Archive for the ‘Dinaw Mengestu’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: TOMBERLIN-Tiny Desk Concert #855 (June 6, 2019).

I rather like when we see a glimpse at the workings of things.  Like how a Tiny Desk Concert typically happens:

Before I bring an artist to the Tiny Desk, I try to see them perform live. It helps me get a handle on what they’ll be capable of doing at my desk, minus all the artful tinkering of a studio. But I never saw Tomberlin before she came to my desk. My desire to see Mitski and Overcoats when Tomberlin was last in town had me at another venue and another opportunity failed to happen. But I was simply in love with Tomberlin’s ethereal debut album At Weddings and took a chance.

I didn’t know how her fragile songs would translate; all I knew was that Tomberlin was coming to the Tiny Desk to play acoustic guitar and sing, along with her musical partner Andrew Boylan. The eerie production that felt like the backbone to the fragile songs on At Weddings would be gone.

I haven’t heard this album, so I don’t know about the eerie production.  I wonder if that would set her apart from other similar women-with-acoustic-guitars.   This is not dismissive of Tomberlin–it is genuinely hard to distinguish yourself when all you have is a guitar and your voice.

On the first song, “Any Other Way” she sounds like a couple of other recent quiet(er) female singers.  The addition of Boylan helps a bit because he able to add some delightful harmonies and some simple guitar riffs to accompany her strums.

I think her perspective also sets her apart a bit

Tomberlin is the daughter of a Baptist pastor, grew up singing in the church and, since her teens, has questioned her own beliefs in God and faith. And as you listen to her sing these delicate, vulnerable songs, you may find your way to a new songwriter, capable of distilling doubt and isolation while forming a community around her music and expressing assurance.

So lyrics like this are quite unusual

Feeling bad for saying
Oh my god
No I’m not kidding

They say that even the most seasoned performers get nervous at the Tiny Desk.  Those nerves are apparent a bit between songs as she asks, “How’s work going today?  Anything happening? I don’t keep up with the things when I’m doing this thing.”  She continues, “I tried to mute trump’s name on Twitter but it doesn’t work.”  After trying to banter some more she says, “I’m going to stop talking and we’ll play another song.”

The combined guitars and harmony vocals on “Self-Help” are really wonderful. And this verse is terrific

I used the self-help book
To kill a fly
I think it worked mom
I think I’m fine

The final song, “Untitled-1” plays nicely with the harmony guitars.

When Tomberlin began to sing at her Tiny Desk Concert, wearing a bit of Tiny Desk nervousness on her sleeve while singing “I know I’m not eternal, I’m just a young girl,” these songs questioning her religious beliefs, felt deep and personal.

This song was the most interesting of the three for the guitars and for the way she really puts some power in her voice as the song progresses.

[READ: June 4, 2019] “Poorly Mapped”

The June 10th issue of the New Yorker features five essays by authors whom I have enjoyed.  They were gathered under the headline “Another Country.”

Dinaw Mengestu was born in Ethiopia but had not been back for many years.  His family left when he was two years old, in 1978.  When he returned, twenty-five years later (the only one in his immediate family to do so during that time) his aunt Aster asked him not to leave the house while she was out.

She had told him that nothing had changed in those years” even your mother’s shoes are still there.”  Further, everything he would need was available in their house–satellite television, internet and American food.  So he should stay put.

He assumed her concern as because of the protests and mass arrests dating back to 2005, but she shrugged all of that off saying that Western news made it seem worse than it was, “We’re fine, we go to work we live our lives.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KELSEY LU-“Due West” (2019).

I hadn’t intended to listen to so much of the Kelsey Lu album, but the third track was the one produced by Skrillex and I was curious what it would sound like.

I was expecting something very dancey and poppy.  It is nowhere near as over the top as I would have imagined.  Rather, it has a wonderful subtle hook in the bridge just because she sings a few words faster than the other.  Nearly everything else she sings is soft and slow, this little uptick is really cool.

Of the three songs, this is certainly the peppiest. It has some catchy electronic drums and definitive dance quality.  It’s still remarkably understate.

But i can see that the whole album could have sounded very different had she picked different producers.

The song ends with a surprisingly long guitar passage.  It is gentle and sweet with what sounds like crickets playing in the background.

I really don;t know all that much about Skrillex, but I think he’s a wild dancey EDM kinda guy.  The little I know leaves me astonished that he could produce something so subtle and pretty.

[READ: May 1, 2019] “Addis Ababa, 1977”

This is an excerpt from the novel The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears.

It is a horrifying example of what it was like to grow up in Ethiopia in 1977.

The bedroom is a wreck and letters are scattered all over.  He will forever be able to see the room, the house, like this.

Soldiers have arrived. The house guards had already left (begging forgiveness as they fled).  There are three soldiers in the house and at least four waiting in the truck,

The lead solider pushes his father in to the room, considering him weak and vulnerable.  The soldiers can’t be more than a year or two older than the narrator. (more…)

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CV1_TNY_01_13_14McCall.inddSOUNDTRACK: PHISH-Live Bait 7 (2012).

bait7This free sampler from 2012 is practically a greatest hits collection for me.  There are 8 tracks on the collection and none of them is shorter than 15 minutes.

It opens with a 1995 concert in which “Wilson” segues into “Tweezer” (for a combined total of 30 minutes).  Then there’s a 13 minute version of “Stash” from 2010 and an 18 minute version of “Split Open and Melt” from 1999.  The songs meld very nicely together with just the slightest change in recording sounds making any notable difference.

“You Enjoy Myself” comes from way back in 1992, and it ends with an extended vocal nonsense section–all four of them mouthing crazy sounds in a rhythmic pattern.  The only song of the set that I don’t love is “Runaway Jim,” but the jam section is great in this one.

“Reba” from 1996 works perfectly with “Gumbo” from 1998.  And the set closes with another 1992 recording.  The band opens with “All Things Reconsidered” which Trey explains is a reworking of the NPR theme.  But he then tells the audience that they can sing along to the next song, David Bowie” (which opens with a little nod to the Simpsons).

There’s no sign of a Live Bait 10, unfortunately, but having 9 free releases of highlights from live shows is still pretty sweet.  If only their show in Philly hadn’t sold out.

[READ: June 12, 2014] “The Paper Revolution”

Dinaw Mengestu’s first story (in the 20 under 40 issue) was about a refugee which I felt was more than a stereotypical refugee story.  This new story is about student revolutionaries, and it looks at them in a different (and somewhat confusing) way.

The narrator, who is eventually called Professor Langston by his friend Isaac, is at the University in the capital city, Kampala.  When he first meets Isaac, he finds him an interesting fellow–a man studying politics, because what else is there to study in Africa?  When the narrator says he’s studying literature, that’s when Isaac calls him the professor.

Isaac is full of information that he loves sharing (starting his sentence with “Did you know?”) He lectures about the British rule and their plan to turn this city into a new London if they lost the war.  Isaac fills him with political theory, and the university was the ideal place for it “Every aspiring militant, radical and revolutionary in Eastern and Central Africa was ran to the university.”

He and Isaac watch the “radicals” and can tell from their shoes which ones are truly poor. But there is one boy–so rarely seen as to possibly be invisible–who was the genuine article.  And soon enough there is graffiti on the walls which everyone attributes to him.  But the graffiti is whitewashed and a sign is put up admonishing: “It is a Crime against the country to deface our University walls.” (more…)

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Sarah Harmer has a new disc out.  Recently my wife Sarah has discovered her in our CD collection and has been listening to her a lot.  I’ve enjoyed her for years, and I always look forward to her new albums.

Somehow I missed that this one came out, but this track is currently #3 on the CBC Radio 3 chart.  Or you could listen to it on her page there.

This song is uptempo and catchy and could easily be a big hit. Her last album was more country/bluegrassey, but this song is pure rock (pop rock, but rock nonetheless).

The bridge of the song is a mysterious affair which adds a lot of personality to this bubbly track (with a fun chorus).  I’m glad that Sarah has more songs out and that my Sarah will soon have more music to listen to.

[READ: August 4, 2010] “An Honest Exit”

Dinaw Mengestu is another of the New Yorker‘s 20 Under 40.  This is the story of a University teacher.  His father recently passed away and he feels compelled to talk about it to his class.  So when class begins, he almost-accidentally tells them his father’s story.

Initially I was a little disappointed in the piece because, while his father’s life is horrifying and interesting, it seemed to fit squarly into my limited knowledge of what I knew about the situation: He was an engineer in Ethiopia but was reduced to nothing after attending a political rally.  He walked across the country to Sudan in hopes of escape.

When he arrived in Sudan he was starving, desperate to find any kind of work.  Finally, a man named Abrahim took pity on him and found him a job delivering hot tea to workers.  Abrahim was like a benevolent dictator to him, helping him and plotting his escape to London; however, all the while the narrator’s father was very distrustful of him, always assuming the worst (and why shouldn’t he?). (more…)

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This week’s New Yorker contains a list of the 20 authors under age 40 that they predict we’ll be talking about for years to come.  Their criteria:

did we want to choose the writers who had already proved themselves or those whom we expected to excel in years to come? A good list, we came to think, should include both.

They have published eight of these authors in the current issue and are publishing the remaining 12 over the next 12 weeks.  I’m particularly excited that they chose to do this now.  Since I’m currently involved in two big book projects, it’s convenient to be able to read a whole bunch of short stories to intersperse between big posts.

I’ve read half of the authors already (likely in The New Yorker and McSweeney‘s).  And have heard of many of the others.   The list is below: (more…)

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