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Archive for the ‘Canadian Content’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: GERMS-GI (1979).

In the middle of this graphic novel, the main character Bina says she is listening to the Germs.  Her friend Darcy says “classic.” 

Germs were a seminal LA punk band.  They released one album before their singer Darby Crash killed himself.  Their guitarist Pat Smear has since played with Niravana, Foo Fighters and many other bands.  Belinda Carlisle (yes of the Go-Gos) was briefly their drummer (she went by Dottie Danger).  She was replaced by Don Bolles.  And their bassist Lorna Doom, was one of the first women in the punk scene.

This album is 38 minutes long but that’s with a 9 minute live improvised song tacked on at the end.  Otherwise these songs are short and fast.

“What We Do Is Secret” opens the album with a statement of purpose.  It’s less than a minute of fast drumming roared vocals and the title repeated twice.  “Communist Eyes” plays a standard punk melody in the verses and an even faster chorus.  Pat Smear plays around with some scratchy noises but it’s mostly just fast fast fast.   “Land Of Treason” also has a simple catchy melody in the verses.  Even though Crash’s vocals aren’t always clear, they are mixed very well so if you listened, you could probably make out most of the words.

“Richie Dagger’s Crime” is the first song where Smear’s guitars really stand out.  He plays lead riff and then in the middle of the song, it’s only Lorna Doom’s bass holding the melody together while Smear plays some leads through the verses.

“Strange Notes” has some ringing guitars notes and quick little improv solos that keep this pummeling song nicely off kilter.  “American Leather” is just over a minute and Don Bolles’ galloping drums pretty much never stop.

“Lexicon Devil” was the name of their first EP.  The verses have a fun Ramonesy beat verse that feels especially punk.  “Manimal” is a slower more menacing song with a nasty lead guitar line.  This song even takes a breath before launching into the faster part full of Darby Crash’s snarls.

“Our Way” is another slower, more mancing song with a the bass sounding more prominent over smears chords.  “We Must Bleed” has a really fast descending guitar melody that introduces the song and serves as the chorus. It also hangs around at the end of the song. The song is 2 and a half minutes in total but the end is one minute of the band racing through that four note melody, sometimes falling  apart a little but plugging on.

“Media Blitz” starts side two abruptly has an abrupt opening with vocals and a brief pause before the song takes off nonstop for a minute and a half.  There’s some samples from TV in the song

“The Other Newest One” This chorus features a four notes and a pause as Darby’s voice rings out over the brief silence: “you’re not the first / you’re not the last”

“Let’s Pretend” is a bit more staccato in the bassline in and reminds me of a conga from the cartoons.  Five notes and a thump.  Once again darby stops singing early to let he band jam out the riffs for another 40 seconds to the end.

“Dragon Lady” has a short drum solo from Bolles as the intro.  It leads to one of the poppier melodies on the album. Then “The Slave” ends the disc (sort of) with a one-minute rumbling that’s all bass and jagged chords on top.  When Darby stops singing briefly, Smear’s guitar bursts forth as if Crash was in the way. Then it abruptly ends.

The disc ends properly with “Shut Down” a 9-minute live song that I have read was typical of how they ended their shows.  Lorna Doom plays a simple, slow bluesy riff on the bass. The drums follow along and Pat Smear makes all kinds of lead noises –solos, feedback, crashing chords while Darby mumbles, screams and rants about wanting your soul and wanting control and being an Annihilation Man.

Who knows what the Germs would have done next, but with one album, their legacy is secure..

[READ: October 21, 2020] All Together Now

This is a follow up to Larson’s book All Summer Long.  That book was a fun story about friendship, distance and guitar playing.

As this story opens, Bina and Darcy have been practicing with their band Fast Fashion [which is basically what Depeche Mode means], but they decide they need a drummer.  They meet up with a boy in their calls called Enzo.  He’s a drummer and very robotic.  He’s very good and he likes their songs, so they agree to be a band. But he hates the name Fast Fashion, so they change it to The Candids.

After a few practices, Darcy and Enzo start dating.  Then Enzo starts making some suggestions for changing Bina’s songs.  And Darcy agrees with him.  Now Bina’s losing her best friend to a boy, just like she lost her previous best friend Austin to a girl.

Then Darcy texts her that the band is moving on without her (even though it was her band!).  This new band gets the best band name yet: AC/Darcy.  But that means that Darcy and Bina have basically broken up and are not speaking to each other. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: PROTOJE-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #76 (September 7, 2020).

Protoje is another reggae singer (who I’d never heard of before this Tiny Desk) who seems to be breaking the mold of what reggae sounds like.

Protoje is a not-so-secret treasure who’s been a vital force in the reggae revival movement these last several years. Perched in the hills of Irish Town on the fringe of Kingston, Protoje welcomes us into his backyard (which doubles as The Habitat Studio) for a uniquely fresh spin on a Tiny Desk (home) Concert. With a custom-designed set flanked by lush greens and mountains in the distance, this creative backdrop complements the uplifting feeling of Protoje’s music.

He performs three songs from his fifth album In Search of Lost Time and ends his set with an older song.

“Deliverance” has a loud bassline from Donald Dennis and an electronic drum sound from Peter Samaru.  Protoje sings and raps with a really fast delivery.

He speaks to his spiritual philosophy and faith on “Deliverance” with a chorus stating, “I hold my order, give my praises / Oh Jah, deliver me through these days, Jah deliver me / Sometimes really hard to go and face it / Oh this life can truly be amazing, amazing.”

The song is catchy and uplifting.

I really like that Lamont Savory is playing an acoustic guitar.  It’s never obtrusive.  In fact it often fades into the background, but it’s always there keeping the rhythm and melody afloat.  As the song ends he walks over to Sean Roberts and starts messing around on Roberts’ looping box.

“Strange Happenings” opens with Savory’s quiet, pretty guitar melody.  I usually find reggae to be samey and kind of dull, but these songs have a lot of vitality.  And lyrically they are sweet and powerful.

to me life was easy, it was just fun and games
Until I saw that people were filled with so much pain
It’s harder to share sometimes, easier to pretend
The way we treat each other, I just don’t comprehend

And then it came as a surprise to me that Sean Roberts busted out a violin and began playing a kind of mournful solo.

“Same So” has the standard reggae rhythm but the bass line is a bit more interesting.  It feels warm and inviting–much like the place where he is playing (which seems so placid it almost looks like a photograph backdrop).

After joking that “this is awkward” he proposes one more song.

He wraps his performance with his most recognizable chart-topping hit, “Who Knows,” which featured Chronixx on the original recording.

This song also has a pretty guitar opening and Protoje singing in a high, soft register.

Who knows / I just go where the trade wind blows / sending love to my friends and foes.

A message of peace in a time of hostility,

[READ: September 5, 2020] “What is Remembered”

In this story Meriel and her husband Pierre are getting ready to go to a funeral.  They had to come travel to Vancouver from Vancouver Island and it was their first night in a hotel alone since their wedding night–they always traveled with their children.

This was their second funeral as a married couple.  The first was a fellow teacher of Pierre’s.  He was in his sixties and they felt that that was okay.  What difference did it make if you died at sixty-five or seventy-five or eighty-five?

But this funeral was for Pierre’s best friend Jonas–aged twenty-nine.  When she told Pierre that Jonas had died, Pierre immediately guessed suicide.  But no, it was a motorcycle accident.  Why had he been so certain it was a suicide?

They went to Jonas’ parents house for the reception.  There’s an amusing sequence with Pierre’s mother treating Pierre like a child.  But then Pierre’s mother and Jonas’ mother were distracted by the doctor who had looked after Jonas. They both approved of the man. (more…)

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julyaugust200SOUNDTRACK: SUDAN ARCHIVES-Tiny Desk Concert #979 (June 22, 2020).

sudanSudan Archives at Johnny Brenda’s was a show I had really wanted to see.  When I realized she was playing there the show was already sold out.  Then Coronavirus came in and shows were starting to get cancelled.

A friend of mine went to this show (she had gotten tickets early) and said that so few people had actually shown up that they were letting people in.  I was torn about going but I had been out of work for the whole week already and it didn’t seem safe.

It was the last show I could have gone to for a long time.  It was also the last Tiny Desk Concert for the foreseeable future.

By the time Sudan Archives arrived at NPR in Washington, D.C., on March 11, everyone was concerned about the coronavirus threat. So we sanitized the desk, the mics and the cameras. We also kept our distance.

When the show was over and the small, socially-distant crowd of NPR employees dispersed, our crew began to wipe everything down with disinfectant wipes. Our incredible audio engineer, Josh Rogosin, started to set up for what we thought would be the next Tiny Desk show, the Pulitzer Prize-winning opera p r i s m by Ellen Reid and Roxie Perkins.

Josh Rogosin remembers the day clearly. “After the Sudan Archives concert, I optimistically went about setting up for a string quartet plus an eight-person choir and two vocal soloists, plus harp and conductor,” he told me. “About halfway through my set-up, our boss gathered us around the Tiny Desk and made the painful but obvious decision. No more Tiny Desks until further notice.”

It’s a shame that that is such an unforgettable part of this show because the 13 minutes of Sudan Archives are wonderful.

Normally–at least at Johnny Brenda’s, she played solo with looping pedals and acoustic and electric violins.  But for the Tiny Desk

She came not with an array of electronics, but with violinist Jessica McJunkins, violist Dominic Johnson and cellist Khari Joyner. The new arrangement at the top of “Confessions” was the perfect tension queller.  And those arrangements also heighten the lyrics. Listening again three months later, three weeks into police brutality protests, the words — “There is a place that I call home / But it’s not where I am welcome / And if I saw all the angels / Why is my presence so painful?” — take on new meaning.

“Confessions” is the song that’s all over WXPN.  This version opens with opens with a lovely string section arrangement–evidently new for this show.  Then as the cello plays the deep part (I love that a cello can keep rhythm this way) the other three play the familiar super catchy sliding melody.  Her voice sounds very clean and she is clearly smiling throughout (you can hear it in her voice).

“Glorious” is clearly inspired by traditional Irish music, but a bit more slinky.  The melody and rhythm that she plays in the lead sounds so trad and yet she sings with a very not-Irish style of singing.  It’s a great juxtaposition.  It’s fun to watch her groove as she plays it’s very danceable–especially for a string quartet.  And her soloing is pretty great with some really fast hammer-on soloing.

She says that this is the first time she is playing with the trio.

The last song is “Not For Sale” which she says is one of her favorite songs.  I love that as she’s getting the trio ready she does a kind of mindless guitar solo noodle–a fast solo including bending a bent string.  The song starts all pizzicato and she kind of raps part of the lyrics–another great juxtaposition of musical styles.

I’ll bet she was great live.  I hope she comes back around before too long.

[READ: June 23, 2020] “The Peace Lily”

This month’s issue of The Walrus is the Summer Reading issue and features two pieces of fiction, one memoir and three poems.

The last piece is a poem. It is about a peace lily.

She bought it at Thrifty Foods for $4.99.

She was inspired by its poker-green leaves and flowers which looked like studded Jacobsen Egg Chairs.

She brought it home and put it on a sunny bookshelf.

Within a week, its leaves
had black spots.  A second
week saw its flowers gone.

She got advice from her mother and the internet.  She took the advice and it gave her one flower

which drooped before
ever really blooming

If anyone has ever failed to keep a flower, this sentiment is right on:

To say the peace lily died
would be an understatement.
like a famous connoisseur
of death, it took its time:
every last leaf withered
into a black ash that stuck
on the shelf

It was all the more frustrating because the more she did to see it thrive

the less interested
it seemed in living

Until finally, you reach the point where you’re happy it’s out of your life

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julyaugust200SOUNDTRACK: HAMILTON LEITHAUSER-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #37 (June 21, 2020).

hammyHamilton Leithauser seems to always be on the periphery of my listening experience. I hear his name a lot and hear his songs a bunch, but I’ve never actually looked for him.

And yet, I like him and his music.  And, indeed, as this blurb says,

This is the most adorable thing you may see all day.

Known best as the The Walkmen singer, Hamilton Leithauser is the singer of The Walkmen, although I know him better for his solo work.

Here he plays songs from his 2020 solo album, The Loves of Your Life.

Leithauser’s voice is a solid folk-singer voice and he hits a lot of high notes (with a deliberate straining style).  “In a Black Out” features his father Mark Leithauser on harmonica.  It’s a very touching Father’s Day moment.

But it’s made even more magical when for “The Garbage Men” he calls out his band: his daughters Georgiana and Frederika Leithauser and his nieces May and Lucy McIntosh.  The kids sing backing ahhs (quite well) and they all enjoy singing “till the garbage men go by!”  They also do the quiet “oohs” very nicely as well.  And they dance on haystacks.

“Here They Come” is about a friend who would go to the movies and sneak into film after film to avoid going home.  The kids sing the lyrics (pretty well) and dance even more adorably for this rocking song.  It’s important not to forget his wife, Anna Stumpf on congas and percussion way in the back for the middle three songs.

His daughter makes fun of him introducing the tiny desk “Dad you sound so stupid” and Hamilton laughs at the mocking.  They also show that they have a tinier tiny desk from the Calico Critters.

Then he introduces “The Stars of Tomorrow” by saying he and his girls met a Polish woman on the beach.  The woman told them her life story (they’d hadn’t asked).  It had a lot of drama and a lot of contradictions.  Everything in the story is true from what he can remember she told him, “but I can’t vouch for her story.”

The final song “Isabella” is, to me, the most Leithauser of the five songs.  A real folks song slow and passionate.  The girls do a fantastic job singing the “they all go riding home” responses in the chorus.  I’m very impressed with how well they sing.

There have been a lot of cute and sweet Tiny Desk’s but none have been as adorable.

[READ: June 23, 2020] “Lottery Poetry”

This month’s issue of The Walrus is the Summer Reading issue and features two pieces of fiction, one memoir and three poems.

The fifth piece is fiction and it is very timely.

Maisy Wu learned fortune-telling from her mah-mah who’d read faces and palms in a stall in Hong Kong.  Maisy had been doing fortunes at college parties and eventually decided to quit her job at the Vancouver Public Library and go public with her talents.

She read palms and offered her own variation on Kau chim or lottery poetry.

Then the pandemic hit. At first people still came–they wanted her reassurances.  But when she was declared nonessential, she was financially hit hard.

She decided to go mobile with her skills, inspired by take out drivers.  She called it Curbside Divinations.  She received some likes on social media but no calls.  She imagined them saying, “If you’re so good at predicting the future, why did you book a  trip to Mexico in March?”

Then she had a request from a man named Pete.   He was a white man in sweats somewhere between forty-five and sixty-five.

She almost lefty when he asked “If you Chinese were so good at predicting the future, how’d you all get us into this in the first place?”

But as she turned to leave, he said he’d already paid.  And she needed the money.  (more…)

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julyaugust200SOUNDTRACK: BENNY THE BUTCHER-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #36 (June 19, 2020).

bennyI’d never heard of Benny the Butcher and when I was listening to his boasts, I assumed that maybe he was really old school.  He makes a crack about Nicki Minaj that made me think he was like 50, but in fact she is older than he is (which is pretty funny).

Benny the Butcher is part of “the triple threat emcee collective from Buffalo, N.Y., consisting of Westside Gunn, Conway, and Benny the Butcher” known as Griselda.  They were supposed to do a Tiny Desk until the coronavirus hit.

Benny the Butcher blessed us with a five-song set from the living room of his current home in Atlanta. (Due to some recording snafus, some of the audio and video in this video doesn’t always sync up.)

I really like when they do five or so songs in under fifteen minutes–it’s like a highlight reel.

There’s something really amusing about these guys rapping some hardcore stuff (the n-word is mentioned about fifty times in 13 minutes) while  they are sitting in a suburban-looking house on a gray couch with plants and baby pictures on the table.  But somehow, without all of the posturing and video effects, i gets you to listen to the words more closely.    And I really liked his lyrics.

“Crown for Kings” is like an old school song full of braggadocio and lots of similes (I assumed it was a twenty year old track) at first, until he rapped

I sat back, a vet, and watched beginners winnin’ my belts
Burned my bridges, came back a good swimmer like Phelps

and then this really funny bit about going to Philly, which includes the Nicki Minaj line

What’s the dealy? I’m only ’bout six hours from Philly
That’s an hour on the plane, I’ll make it three in the Bentley
My bitch keep sayin’ I’m famous, but it ain’t hit me
I’m too ghetto, mellowed out, this Hollywood shit tricky
See, before I knew an A&R, I was weighin’ hard
Back when Nicki Minaj was in a trainin’ bra

and

“Rubber Bands & Weight” was a cool song.  Slow and intense with creepy music.  I really appreciated the slow delivery in this song.  Even though I think the challenge is to see how much you can fit into a verse, sometimes slow gets the point across better.  I also liked that this song had a recognizable chorus and the video included jump cuts of him shouting it out.

For the third track, Benny is joined by Rick Hyde and Heem, two artists on his new BSF label imprint, for a live performance of “Da Mob,” the first single off an upcoming label compilation titled Benny The Butcher & DJ Drama Presents: Gangsta Grillz X BSF Da Respected Sopranos.  This track is dark and distorted sounding.  Hyde’s style is gruff (he jump cuts to Benny’s couch). Then Heem comes in for his verse–they don;t cross paths so I assume it’s all socially safe.  Benny returns for the final verse and his is definitely the best voice of the three.

“Cruiser Weight Coke” is a title I don’t get, but I like the sinister sounds on this song–very cool low notes an what sounds like processed vocals. vocals.  This line stuck out to me:

If we link up and make plans (shake hands), it’s a done deal if we shake hands
You won’t understand me ‘less you move your family to a place they feel safe in (alright)

This track is really short (less than 2 minutes) and skips the last verse.

It seems to be saving room for “5 to 50.” “5 to 50” and “Crown” come “from his critically acclaimed 2019 album, The Plugs I Met.”  It continues in this aggressive style.  He seems to pause to really let the final section sink in.  And as the song reaches its end, the music cuts out–intentional or not, I can’t tell.  I’ve never heard a rap end a capella before, but it really makes the words hit haard and show how good his flow is even with out a beat

I can turn your front door to a drug store
Make any kitchen to a lab
Man, I hear these drug stories and I laugh
Talkin’ ’bout the Coke sales they never had
Pull up on a nigga, you gon’ know the pad
Only house with a Bentley on the grass

As the video ends, he is very pleased. He says

“5 to 50,” “Crown for Kings” “Rubber Bands & Weight,” Oh my goodness!  That’s why I’m a legend.

[READ: June 23, 2020] “Lord Mayor Magpie”

This month’s issue of The Walrus is the Summer Reading issue and features two pieces of fiction, one memoir and three poems.

The fourth piece is a poem.  It is a simple, but lovely descriptive poem about a magpie.

This poem is five long stanzas.

Magpie idles in a limousine
of black feather with a slash of white
piping that outshines all chrome

he has the brazen glamour of a motorcade.

(more…)

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julyaugust200SOUNDTRACK: LITTLE DRAGON-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #35 (June 18, 2020).

As I was looking at concert listings, I kept seeing an upcoming show for Little Dragon.  I’d never heard of them but the promo made it sound like I should have (they have been around since 1996!).

Indeed, this Tiny Desk blurb says as much.

The group’s latest album, New Me, Same Us, is their grooviest, most concentrated in years, and I was eager to hear these songs as Little Dragon’s music is best experienced: live on stage. “Some of you might know that we were supposed to be on tour in the states, but due to these crazy times it got canceled,” lead singer Yukimi Nagano says.

So I was interested to check out this Tiny Desk (Home) Concert.  Unfortunately, I was was rather unimpressed by this set, because it seemed to be a lot more “Little” than “Dragon.”  However, the blurb indicates that this is not what they might normally be like:

these stripped-down iterations from the band’s home studio in Sweden move me but in a different way. I find myself focusing on the songwriting and how all the instruments come together for these numbers, proving just how strong the tracks from New Me… are.

Little Dragon is a four piece.  In this home concert they are (maybe) socially distanced–maybe they live together.

The first song “Rush” features prominent bass from Fredrik Wallin, trippy keys from Håkan Wirenstrand, gentle drums from Erik Bodin and very soft vocals from Yukimi Nagano.  Nagano plays the wood blocks or whatever they are and then loops them-which is neat.  Midway through the song during a lengthy, chill an instrumental break, Wallin switches to acoustic guitar as Nagano, oohs.  Then he’s back to the bass for the funky end.

“Where You Belong” ratchets up the fuzz on the bass.  This song doesn’t sound all that different, although that bass is pretty great sounding,

Then as a bonus, Little Dragon played an oldie, “Forever,” which is still my favorite track from this genre-bending band.

“Forever” is the first song they ever wrote together.  It comes from their first album from 2007.  It’s a bit bouncier and funkier and sounds like they may have been a bit more dancey back in the day.

They end the set with “Every Rain” which returns to the trippier sound of the first two songs–echoing keys and Nagano’s soft croon.  Although this set doesn’t make me want to see them live.  I am curious to hear what they sound like when they are not stripped down.

[READ: June 23, 2020] “The Ones We Carry With Us”

This month’s issue of The Walrus is the Summer Reading issue and features two pieces of fiction, one memoir and three poems.

The third piece is fiction although it reads a lot like a memoir.

It starts with the fascinating sentence: ” A few years ago, I accidentally midwifed a death.”

This could literally mean many things, although figuratively it makes sense for what she actually means.

The narrator then goes on to tell us about three women whose lives have impacted her.

The woman who died was Agatha. (more…)

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julyaugust200SOUNDTRACK: ALICIA KEYS-Tiny Desk Concert #978 (June 15, 2020).

aliciaMy family was playing an online game where you have to give clues to name a person or thing.  We did a pop culture round and Alicia Keys came up I think twice.  And I asked my daughter is she knew who that was.  She said no and asked me if I did and I said no.  I couldn’t think of a song she sang and wondered if she was even still singing.

Literally the next morning, NPR posted this Tiny Desk Concert.  I still don’t know what her music sounds like on record, bu this Tiny Desk version was really nice.  I came away really impressed by her and her band.  And I loved how much everyone smiled through the set.

Alicia Keys radiates compassion and kindness. This spirit is the key to Keys’s songwriting, which is rooted in introspection and mindfulness.As she approached her piano, a bit surprised at the amount of people in the room, she smiled and remarked over her shoulder, “Gee, the Tiny Desk is tiny!”

Before the first song, Alicia plays the piano and chats to everyone.  Saying how everyone wants to be shown love.  I thought it was just a nice opening, but it was a lead in to the song “Show Me Love.”  Everyone in the audience sang along to the chorus very nicely.

 She kicked off the set with an uncanny ode to combat the darkness of this moment in American history: “Show Me Love,” a single she released in 2019. No one could have predicted then how much her lyrics and musical healing would be crucial during this emotionally fraught time of unprecedented political and racial unrest, heightened by three months of quarantine due to a global pandemic.

The first song has an acoustic guitar from Curt Chambers (played in a gentle finger-picked style with occasional slapped notes).  Omar Edwards sprinkles keys all over the song while (married) backing vocalists RAII and Whitney hitting some high notes and soft deeper notes (they are both very impressive).

Keys’ voice is really nice.  She doesn’t do anything show off-y or divaish.  She just sings beautifully (occasionally showing off all of her vocal chops).

After the song she steps away from the piano and says she’s her own personal tech–bang set change.

As she introduced her new song “Gramercy Park” she asked for some “talking vibes” so Chambers played some quiet backing music as she talked about how much we contort and conform and adjust ourselves for other people–with the best of intentions.  We are so concerned about making other people happy that we lose ourselves.

The stand-out moment during her Tiny Desk was the premiere of “Gramercy Park”, a song from her upcoming self-titled album, ALICIA, which is set to be released this fall. It’s one of those timeless songs that will transcend radio formats and genres, with lyrics that address how utter selflessness and worrying about making everyone happy but yourself can throw your own center askew. The song’s spiritual refrain is sure to be a sing-along moment for the rest of Keys’s career.

It starts with a slow beat from Mike Reid with some lovely acoustic guitars. And the lyrics say

I’ve been trying to be everything I think you want me to be
I’ve been doing all the things I think you want to see
I’ve been trying to fulfill you and your every need
Now you’re falling for a person who’s not even me.

She said she’s speaking out a lot more.  We should speak out in the moment instead of letting it pass, ignoring it, forgetting it, but you never really forget it and then six years later…

Introducing her latest single “Underdog” she asked what we would learn if we actually sat and talked to people.  It’s a great song, inspiring to anyone who has felt put upon.  This is such a good verse:

She’s riding in a taxi back to the kitchen
Talking to the driver ’bout his wife and his children
On the run from a country where they put you in prison
For being a woman and speaking your mind
She looked in his eyes in the mirror and he smiled
One conversation, a single moment
The things that change us if we notice
When we look up, sometimes

There’s cool oooohs from the backing vocalists and a nice upright bass from Ant Parrish.

After crowdsourcing suggestions, she and her band delivered a riveting rendition of Keys’s breakout 2001 single, “Fallin’.”

I didn’t know this song and I wonder how different it sounds from the original.  She sets up the beginning with some brash singing and the backing singers do some cool loud vocals.

Keys also impressed me with her great piano playing.

I’m embarrassed that Ii didn’t know who she was, because she’s pretty great.

[READ: June 23, 2020] “School of Xerex Fino”

This month’s issue of The Walrus is the Summer Reading issue and features two pieces of fiction, one memoir and three poems.

The second piece is a poem.  I don’t know what Xerez Fino is and can’t find anything about it.

There are five stanzas. The first sets up that the club where they met was Toxic.

The third sets up the scene in detail: (more…)

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julyaugust200SOUNDTRACK: PHOEBE BRIDGERS-“Kyoto” (2020).

phoebeI’ve heard this song a bunch and I like it more each time.

Phoebe Bridgers’ songs tend to be sad lyrically (and sometimes musically), but this song just overflows with wonder, melody and (apparent) happiness.

The song starts with a gentle keyboard but soon adds a fast bassline as Phoebe sings quietly.  Then pow, a big joyous chorus comes in.  Horns play a gorgeous melody and Phoebe harmonies (with herself?).  The way she sings “tokyp skies” gets me every time.

When the verse returns it feels a bit louder.  But the song is about her complicated feelings for her estranged father:

With my little brother
He said you called on his birthday
You were off by like ten days
But you get a few points for tryin’

The chorus resumes feeling even bigger and happier and yet the outro, featuring those same ebullient horns:

I wanted to see the world
Through your eyes until it happened
Then I changed my mind
Guess I lied
I’m a liar
Who lies
‘Cause I’m a liar

Phoebe said that this song was originally slow but she was tried of singing slow songs so she punched this one up.  It really reflects the mixed feelings you can have for someone.  And if you don’t care so much about the words, it’s a catchy gem.

[READ: June 23, 2020] “Dancing Bear”

This month’s issue of The Walrus is the Summer Reading issue and features two pieces of fiction, one memoir and three poems.

The first piece is the memoir, written by Dimitri Nasrallah.   I had assumed that this would be a First Nations piece with a title like that.  But it is far from that.  It starts in Beirut.

The neighborhood where Dimitri grew up was a battleground between the Palestinian Liberation Organization and the Israel military so his family left for Greece when he was four.

He stayed quiet while they tried to acclimate–they felt covered by the stench of war and wanted to keep a low profile. Then one night his father took the family out to the square.  As they walked around marveling at the sights, he saw a crowd gathered a round a man.

He was showing off a giant brown stanigng on its hind legs, muzzled.  The man made the bear “talk” and dance  Everyone laughed.  But that night Dimitri couldn’t get the sight of the bear out of his mind.  He imagined that he was the bear–muzzled, not wanting to dance.

The next day he told his father that he felt bad for the bear. (more…)

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waljuneSOUNDTRACK: KEVIN DEVINE-“Freddie Gray Blues” (2016).

a1265312378_16This week, Rough Trade and Bank Robber Music released a compilation on bandcamp called Talk – Action = Zero: A Compilation Benefitting Black Lives Matter.   On one day they raised $12,000 for Black Lives Matter, which is pretty fantastic.

The record features 100 songs, a majority of which are previously unreleased and some of which seem to have been written in the past week.

This Kevin Devine song is not new.  In fact, it has been recorded twice.  First with a band on his Instigator album and then reimagined as an acoustic song on his We Are Who We’ve Always Been record.  The acoustic version is included on the compilation and it really allows you to hear these lyrics.

It’s depressing that he wrote this song four years ago after the death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old Black American man who was arrested by Baltimore Police for allegedly carrying a switchblade on April 12, 2015.

Gray fell into a coma in the back of a police van and passed away on April 19.  An investigation found that the arresting officers failed to follow safety protocols “through acts of omission” due to the spinal injuries Gray received during the police transport, which led to his death.  The six police officers were not convicted but faced various charges from second degree-murder to manslaughter.

Here it is four years later and the song is just as relevant and fits in this compilation all too well.

The lyrics are straightforward, the melody simple.

I’m talking Freddie Gray blues
I’m talking what happened to you
You were just 25
When they ended your life
When “to serve & protect”
Meant break your leg, snap your neck
Meant to kill you, to sever your spine
No matter what, there’s no good reason why

Devine also speaks from personal experience because of his family’s association with the police:

When I’m talking these killer cop blues
I’m kinda talking my family to you
See, my dad was a cop
And his dad was a cop
And my uncles were cops
And my cousins were cops
I’m partly here because of cops
And I love all those cops
And I know not every cop
Is a racist, murdering cop
But this is bigger than the people I love
The system’s broken
Not breaking
It’s done

And then, like any white person who is an ally, he realizes his position.

I’m talking white privilege blues
I’m talking confession to you
I don’t know what it’s like
To be afraid all my life
Looking over my shoulder
Behind each officer, a coroner
Entrenched inequality
No access, no empathy
Crushed in stacked decks
Institutions & death
This is not my reality
I’m afforded the luxury
Of shaking my head
I shut the screen, go to bed
I can turn off what you never can
And watch it happen again and again (and again and again and again and again, and again).

[READ: June 5, 2020] “Rookie”

I can’t get over how many stories there are about tree-planting, something that I feel like no one in the States ever does but which seems to be a rite of passage in Canada.

Every story talks about how horrible it is.  You can make a lot of money if you can put up with the conditions.  The cold, the backbreaking work, the pressure, living in a trailer or hotel for months.  Although you could make $10,000 in two months if you were good. And, pretty much everyone there let the drugs and drink and sex flow.

There’s always people who thrive and can plant 4,000 trees a day (at 9 cents per tree) called highballers.  While a rookie is lucky to plant 1,000 (which would mean breaking even after camp costs, like food).

In this case the highballers are Skye and Jen who seem to be a couple.  The rookie is Jake and the story is mostly about him.  Jake is a religious twenty-something.  He is God-fearing and serious.  He intended to go tree-planting with his friends from Bible College.  Elmer was the group leader and they would keep tabs on each other to make sure they didn’t smoke, do drugs or have sex.  Jake decided to join up, but by that time, Elmer’s crew was full, so he wound up with another crew in Ontario. (more…)

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alcaterlSOUNDTRACK: SA-ROC-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #30 (June 4, 2020).

sarocI have never heard of Sa-Roc, but I was blown away by her lyrics and delivery.  I really enjoyed that her delivery was intense and serious, even angry, but her delivery was so thoughtful.

If you want protest music for the uprising of the American consciousness, then look no further. Sa-Roc (born Assata Perkins) is an emcee from southeast Washington, D.C.

Sa-Roc bears her heart and soul here, weaving together influential threads from her upbringing; Pan-Africanism, the hardship of her father’s experience as a sharecropper in Virginia and her own childhood in Congress Heights, D.C., an area ravaged by violence and the crack epidemic in the 1980s.

In this Tiny Desk (home) concert, she debuted two exclusives, “Deliverance” is about reassessing where you are in making a commitment to change things. I love the beats and the lyrics.  She references Posdnous and De la Soul and then has this moment where she says this is the world’s tiniest violin and a violin sample plays.

After the song, she lights some sage to clear the energy.  She wants her space to experience joy and to be a stress-free peaceful environments.

“Hand of God” is her latest single about staying true to yourself.  It has a sung chorus and Sa-Roc has a pretty singing voice along with her flow.  In the second verse she raps with a sped up version of herself which is pretty neat.

“r(E)volution,” is from her upcoming album, The Sharecropper’s Daughter, which is produced by her partner in life and DJ, Sol Messiah.  It starts with a pretty guitar and a great bass line

On “r(E)volution” she spits bars: “Embedded in the home of the brave, the darkest of interiors. / Saw street scholars and soldiers defect cuz they post-traumatic stressed from the American experience.”

“Forever” is for little girls who ever felt like they were held to impossible societal standards; and if the world told them they weren’t good enough, weren’t valuable enough, weren’t worthy enough, weren’t dope enough to take up space or use their voice; they didn’t come from the right area or the right class or education; didn’t have the right skin tone or complexion; anything that made them feel less than.  This is about how dope you really are with all of your perfect imperfections.

I love that after a quiet clapping moment the song soars with guitars and bass.

[READ: May 8, 2020] Kitten Clone

In the Douglas Coupland collection Shopping in Jail, there was an essay called “All Governments Seem to Be Winging it Except for China.”  The essay said that it came from this book: Kitten Clone.

I wasn’t sure how interested I really was in reading about the history of Alcatel-Lucent, but I should have known that Coupland would do his thing and find an interesting and unique way to write about something that should be dull.

The only weird thing is that Coupland implies that he is alone on this excursion, but the photographs are not his (which is surprising since he loves art) the pictures are by Olivia Arthur.

This book is part of a series called Writers in Residence created by Alain de Botton, with the slogan: “There are many places in the modern world that we do not understand because we cannot get inside them.”  Coupland’s book is the third in the series.  The other two are Geoff Dyer: Another Great Day at Sea: Life Aboard the USS George H.W. Bush and Liaquat Ahamed: Money and Tough Love: On Tour with the IMF.

This book looks into the past, present and future of Alcatel-Lucent and the cover of the book sets the stage: (more…)

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