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Archive for the ‘India’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: MARCO BENEVENTO-Between the Needles and Nightfall (2010).

This is the third album by Marco Benevento and his trio: Reed Mathis on bass and Andrew Barr on drums.

It’s hard to put this release into any genre because of how fluid Benevento is.  He has some poppy songs, some jazzy bits and some experimentation.

Most of the songs are pretty long (over 6 minutes) and none of the songs have words (well, one has a aspoken section).

“Greenpoint” flows around a very simple bass line as Marco plays a poppy piano throughout the song.  There’s also some synthy blasts that move the song beyond a simple piano motif.  Around the four minute mark, the song shifts gears, growing a little faster and little more intense as the drums crash through.

“Between the Needles” is a slower song with a pretty bass line and slow piano chords.  After a minute and a half it takes off a bit with bigger piano chords and a more dramatic tone.  But then it all slows down to just piano before building up again, this time with even more evocative lead bass.  “Two of You” is quieter, with a waverly keyboard line that lays under the lead piano  The main piano line acts like a lead vocal line and is really pretty and quite catchy as well.  It builds into a nice bouncy song by the end.

“Numbers” is a slow song with a lead bouncing bass and simple keyboard intro chords.  The song builds in layers until it is a loud, almost-crashing sound with some jazzy piano soloing on top.  “It came from You” is a super catchy piano melody with some complicated electronic drumming. It turns into a bouncy and fun romp by the end.

“Ila Frost” is one of the catchiest things on the album–a lively piano melody both in the repeated background and the main lead line.  It’s followed by the even catchier “RISD.”  In addition to the fun pulsing bass, the main echoing keyboard melody is simple but instantly catchy.

“You Know I’m No Good” is the shortest song on the disc.  It’s a slinky torch song that is actually written by Amy Winehouse. Knowing that, you can hear it in the delivery.  There’s a sort of crashing drum section in the middle.  This song also has the only vocals–worldless “da da daing” toward the end.

“Music Is still secret” is a lovely, slow jazzy ballad. While “Wolf Trap” is the opposite.  There’s some loud clangy drums and a big fuzzed up bass that matches perfectly with the really noisy piano melody.  Once the song starts going, there is some ferocious soloing from Marco as the rest of the band jams behind him.

The disc ends with “Snow Lake” an electronic kind of processed sounding track that mixes some interesting synths and some low ringing bass.  It ends with a wild cacophony of sounds–electric and otherwise–and then abruptly ends.

There’s not a lot of earworms on this disc.  But everything sounds great.  The musicianship is top notch and the songs are all pretty fun.

[READ: September 14, 2010] “Lucky Girls”

In this story, the narrator is an American woman living in India.

As the story opens she says she always imagined what it would be like meeting Arun’s mother for the first time.  She pictured a fancy restaurant with herself looking stunning.

But in reality, Mrs Chawla showed up at the apartment one day, unannounced.  The narrator had been living there for five years and had yet to meet the mother of the man who owned the place.

The narrator was in her painting clothes when Mrs Chawla showed up.  The narrator considered changing, but decided against it.  Mrs Chalwa was shorter than expected; she looked at the narrator as if she too were not what was expected. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JAPANESE BREAKFAST-Live at Philly Music Fest @Ardmore Music Hall, Philadelphia PA, September 25, 2020).

I saw Japanese Breakfast back in 2018 at Union Transfer.  It was a really fun show.  Since Michelle Zauner is from Philly she really made the show personal. 

During the introduction to her set for Philly Music Fest, the announcer said that he’d been trying to get Japanese Breakfast to play this festival since it began.  So one good thing about the pandemic was that the band was still in Philly and not world touring.

We got to watch the band come out from back stage, take up their instruments and start “Diving Woman.”  This song has a wonderful, memorable bass line and a jamming guitar solo from her lead guitarist.

For this show she had the addition of Molly on violin.  Molly added so much to the upbeat and poppy “In Heaven.”

Michelle put down the guitar for “The Woman That Loves You,” a shorter song that was followed by the funkier “Road Head.”  This song is really catchy and has a very interesting slide sound from the bass.

It was funny to see her not playing the guitar because usually when she just had the microphone, she would interact with the crowd some.  But she only had the video monitor to look at.  Nevertheless, after the song she said “it feels great to feel like you have a purpose again.”

They played a new song–the first time the band played it together–called  “Kokomo Indiana” which is from the perspective of a love-lorn 17 year-old boy whose girlfriend moved to Australia for a summer exchange program.  It was a slower song with a slide guitar melody.

Michelle returned to the guitar for “Boyish” the catchy song from her old band Little Big League, with the chorus

I can’t get you off my mind
I can’t get you off in general
so here we are we’re just two losers
I want you and you want something more beautiful

Up next was “The Body is a Blade” with some slinky guitar lines.  After the song, someone triggered a sample of a crowd cheering, which was fun to hear and made Michele laugh.

Michelle put the guitar down again for “Essentially,” with a dynamite bass line that runs through the song.

Then she sat at the keyboard for the next song.  A new one called “Tactic.”  This is the first time she’s sat at the keyboard, “I feel very professional.” Her guitarist also played keys for this slow song.

She commented that it was lovely to see The Districts play–they are rehearsal space buddies and she felt it was surreal hearing them practice for the same show that her band was.

Then it as time for an old classic, the bouncy “Heft,” with a really nifty guitar line after the chorus.

During the quarantine, Michelle made a quarantine music project with Ryan from Crying.  The band is called BUMPER, and they released an EP called Pop Songs 2020.  She did a countrified version of the song “Ballad O” which was a look at both perspectives from Kenny Roger’s “Don’t Take Your Love To Town.”  Peter plays the slide guitar and the drummer sings the male parts.

She announced that her bass player Devon was going to get married (cue the fake cheers from the sampler) and so she was going to play a sing about marriage, “Til Death.”  This is the first song I’d heard from Japanese Breakfast many years ago and it always sounds great live.  The opening verse feels even more poignant today:

all our celebrities keep dying
while the cruel men continue to win

Then came a surprise cover: Tears for Fears’ “Head Over Heels.”  Musically it sounded spot on and I enjoyed her vocal take on it–not unusual or weird, just very differed with her voice instead of Roland Orzabal’s.  Then for the “da da da da” part at the end, three of The Districts came out (with masks on) to sing into one of the microphones.  It was a wonderful moment of live spontaneity (or not, but still) that is what makes live shows so much fun.

They followed that with a ripping version of “Everybody Wants to Love You.”  The drummer sang the backing vocals on this part to good effect.

Michelle took a moment before the last song to use her platform and say that of course “Black Lives Matter.  Not just saying it, it means marching and fighting.  Please vote.  We must work to defund the police and invest in our communities.”

That’s another thing I’d missed about live shows–bonding over good causes.

They ended with a “goofy” cover of a “Taste of Ink” by The Used.   I don’t know the song or the band, but it was a jangly bouncing song and the most rocking song of the night.

And then it was over.   While it was nice not having to drive an hour to get home, I still would have preferred to be there (although maybe not right now).

Diving Woman [§]
In Heaven [¶]
The Woman That Loves You [¶]
Road Head [§]
Kokomo, Indiana [new]
Boyish [Little Big League song]
The Body is a Blade [§]
Essentially [newish]
Tactic [new]
Heft [¶]
Ballad 0 [BUMPER song]
Til Death [§]
Head Over Heels [Tears for Fears cover]
Everybody Wants to Love You [¶]
Taste of Ink [The Used cover]

[§] Soft Sounds from Another Planet (2017)
[¶] Psychopomp (2016)

[READ: September 24, 2020] “Sultana’s Dream”

During the COVID Quarantine, venerable publisher Hingston & Olsen created, under the editorship of Rebecca Romney, a gorgeous box of 12 stories.  It has a die-cut opening to allow the top book’s central image to show through (each book’s center is different).  You can get a copy here.

This is a collection of science fiction stories written from 1836 to 1998.  Each story imagines the future–some further into the future than others.

As it says on the back of the box

Their future.  Our present.  From social reforms to climate change, video chat to the new face of fascism, Projections is a collection of 12 sci-fi stories that anticipated life in the present day.

About this story, Romney writes

I first learned about Muslim Bengalese feminist and writer Begum Rokeya through a massive landmark anthology: Ann and Jeff VanderMeer’s The Big Book of Science Fiction published in 2016. …  The story was first published in The Indian Ladies Journal in 1905…. She simply switches the roles of men and women in her Muslim society.  This may seem like a simple trick, but … writers of science fiction have long known that sometimes a switch on perspective is all it takes to illuminate truths that are otherwise obscure.

This story is pretty simple and straightforward.  A woman, Sultana, falls asleep.  She dreams (or is it real?) that a woman named Sister Sara has come to walk her through the streets of Darjeeling. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BUSCABULLA-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #66 (August 18, 2020).

I know of Buscabulla from some glowing reviews of their debut album.  Their story is an interesting one as well.

Buscabulla is made up of husband and wife Luis Alfredo Del Valle and Raquel Berrios, two Puerto Rico-born musicians who were based in New York until 2017. When their birthplace was devastated by Hurricanes Maria and Irma that year, they decided to leave New York and go back to where they were born. It was an emotional journey, one that inspired the songs of Regresa and which they chronicled for an upcoming mini-documentary.

Despite that setup, their music is soft and gentle–ethereal and beautiful.  Raquel Berrios’ voice is delicately echoed and sexy without being over the top.

Their setting for this Tiny Desk (Home) (Beach) Concert is the trunk of their van.  Luis del Valle has created a studio within the car that perfectly reflects the band’s sound.  So two of them are

sitting inside their car at the beach in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico performing their Tiny Desk (home) concert. It’s as if the bubble of being inside the car will protect them from any chances of encountering the virus on the beach. But it’s also a reflection of how the band’s atmospheric sonic textures get inside your head when we listen with headphones. Buscabulla set up shop in New York years ago, but returned to their home to help support the island’s redevelopment — thus their entry from the beach.

It looks almost like a Zoom meeting background, with the gentle waves lapping against the shore, although in the beginning of the video you can see some people walking on the beach.

The set starts with “Mio” which has a cool slinky bass line from Luis Del Valle and an inset video of JD Matías playing timbales and cowbell.  And although LD Valentín is laying down some nice backing keys (also in an inset), it’s Berrios who plays the trippy keyboard solo.

“Nydia” has a funkier bass line and layered spacey keys from Valentín. Berrios’ voice floats above all of it.

The duo have to maneuver a bit in that cramped space to play the final song.  Luis puts his bass outside of the car (!) and switches to keys.  Berrios also plays keys and this lovely set ends as beautifully as it began.

I’m not sure what kind of car this is, but it’s a pretty decent ad for trunk space–maybe Buscabulla could make some cash.  It’s also a pretty nice ad for the gorgeous beaches of Puerto Rico.

[READ: August 20, 2020] “You Are  My Dear Friend”

I thought this story was going to be about a British couple living in India, because it opens with a British couple living in India.  They are hosting a party and their daughters’ au-pair, Geeta, brings their two little girls to meet everyone.

One of the party goers is a middle-aged Indian man sitting by himself.  He looks old and tired.

A few days later Geeta is at the markets and she runs into this man.  She has trouble placing him at first then she realizes that this man, Srikanth, was the man from the party.  He talks with her and she resists engaging with him at first.  Then she rethinks, and turns to talk to the man.

They met a few more times and then decided to get married. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ANGELICA GARCIA-Tiny Desk Concert #968 (April 15, 2020).

I saw Angelica Garcia open for Phoebe Bridgers.  Her show started off okay but she totally won me over by the end.  She played guitar, she looped her voice and synths and was really impressive.  She also sang some songs in Spanish.

Well, two years later, Angelica Garcia is very different.

The biggest change is the amount of color she has added (when I saw her she was in a black floral print dress).  She is also embracing her heritage a bit more than when I saw her.  It was present then, but it is way out in front here.

Angelica Garcia decorated the Tiny Desk with colorful fabrics, orange flowers, a fuchsia dress, and a great deal of pride in what she calls her “Salva-Mex-American” heritage. Her song “Orange Flower” got my attention back in 2016, but I thought of her only as a Virginia rock and roller. Not anymore. Angelica Garcia’s music in the 2020s embraces her heritage, her life growing up in Los Angeles, and the ranchero music she heard from her family.

The show opens with a sample of a high pitched voice (presumably hers) saying “I wanna be like her.”  It works as a repeated sample in “Guadalupe.”  In this song

Angelica expresses respect for La Virgen de Guadalupe, the patron saint of Mexico, singing “I wanna be like her.” Guadalupe inspires her to declare that “power isn’t defined by your physique.”

But power comes from the loud rocking guitars from John Sizemore (what a great raw sound).  Josh McCormick plays big electronic drums, including some electronic cowbells.  In between the power chords, the melody is provided by a quiet and interesting keyboard sound from Ryan Jones

And let’s not overlook Garcia’s impressive voice.  She has power and a lot of diversity in her delivery.  She might even sound better than she did when I saw her.

The middle of the song has a breakdown where she and percussionist Kenneka Cook sing together a kind of scat.  Anchoring all of this is really great bass sound from Chrissie Lozano.

For “Valentina in the Moonlight” Angelica plays the quieter guitar melody (she’s really good).

This song is slower and quieter, a love song.  When the whole band kicks in, the song gets really full, with quiet guitar chords from Sizemore, while Garcia plays the main melody.  You can clearly hear Lozano’s nice bass sound in this song.

Angelica moved to Virginia at age seventeen. The songs she sings at the Tiny Desk, all from her album Cha Cha Palace, reflect the way she was seen, or more to the point, not seen, in her new home. “Jícama” captures that feeling of invisibility:

“Jícama” starts out with cha cha sounds.  Angelica sings with a pronounced accent.  I really like the splash cymbal sounds that accent her song.  When the whole band kicks in there’s a real Tex-Mex vibe  which feels like a children’s song melody, perhaps the best way to get the message across

“I see you, but you don’t see me
Jícama, jícama, guava tree
I been trying to tell ya but you just don’t see
Like you, I was born in this country.”

Angelica Garcia has definitely changed.  And for the better.

[READ: May 2, 2020] Strong Female Protagonist

Strong Female Protagonist is a webcomic which is on hiatus (although I don’t know for how long).

We’ve had this book floating around the house for a while and I’ve been meaning to read it.  I loved the title–so simple, so terrific.  I finally grabbed it off the shelf and decided today was the day.

I didn’t really know what the story was about and I found myself very surprised.  This proved to be a superhero story with a difference–a huge difference.  Both the origin story of the superpowers and the exploration of the ethics of superpowers are handled in a very different way.

One oft he big differences right up front was the language–these people say bad words… a lot.  It’s while reading this book that you realize you’ve never heard Superman or Spiderman say “fuck.”  But then these superheroes are not superheroes in the conventional sense. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: DAN TEPFER-Tiny Desk Concert #885 (August 29, 2019).

Most of the time, a Tiny Desk Concert is an opportunity to see an artist in a quiet almost unplugged setting.  Sometimes, it’s an opportunity to see a band really show off in a close space.  And sometimes a Tiny Desk Concert will blow your freaking mind.

Like this one.

I have never seen anything like this.

Dan Tepfer has created a program that plays the piano along with him.  It’s for a project he calls Natural Machines.

Watch the keys and you’ll see this Disklavier — a player piano — plucking notes on its own. But it’s not a prerecorded script.

Here’s how it works: Tepfer plays a note, and a computer program he authored reads those notes and tells the piano what to play in response. Tepfer can load different algorithms into the program that determine the pattern of playback, like one that returns the same note, only an octave higher. Another will play the inverted note based on the center of the piano keys. These rules create interesting restrictions that Tepfer says make room for thoughtful improvisation. In his words, he’s not writing these songs, so much as writing the way they work.

Tepfer plays free improvisation–he “makes things up and tries to be present in the moment” but the computer responds to him in real time based on rules.

He says for “Canon At The Octave” theres’ an axis of symmetry on the piano and “everything I play on one side if reflected on the other side.  Super simple, but it leads to musical problems that lead to real music.”

Since he is improvising, he is also reacting to what the computer makes.

He explains that “Tremolo” is when a note is repeated very quickly.  He gives the example of a violin player playing a note quickly.  It’s much harder on piano than a violin and it’s impossible to do more than ten notes at once.

He plays single notes that generate a series of chords playing quickly all at once–it’s really cool to watch the piano take off as if with a mind of its own.

But watching the piano isn’t the only cool thing

To better communicate what’s happening between him and the piano, Tepfer converted these audio-impulse data into visualizations on the screen behind him, displaying in real time the notes he plays followed by the piano’s feedback. [We dive even deeper into this project in a recent Jazz Night in America video piece].

He explains that these improvs are super short versions to show off how the programs work.

“TriadSculpture” is all about harmonic ratios.  Pythagoras discovered that sounds work with whole numbers.  The math behind music.  So Tepfer has mapped numbers as a 3-D object and he has been printing them–even more mind blowing.  The computer program generates these shapes–  everything he plays on his left hand creates those shaped in real time on the screen.

Perhaps the trickiest part here, unlike a human-to-human duo, is that the computer plays along with 100 percent accuracy based solely on Tepfer’s moves. He compares it to dancing with a robot that never misses a beat. Tepfer has to play in kind to keep the train on the tracks, but if he falls out of step, so does the computer.

Fortunately he never falls out of time (or at least it’s hard to tell since it’s all improvised.

The final piece is “Constant Motion” in which he plays a note and the computer responds to it by playing a note either up or down.  This creates a fun fast piece that explores the full range of the piano.  The visuals for it are very cool too.

I’m not sure if this would be fun to see live (at least any more fun than an improvising pianist is) because listening to it you don’t always really know what’s happening or that the piano is doing the work.  But seeing it up close like this is awesome.

[READ: August 21, 2019] Holy Cow

Like most people, ever since watching The X-Files, I’ve liked David Duchovny (why don’t you love me?).

I watched some of the Red Shoes Diaries just for him.  I watched some of Californication just for him (Didn’t have whatever network it was on, so never watched more than a bit of it).  But I’m always willing to give him a shot because I think he’s smart but goofy.

Enter Holy Cow.

This is Duchovny’s first novel and just what a pitch it must have been.

Hi, this is David Duchovny.  Yup, that one.  I’d like to write an adult book about a cow that wants to go to India once she finds out cows are worshiped there.  Yes, David Duchovny.

I had no idea he had written this book.  I just happened to see it on my library shelf when I was looking for something else.  The book was short and had (terrible) drawings in it and seemed like it would be absurdly funny.

So, with the caveat that if you think that a talking cow buying a plane ticket and going to Jerusalem with a pig and to Turkey with a turkey sounds stupid and juvenile.  Well, you’d be right.  But you’d be missing out on an enjoyable, silly romp if that kept you from reading it. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JAY FARRAR-NonComm (May 17, 2019).

I didn’t like Uncle Tupelo back in the day. So when they broke up I didn’t really care.  I was supposed to care about the alt-country movement, but I didn’t. So I wasn’t interested in Sun Volt or Wilco.

Years later I have really gotten into Wilco and I feel like I’m supposed to dislike Jay Farrar because of the acrimonous split back in the day. But heck without the split, there’d be no Wilco.

I’ve never given Jay Farrar or Son Volt much thought.  So here’s my first real listen to him.

In this setting I find that he sounds a lot like John Doe, a deep soulful voice with acoustic guitar and electric accompaniment.

Jay Farrar‘s soulful folk sound graced the NPR Music stage Friday afternoon for the last day of NonCOMM. While he softly strummed his acoustic guitar, his Son Volt bandmate Mark Spencer backed him up on electric.

This set was made up of Son Volt songs.

He started with “The Reason” a thoughtful song and an indicator of what the rest of the set would sound like.  Calm music, lovely harmonies and pretty backing guitars.

Up next was “Reality Winner” which he introduced as saying “she was put in jail for sharing the truth.”  It’s a powerful song about a real incident that made news at the time but, like so many other things, it was eclipsed by the daily insanity of our government.  From The Boot:

Reality Winner, born in the South Texas town of Alice, is a veteran of the United States Air Force. On June 3, 2017, Winner was arrested after leaking a confidential document to an online news site, The Intercept.  “It’s a really unjust situation where Reality Winner leaked information for the right reason,” Farrar tells The Boot. “She proved that there was Russian interference in the 2016 [presidential] election.”

The lyrics:

What have you done, Reality Winner?
Reality Winner, what have you done?
This jail is a stone-cold answer
The biggest mistake of a Texas lifetime
In this ballad of the commander-in-chief
Is there any mercy for this standing belief?
Felt like gaslighting, not something to just accept
Proud to serve, just not this president
Those that seek the truth will find the answers

Up next was “Devil May Care”

Spencer harmonized with Farrar on a few songs; their vocals joined beautifully together for the chorus of “Devil May Care.”

There isn’t a lot of diversity in these songs.  Farrar’s voice is great but doesn’t change all that much.  They are good folk/country songs.  But I think it might be his presence that makes these song work so well:

The crowd was singing along to Farrar’s set and there was a feeling of mutual respect flowing between the performer and his audience. He has a stage presence that’s just plain cool. Not everyone can wear sunglasses inside without looking like a total jerk.

He introduced the next song saying that these songs are on the new Son Volt album of protest songs.  You may say “What is there to protest and I’d say Just about everything.”

Before singing “Union,” Farrar made a statement about there being protests about everything lately. He continued to tell this story through song while Spencer killed it on steel guitar.

This is a simple song that lays out our country’s divide and recounts Farrar’s father’s belief about the need for something to bind the country together: “He said national service/ Will keep the union together.”

“The 99” is also straightforward.  It may not be timely in the title (I don’t think people use that phrase as much anymore), but the sentiment is spot on:

Journalists in jail covering the scenes
The profit columns rise for the corporate machines
Take the stand now, protest and holler
Desecration of the land for the almighty dollar
Ninety-nine percent
Ninety-nine percent
It’s a trickle-down world
Like you’re stuck in cement

All of the songs were from the new album Union, but he ends the set with an old song.

The mood was brought back up as the set concluded with “Windfall”, a two-decade-old Son Volt song [from Trace].

It is certainly more positive, I guess from back when things were a bit better (the 90s).

[READ: June 3, 2019] “A Dream of Glorious Return”

It’s not often that people intentionally read twenty-year old news.  Maybe for historical reasons or, in my case, because you want to read a piece by a particular author.

So here is a twenty-year old essay from Salman Rushdie about the first time he returned to India after the fatwa had been put on his head twelve years earlier.

He returned to India in April 2000 (I guess the 90s weren’t great for Rushdie).

But first he talks about the many times he left India.  First when he was thirteen and went to boarding school in Rugby, England.  While he was away his father sold their family home in Bombay.  Salman was devastated and is still angry about it.  He believes he would be living there today if they still owned it. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: CAROLINA EYCK AND CLARICE JENSEN-Tiny Desk Concert #816 (January 11, 2019).

There have been a lot of bands I have first heard of on Tiny Desk and whom I hope to see live one day.  Carolina Eyck and Clarice Jensen are two women I would love to see live–together or separately.

The concert opens with a looping voice (Carolina’s) and what appears to be her using a theremin to play looped samples.  And then soon enough, she starts showing off how awesome she is at the futuristic 100-year-old instrument.

Carolina Eyck is the first to bring a theremin to the Tiny Desk. The early electronic instrument with the slithery sound was invented almost 100 years ago by Leon Theremin, a Soviet scientist with a penchant for espionage. It looks like a simple black metal box with a couple of protruding antennae, but to play the theremin like Eyck does, with her lyrical phrasing and precisely “fingered” articulation, takes a special kind of virtuosity.

After playing a remarkably sophisticated melody on the theremin (with suitable trippy effects here and there), for about three minutes, she explains how the instrument works.  She even shows a very precise scale.

The position of the hands influences electromagnetic fields to produce pitch and volume. Recognized as one of today’s preeminent theremin specialists, Eyck writes her own compositions, such as the pulsating “Delphic” which opens the set, and she’s got big shot composers writing theremin concertos for her.

Up next is Clarice Jensen with “her wonderful cello.”

Joining Eyck for this two-musician-in-one Tiny Desk is cellist Clarice Jensen. When she’s not making gorgeous, drone-infused albums like last year’s For This From That Will be Filled, Jensen directs one of today’s leading new music outfits, ACME, the American Contemporary Music Ensemble.

Jensen doesn’t explain what’s going on, but she makes some amazing sounds out of that instrument–she’s clearly got pedals and she modifies and loops the sounds she’s making.

“Three Leos,” composed by Jensen, offers her masterful art of looping the cello into symphonic layers of swirling, submerged choirs with a wistful tune soaring above.

Vak Eyck comes back for the final song, a wonderfully odd duet of cello and theremin.

The two musicians close with “Frequencies,” a piece jointly composed specifically for this Tiny Desk performance. Amid roiling figures in cello and melodies hovering in the theremin, listen closely for a wink at the NPR Morning Edition theme music.

Van Eyck make soaring sounds, while Jensen scratches and squeals the cello.  Within a minute Jensen is playing beautiful cello and Van Eyck is flicking melodies out of thin air.

[READ: June 24, 2017] Less

It wasn’t until several chapters into this book that I realized I had read an excerpt from it (and that’s probably why I grabbed it in the first place).  I also had no idea it won the Pulitzer (PULL-It-ser, not PEW-lit-ser) until when I looked for some details about it just now.

It opens with a narrator talking about Arthur Less.  He describes him somewhat unflatteringly but more in a realistic-he’s-turning-fifty way, than a displeased way.

And soon the humor kicks in.

The driver who arrives to take Less to an interview assumes he is a woman because she found his previous novel’s female protagonist so compelling and persuasive that she was sure the book was written by a woman (and there was no author photo).  So she has been calling out for “Miss Arthur,” which he has ignored because he is not a woman.  This makes him late and, strangely, apologetic.

He is in New York to interview a famous author H. H. H. Mandern who has, at the last moment, come down with food poisoning.

It takes only ten pages to get the main plot out of the way:

Less is a failed novelist about to turn fifty. A wedding invitation arrived in the mail: his boyfriend of the past nine years is about to be married to someone else. He can’t say yes–it would be too awkward–and he can’t say no–it would look like defeat. The solution might just be on his desk –a series of invitations to half-baked literary events around the world.  Can he simply get out of town, and go around the world, as a way to avoid looking foolish? (more…)

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815SOUNDTRACK: BORIS-Pink (2005/2016).

You never know exactly what you’re going to get with an experimental band like Boris.  Well, you sort of know what you’re going to get–it will be loud and heavy (mostly).

Boris is and pretty much always has been a trio from Japan: Takeshi on vocals, and double neck bass/ guitar;  Atsuo on drums and some vocals and Wata – with guitars effects and vocals.

.  Their first album came out in 1996 and was a 60 minute continuous piece of drone metal.  It is considered ground breaking (and ground shaking) and is completely influential.  It (along with half of their catalog) is currently out of print, at least in the U.S.  Boris is also nigh impossible to collect all of their music, if you like that sort of thing.  Their Japanese releases are inevitably different from any American release (and sometimes vinyl differs from CD).  Either by track order or length of song or even the mix of particular songs

A decade and eight (plus) releases later with names like Amplifier Worship and Heavy Rocks, they put out Pink.

Pink is a landmark album for Boris (two years ago they toured the album),  because even though it was still incredibly heavy, it also experimented.  Most notably with shoegaze.

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Pink has a specific track listing on both American and Japanese releases, but the vinyl mixes things up.

The CD releases open with “決別” (“Farewell”) a beautiful soaring 7 minute slow song with a catchy chord sequence and lovely ringing guitars.  Although the beauty is interrupted by Wata’s wailing guitar solos.  She plays some wonderful soaring notes although at times they are rather piercing.  But it’s still kind of soothing and dreamy

Until track 2, when “Pink” scorches forth with a  super fast super heavy super guitar blast.  Four minutes of all out metal with soaring guitars, heavy drums and some appropriate screams from drummer/singer Atsuo.  And if you listen with headphones, there may be two or three guitars echoing in there (in addition to Wata, Tetsuo exclsuivly plays a doubleneck bass/guitar so you never really know what you’re going to get form him next.

The two and a half-minute “スクリーンの女” (“Woman on the Screen”) continues the thrash while the two-minute “別になんでもない” (“Nothing Special”) only increases it with a guitar so fuzzed out as to be almost recognizable.

“ブラックアウト” (“Blackout”) shows another side of the band.   Still loud, still heavy, but grindingly slow and sludgy (those shoegaze days are long gone).  The song ends with nearly a minute of ringing feedback before abruptly cutting off and switching to a more standard heavy metal sound in the 75 second instrumental “Electric.”

“偽ブレッド” (“Pseudo-Bread”) stomps along with fast drums and all kinds of distortion.  It’s even got a kind of mumbly sing-along chorus.  In the second half of these song there’s a great riff and even some “ooh oohs” to sing along to.  It’s really catchy until the ten seconds of noise tacked on at the end (the vinyl version extends this sheer brutal wall of noise to six minutes!).

“ぬるい炎” (“Afterburner”) changes tempo a lot.  It sounds like a big old 1970s rock song with chanted vocals and hand claps.  Wata’s solo is pure old school classic rock.  Prominent drums and highly distorted guitars split headphones as the vocals sit in the middle of the three-minute “6を3つ” (“Six, Three Times”).

“My Machine” is only two minutes on the CD, but it is eleven on the vinyl.  The Cd version taken from the middle of the song–where there’s more bass and echoed guitars underneath, while the eleven minute version has soaring guitars and washes of waves moving back and forth.  It’s dreamy and lovely until the ending feedback, of course.  But that fades out and then it’s just relaxing washes of waves until the main melody pokes it head back up briefly and then fades once more.  There’s a kind of rumble for the last minute or so of the extended version which leads into “Farewell” on the vinyl.  But the CD continues with “俺を捨てたところ” (“Just Abandoned Myself”).  On the American release, it’s eighteen minutes long, although it’s only ten minutes on the Japanese version.

The song is a favorite of many fans.  It’s got a totally catchy riff with distant vocals singing a catchy melody.  It’s like 7 minutes of a super catchy metal song with great vocals, a catchy melody and a terrific baseline riff.  There’s some very cool sounds that bounce around the song too.  Around eight minutes the heaviness goes away and soaring guitars take over, but with a low rumble to keep it grounded.  The next six or so minutes are pretty much classic metal drone–two chords repeated slowly while a feebacking guitar wails over the top.  The only difference is the kind of quieter guitar that;s sort of soloing throughout–almost plucking out notes amid the noise.

Pink was reissued in 2016 as a deluxe two disc package.  The second disc is called Forbidden Songs with nine well-produced and great-sounding tracks.

“Your Name Part 2” is dreamy and melodic.  It opens quietly almost like a spaghetti western with some bass notes, soaring guitar notes, and quietly echoed vocals.  “Heavy Rock Industry” starts with some loud droning chords and then about a minute an a half in there’s just drums and Atsuo whooping until the song takes off again.  “SOFUN” is four minutes of a heavy pummeling riff and scorching solos.

“non/sha/lant” is like a heavy short jam with bass riffage and soloing followed by some guitar work.  “Room Noise” is catchy with a cool bassline and soaring guitars.  “Talisman” is slow and heavy with loud distortion.  There’s a shouted chorus with heavy downtuned guitars that makes it almost singalongy.

“N.F. Sorrow” is nearly eight minutes long.  starts off slow with echoed vocals and a shaker.  It’s a quiet moody piece that builds to a heavy chorus with rumbling slow bass.  When the song really gets moving around 6 minutes there’s some great driving bass under Wata’s solo.

“Are You Ready?” is a simple two note riff on the guitar with a chorus of loudly whispered menace.  The song fades on a wild solo.  And the bonus disc ends with the 2 minute “Tiptoe” a quiet piece of gently plucked guitars and echoed notes that resolves into a really catchy melody.

Boris has dozens of records out but this is certainly the place to start–you get to experience pretty much all phases of the band.

[READ: July 21, 2015] “Lost Luggage”

This was the 2015 New Yorker fiction issue.  It featured several stories and several one-page essays from writers I like.  The subject this time was “Time Travel.”

Mueenudin imagines travelling back in time to the 1930s when India was still unified, to visit his father when he was young.

His father was a lawyer and when he studied at Oxford, the girls nicknamed him The Shiek. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JAMILA WOODS-Tiny Desk Concert #699 (January 29, 2018).

Jamila Woods is the Associate Artistic Director of Young Chicago Authors, the non-profit organization behind the Louder Than a Bomb youth poetry slam festival.  She also did guest vocals on a slew of albums recently.

Last year she released her debut album HEAVN.  But there is so much more

Singer, songwriter, poet, educator and community organizer Jamila Woods is also a freedom fighter: a voice that celebrates black ancestry, black feminism and black identity. “Look at what they did to my sisters last century, last week,” goes a line from “Blk Girl Soldier,” her powerful opening number at the Tiny Desk.

A cool bass line from Erik Hunter opens “Blk Girl Soldier.”  I don’t love the music that much (too jazz lite for me) but the lyrics are outstanding

We go missing by the hundreds…
The camera loves us, Oscar doesn’t…
They want us in the kitchen
Kill our sons with lynchings
We get loud about it
Oh now we’re the bitches

Woods’ delivery is fantastic and the backing vocals (and keys) from Aminata Burton add a nice touch.  Throughout this song and the others the drums are great–different sounds and rhythms from Ralph Schaefer.

Woods followed “Blk Girl Soldier” with “Giovanni,” another anthem of black female pride, inspired by the Nikki Giovanni poem “Ego Tripping.” The original text includes no punctuation, not a single comma or period, and reveals a liberated prosody that is also illustrated in the song. Listen how her lyricism interplays with the rhythm section’s syncopated groove to create a captivating state of emotional buoyancy.

I love the stops and starts and the groovy bass and soaring guitars from Justin Canavan.  But once again, I’m more enamored of her lyrics

Little Bitty you wanna call me
100 motherfuckers can’t tell me
How I’m supposed to look when I’m angry
How I’m supposed to shriek when you’re around me

“Holy” opens with just keys and a punctuating drum beat.  This song is a slower one and it is all about self-empowerment.

Of particular note is her recurring theme of self-love, as heard in “Holy,” the last song in this set: “Woke up this morning with my mind set on loving me.” (What a refreshing affirmation to hear “loving me,” instead of the predictable “loving you.”)

I don’t like R&B, but I could see this album transcending that for me.

[READ: November 12, 2017] The Resurrection of Joan Ashby

I received an email from A.M. Homes touting this book (obviously, I wasn’t the only one).  It was quite an encouraging email so I decided to give this fascinating book a try.  Boy, did I love it.

The book opens with a clip from the Fall issue of Literature Magazine.   It is a story about Joan Ashby, wondering where she has been all of these years.  The article says that they have been allowed to look at her childhood notebooks.

At thirteen she wrote nine precepts she was determined to follow in order to become a writer

  1. Do not waste time
  2. Ignore Eleanor when she tells me I need friends
  3. Read great literature every day
  4. Write every day
  5. Rewrite every day
  6. Avoid crushes and love
  7. Do not entertain any offer of marriage
  8. Never ever have children
  9. Never allow anyone to get in my way

Eight years later she burst onto the scene with her first collection of short stories about incest, murder, insanity, suicide, abandonment and the theft of lives called Other Small Spaces.  Four years later in 1989 her second book Fictional Family Life was a collection of superbly interlocked stories.

She was considered brutal and unsparing and wrote very powerfully.

During all of this time, her parents were irrelevant–they didn’t seem to think much about her when she was young and when she became successful she had little to do with them.

The “magazine” prints excerpts from these stories and here is where Wolas really shines.  She creates story fragments that really show off what a great writer Ashby (and of course, by extension, Wolas) is.

These are followed by an interview and her last public sighting–a reading of her work.  It was at this reading that her first shock was revealed–she had gotten married.  And when she toured for the second book, the women who revered her were outraged by this betrayal.

The opening section is “continued after the break” which is basically the rest of the book. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: A DIFFERENT KIND OF CHRISTMAS (1994).

This is one of the first alternative Christmas albums I bought.  I don’t listen to it that much because I tend to think it’s not that good (the cover is pretty uninspired).  But there’s actually quite a lot of good stuff on this.

SYD STRAW-“The Christmas Twist”
I’m happy to report that the “twist” is not some dark storyline, but an actual dance of The Twist.  Syd has written a Twist and it’s fun and dancey with plenty of Christmas lines to sing along to.  It’s a great opening track.

SHONEN KNIFE-“Space Christmas”
Shonen Knife does what they do best–short fast punky pop songs.  This one about a space Christmas, of course.

NRBQ-“A Christmas Wish”
I know this from the She & Him version.  I didn’t realize I had the original.  It’s sweet and cute with a really catchy and lovely melody in the “people all over the world” line.

BRUCE COCKBURN-“Mary Had A Baby”
This is one of those call and response songs that is very repetitive and goes on for too long.  If it was shorter it would be fun.

The dB’s-“Home For The Holidays”
This is kind of a stomping country song. It’s got a cool stomp stomp in the middle.  At under 3 minutes it’s just right.

SHELLYAN ORPHAN-“Ice” [NSFC]
I love the vocals and the song is quite pretty.  But this song is a downer (I don’t like Christmas anymore) and at over 5 minutes is not really good Christmas party music.

FISHBONE-“It’s A Wonderful Life”
Man I love this song.  It’s a super fun and dancey ska song that cites It’s a Wonderful Life and is just full of fun and pep.

POI DOG PONDERING-“Mele Kalikimaka”
It’s funny to hear this Hawaiian song done in this New Orleans brass style.  It’s a fun song regardless of who is doing it.

T-BONE BURNETT-“God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen”
This opens as a pretty instrumental version of this song on acoustic guitar and violin.  Lovely.  The vocals are fine, but I’d have preferred it with no words–the instrumentation was really striking,

TIMBUK 3-“All I Want For Christmas” [NSFC]
I really disliked Timbuk 3 back in the 1980s.  But I find their strange deliver to be reminiscent of X and I’m quite attracted to their style.  I like this song a lot. Although I can’t endorse a Christmas song about WWIII.  And I suppose lyrically, it’s a bit naive.  But the music is fantastic.

DAVE EDMUNDS-“Run, Rudolph Run”
I don;t know that anyone can get me to enjoy this song. Certainly not this vert standard version of it.

SHAWN COLVIN-“Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”
Shawn has a lovely voice and this song is delightful.  It’s a simple piano version with some gentle accompaniment.  Interestingly, this does not appear on her own Christmas album (see the 24th), probably because it might be too upbeat–she does get a bit carried away, vocally, by the end.

So there’s nothing stellar on this disc (except Fishbone), but it’s a solid collection of alternative versions of songs and a few solid originals.

[READ: October 19, 2017] Pashmina

I wanted to love this book so much.  It has so many awesome elements.  The black and white to color juxtapositions are wonderful.  The colors are gorgeous and Chanani’s drawing style is simple but charming and effective.

And I think wanting to like this book as much as I did is why I wound up not enjoying it as much as I wanted.

And that’s because it feel like there’s a lot left out of the book–I wanted it to be twice as long.

This story is about Priyanka, a young Indian-American girl.  She is raised by her mother (and knows literally nothing about her father–her mother won’t say a word about him). (more…)

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