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Archive for the ‘Airplanes’ Category

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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a1699739273_10nyorkerSOUNDTRACK: STONEFIELD-Bent (2019).

Stonefield is a band of four sisters from rural Darraweit Guim in Australia. Drummer and lead vocalist Amy Lee Findlay (the oldest sister) formed the band when she was 16. The band includes Hannah on lead guitar and vocals, Sarah on keyboards and vocals, and Holly on bass guitar (Holly was 8 at the time, and has turned 21 this year).

They are opening for King Gizzard And The lizard Wizard tomorrow night and I’m really looking forward to seeing them.

Bent is their fourth album and is full of psychedelic stoner rock.  But their songs aren’t epic (even though they sound epic).  The longest songs on the record are just over 4 minutes and the whole album is just over 30.

What sets their music apart is the inclusion of a retro 70s sounding keyboard.  Their songs work with big rumbling riffs; low bass and crashing drums are the name of the game for Stonefield.

Amy’s voice is often slightly echoey, and it works well as a contrast to the heft of the songs.  When the harmony vocals are added it sounds even better.

But it’s the keys that really display the sound.  The keys do most of the solos and many of the lead melodies (unless that’s the guitar pitched to sound like a keyboard).

Some of their songs are faster: “Dead Alive” even feels a little dancey.  Some have a bit more of a metal edge: the main riff of “People” throws in an unexpectedly dark note before propelling off with a ripping prog-rock keyboard solo.

A song like “66” is three and a half minutes long, but the lyrics are only present for a few seconds in the middle: a hazy chant of

Reflection of the one
Confusion has begun

The lightest moment comes in the 85 second “Dignity” which is a pretty keyboard melody accompanied by light drums.  It works as a kind of introduction to the very heavy “Shutdown” which has a surprisingly catchy chorus.

The album ends with the excellent “Woman.”  This is a great disc and I hope it becomes available in the States soon.

[READ: August 28, 2019] “Friendly Skies”

This is a story about a terrible flight.  Since it was written in 2000, it doesn’t ring entirely accurate for 2019.  Especially when one of the passengers gets rowdy.

Eileen is flying from L.A. to the east coast.  She is exhausted from the delays, a little drunk from the booze during the delay, and not very happy about leaving L.A.

She looks out the window to see that one of the engines in on fire.  She utterly freaks out, internally.  But the guy next to her is furious.  He starts banging on the seat in front of him and when the pilot says that they are returning to LAX, he flips out.

Obviously, Eileen is happy that they are going to live, but this guy is mad because he’s going to be late.  He is seething until the guy in front of him calls him an asshole and tells him to calm down.  The man then turns to Eileen–who ignores him–and mutters all kinds of things under his breath.

They land and it is a mad dash as the passengers are given their new boarding information.  While Eileen is heading to her new flight (a layover in Chicago), the obnoxious guy pushes his way past everyone and starts causing a scene because he doesn’t want to check his baggage.

She was sure (and I was sure) that she was going to be seated next to him again.  But no, they are separated by a couple of rows.

The plane was full, but amazingly, the seat next to Eileen was open. She slid into it when she thought it was safe, but at the last possible minute a man came in and  said it was his.  He let her stay by the window though.

Michael turns out to be a very nice person.  He is intent on doing his work, but they do talk a bit and have some things in common.

About half way through the story, Eileen thinks about Roy, a man she is trying to forget.  They were both teachers at a school.  Their relationship was serious.  Until he announced in front of the faculty lounge that he was sleeping with someone else.  And evidently some of the other teachers knew.

She tried to get him out of her mind.  But then the man from the other flight started yelling.  He was screaming for a better seat, “I paid full fare, I’m not going to teak this shit anymore.”  He stormed into the galley and returned with hot pots of coffee.

Flight attendants tried to stop him but he easily bested them, spilling scalding coffee on passengers until he got to the exit and started banging on it, shouting “you’re all going to die!”

Michael hit the man with his laptop which slowed him briefly until he turned and hit Michael over the head with the computer, breaking it and knocking Michael unconscious.

Eileen is fed up with men like this (like Roy) and she was going to act.  Maybe this is why the don’t serve metal flatware on flights anymore.

The story is exciting if not a little predictable..

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SOUNDTRACK: NICK LOWE AND LOS STRAITJACKETS-“Christmas at the Airport” (2014/2013).

I probably like Nick Lowe a lot more than I realize.  I know I like his songwriting more than I realize.  And I love Los Straightjackets.  A perfect pairing.

This is not a moving, treacly holiday song.  And yet neither is it a bitter, what-has-the-season-come-to song.  It’s just one of those things that happens, and he’ll take in (humorous) stride.

It wasn’t until celebrated songsmith Nick Lowe’s 2013 curio, “Christmas at the Airport,” that someone expressed in song what it was like to watch the hopes of holiday cheer fade right before our eyes, on a snow-covered runway in late December. Recorded live in 2014, at Boston’s Paradise Rock Club, backed by Nashville’s neo-surf band Los Straitjackets, Lowe takes us through all the stages of Christmas-time travel grief, one verse at a time.

Stage One: Bemusement. Gazing out the window of his cab upon arrival at the airport, Lowe notices that the place is beginning to look more like the front of a Christmas card than an international travel hub. But even as the tarmac takes on ever-increasing layers of soft, white, wintry down, the full gravity of the situation hasn’t yet sunk in enough to truly unnerve him yet.

Stage Two: Realization. The cold, hard reality of the protagonist’s circumstances suddenly hits home. The fickle finger of fate is pointing at everyone in the airport as if to say, “Nobody’s going anywhere this Christmas. Have you seen that snow outside?” Tempers flaring all around him, Lowe sneaks into a secluded spot for a catnap, maybe hoping things will somehow look better when he awakes.

Stage Three: Transcendence. We’ve all had to buck up sooner or later in this kind of situation, find a way to make a homebound holiday fun. For Lowe, that process entails playing with the TSA equipment in the agents’ absence, turning the baggage carousel into an amusement-park ride, and even scrounging some fast food from the refuse.

And all set to a chipper, surf rock tune.

[READ: December 24, 2018] “Christmas Eve, 1944”

Once again, I have ordered The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This is my third time reading the Calendar (thanks S.).  I never knew about the first one until it was long out of print (sigh).  Here’s what they say this year

Fourth time’s the charm.

After a restful spring, rowdy summer, and pretty reasonable fall, we are officially back at it again with another deluxe box set of 24 individually bound short stories to get you into the yuletide spirit.

The fourth annual Short Story Advent Calendar might be our most ambitious yet, with a range of stories hailing from eight different countries and three different originating languages (don’t worry, we got the English versions). This year’s edition features a special diecut lid and textured case. We also set a new personal best for material that has never before appeared in print.

Want a copy?  Order one here.

Like last year I’m pairing each story with a holiday disc from our personal collection, although this song is an NPR curio.

At first I was concerned because this is a Christmas war story (and those really only go one of two ways).  But in fact it turned out to be awesome.  One of the most moving stories I have read in a long time. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KASVOT VÄXT-“Stray Dog” (1981/2018).

Back in 1994, Phish started covering a classic album for its Halloween costume. In 2015 they covered the Disney album: Chilling, Thrilling Sounds Of The Haunted House, which pretty much meant all bets were off.  So in 2018, they decided to cover an obscure Scandinavian prog rock band called Kasvot Växt and their sole album, í rokk.  This proved to be a big joke–they were a nonexistent band.  They had so much fun creating this band, that they even enlisted others to expand the joke.  This included impressively thorough reviews from WFMU and from AllMusic.

The joke is even in the name: when translated together Kasvot Växt and í rokk means “Faceplant into rock.”.

Here’s some more details they came up with:

The Scandinavian prog rock band purportedly consists of Jules Haugen of Norway, Cleif Jårvinen of Finland, and Horst and Georg Guomundurson of Iceland.  The album’s label, Elektrisk Tung, supposedly went out of business shortly after the LP’s release and little information about the record appears on the internet. Bassist Mike Gordon made a tape copy of í rokk in the mid-’80s and Phish would play it “over and over in the tour van in the early ’90s.” In the Playbill, guitarist Trey Anastasio insisted, “Every time the Halloween discussion comes up, we talk about Kasvot Växt. We honestly were worried we wouldn’t have the chops to pull it off or do justice to the sound, but when it came down to it, we just couldn’t resist any longer.”

The decision to go with an obscure album few have heard or even heard of appealed to the members of Phish. “We’ve paid tribute to so many legendary bands over the years, it felt right this time to do something that’s iconic to us but that most people won’t have heard of,” Gordon said as per the Phishbill. “And with these translations we’re really performing songs that have never been sung in English before.” Keyboardist Page McConnell added, “I love the mystery surrounding this whole thing. If those guys ever hear we did this I hope they’re excited because we absolutely intend it as a loving tribute.” As for what Phish fans can expect? “A weird, funky Norweigan dance album! Get out there and put your down on it!” exclaimed drummer Jon Fishman.

While the listings for the 10 tracks on the original í rokk were in a Scandinavian language, the titles appear in English in the Playbill. Phish called upon a Nordic linguist to translate the lyrics to English for tonight’s performance.

These songs do not really sound like a Norwegian prog rock band.  They do sound an awful lot like Phish (although with a more synthy vibe overall. The band has this part of their live show streaming on Spotify under the Kasvot Växt name.  And I’m ending the year by talking about each song.

This song seems to eschew the whole Scandinavian prog-rock joke entirely.  It’s a pretty conventional bluesy song and it’s the shortest one.  There’s really nothing un-Phishy about this song excpet for possibly some of the synth sounds.

This might be the least interesting song of the set, but it sets up for some good upbeat jamming.

[READ: December 2, 2018] “Literary Customs”

I enjoy Zambra’s works, both fiction and non-fiction.  This, like many of his pieces, was translated by Megan McDowell and it is a treat to read.

Zambra talks about how he always takes books with him when he travels. He takes two or three books that he feels safer having around: “I can forget my medicine or the cloth for cleaning my glasses, but i never forget these novels.”  He also brings a book he hasn’t read–a large tome that he thinks will captivate him, but which usually never does.

We shouldn’t travel with books because they take up some much space–better to bring a second pair of shoes–you’re more likely to need a second pair of shoes.  Plus, since books are more expensive in Chile, every trip Chileans take is an opportunity for shopping–an anxious tour of bookstores.  And yet oftentimes no purchases are made, because there is so much to buy it feels not like you are getting something but that you are now more aware of what you don’t have.

And then there is the guilt that you won’t even read them.  But that doesn’t stop him.

On this trip to Mexico he started off well, reading what he bought, but he soon began “collecting” again.

Then there’s always the trip home–the suitcase is a mini library and the only way to make room is to leave pounds worth of clothes at the airport–sometimes you must walk around terribly dressed but draped in the very best literature.

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SOUNDTRACK: DAVID WAX MUSEUM-“Born With a Broken Heart” (Field Recordings, January 12, 2012).

This was the third Field Recording in the series [David Wax Museum: Folk Among The Ruins] and it seems to have started a trend of recording musicians in the ruins at the Newport Folk Festival

The video opens with the band climbing through a broken down house.  Then the music starts with David playing the charango and Suz Slezak clapping.  It’s a catchy fun song with handclaps, wonderful vocal harmonies and oohs.

Two minutes into the song a tenor horn adds some depth and bass to the music, making it sound much bigger.  Around three minutes the whole horn section is playing along with a kind of mariachi feel..

At the end of the song you can hear cheering–presumably for the festival itself and not them, but it seems apt as well.

[READ: November 15, 2017] “The Hotel”

I feel like this is an excerpt.  If it’s not an excerpt than I don’t know what.

It’s basically about a woman who lands at an airport.  She is discombobulated from all of the flights and transfers (which seems unlikely but whatever).  The story starts with no explanation at all as to why the woman has flown from Dublin to New York to Milan.  She is now at a layover in Germany or Switzerland or Austria (the signs are all in German).

She can’t read the signs.  It’s very late. The airport seems to be closing down.  Her next flight is leaving in 5 hours.  She figures she will need to be back at the airport in four.  So instead of camping out at Gate 19, she decides to go to look for a hotel.  By the time she checked in , she would get max three hours sleep.  It’s just not worth it in my opinion, but whatever. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RAKIM-Tiny Desk Concert #759 (June 25, 2018).

I have been really delighted with old-school rappers bringing live bands with them to the Tiny Desk.  And Rakim brings a huge band with two violins, two horns, in addition to the standard set up of keys, guitar, drums and bass.

It’s really the live drums that make the songs–the complex rhythms, hi-hats and awesome stops and starts that make the songs flow so well.

I remember Rakim from Eric B & Rakim

It had been nearly a decade since Rakim released new music, but that drought ended Friday when the godfather of rap lyricism and one half of the revered duo Eric B & Rakim released a new song, “King’s Paradise.” The track was written for Season 2 of Marvel’s Luke Cage, which premiered on Netflix the same day, but it wasn’t entirely new to select NPR staff; they heard it days earlier when the God MC performed at the Tiny Desk.

The New York rap icon wasn’t the only legend in the building that day. Ali Shaheed Muhammad of A Tribe Called Quest — who produced and co-wrote “King’s Paradise” with keyboardist Adrian Younge under their new project The Midnight Hour — played bass, and rising blues torchbearer Christone “Kingfish” Ingram sat in on guitar.

Rakim starts with the new song “King’s Paradise” which

pays homage to the heroes of the Harlem Renaissance as well as its fictional superhero, the bulletproof Luke Cage. Rakim tipped his hat to Philip Payton Jr., Joe Lewis, Lena Horne, Malcolm X, Maya Angelou and Louis Armstrong, before concluding with a few bars about the comic book-inspired series.

The live guitar solo totally rocks a well–it’s a nice addition.

When they finish, Younge tells Rakim, “you a legend, with Ali on bass, we need to get into some classics.”

Younge then led the nine-member backing band through two of Rakim’s undeniable classics: “Paid in Full” and “Know the Ledge.” For the former, drummer David Henderson rolled right in with the unmistakable breakbeat, — originally sampled from The Soul Searchers “Ashley’s Roachclip.”

Rakim introduced the song by encouraging everyone to “Put your hands up and rub your money fingers together.”  I was surprised at how short that song was (the whole set is not even ten minutes).

They do one more “classic with some band fun…. some blaxploitation type stuff.”

Ali Shaheed Muhammad, who’s been playing bass since age 19 despite being known for his production and DJ work, provided the low end for “Know The Ledge.”

This was my favorite song of the bunch. The flow was great with some sinister edges and great horn sounds.

Rakim released his first single 32 years ago, yet the timbre of his voice and Dali Llama aura remain strong. Let’s hope this is the beginning of another renaissance.

The full complement of musicians includes

Rakim (vocals), Adrian Younge (keys), Ali Shaheed Muhammad (bass), Jack Waterson (guitar), David Henderson (drums), Loren Oden (vocals), Saudia Mills (vocals), Angela Munoz (vocals), Stephanie Yu (violin), Bryan Hernandez-Luch (violin), DeAndre Shaifer (trumpet) , Jordan Pettay (saxophone), Joi Gilliam (vocalist), Christone Ingram (Kingfish) (guitar)

[READ: May 21, 2018] “I Do Something That I Don’t Understand”

I don’t know how often a title of a story pretty much sums up the whole thing, but this sure does.  And, as the title is kind of vague and not compelling, so is the story.  Luckily it is quite short.

In this story a woman opens, “Today I did something and I have no idea why I did it.”  This seems to be stated as if it were a revelatory, singular experience.  I can’t even begin to count the days when I have done something and don’t know why I did it.

Hers is a bit more theatrical than some, but not that drastic.  She is on an an airplane and sees a woman who almost gets hit by a bag from the overhead compartment. The man who took the bag down did not apologize but the woman looked as if she was certainly expecting one””‘well-bred’, the woman looked.”

And so, rather than going to the car that was awaiting for her, she followed the woman and her schlub of a husband to their next gate. (more…)

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