Archive for the ‘Joshua Ferris’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: Right-wing lies about the Insurrection (2021).

[READ: November 2021] Small Blows Against Encroaching Totalitarianisms: Volume Two

Two years into the previous administration, McSweeney’s published two small books which railed against everything the Criminal in Chief stood for and had done.

Reading these books in 2021 after he had been soundly trounced in the election and with the possibility of jail time (for any of multitude of the illegal things that he did) is somewhat calming.   I think if I had read this in 2018 it would have been thoroughly dispiriting.  Because even though these essays provide hope, they are just full of recounting of the horrors that that [fill in the blank] and his crew of reprobates did.

It has been a year since the brainwashed masses tries to overthrow our government.  And still nothing has happened.  Our country is broken.  These essays don’t really fix it, but it’s nice to know you’re not alone in thinking this way. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: PHISH-Live Bait Vol. 8 (2012).

Live Bait Vol 8 included 6 songs in 90 minutes with a date range of 1993-2011.

It opens with a rollicking, shambling, fun version of “Run LIke an Antelope” from 1994.  The song opens with a Simpsons title riff and a big D’oh! from everyone.  The song sort of starts going but it is interrupted by a verse or two from “Big Black Furry Creature from Mars” (Just the “When I get home from work, what do I do? I try to kill you” part).  By ten minutes the music has gotten so far afield from the original.  There’s as creaming guitar solo from 14-17 minutes and at 18 minutes there’s a little bass solo until the try to rein it back in.  You almost forget what song they are playing and when it’s time for the words, Trey gets the line wrong, saying “Set the gear shift…” but quickly corrects himself and reverts to instead of “Rye Rye Rocco.”  In total this 21 minute song has about 2 minutes of actual “antelope.”  It’s pretty fun.

It jumps to a 2000 version of “Bathtub Gin.”  Page is in good form as this one opens with lots of wild piano in the introduction.  It’s a fun, groovy version that lasts about 15 minutes.

Back to 1996 for a bouncy funky version of Simple.  The middle shows of Page once again as he plays with all kinds of sounds from his keyboard rig.  The middle is some great funky organ.  The end of the song (after some 14 minutes, mellows out with some lovely piano from Page and what I suspect are bells played by Fish.

The fourth track is a 1998 version of the instrumental “Buried Alive.”  That riff is so good and they jam it for quite a while.  Trey really scorched throughout the song and he returns to the original riff after some 12 minutes of jamming.

The oldest track is a “Halley’s Comet” that segues into “Slave to the Traffic Light” from 1993.  The opening of “Comet” has everyone singing in harmony.  While the harmony is going on, Mike has got some good funky bass going too.  But six and a half minutes there’s more piano work from Page.  The segue into “Slave” comes at 9:45.  This version of the song is solid and sounds great.

Finally the freebie disc wraps us with a 15 minute “Tweezer” from 2011.  The opening lines all have little instrumental jams in them so it takes four-minute to get to the Ebenezer line.  The jam is very bright and cheerful with pretty solos from Trey and nice accents from Page.

While certainly shorter than some oft he other Bait, it’s a solid collection of 6 lengthy jams.

[READ: January 3, 2017] “The Abandonment”

This story was (I believe) deliberately confusing as it started.

It opens with a man searching around a neighborhood.  He is hoping to find a woman who isn’t there. Then it flashes back to he and his wife getting married in Cuba and, in the same paragraph, he acknowledges that they will now get divorced.

So far the only characters are the he and her (no names yet).  So in the next section when he winds up at a place and hopes to find her there, we have to assume it is his wife.

He buzzes the intercom and gives his name, (Nick) so that he is able to go in.  But when he gets to the elevator, a woman exits and says “Oh my God…I thought that was you…You are just…awesome….  I mean it, I love you…  Oh, I’m so embarrassed.” (more…)

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sept2015SOUNDTRACK: RIVER WHYLESS-Tiny Desk Concert #502 (January 19, 2016).

whylessRiver Whyless is an interesting band, at least during this Tiny Desk Concert.  They have several singers, different instruments and a whole bunch of interesting percussion on hand–including a typewriter!

The band has one EP out, from which the first song “Life Crisis” comes.  The female singer (none of the players’ names are given) says that this was their tiny desk submission.

On this song the male singer (actually everyone sings) plays typewriter and presents his typed document at the end of the show–although the audience never gets to see it–I imagine it’s gibberish, but it would be amazing if it wasn’t).  The female singer plays a violin solo in the middle of the song (which was unexpected since she doesn’t have it as the song opens).

Under the typewriter is a pump for a harmonium which has an accidental vibrato on it.  Shes says that one day it started doing that and they love it and hope it never fixes itself.

The other two songs are new–not on their EP from last year.  “Sailing Away” starts with violin and harmonium.  There’s also a guitarist who sings leads and a percussionist (who has all manner of gadgets and drums and mallets around him).  The harmonium player/typist also plays a melody on the toy piano.  All of these items may seem like novelties or goofs, but their songs are quite lovely and these little accents just add to the overall feel.

“Baby Brother” opens with a buzzy acoustic guitar and a whole landscape of percussion.  And this time the harmonium player switches to guitar while he sings lead (everyone sings lovely harmonies by the way).

I love everything about this band…except their songs.  All three songs are quite nice, and while I’m listening to them I certainly enjoy them, but they are really not that memorable.  There’s no hooks in them.  Despite the fact that all of their accouterments are not really gimmicks, those are the things I will remember most about River Whyless.

[READ: January 18, 2016] “Learning to Fly Part 4”

This is the final part of the 4 part essay.  A series like this is bound to be anticlimactic because presumably if his solo didn’t go well, he’d be dead.  And if he didn’t do the solo, there likely wouldn’t be a part 4 (unless he talked about chickening out instead).

But Ferris takes an interesting tact for this end section.

He opens the essay by explaining that he was commissioned by Popular Mechanics to write this essay.  This makes sense but is something  hadn’t thought about–they asked him to do it.

He says that he was full of anxiety the entire time–which we knew he would be.  He was terrified to fly–a wobbly commercial airplane takeoff would totally freak him out.  Plus, being a writer, he had an overactive imagination. (more…)

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popjlu SOUNDTRACK: BENNY SINGS-Tiny Desk Concert #501 (January 15, 2016).

bennyBenny Sings is a Dutch singer songwriter.  I had never heard of him, and no wonder, this was apparently his first performance in the United States.  And “this is also where he performed with background vocalist Jennah Bell for the first time.”

The blurb says that he layers R&B, jazz and pop over hip-hop foundations.  Although the first of two songs, “Love” is just him on the piano.  For the second song “Beach House,” he busts out the drum machine.  But it still comes across as an orchestra pop song (maybe like slower Elton John).

It’s all fine, but nothing special.

According to my records, this was the 500th Tiny Desk Concert.  And if you count all of the concerts on their Tiny Desk Page, it tallies up to 500 today.  But I know that they are planning something big for #500.  So I don’t quite know what to think.

[READ: January 14, 2016] “Learning to Fly Part 3”

Part three of this story (see, I said it wouldn’t be too long before I continued with it) is all about the landing.  Ferris explains that the landing has always been the hardest part for him.  He managed turns and banks and rises and everything else, but frankly, had his teacher not been there he would have died dozens of times with bad landings.

He says that as you slowly (or quickly) sink towards the ground, your instinct is to pull up away from it, which is exactly what you shouldn’t do.

This particular part of the essay doesn’t have a lot of flying details in it, because most of it is taken up with his fears about his poor landings.  Although the way Ferris tells of the time he easily should have died from not slowing down is pretty harrowing and exciting–how is his instructor so calm?

He sums up landing though you need patience when things are most hurried, composure when things are most fraught.  You need focus when your attention is most scattered.  You need a light touch on the controls when the urge to yank hard and pull them off the panel is at it strongest.

Then he describes all of the things that his instructor appears to be doing at once to land the plane:

He was descending, turning the yoke, applying back pressures, lowering the flaps, adjusting the trim, peddling the rudder, adding power, nosing down–all more or less simultaneously.

Ferris swears that he will quit.  He cannot land the damned plane.  His wife will be pleased that he has quit ans she is terrified of him crashing.  But he knows that he will likely not quit–because it’s a challenge and any tough challenge is one you want to quit hundreds of times but which you never do,

But for his final lesson, he was going to go up once more and then quit.  “And that was the day I had my first perfect landing.”

Great cliffhanger

The final part comes next.

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popmechSOUNDTRACK: NATALIE MERCHANT-Tiny Desk Concert #500 (January 12, 2016).

nat merch Natalie Merchant was supposed to appear on a Tiny Desk show in 2014, but she was ill on that day (she even tells the story of going to the hospital).  She had to cancel the entire tour.  Turns out we saw her on that tour a couple of days before she got sick!

When Sarah and I saw her we both remarked on how great her voice still sounded.  And it sounds great here too.  The same instantly recognizable voice from her albums with all of the power and inflection that she’s always had.

Although I still don’t understand where her speaking voice accent comes from (she’s from upstate New York after all).

“Motherland” (a 2001 song) she dedicates to the staff of NPR.  Her accompaniment is an acoustic guitar, upright bass and accordion and it works very well for this slow, rather sad song.

“Texas” is another pretty, slow song from her 2014 album which she was supposed to pay at the Tiny Desk show.  She says he most regretted missing the Tiny Desk show when she had to cancel her tour.  She had no idea the desk was not so tiny and that it could fit 1000 people standing around watching.

Then she plugs her new album, Paradise Is There: The New Tigerlily Recordings.  It is a reworking of her songs from Tigerlily (and there was a documentary that accompanied it (which they were filming when we saw her).  She plays “Cowboy Romance” from that album.  I don’t know the original (or I don’t recognize the song) but it sounds fine in this stripped down format.

Even though her songs are rather serious, she’s quite silly with the band and crew.  She emphasis “CONfiguRAtion of muSICians” before introducing “Cowboy Romance.”

Everyone assumes she will play only three songs (the standard), but she has a special treat planned.  She says that she heard a story on NPR about how office workplaces would benefit from singing together.  And they are all trapped with her.  So she says they are going to sing a Protestant hymn that she recently found in a songbook in the library.

She says that she and the guitarist are Catholic, the accordionist is Jewish (from Israel) and the bassist has no religion.  he says he’s from the West Coast (she jokes that he’s from a cult in Oregon).  Then when she asks the guitarist what key it’s in and he says, “What song? ” to which everyone laughs because she never mentioned the title.

It’s a lovely old song which she teaches to the whole room.  After the first verse, she says she approves of the group sing-along and says it should be a weekly thing.  I love the way they split the screen to show the whole staff singing along. It’s quite lovely and the staff’s accompaniment is really pretty.

This is a delightful show and a very intimate performance by Natalie Merchant.

[READ: January 12, 2016] “Learning to Fly Part 2”

I really enjoyed Part 1 of this essay, but as often happens to me with broken up pieces, I forgot about the next part until long after.  So here it is over six months since I read Part 1 finally getting around to Part 2 (but at least I have Parts 3 and 4 with me so I’ll be finishing them up soon). (more…)

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Popular-MechanicsSOUNDTRACK: THE MOUNTAIN GOATS-Tiny Desk Concert #41 (January 3, 2010).

mgI have talked about Tiny Desk Concerts off an on (more than 100, if I’m counting right), but I never really made a concerted effort to do them all.  So now I’ve decided to make the effort.  My plan is to post two old concerts a week and also mention new ones when they pop up.  Since there are nearly 450 concerts, this will take ages and ages.  But I’ve been really enjoying the bands I like and it’s been fun listening to the bands I didn’t know.  And two a week seems reasonable enough.

I know the Mountain Goats, although I don’t know them all that well–I keep meaning to listen to them more.  So this is a good place to start.  It’s just John Darnielle and his guitar.

These four songs are simple enough and yet they have s much passion and inventiveness.  Darnielle is known primarily for his lyrics, but he throws a good melody over his songs too.

He plays two (then) new songs, the quiet “Hebrews 11:40” and the loud “Pslams 40:2.”  His voice is instantly recognizable in either song–it more or less just sounds like him singing louder, and yet there’s something slightly different in his rollicking singing voice–a bigger intensity, perhaps.

He also plays two old songs.  The slow “Color in Your Cheeks” and the rollicking “Going to Georgia” (which he starts and then interrupts and then starts again).

While his lyrics are serious, his between song banter is charming and funny (“I am permanently a young man, no matter how old I get”).  I just saw that the Mountain Goats were on Seth Meyers’s show, I’ll have to check that out too.

Watch the Tiny Desk Concert here.

[READ: April 21, 2015] “Learning to Fly Part 1”

I was going to let my Popular Mechanics subscription lapse.  I enjoy it a bit, but don’t really read it all that much.  But this issue has some good articles and the start of this four part essay by an author I really like.  Who knew that authors wrote for such unlikely places?

I suspect that Popular Mechanics readers probably aren’t used to long form essays, because this first part, called “Takeoff” is only four pages long–this is not a Harper’s essay we’re looking at, here.  But the writing is still really good.

Ferris talks about the two things that contributed to his decision to take flying lessons.  The first was the death of his father and the second was his absolute fear of flying. (more…)

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slothThis song is the opening theme to the FX show You’re the Worst, which I like very much.

The theme is only a few seconds long although the song (which has been around since at least 2011) is considerably longer (although it doesn’t reach 3 minutes).

Every time we’ve watched the show, I’ve tried to imagine who the guy is singing this song–he sounded strangely familiar.  Well, imagine my surprise to find out that the music from the band Slothrust is pretty much written and sung by a woman, Leah Wellbaum.  Well who would have guessed (it’s more evident in some of their other songs).

I love the simplicity of this song–repeated lyrics set to a ramshackle guitar which bursts forth into loud wailing in every repeated section.  There’s even a guitar solo (equally as uninhibited).  The band is a typically more punky than this folk song might hint, but you can feel all their glorious chaos in this one track.

 It’s funny and rather catchy.  Check out the song on bandcamp.

[READ: June 17, 2014] “Good Legs”

This year’s Summer Fiction issue of the New Yorker was subtitled Love Stories.  In addition to the two graphic stories, we have a series of five personal essays which fall under the heading of “My Old Flame.”  I liked that all five writers have slight variations in how they deal with this topic.

Joshia Ferris has written a number of things that I enjoyed.  This piece, which  found very peculiar, takes a very different approach than Kushner did.  Where Kushner focused on different people in her past, Ferris Ferris focuses on one old flame. Or is she?

He says he met her in the hallway of a dorm.  There’s this near-opening line that sets the tone: “I didn’t think much of her, but I was sure she had never seen anyone quite so handsome.”

It turns out that she was dating someone else anyhow.  And then she graduated, leaving him behind (perhaps unbeknownst to her).  He says, “I didn’t miss her,”  because he was “in this terrible on-off thing with Sisyphus, who kept dragging me up a pretty blond hill and hurtling me down.” (more…)

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CV1_TNY_09_30_13Blitt.inddSOUNDTRACK:WOVEN HAND-Tiny Desk Concert #11 (January 9, 2009).

wovenWoven Hand is yet another band that I hadn’t heard of until this Tiny Desk concert (and I thought I knew a lot of bands).  They are a band, but for this Tiny Desk Concert David Eugene Edwards plays solo.  He has a cool baritone voice that has a nice ponderous quality.  This suits his chosen instrument–a mandolin-banjo hybrid made in 1887 by the Pullman Train Company (!)–perfectly.  Turns out that Edwards was the voice behind 16 Horsepower, so that explains some of the sound he’s going for.

The opener “Whistling Girl” and the closer “Kingdom of Ice” (which is practically a mini-epic) are beautiful slices of Americana made slightly more esoteric by the instrumentation and his voice.  I like them a lot.  The middle song he plays is a Bob Dylan song “As I Went Out One Morning.”  I know that I’m not a big Dylan fan, but I just can’t get over how many songs he has written that people cover.  I’d never heard this one, which with this instrumentation takes on a kind of fairy tale quality (which I assume the original doesn’t).

This makes me want to bust out my 16 Horsepower CD and to check out more from Woven Hand.  I enjoyed his solo performance so much I can’t imagine what a full band version would sound like.

[READ: January 7, 2014] “The Breeze”

I have really enjoyed Joshua Ferris’ work, so I was excited to read this.  But I was ultimately disappointed by this story.

The construction is interesting, so of.  It looks at multiple possible outcomes of a situation.  But I felt like even that was done a little too vaguely to be really effective.

It also features one of my most hated scenarios in real life and one which I guess I have no patience for in fiction.  It concerns a person who is bored, existentially bored.  So when she wants to do something, she proceeds to ask her partner what he wants to do.  Thus, Sarah asks her husband to come home from work early.  She is sitting on the balcony of their apartment enjoying a perfect spring breeze.  When he gets home, she is excited to have a wonderful excursion with him.  So she asks him “What do you want to do?”  And naturally he hasn’t thought of this at all, so he has no opinion.  But this makes her mad.  She asks if he doesn’t want to do anything.  He says he does. And then she asks him what.  I don’t know if this is a gender-specific scenario, but I have been in it many times in many different relationships and I know my parents went through it as well—my mother always complained about my father’s lack of wanting to do things and he would always say all she had to do was say what she wanted to do and he would do it.  So, I guess Ferris has tapped into something, but I hated reading about it. (more…)

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CV1_TNY_04_29_13Drooker.inddSOUNDTRACK: THE TRAGICALLY HIP-“Now for Plan A” (2012).

hip manWhile I was enjoying the Hip’s new album, I recognized a voice in a couple of duets.  That voice is Sarah Harmer’s!  I love Harmer and realized that I haven’t heard much from her lately (her last album was three years ago).  I looked up to see what she’s been up to and it appears she’s been on some human rights trips, which is quite cool.  But it’s nice to hear her voice again.

This is the title track to the album.  It starts slow with a wah wah’d guitar.  The sounds slowly build as more layers are added and after a minute Gord starts singing.  By the second verse Harmer sings along with Downie–their voices complement each other very nicely, although it’s funny that in this song neither one of them is really showing of his or her chops–their vocals are mostly quiet.  Although I like when it seems like Harmer is taking over in the final verse.

I don’t love Hip ballads as a rule, but this is a good one.

[READ: May 9, 2013] “Fragments”

This story is indeed about fragments.

It opens with a conversation. And it’s a pretty interesting one–about flying a helicopter over midtown Manhattan.  But then that conversation ends–the protagonist was just overhearing it.  We see that he is at work.  And then his phone rings.  His wife has butt-dialed him and he is able to hear fragments of her conversation.  Although we hear only snippets, it is enough for him (although not necessarily for me) to think that she is planning on having an affair with whomever she is talking to.

This fear is not helped by the fact that she is working extra late hours on a case.  She is out until very late often until he is asleep.  Although in one instance he only pretends to sleep to see what she will do.  She goes to sleep without waking him, which he takes as a bad sign (although honestly, what is she supposed to do wake him up to say she is going to bed?) (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MOGWAI-Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will (2011).

With an album title like that, you expect, well, some pretty loud music, right?

For this Mogwai album that’s not what you’ll get.  You’ll get lots of keyboards, and on the opening track “White Noise” you’ll get one of their prettiest melodies in ages.  Sure, there’s some distorted guitar by the end, but this is quite pretty.  “Mexican Grand Prix” opens with a computerized drums, keyboards, a propulsive bass line and whispered vocals.  This could be a dance hit.  What has Mogwai done with Stuart Braithwaite?  When the processed vocals start singing along (no idea what they’re saying), you can easily imagine a dancefloor packed with people for this track.

“Rano Pano” brings in the buzzy guitars again, both the first intro sounds and the noisier melody guitar, while “Death Rays” returns to the happy keyboard feel for a song that reminds me of Explosions in the Sky.  Once again, the melody is beautiful.  “San Pedro” brings guitars back in, with another killer melody and at 3 and a half minutes, it’s the shortest blast of rock.

“Letters to the Metro” opens with a spare piano melody and adds delicate washes throughout.  “George Square Thatcher Death Party” opens with some chanting (no idea what they’re saying) and then some of the loudest bass so far.  It’s another propulsive song, with some buzzy guitars way in the background, but the main force again is the keyboards.  This song sounds very 80s to me, with the processed computerized voice and the keyboard sound they use.  “How to Be a Werewolf” is 6 minutes. It’s a nice song but it doesn’t really grab me like the others.  “Too Raging to Cheers” has more 80s style keyboards (reminding me of Brian Eno or a PBS documentary about space) until about 2 and a half minutes in, when the Mogwai of old come crashes through–lots of cymbals and loud guitars.

“You’re Lionel Richie” is an 8 and a half minute song that opens with some French dialogue.  There’s a complicated guitar melody that plays for a time.  By about 5 minutes, the noise comes in–guitars, keyboards, cymbals, and while it doesn’t crescendo like Mogwai of old, it certainly gives you tastes of them.  This later section of the song brings in a good guitar melody that plays along until the slow fadeout at the end.

I continue to think of Mogwai as a loud, intense band, but their more recent output shows a band changing into something else.  Their melodies are still top notch and they definitely flirt with using noise in some of their songs, but they seems to be making more commercial sounding music (although realistically no band that makes almost exclusively instrumentals can ever be accused of selling out).

[READ: August 10, 2012] “Ghost Town Choir”

I have a read a few things from Ferris.  This story caught me completely by surprise.

The story is from the point of view of a boy who is living with his mom.  She is dating a man named Lawton.  Lawton had moved some of his stuff into their house, including his record collection–his prized possession.  They have a fight; he sings to her from outside their trailer, “What have you got planned tonight, Diana, he sang, though my mom’s name is Sheryl.”  She threw all of her dishes at him until he left.  He came back later that night calling her all kinds of unforgivable names.

Then the story shifts to Lawton’s point of view (both POVs are in first person, although they are quite distinct in style).  The boy goes to Lawton’s trailer even though he is not welcome anymore: “Your momma and me, we’re done.”  Lawton fancies himself a cowboy, and the backing singer in a cowboy band.

Back at home, Sheryl is on a cleaning binge–purging herself of everything.  When she gets to Lawton’s records, she is ready to toss them but the boy asks her not to.  She doesn’t listen and hauls them to the dumpster.  The boy grabs them later on and brings them to his fort in the forest.  That’s where he kept all of the things that the men left in his house after they were gone: “I wonder did they know about he cigarettes they’d never finish?” (more…)

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