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Archive for the ‘Art’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: DON BRYANT: Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #116 (November 24, 2020).

I was not familiar with Don Bryant, although I must have heard his music over the years.

Bryant, almost 80, has been in the music business since the early days of rock and roll; he wrote his first hit, the Five Royales’ “I Got to Know,” in 1960. He went on to his biggest success as a songwriter for Hi Records in Memphis …. For a number of years he only recorded gospel music, until 2017 when he began releasing soul records again, backed by members of the Bo-Keys.

Although

Classic soul music feels best in a club, with a lead singer and big band, preferably with horns, playing off the excitement of a sweaty crowd, drawing them in to stories of love, or love lost, or love reclaimed. It’s a hard feeling to find in our pandemic times.

Bryant manages to play some gorgeous old-school soul with just a guitarist (Scott Bomar) and a keyboardist (Archie “Hubbie” Turner).  And his voice, of course.

Wearing an elegant black and grey jacket matching his salt-and-pepper hair, Bryant evokes style and experience – someone who has been in it for the long haul.

This set is three songs from his latest record, You Make Me Feel, all written by him

His voice is powerful and resonant, deeply rooted in gospel. The keyboard sound is a classic soul sound and the guitar provides a mixture of rocking riffs and mellow accompaniment.

In “Your Love is to Blame” he even gives some good James Brown yelps.

Between songs he sounds like a preacher:  I’m going to give these songs to you as strong as I can.

“Is It Over” is slower and more mellow.  His voice sounds great, hitting high notes and unlike contemporary singers, his grace notes sound great–strong and not whiny.

“Your Love is Too Late” is a classic soul kiss-off track: “I found somebody new to do the things I wanted you to do.”  It opens with an old fashioned guitar riff and moves on from there with grooving guitars and fleshed out keyboards.

I don’t listen to much soul, but I do rather like it.

[READ: December 26, 2020] By the Way 2

This is Ann Lane’s second book about public art in Ireland.  She compiled the first in 2010.  I haven’t seen it, so I don’t know what is in it.

She says that in the ten or so years since the first book, more art has been added and she had been made aware of all of the art that she had missed.

But the fact that there are over 1,000 images in this book, that this is her second book and that in the introduction she says that she pretty much ignores the big cities (due to size constraints of the book) makes me think that Ireland is absolutely amazing with the amount of public art that the country has.  Ireland is about the same size as Indiana, and I would bet a ton of money that Indiana does not have 2,000 (some absolutely gorgeous) piece of public art to look at.

This book is broken down by county.  Lane includes many pieces of art from each county and provides some context for the piece, whether it is the impetus for the creation, some comment about its construction or even an occasional personal reflection.

It isn’t easy to photograph pubic art.  Some pieces absolutely fail when taken out of context or when trying to encompass an entire piece of art with a tiny photo.  Sometimes you cannot do justice to a piece because it must be seen from different angles to be really appreciated.  But Lane does a great job conveying these pieces.  And if her main goal is to get you to want to come to Ireland see them, then she has succeeded.

I marked off dozens of pictures in here because they were either my favorites or they were interesting in some way.

I followed this format.
COUNTY
Town: Title (Artist) Location.  Comments. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BORIS-präparat (2013).

präparat is Boris’ 18th album.  It contains a huge variety of styles in its 40 some minutes.  It also features a couple of guests.  Michio Kurihara plays guitar on track 3 and 5 and Gisèle Vienne offers spoken word on track 6.

So this album starts with one of the band’s most beautiful instrumentals.  “december” is slow with a cool bassline and gentle drums. The lead guitar perfectly matches the strummed bass.  It’s a lovely post-rock instrumental complete with a section that manipulates the volume knob to bring in extra soft notes.

The pretty guitars continue to ring in on “哀歌 -elegy-” for about 20 seconds before the ominous distortion means an oncoming crash of chords.  But this is a slow crash of chords with some gentle singing (from Takeshi?) in the melodic verses.  About three minutes in the song jumps into a fast rocking section with a great guitar riff and heavy drumming. It’s excellent.

It segues into the 57 second noise fest that is “evil stack 3.”  It’s just distortion and wild soloing, a noisy interlude that is abruptly ended by the gentle “砂時計 -monologue-”  This song is four minutes long complete with gentle drums, and pretty guitars.  About halfway in, it takes off in another postrock spectacle of pretty guitars and a gentle melody.

“method of error” features Michio Kurihara on guitar and starts with some slow heavy thumping chords.  Church bells come echoing in followed by soaring guitars.  The drums interject crashing sounds from time to time.  Two guitars provide an extra wailing solo as the rest of the band jams a heavy chunky riff.  This song runs over 7 minutes.

“bataille sucre” starts off quietly but then brings in a loud ringing guitar.  Then an old school heavy metal riff begins with some screaming lead guitars.  The guest vocals are whispered (presumably in French) and add texture (if you don’t know what she’s saying).

Then comes two songs in under a minute.  “perforated line” is 34 seconds of fast heavy guitar (and synth) that feels like the beginning of song, but it abruptly ends and jumps into the oddball, almost dance stylings of “コップの内側 -castel in the air-” all SEVEN SECONDS of it.  It’s followed by “mirano” which is a warped, carnivalesque waltz with keys and possibly vibes.

“カンヴァス -canvas-” has the tone of a Kim Gordon Sonic Youth song with fuzzy guitars and an almost whispered vocal, although the chorus is pure shoegaze with layers of soft vocals.  About half way through the band add a noisy wall that sounds like it’s going to explode, but it just drops away for some clear crooning from Takeshi.

The disc ends with the eight and a half minute “maeve.”  It opens with skittery percussion and faraway gongs.  Then comes a distorted slow riff.  It’s a slow drone-like song that lumbers along for about six minutes.  The last two are a wave of distortion that sounds like a slow heavy train echoing through your head. 

I love the diversity of this record and the tracks that are not experimental are just dynamite.  I’m really glad this album is no longer hidden away.

[READ: November 12, 2020] The Proof

The Little Buddhist Monk (written 2005) has been bundled with The Proof (written 1989) together in one book.  Both stories were translated by Nick Caistor.

The Proof is about as different from The Little Buddhist Monk as you could get.  It’s also the most visceral story I’ve read by Aira, whose stories tend to be very “of the mind.”

Indeed, you can tell this story is quite different just from the way it starts.

“Wannafuck?”

This question is asked to Marcia (a senior in high school?–she’s “fourth year”) as she is walking down the street.  There are groups of teenagers hanging around,and this question comes from one of the girls.  (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BORIS-Vein (2006/2013).

Boris continues to reissue their back catalog in streaming format.  Which is pretty amazing since so much of their work is so hard to find.  Possibly not great for collectors, but great for those of us who actually want to hear the music.

Vein is Boris’ thirteenth album.  Because they are Boris, the released two different albums under the same title in 2006.  The packaging was identical on both records and the only way to tell them apart was to check out the surface of the vinyl itself.

The “Hardcore version” had punk, hardcore, and drone.with vocals that are screamed rather than sung.  The  “Noise version” had drone and noise music as well as punk. This version of the album does not include any vocals.

In 2013, the band announced that the album would be released as a 2-CD set not as a reissue, but rather a re-arrangement of both albums combined.

Given all of this, it’s not even entirely clear to me what has been released her on bandcamp.  But it seems like the first two tracks (here labeled “v” and “e” are the hardcore version.  The third and fourth tracks “i” and “n” are a little harder to place.

“v” is 14 minutes long, broken up into several small pieces:

It starts with a wall of noise–static and low feedback swirling and manipulated until 4.01 when it segues into segues into ringing bells and effects that sound like a jet taking off and broken glass swirling and zipping around.   Then some drums and chords are introduced.   At 6:15, there’s a samples from the 1979 film Stalker, by Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky. A man says “И пусть посмеются над своими страстями” (Russian for “Let them laugh at their own passions”) followed by a blistering hardcore song  until 7:52.  After an abrupt halt comes the next screaming hardcore song which is more fuzz than chords with screams and feedback which at 9:06 segues into another super fast song which is distinguished from the others because of a riff where the chords go up and up higher and higher and faster as if they are going to explode, although it rumbles unto feedback at around 10:24 when a new tone of fuzzy nose feedback and a much slower introductory opens before before the pummeling hardcore resumes until 12:03.  This first song ends with a moment of silence and then a woman saying “unpleasant dreams” before a Wata fast high note solo is balanced by slow pummeling chords and drums and cymbals. After a minute or so, the hardcore returns this time with a solo all over the top of the song.  The song ends with a humming and what sounds like car keys jingling

“e” is over 15 minutes long and is one third hardcore punk and two thirds slow lengthy drone.  It starts with an Atsuo scream and hardcore drums. There’s a blistering hardcore song–fast riffage and screamed lyrics (which I assume are in Japanese).  Although the hardcore songs sound similar (and are unnamed) the riffs are distinctive enough to tell them apart.  Some backwards masked sounds come in at 1:05 and a similar riff at 1:15.  I have never seen them play this kind of set–it must be exhausting.  At 2.01 a loud bass comes in with a lot of cymbals and the song is buried under a blanket of distortion.  two minute song starts with.  At 3:04 a buzzsaw sound and a cool riff is coupled with some intense screaming.  At 4:45 it morphs into feedback that contains another sample from an Andrei Tarkovsky film, this time the 1986 film, The Sacrifice.  A man say “I hela mitt liv har jag väntat på det här. Hela mitt liv har varit en enda väntan på det här.” (Swedish for “All my life I’ve been waiting for this. My whole life has been a long wait for this.”)  The rest of the song feels like it might stay a lengthy drone, but at 5:46 after some cracks of the snare, a slow powerful Boris riff emerges.  But the riff dies away for some slow Wata soloing over droning chords.

Track 3 is probably the “noise version” (which is 17 minutes long) or the 2013 re-release (which is 17:25) but this track is 18:04.  Of course, if the “noise” version has no vocals, it can’t be this because it does have vocals.

It opens with a similar kind of noise that opens “v” but more staticky and with distant riffing going on.  At 1:58 a riff comes in.  The songs are like “v.”  A shorter version of the jet sounds are followed by some slow heavy chords.   At 3.22 there’s some chirping feedback that introduces the first hardcore song in “v.”  At 5.22 [#4 above] segues into a scream-filled hardcore song followed at 6:14 by the riff that goes higher and higher.  At 7:36, there’s slow thumping with noise and feedback (this might be new and not on “v”) then a sudden drop off of sound and near silence before the screeching feedback that starts at 8:39 with a blistering hardcore song that sounds unlike anything before. There’s heavy fast riffing with a pause and a big scream before resuming.  At 11:50, warping sounds and a thundering drum compete with a really fast riff which sounds like the first part of “e.”  At 13:05 song 2 from “e” begins–short, fast and loud.  Then at 13:51 comes track 4 from “e” (there’s no track 3) with the buzzsaw opening. At 15.21 there’s some backwards recording which eventually becomes the guitar solo that ended “v,” although this time it’s just under 3 minutes long.

Track 4 is “n.”  Perhaps it’s the “noise version” as there are no words.    It’s 17:59 and is a noisy composition of drone and feedback.  There’s some heavy chords and some quieter moments.  The high soaring notes seem to fit in very nicely with the sludgy bottom parts.  About half way through it turns into a fast, heavy hardcoreish track with a lot of drums, but buried under a wall of feedback and distortion.

[READ: November 12, 2020] The Little Buddhist Monk

The Little Buddhist Monk (written 2005) has been bundled with The Proof (written 1989) into one book.  Both stories were translated by Nick Caistor.

The Little Buddhist Monk is an absolutely bizarre, borderline stream of consciousness story.  It jumps from topic to topic like a fever dream and resolves itself in an even more unexpected way.

The story opens with us meeting the little monk who would very much like to leave Korea (where he was born and where he studied). But he has no money and no reasonable expectation for ever emigrating.  

Then one day a French photographer, Napoleon Chirac, and his wife Jacqueline Bloodymary (!) happened in his path.  They were on vacation and spoke French to each other.  The monk knew French and joined in the conversation.  They were delighted to meet a fellow French speaker in such a foreign land.  He imagined that they could be his ticket out of Korea.  So he decided to help them throughout the day.

They talk a lot about art.  Napoleon photographs empty rooms with a 360 degree camera and then splices it together as one image.  He has traveled the world filming places and he is looking to do a Korean monastery.  What luck, the monk can take them to a good one. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MANNEQUIN PUSSY-Patience (2019).

I saw Mannequin Pussy two years ago and they were dynamite.  I’ve been waiting for a full length to come out and this release (while only 25 minutes) was worth the wait.

“Patience” opens with fast drums and rumbling bass.  I love that the lead guitar is playing some riffs that meld in perfectly with the rest of the band’s chugging along.  At just over two minutes, as it fades out it seems like there should be more, but it segues right into

“Drunk II” is a classic-sounding alt rock song from the 90s.  The guitars are just fantastic–catchy but diverse enough not to be obvious.  Dabice’s voice ranges from screaming to cooing “I still love you, you stupid fuck.”  It’s also got a super catchy chorus. At 4 and a half minutes, it’s the longest song on the disc, and even though their other songs are much shorter, they can keep a four minute song sounding great.  This song also has one of the few (long) guitar solos from Athanasios Paul.

“Cream” is a roaring punk song with screamed vocals, some grooving sliding bass from Colins Rey Regisford and pummeling drums from Kaleen Reading.  I love that even though the song is not even two minutes long they have time for choruses, verses and even an instrumental break.

“Fear /+/ Desire” slows things down with an acoustic guitar and Marisa’s gentlest vocals as she sings clearly this updated lyrics

When you hit me
It does not feel like a kiss
Like the singers promised
A lie that was written for them
…Is this what you wanted?
Holding me down makes you feel desired

“Drunk I” is less than a minute long and lurches between a really catchy guitar riff and gentle vocals and roaring full out choruses (or vice versa).  Again things slow down for “High Horse” with lovely echoing guitars and Dabice’s soft, clear vocals.  Until the loud chorus with anguished screamed vocals–the shift back to delicacy is really well done.

“Who Are You” is a catchy bouncy song with a terrific chorus.  Midway through, the song moves to double speed and gets even catchier.  It’s followed by the thirty eight second “Clams” a blistering screaming duet of noise, chaos and intensity.

It’s followed by the awesome, harshness of “F.U.C.A.W.”  Between the dissonant guitar and the screamed vocals is the middle of the song which is practically shoegaze, before the noise ending wraps things up in under two minutes (with some sounds ringing out for a bout fifteen seconds).

The disc wraps up (already) with “In Love” the second longest song.  It’s got cool sampled sounds and a piano., but the song is still all about the guitars (and terrific bass).  The song has a kind of mellow jam to the end–that nifty sample for the melody and some guitar soloing.

There’s so much packed into these twenty five minutes that you can easily start it right back up for another ride.  I’m really looking forward to seeing them live again.

[READ: September 29, 2020] “The Work of Art”

There was so much going on in this story, I really liked it a lot.

The narrator begins unfolding the story of an incident at an (unspecified) museum.

A guard named Cliff arrives on the scene and his coworker Geraldine tells him that the woman in the burqa has been staring at ths one piece of art for hours–unmoving. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BTS-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #82 (September 21, 2020).

BTS is the biggest band in the world right now.  As the news the next morning said

Korean boy band BTS played its first Tiny Desk Concert on Monday — and broke the series record for most YouTube views on its first day, which happened in about 25 minutes.

When I was younger I hated all boy bands on principle–they were fake creations with no soul.  But either I’ve mellowed with age (true) or I’m less exposed to pop music so no longer sick of it (true) or maybe I just get a kick out of band from South Korea making people excited in the U.S.  Whatever the reason, BTS makes me smile.

Partly, it’s the band members themselves:

V; Jin; Jimin; J-Hope; RM; SUGA and Jungkook [I have no idea if that’s a left to right listing or just a random assortment of names] all seem to be really enjoying themselves and each other.  Perhaps all boy bands have this camaraderie (I’ve never watched enough to notice), but these guys are pretty entertaining–right down to their fabulous clothing choices.

The little I’ve seen of BTS makes me think that they are known by their hair color choices: the blue one, the purple one, the blond one, the brown one, but in this set, aside from a blue and a blonde, the rest of the guys have black or brown hair.  So instead, you have to go by their voices I guess.

One of them (on the right) has a really fantastic falsetto, another has a much deeper voice.  One of them seems to be a rapper.  The rest I can’t really tell apart–I’m not entirely sure if it makes sense for there to be seven of them, but it works.

With BTS cooped up in Seoul, the group held true to the series’ spirit by convening a live band for its Tiny Desk debut, and even arranged to perform in a workspace with a music-friendly backdrop: the record store VINYL & PLASTIC by Hyundai Card in BTS’s hometown.

The following introduction makes me laugh because I have literally never heard this song (or really any BTS song, as far as I know)

Opening with this summer’s inescapable “Dynamite” — the group’s first single to hit No. 1 in the U.S., as well as its first song to be fully recorded in English

“Dynamite” has a real disco vibe and is really catchy.  Moreso than the other two songs, I feel.  Perhaps because its in English, but I don’t think so.  The melody and delivery is really spot on.  And I love the whoohoos and heys. 

I really like their live band.  It’s kind of hard to pay attention to them when you have seven guys singing and dancing around in front.  I don’t know if they normally play with a live band, but the guitar from Shyun is really grooving.  He also plays a lot of unobtrusive but wild solos throughout the songs.  The bass from Kim Kiwook is really smooth and funky

They introduce the next song in English. 

From there, the group dipped into its back catalog, seizing on the opportunity to showcase its quieter side while (mostly) staying uncharacteristically seated. The breezily propulsive “Save ME,” from 2016,

starts with a squeaky keyboard sound from DOCSKIM followed by the falsetto guy on the end (who seems to sing more than anyone else–I wonder if he’s the favorite) but they can all do some impressive falsetto notes in the verses as well.  I get a kick out of how they have a really hard time staying seated–with one or more of them seeming to need get up and dance. 

This song has a rap verse (in Korean I guess) which is pretty interesting to hear.

They discuss the song in Korean (with subtitles) and then introduce the final song in English.

It’s the full-on power ballad, 2017’s reflective “Spring Day,”

which seemed especially true to BTS’s hopeful nature: Introduced with a few optimistic words from rapper and singer RM (“It’s been the roughest summer ever, but we know that spring will come”), the song reflects on a need to wait out hard times, even as the weight of present-day pain feels oppressive.

The song builds from a slow intro to a pretty big ending with some notably solid drumming from KHAN.

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this tiny concert.

[READ: September 22, 2020] Birthday

Birthday is not a novel, it is an autobiographical essay.  It’s important that this distinction is made because many of Aira’s novels feel autobiographical.  But this one is meditative and a very personal–it was translated by Chris Andrews.

Aira turned 50 in 1999 (he dated this work July 18, 1999).  He imagined it as an opportunity to prepare for the future. But nothing really changed.  He went on as usual.

It was a short time later, when walking with his wife, Liliana, when he stated that the phases of the moon could not be produced by the earth’s shadow as he had learned.  But his wife said there was no way anyone thought that’s how the moon’s phases were created.  He felt so dumb for thinking this, that he spent the next several days going over in his head what else he didn’t know.  He spends most of the book mocking himself for his ignorance. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: Æ MAK-“We Have It Right Here” (2020).

Æ MAK is Aoife McCann.  She creates a fascinating tapestry of music.  It feels classical and operatic and yet also feels very electronic and oddly poppy.

This song begins with muted xylophones -sounding electronic tones playing a pretty melody (which reminds me of Björk).

McCann’s voice comes in and lilts and flutters almost bird-like. She sings in English but with interesting emphases on words.

Her vocal delivery and melodies conjure Regina Spektor.

About halfway through the, until now entirely electronic song, adds some soft acoustic guitar and gentle bells.

The second chorus is almost all voice with simple percussion and a kind of Kate Bush vocal trill.

The electronics come back in and suddenly start getting fuller and louder–filling up your headspace with sounds as her voice echoes itself and adds other lines before building to a remarkably catchy ending.

There’s so much going on in this song even though it often feels very minimal.

And wait until you see her on stage.

[READ: September 21, 2020] On Contemporary Art

I have enjoyed Aira’s novels and was intrigued by this short essay about Contemporary Art.

The entire book is 60 pages and it includes and Foreword and an Afterword.  That jibes with the premise of the imprint itself.  Ekphrasis Press reprints works about visual art that are not meant to be academic in nature–but compelling as prose.

In the Foreword Will Chancellor, talks about how language can throw you off.  He recalls bring a child and seeing the Objects in the Mirror are Closer Than They Appear warning.  He wondered how objects and their appearances could diverge.  He continues that Aira suggests this gap between appearance and reality might be the origin of cotemporary art.

~~~

The main body of the book is Aira’s essay, translated by Katherine Silver.

He starts by saying he is a writer who looks for inspiration in painting.  He says that cave painters painted facts, but it took a person relating the adventure, the storyteller, to make the episode come alive.

As a lover of art, he subscribes to many art magazines, namechecking Artforum, Art in America, Flash Art, Frieze, art press and more.  He says the magazines look better every year but that their ability to convey art gets worse every year–they cannot properly convey what an art piece looks like.  You have to read the texts to see what is happening.

His essay concerns the Enemy of Contemporary Art who says that today’s

frauds who pretend to be artists depend on a justifying discourse to validate the nonsense they produce.

They say that contemporary art doesn’t speak for itself–that it needs critics to explain it. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: GOAT RODEO-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #73 (September 1, 2020).

Classical music is for serious people.  Yo-Yo Ma, probably the best known cellist in the world, must surely be a very serious fellow.  False!

Yo-Yo Ma is a hoot.  How do we know?  The first song of this set is called “Your Coffee Is a Disaster.”  And the name of the group is Goat Rodeo, after all.

Yo-Yo man formed this assemblage known as Goat Rodeo nearly ten years ago.  It consists of Yo-Yo Ma, Stuart Duncan, Edgar Meyer and Chris Thile and many other folks.

You’ve probably heard Stuart Duncan playing fiddle on albums with Dolly Parton, Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, and he was named the Academy of Country Music Fiddle Player of the Year numerous times. Edgar Meyer has played bass with Joshua Bell, Béla Fleck and Christian McBride, and the Nashville Symphony commissioned his first orchestral work in 2017. And you’d most likely recognize Chris Thile’s vocals and mandolin in the music of Nickel Creek and Punch Brothers.

I really enjoyed their wild (yes wild) Tiny Desk Concert back in 2011.

Fast forward a decade and this collaboration channels that same spectacular frenzy, separately captured in the gorgeous homes of the artists and mixed to perfection.

Thile introduces the song by saying the band is often in the midst of a a coffee war: Yo-Yo, Stuart and Edgar prefer beans that were roasted in a volcano for maybe millions of years, while Aoife and I prefer beans that taste as though the were fashioned by angels.  We like good coffee.”

Up next is one of many inappropriate (not scandalous or anything) titles.  When we are not arguing about coffee we are punning.  This: “Waltz Whitman.”  It is a slow piece that feels a lot like the kind of music Punch Brothers play–where it is a fiddle, not a violin.  Although the middle section which has some gorgeous slow cello from Yo-Yo Ma makes this song transcendent.

They’re accompanied by songwriter Aoife O’Donovan, who lends her pitch-perfect vocals to close out the set. Chris Thile … explains that “The Trappings” is about work/life balance, a timely sentiment.  How the things you are doing impact the ones with whom you do them.  How your partners aide and hinder your efforts (and the humorous variations he describes).

“The Trappings” is a faster song and it’s got vocals!  Thile sings lead and there is wonderful backing vocals from O’Donovan and Duncan.  There’s fantastic cello trills from Yo-Yo Ma throughout.

It’s good til the last drop.

[READ: September 1, 2020] “That Last Odd Day in L.A.”

This story was really interesting.

We meet a man who goes by his last name, Keller.  His girlfriend calls him that, his ex-wife called him that, even his teenaged daughter calls him that.

His wife left him after she had a bit of a nervous breakdown–the squirrels had dug up her bulbs and that was the last straw.

The woman Keller has been seeing, Sigrid, is a travel agent.  She has a son and an ex-husband who has gone deep into animal rescue.  Keller and Sigrid recently had a first date and it was a disaster.  Although they are planning another date after Thanksgiving. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BRAXTON COOK-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #20 (May 8, 2020).

I thought I didn’t know who Braxton Cook was, but I have actually seen him as support in three different Tiny Desk Concerts: Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah in 2015, Tom Misch in 2018 and Phony Ppl in 2019.

Braxton Cook is a Juilliard-trained, genre-jumping artist whose music feels both contemporary and timeless. This time around, Cook takes the center seat, so to speak, from the comfort and safety of his sunny New Jersey home.

He plays four songs and all kinds of instruments in this concert.

Cook says he usually performs his original work with a full band, but obviously that isn’t an option in the time of social distancing. So instead, the ambidextrous talent uses loops to support his vocals, saxophone and guitar throughout the laidback set.

“Shooting Star” is set to a backing saxophone loop as Braxton plays guitar and sings.  It’s a smooth jazz song and he plays a sweet solo over the end while the loops slowly fade.

For “We Major” he starts a saxophone loop, lays down some keys and then plays a sax solo over the top.  It’s a pretty instrumental and the saxes intertwine nicely.  I love that he manages to get the whole song to stop abruptly on time.

For his Tiny Desk (home) concert, Cook jumped around his discography, performing tracks from his 2017 album, Somewhere in Between, all the way up to his latest project, 2020’s Fire Sign.

“Never Thought” is for his wife.  He’s got a looped guitar and a live guitar.  He sings a smooth R&B love song and then lays down a sax solo at the end.

Closing out this cozy session, Cook dedicates the stirring “Hymn (for Trayvon Martin)” to everyone affected by the current pandemic.

I feel like I have heard “Hymn (for Trayvon Martin)” somewhere before. It’s anj instrumental in essentially two parts.  It begins as a fast and pretty saxophone piece.  After a bit, he stands up and begins a lengthy looping section.  It’s slow and mournful and really lovely–the sax is the perfect instrument for it.    melody.  He loops a slow part and then plays a beautiful slow solo over the top.

[READ: May 14, 2020] Five Years #1

I loved Strangers in Paradise.  I started Rachel Rising, but now realize I never finished it.  I saw that Terry was creating Five Years, but I had no idea it tied in to the rest of the stories in any way.  Apparently it brings all of his different stories together.  So, I’m glad I discovered this just as he finished Issue 10.

I clearly need to start, if not the whole series, then at least the other two series to fill in some missing pieces, because this story went from vengeance and personal vendettas to global annihilation.

This issue opens with Katchoo, Francine and their two girls on a beach.  The voice over talks about nuclear bombs including the fascinating detail that there were so many nuclear explosions in the ’50s that two new isotopes are now in the atmosphere that didn’t exist before Hiroshima.  Oil paint made since the war contains these isotopes, It has become a foolproof way of testing for forgery in the art world.

That is fascinating. (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: THE NEW PORNOGRAPHERS-Live at Massey Hall (October 1, 2017).

I’ve been a fan of the The New Pornographers for years.  Their first single, “Letter from an Occupant” was one of my favorite songs of 2000.  For nearly twenty years, they’ve been releasing super catchy fun poppy alt rock.

I was really excited to see them last week.  And then almost equally excited to see that they had a show on Live at Massey Hall.

This show did not have Neko Case singing and while she is not the crux of the band, I’m glad she was at my show, because her voice is great and having three women singing was more fun than having just two.

Before the set, singer and songwriter AC Newman says, “I’m nervous because I realize this is what I do … people paid to come see you.”  His niece, keyboardist Kathryn Calder is with him.  She says she loves having the momentum of 7 people on stage.  It’s a very in the moment feeling shared by all of them.

The show starts with an older song “The Jenny Numbers.”  There’s a wild ripping guitar solo from Todd Fancey in the middle of this otherwise poppy song.  Calder and violinist Simi Stone sound great with their backing vocals–so full and complete.  And excellent compliment to the songs.

Up next is “Whiteout Conditions” which starts with a ripping violin melody from Stone.  I happen to know their newer songs a lot better than their middle period songs and I really like this song a lot.

The full setlist for this show is available online.  They played 22 songs at he show, so it’s a shame to truncate it to 35 minutes.  How did they decide what to cut?  They cut “Dancehall Domine.”

Up next is one of the great songs from the Together album, “Moves.”  The opening riff and persistent use of violin is perfect.

Between songs, Newman says to the audience, “you’ve got to promise not to sit down because it’ll be like a dagger in my heart.”

In the interview clip he says he always love the compartmentalized songs of Pixies.  They influenced the way he wrote music.  So did The Beach Boys for harmonies.  He says it’s hard to know what seeps through, but there’s a ton of it.  Sometimes I’ll hear an old song I used to love and realize I totally stole a part from that song and I didn’t know it.

The show skips “Colosseums” and moves on to “The Laws Have Changed.”  I loved seeing this live because of the amazing high notes that AC Newman hits in the end of the song.  This is also a chance for Kathryn to shine a bit.  “High Ticket Attractions” comes next in the show and here.  It’s such an insanely catchy song.  From the call and response vocals to the overall melody.  It’s one of my favorites of theirs.

The show skips three songs, “Champions of Red Wine,” “Adventures in Solitude,” and “All the Old Showstoppers.”  So up next is “This is the World of the Theater.”  I’m glad they chose this because Kathryn Calder sings lead vocals and she sounds fantastic.  The middle section of the song also includes some hocketing where Newman, Calder, Stone and maybe some others sing individual notes alternately to create a lovely melody.

I noticed that drummer Joe Seiders sings quite a bit as well.  And a shout out to bassist John Collins because he gets some great sounds out of that instrument.

Newman tells the audience that Massey Hall is an intimidating venue, but one you get here it feel welcoming and warm.  The crowd applauds and he says, “soooo, I’m not sweating it.”

Up next comes the poppy and wonderful “Sing Me Spanish Techno.”  It has a constant simple harmonica part played by Blaine Thurier who also plays keyboards.   It’s such a wonderfully fun song.

They skip pretty much the rest of the show to play the big encore song, “Brill Bruisers.”  [Skipped: “Backstairs,” “Play Money,” “Testament to Youth in Verse,” “Sweet Talk, Sweet Talk,” “Avalanche Alley,” “Use It,” “Mass Romantic” )that’s a surprise!) and “The Slow Descent Into Alcoholism”].

“Brill Bruisers” is from the then-new album.  The first time I heard it I was blown away.  Those “boh bah boh bah bah bohs” in the beginning are so arresting.  The harmonies that run through the song are sensational and the “ooh” part in the verses just knocks me out.  Its a great great song.

“The Bleeding Heart Show” closed the show and it is played over the closing credits.

This is a terrific example of how good this band is live, but nothing compares to actually seeing them.

[READ: August 1, 2019] Bit Rot

A few years ago I had caught up with Douglas Coupland’s publications.  I guess it’s no surprise to see that he has published more since then.  But I am always surprised when I don’t hear about a book at all.  I just happened to stumble upon this collection of essays.

Coupland’s general outlook hasn’t changed much over the years.  He is still fascinated by “the future,” but he looks at technology and future ideas in a somewhat different way.  He tends to mourn the loss of some things while often embracing what has replaced it.

As my son is now a teenager, I wondered what his take on some of these essays would be–if he would think that Coupland is an old fuddy duddy, or if he was right on.  Or, more likely, that he had never looked at some of these ideas that way at all.  Coupland is quite cognizant that young people are growing up in a very different world than ours.  And that they don’t have any problem with that.  They don’t “miss cursive” because it never meant anything to them in the first place.  They can’t imagine not having Google and hence all of the world’s information at their fingertips.  Of course they assume that technology will continue to get smaller and faster. We older folks may not be prepared for that (or maybe we are), but that’s what younger people expect and can’t wait for

This was a very long, rather thick book that was just full of interesting, funny, thoughtful essays and short stories. I really enjoyed it from start to finish, even if I’d read some of the pieces before. (more…)

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