Friday, June 27, 2008

Esther Williams Must Be So Proud

This thing has probably been around the Interwebs twice already, but who cares? Well executed guerilla theater never gets old. (There's a dated joke about the typing pool in there somewhere.)

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Good Night Kermit

It's old news by now but The Typing Monkey must acknowledge the passing of Kermit Love, who died on Saturday June 21.

Love's work -- not the least of which included collaborating with Jim Henson to create and build both Big Bird and Mr. Snuffleupagus -- is the kind of behind-the-scenes effort that subtly, almost secretly, makes the world a better place to live.

The New York Times obituary says virtually everything you need to know, but we won't discourage you from reading more about him elsewhere.

However this excellent quotation from Caroll Spinney, the man who performs as both Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch, says much about Kermit Love, and makes The Typing Monkey like him even more: "He looked very much like Santa Claus but was a little bit more like the Grinch."

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Monkey Reads: Hey Now, You're an All-Star

by David J. Schwartz
(Three Rivers)
This story of five modern day University of Wisconsin students who suddenly gain superhuman abilities tries valiantly to squeeze an epic into the skimpy costume of a summer beach read.

Every character is accounted for by the last page, but the broad strokes necessitated by a large cast in a comparatively short tale leave some of the more interesting supporting players underdeveloped. (The non-superhuman roommate of two of the superhumans enters the story too late to complicate things the way he should.)

All of the heroes, dubbed The All-Stars by local media, are blandly likable in a television way, without leaving a lasting impression. They abuse their powers a bit but when one of the meekest characters finally goes too far, the story is nearly over, diminishing the aftermath.

Schwarz imitates comic-book dynamics by giving each hero abilities that conveniently strengthen the team’s efficacy, while providing readers easy choices for a character to identify with.

While that’s ideal for a serialized work, the device dilutes the reader’s focus within the limits of a novel. And by giving The All-Stars such complimentary powers, the reader can’t help but wonder why one of the heroes didn’t end up with a less impressive ability.

The telegraphed tie-in to Sept. 11, 2001 feels both forced and ill-placed since Schwarz placed his All-Stars in a Midwestern college town so far from Manhattan.

As homage to Marvel’s X-Men and Spider-Man -- superheroes with personal problems just like us normal folk -- and to modern takes on the sticky collateral damage that supernatural beings in the natural world can cause (hello, Watchmen and The X-Files), Schwarz hits all the right buttons.

Yet it seems as if he might have had more story to tell. Had this been junvenile fiction -- and the potential for that is strong -- Superpowers could easily be the launching point for a richer, more compelling series. But the story ends and as a result feels incomplete.

Reference materials: There are worse summer reads out there, and The Typing Monkey does not regret giving eye-time to Superpowers. But as our first dip into the world of literature about superheroes, we regret not tackling Soon I Will Be Invincible first. And if young adults coping with their superhuman abilities is intriguing to you, the Chris Claremont/Bill Sienkiewicz run of The New Mutants is top notch.

Monday, June 16, 2008

The Italian Sob

In Parole Povere
(Le Pop)
Italian singer/songwriter Joe Barbieri’s songs might pass by unnoticed in a fancy coffee shop. The tunes, the players, the after-hours mood -- it’s all very professional but not immediately impressive. Then Barbieri pours his whisper-to-a-croon voice on these songs and suddenly he’s on to something.

A piano/bass/guitar combo provide the major backing for In Parole Povere, with trumpet and strings ornamenting some tunes. Barbieri’s arrangements leave so much space that hardly a chord appears throughout the opener, “In Questo Preciso Momento.”

The French café number “Pura Ambra” defines Povere by letting an accordion, cello and acoustic guitar try to out-melancholy each other, only to be upstaged by Barbieri’s heavy-lidded delivery.

The Typing Monkey recently fired our Italian translator, so we’re unable to tell you exactly what Mr. Barbieri is singing about. But we’re not sure we want to know. Words a non-native speaker might understand could ruin the experience.

Instead, foreign ears can embrace the tragic romance tone of “Sono Una Grondaia” or the prayer-like “La Nuda Verità.” Near the end, Barbieri increases the tempo with “Microcosmo,” an almost-bossa nova that suggests the meter with brushed drums and flute.

“Leggera” and “Sia” commit the sin of sounding like the kind of ear pudding responsible for the jeers leveled at lite-jazz radio. But again, that’s where Barbieri’s exchange-student charm keeps him from trouble.

Reference materials: In an espresso and Gauloises-induced bout of cinematic ennui, perhaps you’ve wished that your M. Ward and João Gilberto albums could produce an Italian-singing hybrid? Joe Barbieri should do the trick.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

We'll be right back after these messages.

"Going To a Go-Go"

The Typing Monkey wants to make it abundantly clear that we do not endorse colorization. But we do endorse this video.

Saturday, June 7, 2008


Back for More
Great source material makes this collection of remixes work. Most of the Back for More tracks come from the band’s 2006 LP Death of the Party.

The title of that LP shows off the band’s winking self-awareness. On the surface it’s self-deprecation, but the subtext is both instruction and threat. Play Death when the festivities are sagging, but risk sending every one into fits of Kudu-induced arousal.

Back does more of the same. Singer and synth player Sylvia Gordon does sound like a lab-crafted blues mama of the man-killing sort. Yes, she’s part Siouxsie Sioux, and part Annabella Lwin, but there’s a lot of pure New York nightclub monarch in there too.

Gordon’s a clever lyricist as well, capable of delivering the usual come-ons that populate most dance-club vocals, yet excels at tales of apocryphal men (“Bar Star”) and women (“Black Betty”) who are often objects of envy, admiration or spite -- sometimes all three.

Nearly everything on Back aims for dancefloor bliss, generally inflating programmer/drummer Deantoni Parks’ elegant arrangements into slick, neon-lit modern disco. Sinden’s remix of “Let’s Finish” blows the subway dirt off the original and converts the poppy tune into an electro cut. And LingLing re-imagine the brisk pace of “Playing House” as stark, echo-filled dubstep.

Kudu even revisit their own “King Kong” and include a new collaboration with DJ/dance-music luminary Armand Van Helden (the retro-massive “Your Words”).

All of it’s ideal for heating up a summer party, though by the time Back for More ended, The Typing Monkey simply tossed Death of the Party into the player and danced even more enthusiastically.

Reference materials: What are you doing without Kudu’s Death of the Party in your collection? You crushed on Bow Wow Wow, spaz-danced to The Banshees, and later discovered the rhythm and blues side of TK Records. You know what to do.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Hit to Death

This Is Not the World
This album is exhausting. But let's not count that as a complaint. After the Futureheads' self-titled 2004 debut -- a sharp jolt of starched-and-creased pop that shot far ahead of its post-punk revival peers -- the Sunderland, England quartet fell into a morose, introspective ravine with News and Tributes in 2006.

Now the band claws back out with their own label and a ferocious collection of new songs. World's first three tracks are a gleeful rocket ride, propelled by Dave Hyde's drums playing off the bass and guitar interaction to give the illusion of tempos in danger of rushing into chaos. Four songs in, "Hard to Bear" finally softens the thundering rhythms, but the pace of World never slows.

The band's strength remains: solid tunes and remarkable rhythmic precision. They're never showy, and that's the allure. Their harmonies -- never a weak spot to begin with -- soar into Proclaimers territory during "Hard to Bear" and "Radio Heart." And the Supergrass arena-rock muscle from the verses of "Sale of the Century" disguising an XTC-like bounce beneath stands out among many clever ideas.

But forty minutes of snarl and speed over-delivers what feels like a Futureheads declaration of freedom and return volley to the lackluster response to the sophomore album. Somebody must ask the Haircut 100 question: "Where do we go from here?"

Reference materials: The Futureheads have digested and repurposed all sorts of pop and rock references. They list several American musicians, but there's also a lot of The Jam, Orange Juice and Aztec Camera. Plus Barry Hyde often sounds like a scruffier Terry Hall, and when Ross Millard takes the lead vocal, there's a strong resemblence to Paul Weller.

Bonus video!
The Futureheads will never be "that band that covered a Kate Bush song" because they waited long enough into the line-up of singles from their 2004 debut to unleash their lock-step version of the wispy one's "Hounds of Love." That's smart tactics. Now get ready ... cute overload!!1!