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Archive for the ‘Airplanes’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: SLEATER-KINNEY-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #231 (July 1, 2021).

Sleater-Kinney were once an abrasive riot grrl band with vocals that were challenging and guitar riffs that were often abrasive.  The songs and the vocals intertwined in fascinating ways, making music like nobody else.

They took a lengthy hiatus and reemerged sounding a little different.  Then they released another album which sounded very different (so different that it caused Janet Weiss, holy drummer of the trio, to depart).

That album was not Sleater-Kinney.  It was good, very good in fact, it just wasn’t the same band.  Now, they’ve released another album and this one verges even further from their trio sound.

It’s still good, but it’s disconcerting that our two guitar-wielding singers aren’t playing much in the way of guitars.

“Path of Wellness” opens with a funky drum beat (from Vince Lirocchi) and bass.  Bass!  The gypsies had no home and Sleater-Kinney had no bass.  Well now they do in the form of Bill Athens.

On the previous album I bemoaned that Carrie Brownstein and Corin Tucker’s vocals didn’t intertwine like they used to.  It’s nice that the two sing the song together.  The vocals are much closer to traditional harmonies than untraditional S-K vocals.  But there is a bit of that wild S-K interchange in the voices.  And, once the song takes off in the middle though, Carrie plays some leads and Corin plays big loud chords.

Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein sing of human frailty and self-improvement, vibrating with low notes of disgust. Then Brownstein shoots Tucker a knowing smile as they sing, “You could never love me enough,” and the pair, who have been making music together for nearly 30 years, start to unwind things: Brownstein hisses “I am on a path of wellness” through gritted teeth before ripping into a four-note riff that feels like it’s pulling your guts out; Tucker sets her voice at maybe 75 percent howl capacity to sing “I feel like I’m unknown” and Brownstein still has to raise a hand to steady herself against the force. She can’t stop grinning.

“High In The Grass” feels looser and hazier than on the album;

“High In The Grass” has Corin playing the chords, Carrie playing the main riff and third guitarist Fabi Reyna playing the high lead read.  I don’t know if Corin would have normally played that or not, but having an extra guitar doesn’t hurt.

Corin sings this song rather delicately, in a kind of soft falsetto.  But when they get to the chorus is sounds like classic S-K vocals.

The guitars are pretty awesome in the middle part as all three women play different things  Corin is playing chords up and down the neck, Carrie has some riffage going on in the middle and Fabi is playing a scorching feedbacky solo.

Track three is a surprise.  Going back to 2002’s One Beat, they play the title song.  Corin and Carrie put down their guitars and keyboardist Galen Clark plays piano while Bill Athens plays bowed upright bass.

“One Beat” played with piano and bowed upright bass, making it that much easier to hear how, by the end, Tucker’s pleas and Brownstein’s yelp have been inextricably knitted together.

The album version is spare intertwined guitars and tribal drums–a very different sound.

“Worry With You” feels heavier [than the album].

The guitar riff sounds very S-K, and the guitars (and keys) do bring a heaviness to the proceedings.  The verses are jumpy and erratic but they resolve into one of their catchiest chrouses yet.

So yes, you can hear Sleater-Kinney in this album. But one aspect of the band is definitely gone.  Nevertheless, the core remains and it sounds terrific.

[READ: June 10, 2021]  “Standing By: Fear, loathing, flying.”

It was fascinating to read this article in 2021 because at the end he talks about fearing to ask the person near him on line who they voted for.  I wondered when he wrote this because it really applies to pretty much any election in the 21st century.

The essay opens with the joke that when your flight is delayed it’s a national tragedy–why isn’t this on the news!  But when you hear about it from someone else, it’s totally ho hum.

But mostly he gets to be snooty about his fellow passengers.  Like the guy next to him in a T-shirt and shorts:

It’s as if the person next to you had been washing shoe polish off a pig then suddenly threw down his sponge saying, “Fuck this.  I’m going to Los Angeles.”

He also talks about flight attendant friends who have given him some insight.  “I’ll be right back” is code for “Go fuck yourself.”  When he asked another attendant how he dealt with unruly travelers, the answer (at the end of the essay) is very satisfying.

He talks about another flight in which he saw an old woman with her young grandchildren who were dressed beautifully–like children from a catalogue.  The boy was even wearing a tie–clip on, but that’s ok. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SAMANTHA TINA-“The Moon is Rising” (Latvia, Eurovision Entry 2021).

Eurovision 2021 has come and gone and of course I’ve got questions.

Even though I enjoy checking out Eurovision entries, I know very little about the Eurovision process.  I didn’t even know that there were countries that didn’t qualify for the final round.

So here is the entry from Latvia.  It scored the least amount of points of anyone and sits at the bottom of the list.

I’m not sure what could have happened to Samantha Tina to make her come in last place in this contest.  “The Moon is Rising: feels like pretty standard Eurovision fare.   True there’s not a lot to it, but I feel like the aggressive female empowerment of these lyrics should have won over lot of people over.  Or is that what killed her?

The song opens with some pulsing sounds then Samantha sings in a big powerful anthemic voice.  It’s a soaring operatic opening.  She kind of raps, but in a singing sort of way.

When I walk in like this
With an attitude
You should know that
I’m coming after you
You can run, you can hide
But you’re mesmerized
In your mind I am
Already idolized

A thumping bass introduces the next verse

My rules, your rules
I’m a woman, I’m a ruler
My rules, your rules
I’m accepting only true love
My rules, your rules
I’m a woman, I’m a ruler
You got something to say
Say it to my face

Then the third part with deep bass y synths and a chanted chorus of

Pa-ra-ra
Pa-ra-ra
Pa-ra-ra-pa
Pa-ra-ra-pa pa-rade

Which is certainly odd.

The song repeats these three parts, which might have been a problem if there’s no clear verse chorus verse structure.  I don’t know.  I thought the video was pretty cool.

Someone in the comments on YouTube (I know never read the comments, but this one is worthwhile):

“The vocal performance in the semi didn’t go just very well and it somehow lacked a little attitude.”  So that could explain why it stalled.

[READ: May 10, 2021]  “Turbulence”

This is an essay about being on a flight and not getting along with your seat mate.

He opens with the amusing scenario of him sneezing a cough drop out of his mouth and onto the lap of the person next to him.

He has three choices:

  1. Ignore it, let her look down later and think she has a shiny new button on her jeans.
  2. Reach over and pluck it from her pants.
  3. Wake her up and be honest.  Which is what he’d normally do except that they had an earlier altercation.

(more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: STEADY HOLIDAY-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert Meets SXSW: #187 (April 5, 2021).

Every year, NPR Music participates in the SXSW music festival, whether it’s curating a stage or simply attending hundreds of shows at the annual event in Austin, Texas. Last year, the festival was canceled due to the pandemic, but it returned this March as an online festival. We programmed a ‘stage’ of Tiny Desk (home) concerts and presented them on the final day of the festival. Now, we present to you Tiny Desk Meets SXSW: four videos filmed in various locations, all of them full of surprises.

Steady Holiday is the music of Dre Babinski. This video, filmed for our virtual SXSW showcase, finds her by the fireplace, a dog at her feet, an acoustic guitar in her arms. Steady Holiday is singing “Living Life,” a tune about a favorite topic of mine: the everyday, the mundane, and living in the moment. All the songs in this Tiny Desk (home) concert are from Steady Holiday’s 2021 album Take The Corners Gently, a top record of mine this year.

As “Living Life” opens, Dre Babinski sings the first verse solo, then you can hear other musicians join in and she reveals their secret location (with some very loud shutters).  Derek Howa plays a pretty solo on the keys and by the end of the song drummer Brijesh Pandya is “da da daing” along to really flesh out the song.

Surprise guests aren’t the only surprise.  After the first song, her printer (with googly eyes and an arm) prints out the next song on the setlist.

“Tangerine” is a bouncy song with some heavier ends and an interesting chord progression.  Howa’s keys sound almost like a toy piano (but louder) and add a chiming quality.  It’s wonderfully catchy.  I’m curious how much bigger the proper version of this song sounds. Howa adds some creepy spacey effects in the middle, so I imagine the recorded songs have more going on.

The printer spits out a piece of paper: Your band is overdressed.  Then she tells us why the guys are outside (it’s pretty funny).

Laughing while her dog grabs a chew toy, she performs the album’s opening track, “White Walls,” a song about self-reflection and how doing the same thing over and over (“painting white walls white”) won’t make life better.

This is a slow bouncy song with a really catchy chorus: “painting white walls white just to kill the time.”

Then she shutters out her band and

As her printer cues the last song, (oops, small spoiler), Steady Holiday takes us out on a lovely tune, Love Me When I Go To Sleep”:

It’s just Bea and her guitar as she delicately sings

“Fragile aren’t we, who would guess / Here today, tomorrow’s taking bets.” Her refrain amplifies that fragility with a reminder to appreciate the gift of life. “Love me when I go to sleep / Love me with no certainty / Love me when I go to sleep.”

Her voice is clear and lovely and the final song feels like a lullaby.

[READ: April 20, 2021] Joan & The Man

This book came in at work and something about it made me want to read it (the shortness helped).

So this is a self-published book (I think–it could use some editing) that we received as a gift (from the author?).  It is Rykaczewski’s fourth novel and it is a wonderfully weird mix of reality and nonsense.

Chapter One focuses on Joan as she tried on some clothes in a mall–she is buying bralettes–imposed propaganda to younger hip girls.  Then it pushes back as she and The Man head to their place–the World Revolt Art Gallery.  But more on that place after a brief excursion to the Riverbend Arts Market.

Joan & The Man are artists living in Florida.  She works in paint and he works in words.  They spend time at the RAM hoping to sell some works, but really it’s a sucker’s market.  They often head down with their dog Duke,  Duke is a nasty dog to everyone but The Man. Then there’s a weird moment where Duke winds up trading places with a movie star dog (to the terminal end of the movie star dog).  But losing Duke frees them. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JLCO SEPTET WITH WYNTON MARSALIS-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #163 (February 2, 2021).

I was looking for some era-appropriate music for this post, then I saw this Tiny desk from Wynton Marsalis which hearkens back to big band but is very contemporary (just like this story).

Marsalis has been writing music about democracy and the call for justice for decades. “I hope that the social and political corruption and turmoil of these times cast a light on the individual investment required to maintain a libertarian democracy,” he wrote on his blog in January. “May the events of these times inspire us all to engage even more deeply in the rights and responsibilities we have as citizens.”  Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz At Lincoln Center Orchestra Septet recorded their Tiny Desk (home) concert at Dizzy’s Club, or what they call “the house of swing.”

The first of the three pieces is called “Sloganize, Patronize, Realize, Revolutionize (Black Lives Matters),” a six and a half minute instrumental that  features tasty solos from just about everyone.

“Sloganize, Patronize, Realize, Revolutionize (Black Lives Matters),” [is] a bold statement about humanity and the consequences of racism. Marsalis says this piece — as well as the rest of the music on his new album, The Democracy! Suite — deals with the timeless human issues we see exacerbated during the times of the pandemic, like social challenges and matters of the heart.

It’s got a big swinging intro and then things settle down for individual moments.  First Walter Blanding plays a grooving tenor saxophone solo.  Wynton takes a bright trumpet solo.  Carlos Henriquez gets a little upright bass solo action and has a little back and forth with Obed Calvaire on drums.  I often wonder if these solos are written out, or if they follow a general guideline or if they are all improvised.

After a return to the main melody, Ted Nash gets a very different sounding alto saxophone solo after which Elliot Mason plays a ripping trombone solo.  Dan Nimmer plays a slightly dissonant piano solo before the band returns to the main theme and brings it all home.

The next two pieces of the suite run uninterrupted into each other.

“Deeper than Dreams” is a reverential piece Marsalis wrote for those who have lost loved ones during the pandemic. Marsalis … lost his father, the legendary pianist and jazz patriarch, Ellis Marsalis, to complications from COVID-19 last spring, and [he] speaks affectionately of “the times when our old folks come and sit with us in the spirit realm when we are sleeping.”

This piece starts slow and swoony. This time the solos are more duos.  With Marsalis and Nash playing together, then Blanding and Mason going back and forth and finally a piano and bass moment for Nimmer and Henriquez.

To close, “That Dance We Do (That You Love Too)” is playful and funky and inspires a hopeful message, one that Marsalis says is “for everybody who got out and got down during this time on behalf of freedom.”

This final piece opens up with a funky introduction.  Nimmer mutes the piano strings as he plays a sound that sounds like a guitar.  The bass brings in a funky rhythm and then the horns all go to town.  The biggest surprise comes when Blanding brings out a tiny saxophone that looks almost like a toy and yet he plays a wicked and wild solo on it.

Then Marsalis plays a muted raw trumpet solo–he gets some wild and crazy sounds.

Obed Calvaire never gets a drum solo per se, but his work throughout the songs is always interesting and complex with all kind of nice percussion and rhythm.

This was a really fun set.

[READ: March 15, 2021] Matthew Henson and the Ice Temple of Harlem

I saw this book at work and thought it might be a reprinted Blaxploitation novel.  But in fact, this is an entirely new book.

I also didn’t realize that Matthew Henson was a real person.  I’m embarrassed not to know that but I see that it was almost by design that I didn’t know who he was.

Henson was an American explorer who was one of the first people to reach the geographic North Pole.  He was essentially partners with Robert Peary on several voyages to the Arctic over a period of 23 years.  [I’d never heard of Peary either, so I didn’t feel too bad about not having heard of Henson].  But unsparingly, upon the success of reaching the North Pole, it was Peary who received the accolades and Henson was dismissed as his helper or even his servant.  Henson received nothing for his work and wound up languishing until many years later when his work was finally recognized:

In 1937 he became the first African American to be made a life member of The Explorers Club; in 1948 he was elevated to the club’s highest level of membership. In 1944 Henson was awarded the Peary Polar Expedition Medal, and he was received at the White House by Presidents Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower. [He died in 1955].  In 1988 he and his wife were re-interred at Arlington National Cemetery. In 2000 Henson was posthumously awarded the Hubbard Medal by the National Geographic Society.

So that’s the background.

In this story, Henson has come back from his expedition and has been making a name for himself as a kind of hero for hire.  It’s a wonderful conceit and a great way to get attention for a man who deserves more name recognition.  Also very cool is that the book includes Bessie Coleman, (the first African American and Native American woman to earn a pilot’s license–although she had to go to France to earn it since America wouldn’t give her one). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: beabadoobie-“Care” (2020).

This song has been getting a bunch of airplay prior to the release of beabadoobie’s debut, album and holy cow is it catchy.

It’s got a terrific 90s alt rock sensibility (Belly, Juliana Hatfield, etc).  Slightly distorted guitars, big drums and perfect use of silence to lead to a crashing continuation.

Beatrice Laus’ voice is gentle and soft as she sings the jangly verses.  The bridge then builds to the super catchy, two-beats-and-a-pause “care” chorus.  Her voice doesn’t get harsh or anything bit it does get a lot more powerful.

This song is hooky and memorable and instantly sing alongable.

I’d heard her earlier EPs and liked them, but nothing stood out as memorably as this song.  I hope the rest of the album proves to be as full of great songs.

[READ: October 15, 2020] “Time to Destination”

This is an excerpt from DeLillo’s forthcoming novel The Silence.  I tend to think that DeLillo’s novels are rather long, so I was surprised that this excerpt was only three pages.  (I realize an excerpt is a tiny piece, but it still seemed rather short).

I normally really enjoy DeLillo’s attention to quotidian detail, but this excerpt fell flat for me.

It is a man and a woman on a plane.  He wants to sleep but he can’t stop looking at the display that shows where they are and when they will arrive.

He reads many of these details aloud, but the woman (his wife) ignores him.  she is busy writing down all of the things they have done so far on th etrip.

While the talk, they challenge each other on some facts–Fahrenheit’s first name, Celsius’ nationality.  He mocks her for writing down all the details, like the rainy days–she wants to see the precision, the details.  He says she can’t help herself, but she replies that she doesn’t want to help herself.

Their conversation felt like airflight itself–automatically generated because of the enclosed space. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: LANG LANG-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #11 (April 17, 2020).

Lang Lang is a superstar pianist whom I have never heard of.  But I agree with the blurb that it’s neat to see a fantastic pianist playing at home.  He seems relaxed and loose.  And the camera angle allows us to see his fingers (and his whole swaying body) pretty clearly.

Here’s something unique: a chance to eavesdrop on the superstar pianist Lang Lang at home.

The 37-year-old pianist, who typically plays sold-out shows to thousands, says he’s taking his recent solitary time to learn new repertoire at home in Shanghai, China. And home is where he thinks we should all be.

He opens with Chopin’s calming “Nocturne No. 20 in C-sharp minor.”  I loved watching him slowly and deliberately play that last note.  It seems like he holds his finger above it for minutes, but it fits in perfectly.

Lang Lang’s latest passion is Bach – specifically the Goldberg Variations, a 75-minute-long cycle of immense complexity grounded in the composer’s durable beauty. Lang Lang offers the “18th and 19th variations,” pieces that in turn represent the strength of logic and the joy of the dance. It’s music, Lang Lang says, that “always brings me to play in another level of artistic thinking.”

These pieces are just magical.  Even if I don;t know them well, I can tell pretty immediately that they are Bach.  Lang Lang’s fluidity is wonderful, as is the way his whole body seems to be absorbing the music as he plays.

[READ: April 11, 2020]: Carnet de Voyage

From March 5 thru May 14, 2004 Craig Thompson was on an international book tour celebrating the success of his (fantastic) book Blankets.

This journal was his visual diary (no cameras were used, only his memory) of his trip.  His editors thought it would be interesting for him to document his trip (and it is).

He flies into Paris then a 2 hour plane trip to Lyon.  He draws pictures of where he has been and the people he has met (and some of their fascinating stories).  There’s some wonderful sketches of rooftops from hotel windows.

He does interviews for radio and magazines. He laughs that one of the photos shoots was in the streets of Paris, where he is all dressed up.  But really he’s a county bumpkin from Wisconsin. The drawing of himself as a glamorous guy and his bumpkin alter ego together is pretty hilarious.

On March 15 he left for Marrakesh, Morocco and this exotic location rally sets the stage for most of his artwork and what is sort of the only “plot” in the book.

He had also just broken up with his girlfriend which weighs on his mind quite a lot on the tour. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ORQUESTA AKOKÁN-“Mambo Rapidito” (2019).

Since this story is about something shameful in Cuba, I thought I’d tie it to something that is wonderful in Cuba: Orquesta Akokán

Orquesta Akokán is a band comprised of Cuban musicians and “Latin music freaks” from New York.   They play the kind of Cuban music that filled New York nightclubs in the 1940s and 1950s.  As their website explains:

Robust, time-tested musical architectures of son cubano and mambo are honored and modernized through a synthesis of the rich compositional styles of Havana, New York, and beyond.

This song begins with a descending piano riff that quickly gives way to horn hits and a cowbell that doesn’t stop for the whole three minutes.

The main melody comes in as a swinging, wholly danceable riff with shouted refrains of “baile!”

Then lead vocalist José “Pepito” Gómez shows where the rapidito comes in as he sings an insanely fast vocal part ( I wouldn’t even guess what he’s saying).

The song is fun and swinging and should make everyone want to baile!

Then comes an awesome flute solo.  There’s a cool swinging instrumental sections in the middle before the call and response of the backing vocalists and Pepito.

Then a wild and cacophonous piano solo sprinkles the end of the song.  It is a ton of fun.  The NPR blurb says that

when globalFEST decided to host this year’s edition at New York’s Copacabana nightclub — a venue with a history that stretches back nearly 80 years and boasts a long association with Latin music — the festival’s organizers decided that Akokán had to be the first group they invited this time around.

Mambo!

[READ: December 23, 2019] Guantánamo Kid

This is a story of injustice.

Injustice at the hands of Americans.

Americans should be humiliated and outraged by this injustice.

Injustice that is utterly horrific to behold–and I suspect that this graphic novel holds back a lot of the really unpleasant details to make it readable.

This is the story of Mohammed El-Gharani, an innocent kid who was sent to Guantánamo Bay for seven years.

At the age of 14, Mohammed El-Gharani made money in the streets of Medina, Saudi Arabia.  His family was from Chad and, as such, he was treated like an outsider in Saudi Arabia.  He wasn’t allowed to go to school and the locals treated him badly.  He and his friend knew this was no way to make a living.

One day his friend told him that if he went to Pakistan he could learn how to fix computers.  He even knew people there who would put him up while he studied. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: NEIL PEART-September 12, 1952-January 7, 2020.

When I was in high school, Rush was my favorite band, hands down.  I listened to them all the time.  I made tapes of all of their songs in alphabetical order and would listen to them straight through.

I still loved them in college, but a little less so as my tastes broadened.  But every new release was something special.

It’s frankly astonishing that I didn’t seem them live until 1990.  There were shows somewhat nearby when I was in college, but I never wanted to travel too far on a school night (nerd!).

For a band I loved so much, it’s also odd that I’ve only seen them live 5 times.  However, their live shows are pretty consistent.  They play the same set every night of a tour (as I found out when I saw them two nights apart), and there wasn’t much that set each show apart–although They did start making their shows more and more fun as the years went on, though).

One constant was always Neil Peart’s drum solo. It too was similar every night.  Although I suspect that there was a lot more going on than I was a ware of.  It was also easy to forget just how incredible these solos were.  Sure it was fun when he started adding synth pads and playing music instead of just drums, but even before that his drumming was, of course, amazing.

It was easy to lose sight of that because I had always taken it for granted.

I am happy to have seen Rush on their final tour.  I am sad to hear of Neil’s passing.  I would have been devastated had it happened twenty years ago, but now I am more devastated for his family.

So here’s two (of dozens) memorials.  The first one is from the CBC.  They included a mashup of some of Neil’s best drum solos:

But what better way to remember the drum master than with a supercut of his drum solos? From a 2004 performance of “Der Trommler” in Frankfurt, Germany, to a 2011 performance on The Late Show With David Letterman, to his first-ever recorded drum solo (in 1974 in Cleveland, Ohio), dive into nearly five minutes of Peart’s epic drum solos, below.

The best Neil Peart drum solos of all time.

I was only going to include this link, because it was a good summary, then I saw that Pitchfork ranked five of Neil’s best drum solos (an impossible task, really).  But it is nice to have them all in one place.

You can find that link here.

Starting in the 1980s Neil’s solos were given a name (which shows that they were pretty much the same every night).  Although as I understand it, the framework was the same but the actual hits were improvised each night.

Even after all of these years and hearing these drum solos hundreds of times, watching them still blows my mind.

  • “The Rhythm Method”
  • “O Baterista”
  • “Der Trommler”
  • “De Slagwerker,”
  • “Moto Perpetuo”
  • “Here It Is!”, “Drumbastica,” “The Percussor – (I) Binary Love Theme / (II) Steambanger’s Ball”

[READ: January 2020] Canada 1867-2017

In this book, Paul Taillefer looks at the most historically significant event from each tear of Canadian history.  And he tries to convey that event in about a page.  Can you imagine learning the history of your country and trying to condense every year into three paragraphs?

And then do it again in French?  For this book is also bilingual.

I can’t read French, but i can tell that the French is not a direct translation of the English (or vice versa).

For instance in 1869, the final sentence is:

This, in turn, signaled the start of the Red River Rebellion which would not end until the Battle of Batoche in 1885.

Neither Batoche nor 1885 appears in the entire French write up.  So that’s interesting, I suppose.  I wonder if the content is very different for French-reading audiences. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SNARKY PUPPY-Tiny Desk Concert #913 (November 20, 2019).

I feel like I’ve been hearing a lot about Snarky Puppy lately.  So much so that I assumed they were a new band.  Wrong:

Snarky Puppy has been a force for a while now, earning the ears of millions for more than a decade.  The band started as college friends in the jazz program at the University of North Texas back in 2003. But the formative era came a few years later, after Michael League [bassist and bandleader] became a part of the gospel scene in Dallas and eventually brought the jazz students to church, where music plays a different role than it does in the classroom. In the pulpit, it’s a channel for spiritual healing, a communal experience between players and congregation. As an experiment, League pulled his jazz friends and his gospel bandmates into one ensemble, where the two groups bonded together and established ground-zero for building the sonic identity of Snarky Puppy

I also had an idea that (because the name sounds similar to Skinny Puppy) that they might be a, what, young bratty dark punk band?  Wrong again.

Their secret sauce? A long-simmered recipe of jazz, funk and gospel.  Thirteen albums later, you can still hear these gospel and jazz orbits crashing into each other.

Oh, and one more thing.  They only play instrumentals.

They’re a band whose lyric-less melodies are still yelled (sung back) to them at their concerts around the world, as a shared catharsis for everyone in the room.

I really couldn’t have gotten that more wrong.

The band plays two songs in this lengthy set.

The first is called “Tarova.”  It opens with a wonderful sequence of keyboards.  Shaun Martin plays the keyboards with that talk box thing (made famous by Peter Frampton).  He seems to be having a kind of call and response solo with Bobby Sparks.  Sparks has the most fascinating thing on his keyboard.  A very large whammy bar/lever that he is able to push really far down to bend notes far more than any keyboard I’ve ever heard.  It was so much fun watching him do this, I was very glad he was up front.

During all of this, “JT” Thomas is keeping time on drums.  The song proper jumps in with a fun funky riff with lots of trumpets.  Everybody gets to do something impressive in this song and there’s a bunch of solos as well.

I really like the middle funky section that’s mostly bass and keys.

The song builds to a moment when everyone stops–after a two second pause which makes everyone clap, they resume with a great percussion solo from Nate Werth.

When the song ends, League introduces everyone and says who soloed.  He jokes, “That’s what you;re supposed to do in jazz, right, say who soloed n case anyone was confused that there were solos going on.”

Then he addresses the crowd.  He says that most people there are employees and family and an abundance of interns.  He wants to turn the cameras around for a minute (only one or two turn around) and force you into a musical rhythmic experiment.  Turns out that

Seconds before we hit record, Snarky Puppy’s bandleader, Michael League leaned in to ask if he could “do a little crowd work.” I suspect he waited until the last second on purpose, but it’s been easy to trust this band when they have an idea, judging by the three Grammy Awards they get to dust off at home after every tour run.

What resulted was a Tiny Desk first: League divided the audience into two sections, one side clapping out a 3/4 beat and the other half a 4/4 beat, creating a polyrhythm that I’m sure a handful of coworkers didn’t feel so confident trying to pull off. But this band pulls you in with simple instruction and a little faith.

League says, “we’re going to a polyrhythm because things have to get nerdy and unenjoyable.”  The crowd does admirably well with the two rhythms going on.  They are aided by Nate Werth on percussion who is really amazing (not necessarily here, but in the two songs).  I believe that they are creating 7/4.

The audience is warned that this polyrhythm will be used in the second song “Xavi,” dedicated to their friends in Morocco.

The song opens a funky bass and a lovely flute melody from Chris Bullock.  Then after a short guitar lick by Chris McQueen the whole band jumps in with a really funky melody.  The riff is taken over by two trumpets Justin Stanton (whose trumpet has a mute) and Jay Jennings (no mute) and Chris Bullock who is now on sax.

I was going to say you really don’t hear much of the violin in this set as it gets kind of melded with everything else.  Then mid way through the song, Zach Brock takes a wild and, often, effects-riddled solo in the middle of the song.  It might be my favorite part of a set that has many highlights.

The clapping part is used twice.  In the first one, the band is kind of quiet and the clapping is aided with great percussion from Werth and another lovely flute.

The guitar and bass in this song are fantastic even if they are never entirely prominent.  There’s also a very cool keyboard solo from trumpeter Justin Stanton.

Then the clapping comes around a second time.  During this one, there’s a guitar and keyboard making all kinds of sounds while the drums keep hitting everything, there;s more percussion and a little more flute.

The whole set is tremendous fun.  Totally not what I was expecting and so much better.

[READ: August 15, 2019] The Idiot

I grabbed this book because I had written down the author’s name as someone I wanted to read.  I also got a kick out of the title (and the obvious allusion to Dostoevsky).

I started the book and enjoyed it and then realized that I had read an excerpt from this story already.  And that is why I had written the author’s name down.

This book was written as a kind of response to her first book.  In an essay in The Guardian, she explained that:

In her first book, The Possessed, New Yorker journalist Elif Batuman complained that as an incipient novelist she was always being told to eschew books and focus on life. Literature since Don Quixote had been seen as false and sterile; disconnected from lived experience. After years as a graduate student of Russian literature, she decided to challenge this by writing an account of her own haphazard attempt to live with and through books.

Of the excerpt I wrote quite a lot (and quite a lot that almost gets left behind after the excerpt): (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MOLLY SARLÉ-Tiny Desk Concert #898 (October 4, 2019).

Molly Sarlé was recently on a Tiny Desk Concert with Mountain Man (who I heard but didn’t really see at Newport Folk Festival).

During the Mounatin Man songs, Molly tends to have the high harmonies.  In this session, she doesn’t sing especially high–although her voice is quite delicate.  It’s hard to believe she was a back up vocalist for Feist, not because her voice isn’t lovely–it is!–but because she doesn’t seem to be a very powerful singer.

The first Mountain Man album came out in 2010.  The second Mountain man album came out in 2018.  This is Molly’s first solo album.  During the intervening years, she did a number of things (like sing backup for Feist), but was apparently never sure if music was her calling.  And yet her songs are personal and powerful.

The songs Molly Sarlé performed at the Tiny Desk are all from her debut solo album, Karaoke Angel. These songs aren’t frivolous–at the heart of Molly Sarlé’s songs are stories. Sometimes they feel like dreamy inner thoughts loosely connected.

She opens with “Human,” a song I knew from a different Mountain Man show on NPR (Tiny Desk Family Hour).

 It may simply be a breakup song; but its wisdom is in recognizing our individual flaws, being OK with them and even finding pleasure in being imperfect beings.

Although interestingly at the Family Hour, she said it’s about how “unfortunately easy it is to talk to god like he’s a man.”

The song is fairly simple–a pretty melody and a steady one-two snare/hi-hat (Austin Vaughn).  In the Family Hour, the song was just her and her gently strummed guitar with backing harmonies.  It’s really lovely.  This version has an absolutely wonderful bass line (from Brian Betancourt) that runs through it.  It doesn’t detract form the beautiful simplicity of the song, it adds a nice counterbalance and I can’t really tell which version I like better.

Bob also says, “She’s a captivating performer who sings as much with her eyes as she does her voice.”  That is so very true.  She looks out at the audience throughout the song, with a possibly inquisitive look.  He blue eyes piercing through the lovely melody.

It’s weird just how funny Molly is–she seems fairly serious, and her delivery is quite slow, and yet she has a  great (or wicked) sense of humor.

Before “Karaoke Angel” she starts looking at the tchotchkes on the shelves.  She

began her fascination with the multitude of objects shelved behind the Tiny Desk back when she sang with Mountain Man earlier this year. This time, with her own band, those objects left by others inspired a tale of a sweaty towel, an old lover and more.

The item, labeled “Betty’s Boob Sweat” leads to a funny story of dating a ember of Feist’s band and the sad aftermath when she could feel somewhat jealous of a sweat rag.

After telling this story she ends with this amusing non-sequitur:  “No one should have to see their ex-boyfriend’s sweat rag on an other woman’s clutch.  Life is painful and this song is called Karaoke Angel.”

Molly plays the main guitar chords (so gently) while Adam Brisbin plays a quiet wavery slide guitar part.  The song sways gently and Molly’s voice is just beautiful–unadorned and clear and very pure sounding.

For all the quietness of the song, the lyrics are pretty amusing too:

I walked into a bar and gave my heart away to the first stranger I met who could remember my name.
I got up on the stage and sang at the top of my lungs Its so easy so easy to fall in love.

Each subsequent verse is about a man in the bar

Mike walked over / he was picking up what I was putting down / he said honey I am only gonna disappoint you somehow / oh Mike quit talking to me like you’re saying something I didn’t already know / I can tell by the beauty / of the furrow in your brow / you’ve been anointed by disappointment / and it might even be something you like.

Before the final song “Almost Free,” Molly tells the shockingly sad origin of the song, but has to laugh, because what else can you do

Molly cleared her throat and said this song is “about my dad wanting to talk to me about committing suicide — and it turns out writing a song about your dad talking to you about wanting to commit suicide is a great way to shift the conversation, because now we just talk about this song.” Molly Sarlé laughed a bit about the absurdity and truth of it all and, with what I sense as holding back a tear, sang a powerful, personal song in an awkward, open office space.

It starts out with just Molly strumming her guitar and singing.  It seems so stark and exposed, that when the rest of the band comes in and the song almost rocks a bit (sounding like a jam band song) that it’s comes as a relief.

This is a quietly powerful Tiny Desk and really shows off how beautiful Molly’s voice is.

[READ: Summer 2019 and October 29, 2019] The Helios Disaster

This is a weird book, to be sure.  It was written by the then wife (now ex-wife) of Karl Ove Knausgaard.  But it is absolutely nothing like his books.  Linda has her own style and perspective that makes these authors miles apart.  This book was translated from the Norwegian by Rachel Willson-Broyles.

It opens like this:

I am born of a father.  I split his head.  … You are my father, I tell him with my eyes.  My father.  The person in front of me, standing in the blood on the floor, is my father. …The blood sinks into the worn wooden floor and I think, his eyes are green like mine.

How at my birth, do I know that?  That my eyes are green like the sea.

He looks at me.  At my shining armour.  He lifts his hand.  Touches my cheek with it.  And I lift my hand and close it around his.  I want nothing but to stand like this with my father and feel his warmth, listen to the beating of his heart.  I have a father.  I am my father’s daughter.  These words ring through me like bells in that instant.

Then he screams.

His scream tears everything apart.  I will never again be close to him.

She removes her armor, puts down her lance and flees the building.  The neighbor, Greta, says she will help the girl, while the police come and investigate the commotion.  When Greta asks the girl what she wants, the girl says she wants to go to her father.  But Greta says that Conrad doesn’t have any children.

What is going on? (more…)

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