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Archive for the ‘Art’ Category

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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shoppingSOUNDTRACK: MATT MAYS-Live at Massey Hall (May 4, 2018).

I had never heard of Matt Mays.  He was once a part of the Canadian country band The Guthries (who I also don’t know).  Perhaps the most surprising (and disappointing) thing to me about this show is when I saw an ad for this concert and saw that Kathleen Edwards was opening for him (!).  And that so far they haven’t released the Kathleen Edwards show.

Before the show he says he wants all feelings present–happy, sad–he praises the expression “all the feels” because that’s what he wants to happen tonight.  He wants the night to be “like a Nova Scotia kitchen party.”  You laugh you cry you dance and you fight all in one kitchen.

He starts with “Indio.”  Like most of these songs, it is a rocking guitar song with a definite country-rock feel.  It’s also interesting that a Nova Scotia guy is singing about “old fashioned California sin.”  There’s a ton of lead guitar work from Adam Baldwin.  Mays also plays guitar and there’s an acoustic guitar as well from Aaron Goldstein  The song breaks midway through to a piano melody from Leith Fleming-Smith.  Mays asks “You feel like singing Toronto? It’s real easy.”  And it is: “Run run run you are free now.  run run run you are free.”

For “Station Out of Range,” he invites his dear friend Kate Dyke from St Johns, Newfoundland.  She sings backing vocals.  It opens with some big crushing drums from Loel Campbell.  It has a slower tempo, but it grows really big with some really massive drum fills.

“Building a Boat” opens with a repeating keyboard pattern before a real rocking riff kicks in.  Ryan Stanley also plays guitars.  The song rocks on with a lot of little guitar solos.  Mays takes one and then Baldwin follows.  They jam this pretty long.

“Take It on Faith” starts with a simple piano before the guitars come roaring in with two searing solos.  The melody is really catchy, too.

“Terminal Romance” is a slower number.  Mays puts his guitar down and its mostly piano and bass
(Serge Samson).  Eventually a guitar with a slide is added.  It builds as more guitars come in.  They jam this song for about 8 minutes.

He ends the show with “Cocaine Cowgirl,” an oldie that still means a lot to him.   He says he’s been playing Toronto since he was 19 years-old in font of tow people.  He’s thrilled to be at Massey Hall.  His band is his best buds from Nova Scotia.   It’s an absolutely wailing set ender with Mays throwing in some wicked solos.  The song seems like its over but Mays plays some really fast guitar chords and aftee a few bars everyone joins in and rips the place part with intensity.  It runs to nearly ten minutes and it’s a  really satisfying ending.

[READ: August 3, 2019] “Shopping in Jail”

When an author releases a lot of books and essays in various formats, it’s pretty inevitable that you’ll wind up re-reading one or two.  Especially if some of those essays are reprinted in other books.

So it turns out that I read this small book five years ago (it’s understandable that I didn’t remember that after five years).  Here’s what I said about it five years ago:

Just when I thought I had caught up with everything that Douglas Coupland had published, I came across this book, a collection of his recent essays.  I enjoy the very unartistic cover that Sternberg Press has put on this.  It looks extremely slapdash–look at the size of the print and that the contents are on the inside front cover.  But the essays contained within are pure Coupland and are really enjoyable.

I have read a number of his older essays in recent years.  And here’s the thing: reading old Coupland essays just makes you think, ho hum, he knew some things.  But you don’t really think that he was on the forefront of whatever he was thinking.  So to read these essays almost concurrently is really fascinating.

His thoughts are science fiction, but just on the cusp of being very possible, even probable.  He also looks at things in ways that the average person does not–he notices that on 9/11 people didn’t have picture phones–imagine how more highly documented it would have been.  These essays are largely about technology, but they’re also about the maturation and development of people and how they relate to things.  Coupland can often seem very ponderous, and yet with these essays he seems prescient without actually trying to predict anything.  I enjoyed this collection very much.

I’m going to include what I said last time (in italics), but I felt the need to add some five-years later thoughts on each essay. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: TAYLOR SWIFT-Tiny Desk Concert #902 (October 16, 2019).

Most Tiny Desk Concerts are from musicians that few people have heard of.

Not this one!

It’s hard to imagine exactly how it happened that Tiny Desk Concert managed to get Taylor Swift to play.  And to play with just a acoustic guitar and piano.  “It’s just me. There’s no dancers, unfortunately,” she quipped.

I have seen people already complain that Tiny Desk is supposed to be for unknown artists blah blah blah.  But I think it’s pretty awesome that a) Taylor Swift is a fan of NPR and Tiny Desk and b) that this show will bring more notoriety to Tiny Desk and potentially other bands.

Plus–I had no idea that Taylor Swift was not a studio creation–that she’s actually a real and thoughtful person who wrote her own music.

She talks confidently and casually about songwriting and she seems pretty genuinely pleased to be there.

As she settled in for her Tiny Desk, she looked out at the 300-plus NPR employees and guests. “Wow! This is a lot of people in a tiny office!” she said. “I love it!”

She delightfully says, “It’s great to be in DC.  You guys had anything exciting going on in the last couple of weeks?  Any possible changes in play?”

And, hey, she writes good songs, too.

I’ve never really listened to her music–although I love “Shake It Off.”  I haven’t actually heard anything of her new album so this was all new to me.

After introducing herself, she explained her objective: “I just decided to take this as an opportunity to show you guys how the songs sounded when I first wrote them.”

She talks a lot about each song and why she wrote them.

Opening with an acoustic rendition of “The Man,” from her 2019 album Lover, Swift delivered a critique of gender double-standards with a sense of humor (and a perfectly deployed hair toss), Leonardo DiCaprio name-check and all.

She says she has been thinking about the topic for many years and it was something she wanted to write about conceptually for a very long time because we have a bit of double standard issue in our society.  She wondered if there was a concise and catchy way to write a song about this?  So she decided to imagine what her life would be like if she said and did all the same things but if she was a man.

While not an original idea, she tackles it really well.  And I like that she’s using her platform to address the issue

I would be complex
I would be cool
They’d say I played the field before
I found someone to commit to
And that would be okay
For me to do
Every conquest I had made
Would make me more of a boss to you
I’d be a fearless leader
I’d be an alpha type
When everyone believes ya…
What’s that like?

And it’s really catchy too.

At the end of the song she gives her pick to a little one in the audience (to a room full of awws).  Then she switches instruments.

She talks about the process of writing songs–when something comes and its easy, that’s wonderful.  But most days you show up… and the idea doesn’t.  Then you have to know the craft of songwriting–you’re not always going to be inspired and that’s okay.

Turning to the piano for Lover‘s title track, with a smile, she explained the guitar-string scars of the song’s bridge.

She says that she has scars on her hands from playing guitar when she was young–when she played until her fingers bled or when a string snapped and cut her.  In your life you received all kinds of scars–emotional and physical and if someone is going to take your hand, they’d better take your hand scars and all.

It’s a pretty piano ballad and her voice is really pure.

After the song she removes her blazer to reveal a velvet top (she must have been very hot).  “You guys ever had costume changes at Tiny Desk?” She then finds three more guitar picks to give to three other kids, one of whom you can quickly see is pretty darn excited.

Picking up the guitar again for “Death by a Thousand Cuts,” Swift confronted a question that she says has haunted her career: What will you ever do if you get happy?

She receives this question over and over that “has the potential to seriously deteriorate my mental health.”  “What will you ever do if you get happy?  Will you just never be able to write a song again?    She says she used to reply that she started off when she was 12, she was writing songs about things she had no idea what she was talking about.  She wrote songs about heartbreak based on movies and books and character studies.  So she would say, “If stuff is going on in the world maybe she could hey inspiration from that.

But then she really asked herself that question.  “Would I not be able to write break up songs?  I love break up songs!  They’re so fun to write.”  She says she had friends going through breakups and she was watching movie and reading books about breakups and these ideas came to her.  She woke up with heartbreak lyrics in her head and realized “It’s still here!”

Across the song’s run-on thoughts and relentless searching, Swift offered an answer: She’ll continue to excel at crafting superb story-songs.

I rather like her songs on acoustic guitar–even if I’m not much of a fan of break up songs.

Before the final song, “All to Well,” she talks about how she never googles herself–she recommends you not do it either.  But her dad does.  He sends her links to lists that people rank her songs (she finds it very nice that people care enough to do that).  When the Red album came out, she said there’s a song and “I’m the only one who loves this song this much–because it happens to me and its personal.”  But it turns out that this song tops everyone’s favorite list.  “I’m happy that my opinion lines up with your opinion on that.”

I actually didn’t know this song at all–I guess I am really isolated from pop music.

She says, “here’s a sad song about fall.”  It’s very pretty on piano and once again her voice is really great.  I really like the way the words unfold and then reflect back on themselves.  It’s a really wonderfully crafted song.

This Tiny Desk Concert may not introduce Taylor Swift to a lot of people, but it pretty much did introduce me to her music.  And I was really impressed.

[READ: August 19, 2019] Lost Empress

I loved Sergio De la Pava’s A Naked Singularity. It was complicated and funny and clever and bizarre and thoroughly engaging.

Lost Empress is even better.

There’s a story about a woman running a football team–and being overlooked because she is a woman.

There is a storyline about 911 operators, and the guy who transcribes them.

The third story is about a tough, smart guy who is in jail.  He is his own defense for trying to get out.  And he hatches a plan that involves stealing artwork, the Paterson Falls and the Super Bowl.

I enjoyed it in part because much of it is set in Paterson, NJ.  I grew up next to Paterson and the city has for most of my life been in a state of decline.  Despite all of the great things it has to offer (like the Paterson Falls! which get a shout out in this book), Paterson gets no respect.  This book doesn’t exactly aim to correct that, but it does give the city something cool–a football team.

It also jokes about “what the hell is up with Paterson?”  The city had once tried to rebrand itself in which they staged a contest  for “an official slogan for the troubled city.”  Proposals emerged: “the verifiably untrue, the unintentionally insulting/intentionally insulating, the so vague that sense fails to be created, the rhyme or alliteration for its own sake, and the technically true but not even conceivably relevant.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RHEOSTATICS-The Siboney Club, Toronto, ON (November 17, 1988).

I thought I had listened to every show on Rheostatics Live and then I saw today that Daron had posted this new (very old) show.  This show is from before they released their second album Melville.  Most of these songs would appear on Melville, but a couple wouldn’t be released until their third album Whale Music.

This is a live cassette recording of Rheostatics at The Siboney club in Toronto November 17 1988 provided by Tom Parry. It is the earliest live versions I’ve heard so far of Christopher, RBC, The Royal Albert, Greensprouts, Horses, Chanson, What’s Going On, Queer and a one off song which I’m not even sure what it is called. Something about Space? The sound quality is rough but it is an interesting document due to the early nature of these songs – Queer in particular.

This show starts off with a TV show (I guess) about the history of hockey with a story that Bobby Hull has signed a contract with the new World Hockey Association and then a clip of Canada v Russia.  I can’t tell if the reaction to the Canadian goal is from the TV or the people in the room.  It goes for about three minutes and then the ripping guitars come in to start “Christopher.”  The first part of the guitar solo is very different from the sound that Martin would eventually get–although the second half of it is pretty raging.

“RBC” is quick and to the point.  Someone (Dave?) starts the intro to “Dope Fiends” but Tim slaps some bass as Dave says they’re going to play “The Royal Albert (Joey 2)” which I didn’t think was written for a few years.

“Dope Fiends” feels faster than usual.  In fact the whole show feels kind of fast.  Is the tape sped up or did they just play faster back then?

Martin starts playing the Green Sprouts Theme Dong with a crazy hopped up vibrato which actually sounds like munchkins.

Dave: Welcome folks!  Hot dogs only $1.75 Dijon mustard is an extra 30 cents.  It’s hand carved by Dave’s Irish grandmother.

I don’t love the song “Ditch Pigs” (from Greatest Hits) but I always like when they play it because by now it’s such a novelty.   There’s a jamming end section in which someone (Bidini?) is singing about the good food “I want an egg salads sandwich and a box of popcorn”.

DB: It’s poetry time from Clark.  Will it be a winsome poem or a lonesome poem.
Clark: It’s not necessarily a poem.  This is more of a lyric than a poem.  I wrote for a friend and it about if you’ve ever worked for somebody who is kinda dumb and they’re mean to you because they feel threatened by you when you just want to be their friend.

It begins: Don’t call me pal or buddy when your not really my friend…

“Horses” is remarkably slow with a thumping bass.  The chorus is almost painfully slow.  But the ending is really intense.  Martin does some great soloing as Dave screams the end, but there’s very little in the way of horse sounds.

“Chanson Les Ruelles” is loose and fun–Tim’s “French” is quite good.   Dave rambles about some kind of voodoo that he put on the Baltimore Orioles pitcher.  And it worked!

Then out comes Tim with the accordion for “What’s Going On Around Here.”  It all sounds quite good even though the tape is sounding worse.

The last three songs sounds pretty bad (in quality).  The song that Daron says he doesn’t know sounds like Dave calls it “Space Arm.”  It’s a stomping heavy song with some ripping guitars.  Wonder whatever happened to it.

“Queer” sounds very different in so many ways.  It has a really long introduction and a decidedly honky-tonk/country feel to the verses.  The verses end with a kind of old-timey rock n roll bah-bah-bah-bah.  And there’s no ending part.  I’m so glad they fixed it up.

The final song is cut off.  It’s a slow song that I recognize but can’t place called “Seems Like.”  I see that it was only ever released on a Green Sprouts music compilation.

This is a great find–one of their earliest shows where you can hear what their new sound is going to be like.

[READ: May 8, 2019] So Much Longing in So Little Space

Karl Ove Knausgaard just never stops writing.  And he never stops exploring the world around him–through words or, in this case, art.

This book is divided into three parts, although unlike his massive tomes, this one is only 233 pages (with pictures).  Before the parts, he offers a little introduction about how he sees art and how he has always been moved by an (admittedly) simple painting by Edvard Munch called Cabbage Field.

There is a longing in this painting of the cabbage field, a longing to disappear and become one with the world.  And that longing…fulfilled the painting for him.  That is why the painting is so good, what disappears re-emerges in what comes into being as he finished the painting, it is still represented in the picture, which fills us again and again with its emptiness.

In Part One he gives a brief biography of Munch.  Everyone knows The Scream of course, but that represented only one brief phase of Munch’s life-long career as a painter.  Indeed, he started painting when he was a teenager, making small pictures of potted plants and interiors and he continued painting until he was eighty years old.

The years are divided somewhat into phases.  First was the apprentice years during which he painted his first masterpiece, The Sick Child, when he was twenty-two.  In the second phase he was searching and trying many styles–from realistic harbor scenes to Impressionist street scenes.   Then comes the period for which he is most famous (The Scream and more).  The final phase was less abstract and more painterly. (more…)

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