Archive for the ‘Nicole Krauss’ Category

SOUNDTRACKEMEL-GlobalFEST Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #134/145 (January 12, 2021).

EmelGlobalFEST is an annual event, held in New York City, in which bands from all over the world have an opportunity to showcase their music to an American audience.  I’ve never been, and it sounds a little exhausting, but it also sounds really fun.

The Tiny Desk is teaming up with globalFEST this year for a thrilling virtual music festival: Tiny Desk Meets globalFEST. The online fest includes four nights of concerts featuring 16 bands from all over the world. 

Given the pandemic’s challenges and the hardening of international borders, NPR Music and globalFEST is moving from the nightclub to your screen of choice and sharing this festival with the world. Each night, we’ll present four artists in intimate settings (often behind desks donning globes), and it’s all hosted by African superstar Angélique Kidjo, who performed at the inaugural edition of globalFEST in 2004.

The fourth band on the second night is Emel from Tunisia.

Tunisia-born singer Emel first performed at globalFEST in 2015, the same year she performed her song of Tunisian Revolution, “Kelmti Horra,” at the Nobel Peace Prize Concert. Emel was hailed by NPR as a “21st century catalyst for change.” She created her latest album, The Tunis Diaries, equipped with only a laptop, tape recorder and a crowdsourced guitar after she was unexpectedly quarantined in her childhood home in Tunis last spring.

Emel plays only two songs.  It’s just her and her co-guitarist Kareem.  The songs are spare but very full and quite powerful.

“Holm” (A Dream) is a pretty, quiet song with soaring vocal melodies over the restrained lead guitar from Kareem.

“Everywhere We Looked Was Burning” is sung in English.  The spare and lushly echoed guitars make her voice sound especially raw and passionate.

[READ: January 14, 2021] “Drawing from Life”

I found this story to be a little confusing as it started.

Without really referring to the narrator specifically, the story starts with talk of being called out of retirement and away from Netflix, etc.

It wasn’t until the third paragraph when things started to get explained that it made sense.

Harold is a 70-plus year-old-man.  He was one of the first people in his neighborhood to get the Coronavirus.  His son had thought to get him an oxygen tank and so he didn’t need the hospital.  Two weeks later he had survived the virus and was more or less immune.

It was sometime a month or so later that the local rabbi called up.  He explained that people could no longer sit with the dying, with the deceased, as their faith prescribed.  Perhaps, since he was now immune, he would be willing to do so.  And, more to the point, perhaps he would be willing to paint the deceased for their family–as a last gesture.

Harold was an excellent painter–former teacher, exemplary artist who sold paintings to raise money–and often made a lot.

And so, Harold found himself in the hospital, often overnight, by himself, painting. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE LAST BISON-“Switzerland” (2011).

The Last Bison is a band based out of Virginia.  They seemed to ride the wave of aggressive folk rock that came out with Mumford and the Lumineers.  They described their sound as “mountain-top chamber music” as they added classical elements (strings mostly) to their alt-folk.

This was the the first song I’d heard by them and I found it really compelling.

The song opens with a quiet melody played on an acoustic guitar or mandolin.  It feels pastoral and I loved that the melody was accented with a percussive banjo or guitar strum.

The vocals are high and rustic with nice harmonies.  After the introduction, a quick acoustic guitar propels the verse (in which singer Ben Hardesty sings high enough to be almost out of his range).

About half way through, tehs ong shifts gears to a minor chord and the heavy strings come in–deep cello and a soaring violin solo.  The song slows down to gentle strums and vocals as he sings the chorus once more before everything builds up one more time.

In 2018, The Last Bison released a new album with a new lineup and a reinvented sound with more keyboards and percussion.

[READ: October 20, 2020] “Switzerland”

The narrator’s family moved to Switzerland when she was 13. Her father was a doctor who wanted to specialize in trauma and Switzerland had the best hospital for trauma study (which was ironic given that Switzerland “is neutral, alpine, orderly”).  She was too young to live on campus, so she resided with her English tutor, a Mrs Elderfield.

Two other girls, both eighteen, were also staying there. The girls were Marie who came from Bangkok via Boston and Saroya who came from Tehran via Paris.  The older girls laughed at her naivete but they were always kind to her.

Marie and Saroya were sent to Switzerland because of their troubled past–sex, stimulants, and a refusal to comply.  Their parents hoped the school would “finish” them, but the schools knew they were finished already. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: DAWN-Tiny Desk Concert #774 (August 10, 2018).

I had no idea who DAWN (all caps, please) was.  According to the blurb

Dawn Richard–who went by D∆WN for a while, and now just prefers DAWN–Dawn Richard has a breathless enthusiasm for shape-shifting pop music.  Her discography is a bedazzled collage of heart-bursting rave and extraterrestrial dance-pop — but for her Tiny Desk, the L.A.-based singer and producer strips three songs to just the essentials, illuminating the impeccable songwriting behind the wild combination of sounds.

I love the verses of “Waves,” about female empowerment.  The blurb says she transforms “the trap-laced anthem for “underpaid, underappreciated, undervalued and undermined” women into a classic girl group song, flanked by two harmonizing vocalists” (Kene Alexander and Chaynler Stewart).  The music is just not my thing at all.

I love this:

“If you feelin’ stress up in yo chest / Cause they forgot that you the best / Wave ya money,”

But really “wave ya money, wave, wave ya money?”

“Waves” is followed by two songs. Both “Vines (Interlude)” and a funky revitalization of “Lazarus,” speak to Richard’s mission to expand our preconceptions about who gets to make what kind of music.

I like the way “Vines (Interlude)” starts a capella.  But I don’t like the R&B vocalizing throughout.  The electronic percussion is pretty fun though–William DeLelles is working really hard to get those little dinky sounds–he’s also playing the “synth” with his drumsticks.

DAWN explains that she was on a huge label and is now totally indie–no label, no promoter, no nothing.  She says

“I find it interesting when you’re a brown or black girl and you try to do something beyond R&B and hip-hop, it’s not always cool,” Richard says before performing “Lazarus.” “They don’t get it. They think you’re trying too hard. They don’t know where to place you. I wrote this record because sometimes you’re misunderstood. You know exactly who you are, but everyone else can’t quite figure you out. I wrote this record for that person.”

It’s interesting that she jokes, “You’re a folk singer and they label you as alternative R&B.” This song is not alternative or folkie at all, although it does have some cool sounding electronics to start.  But once that guitar (Ben Epand) comes in, you know its back to pop.  I do enjoy when she gets some attitude: “you all could snap a little bit–you aren’t too cute to snap.”

So I won’t be listening to DAWN, but I hope others do.

[READ: February 9, 2018] “From the Desk of Daniel Varsky”

This story started out as one thing–a break up of a long-term relationship.  And turned into something else–the story of a poet who was captured in Chile.

As the story opens, we see that the narrator is thinking about the winter of 1972 when R had just left her.   He had vague reasons but said something about a secret self, that she didn’t buy.

Things got worse but then were okay.  The hardest part was when they lowered his grand piano out the window–it was his last possession and was so large it was like he hadn’t left:  “I would sometimes pat it as I passed, in just the same way that I hadn’t patted R.  The only difference is that R always did, eventually, speak.”

After a few day, she had a phone call from a friend, Paul.  He told her about a crazy dream involving César Vallejo (she and Paul were both poets and they bonded in class over the poets whom others hated).  In the dream, Vallejo had put a mud mustache on Paul’s upper lip. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: LEE ANN WOMACK-Tiny Desk Concert #711 (February 26, 2018).

Obviously I’ve heard of Lee Ann Womack.  I don’t know much about her, except that I’ve heard of her, like a lot, and that she’s a country music legend.

I wasn’t expcecting to like this Tiny Desk, but I really like the music of the first song, “All the Trouble.”  It’s rocking, the violin (Luke Bullais really moody and it sets a great tone.  But man, I just do not buy this lyric from her.

If you’re a country singer and I’ve heard of you, you certainly ain’t got all the trouble you’re ever gonna need, that’s for sure.  She may sound sincere singing those lines, but I’m not convinced at all.

My favorite part of the song was when the guitar (Jonathan Trebing) and violin played off of each other using the main riff from Phish’ “The Song I Heard The Ocean Sing.”

I also feel like she missed a great opportunity to flip some of the cliched lyrics of the song (and there are many) by making this one little twist:

If you got some good news give me a chance
if you’ve got some good love just put it in my (now, she says “hands,” but the better rhyme is clearly “pants”).

I also find her vowels to be very troubling.  The way she sings the word “more” is rather unsettling to me.

I was rather taken with the first verse of the song “Mama Lost Her Smile.”  I thought it was personal and thoughtful, but I feel like it was ruined somewhat by the overuse of the title phrase (I didn’t realize it was the title when I heard the line

I ain’t got much to go on / just a box of photographs / but every picture tells a story (ugh her vowel) and every story has two halves /
I keep on separating in before and after piles and somewhere in the middle is where mama lost her smile

I thought that was pretty great, but the overuse of it took away the specialness.

And then this chorus.  Why change from “you” to “we” it feels antagonistic.

you don’t take pictures of the bad times / we only want to remember the sunshine
but we don’t live in pictures this is real life / and they’re about as different as black and white

That last line was just painfully obvious.

Of the final song, “Hollywood” she says it is “one of my favorite things I’ve ever written or recorded.  I just like the vibe.  It kind of takes you to a different place.”  Wow, it is so dark, I can;t believe she’s so happy with it because it’s such a bummer song about a couple who have fallen out of love.

i ask you if you mean it you say yes.  I knew you would.
either i’m a fool for askin’ or you belong in Hollywood.


The blurb says that although  she is massively popular and has had commercial success and widespread recognition, “these days, she’s working on the fringes of the genre.”

I find that hard to believe, but it’s not my genre.  The rest of the band is Dave Dunseath (drums) and Lex Price (bass).

[READ: February 27, 2018] “Seeing Ershadi”

This story starts with the narrator talking about her work as a dancer.  And while that sets the tone somewhat, it really doesn’t have much to do with the rest of the story.  Except that while she was injured she watched a film called “Taste of Cherry” by the Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami.

I didn’t realize that this was a real film while reading the story.  I have just looked it up and it is very real (and Roger Ebert hated it).  The narrator of this story is mesmerized by the story.

The film opens with the actor Homayoun Ershadi’s face.  Not much happens in the film (which is what Ebert hated) but the narrator is mesmerized by Ershadi.  He is driving an SUV looking for someone.  When he finally picks someone up, the man, a solider, eventually flees the car.  It turns out that Ershadi (as Mr Badii) is looking for someone to bury him.  Badii plans to kill himself and wants to ensure that someone will bury his body.  Suicide is forbidden in the Quran, so obviously no one will be an accomplice to this. (more…)

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CV1_TNY_02_04_13Schossow.inddSOUNDTRACK: GARBAGE-Bleed Like Me (2005).

Wbleedhat happens when you take something slick and shiny and remove the shine?  You get something slick and dull.  And that’s the overall feel of Garbage’s fourth album.  After the dance pop of Beautiful Garbage, Bleed Like Me was d described as a return to the rock roots of Garbage.  And it’s true that there’s a lot more guitar.  But as in the production of Beautiful, the guitars feel really anemic–again, coming from Bitch Vig who made Nirvana’s guitars roar, this is a major surprise.

Worse than the production though s the utterly generic feel of the songs and the lyrics.  Manson was most powerful when she was personal.  Even if the songs were oblique, you knew they were about something.  But these songs just feel like words, and she sings them as if they were just words.

The single was “Why Do You Love Me” and it opens with a powerful heavy metal guitar riff.  But the verses quiet down and the chorus is fast but without any oomph.  It’s quickly forgotten and even the lyrics: “Why do you love me it’s driving me crazy” don’t really make you want to learn more about it.  “Run Baby Run” had potential for a radio friendly hit but it’s also quickly forgotten.

Then there’s the songs that seem to be about something.  “Sex is Not the Enemy” seems like it could be transgressive but it’s really not–it feels like a last stand from a beaten person rather than a rocking anthem.  Musically it’s mediocre and even lyrically it’s not that shocking/surprising.

“Boys Wanna Fight” brings some of that electronic feel back and it injects some life into the disc, but again the song isn’t that inspiring.

I wonder how much I would have liked this album without the history behind it.  I know that bands need to experiment and try different things, but it felt like Garbage fell especially far from the heights that I held them.  Garbage tool a pretty lengthy hiatus after this album–Shirley went into acting (catch her on Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles) and it seemed like the band was finished.

[READ: February 7, 2010] “Zusya on the Roof”

I read a story with a very similar setup recently (not implying that Krauss read it or anything).  In Russell Banks’ story “Christmas Party” a divorced man goes to his ex-wife’s new house and takes her newborn baby and…  the story ends.  [Spoiler, sort of].  This story has a similar arc.  And I guess I don’t understand this arc.  Or maybe, although I’m usually okay with endings that are vague, when you have a person with a baby, there are so many different possible endings that not leaning in one way or the other is just unfair–yes we can get clues from the story, but one never fully knows what a person’s intentions are.

This story also relies a lit on Jewish tradition.  And I find a lot of Orthodox behavior inscrutable (as Zusya seems to).  So I tend to get lost in the traditions.  Especially when, as in this story, names are used to indicate a tradition that I simply don;t know (and yes, this is my fault, not the author’s, unless she wanted to appeal to a goyish crowd).

So in this story, Zusya is about to become a grandfather.  But he falls ill just as his grandson is about to be born.  In his haze of hospital care, the grandson is born and he imagines that he gave birth to the boy–a kind of my life for his deal.  And when the grandfather recovers, he has strong emotional ties to the boy. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: maNga-“We Could be the Same” (2010).

I don’t know much about music from Turkey.  I also don’t know all that much about music from the Eurovision contest; however, I’m led to believe that the music is generally pretty poppy and treacly.  So I’m rather surprised that the second place winner is this alt metal rocker from Turkey (of course it was over 70 points behind Lena at number 1).  If this was 1983, this song would probably be riding up the American charts (of course, maNga throw in some turntable & hip hop scratches, so we know the song is at least circa 1993).  It’s got some pretty lite-metal guitar riffs and a big, loud chorus.

As with all Eurovision songs, it’s a plea for peace.  I think it’s a love song, too.  (Perhaps it’s a Romeo and Juliet deal).  Lyrically it’s suspect, but the video (with flags waving and men in balaclavas) is visually interesting.

The whole package is satisfying, and I’ delighted to see that they have two albums out already.

[READ: July 15, 2010] “The Young Painters”

The most interesting thing about this issue of the New Yorker (which is not to detract from the short story) is that there were 21 pages of ads for Canada.  I couldn’t get over how many maple leafs there were in here, especially since there was nothing in the issue itself (contentwise) that would suggest a Canadian connection.  Most of the ads were for doing business there.

Another interesting thing was the article about the Eurovision song contest, which took place a few weeks ago.  Since America’s not in it (hence Eurovision), we don’t pay any attention to it, but it’s a fun musical extravaganza, especially if you like ponderous songs sung in broken English (and who doesn’t?).

But on to the short story.  I found this story a little confusing to start with.  I think I was confused because the story begins with a woman saying that she is married to a man (named S.) and that they were invited to a party at a dancer’s house.  Then she describes her husband and then describes the apartment, all in a few sentences.   So at first I thought they were in their own house and I was confused that they had a painting she had never seen before.  Rereading the paragraph clarified things quickly, and it makes a lot more sense when you get the setting straight!

Otherwise, this was a fascinating story about a successful writer.  She and her husband went to the dancer’s house where they remarked on a painting.  The dancer reveals the fascinating story behind the painting to the entire dinner party.  The writer, being utterly transfixed by the story and feeling that it was not told in confidence, decided to write a short story about it. (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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