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Teen Tested

The Council of Advisory Teens, or C.A.T.s., is a group of students in grades 6 to 12 that meet once per month to advise the library’s teen department on the types of programming they would like to see and the materials they would like to see offered by the library. They also participate in service projects and help prepare materials for library events. 

Members can also submit reviews of books, movies, games and more for this page. Check back frequently as reviews will be added as they are received.

For more information on C.A.T.s. or to submit a review, contact the PAPL Teen Services Department.

 


Music review by Garrett Snedden

Anaïs Mitchell by Anaïs Mitchell

      

Anaïs Mitchell has had the kind of career that most musicians dream of. Her first album was self-released in the early 2000s, and throughout her career, she has differentiated herself from other singer-songwriters with her identifiable voice and subtle, political, story-driven lyrics. Most notably however, a thirteen-year period of her life was dedicated to developing the jazz-folk musical Hadestown. With her new Broadway fame, Anaïs Mitchell went from being a prominent figure in the indie folk scene to a household name. The isolation of the pandemic drove Mitchell and her family from bustling New York City back to her childhood home on a farm in Vermont. Hadestown is over; what comes next? Could the bar be higher? After collaborating in a few side projects over the past two years, like Bonny Light Horseman and Big Red Machine, Mitchell has returned with her first solo album in a decade.
Whereas her previous works thrived on storytelling as Mitchell inhabits characters with her masterfully-penned lyrics, this work is small, personal, and comes directly from the heart. As Mitchell herself put it in The Guardian, “This album isn’t larger than life. It is life-sized.” The songs show it. Song lengths range from two to four minutes, fleeting personal snippets in comparison to the six-minute epics of Hadestown and Young Man in America. The whole album passes in barely half an hour. On the two-minute song “Real World”, listeners are offered a brief respite from a digital age where everything happens all the time. Mitchell sings “I want to live in the real world. / Wake up to real birds singing / Loud enough to be really heard / By us in the real world.” The song barely gets started before it ends, its effect is sublime, making listeners wonder: How much of a break can you really get? In a world where everything moves so fast, how much can you really separate yourself from the hustle of everyday life? The small package can be a blessing and a curse, though. When Mitchell pulls out a classic narrative-style track, like “Backroads” or “Little Big Girl”, it can feel like three minutes is not enough. For example, on “Backroads”, Mitchell sings a short verse about a racist police officer, then shoots past it to the next verse. The result feels out of place, like a forced shout-out to societal inequalities that could have been expanded upon to fill out the song and provide a truly meaningful contribution, instead of an off-handed comment.
Another notable progression in Mitchell’s sound is the instrumentation. Previously the majority of her work was voice and guitar, with the odd piano, drums, or wind instrument. Here, Mitchell does not shy away from giving prominence to the above instruments and even some electronics and vocal effects, most noticeably on the opener “Brooklyn Bridge”. The result is a more pop-oriented sound that meshes wonderfully with Mitchell’s uniquely inflected voice, half-rhymed verses, and plucked guitar.
This album is distinctly different from the rest of Mitchell’s discography, and rightfully so. Now that Hadestown is out in the world, Mitchell has said goodbye to a huge chunk of her life. Throughout the album, themes emerge such as coming to terms with growing older, imposter syndrome, parenting, and trying your best to get through life and keep everything contained even though you’re just making it up as you go. In the end, Anaïs Mitchell’s self-titled album does exactly what new albums from established artists should be doing. She doesn’t try to repeat past successes nor invalidate them, but instead meets the audience where she is at. Songs bleed with emotion and show us that we’re all making it up as we go, and though it doesn’t get any easier, we hold on to what we got because we have no other choice. And that’s something to celebrate.

Anaïs Mitchell released on January 28 on BMG records.

Music review by Garrett Snedden

Pilgrimage of the Soul by MONO

      

Few post-rock outfits have gained such renown as Japan’s MONO.  The instrumental rock group has released eleven studio albums, with the most recent being released on September 17th.  From their tenth album Nowhere Now Here, MONO has emerged with their eleventh, an uplifting amalgamation of the MONO’s past, present, and future.  Featuring many familiar MONO trademarks- lengthy, dynamic pieces with soaring climaxes and lush strings- Pilgrimage of the Soul is a return to the past as well as an indication of what direction MONO might move in the future.

The album begins with “Riptide”.  This piece begins in an unassuming way with soft electronic sounds, but, as the title might suggest, quickly launches into fierce, heavy guitar riffs and drumming.  The second track, “Imperfect Things”, begins with a soft synth melody, but is later undercut by a surprising disco bass and drum beat.  The subsequent tracks are standard fare for MONO, with some soft, drone-like tracks that meander gently, and other epic, climactic pieces that build into monstrous finales.  The album ends with “Hold Infinity in the Palm of Your Hand”, an epic 12-minute classic MONO behemoth, and finally “And Eternity in an Hour”, the cathartic closer, complete with piano and strings.

MONO’s Pilgrimage of the Soul is certainly an excellent piece of work.  However, listeners can’t help being disappointed by comparing the reality to the press release of the album, which stated, “But where MONO’s foundation was built on the well-established interplay of whisper quiet and devastatingly loud, Pilgrimage of the Soul crafts its magic with mesmerizing new electronic instrumentation and textures, and – perhaps most notably – faster tempos that are clearly influenced by disco and techno.”  The promised electronic textures are certainly present, but they really only serve to underscore the quiet-loud song structure that MONO is famous for and unfortunately never take center-stage. Secondly, the only real stand-out disco/techno influence is that on “Imperfect Things”.  That bass and drum disco beat and guitar riff interplay is one of the highlights of the album, and it is a shame that those sounds were not explored further.  Many of the songs are built around one central melody or motif that is repeated and added to over the course of the song.  While the songs are certainly engaging, they seemed to lack the narrative and musical complexity of MONO’s past, and further use of these new elements could have brought the album up a notch and made it a strong contender for Album of the Year.

More uplifting and introspective than any of MONO’s output in quite a while, Pilgrimage of the Soul returns to the open, lush epics that MONO is famous for, with the incorporation of new sounds and textures.  Although much of the album still relies on that old quiet beginning, build-up, loud ending trick, MONO does it very well and features some beautiful softer tracks along the way.  I would not hesitate to call Pilgrimage of the Soul one of the best albums of MONO’s career.  Stand-out tracks are “Imperfect Things”, “Innocence”, and “And Eternity in an Hour”.

 

If you liked Pilgrimage of the Soul, be sure to check out the rest of MONO’s discography, as well as artists like Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Explosions in the Sky, and BRUIT ≤.

 

MONO’s official website: https://www.monoofjapan.com/

Pilgrimage of the Soul (Bandcamp): https://monoofjapan.bandcamp.com/album/pilgrimage-of-the-soul

Pilgrimage of the Soul can also be found on streaming services.

 

Happy Listening!

Podcast review by Garrett Snedden

bomBARDed: A Musical Dungeons & Dragons Adventure

         A portmanteau of “iPod” and “broadcast”, the on-demand audio streams known as podcasts are becoming a popular form of entertainment these days, and a rapidly growing genre inside podcasts is one of real-play RPGs.  For the uninitiated, RPG stands for “Role-Playing Game”.  These mixes of board games and collaborative storytelling most often feature players acting as a single character, while a referee, usually referred to as a “Game Master “ (or some variant thereof, such as “Dungeon Master”), controls the world around the characters.  The characters go on an adventure as the players act out the story with the GM, bolstered by mechanics of whichever system the group chooses, which more often than not include lots of dice.  The most popular systems include Dungeons & Dragons, Pathfinder, Call of Cthulhu, and more.  Because of the accessibility and popularity of podcasts, real-play RPG podcasts are often an excellent entry point for beginners into the world of RPGs.

         RPGs function mainly through voice interaction between the players and the GM, and thus lend themselves very well to the audio-focused medium of podcasting.  In real-play RPG podcasts, the group records themselves playing the game, and often episodes are edited for brevity and sound production.  Some popular shows include the multi-million dollar franchise Critical Role, led by renowned Dungeon Master Matt Mercer, who leads a team of expert voice actors on an epic journey spanning hundreds of hours of content, The Adventure Zone, which is often cited as the first of the genre, where Griffin McElroy creates a world for his brothers and dad to explore, and Join the Party, a quirky but fun series featuring a group of New York City friends, known for its excellent sound design and “Afterparty” episodes, where the group discusses the mechanics of the game and answers listener questions.  Beyond these are hundreds of other shows, some better than others, and in such a vast genre, it is hard to stand out.  Enter bomBARDed.

         bomBARDed is an actual-play Dungeons & Dragons podcast with a musical twist.  The cast of the show is real-life Dallas/Fort Worth rock band Lindby.  The bandmates play as bards (the D&D class centered around music-based magic), and they attend the bard school Strumlott’s.  The bandmates play their instruments (guitar, piano, and drum machine) at the table when casting spells, and, once per episode, they roll special “chord dice” to determine a random chord progression and write a song for an in-game event.  Catchy, intricate, sometimes even profound, and spanning all genres, these songs really are something special.  After every ten episodes, the songs made in those episodes are compiled into a “Chaos Sauce” (the adventuring party’s name) album and posted as pay-what-you-want on their Bandcamp page, so the party need not stop when the podcast does (and for anyone looking for some background music for their own RPG campaigns, or anyone with a fondness for instrumental music, pianist and composer Nick Spurrier compiles some of his favorites from the podcast’s jazzy, electronic original soundtrack, the volumes of which are also pay-what-you-want on the Bandcamp).  The story itself is quirky, riveting, and has more than its share of memorable moments and hilarious jokes.  It is also chalk-full of some of the most spectacular music puns I have ever heard.  This is some really top-notch wordplay; when you think you have heard all the music puns in the world, bomBARDed will be there to prove you wrong.

         A hurdle with many RPG podcasts is that they are too good.  The hours upon hours of prep the Dungeon Masters put into their games, the masterful role-players at the table, who are all in-character all the time, and the professional editing and sound design make the show squeaky-clean for viewers, who only see the shiny exterior, and expect their own games to have the same level of depth and professionalism as the podcasts they listen to.  Dubbed the “Matt Mercer Effect”, this is when listeners of Critical Role and the like have unrealistic expectations, which are based on what they see in shows, for their own games that they run or play in, and, when their home games fail to live up to these impossible standards, they are left disappointed.  While podcasts like Critical Role are high-quality entertainment in their own right, I find that bomBARDed strikes the perfect balance of professionalism and the experience of a group of friends role-playing around a table.  Unlike a series like Critical Role, where Matt Mercer’s literal full-time job is to prep, prep, prep with the help of his on-set team of staff, and then play the game with his players, who themselves are veteran voice-actors and role-players, the folks at bomBARDed come across as a group of friends and bandmates who just want to play a game and have fun.  This, however, in no way means that the podcast is not as enjoyable.  Dungeon Maestro Kyle never disappoints in delivering memorable settings and NPCs (non-player characters), and he does an excellent job incorporating the characters’ backstories into the plot.  The players- Goodrich, Ali, and Spurrier- also play no small part.  Like any good D&D campaign, the players are the ones pushing the story forward, and the DM is orchestrating the world around them, adapting to their choices, and each player brings their own signature charm to the table.  Another critical part of making bomBARDed the wonderful show that it is is the music, from the chord dice songs, to the songs played when casting spells, to the OSTs, all of which never fails to “Wow” their audience.  The series is broken up into accessible and easily-digestible episodes, about an hour each.  For anyone wanting to test the waters of the wonderful world of RPGs, bomBARDed is an excellent place to start, and for anyone without musical experience, do not worry.  The cast is very inclusive of newcomers, and they acknowledge that not everyone knows the ins and outs of music theory like they do.  The musical references and jokes are never meant to be condescending or excluding, and they often take time out of the episode to explain what these things mean for non-musician listeners.

         As someone whose two favorite hobbies are music and D&D, bomBARDed is the magical piece of entertainment I never knew I needed.  bomBARDed is filled to the brim with mystery, touching role-play, and laugh-out-loud moments.  For any music or RPG lover with time to fill, I do not hesitate to recommend this podcast.  You will not be disappointed.

 

If you are interested in bomBARDed: A Musical Dungeons & Dragons Adventure:

  • Check out their website: bombardedcast.com
  • Search for “bomBARDed” on your podcast service of choice.  New episodes are released every other Tuesday.
  • Take a look at the Chaos Sauce albums and OSTs on the bomBARDed Bandcamp page: bombarded.bandcamp.com

For more on Lindby, “The Band Behind the Bards”:

 

Happy Listening!

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