Archive for the ‘Dominican Republic’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: YASSER TEJEDA & PALOTRÉ-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert Meets SXSW #188 (April 6, 2021).

Every year, NPR Music participates in the SXSW music festival, whether it’s curating a stage or simply attending hundreds of shows at the annual event in Austin, Texas. Last year, the festival was canceled due to the pandemic, but it returned this March as an online festival. We programmed a ‘stage’ of Tiny Desk (home) concerts and presented them on the final day of the festival. Now, we present to you Tiny Desk Meets SXSW: four videos filmed in various locations, all of them full of surprises.

Yasser Tejeda, a New York-based guitarist from the Dominican Republic, started his musical career on the Dominican cuatro (a folkloric guitar-like instrument) and has incorporated guitar stylings that have made him a “go-to guy” for Dominican artists looking for passionate elegance in their sound.

They play three songs in fifteen minutes.  And as with much music from this part of the world, the drums (Victor Otoniel Vargas) and percussion (Jonathan “Jblak” Troncoso) are unstoppable.

Yasser Tejeda and his band Palotré begin their set behind a home desk with “Amor Arrayano,” weaving a vaguely Caribbean feel with a killer R&B hook.

“Amor Arrayano” is a smooth love song gently echoing guitars and a smooth grooving bass.

After a brief introduction of his bandmates Tejeda launches into “La Culebra,” the track that caught my attention from their album Kijombo. Palotré is a powerful groove machine behind Tejeda’s virtuosic guitar playing and his playful dance moves.

“La Culebra” (The Snake) opens with percussive rattlesnake sounds from “Jblak.”   Kyle Miles plays a bouncy bass while Tejeda plays a cool virtuosic lead.  This (mostly) instrumental rocks on in various tempos for the duration of the song.

Tejeda has stated one of the goals of this project is to explore the crossroads between Afro-Dominican musical traditions with anything else that pops onto their radar. Their final song here,”Nuestras Raices,” [Our Roots] has become one of my favorites because I hear the essence of Africa mixed with jazz and maybe a hint of heavy metal, as Tejeda steps on his distortion pedal to kick the band into overdrive with guest tenor saxophonist Mario Castro in tow.

“Nuestras Raices,” opens with a ton of drums and Castro playing the intro melody on the sax.  The songs shifts gears to a quiet verse and then Tejeda stomps the distortion pedal for a brief foray into ripping guitar before pulling back for another quiet verse.  After some faster sections, the song slows down to a kind of moshing feel with all kinds of wild time changes, jazzy sax and heavy metal chords.

It’s pretty fantastic.

[READ: March 30, 2021] Charlie Thorne and the Lost Island

This is the first book in the Charlie Thorne series. I read the second one last month.  I don’t like to read things out of sequence, but it didn’t really impact this story all that much.  The only thing that I “knew” was that Charlie escaped at the end of the story.  But that’s pretty obvious since there was a second book.

This book was also good for some of the background information I was seeking.  Although, it turns out that Gibbs didn’t include a ton of background info on Charlie.  We learn just enough to understand how she is the way she is without getting bogged own in details.

The story starts with a Prologue set in Princeton, NJ in 1955.  It’s the evening of Einstein’s death and after being given some (unwanted) painkillers, he starts muttering something.  By the end of the night the secret service are all over his small house trying to uncover whatever it was he muttered (in German) about.

The book properly starts at CIA Headquarters as Dante Garcia is heading a team.  He is insisting that they call in the help of Charlie Thorne, a super-smart 12-year old girl with a potential criminal past.  His boss is skeptical but trusts Dante, so she agrees.  he also says he wants to work with Milana Moon, one of the best agents in the force.

Cut to a ski slope in Colorado where we are introduced to Charlie and her amazing mathematical mind.  She is able to picture the angles and speed she needs to conquer Deadman’s Drop.

The way she does it is pretty cool and it also sets up the first exciting chase.  She recognizes Dante and his partner as agents.  She doesn’t know why they are here but she knows she needs to evade them.  This leads to the first of many exciting chase scenes. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKEDWIN PEREZ-GlobalFEST Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #136/155 (January 14, 2021).

Edwin PerezGlobalFEST 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 first artist of the fourth and final night is Edwin Perez.

From the basement of the Bowery Electric in downtown Manhattan, composer and vocalist Edwin Perez and his 10-piece band come together to put on a show. With a strong backbeat and enough room to move around, Perez’s up-tempo energy brings the party and keeps it going. The theme of the night is salsa dura music, which originated in New York in the 1970s and gained acclaim thanks to acts like the Fania All-Stars and Spanish Harlem Orchestra.

This set is a lot of fun (even with the seriousness of the second song).  Cuban music is so full of percussion and horns it’s hard not to want to dance to it.  And this band has three percussionists: Nelson Mathew Gonzalez: bongo, cowbell (from Puerto Rico); Manuel Alejandro Carro: timbales (from Cuba); Oreste Abrantes: (from Puerto Rico).  The horn section is also pretty large: Leonardo Govin (from Cuba) and Michael Pallas (From Dominican Republic): trombone; Jonathan Powell (from USA) and Kalí Rodriguez (from Cuba): trumpet.

They play three songs. “La Salsa Que Me Crió” has lots of percussion and a great trumpet solo.  Perez even dances during the instrumental breaks.  And throughout, Jorge Bringas (from Cuba) keeps the bass steady.

After introducing the band, he says “Say her name Breonna Taylor.  Say his name Philando castile.  Say his name George Floyd.  End the abuse.”  This is the introduction to the quieter “No Puedo Respirar” (I Can’t Breathe).   Despite the subject, this song is not a dirge.  I don’t know what the words are but there is joy in the music as well.  There’s a jazzy keyboard solo from Ahmed Alom Vega (USA).

Yuniel Jimenez (From Cuba) opens the final song “Mi Tierra” with a fantastic introductory solo on the Cuban tres guitar.  The rest of the song brings back the Cuban horns and percussion. There’s even a drum solo (or two) in the middle.

[READ: February 25, 2021] March Book 1

I had heard amazing things about this trilogy of books.  I don’t know why it took me so long to get around to reading them.  Now that John Lewis is dead for almost a year, it was time to read them.

This is essentially a biography so it’s not easy to write about.  It’s also an incredible story of selflessness, fortitude and unbelievable courage.

The framing device is very well executed.  After a brief prologue that shows John and is marchers getting attacked by police, the book shows us Washington D.C. January 20, 2009, the day that Barack Obama is being inaugurated President.  Since John is (in 2009) in office he will be attending the ceremonies.

As he is preparing and getting ready to leave, a woman and her two children walk into his room hoping to look at Mr. Lewis’ office–a inspirational moment for her young boys.  But it happens that John (or Bob as he is called) is still in his office. They are embarrassed to interrupt, but he welcomes them warmly and shows them some of the things around his office.

Like photos of him meeting President Kennedy when Lewis was 23.  And from the March on Washington in 1963, where Dr King gave his “I have a dream” speech.

Then the boy asks him why he has so many chickens in his office.

The story then flashes back to young John (called Bob by his parents).  His father purchased 110 acres in Pike County, Alabama for $300. John was incharge of the chickens on the farm.  He also loved preaching.  He learned to read at 5 and began preaching to the chickens (they never said Amen or anything).

He also loved going to school.  He would even away from his house on the days his father insisted all the children work in the field because he didn’t want to fall behind.  (Even if it meant getting in trouble).

One of the first being moments in his life wa when his Uncle Otis drove him North.

Otis knew which places offered colored bathrooms and the ones where you would never get out of the car: “Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky.  These were the states we had to be careful in as we made our way North.”

It wasn’t until they got to Ohio that his uncle relaxed.  They arrive in Buffalo 17 hours later and John was amazed to see white and black people living next door to each other. (more…)

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 SOUNDTRACK: AJ DAVILA-“Es Verano Ya” (Field Recordings, September 24, 2014). 

AJ Davila is part of the “unhinged Puerto Rican garage-rock band” Davila 666. For this Field Recording [Garage-Rocker AJ Davila Unplugs In A Hair Salon] he plays an acoustic song in a hair salon.

Davila says that New York is like another town of Puerto Rico.  That people from Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic have made their homes and communities here.

There’s a joke that says the biggest town in Puerto Rico is called New York. Several waves of diaspora have created a deep and complex relationship between Puerto Ricans and the city. Boricuas have had an immense influence on the Big Apple — its music, its literature, its landscape, and even its cuisine.

He says that a small place like a barbershop (or beauty salon) can feel like you’re in your house.  “This is a song about hanging out with your friends.  It’s a summer song.”

We asked Davila to delight a Spanish Harlem beauty salon with a summer song. It’s appropriate: He’s one of the warmest souls I know — someone with whom it’s a pleasure to discuss art and music, argue about politics or tell silly jokes. He’s also a uniquely talented musician, with a style that combines garage-rock, punk and even elements of hip-hop.

This song probably rocks, but this acoustic version is lighter, with some bouncy chords from the other guitarist Daniel Ortiz and delightful backing vocals from Lola Pistola.  It’s somehow even better when they laugh off a tiny mistake.

[READ: September 14, 2017] ”Sunrise, Sunset”

This is a story of three generations of a Haitain family.

Carole is elderly and is slowly forgetting a lot–a blank look comes over her face and she forgets that she put her keys in the fridge or that her daughter is related to her.

Her daughter, Jeanne, and son-in-law James (they were known as JJ) just had a son, Jude (now known as Triple J).  But Jeanne has been in the throes of post-partum depression. James is a saint about it but Carole is furious that her daughter is lying around.  Back in Haiti, Carole did not have the luxury of depression.

Carole lived under a dictator.  She watched her neighbors get dragged out of their houses by the dictator’s henchmen.  Carole’s father fled the country and she never saw him again. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ULVER-Metamorphosis EP (1999).

After Ulver’s first CD, they jumped around in genres (their second was a kind of folk CD and their third CD was more black metal–I have not heard either one).  Their 4th CD was the William Blake CD of crazed experimental music.  And then they released this EP.  And I can’t think of too many bands who keep their fans guessing as much as these guys do.  This EP is full on electronica.  Dark electronica, yes, but still, it’s all electronic.

There are four songs.  The first one, “Of Wolves and Vibrancy” is like  rocking dance song from the 90s (like The Prodigy).  The drums are quite intense.  While the second song, “Gnosis” is a slower, more ambient track. There are still loud drums, but the pace is slower and less manic. At around the 6 minutes mark vocals come in.  They sound like some of Metallica’s chanting voices on later albums.

Track three, “Limbo Central (Theme from Perdition City)” is less than 4 minutes long.  It’ s another dark electronic soundtrack with more great drums. 

The final song, “Of Wolves and Withdrawal” is almost 9 minutes of very quiet noises that grow louder in pulses. It seems to be three sections of different pulsing sounds.  The first time I listened to it, the opening was so quiet that I thought it was just all silence so I fast forwarded through the whole thing.  But because the pulses are so mechanically timed it didn’t even register as noises while as fast forwarded.  I finally had to turn it up pretty loud before I heard all of it. 

I was tempted to say that going from that first Ulver album to this one is a massive change.  But it seems that every Ulver record is a whiplash of stylistic changes.  Nevertheless, this is about as far from black metal as you can get and still be dark and scary.

[READ: November 4, 2011] “The Sun, The Moon, The Stars”

This is one of Díaz’s short stories that does not appear in Drown (it came out about two years after Drown).  It has been frequently anthologized, however, which makes it a pretty important story.

There’s a reason why I like to read author’s works in chronological order, and reading this story now confirms that for me.  The story, written in 1998, is the fictionalization of the essay, “Homecoming with Turtle” that I reviewed a few weeks ago (the one that I said pertained to Oscar Wao because of the turtle).  Well, there’s no turtle in this story, and there’s no dentists, but the rest of the story is pretty much the same as his nonfiction account.

After saying all of that though, what’s fun about reading this out of order is that since I know what the “truth” is about this situation, it’s fun to see what he has massaged into fiction.

So in this story, Yunior has been dating Magdalena for some time.  Magda is a good girl: wouldn’t sleep with him until they had been dating awhile, took him to church, introduced him to her parents, the whole bit.  And he really loves her.  The problem is that they only see each other once a week.

So, when a hot girl starts working at his office and she tells him that her man doesn’t treat her well and Yunior confides that the sex with Magda isn’t very good, well, things happen.  But they didn’t happen very often or for very long and Yunior tried to forget it.  Until the girl sent Magda a letter.  A very detailed letter. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ULVER-Bergtatt (1994).

Ulver has some music in the soundtrack to Until the Light Takes Us and my friend Lar pointed me to a location where you could download a bunch of their music (this was before Spotify of course). 

So I grabbed a few of their albums expecting to hear some brutal death metal.  And I kind of did, but I also heard classical guitar, flute solos and chanting.   So this album’s full title is Bergtatt – Et eeventyr i 5 capitler (“Taken into the Mountain – An Adventure in 5 Chapters”) and it comes in at a whopping 35 minutes–not bad for an epic.

The opening track (“I Troldskog faren vild” (“Lost in the Forest of Trolls”)) is fascinating–a kind of chanting vocals over a quietly-mixed-in-the-background black metal.  The music is so quiet (and yet clearly black metal) that it almost comes across as ambient noise, especially over the multilayered chanting (I have no idea what language they are singing in).  It ends with a pretty acoustic guitar passage that segues into a very traditional sounding heavy metal section–with a catchy solo that takes us to the end.

“Soelen gaaer bag Aase need” (“The Sun Sets Behind Hills”) opens with, of course, a flute solo.  It’s a minute long and quite melancholy before blasting into the fastest of heavy black metal complete with growling vocals and nonstop pummeling.  But after a minute of that it’s back to the layered chanting like in the first song.  The song ends with a conflation of the two–the chanting metal with the growling black metal underneath.  It’s quite a sound.

Track three “Graablick blev hun vaer” (“Graablick Watches Her Closely”)opens with a lengthy acoustic guitar intro–not complicated, but quite pretty and unlike the poor recording quality of the metal, it seems to be recorded with high quality equipment.  After about 45 seconds that gives way to more black metal.  In a strange twist, the black metal section just fades out, replaced by more acoustic guitar and what seems like the end of the song.  But instead, there is a strange quiet section–not music, but sounds–like someone walking around in the cold forest with crunchy noises and little else.  For almost two minutes.  Until the black metal comes back with a vengeance.

Slow guitar with slow chanting opens track 4 “Een Stemme locker” (“A Voice Beckons”) (the shortest at only 4 minutes).  And the amazing thing is that it doesn’t change into something else.  It is a nice folk song.

The final song “Bergtatt – Ind i Fjeldkamrene” (“Bergtatt – Into the Mountain Chambers”) has a blistering opening followed by some of the most intricate acoustic guitars on the record.  It morphs into a very urgent-sounding black metal section which lasts about 5 minutes.   But just to keep us on our toes, the song (and the disc) end with more classic acoustic guitar.

There is a story here (allmusic says it is a Norse legend about maidens being abducted by denizens of the underworld) and that might help explain the music madness.  But as a musical composition it works quite well.  The chanting over the black metal is really effective and the acoustic instruments bring a nice sonic change from the pounding metal. 

This is not for everyone obviously, but the diversity makes this an interesting introduction into the black metal scene.  Baby steps. 

[READ: November 4, 2011] “Apocalypse”

This is the final non-fiction essay of Junot Díaz that I could find online.  The other one comes from GQ and is called “Summer Love”, but there’s no access to it online. 

In this essay, Díaz looks at the impact of the earthquake that devastated Haiti now that it has been over a year.  Díaz was born in the Dominican Republic which has a long and very brutal history with the people of Haiti–they share a land mass after all.  But rather than looking only at Haiti and how it was devastated, Díaz takes this as an opportunity to see what the earthquake reveals about our country and the state of the world.

The essay is broken down into eight parts.  The first revisits what happened.  The second discusses the meanings of apocalypse, which sets up the “theme” of this essay.  The First: the actual end of the world (which for the thousands of people who died, the earthquake was); Second: the catastrophes that resemble the end of the world (given the destruction of Haiti and the devastation that still lingers, this is certainly applicable); Third: a disruptive event that provokes revelation.

Díaz is going to explore this third option to see what this earthquake reveals. 

What Díaz uncovers is that the earthquake was not so much a natural disaster as a social disaster–a disaster of our creating.  The tsunami that hit Asia in 2004 was a social disaster because the coral reefs that might have protected the coasts were decimated to encourage shipping.  Hurricane Katrina was also a social disaster–years of neglect, the Bush administration’s selling of the wetlands to developers and the decimation of the New Orleans Corp of Engineers budget by 80 percent all contributed to a situation where Katrina could be so devastating.

Then he talks looks at the history of Haiti.  I had known some of this story, but not as much as he provides here–the constant abuse of the citizens, the constant abuse of their finances (both from simple theft and from French and American planning that changed their economy).  There’s also the story of “Papa Doc” Duvalier.  Basically Haiti was a disaster waiting to happen. 

Díaz goes into great detail about the global economy and how it impacted the poor in Haiti and he shows that it doesn’t take a lot of extrapolation to see it reflected in the rest of the world as well.  With the constant rise in standards for the wealthy and the constant abuse that the poor take, it’s not hard to see that Haiti could easily happen here.  If not in our lifetime, then certainly in our childrens’.

But Díaz has hope.  (more…)

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I’ve known the song “Long May You Run” for a long time, but I never really realized it came from a non-Neil Young album.  The album is by The Stills-Young Band and the history of the album may be more interesting than the album itself (in sum: CSN&Y broke up, C&N made and album so S&Y made an album.  C&N were supposed to be on the S&Y album but they fought and S&Y removed their vocals).

So what we get is nine songs.  Five written by Neil Young and four by Stephen Stills.  The songs are played by Stills’ solo backing band and while the credits suggest that they played on each others’ songs, it doesn’t really seem like it.  It seems like you get 5 Neil Young solo songs and four Stephen Stills solo songs.

It’s also odd that the cover of the album shows buffalo running in the plains (nod to Buffalo Springfield, I’m sure) but so many of these songs are about water.  Maybe that disconnect feeds the whole thing.

By the way, “Long May You Run” is a catchy little country number that I never realized was about his car until recently.

Stephen Stills’ first song is the utterly unsubtle, possibly seductive in the 70s but hilariously outre in 2001 “Make Love to You.”  It’s full of 70s synths and has a very serious tone (despite the 70s synth).  And the lyrics, hoo boy:

Girl your body said everything and I know you knew/I wanna make love to you, make you feel all right/I wanna make love  to you, yes, it’ll take all night

Which is about as long as the shower you need to take after hearing that song.

“Midnight on the Bay” is a pleasant enough song from Neil.  It’s a bit too much into the 70’s-lite music genre for my liking, but it’s not too terrible.

The thing about Stephen Stills is I like his voice.  It’s unusual and unique and I like hearing him sing.  But man his lyrics are crazy.  I like the opening riff of “Black Coral” with its staccato piano.  Yet it seems like he’s got but one thing on his mind.  The song is ostensibly about being underwater:

Got to move slow/Take it easy down there/You’ve only so much air/When you get a little deeper/If you slow down/You might keep her/The sea, unforgiving and she’s hard/But she’ll make love to you/Show you glimpses of the stars.

But maybe that’s metaphorical.  Because when you go deeper, “I saw Jesus, and it made sense that he was there.”

“Ocean Girl” is sort of Neil’s answer to that song.  It’s got a very 70s wah wah sound and a very easy to sing chorus.  Consider it a catchy but inessential Neil song.  “Let It Shine” is also Neil’s song (and there’s more stuff about his cars here–so you know he’s really into it).  It’s a more substantial song than most of the rest although it has a very easy feel.

“12/8 Blues” (love the title) feels like an Eagles song (“Life in the Fast Lane” to be specific, although they both came out in the same year.  Hmm).  It’s fairly generic (like the title) but I like it (crazy time signatures are my thing, man).

“Fontainebleau” is an interesting angsty Neil song that I think would have done very well with CSN&Y.  I never really paid attention to the lyrics before, but it’s fairly interesting and the guitar solos are soft but cool.

The final song goes to Stills.  “Guardian Angel” feels like a combination of all of his other songs, and it’s probably his best on the disc.   It’s got the slinky 70s vibe of  the first song, the staccato piano and, interestingly a chorus that would sound great with the 4 part harmony of CSN&Y.  It also rocks harder than anything on the record (which isn’t saying all that much).  The end has a cool extended instrumental section which I rather like as well.

So this is a weird little hybrid record.  There’s some good stuff for Neil Young fans, although it’s far from essential.  I actually don’t know much about Stills’ solo work so I don’t know how this compares, but he does seem a little one-track here.

[READ: November 4, 2011] “He’ll Take El Alto”

I don’t read Gourmet magazine.  I’m not a foodie and it seems like it’s just a food magazine.  But here’s the second article in Gourmet by a writer that I really like.  The first of course would be David Foster Wallace’s “Consider the Lobster.”  Is Gourmet more than just recipes?  Does it often have contributions from respected authors?  Am I missing out?

This issue is the Latino issue, so it deals with food from Cuba, El Salvador, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.  And Junot Díaz is our resident Dominican, so he’s given the task of talking up the cuisine.

Unlike Wallace’s essay, which was about a trip to the Maine Lobster Festival, Díaz’s essay is about how upper Manhattan (known as El Alto) has become a hotbed for Dominican food.

Díaz explains how when Dominicans first arrived in New York, there were no restaurants.  Dominicans had to eat Cuban food to approximate their home food.  But now that there are vast enclaves of Dominicans living in El Alto, there are excellent restaurants everywhere (the sure sign that a culture has made it is when you have people from other cultures as your waitstaff).

Díaz revel as his own and his friends’ and acquaintances’ preferences for favorite Dominican restaurants.  As this article is four years old and most of the places seem to be holes in the wall (which everyone knows serves the best food, even if they don’t last very long), I’m not going to bother saying which places they are or checking to see if they are still extant).  Okay, well, Malecon is still around, anyhow. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KISS-Music from The Elder (1981).

Kiss lost me on this one.  I had been a faithful fan for several years, even putting up with all of the haters in fifth grade.  But once I heard that Kiss was releasing an “opera,” well the heck with that noise.

Now, granted, I had no idea it was a rock opera or that Tommy was a rock opera.  I heard the word “opera” (thanks newspaper review that my grandmother showed me) and said, Nope.  Of course, I wasn’t the only one who said Nope.  This record tanked.  It tanked so bad that the band almost went bankrupt.

But the album wasn’t just an album.  It was mean to be a film (there’s even film dialogue on the record!) and Chris Makepeace (Woody the Wabbit from Meatballs) was meant to star in it–I love that the film credit info is left on the record packaging).  What could this film have been like….if only it were made!

At some point I decided to buy the LP (Who even knows where I found it on vinyl) and I was surprised by how much I liked it.  In fact, I find it much more preferable to Dynasty and Unmasked.  It’s less pop oriented, and some of the tracks rock harder than anything since Love Gun.  True, there’s weird pretensions on it, but even those are just experiments.

This album also features Eric Carr on his first Kiss record (what a strange place for such a heavy rocking drummer to start).

So yes the album does open with horns and fanfare (like an opera perhaps?), but the first song, “Just a Boy” is a gentle ballad sung by Paul.  It’s certainly wimpy, but I rather like it (as I’ve said many times, I love Paul and his swelling choruses).  And there’s some nice guitar work from Ace here.

“Odyssey” has strings and strings galore.  It’s a pompous swelling song that harkens to Destroyer, yet goes in a very very very different direction.  As a fan of epic pretentious music, I rather like it, but as a Kiss song it’s a disaster.  Of course, I have always enjoyed the jokey “Once upon….not yet” line.

“Only You” is Gene’s first foray on this album.  And I will state categorically that this period was not good for gene’s songwriting.  His songs are really quite dull and boring (when you think of the crazy, complicated bass lines and things he was throwing on songs just a few years back, dull songs like this are a shock).  What’s also a shock is that this song is a kind of gritty guitar song, again, much less wimpy than anything on Unmasked–fickle fans turned on the band without having heard the songs–sure they weren’t good songs, but they weren’t disco either.

“Under the Rose” is the exception to gene’s malaise.  It begins softly with Gene’s whispered vocals not unlike “Man of 1,00 Faces” but the chorus is heavy and chanted, foreshadowing what they would do on Creatures of the Night (although Creatures was heavier and faster).  The riff is also pretty solid, too.

“Dark Light” is Ace’s contribution to the disc.  It has a pretty heavy opening riff as well.  And the verse reminds me a lot of the kind of verse Ace has been writing for a while–simple chords with lots of words.  The solo is pretty much literally a solo–very little in the way of backing music while Ace wails away. Shame it’s not a very interesting solo.

“A World Without Heroes” is a very gentle ballad by Gene.  There’s a great commercial for this album in which you get to watch Gene sing this song.

The crazy thing of course is that he’s in demon make up.  If this were Kiss without makeup no one would think it was weird, but I mean, look at him, why is he singing songs like this?  It is once again an impressive display of Gene’s range though.  Nice guitar solo, too.

“The Oath” is actually one of my favorite Kiss songs, no irony intended.  I used to laugh at the lyrics, which yes are silly (but this is Kiss, come on).  True, it’s an odd mix of really heavy guitars and pretentious falsettos (along with a bizarre keyboard/swirly third part).  But there’s a bitching guitar solo and as I said, the guitars sound great.  And Paul manages all of those different parts very well.  It’s vastly underrated and worth checking out (especially if you like unexpectedly weird music).

“Mr. Blackwell” feels like a song from a movie.  It tells a bit of a story of a bad guy.  The music is incredibly minimalist (one note bass bits and very sparse guitars during the bridge and chorus).  Lyrically it’s dreadful–“You’re not well/Mr. Blackwell/Why don’t you go to hell”, but at least Gene sounds like a demon delivering it.  The solo is an amazing bit of noise though.

“Escape from the Island” is another high point on the record.  It’s an instrumental, it’s fast and it’s heavy.  And it’s got another great solo from Ace–it’s funny that Ace was dissatisfied with the direction of Kiss at this time because he gets to really show off on this disc.

“I” is another solid anthem from Kiss.  It ends the album in an upbeat way and if it weren’t on this dismissed album it would be on any Kiss anthems collection.  Paul and Gene both take turns singing and the chorus is chantworthy and fist pumpable.  They should release it on a new album.  They’re so into it in the recording that Paul even shouts “you feel it too, don’t you?”

There’s an interesting review of this album at Popdose.  The bad thing is that the site has links to lots of MP3 demos from the album, but they’re all broken links.  I’d like to hear those.

[READ: October 30, 2011] “Homecoming, with Turtle”

This is an amusing piece of non-fiction from Junot Díaz.  I’m grouping it with the Oscar Wao stories because it actually bears an impact on them.  It’s about a visit that Junot took eleven years ago (from 2004) back to his homeland of the Dominican Republic.

He hadn’t been there  in nearly twenty years and he decided to go with his girlfriend.  Of course, like Yunior in the novel, Junot cheated on his girlfriend before their trip and one of her friends told her.  This put some tension on their trip (and one even wonders why he persuaded her to go along after that).

Their trip began with a week volunteering in the DR for a kind of Doctors without Borders (but for Dentists)–they assisted dentists with extracting thousands of teeth.  It’s a strange thing to do and a strange (but generous) way to start a vacation, but the exhaustion and camaraderie at least kept them from killing each other. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KISS-Dynasty (1979).

I was pretty excited to buy this album when it came out–a new Kiss album that wasn’t solo albums!  Woo hoo!  And the fact that it was disco?  Well, even though I said I “hated disco,” I didn’t really know what disco sounded like then (and really, aside from the middle “I Was Made for Lovin’ You” it’s not really a disco record) and plus my other favorite band was the Village People (and really, that makes a lot of sense–tw0 bands in over-the-top costumes talking about sexuality that I totally didn’t understand).

So, this album is hard for me to be critical about because it was such an essential part of my childhood, especially “I Was Made for Lovin’ You.”  I love it, and yet I can listen critically and appreciate that it’s really not that good.

But I’ll move on to the other songs.  “Sure Know Something” and “Magic Touch” really don’t seem that out of place chronologically with, say, the Kiss solo albums–they sound an awful lot like something off of Paul’s album.  So, despite the sort of slinky 70’s bass on “Sure Know Something”, they can’t have been that much of a surprise.  The guitar solos are short but have some interesting Ace sounds (I like the harmonics on “Magic Touch”).  It seems that while the other guys were embracing disco, Paul was keeping the Kiss sound alive.

Then there’s the Ace songs.  “2,000 Man” made total sense as an Ace song. I had no idea it was a Rolling Stones cover until fairly recently (and I like Ace’s version much better).  “Hard Times” feels like the sequel to “New York Groove.”  Not the music so much although maybe a little, but the lyrics–now that he’s in the city here’s what happened–the gritty reality. It’s one of Ace’s great, lost songs.  And check it out, Ace sings on three songs here!  (Guess having a #1 hit wasn’t lost on the Kiss powers).  “Save Your Love” has a cool descending chorus and a nice bass feel to it.  Ace certainly wins on this record.

Peter got only one song, “Dirty Livin'”.  In fact, this is the only song that Peter had anything to do with (his drums were re-recorded by Anton Fig).  It reminds me (in retrospect) of the Rolling Stones disco era even more than “2,000 Man,” the backing vocals remind me of something like “Shattered.”  I always liked this guitar solos on this (cool feedback).  Although I liked the song (along with the rest of the album), I don’t think it holds up very well.

Gene only gets two songs.  It amuses me how little he has to do with these late 70s albums even though he is always the leader of the band.  I always liked “Charisma” (I had to look the word up back then) even though it is, admittedly, rather discoey and really not very good.  It is fun to ask “What is my…charisma?”  But “X-Ray Eyes is the better Gene song on this record.  It harkens back to earlier Kiss songs and even has a bit of menace in it.

So, Dynasty was a huge hit for the band.  And they even got to mock it in Detroit Rock City the movie.  Cynical marketing ploy or genuine fondness for disco?  Who would ever know.

[READ: November 1, 2011] “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao”

Readers of this blog know that after finding an author I like, I will try to read everything that he or she has written.  Close readers will know that if a writer is reasonably young and reasonably unpublished, I will try to read his or her uncollected work as well.  Well, I really enjoyed Oscar Wao the novel, so I decided to see what else Díaz had written. There’s really not a lot, to be perfectly frank.  There’s his short story collection Drown and a few fiction pieces published here and there (mostly in the New Yorker) and a few non-fiction pieces as well.

So this “short story” from the New Yorker (with the same title as the novel) is in fact an early, mostly the same, version of the Oscar story in the novel.  The thing here is to note the date: 2000(!).  The novel came out in 2007.  So, Junot had been working with this character for easily five years (giving time for the publishing industry to get a book out and all). The remarkable thing the is just how accomplished and polished this piece is and how much of it was used in the novel.

I’m curious to know whether this was written as a short story (it’s quite a long short story) or if it was always intended as a part of a novel.  Interestingly, when you read this story by itself and you realize that it is pretty much all of Oscar’s story in the novel, you realize just how little of Oscar is actually in the novel.  The novel is about Oscar, obviously, but it is really about his family and the fukú that was placed on them by the Trujillo clan.  Oscar is sort of the touchstone for the fukú, and the person whom the narrator knows most intimately but his story is also brief. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: COLIN STETSON-Live at All Tomorrow’s Parties, October 4, 2011 (2011).

In addition to playing SXSW, Colin Stetson also played All Tomorrow’s Parties, and NPR was there.  Unlike with SXSW, this set appears to be full length (about 50 minutes–which is a pretty amazing amount of time for him to blow that horn).  Like SXSW (and the album) Stetston starts with “Awake on Foreign Shores” and “Judges.”  What I love about this recording is that after Stetson finishes “Judges” a guy in the audience shouts (in a voice of total amazement) “That shit was off the hook!”  And he is right.  It’s not even worth me going into how amazing Steston is once again (check previous posts for  that), but man, just look at the size of that horn he’s playing (seriously, click on the link to see it bigger).

Stetson plays a few more songs from New History Warfare, Vol. 2: Judges like “The Righteous Wrath of an Honorable Man” (which is outstanding) and “A Dream of Water” (which works without Laurie Anderson, although he does say he’s sorry she’s not there).  He also introduces two news songs “Hunted 1” and “Hunted 2” which show new levels and new styles that Stetson employs.

This is a remarkable set, and Steston is clearly in his element (and the crowd is rapt).  The only problem I have is the recording level.  It must be very difficult to maintain recording levels for Stetson’s brand of noise–his louds are really loud–but you can’t hear him talk at all.  And most of the time, the introductions to his songs are worth hearing.  I’m sure if they tried to get the speaking level a little louder the music would have sacrificed though, so I think they made the right choice–I only wish there was a transcript available.

[READ: October 31, 2011] The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Apparently it’s pronounced, “Wow”, by the way.

Because of my new job, I don’t have a  full hour of lunch-time reading like I used to.  And so this book took considerably longer than I intended.  However, once I set aside some time to read it, I flew through the book.

I’m going to get this part out of the way because I was thinking about it throughout the book and I want to mention it without having it bog down the post.  This story reminded me a lot of Roberto Bolaño.  On the surface, sure this is because they are both writers from “Central America” (Diaz is originally from the Dominican Republic but moved to the US, while Bolaño is originally from Chile but moved to Mexico and then Spain).   But I’m not really talking about their origins so much as the style of storytelling.

Without going into a lot of Bolaño here, I’ll just say that Bolaño tends to write very detailed character studies–stories that follow one person throughout his whole life on something of a fruitless quest.  And the details of that person’s life include information about family members and distant relatives.  Further, Bolaño has written about the brutalities of both Chile and Mexico and how a person can survive in such a place.  Similarly, Díaz follows the life of Oscar and his extended family and he talks about the brutalities of the Dominican Republic.

This is in no way to suggest that there is any connection between the two writers. I mean, The Savage Detectives came out in the States in 2007 (same years as Oscar Wao) and while he certainly could have read it in Spanish, I have no evidence that he did (and as I recently found out, the first draft of the Oscar story was written in 2000).  Again, the parallels are only from my reading and have nothing to do with Díaz himself.

Okay, now that that’s out of my system…

This is the story of Oscar de Leon.  But more than that, this is the story of a fukú–a curse that befalls the de Leon family and follows them through several generations.  Oscar is the youngest member of the family and the person whom the narrator knows best.  So we see this fukú as it impacts Oscar.  And although the book is ostensibly about Oscar, it is about much more.

Oscar was born in Paterson, NJ (the town next to where I grew up!) and went to Don Bosco Tech High School (where many of my friends went).  Oscar is Dominican (his mother is from the DR, but he and his sister were born in NJ), but unlike every other Dominican male, Oscar is totally uncool, into geeky sci-fi and D&D and is clearly destined to be a virgin because he is fat with terrible hair and no social skills.

And, (no spoiler), as the title states, his life will be short. (more…)

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