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Archive for the ‘Art’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: NEGATIVLAND-No Other Possibility (1989).

In the year that Helter Stupid came out, Negativland released this one hour video.  It is a visual approximation of a Negativland album.  Lots of cuts, lots of snippets of ads and songs and news broadcasts.  It’s mostly nonsense with some reality and some things that may or may not be reality.  Who knows?

It opens with a critical diatribe that scrolls over a test pattern.  The diatribe by Crosley Bendix criticizes everything that is (correctly) poor about the video and making up other things–the death of a stuntman.

After the opening credits, the video opens with David Willis’ mother watching TV.  On the screen is a clip from Dick Vaughn and his Jack-O-Lantern (more below).  Then she asks David for her cigarettes and the song from A Big Ten 8 Place is acted out hilariously.

After some clips from video games and a commercial for Marlboro, there’s a video for “Nesbitt’s Lime Soda Song.”  When the bee comes into the song, it turns into clips of David filming his family talking about bees and more (like his grandma looking in the fridge for potato chips which makes David laugh).

Change channels until The Dick Vaughn Show comes on and he brings out David Willis to light up a Jack-O-Lantern with 700 volts.

After a commercial from ZOTOS and Nation Hairdressers and Cosmetologists Association that tells women they have to look their best in order to get a job.  “Appearance and good grooming are essential.”

Then it’s time for Trick or Treat with David Willis who is dressed as E.T.

He talks about Halloween safety with 5 hand drawn posters.

  1. no fresh fruit–nails razors
  2. looks for holes or tears in wrappers–inject chemicals
  3. avoid homemade treats
  4. avoid weird, strange-looking people.
  5. if you bob for apples make sure your partners are not sick

Then some explosions with cars flipping.  A small video slowly evolves revealing a live performance of David singing the “Very Stupid” song from 10-8.   It is noisier and rocks pretty hard while David yells the lyrics: “1, 2, stupid ; 3, 4 dumb.”  The version slowly comes into focus as David roams the audience.  he even adds new lyrics: “1,2 urinate ; 3, 4 defecate ; 5, 6 fornicate ; 7, 8  seat be sate!”

After a text: “Earlier that same evening,” a car drives into the building under a scroll from Dick Goodbody raving about this beauty, “her name is Monarch Mercury Monarch.”

Followed by a commercial for the Monarch.

Then there’s a video clip of the fire in the Negativland recording building (which I think is true?).  They interview Mark Hosler who grabbed master tapes and studio equipment.  He tours the burned out building.

Then there’s interstitial questions of what people think about TV.

  • An old man complaining about sex on TV.
  • Teenage girls saying they like soap operas because of the sex.
  • A guy saying TV would be improved if they quit showing so many commercials.

Up next is Crosley Bendix (“Director, Stylistic Premonitions” played by Don Joyce) of the Universal Media Netweb has an insane piece about numerology, at the end of which he cries, “Thanks a million!

  • MTV has fine guys on it

Then comes Negativland “Fire Song” with Mark singing in the burnt house.

A series of ads for canned foods: tomatoes, grapes, yams, dog food over a muzak version of “Age of Aquarius.”

Then comes the religion portion of the show.  Another diatribe by Crosley Bendix complains of people always searching for more intense entertainment.  Since Jesus’s time.  In fact, The Last Supper is the crucial link-up of food and show business.

Then comes more live scenes of some crazy music and kids walking around in costumes who start shouting about ice cream and other food.

  • I don’t watch religious TV because I have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

Clips of preachers and then Pastor Dick comes out,

He tells some dad jokes like asking for coffee without cream and the waitress saying “you’ll have to have coffee without milk because we are out of cream.”

He brings out a racist ventriloquist dummy Enrico Gomez.  Then has everyone sing along with the Christian Youth Fellowship song from the album How Do You Spell Joy?

He has a Stop sign and asks everyone to clap along. Stop! [clap clap] And let me tell you what the Lord has done do me.  When he turns around the sign is a hand written note “fuck you pastor dick.”

Then comes the 5 eyewitness news team featuring Hal Eisner, with the video of the audio used in side one of the album Helter Stupid.  Don Joyce is interviewed.

As the video ends, there’s one more guy that they interview.  He says

TV is gonna make me famous one day.  When the interviewer asks how, the guy says

“you gotta know how to exploit the media.”

Was he a plant?  Who knows.  There is no other possibility, godammit.

Watch the whole video here.

[READ: April 25, 2019] “Attention Geniuses: Cash Only”

Woody Allen doesn’t seem to write much for the New Yorker these days.  I’ve found over the years that I rather like some of his New Yorker jokes and then others are just ho-hum.  Of all of the short “funny” pieces in the New Yorker, Woody tends to be able to pull off three pages better than others.

Although this one drags and often come across as an excuse to throw out pretentious references.

And yet he’s got some great turns of phrase:

Jogging along Fifth Avenue last summer as part of a fitness program designed to reduce my life expectancy to that of a nineteenth century coal miner

(more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KARINE POLWART TRIO-Tiny Desk Concert #840 (April 10, 2019).

I had never heard of Karine Polwart and her beautiful and thoughtful music.   And I suppose that’s not surprising.

Scottish singer, songwriter and essayist Karine Polwart seldom comes stateside. She prefers to limit air travel in order to minimize her carbon footprint. She took exception, however, to fly from Edinburgh to New York City to participate in the Carnegie Hall Migrations festival, a celebration of the history of the movement of people all around the world. Polwart and her brother, guitarist Steven Polwart and multi-instrumentalist, Inge Thomson, then escaped New York for a day to play the Tiny Desk here in Washington, D.C.

They play three beautiful songs.  Steven seems to play the main guitar melody while Karine adds lovely accents.

The first song is “Ophelia.”

Polwart writes songs about hope, music that harnesses spiritual power and lyrics that address important social justice themes. Stories of human emotion and the human experience are also commonplace as in the first tune, “Ophelia.”

“There’s a wind in from the desert
Red dust blows across the sun
It bleeds into the evening
We watch it from the garden
Your hair glints in the strange yellow light
We let go of all our fighting
Ophelia”

There’ some very cool sound effects–wind and warped sounds echoing–surrounding this song and I can’t quite tell where they are coming from (presumably from Thomson).  It’s a cool if unsettling backdrop for this pretty song on acoustic guitar with lovely vocals (wondrous backing vocals from Thomson, who also plays a gorgeous accordion solo.

Indeed, the music is wonderful and the blurb describes it perfectly

Lyricism and messages of hope and beauty heard throughout punctuate a stunning accompaniment of inventive instrumentation. The steady, resonant guitar riffs played by Steven Polwart ground the delicate vocal harmonies. Inge Thomson’s accordion lines, combined with an array of percussion instruments and synth-generated effects, add a complimentary layer of sound without overpowering the music. Karine Polwart’s bellowing and drone-like Shruti box provides a sweet serenity.

She speaks with her wonderful accent between songs, introducing the band and then introducing the second song, “I Burn But I Am Not Consumed.”   It features a mesmerizing spoken word denunciation of trump, from his hated golf course back in Scotland to everything he does now.

Your mother was a wee girl once,
who played upon my rocky shore.
And you, you are broken boy,
and you want more and more and more.
You build a tower. You build a wall,
You live in fear that they might fall.
You who see nothing but your face
in the sheen of The Hudson River.

The music is wonderful too.

Read the whole thing here and watch a performance on the eve of the inauguration with an orchestra for the BBC.

How does one follow that up?  With a song called “King of Birds” which praises the power of small things.–in their guile and their nimbleness.

In it Polwart recounts the legend of a wren who piggybacks a lift on an eagle’s wing. Just as the large bird is unable to fly any higher in the sky, the tiny wren catches a breath of air, soars higher than the eagle and is crowned the king of all birds.

Tinkling bells and gentle guitar introduce this verse

“At Ludgate Hill
where the towers of smoke and mirrors bruise the sky
the pilgrims huddle in
as the tiny King of Birds begins to cry
the people start to sing
to light glory in the dark
to ring the bell
and to breathe hope in every heart”

And as the song reaches its loudest Thomson is playing a cymbal and the accordion while she is singing.  Wow.

This concluding blurb is spot on

This performance will quite likely inspire you to learn more about Polwart. The NPR program, Thistle and Shamrock often features her music. This recent episode features cuts from Polwart’s latest album, plus her ideas on movement and migration.

[READ: April 14, 2019] “Medusa”

This is a brutal story about a woman who has been raped.  But the brutality isn’t in the way it happened–in fact, when I first read it I wasn’t entirely sure it had actually happened.  It’s in her reaction to the event and how it changes her life.

It was raining and the narrator left her back door open as she went outside to take out the garbage bags. How could this man have gotten in in that short time?  When she first saw him she thought he was a lost student from across the way.  But it soon dawned on her that that was not his reason for being there.

She introduced herself, trying to humanize herself to this man.  He said his name although she could tell he was just “trying it on for size.”  She got a good look at him–his hair, his tattoos, a good smell of him.  She tried to run but fell in her front hall–leaving her in the perfect position for what he wanted. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKRHEOSTATICS-Molson Centre Montreal, QC (December 9, 1996).

This is the 21st night of the 24 date Canadian Tour opening for The Tragically Hip on their Trouble At The Henhouse Tour. According to this host of the RheostaticsLive site: This in my opinion is the best show of the tour.

This show opens with the recording of the French language hockey game.  This time you can clearly hear him shouting Esposito!  After the recording fades,

It opens in a very amusing way.  I imagine that Dave and Martin are lying on the stage, because Dave asks, “Martin can you sleep?  I should have been asleep hours ago.”
Martin: “No, I can’t sleep.  I was up all night listening to the Local Rabbits.  Those riffs will keep anybody awake.”
[Tim starts playing the bass].
Dave “I had this weird dream we were playing in a giant rock stadium, opening for Ringo’s All Stars.  It felt really weird.  And everyone was speaking a different language.”
Martin: “Ringo’s really giving it this tour.”
Dave: “I’m just gonna get out of bed and see what Tim and Don are doing.”

They launch into “Fat.”  I really like the nice little bass tag Tim adds to the end while Martin sings “Bye Bye.”

“Aliens” is a nice surprise–I feel they just don’t play it all that much.  The feedbacking guitar segues nicely into a rocking “All the Same Eyes.”

It’s followed by a fun and bouncy “Michael Jackson.”  At the end, Martin says, “It feels good to be alive.”  Tim deadpans, “sometimes.”

Thanks to CSRG & CHUM FM and C5 for coming down and talking to us today.  This is a song [“Bad Time to Be Poor”] that’s getting played on the radio in all the finer dentist offices in the land.

Some cool sounds from Martin open up “California Dreamline.”  The ending part totally rocks until the denouement where it sounds like someone rocks so hard they may have de-tuned their guitar.

They wish Happy birthday to Gary Stokes, the finest soundman in the land.  Which leads to a lovely “Claire” that segues into a quiet intro for “Horses.”  It builds slowly and powerfully.   Lots of repeated lyrics in the middle–threaten to chop, chop.  These signs will wilt–they’re just paper ink and paper.

While martin ends with some wailing horse noises, Dave sings the first two lines of “Another Brick in the Wall” to end the show.

[READ: April 9, 2019] “Both Sides Now”

This is an excerpt from Gainza’s novel Optic Nerve which was translated by Thomas Bunstead.

It’s a little hard to guess what the whole novel is about since the excerpt worked so well by itself.

The narrator notes that one day you develop a fear of flying.

Before you turned twenty-five, flying seemed natural, but now it seems insane.  Nevertheless, you are supposed to fly to an art convention in Geneva. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KING GIZZARD AND THE LIZARD WIZARD-Nonagon Infinity (2016).

A nonagon is a 9-sided shape.  Infinity is endless.  This album has nine songs that flow seamlessly into the next one.  Including the final song, which flows seamlessly into the first.  It’s a nine-track album designed to loop forever.  Riffs and choruses are repeated throughout (including the frenetic guitar solo riff that starts the album and is sprinkled throughout).  But even though the songs are connected and there are repeated parts no two songs sound alike–it’s not a 41 minute song by any means.

It is a pretty intense and relentless rocking good time, though, with all kinds of catchy melodies and bizarre lyrics.

This album launches with “Robot Stop,” a maniacal riff and a super fast beat .  It’s non-stop intensity of distortion, drums and vocals.  There’s distorted whoops and hollers.  There’s a distorted harmonica solo and more and more guitars.  It also introduces the repeated chorus:

Nonagon infinity opens the door
Wait for the answer to open the door
Nonagon infinity opens the door

It’s not always clear if the lyrics have meaning [Any wasp that I see / It’s a fig wasp / Pearly guillotine] but I love singing along with those that I can understand.  Or just chanting “Big Fig Wasp” when it comes around.

“Gamma Knife” encourages us to “come on through the door, see, it’s your unborn self.”   All the while, the guitars are rocking and the vocals are whooping.  Things do finally settle down near the end of the song, where everything drops out but the two guitars playing the riff.  It’s interrupted by some pretty wild drum soloing (from both drummers) before seguing into the moderately slow introduction of “People -Vultures.”  It’s slow for the first three lines before the line “What else have I got left to spew down?” prompts a breakneck resumption of the album’s pacing.

“Mr Beat” seriously slows things down for one of the catchiest songs on the record.  It’s a cool groovy chugging song with organs amid the guitars.   It has an instantly memorable melody and is easy to sing along to “Once I missed a beat – only missed a beat.”  Even the verse has a sweet sing-song melody.

Things do come to almost a complete stop as Mr Beat slows down, but before you can take a breath, “Evil Death Roll” takes off.  It is 7 minutes long, full of staccato chants during the chorus.   But midway through the song a new riff enters–a happy, almost boppy riff that reconciles itself into a version of the original main riff.  And after a few minutes of electronic manipulation, a new bridge comes around.  It’s musically unique to the album, but while that music is playing the nonagon infinity refrain returns.  And then the song returns to the main “Evil Death Roll” chorus before jumping into the staccato “Invisible Face” which shifts midsong into a gentle jazzy jam.

The ending riff segues seamlessly into the wah wah of “Wah Wah” which starts with a harmonica solo and then switches to a downbeat verse with a screaming noisy bridge of “Wah Wah Wah Wah.”   It ends with some distortion and a drum beat that sounds like a train, hence the album closer “Road Train.”

Road Train hearkens back to their more Western songs, but with all of the metal and garage trappings that are consistent on the album.  So the song about a train is rather dark:

The spawn of Satan’s back
It’s made of steel and black
It comes to bring you pain
It comes again and again
Road Train!

The song is 4 minutes but after a bout 3 minutes, it starts a new chanting of Nonagon Infinity–a new way of doing it that speeds up until the last ten seconds which return to the opening of the album.

There is so much originality in this album and so many ideas that it’s kind of a blur.  But repeated listens show just how much excellence is on display here.

[READ: February 25, 2019] Cottons Book 1

Wow, I loved this book (part 1 of a trilogy).  The story was fascinating (if a little murky in some places), but the artwork was simply tremendous.

Arnhold’s drawing style is so realistic, and the rabbits are so lovingly drawn, it’s really beautiful.  (In her bio she says she loves drawing rabbits, and volunteers at the Georgia House Rabbit Society).

This is the story of Bridgebelle and the rabbits in her warren.  They live in the Vale of Industry within the World of Lavender.  But their’s is not a happy life.  Bridgebelle is an artist and no one appreciates artists in this time of Industry.  But even worse, this is a time of fear for all of the World of Lavender.  Fear of predators, or fire and of the end of their existence.

As the story opens we see Bridgebelle and her co-worker/secret crush Glee fleeing from foxes.  The two of them hide in a stump when suddenly they see that Glee’s sister Soozie is snatched up and killed by Marrow, a ruthless fox.   It is devastating.  (The drawing is very sad, but not bloody or disgusting).

Worse yet, the murderous fox just did it to get the rabbits’ attention.  He wants control of their factory. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RHEOSTATICS-The Horseshoe Tavern Toronto (February 14, 2001).

After I thought I had finished hearing all of the live Rheostatics I ever would, Rheostaticslive posted four nights from 2001 (Don Kerr on drums).  This was night 1 of 4 of the Horseshoe Tavern’s 53rd Birthday bash.  I often wish I had been daring enough to drive to Toronto back in 2001 to see four nights of a band that I still hope to see rock out this year.

Clark (the band) opened the show.

This show is mostly new material–they played everything from the forthcoming Night of the Shooting Stars except “The Reward” and “Remain Calm” (all new songs are in bold).  The setlists would get pretty divergent by the fourth night.

This recording is great because you can hear the audience too.

As they get ready for “P.I.N.” there’s technical difficulties with Martin’s guitar: “It’s the setting up that’s the most exciting part of the show.”  The song sounds good, although the acoustic guitar is a little flat.

Even though this is primarily a new songs show, they follow up with the goofy “The Pooby Song.”  It’s a fun song with country sounding guitar and then some lunatic soloing from Martin.

Then comes a whole slew of new songs.  “Mumbletypeg” is such a happy fun song, a real pop gem with great backing vocals from Tim and wonderful falsetto from Martin.  It’s followed by “In It Now,” a poppy fun Tim song with a fantastic riff.

Before moving on to “CCYPA” Dave says “pace yourself.”  Martin says, “I don’t need to.”  Don chimes in, “What re you, Sting?”  To much laughter.  The Don notes that “Martin took off his Canadian tartan jacket.”  Dave: “They’ll arrest you in Ontario for doing that.”  “CCYPA” sounds great although Martin seems a little shaky on the words–or maybe it’s just his delivery.  Don is totally smashing the drums.

Opening “Superdifficult” Martin has fun with the voice processor for this song.   I love this song.  It’s so catchy I can’t believe it’s so short since it feels like there’s a lot of parts to it.  I also love “Junction Foil Ball” which is such a weird Martin song.  It sounds great here.   “Song Of The Garden” was on Harmeldoia but it was so good they wanted it on NOTSS as well.  This new recording should have been a huge hit, it’s so catchy.  It’s also got some really wild guitar work at the end–electronic/robotic sounding.

They take a break for some banter.  The Golden Seals.  Mike Bonnell and Dave Merritt from that band helped to write “Garden” and Don says that their then new album Storybook Endings is the best record of the year [a bold statement in February].  They discuss the worst album.  DB: The new Love Inc. album is really bad.  The first one was good.  Then they talk about a cassette tape that Ben Gunning from Local Rabbits made for their road trip.  It was so bad, they threw it out the window in Moncton.  Ironic that it was given to us by a member of a band who has made one of the best records of the year, The Local Rabbits.  Dave also says the Nelly Furtado record is quite deserving of its accolades.

One more new song, “The Fire” is a complex song with multiple parts,  It’s got a lovely melody and a gentle opening sing by Martin.  After a minute and a half, there’s some heavier guitar and lead vocals from Dave.  Then Martin takes over again.  When the two of them sing together at the end, it’s really fantastic.

Then it’s back to two songs from Harmelodia, the incredibly poppy “I Fab Thee” and the sweet “It’s Easy To Be With You” (although Martin tries to make some crazy noises during the solo–with some success).

They acknowledge Valentine’s Day–“It’s win a date with Martin, night.  Guess what color underwear he’s wearing!”  Then they play Martin’s “Valentine Song” called “The Idiot.”

They joke that they won’t play as long tonight: “Fewer songs that aren’t as good, played worse.  That’s our new direction for the 2001s.”

A pretty “Loving Arms” is followed by the story of the French woman who thought Don Kerr’s name was “don’t kerr” (Don’t care).  She also thought that David Bowie stole Don’s look (seriously).  Dave: “Bowie just came off his neck beard 2000 tour.”

The new song “We Went West” is sweet as always and it’s followed by the roaring (and sloppy) “Satan Is The Whistler.”   Martin has some fun with that robotic voice at the end.

Our “nightly dose of new wave” comes with “Four Little Songs,” which they jam out for quite a lengthy middle section.

People have been calling out for all kinds of songs, so Dave says that the next song, “Stolen Car,” combines the majesty of “Horses” with the lyricism of “Aliens,” the suspense of “Fish Tailin'” … what was the other one you wanted to hear?  The pathos of “Record Body Count.”  The solipsism of “Introducing Happiness” ….and (Martin chimes in: “it ameliorates all of them.”  It sounds great and the ending is just dynamite.

After the encore break they come back with a really poppy new Dave song, “Here To There To You.”    Then they actually do play “Fish Tailin’.”

The tape ends with a cool, moody “Saskatchewan” and then a cut-off “Feed Yourself.”  The tape is cut off before they get to the wild middle section, but what is played is pretty great.

[READ: February 13, 2019] “Finissage”

This is a weird post-apocalyptic “story.”  I honestly don’t even know if it’s a story.

The part of the story that I “got” and that I liked was:

The betrayed Earth demanded to be returned to Indigenous stewardship.  It took the crisis of mass extinction to make it so.

[and]

Males hadn’t been born for decades… but this was okay as it meant the patriarchy was finally over.  No more school shootings!  No more dick pics….

That’s awesome.  But the rest of the story, which is only one page, is less so. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: CAT POWER-Tiny Desk Concert #821 (February 4, 2019).

I remember when Cat Power was a buzz artist who had signed to Matador.  I bought her album in 1996, but I guess it didn’t leave that much of an impression on me.

Since then, she has been a buzz artist for performing and then for not performing and then for performing again.  All the new music of hers that I have heard seems to get slower and softer.

The biggest surprise about the Tiny Desk Concert was how full of smiles she was and yet the blurb makes her sound uncomfortable:

Most artists who play the Tiny Desk are at least a little nervous. Performing in broad daylight in a working office full of staring faces is outside the comfort zones of most people. But Chan Marshall, the unforgettable voice behind Cat Power, seemed especially uneasy when she settled in for her set. Rather than taking center stage, close to the audience, she stepped back and to the side to be closer to her pianist and friend, Erik Paparazzi, for much of the performance. She intermittently steadied herself by resting a hand under her chin while clutching a cup of tea, and she ran through three songs without a break, making her set sound more like a Cat Power medley than a series of distinct songs.

So I don’t know any of the songs she played here and when I first listened I actually assumed she’d only played two songs because the first two blended together.

Regardless, the music was arresting and beautifully orchestrated, with simple piano lines and brushed drums backing a voice that could only be hers.

Opening with “Wanderer,” the title track to Cat Power’s latest album, Marshall sang of restless love and yearning with a nod toward motherhood and her 3-year-old son: “Twist of fate would have me sing at your wedding / With a baby on my mind, now your soul is in between.”

It has a quiet, simple piano melody (from Erik Paparazzi) and a gentle guitar (from Adeline Jasso) that imperceptibly pushes it forward.  After a minute, the brushed drums (from Alianna Kalaba) come in to add a little snap to the song.

“Woman,” another track from Wanderer starts immediately.  She had recorded this song with Lana Del Rey and I recall liking it. This version sounds so much like the previous song that I don’t even recognize the original in it.  The differences between the two songs are that the piano notes have changed a little (but since they repeat all the way through, it’s not hugely noticeable) and the guitar now uses a slide.  Otherwise the beat is I believe unchanged.

She segues right into “The Moon,” from her 2006 album The Greatest.  The only distinction here is that the guitar and drums stop briefly while the newly repeating piano picks up a slightly different melody.  This song sounds so much like the previous one because she sings the word “Moon” so much like the word “Woman” (often given Moon more than one syllable) I couldn’t tell that she was saying something different.

I suppose if I were in the right mood I would have found this mesmerizing and enchanting.  But mostly I just found it rather dull.

[READ: February 5, 2019] Speak

I hadn’t read this novel and, in fact, I wasn’t exactly sure what it was about (although I knew it was intense).  The only reason I picked it up was because I thought it was a First Second publication and I plan to read all of their books.  This was listed in their 2018 publication list, but it ultimately wasn’t published by them, it turns out.

S. knew the book from her work with teens and said she didn’t want to read the graphic novel version.  So I expected a harrowing, potentially unreadable story.

But Anderson has created an excellent and compelling story built around a harrowing incident.  She also doesn’t detail the harrowing incident until later in the story, so by the time we hear about it we are even more sympathetic to Melinda.

I will say that as the story opened (because I didn’t know the timeline), I thought that the kids were being unrealistically mean to her.  I thought she was a new student at the school (it’s her first year in high school) and I couldn’t imagine why people really had it in for her.  It seemed hard to believe.  Especially as we realize pretty quickly that the incident has already happened.

Then it gradually comes out that kids are mad at her for something she did.  It is connected to the incident, but clearly isn’t about the incident because she hasn’t told anyone about it. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: STELLA DONNELLY-Tiny Desk Concert #819 (January 22, 2019).

Stella Donnelly has been generating some buzz lately, but I wasn’t familiar with her.  I didn’t even realize she was Australian.

She is adorable with her hair in two little nubs at the back of her head and a big smile most of the time.

She immediately won the office over with her broad smile, warmth and good-natured sense of humor. It’s the kind of easy-going, open-hearted spirit that makes her one of the most affable live performers you’ll see. While there’s no doubting her sincerity, she’s also got a disarming way of making her often dark and brutal songs a little easier to take in.

And indeed, she does not mince words when she sings.

“Beware of the Dogs” is a delicate song with Stella strumming her guitar with no pick and singing in a beautiful but soft voice.  There’s such a gorgeous melody for the chorus.

It turns out that this song and the other two are new.  Because she doesn’t even have an album out yet!

For this set, she performed entirely new — and, as of this writing, unreleased — songs from her upcoming full-length debut, Beware of the Dogs. Opening with the title cut, Donnelly smiled cheerfully through the entire performance while reflecting on the horrors that often lurk beneath the surface of seemingly idyllic lives. “This street is haunted like a beast that doesn’t know its face is frightening to behold,” she sings. “All the painted little gnomes, smiling in a line, trying to get your vote.”

As the song builds she gets more pointed:  “There’s no Parliament / Worthy of this country’s side / All these pious fucks / taking from the 99.”

She follows with “U Owe Me” which is “about my old boss at  a pub I used to work at back home.”

This song has a gentle guitar melody and some surprisingly soft vocals (including some vibrato at the end of each verse).   But the lyrics are straightforward and pointed (all sung with that disarming smile)

you put your great ideas up your nose /
and then try to tell me where the fuck to go /
you’re jerking off to the cctv /
while I’m pouring plastic pints of flat VB [or Foster’s or whatever].

At the end of the song she says, “He actually paid me a week after.  I was on the wrong week of my payroll.  It was very dramatic back then.”

She says “Allergies” is a run-of-the-mill breakup song.   “I’ve only got two of them and this is one of them.”  It’s a delicate, quiet song (capo on the tenth fret!) and once again, her voice is just lovely.

How can this Concert be only ten minutes long? I could listen to her all day.

Surprisingly, Donnelly chose not to play any of the songs that have gotten her to where she is in her young career — songs like 2017’s “Boys Will Be Boys” or last year’s “Talking,” two savagely frank examinations of misogyny and violence that earned her the reputation for being a fearless and uncompromising songwriter. But the new material demonstrates that her unflinching perspective and potent voice is only getting stronger.

I’m bummed that I am busy the night she’s playing a small club in Philly, as it might just be the last time she plays such a small venue.

[READ: January 26, 2019] Brazen

This is an awesome collection of short biographies of kick-ass women.  Bagieu has written [translated by Montana Kane] and drawn in her wonderful style, brief, sometimes funny (occasionally there’s nothing funny), always inspiring stories about women who spoke up for themselves and for others.  Some of the women were familiar to me, some were not.  A few were from a long time ago, but many are still alive and fighting.  And what was most cool is that the stories of the women I knew about had details and fascinating elements that I was not previously aware of.

What a great, great book.  It’s perfect for Middle School students all the way to adults.  I actually thought it might be perfect for fourth and fifth grade girls to read and be inspired by.  However, it skews a little bit older.  There’s a few mentions of sex, abortion, rape and domestic violence.  These are all real and important issues, but may be too much for younger kids.

Bagieu’s art for most of the pages is very simple–perfectly befitting a kind of documentary style but after each story she creates a two page spread that is just a breathtaking wash of colors which summarizes the previews story in one glorious image.  Its terrific. (more…)

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[LISTENED TO: August 2018] The Sixty-Eight Rooms

Narrated by: Cassandra Campbell

I didn’t know this story, nor did I know anything about the Thorne rooms before our trip to Chicago last summer.

So the Thorne Rooms are, well, I’ll let the Art Institute of Chicago’s website describe them:

The 68 Thorne Miniature Rooms enable one to glimpse elements of European interiors from the late 13th century to the 1930s and American furnishings from the 17th century to the 1930s. Painstakingly constructed on a scale of one inch to one foot, these fascinating models were conceived by Mrs. James Ward Thorne of Chicago and constructed between 1932 and 1940 by master craftsmen according to her specifications.

Read more about them and see pictures here.  That description doesn’t really do justice to the rooms themselves.

They are really magical in the way that they fully represent a room from a specific time and place.  The floor, ceilings, walls and furniture all meet exacting standard of detail.  And what makes them somehow even more special is that each room shows rooms out of the side and back doors.  These are lit (and show a painted facade) that indicates what is just beyond the walls of the room you are looking at.  It really adds a lot of depth and character to a scene.

Seeing them in person was really wonderful.

T. and I had started listening to this book before we left for Chicago, but we decided to wait until our trip to save it for the whole family.  Then we wound up not listening to it until the home, after we had seen the rooms.  And I feel like that made it all the more special. Because I could see exactly what the kids were doing in this fun and bizarre adventure. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: DARK THOUGHTS-“Anything II” (2018).

At the end of every year publications and sites post year end lists.  I like to look at them to see if I missed any albums of significance.  But my favorite year end list comes from Lars Gottrich at NPR.  For the past ten years, Viking’s Choice has posted a list of obscure and often overlooked bands.  Gottrich also has one of the broadest tastes of anyone I know (myself included–he likes a lot of genres I don’t).  

Since I’m behind on my posts at the beginning of this year, I’m taking this opportunity to highlight the bands that he mentions on this year’s list.  I’m only listening to the one song unless I’m inspired to listen to more.

This has got to be the first time I knew of a band before Lars Gottrich introduced me to them. (although it sounds like he’s known them for quite a while).  I learned of Philadelphia’s Dark Thoughts when I saw them open for Sheer Mag.  They were fantastic.

Gottrich mentions The Ramones as a touchstone, and that’s certainly there.  But I also hear some good old British punk in the vocals (which are not quite as melodic as Joey Ramone’s).

Jim Shomo loves The Ramones, from his bratty punk affectation to the bubblegum punk hooks. But the Philly band also knows that there’s still so much to learn from punk’s tradition, heard in the ridiculously catchy two-minute-or-less songs and a leather-worn physicality of At Work. You feel every power chord and drum kick in your bones.

This two-minute song is one of the longer tracks on the disc.  And its a bit of a departure from the standard two chords punk song because there’s a distorted “ooh oooh ooohs” that sound a bit like a synth (but are just distorted) and which return later in the song).

There’s no solos, no flash, just fast pop-punk.  The songs aren’t happy but nor are they angry, they’re more disaffected.  And the disaffected often make great music.  But as he says in the episode, seeing them live is the real key—they are dynamite.

Check out their bandcamp site.

[READ: December 3, 2018] ”Good Mother”

This is an excerpt from a novel called Now, Now, Louison.  It was translated by Cole Swensen.  In this novel, he writes in the voice of artists Louise Bourgeois who was famous for her enormous sculptures of spiders.

It begins with the idea that sculptures are made out of frustrating–trying to weave connections.

Then there is the warehouse in Brooklyn, gotten for a song where the sculptures grew larger: “Spiders, spiders, you never tired of remaking them bigger and bigger.  More immoderately maternal.”  So why not tell your own story with your sculptures–not the one they’ve told you–you have to be precise or say nothing at all. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKALFREDO-RODRÍGUEZ-Tiny Desk Concert #796 (October 18, 2018).

As this Tiny Desk Concert started,  I was sure the main musician was the bassist.  Given his fascinating outfit and his amazing bass playing, I was sure it was all about him.  I was still more impressed with the bass even after learning that:

Cuban pianist Alfredo Rodríguez gave our office audience a very quick lesson on why pianists from that island nation are so impressive: they treat the piano as the percussion instrument it is. Rodríguez immediately let fly with an intense flurry of notes that were as melodic as they were rhythmic.

But really, once Rodríguez starts playing you can tell that he is the composer and creator, even if guitarist/ bassist Munir Hossn is the exciting splash on the music.  I didn’t mention that Hossn also plays guitar.  It’s on a stand which he walks over to play in between amazing bass runs.

“Dawn” opens with some singing and a very simple rocking kind of feel.  Then Hossn plays some wonderful guitar soloing notes while Rodríguez plays his complicated main lines.  Meanwhile, Hossn has switched back to bass and is playing some amazing jazzy lines–fast, furious and at times really high notes.  It’s pretty cool.

There’s a lengthy guitar solo (with Rodríguez clapping) before the main song resumes with two very distinctive styles of music.

The mash up of European lyricism and Afro-Cuban percussion is at the heart of the Cuban piano tradition and it is very present in the first song. It wasn’t long before Rodríguez dug deep into rapid-fire syncopation along with drummer Michael Olivera.

Listen to the expansive and lyrical exploration of the second song in this Tiny Desk set, “Bloom.”

It opens with a lovely piano melody twinkling along the keys.  But it’s that great low-end and the simple drums (check out Olivera’s jacket) that takes it beyond “European lyricism.”  There’s some wonderful interplay between the musicians and some great effects from Hossn on bass (how does he get those super high notes?).

The final song is called “Yemaya.”  It opens quietly with Rodríguez singing before turning into a frenetic piano melody with Hossn’s intricate guitar pyrotechnics.  The song is eight minutes long and features many components including a lengthy, beautiful (and impressive), piano-only section.  But I still love watching Hossn (as he hat falls off) the most.

West Africa-based Yoruba spiritual tradition, commonly known as Santeria, infuses so much of Cuban daily life in music and Rodríguez closes with his take on the music dedicated to the Orisha Yemaya, the goddess of the ocean and all waters. The song’s melody is a derivation of the song associated to Yemaya and the Tiny Desk trio explores the rhythms of the melody, up to and including the sing-along at the end.

Every exposure to Cuban music presents an opportunity to walk alongside historical music figures and Santeria spirits alike.

Especially when it ends with an engaging sing along like this one does.

Actually they seem to be having so much fun that they refuse to end the set by playing one more wild coda to top everything off.

[READ: November 28, 2018] “Children are Bored on Sunday”

The December 3, 2018 issue of the New Yorker was an archival issue, meaning that every story was taken from an earlier issue.  The range is something like 1975-2006, which is odd since the New Yorker dates back so much longer.  Although the fiction pieces are at least from the 1940s and 1950s.

This story was written in 1948 and it is certainly of a certain time and place–specifically The Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1948.

Emma is a young, single woman browsing the art gallery.  She is excited to see a Botticelli, but as she nears the room, Alfred Eisenburg is standing there right in front of “The Three Miracles of Zenobius.”  She liked Alfred and even flirted with him at a party “in some other year.”

At most other times she would have been pleased to see him, but she turned quickly back the way she had come. (more…)

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