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SOUNDTRACK: JOSEPH KECKLER-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #223 (June 14, 2021).

I saw Joseph Keckler open for Sleater-Kinney.  I’d never heard of him and had no idea what to expect.

He had videos and sang funny lyrics.  And then, POW, he had the most amazing operatic bass voice I’d ever heard.

You can hear that about two minutes into the first song here.

“My love called me many names,” Joseph Keckler sings in “GPS Song,” which opens his Tiny Desk (home) concert. He proceeds to list them: “Baby animal. Little baby animal. Big baby animal. Black chicken.” (It goes on like this for some time.)

“GPS Song” — which is sung partly in a made-up language and evolves to feature the titular navigation system droning in the background of a breakup — is one of Keckler’s hallmark absurdist arias, which he performs with a commanding presence and a winking, deadpan delivery. While their content is quirky (another features the narrator’s relapse into a teenage goth identity), it’s not quite right to call them strictly funny; they’re infused with a kind of intimate, observational detail that makes them simultaneously comedic and affecting. (“It was the most heartbreaking moment of my life,” Keckler once said of the situation that inspired “GPS Song,” “yet it was also so ridiculous to have this disrupting automaton, breaking our silence to misdirect us at every moment.” This performance captures that ridiculousness and heartbreak equally.)

The music is wonderful.  Gorgeous piano from Matthew Dean Marsh.  Michael Hanf bows his guitar for rumbling low chords.  Two minutes in Lavinia Pavlish joins on violin and Keckler shows just how amazing his voice is.  Even if the lyrics are comic.

Is it funny?  Yes.  Baby potato?  Yes.  And also when he finds his love’s text messages (in operatic Italian) to “Baby Zebra” and when he sings “Google translate: ‘god is a bicycle, ride slow’ nothing made sense.”  Or when in the middle of the operatic intensity the GPS says (in English) recalculating, recalculating, recalculating.

But not everything is funny.

“City” has a bouncy piano with lovely violin from.  because of the slow operatic way he sings this song (in English) it’s a little hard to follow the words.  But again musically, it’s so interesting.  In the middle, there’s a cool soaring moment when both violin and Michael Hanf play a high scratchy descending note.

So who is this guy?

A classically trained singer, performance artist and writer whose work spans styles and genres, Keckler turns his Tiny Desk (home) concert, shot in Brooklyn, into a showcase of his dynamism as a performer.

For “Goth Song” he sits at the piano and says, “I used to work in a music library but one day…” That is not idle banter, it is the introduction to the song–the story of his descent into a teenage goth.  It’s very funny hearing him singing these things in his amazingly deep operatic German.

He ends with “Appearances” another song sung in English.  Michael Hanf swipes a bow across his guitar to generate an echoing chord.  Hanf also plays the low bass on the synth (and even a cymbal midway through).  Again, this song is not comic, but it really shows off his voice nicely.

[READ: July 1, 2021] “Giganto”

This month’s issue of The Walrus is the Summer Reading issue and features three pieces of fiction and three poems.

The third piece is a short story.

It’s an interesting look at infighting in an under-funded and under-appreciated university department.

There are four people in the truck, a truck that’s off-roading until they have to start using the ATVs.  Dr. Krentz is head of the department.  The narrator, Melinda, is Dr. Krentz’ (poorly) paid assistant.  She intends to hang on to this job until Krentz retires and then take it over herself.  Camryn is Dr Krentz’ intern.  Camryn is Dr Krentz’ intern.  Melinda fears that Camryn, who is young (pretty) and full of energy, is looking to steal her own job.  And then there’s Nigel.  Nigel was some rando who “appreciated the doctor’s work.”  He was hoping to interview Dr. Krentz for his upcoming book on megafauna in North America.   Krentz was flattered and Nigel was a pain in the ass. (more…)

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