwise–such as Water for Elephants.

This was an entertaining read–not particularly deep, with a fairly compelling narrative that kept me turning the pages to find out what happened next. On a scale from 1 to 100, I would have given it a rating of 85 . . . except . . . near the end of the book, the author does something that I think constitutes unfair treatment of the reader, and for that the rating gets bumped down to 65. I don’t want to spoil it, but I will say this: it’s a tomato surprise.

Watching: The Mighty Boosh. Oh my dog, this show is hilarious. (And, like most BBC series, is doesn’t go on forever and actually ends while it’s still strong. When, oh when, will American television ever learn this lesson?*) The first season is awesome, and the second season not quite as good, but in the third (and final) season the brilliance returns.

Here is one of my favorite moments (this one’s from the first season):


“Charlie was racked with guilt. He’d killed fifty Inuits–no one needs that.”

Getting into the holiday spirit: With one of my favorite Christmas songs ever, “Fairytale of New York,” by the Pogues. Because really, if such lyrics as “Happy Christmas your arse / I pray God it’s our last” don’t put you in the holiday mood, nothing will.**

*I am very much one of those people in the “Heroes should have ended after the first season” camp.

**Well,  Barenaked for the Holidays, by the Barenaked Ladies, would probably succeed. It’s a truly awesome holiday album. If you don’t own it yet, you should.


Seasonally appropriate

With Thanksgiving just around the corner, I find myself with more reason than usual to be grateful this year.

Last month I won a contest, and my prize was some amazing artwork done by my friend Bethany. She’d held the contest to launch a new website and business venture: a design collaboration with her friend Melanie.

At the time Bethany mentioned that there was a second part to the prize, which I’d receive later. I filed this info in the back of my mind…where it promptly got lost until earlier this week, when another package arrived in the mail from her. This one contained two sets of their just-printed-so-I’m-amazed-the-ink-wasn’t-still-wet holiday cards. I’ve been on Bethany’s holiday-card list for a couple of years, and it’s always a delight to see each year’s design. Now I have my own to send out! I tried taking photos of them but couldn’t get a decent picture. So go take a look at them on their Etsy page (which is where you should be going anyway, so you can buy some for yourself).

Yesterday I received another contest prize in the mail (I’ve had a rare streak of luck lately). This one contained a VTech S9181 WiFi internet radio. With this, I can listen to over 11,000 Internet radio stations, plus good old FM stations. This item came from Frank Yang, who writes the very excellent blog Chromewaves, which contains more information about the current music scene than you can shake a stick at. Go take a look at it. You’ll probably spend hours poking around and listening to MP3s…and then start trying to figure out how you can move to Toronto so you can go to all the concerts he writes about.

I set up the radio today, and so far it is cooler than sliced bread. Yes, I’d even go so far as to say it’s all that and a bag of chips. The options are paralyzing. You can search by genre, by location, and by a number of other categories. The only station I’ve added to my Favorites list is Radio Suisse Romande*, and I’m looking for more. But I’m not sure where to begin. (I don’t know about you, but I certainly don’t have the time or patience to scan through 11,000 radio stations.) Suggestions? Any of you have favorite Internet radio stations that you’d like to recommend?
*I used to listen to this when I lived in Switzerland and always liked the announcement “Et pourtant elle tourne” (the words–likely apocryphal–Galileo muttered under his breath after recanting his astronomical findings before the pope) that marked the start of the noon news hour.


A current project


I’ve long loved “The Masochism Tango” and lately have been working on it at the piano. It’s coming along, but my piano noodling sounds positively awful compared to Tom Leher’s.

To see and hear more of his work, take a look at the list here. My other favorite of his is this one. It’s strange to find humor in something that scared the crap out of me during a good chunk of the 1980s (I lived near not one but two primary nuclear targets).


Life update

p4056949floweringtreeftf.jpgReveling: In the arrival of spring!

Watching: Tropic Thunder. This film was very poorly marketed, I think. When I first saw a trailer for it, I thought, “Robert Downey Jr. wears blackface and pretends to be a black man? Huh? Totally not interested in seeing this one.” As it turns out, there’s a lot more than that to this film. Believe it or not, along with some clever parodies, there’s actually some social commentary in here, too.

Reading: We Pointed Them North: Recollections of a Cowpuncher, by E. C. Abbott and Helena Huntington Smith. A memoir about being a cowboy during the golden age of cowboys in the USA, the 1870s and 1880s.

p4036916goldfinch403ftf.jpgWatching: Birds visit the two different feeders we’ve hung in a dogwood tree just outside the dining-room window. The goldfinches are gradually turning from brown to yellow again.

Being amazed by: Muscle memory. This morning I played Beethoven’s “Fur Elise” for the first time in a few years. I had worked on this piece a lot when I was a kid, and today I was surprised to see how good it sounded when I went through it. I couldn’t play this piece from memory to save my life, but interestingly enough when I have the sheet music in front of me I barely need to look at it—my hands know just what to do.

Eating: Lots of melted cheese. We had two raclette dinners within a month, and now that the weather is warm we’ve packed away the raclette grill until the cold returns next fall.


Life update


Eating: Lots of gado gado lately. Brown rice with steamed veggies, all covered with a peanut-and-coconut-milk sauce—healthy and delicious comfort food.

Watching: The Dark Knight, which I thought was pretty good. Heath Ledger’s much-touted performance as the Joker was good, but I thought Gary Oldman was a better actor in this film. Oldman has this chameleon-like ability to completely disappear in his role the point that I completely stop thinking “Oh, that’s Gary Oldman” and sometimes (as in this case) don’t even realize it’s him for quite some time.

Reading: Mark Bittman’s* latest book, Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating with More Than 75 Recipes, which is sort of a how-to companion to Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals. I can’t say enough good things about Food Matters, in which Bittman adroitly and eloquently points out that health, social, environmental, financial, and ethical problems with today’s mainstream American diet. Then he provides a reasonably achievable alternative, along with several recipes (and menus) to get you started. My only real quibble with this book is that he stops short of adopting or recommending vegetarianism (though I’ll give him credit for not bashing or dismissing it), especially after he describes the horrific conditions of factory farms and is himself horrified by them. (For some reason, he think it’s awful to make animals endure those places, yet it’s still okay to kill and eat them if they grow up on local farms.) Take a look at this informative review published at last month or, better yet, read the book for yourself.

Listening to: Everything That Happens Will Happen Today, by David Byrne and Brian Eno

Smelling: Paperwhites (forced bulbs) and daffodils (cut flowers) in my living room and dining room. Spring is coming…
*Bittman is a food writer for The New York Times and the author of the wildly popular How to Cook Everything (Completely Revised 10th Anniversary Edition): 2,000 Simple Recipes for Great Food.


Holiday music

I love the stretch between Thanksgiving and Christmas. I love the lights and the decorations and the smells (cookies!) of the holidays. It annoys me to no end when retailers start pushing holiday wares and exuding forced Christmas cheer early in the fall, when we haven’t celebrated Halloween (or even Labor Day, in some cases!) yet. Once Thanksgiving has arrived, though, it feels as though Christmas is now “permitted.”

No doubt this is partly related to the fact that, when I was little kid, my dad announced that “once you see Santa [in the Macy’s parade, which we watched on television every year], then the Christmas season has officially begun.” Like most people, I reached a point during my childhood when I realized that my parents didn’t know everything after all. On this, however, I still think my dad is right. Maybe that’s why, even though every year I tell myself that “next year, I will start my Christmas crafts in July so I have time to get them done!” I just can’t just find the right mood for them before November.

I am especially fond of Christmas music, even the schmaltzy stuff (though the Muzak versions and midi files definitely rank low on that list). Even though I am somewhat allergic to the word God, I actually like the sacred music more than the profane. And I like the old music more than the new. I’ve nothing against songs about Santa’s travel itinerary, but when it comes to stirring the pot of emotions they don’t hold a candle to songs about the religious aspects of Christmas or rousing tunes about wassails and boar’s heads. It’s sort of like walking into a huge, old cathedral in Europe and just feeling the waves of belief that built and sustained this amazing piece of art and culture, even if you harbor no such faith yourself.

Every year after Thanksgiving I pull out our books of Christmas music and start doing my best to fill my house with decent renditions of those songs. But because I haven’t played them at all for eleven or so months, they don’t sound so good. I’m a fairly capable sight reader at the piano, but it still takes me a bit of practice before a song sounds just right.

So this year, I broke with my own tradition and took out those books back in October. Opening them up was like greeting old friends: King Wenceslas, Jeannette Isabella, the three ships that are ever sailing. The “Nuns in Frigid Cells” were there, too. And I made some new acquaintances, too: “Masters in This Hall” (an Old French tune with lyrics by William Morris), “A Day of Joy and Feasting,” “Whence Comes This Rush of Wings,” “Shout the Glad Tidings,” “Noel, Nouvelet!” (late-15th-century French).

It felt a little weird to be playing Christmas tunes on deliciously warm, Indian summer days. At the same time, it was kind of nice to get an early, totally noncommercial glimpse of the upcoming holiday. And now (especially after the piano tuner finishes his work this morning) I feel prepared for Christmas on at least one front!


Children’s music for grown-ups

Ze Frank is one of the most creative and interesting people I’ve ever come across. I first came across his website in 2000, I think, when this creation of his swept across the Internet.

He has all sorts of projects on his page. (This one and this one are two of my favorites.) Last month he wrote:

Laura wrote to ask if i could write a song to remind her to chill out when she got anxious. I asked people to sing along to a basic track and send me the results as audio files. After I had about 20 in total I mixed the results together to create the chorus of the tune (special thanks to everyone that sent in audio)

Here’s what he came up with.

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