Archive for the ‘Téa Obreht’ Category


Becca Mancari plays a pretty acosutic guitar melody while Blake’s effects-laden pedal steel guitar soars and echoes around her.

I don’t know the original, but according to the blurb, “Mancari removes the clicking pulse of the studio version to underline the song’s lonely atmospherics.”

The song is simple–one that speaks to a relationship: “‘I can’t face myself,’ Mancari repeats the line like a broken admission spoken through a pinhole camera, a whispered truth so potent it can’t be looked right in the eye. “

At 2:41, the guitarist hits a great effect that turns the soaring pedal steel guitar into a buzzy rocking guitar solo while Becca strums on.  It’s a great interlude that really sells this song.

I also love that the final 30 seconds is just the sound of the guitar(s) fading out.

There are moments in this video where the Nashville-based singer-songwriter turns away from the many faces of the Life Underground installation by Hervé Cohen, which is part of the SXSW Art Program and supported by the Cultural Services of the French Embassy in the United States. What’s being projected onto the screens in the room are interviews with subway passengers from around the world who share their stories and dreams. The installation’s notion is that empathy often comes by just asking a few questions, which, maybe for “Dirty Dishes,” is just too damn hard right now.

[READ: April 12, 2016] “The Tiger’s Wife”

Téa Obreht took the literary world by storm with her debut novel The Tiger’s Wife.  I’ve had a copy of it on my bedside I guess now for 8 years.  I’ve been meaning to read it but other things always jump in first.

So finally I got around to reading this excerpt from the novel.

The excerpt is, I assume, the first few sections of the novel since they are numbered and begin with 1.

The first part is called The Tiger and it talks all about the titular tiger.  The tiger was in a zoo (or a circus) in 1941 when the Germans began bombing the city for three straight days.

The tiger should have died in the concussion and rubble, but he managed to escape and wandered to the village. (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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SOUNDTRACK: PARTS & LABOR-“Runaway” (2011).

Parts & Labor cover Kanye West’s “Runaway” at the AV Club

I didn’t know Parts & Labor when I played this, but I was really curious to see how any band of non-rappers would perform this awesome Kanye West track.  It’s a testament to how great the song is that Parts & Labor (who totally kick ass) can play around with it as much as they do (they wisely don’t rap) and retain the greatness of the song. 

Parts & Labor seem like a pretty standard punk-type outfit: guitars, bass, drums and keys (although some of their studio albums belie that simplicity).  But the keyboardist (who opens the song) is playing notes while manipulating effects pedals on top of the keyboard.  It’s a great introduction.  The bassist (with his amazing beard) sings in a couple of different registers that work out the angst of the song wonderfully. 

But for me the guy I can’t stop watching is the drummer. He opens the track with his snare drum on his lap.  While keeping the beat with one finger on a floor tom he is clearly playing the snares of his snare drum with a guitar pick.   When the song breaks half way through and he puts his snare back, he is a maniac of intensity and cacophony. It is amazing.  The second half of the song is a cathartic release for the noisy beginning. 

This is a wonderful cover.  And I’ll be checking out Parts & Labor on Spotify to see what I’ve been missing.  Watch it here.

[READ: July 20, 2011] “High School Confidential”

Continuing with the New Yorker’s Fiction Issue, we get this Starting Out essay from Téa Obreht.  Now, Obreht’s story was the least believable of the five for me.  As you can see by this photo, Obreht is adorable.  Now we all know people who blossomed from an ugly childhood or had a youthful gangly phase or grew into beauty or whatever.  But the introduction of her essay, when she describes herself in quite unflattering terms seems like it may be, if not over the top, then at least wishful thinking.


She claims she was awkward, tall, gangly with coke bottle glasses a huge gap in her teeth from one that never came in.  In reading it again I guess it’s not as dramatic as I though the first time, and corrective work could fix those things, but still.  It seemed a bit like that MTV show Awkward (second mention in a few days–it’s been a slow summer, TVwise), in which the main character is way too cute to be considered an outcast.

Too cute to be that awkward

But hey, maybe cute people have problems too. 

It’s when Obreht moves past that and talks about being made fun of for what she wanted to be that things get interesting.  

Obreht has always wanted to be a writer and when she let her classmates known that, they picked on her (oh are you going to write about that).  But she pressed on.  She was most devastated when the stories she gave to a boy in confidence were soon being read, aloud, by a girl who hated her.

Maybe cute girls are unpopular too. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: CITY AND COLOUR Live at the Sasquatch Festival, May 29, 2011 (2011).

City and Colour have a new album coming out soon.  So it’s kind of surprising that this seven-song show is three songs from their previous album, two from their first album, a cover, and only one new track (“Fragile Bird”).

This is the first time I’ve heard City and Colour live with a band (most of the recordings I have by them are just Dallas Green solo).  It’s nice to hear how powerfully they work together (giving some of those songs an extra push).

Despite the brevity of the set (and the amusing banter about airport etiquette) you get a pretty good sense of what the “pretty-voiced guy” from Alexisonfire can do on his own.   I found the cover, Low’s “Murderer,” to be a really perfect choice–one that suits the band and their slightly-off harmonies, rather well.

I’m looking forward to their new release–“Fragile Bird” is another beautiful song.  But in the meantime, this is a good place to hear what they’ve been up to.

[READ: early June 2011] 2011 Fiction Issues

Five Dials seems to always generate coincidences with what I read. Right after reading the “”Summer’ Fiction” issue from Five Dials, I received the Fiction Issue from the New Yorker.  A few days later, I received the Summer Reading Issue from The Walrus.

I’m doing a separate post here because, although I am going to post about the specific fictions, I wanted to mention the poetry that comes in The Walrus’ issue.  I have no plan to write separate posts about poetry (I can barely write a full sentence about most poetry) so I’ll mention them in this post.

The main reason I’m drawing attention to these poems at all is because of the set-up of The Walrus’ Summer Fiction issue.  As the intro states: “We asked five celebrated writers to devise five guidelines for composing a short story or poem. They all traded lists–and played by the rules.”  I am so very intrigued at this idea of artificial rules imposed by an outsider.  So much so that I feel that it would be somewhat easier to write a story having these strictures put on you.  Although I imagine it would be harder to write a poem.

The two poets are Michael Lista and Damian Rogers.  I wasn’t blown away by either poem, but then I don’t love a lot of poetry.  So I’m going to mention the rules they had to follow. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BUILT TO SPILL-There is No Ememy (2009).

I’ve liked Built to Spill for quite a few years (I first encountered them on Perfect from Now On), but they always hang just below my radar when I think about great albums.  Nevertheless, many of their songs have landed on compilations I’ve made.

I listened to this disc a few times when it came out and when I popped it in again today I couldn’t believe how well I knew the whole album and how much I really, really liked everything on it.

This may in fact turn out to be my favorite BtS disc.  It isn’t radically different from other releases of theirs, but there’s some ineffable quality that seems to raise the whole disc above the fray.  The total package is fantastic.  The first few songs are quite short, just over three minutes each (which is surprising after the release of the live album which had so many extended songs and solos (a 20 minute cover of Neil Young’s “Cortez the Killer”).

Of course there are a few extended jams as well.  Four songs are over six minutes long (and three of them make up the last four tracks, so the disc does to tend feel a little heavy at the end–although “Things Fall Apart” has a horn solo (!) and “Tomorrow” has some unexpected time changes).  But the first long song, “Good Ol’ Boredom” has a great chugging riff that hold ups to the six minutes very well.  The nearly seven minute “Done” has a wonderfully effects-laden end section. The solo is pretty lengthy, but the backing music/sounds keep the whole thing interesting.  Of course, there’s also “Pat” a two and a half-minute blast of punk abandon.

Doug Marsch has a pretty high voice, but it never grows whiny or annoying, and in fact, it has a kind of gravitas to it.  And it is more than matched by the full band sound on the disc.  Martsch’s lyrics are also wonderfully unexpected [“Is the grass just greener because it’s fake?”].

BTS has made a great album and I’m going to have to revisit their back catalog too.

[READ: November 14, 2010] “Twilight of the Vampires”

This was a banner issue of Harper’s (I’ve felt kind of down on the magazine lately, but it made up for itself this month).  We have the Lydia Davis/Flaubert stories, a lengthy piece by William T. Vollmann and the cover story about Rupert Murdoch (which I won’t be posting about).  In fact, normally I don’t post too much about non-fiction (recent obsessions notwithstanding), but this particular piece was by Téa Obreht, one of this year’s New Yorker 20 Under 40.  Obreht had barely had anything published when they selected her, and so I figured it would be easy to keep tabs on her.  So here’s a nonfiction to add to her two stories.  (And it’s about vampires!)

Obreht is originally from Russia (her family is apparently still there).  As the essay opens, she is going to meet her mother in Belgrade for their trip to Serbia.  Their ostensible reason to travel to the Balkans is to find out about vampires.   (But when her mother injuries herself before the trip is about to commence, it convinces her mother that the whole trip is possessed by devils).

But why travel to the Balkans in search of vampires when her adopted homeland of America is overrun by vampires right now?  Because as she relates, our vampires are rather different from theirs. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RUSH-The Fifth Order of Angels (bootleg from the Agora Ballroom,Cleveland, 26 August 1974) (1974).

When I was browsing the internet I found this cool blog called Up the Down Stair.  And this blog features some bootleg concert Mp3s.

When I was in college, there was an awesome used record store called The Electric Mine Shaft.  We would go there once a week or so and browse the collection.  He caried all kinds of bootleg shows.  So I have a  lot of Rush live vinyl bootlegs from over the years.  Really they were pretty much a waste of money as I didn’t (and really don’t) enjoy listening to poor quality recordings, so, yes, wasteful.

Anyhow, with the advent of the web and free MP3s, I don’t mind listening to a bootleg.  So, this one, from 1974 is pretty interesting.

Here’s what the notes from the site say:

Neil Peart had only joined the band about a month earlier and played his first gig less than two weeks prior to this concert on the 14th. It’s a great document of the early phase of the band’s career and is notable for featuring unreleased songs as well as versions of a couple tunes that had not yet seen the light of day on vinyl. “Best I Can” and “In the End” were most likely not recorded at this point and wouldn’t emerge for another six months when Fly By Night was released. “Fancy Dancer”, a take on Larry Williams’ “Bad Boy”, and “Garden Road” were never recorded to the best of my knowledge. I believe that the snippet of “Garden Road” that you hear in the Rush documentary Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage comes from this recording.

The most fascinating thing to me about it is that the guitar solos are in stereo (although this is a mono recording, so the solos disappear sometimes).  That’s fine; the weird thing is that it was actually recorded with the solos in stereo! In a live setting?  The guitars went around the room?  Cool!

So, obviously Rush around thier debut were nowhere near the prog mavens that they eventually became, but there’s something fun about these early shows when they just rocked and rocked.  (There’s even a drum solo!).  And I really like that the “Working Man” solo incorporates part of the as yet unreleased solo from “By-Tor and the Snow Dog.”

It’s available here.

[READ: July 30, 2010] “The Laugh”

Téa Obreht is one of the New Yorker‘s 20 Under 40.  They included her short story in a recent issue and I didn’t love it.  It was okay, but it wasn’t really moving.

Nevertheless, they mentioned that she had another story in The Atlantic, and I was led to believe it was her only other published story, so I decided to read it too.

And I am so glad I did!  It wasn’t a terribly exciting story (until the end!) and it wasn’t a very poweful story (until the end!) and I thought something very different would happen (and am so glad it didn’t!).  But there was a sense of danger, forboding, concern, something terrifying that worked as a low level hum through the whole story which made it very compelling.  Maybe it had something to do with the accompanying picture.  I mean, Jesus H. Christ, look at the this thing: (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RHEOSTATICS-Barrymore’s, Ottawa, ON, February 2, 1996 (1996).

This is one of the other early shows from the Rheostatics.  It’s an audience recording.  And what that means is that there are a  few voices (young girls mostly) which have been immortalized and whose conversation has been listened to by many many people over the last 12 years.

The recording quality is okay. (And hearing somebody ask, “What do you think?” is charming.)

But the real reason to check out this download is for their cover of Blondie’s “Heart of Glass.”  The rest of the show is definitely staticky; it’s hard to make out the nuances of the songs, which is a bummer. But on some of the tracks, the band is louder than the crowd (the remastering work is actually quite good) it’s a good (and very long) show.

[READ: August 28, 2010] “Blue Water Djinn”

Téa Obreht is the author with the most to prove in the list of 20 Under 40 authors.  Her first book doesn’t come out until next year! And as far as I can tell her only other published fiction is the short story “The Laugh” in the Atlantic (which I will likely read next week).  So, I’m rooting for her!

Nevertheless, this story is one that I wouldn’t have read based on the opening section.  Although it discusses a dead Frenchman, the remainder of the introduction is about a young boy who lives at the hotel which his mother owns.

There was just something that didn’t interest me about the setting.

The story proceeds with the hotel workers seeking the body of the Frenchman (his clothes were found piled on the beach).  They assume he has drifted off to sea.  The boy lingers at the edges of the workers (he is forbidden from swimming in the sea while his mother is away).   (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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