Archive for the ‘Miriam Toews’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: RADCO-“Didn’t You Know” (2017).

Since this essay is about Mennonites, I decided to see if I could find any Mennonite rock bands.  Well, Radco was a “punk” rock band from Vancouver, BC.

Drummer Amber Banman described their music as

A heart crushing, unstoppable, rock and roll machine. Ha-ha .We like to say we’re too polite for punk rock as we all generally mind our P’s and Q’s. But oh boy, can we rock!

They have a few songs on bandcamp.

This song does rock (although there is a xylophone melody at the end).  It’s catchy with solid guitars.

The lyrics are indeed a polite diss track:

Pay attention
Before you miss
All of these things
That you could have kissed
Didn’t you know I wanted to go
But you left me standing by my front door

As of 2018 Radco were no more, although three of them went on to form The Poubelles (Amber sings lead in this band).

[READ: July 1, 2019] “Mennonites Talking About Miriam Toews”

The July/August issue of The Walrus is the Summer Reading issue. This year’s issue had two short stories, a memoir, three poems and a fifteen year reflection about a novel as special features.

I really enjoyed Miriam Toews’ All My Puny Sorrows.  I haven’t read her book A Complicated Kindness, but I gather that it (like Sorrows) shines a light on Mennonite culture.

The introduction to this piece says that Kindness introduced the world to the Mennonites of Manitoba’s Bible belt.  Her 2018 novel Women Talking is a fictionalized account of women living in the aftermath of sexual assault in an ultraconservative Mennonite colony in Bolivia (that book sounds painful to read).

This piece is a collection of cartoon panels each one a person expressing a real sentiment about Toews (although the panels are fictionalized). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ANNA MEREDITH-Tiny Desk Concert #713 (March 2, 2018).

I have never heard anything like this.  From sound to melody, to intensity, to instrumentation, this whole thing just rocked my world.

The melody for “Nautilus” is just so unexpected.  It opens with an echoed horn sound repeating.  And then the melody progresses up a scale, but not a scale, a kind of modified scale that seems off kilter just as it seems familiar.  The cello plays it, the guitar plays it, the sousaphone (!) plays it.  And it continues on in like fashion until only the high notes remain and then a menacing low riff on sousaphone cello and guitar breaks through–a great villain soundtrack if ever there was.  While everyone plays this riff, Anna returns to the keys to play the modified scale.

Meanwhile, the drummer has looked like he’s asleep behind his small kit.  And then 3 anda half minutes in he wakes up and starts playing a loud but slow rhythm.  The guitar begins soloing and as it fades out that main riff begins, now with a simple drum beat–not matching what anyone else is playing, mind you.  The sousaphone (which must have an echo on it or something and the cello pick up the low menace and it seems like everybody is doing his and her own thing.  But it all works amazingly.

So just who is Anna Meredith?

Anna Meredith was a former BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra Composer in Residence. Two of the three songs performed here come from her 2016 release called Varmints.

Bob Boilen was also impressed when he first saw Anna Meredith live:

I first saw this British composer a year ago, in a stunning performance at the SXSW musical festival. It was one of the best concerts of my life. The music I heard sent me into a state of reverie. If music could levitate my body, this is how it would sound. It carried me away and thrilled my soul. I was giddy for days.

Now, I know this isn’t music for everyone. … But if you know and love the music of Philip Glass, King Crimson or Steve Reich — music that’s electrifying, challenging and sonically soars and ripples through your body — then crank this up.

Lest you worry that she couldn’t translate it to the Tiny Desk (she says they normally have 23 suitcases full of crap so this has been an exciting challenge to squeeze in here)

Out of nearly 700 performances at the Tiny Desk, this is simply the most exhilarating one I’ve experienced. The instrumentation is unusual, with pulsing bass sounds produced by a wonderful combination of cello, tuba and electronics. It’s all rhythmically propelled by an astonishing drummer and Meredith pounding a pair of floor toms. And much of the repetitive melody is keyboard-and-guitar-driven that morphs and erupt with earth-shaking fervor.

The second song, “Ribbons” is quieter.  It’s and new song and it has vocals.  Her vocals aren’t great (“hard when you’ve got the voice of a five-year old boy”) but the melody she builds around it shows that her  voice is just one more instrument (albeit saying interesting words).  Actually, that’s not fair, they are just so different from the noise of the other two songs that it feels very faint in comparison.

It opens with a quiet guitar and electronic drum.  And slowly everyone else joins in.  A nice string accompaniment from the cello (Maddie Cutter), bass notes on the sousaphone (Tom Kelly) and even backing vocals from everyone.  By the third go around the drummer (Sam Wilson) is playing the glockenspiel.  By that time the song has built into a beautiful round and the quietness of her voice makes complete sense.  As the song nears its end, Sam has switches to a very fast but quiet rhythm on the floor tom.

She introduces the band and wishes a happy birthday to guitarist Jack Ross.  She says this is a great present as “so far all we’ve gotten him is an apple corer, the gifts have been a bit low grade.”

They make some gear switches, “we have a bit of a logistics problem with all our gear we can’t quite afford to bring enough glockenspiels, we pass the pure crap glockenspiel  around ans everyone gets to go ‘my turn!'”

“The Vapours” opens with a wonderfully wild guitar riff–fast and high-pitched and repeated over and over.  Anna Meredith adds waves of synths and then in comes the sousaphone and plucked cello.  Then fast thumping on the floor tom propels the song along.  The song slows a bit a Anna plays the clarinet (!).  The song dramatically shifts to some complicated time signature while Anna plays glockenspiel.  After a few rounds, while this complex guitar riff continues the drum and sousaphone start playing a pretty standard beat the contradicts everything else that’s going on and then Anna just starts pounding the crap out of some more toms.

All through this there are electronic sounds adding to the chaos and I have no idea who is triggering them, but it’s really cool.

The end is almost circusy with the big sousaphone notes and yet it’s like no circus anyone has every heard.  When the camera pulls back and you can see everyone working so hard and yet smiling ear to ear (especially Maddie), you know this is some great stuff.

The end of the song winds up with a hugely complicated tapping melody on the guitar and everyone else working up a huge sweat.

I couldn’t get over how much I loved this.  I immediately ordered Varmints and checked her touring schedule.

How disappointed was I to see that Anna Meredith had played Philly just last month and has now gone back to Europe!  I do hope she comes back soon.

[READ: August 30, 2017] McSweeney’s 48

For some reason, I find the prospect of reading McSweeney’s daunting.  I think it’s because I like to post about every story in them, so I know I’m in for a lot of work when I undertake it.

And yet I pretty much always enjoy every piece in each issue.  Well, that explains why it took me some three years to read this issue (although I did read Boots Riley’s screenplay in under a year).

This issue promised: “dazzling new work; a screenplay from Boots Riley with a septet of stories from Croatia.”


GARY RUDOREN writes about using the Giellete Fusion Platinum Razor every day for 18 days and how things were good but have gotten a little ugly.  On day 24 he had a four-inch gash under his nose.  Later on Day 38 it was even worse–a face full of bloody tissue squares.  By day 67 he is writing to thank McSweeney’s for whatever they did perhaps it was the medical marijuana but now his face is baby butt smooth even without shaving.  He wants to change the slogan to Gilette Fusion the shave that lasts forever. (more…)

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ampsSOUNDTRACK: MISSY MAZZOLI-Vespers For A New Dark Age (2015).

missymazzoli_sq-80d1109aad30ab9a4bfe1a45d5c82d99354bc079-s400-c85Missy Mazzoli’s Vespers for a New Dark Age, is a 30-minute suite for singers, chamber ensemble and electronics. The piece was commissioned by Carnegie Hall for the 2014 Ecstatic Music Festival.

It’s a fascinating mix of traditional and contemporary instruments.  And there’s a surprise musician as well: Martha Cluver and Virginia Warnken Kelsey from Roomful of Teeth, provide operatic soprano voices.  Mazzoli’s own ensemble Victoire, provides the music while Wilco drummer Glenn Kotche adds percussion and thunderous pounding.

As the suite opens, electronic chimes sound before the beautifully soaring voices come in (I don’t know who is who).  The instrumentation is complex and the vocals are often in English (but operatic and not always obvious to hear). There’s some great rising and falling notes from various instruments.

The first piece is called “Wayward Free Radical Dreams” and I like the surprise of the simple English phrase “Come on, come on come on” A bell ringing is the segue into part 2, “Hello Lord.”  Over a lonely flute and some synths, the vocalist sings a poem by Matthew Zapruder for lines like: “hello lord / sorry I woke you / because my plans / are important to me / and I need things / no one can buy / and don’t even know / what they are / I know I belong / in this new dark age.”

I love the rising and falling notes of “Interlude 1″ over the fast violin moments.  “Come On All You” opens with some ticking hi-hats and squeaky violins.  There’s a lot of drums in this song—some punctuate the melody until the soprano voice takes over and then around 4 minutes into the section, the drums burst to life.  “New Dark Age” has some moody synths under the soaring voices and “Interlude 2” opens with the sound of big deep bells.

“Machine” has a mechanical staccato feel in both strings and voices.  When it returns to “Come on Come on” refrain (this time with two voices), it’s very cool.  The “Postlude” ends the piece with moody strings and distorted mechanical sounds that overwhelm the voices at times.   The piece ends on an up note but not in an overwhelmingly happy feeling.

The final piece on the disc is not part of the suite, although it fits in sonically.  It is called “A Thousand Tongues (Lorna Dune Remix)” and it has echoing pianos and overlapping synths.  While this piece is pretty it is probably the least interesting of the disc.  Perhaps because there are fewer voices and more synth melodies.  Perhaps because it is a remix.  The song feels fine, but not as compelling as the suite.

I was happy to discover his disc, which really explores different classical motifs.

[READ: March 15, 2015] All My Puny Sorrows

As with many books, but especially those published by McSweeney’s, which I always read, I didn’t really know what this was about.  I can pretty much guarantee it would not have been high on my list had anyone told me it was about dealing with a suicidal sibling.

But what’s great about the McSweeney’s imprint is that they gather such a wide variety of books and most of them are of such good quality that I know I won’t be disappointed.  And this book not only didn’t disappoint, I found it really fantastic.

The story is fairly simple, although from my perspective it was also fairly exotic.  The main action of the book takes place in present day Winnipeg.  But there are flashbacks to the main characters’ childhood in 1979.  And the way it opens–with the family watching as the house that their father built is put on the back of a truck and driven away is one of the more memorable opening passages of a book that I’ve read.

The family consists of the narrator  Yolandi, her older sister Elfrieda and their parents.  And, perhaps most exotic to me they are Mennonites.  Their family is not entirely pious in the tradition in their town–they are seen as somewhat less than observant.  Things were made even worse by the deliberately provocative nature of Elf.  She was creative, she loved to read and she had a real sense of outrage.  The church pastor once accused her of “luxuriating in the afflictions of he own wanton emotions.”  She embraced poetry, particularly the line “all my puny sorrows” and decided it would be her slogan.  So she began spray paining AMPS all over the town. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: WEEZER-Raditude (2009).

I didn’t buy this Weezer album when it came out because I had heard really bad things about it (like the “guests”), but when I saw it cheap I decided to check it out.  This has to be the most polarizing Weezer album of them all.  I listened to it twice yesterday.  The first time I thought I had been too harsh on it.  The second time I thought it was godawful.  It’s amazing what a couple of hours can do.

It opens with a wonderful bit of poppy wordplay ala Cheap Trick: “(If You’re Wondering If I Want You To) I Want You To.”  It’s catchy as anything and is a wonderful start to the album, even if it is probably their poppiest song ever.  From there though, the album really degenerates.  And mostly it’s because it’s so dumb.  I mean the album title should tell you what you’re in for, but who would have expected the moronic sub-pop-metal of “The Girl Got Hot” or even the reprehensible lyrics of “I’m Your Daddy” “You are my baby tonight And I’m your daddy.”  It’s just creepy.  Or gah, a song about the mall?  “In the Mall.”  It’s not even worth mocking.  And really, try to picture Rivers Cuomo in a mall.  Any mall.

But nothing could prepare anyone for “Can’t Stop Partying.”  Unlike Andrew WK’s ouvre, which is so sincere about partying that you can’t take it seriously, this song really seems to be about the guys partying.  It’s laughable.  The anemic rap but Li’l Wayne certainly doesn’t help.

Even the collaboration with Indian musicians on “Love is the Answer” (yes, seriously) doesn’t really work.  It feels like they wrote the song and then said, “Hey let’s throw some sitar on it.”  It’s not enough to be exciting but too much to ignore.

This is not to say that these songs aren’t catchy.  I mean, geez, I still have “Can’t Stop Partying” in my head while I’m listening to something else.   Rivers knows how to write a pop trifle.  And the more he writes songs like this, it makes me thing that Pinkerton was the fluke.  Which is fine. The music world needs poppy songs, right?

[READ: early August 2011] various nonfictions

I thought about doing individual posts for all of Arthur Bradford’s non-fiction that’s available on his website (that’s right,  yet another author that I have read short uncollected pieces by without having read any of his bigger works–I’m looking at you Wells Tower).  Bradford has links to all of his nonfiction ( I assume) on his website.  There are 12 links in total.  One is to his blog (which I’m not reviewing).  The rest are for articles covering a pretty broad array of topics from a pretty broad variety of sources.  (more…)

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