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Archive for the ‘Antonya Nelson’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: ART OF TIME ENSEMBLE-Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (2012)

The Art of Time Ensemble does many things although my exposure to them is through their string performances of rock songs

Led by Artistic Director Andrew Burashko, Art of Time Ensemble transforms the way you experience music. Fusing high art and popular culture in concerts that juxtapose the best of each genre, Art of Time entertains as it enlightens, revealing the universal qualities that lie at the heart of all great music.

Sarah and I saw a live show of this tour.  And this recording is pretty much the same (I’m sure there’s some variations).  It is more than just a symphonic version of the record.  The Art of Time Ensemble created new arrangements of the songs.  Purists might hate this, but it is lovingly created and made with a few extra orchestral moments thrown in.

This disc was recorded live in concert May 31, June 1 & 2, 2012 at the Enwave Theatre in Toronto

The disc opens, of course with “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.”  Steven Page sings the song with rocking guitars and horns.  There’s cool a capella moment with them all singing the “it’s wonderful to be here” moment.  Before allowing the next song to start the band does the slow orchestra rise of notes at the end of the album.  Clearly showing that while hey are staying somewhat faithful to the record, there will be surprises.

“With A Little Help From My Friends” has gentle swirling orchestral notes as John Mann (from Spirit of the West) sings.  This song seems to be all about the orchestra as they take many liberties with the melodies and soloing moments.

“Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” Craig Northey sings this classic which is quite understated, especially in the chorus, when he sings falsetto and there;s minimal accompaniment.  However, those three thumps before the chorus are as loud as anything.

Andy Maize’s gruff, weathered voice sounds great for “Getting Better.”  But it’s Page’s harmonies in the chorus that make this song transcendent.  “Fixing A Hole: is the first song that really changes the original.  It has a kind of Kurt Weill cabaret/circus vibe with John Mann hitting some challenging notes.  But the music is so sinister, it’s quite interesting.

“She’s Leaving Home” is achingly, beautifully sung by Steven Page.  The backing vocals are perfect, too.
“Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite!” has a few strange moments in which the bulk of the music cuts out for pizzicato strings or when the middle section features an extended waltz for Mrs K to dance.  Craig Northey sounds like he’s singing through a megaphone but that seems unlikely.  By the end, Northey also seems to be talking Mr. Kite down from his foolish behavior (“Oh, he;s falling”).

“Within You Without You” is the other song that Andy Maize takes lead on.  On the original, the song is done in Indian classical style.  This version has strings filling in with repeated melodies.  Indian hand drums are used at the end and while I’m not certain, I think there was no sitar used, but the melodies on violin and voila do a great job of representing that sound.

“When I’m Sixty-Four” is very string-heavy and takes a bit before it gets the bouncey feel of the original.  John Mann does a nice job with the song and the backing singers do a great job too.  I’m only bummed that there’s no musical punctuation on Vera Chuck and Dave.

A long piano intro opens “Lovely Rita” before Steven Page takes lead vocals–a song well suited to him.  The big surprise comes in the middle when there’s a lenghthy big band dance section including a muted trumpet and a real nor jazz feel.  After the nifty trumpet solo there’s a clap along for the ending chorus.

The members all greet each other “Good Morning” before “Good Morning Good Morning” starts up, sung by Craig Northey.  It’s one of the more rocking songs.  At least until the swirling heavy guitars that open “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise).”  There is a chorus of vocals singing with vamping from Steven Page.

The disc ends with “A Day in the Life” with Andy Maize on the first section (squeaking out that House of Lords line) and Craig Northey taking the faster part.  Since the orchestra already did the end of the album much earlier the end of the concert is quiet, much more subtle.

The album is over but there are two bonus Beatles songs.  “Penny Lane” sung by Steven Page might be noticeable for the trumpet getting the solo perfect.

The whole show ends with “All You Need is Love” with everyone getting a verse.  There are a number of Beatles’ lines thrown in during the outro, like Page singing “I should have known better with a girl like you” and “All I’ve got is a photograph” (from Ringo).

This is a fun take on a classic album.  And while I’ll always prefer the original, it’s nice for a change of pace.

[READ: April 11, 2016] “Soldier’s Joy”

I don’t quite understand the title of this story, but that doesn’t detract from my enjoyment of it.

The story is about a woman, Nana, and her much older husband.  It opens with her relating to him a dream she had.  In the dream, he sent her a love letter in which he stated how lucky he was “that you still want to live with me.”  He laughs and says he is quite humble isn’t he.

In his dream he imagined that their friend Helen, a “preposterously impossible person,” was pregnant.  Helen had hosted them the previous evening and her husband had been drunk and flirted with Helen’s nineteen year old daughter .

Later Nana called Helen to apologize for her husband and to commiserate about what they should wear to the next function at Libby’s house.   Helen says not to worry sabot it, that all girls flirt.  And of course, Nana remembers how she and Helen flirted with their college professor when they were in school and how, of course, he is the man who Nana ultimately married. (more…)

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2014_11_10SOUNDTRACK: LORD HURON-Tiny Desk Concert #247 (October 25, 2012).

lordhironLord Huron is one of those bands that I hear of a lot, but whom I don’t really know much about. I also think they are someone I like, but listening to this Tiny Desk Concert, it’s clear they are not any of the bands I think they are.

As far as this Tiny Desk Concert goes, Lord Huron proves t be a five piece folk outfit.  They have lovely harmonies

“She Lit A Fire” is a pretty standard folk song.  Although I like the way the song shifts gears to a faster guitar style.  I really like the way the one guy’s guitar sounds like mandolin, too.  “Time To Run” is a bit faster and catchier.  In fact, when the oh oh oh oh part comes in, it’s hard not to want to sing along.  And the middle part where it’s just guitar and bongos is pretty hard not to enjoy.

“Lonesome Dreams” opens with some echoed bass notes. It’s got some really catchy parts although I don’t really love the yodeling voice that he puts on.  The band does four songs (practically unheard of).  “Ends of the Earth” opens with that same yodeling voice, but once the harmonies kick in it sounds great.

I didn’t realize that Lord Huron had only released their first album in 2012.  They have really made a name for themselves.

[READ: July 20, 2016] “Primum Non Nocere”

I enjoyed this whole story except for the very end which seemed to turn the story into something else.  In retrospect that something else is also pretty interesting and it throws a whole new light on the story, but I enjoyed the story so much as it was that the twist really impacted the way I enjoyed the rest of the story.

The title translates as “first, do no harm” and the story is about a youngish girl and her mother–who is a psychotherapist. 

I loved the way the story began.  Jewel is totally embarrassed that her mother asks her patients if they are “Cell phoning.”  She says it all the time.  How lame.  Until she realizes that her mom is actually asking if they are “self-harming.”

Her mother was brutally honest about a lot of things and was, of course, right about everything.  One thing that her mother always said was “that no one ever gets beyond high school. It’s all high school for the rest of your life.” Not true, Jewel knew, yet also true.

Her patients loved her for that unconventional understanding. She stood up for them; she visited their homes and talked to their problematic relatives, went to the store with them, walked them along the river, allowed them to bring their pets to their therapy sessions. She came to her children’s defense, too, with teachers or friends or the parents of those friends. She was brutally honest, blunt.

(more…)

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CV1_TNY_01_06_14Ware.inddSOUNDTRACK: BROWNOUT presents Brown Sabbath (2014).

brownout_cvrI was intrigued by the premise of this album: Brownout is a nine piece jazz band and they play a selection of Black Sabbath covers.  The NPR site (where you can stream the album this week) explains:

They played a residence at an Austin club where they devoted a week each to the repertoire of artists like Black Sabbath to break the monotony of a long club gig.  Audience response, not to mention the fun the band had on stage reworking Sabbath classics, led to a full-length album.

So, this band plays a number of Black Sabbath classics, with, oftentimes, the horns standing in for Tony Iommi’s guitars or Ozzy Osbourne’s voice. Although there are also times when the (various) singers in the band try out their inner Ozzy (and often succeed).  They get pretty heavy for the heavy parts (and there are guitars so the do have appropriate guitar sounds from time to time).   But they also play some of the groovier songs too (like “Planet Caravan.”)

Other songs include “The Wizard” (probably my favorite here), “Iron Man” (which is very different from the iconic song, and is only vaguely recognizable as the song, but is very good nonetheless).  They also do “N.I.B.” a bass heavy song which takes on a different style (perhaps a bit too much like Dread Zeppelin).  “Black Sabbath” has no vocals, just a guitar playing the lines–and the horns in the beginning add a suspenseful accent. “Hand of Doom” plays that slinky dark sound very well (I just like the original so much that this one can’t quite compare).  And “Into the Void” which also has no vocals, but sounds a little too marching band here (but the middle instrumental section is really trippy).

So I enjoyed this take on classic Sabbath.  Although I don’t need to listen to it more than once.

[READ: June 13, 2014] “First Husband”

Looking back, I see that I have enjoyed a lot of Antonya Nelson’s stories.  And I enjoyed this one too.  She seems to have a great eye for little details, or interesting aspects of family life that are fun to unravel.  The thing I really liked about this story was the simple construction of the character relationships.

Lovey is married to William.  It is both of their second marriages.  But Lovey’s first husband was married before he married Lovey–she was his second wife.  Lovey’s first husband had several daughters, including Bernadette.  So for a time, Lovey was Bernadette’s stepmother (even though she was close in age to the oldest daughter).  Then when Lovey and her first husband split up, she was no longer Bernadette’s step mother.  But because the marriage lasted for more than a few years, the girls grew close to her, especially Bernadette.  When they divorced, Bernadette actually chose Lovey over her father.  So now Lovey is her ex step mother.  And William is something to Bernadette that there’s not a word for.

I love that.  Even though it’s probably not that uncommon, it is such a linguistic mess that its clear no one was ever prepared for that.

I especially liked that that level of detail is included even though it is not the crux of the story.  It is relevant, but it is not the crux.  The crux is that Bernadette’s husband (whom no one likes) is out drinking.  Again.  Bernadette is nervous about him coming home drunk and the fight they will have so she wonders if she can bring the kids over to Lovey’s house.  It is 2AM.

Lovey doesn’t mind.  Lovey doesn’t have children of her own–she feels that her first husband (Bernadette’s dad) deliberately kept her from having children during her prime years and now she is stuck.  And even though these children are technically nothing to her, their ex- step-grandmother, she still cares them.  And Bernadette’s oldest boy, Caleb, is the reason she is named Lovey–it was something that he could say when he was little.  So when the children come crashing over, Lovey welcomes them without waking William (who needs to be up early for his doctor rounds). (more…)

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may20014SOUNDTRACK: EXHAUST-Enregistreur [CST021] (2002).

exhaust2While Exhaust’s debut was a mixed affair, their follow up really showed some great improvement.  The band feels more unified, there aren’t any single songs that were remixed (which stand out in a bad way), rather the remixing was done throughout the songs.  And, best of all there’s a lot more of that spooky bass clarinet.

The album feels more organic, “Gauss” opens with waves of music setting a mood until about a minute into track 2 “Behind The Water Tower” when the drums kick in the atmospherics gains urgency. “Voiceboxed” has a feeling of contemporary Portsihead which is neat from an album that came out almost a decade earlier.  This one has some samples of commercials , but they’re a little low in the mix so its hard to make them out. Although the spoken word part that swirls around your head is very cool and a little startling. (Headphones are a must for this album). There’s also a funny standup routine (yes, in the middle of the song)—wonder who it is.

“Ice Storm” opens with a sampled piano & a lot of static.  It morphs into a lengthy play/commercial/PSA by Heathrow Wimbledon and is called “The Maternal Habitat.”  I can’t find anything else about it online.  It’s rather fun to listen to, although when the skit is done, the music becomes strangely slow and the last two minutes (of 9) go on too long.  It bleeds into “Dither” which is mostly sampled voices and more commercials.  I love this Negativland kind of pastiche

“Behind the Paint Factory” mirrors “Water Tower” in that the drums kick in after 2 minutes and the song sounds great.  “My Country is Winter” is mostly tape manipulations including a screaming guitar solo that runs around your head.  “Silence Sur la Plateau” returns to that sort of ominous Portishead vibe with the sound of loud crinkling plastic as its main “music.”  There’ also a lengthy silence in the track which seems rather pointless to me.  The album ends much like it began with “Degauss” which is mostly clarinet solo and atmospheric sounds

It’s much better than their debut but still feels like they could have made a tighter album if they’d gotten rid of some (but not all) of the nonsense.

[READ: December 1, 2012] “The There There”

I have enjoyed Nelson’s stories in the past, and I feel like it’s time to find a collection of hers (and I see she has a lot, too).

What I especially enjoyed about this one was the way the title was used in the story and also the way it encompassed the main character in a way that was unrelated to the way it was used in the story.  In the first instance, the family is on vacation and they overhear some tourists asking “Where the hell are we?” while standing in front of the Colosseum.  The son explains that’s “like not seeing the Grand Canyon until you fell in it, like it’s the there there.”

The story is about a family–a mother, a father, and two sons.   It opens with the sons and the mother discussing the perfect murder.  The husband disapproves of the discussion but only indicates this with a cleared throat.  We see that Caroline, the mother, was imagining her husband when she was describing her murder.

While the story is basically about the mother (although told in third person), it flits back and forth to the other family members and how their behavior affects her.  First we see that their oldest son, having gone off to college, has fallen in love with his landlady–a woman with children older than him.  Caroline is appalled at this especially when Drew reveals that she’s not all that pretty, that he would have chosen one of those daughters. (more…)

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CV1_TNY_12_03_12Thiebaud.inddSOUNDTRACK: BEIRUT-Tiny Desk Concert #159 (September 21, 2011).

beirut tinyI don’t know a lot about Beirut.  NPR seems to like them and all I know about them comes from the shows NPR streamed.  This Tiny Desk concert is only 12 minutes long and the band doesn’t chat very much.  But they play three songs: “East Harlem,” “Santa Fe,” and “Serbian Cocek.”  This last song was meant as kind of a goof, a treat for the people who showed up (Beirut had just come back from Bonnaroo and were exhausted), but they allowed NPR to include it in the stream, which is a fun treat.

Beirut play a kind of jaunty horn-fueled eastern European-flavored music.  “Serbian Cocek” has a very tradition feel–an instrumental fueled by trumpets that’s very hard not to dance to.  They are certainly not to everyone’s cup of tea, but if you like some Europe in your rock, they are worth checking out.  Even if in this set they aren’t hitting the highest notes that they might otherwise hit.

[READ: December 1, 2012] “Literally”

This story runs a gamut of ideas in a very short span–death, race, marriage, public transportation, soft serve ice cream and the misuse of the word literally.

And perhaps there is too much crammed in here.  It’s not that the story suffers but by the time you get to the end of the story, the title seems irrelevant.   It refers to paragraph five in which Richard “liked to make his son smile by using his favorite word incorrectly.”  And then it’s not used again (unless you want  to argue that the end is somehow a literal moment, but I really don’t).

The story switches back and forth between Richard’s daughter Suzanne who works at the Dairy Queen and Richard’s son Danny, a smart alec kid who engages in the time honored tradition of mocking his sister (although she is completely oblivious to his taunts).  The story is also about Bonita, Richard’s housekeeper.

Every since his wife died (recently, in a car crash), Richard has become painfully aware of how much his wife did–even simple acts like communicating with Bonita.  Richard knows very little Spanish, while his wife was fluent.  His wife also helped out with Bonita’s son Isaac, who is “nervioso.”  So Bonita brings Isaac over most days.  Indeed, because of the districting, Richard and his wife agreed that Isaac and Bonita could claim that they lived with them, so Isaac could go to the better school.  Danny and Isaac get along very well, and often get absorbed in a game called “town” (which helps Isaac to relax). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE SHINS-“Plenty is Never Enough” from Score! 20 Years of Merge Records: The Covers (2009).

The Shins have taken this song and completely turned it into a Shins song.

It is bouncy and poppy with some nice tempo changes.  It could easily fit onto any Shins album.

The original (I’d never heard of Tenement Halls) is very similar to The Shins’ version.  The big difference is that it doesn’t have The Shins’ vocals and musical sensibilities.  The original feels kind of flat, the highs just aren’t as high.  But it serves as a good stepping off point for the cover.

[READ: March 30, 2012] “Chapter Two”

This story is about A.A.  But, amusingly, Hil is tired of telling her own stories at A.A., so she starts telling the story of her fifty-something alcoholic neighbor (with the wonderful name of), Bergeron Love (the story is set in Houston).

Interestingly, no one at A.A. complains that she is talking about someone else (in fact the blind guy just seems to smile politely).  This is just as well because Bergeron’s story is pretty funny.  Bergeron arrives at Hil’s door, stark naked and invites herself in.  This is not atypical for Bergeron who crashes neighborhood parties and plays ridiculous pranks.  But not everything she does is funny: she also reports overgrown lawns and loose dogs.

Hil lives with her son and a roommate, Janine.  Janine is a very fat woman (see my diatribe about fat characters yesterday).  But Janine is not the victim or the pity-case in this story (well, maybe a little).  Hil figures Janine must eat all day to be as big as she is, but she has never seen her eat.  But then Hil’s son, Jeremy, a shy teenager enjoys playing video games with Janine more than going out with his peers (and more than being with his mom, I believe). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SUPERCHUNK Hello Hawk (1999).

Hello Hawk is another of my favorite Superchunk songs (and it’s vastly different from “Hyper Enough”).  It opens with some really interesting guitar noodling.  And then after a bridge that promises a noisy chorus, the chorus backs down into another gentle section (followed by the loud and heavy post chorus…a neat trick).  This song is also laden with strings (!).  And it’s catchy as heck.

The second song, “Sexy Ankles” sounds (recording style-wise) like early 60s rock and roll.  It’s quite odd for Superchunk, although it rocks nicely at the end.

The final three tracks are acoustic version of songs from the Come Pick Me Up album.  The paradox: as the original songs grow less heavy and rocking, these acoustic versions become less dramatic as interpretations of them.  And yet, since the originals are growing more complex, these acoustic versions sound even better than previous acoustic versions of their older songs.

[READ: October 10, 2010] “Party of One”

Antonya Nelson is another of the 1999 New Yorker 20 Under 40 writers.  I’d never heard of her before seeing this story, but I enjoyed it enough to want to check out more of her stuff.  This is the story of a broken love affair.  And yet it has so many different angles, and so many wonderful observations (and disarming frankness), that it struck me as a wonderfully original and enjoyable story.  Even the way she used the title was clever.

First the breakup.  It is not the main character who is breaking up, but rather her sister.  The main character is meeting her sister’s lover, who is married.   He is getting cold feet and her sister is despondent.  What is wonderfully twisted about the story is that the sister has a had a previous affair with a married man and when that affair ended, she tried to kill herself.  I hate to reveal this tasty piece of information, but it really highlights the interesting angles of this story–the affair was with her the narrator’s husband.  [Woah]. (more…)

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While I was looking around for Jonathan Franzen pieces in the New Yorker, I stumbled upon the first 20 Under 40 collection from 1999.  Since I had received so much enjoyment from the 2010 version, I decided to read all of the 1999 stories as well.  It was interesting to see how many of the authors I knew (and knew well), how many I had heard of but hadn’t read, and how many were completely off my radar.

I initially thought that they had published all 20 authors in this one issue, but there are five stories (including Franzen’s) that were just excerpted rather than published in full.  And I will track down and read those five in their entirety.  But otherwise, that’s a lot of fiction in one magazine (a few of the stories were quite short).  And it features a cover by Chris Ware!

So here’s the list from 1999.

**George Saunders-“I Can Speak™”
**David Foster Wallace-“Asset”
*Sherman Alexie-“The Toughest Indian in the World”
*Rick Moody-
“Hawaiian Night”
*A.M. Homes-
“Raft in Water, Floating”
Allegra Goodman-
“The Local Production of Cinderella”
*William T. Vollmann-
“The Saviors”
Antonya Nelson
-“Party of One”
Chang-rae Lee-
“The Volunteers”
*Michael Chabon-
“The Hofzinser Club” [excerpt]
Ethan Canin-
“Vins Fins” [excerpt]
*Donald Antrim-
“An Actor Prepares”
Tony Earley-
“The Wide Sea”
*Jeffrey Eugenides-
“The Oracular Vulva”
*Junot Diaz-
“Otra Vida, Otra Vez”
*Jonathan Franzen-
“The Failure” [excerpt]
***Edwidge Danticat-
“The Book of the Dead”
*Jhumpa Lahiri-
“The Third and Final Continent”
*Nathan Englander-
“Peep Show” [excerpt]
Matthew Klam-
“Issues I Dealt with in Therapy” [excerpt] (more…)

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