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Archive for the ‘Russia’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: PUSSY RIOT-“Virgin Mary, Put Putin Away” (2012).

This song, barely two minutes long, is what caused all of the stir around Pussy Riot.

Pussy Riot are an anarchic artistic collective in Russia.  They aim to provoke and provoke is what they do.

Their history and legacy (even the Wikipedia summary) are pretty fascinating.

So in this song (and video), a “choir” sings a holy-sounding chorus for 22 seconds.  Abruptly, a raw home recorded punk song takes over.

Everything is sung in Russian:

(choir) Virgin Mary, Mother of God, put Putin away Рut Putin away, put Putin away (end chorus)

Black robe, golden epaulettes All parishioners crawl to bow
The phantom of liberty is in heaven
Gay-pride sent to Siberia in chains The head of the KGB, their chief saint,
Leads protesters to prison under escort
In order not to offend His Holiness Women must give birth and love
Shit, shit, the Lord’s shit! Shit, shit, the Lord’s shit!

(Chorus)

The Church’s praise of rotten dictators The cross-bearer procession of black limousines
A teacher-preacher will meet you at school
Go to class – bring him money!
Patriarch Gundyaev believes in Putin Bitch, better believe in God instead
The belt of the Virgin can’t replace mass-meetings Mary, Mother of God, is with us in protest!

After 50 seconds its back to the choir (and the chorus) and  then the punk verses start again.

It’s fairly catchy given what it’s doing.  There’s one more chorus at the end of the song at 1:30 and just like that, it’s over.

Provocation complete.

[READ: April 26, 2021] We Are Pussy Riot Or Everything is P.R.

As the subtitle of this play suggests, this is a reenactment (of a kind) of the Pussy Riot art installation that got them arrested, and the subsequent trial and imprisonment of two members.

The above video shows the events of that day in February 2012 when five masked (in balaclavas) women climbed onto the altar of the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow and…danced.

The women were provocatively dressed (by Moscow church standards–they wore bright colors and tights under dresses) and they went on to the altar–a place where no woman (except the cleaning lady) was to ever set foot.

The dialogue of the play inspired by trial transcripts and statements by public officials (Vladimir Putin, Patriarch Kirill) which are available on the internet.  So while Hammond does use creative license, this is a pretty realistic reenactment of events.

The Dramatis Personae is listed in various formations depending on the size of your cast.  But the important main characters are Nadya, Masha and Katya as well as Sergei, a composite of male political activists, prisoners and artists.

The Russian feminist art collective Pussy Riot was formed in the fall of 2011.  Pussy Riot was inspired by the yurodivy (Holy Fools) of Russian history whose purpose was to wake people up to what was going on around them.

In February 2012 they uploaded the above video, “Virgin Mary, Chase Putin Away.”  The video, as you can see, is set on that altar, where women are forbidden.  The Kremlin and the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church took notice.  Three of the four women were hunted down and arrested for “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred.”

When this play was written, Vladimir Putin had just changed the constitution so he could be president for life.  In the story Sergei comments, “So he likes his job. Who can blame him?”

The introduction says that in 2014 Pussy Riot became a brand–this branded Pussy Riot was set to tour the U.S. and I had a ticket until the pandemic cancelled everything.

Nadya has always said that “Feminism that doesn’t benefit men is not my feminism.”  The members are female but they are fighting for all.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about the play is the way it starts. The doors to the theater are locked and everyone–cast and audience are milling about while a group of guards block the way in.  Eventually Pussy Riot members start to cause a scene in the lobby and then blend in with the audience.  When the audience is allowed in they are given a scarf as a head covering.  But pussy riot members try to give them balaclavas instead–the play is quite interactive. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKKIRK FRANKLIN-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #175 (February 25, 2021).

Religion is inextricably linked to gospel music, which I think is rather a shame became gospel music can be a lot of fun, regardless of the lyrics.

If I wanted religion in my music I would call on Kirk Franklin in a heartbeat.  His songs are super catchy and inspirational and he is a great band leader.

For nearly 30 years, Franklin has been widely regarded for revolutionizing gospel. He incorporated secular music, particularly hip-hop, while preserving the message and integrity of traditional gospel. Here, he and his powerhouse choir pace through a decades-long, sixteen Grammy award winning discography of faith, praise and encouragement while cracking plenty of jokes. I cannot recall a more moving Tiny Desk home performance.

The set begins with “Love Theory.”  Franklin doesn’t even sing on this one, leaving it up to the rest of his singers [from left to right Darian Elliot, Eboni Ellerson , Michael Bethany, Deon Yancey, Melodie Pace,  Tia Rudd] to croon the melodies.

He gets up and claps his hands.  He even does some dancing behind the keys.  His energy is undeniable.   And actually, this one could be secular: “I don’t love nobody but you.”  By the end of the song, he tells everyone to make it bounce y’all and the funky bass from Matthew Ramsey kicks in heavy.

Kirk Franklin, set up with his band and choir in a corner of Uncle Jessie’s Kitchen, makes a declaration. “I know you’re at home right now, in your draws, listening to some Jesus music. It’s ok. Jesus loves you in your draws!”  Those are your draws!  He blessed you with those draws.

“Silver and Gold” slows things down old school.  Franklin plays the piano but it’s all about the harmonies that the singers include.  They keep building on the word “gold” getting bigger and bigger to a huge, outstanding peak.

The Arlington, Texas studio, named after a long time close friend, features a large photo of the iconic “I AM A MAN” protest signs from the 1968 Memphis Sanitation Strike on the wall. The jubilant energy that Franklin and company emit, juxtaposed with a visual reminder of the strife that Black people have endured is illustrative of the importance of gospel music in the Black community.

He continues “If you still haven’t put any clothes on yet we gonna groove a little bit more. You in one sock, I see you with just one sock with a flip flop or a house shoe.  I see you.  You look crazy but Jesus loves you still.

“Melodies From Heaven” has a quieter intro, but it builds bigger and then Franklin gets up and dances around the room while Shaun Martin plays the keyboard and Terry Baker plays some crashing drums–But its all about that wild bass.

The song ends abruptly.  He says that’s all you gonna get now … but after the pandemic I’m coming to your house and I’m bringing everybody and we gonna do this in your living room, your living room–everybody gets a concert.

For the final song “I Smile” he gives this positive intro:

All you gotta do, no matter what you face, even if you don’t have all your teeth, even if you got one good tooth all you gotta do is smile.

It’s a fun, boppy song with some more terrific drums at the end.

If all church was like this, more people might go.

[READ: March 31, 2021] “Sixty-Nine Cents”

The September 3, 2007 issue of the New Yorker contained several essays by their writers about the subject “Family Dinner.”

Gary Shteyngart’s family moved to the United States when he was young and by the time he was fourteen, his accent was mostly gone.

He now had three goals: to go to Florida and Disneyworld, to have a girl say she liked him and to eat at McDonald’s.

His parents did not believe in spending money–they bought clothes “by weight on Orchard Street.”  Despite their frugality, their parents agreed on a trip to Disney.  The tickets were free after a timeshare presentation.
“You’re from Russia?
“Leningrad … please Disney tickets now.”

They drove to Florida and stayed in cheap motels along the way. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKOWEN PALLETT: Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #113 (November 17, 2020).

I know Owen Pallett from their performance at Massey Hall.  It was beautifully layered orchestral pop.

Typically they loop the songs to make them bigger, but or this set, Owen changed things up.

Owen recorded four songs in multiple stages on different instruments: first, they played acoustic guitar and sang; then they performed the songs again, but this time on violin and viola; finally, Owen layered the recordings in post-production, not really knowing what the final versions would sound like. They explain the whole process, charmingly, between songs.

The setlist here is complete different from the one from Massey Hall.  Although like a that show, he mixes some songs from his first album (released as the band Final Fantasy) as well as he official solo songs.

From a bedroom in Toronto, Owen traverses their musical history, opening with a dreamy song from 2005’s debut album (as Final Fantasy), Has a Good Home, 

His guitar melody is beautiful and the layers of strings make this song feel big and pastoral.  His voice is gentle and lovely.

Before the second song, “Cliquot,” he says that in 2007, he went to Quebec with the band Beirut to write songs and record his EP Spectrum, 14th Century. and Beirut’s album The Flying Club Cup. Zach Condin gave him an instrumental and asked Owen would write a melody, lyrics and sing lead.  They don’t play it live probably because it’s really really gay and Zach doesnt want any more werotci fan fiction writen about the two of them.

Beautiful string melodies in between verses.

“Perseverance of the Saints” is from Owen’s latest record, Island. Here it’s transformed from arpeggiated piano to guitar, and I love the tone it sets.

It is so gentle with swirling strings and a gentle melody.

Owen not only performed each instrument in separate takes, but also did all the production work: recording, filming and editing. A remarkable talent captured in a candlelit bedroom.

“Song for Five & Six” is from his 2014 album In Conflict.  He says when he loops live things to end to get “overwritten and annoying,” so he’s looking forward to playing this with arpeggiated guitar instead of synth.

This song was written about an incident he saw on the Orkney Islands.  After playing some kind of ball game, the men and boys, covered in mud, would climb on the back of a flatbed truck and ride through town banging sticks on the side of the truck.  He thought it was a beautiful image and probably the only pure thing that the men have ever done.

He sings in a gentle falsetto and there’s some gorgeous strings.

[READ: December 19, 2020] “The Snowstorm”

This year, S. ordered me The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This is my fifth time reading the Calendar.  I didn’t know about the first one until it was long out of print (sigh), but each year since has been very enjoyable.  Here’s what they say this year

You know the drill by now. The 2020 Short Story Advent Calendar is a deluxe box set of individually bound short stories from some of the best writers in North America.

This year’s slipcase is a thing of beauty, too, with electric-yellow lining and spot-glossed lettering. It also comes wrapped in two rubber bands to keep those booklets snug in their beds.

As always, each story is a surprise, so you won’t know what you’re getting until you crack the seal every morning starting December 1. Once you’ve read that day’s story, check back here to read an exclusive interview with the author.

It’s December 19.  Alexander Pushkin, author of Eugene Onegin, died in 1837 and so was unreachable for comment. [Click the link to the H&O extras for the story].

I have not read any stories by Pushkin before and I really enjoyed this one (translated by T. Keane).

Set in 1811, this story revolves around a young woman who has fallen in love with a young man whose station is far beneath her.  And such great quotes!

Maria Gavrilovna had been brought up on French novels, and consequently was in love.  The object of her choice was a poor sub-lieutenant in the army, who was then on leave of absence in his village.  It need scarcely be mentioned that the young man returned her passion with equal ardor, and that the parents of his beloved one, observing their mutual inclination, forbade their daughter to think of him.

They wrote to each other every day.  At last they decided that they would run off and get married in secret.  They would then hide away for a time and come back to throw themselves at their parents’ feet for their blessings. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: WIRE-Tiny Desk Concert #976 (May 27, 2020).

I feel that it is something of a failure on my part that I never really got into Wire.

Although I don’t know why, I will never forget that their 1988 album is called A Bell is a Cup … Until It is Struck (I was working at a radio station when it came out and “Kidney Bingos” was a minor hit).  But I never really followed through with them.

Bob Boilen, on the other hand, is a huge fan.

For me, it was beyond surreal to watch Wire performing at my desk, in broad daylight, in 2020. I spent many an evening over the past 40 years, listening to their original, artful bursts of noise and imagery, seeing them in dark clubs in the ’80s and beyond. From the time I first heard them in 1977, few bands have encapsulated my musical aesthetics like Wire.

There have been some hiatuses for Wire since their debut in 1977 (from 1981-1985 and 1993-1999) but each time they reunited, it was the original four person lineup.

It was only ten years ago that guitarist Bruce Gilbert officially left the band.  But at the Tiny Desk,

there they were, with three original bandmates: Colin Newman, singing his enigmatic poetry, and those driving rhythms of Graham Lewis on bass and Robert Grey (aka Robert Gotobed) on drums. Matthew Simms was the “new” bandmate, having now played with the band for the past 10 years.

Thankfully, Wire plays four songs (they still only play for 15 minutes and they are Bob’s favorite band).

What’s most remarkable is how the sound of songs such as “Cactused” from their 17th album, Mind Hive, sit so well next to “French Film Blurred” from their 1978 album — and one of my favorite records ever made — Chairs Missing.

“Cactused” has a cool chugging rhythm and bass.  Newman sings in his deadpan, almost spoken delivery.  Newman plays the little guitar leads while.  It stops on a dime.  This band is tight.

“Be Like Them” is also new.  I love this song.  It’s got a slinky guitar riff which is  accompanied by three loud thumps (drums and bass) to accent the verses.  Simms plays a really cool noise-filled “solo” (really just some noisy chords) in the middle of the song.  Newman is once again kind of deadpan reciting his lyrics.

“French Film Blurred” is from 1978. It’s got an unusual riff and Newman sings a bit more than speaks, although he is still restrained.  They make great use of the two guitars with Simms adding all kinds of sounds while Newman plays the main melody.

Everyone tunes and then Newman says they’re going to play “an obscurity from the 80s that we revived into the current set.”  “The Offer” is from 1989’s ITABA.  It’s slower and rather quiet.  There’s even some gently picked guitar parts from Simms. But as it nears the end the song gets louder and louder with Sims adding a distorted and a flanging guitar.   The songs seems like it’s over, but while everything is ringing out, Newman pays a few ending chords.

Try and imagine your favorite artist today, playing a concert in someone’s office in 2062 and still having an emotional impact with extraordinary new songs. As I said, it’s beyond surreal and genuinely thrilling.

Wire played their Washington DC show on March 9, so that’s probably when this concert occurred (and therefore MUST have been the final Tiny Desk Concert before the quarantine].  Wire were playing Philly on March 10.  I had considered going but I had a lot of other shows to see in March so I didn’t want to overload.

This set was so good, I wish I had gone to see them. Maybe they’ll be back in 2021.

[READ: May 20, 2020] Five Years #10

This is the final issue of Five Years (I think).

It was supposed to be released during the Coronavirus epidemic.  But Abstract Studios offered a special cover (so I don’t know what the proper cover looks like yet).

NEWS: We’re going to release a tiny print run of Five Years #10 for subscribers, & anyone who wants one really. This is for those reading the single issues who don’t want to wait months to read the final chapter. If not a subscriber, you can pre-order a copy in our store now. Just CLICK HERE.

The rumor is Diamond Comics will reopen this summer and we will be able to stagger release issue 9 and 10 to the general public then. 9 is sitting in their warehouse, waiting like a rodeo bull. For the small number hooked on the single issues, we feel you deserve 10 now, because without your monthly support the series couldn’t have happened at all.

So I bought the limited edition cover because I wanted to finish the series.  I didn’t think he could possibly end the series with this issue as it seemed like there was too much up in the air. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: LANKUM-Tiny Desk Concert #975 (May 18, 2020).

At some point “new” Tiny Desk Concerts are going to stop being released to the site.  Given what the blurb says, it’s possible that this is the last one they recorded.

The band is super tight musically and I really enjoy the way they play traditional Irish music with a slight modern twist.

Bob Boilen loves this band and if it was the last Tiny Desk Concert for awhile, it seems like it was a good one for him to end on:

All of this was a build-up to a Tiny Desk concert I’ll never forget. I, too, am a massive fan of the drones from the uilleann pipes, harmonium, concertina and the stunning voice of Radie Peat. The Livelong Day to my ears has as much in common with Irish tradition as it does to electronic music, though everything they do is acoustic.

“The Wild Rover” is a nine minute song that builds slowly from its opening melody.  Daragh Lynch plays a repetitive quiet guitar chord high up on the neck and Cormac MacDiarmada plays a slow fiddle.  Radie Peat sings (in her very Oirish accent) while (I guess) playing the harmonium (although she doesn’t seem to be pumping it).  Ian Lynch adds an occasional note from  baritone English concertina.   After each verse (about drinking) all four of them sing the harmony chorus.  And after each chorus the song gets a bit louder–more concertina, louder fiddle.

Then surprisingly at 5 minutes after building so much, all the music drops out except for Lynch’s quiet guitar high notes as all four of them sing in close harmony.   Then MacDiarmada plays a fiddle solo and by the 7 minute mark the band starts playing with real discord as the harmonium and fiddle start playing slightly askew notes at the end of each line–adding yet more tension.

The song feels like it has taken you on a journey of its own.

Ian Lynch tells everyone that they are from Dublin (what a strong accent) and that they had lots of problems getting here.

Lankum’s journey from Ireland to the Tiny Desk was a wild and bumpy adventure. First, visa problems forced them to cancel their late February date. A week later, much of the world is more worried about COVID-19, though daily patterns here hadn’t changed. They arrived in New York, hopped in their van to Washington, D.C., only to have that break down. Finally, after all that, some good news: While in their new van heading to the Tiny Desk, the Dublin quartet received news that its brilliant album The Livelong Day had won Ireland’s Choice Music Prize Album of the Year!

The next song “The Young People” sounds very different.  It feels very traditional.  Daragh Lynch switches guitars and plays without a capo.  The sound is so deep compared to the previous song.  Daragh and Ian sing this slow, quiet song. I think Cormac MacDiarmada is playing the viola.  Mid song, Ian Lynch plays a brief uilleann pipe solo while Peat plays the harmonium.

The final song is an instrumental.  They remove the stand that Radie’s harmonium is on and she begins the song with a fast traditional melody on the baritone Irish concertina.  MacDiarmada plays a similar melody on the violin while stomping on a box.  Daragh Lynch bows the guitar at the start.

Then Radie puts down the concertina and sits on the floor at the harmonium.

After a couple of minute there’s the slightest pause of silence as the song shifts gears into a very catchy middle section complete with uilleann pipe solo.  The song flows through to the end with this very pretty melody.

Bob sees a lot of concerts each year.  This was his last of 2020 (so far).

A week later I saw Lankum in concert. It was the last one I attended in a real venue and the world was rapidly changing. Their journey home, I trust, was frightening. The idea of getting on a plane was so very different from just a few weeks before. I know it was tough, but I’m ever so grateful for this life experience and grateful to be able to share it here.

His last show was four days after my last show (Destroyer on March 8).  I was supposed to go to a show on March 12, but decided it wasn’t safe.  In retrospect, I should have gone, if only to get in one more show before music went away for awhile.

[READ: May 20, 2020] Five Years #9

This issue makes me think that either this series isn’t supposed to end in ten issues or he’s planning another series to continue this story after issue 10.

Because, boy howdy, there’s no way he can wrap this up in one more issue.

This book continues with the opening voice over.  Although this one is from one of the guards that Zoe has just stabbed. He is dying and he hears the voice of an angel.

The “angel” is Zoe (uh oh).  Zoe is on a mission and needs the weapon that she’s stuck in the guy’s chest.  Talk about a darkly comic opening. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: CLEM SNIDE AND SCOT AVETT-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #26 (May 23, 2020).

I’ve never given a thought to Clem Snide.  Well, my thought is that he was a country guy that I didn’t want to listen to  Turns out, Clem is not a guy but a band founded by Eef Barzelay, who had a solo Tiny Desk back in 2010.

I do know Scott Avett from The Avett Brothers (although I never really know which brother is which).

Barzelay and Avett not only maintained social distancing throughout their set, but also rigorously enforced it with the aid of a visible tape measure.

This is my favorite Tiny Desk Home concert so far since it is done in a barn–and the sound is great!

Recording a Tiny Desk concert at home naturally subtracts a lot of familiar elements…. But when Clem Snide (the three-decade-old project of singer-songwriter Eef Barzelay) and special guest Scott Avett (the Avett Brothers co-founder who produced and performs on Clem Snide’s latest album, Forever Just Beyond) performed together in Avett’s barn, they added a few new features you’ve never gotten to hear at the Tiny Desk — most notably a noisy flock of birds and the unmistakable cries of a nearby rooster.

We’ve had a few disruptive animals at the Tiny Desk over the years, from the occasional dog to Bob Boilen himself, but this had to be our first rooster.

Their voices blended warmly as they tackled three spiritually searching songs from the (great) new record, Forever Just Beyond.

For the “The Stuff of Us” they both play guitar.  Eef’s is a full size while Scott’s is a smaller one (I can’t tell how many strings).  Avett sings the rather impressive high notes.

After encouraging everyone to brew their own fermented ginger beer for the immune system.

He introduces “Jews for Jesus Blues” by saying “A doubtless faith is a dead faith.”  The song from Clem Snide’s 2005 album End of Love, is a bouncy folk number.  Avett plays banjo.  The lyrics are interesting: “Now that I’m found, I wish I was lost” and “now that I’m saved, I wish I was dead.”  When the song’s over, Eef says, “not too offensive.”

Before “Some Ghost” the roosters start crowing.  Clem jokes, tell them chicken to shut the hell up.  Avett plays a full sized guitar and even sings some lead vocals.  Their harmonies are wonderful, too.  As the song ends, the rooster crows: “chicken go it right that time.”

Clem picks up a different,smaller, guitar for “Roger Ebert,” a song based on Ebert’s actual dying words: “This is all an elaborate hoax.”  Avett provides only percussion and vocals on this lovely song.

[READ: May 22, 2020] Five Years #8

Terry Moore seems like a very nice guy.  He draws people in love so wonderfully.  He draws adorable children and he specializes in a mischievous grin.

It’s easy to forget that he can be incredibly violent.  Well, I don’t know about him personally, but his art sure can be.

This issue has two violent deaths in it.  One is bloody, the other is not.

The one that is not is Stephanie.  The woman who wrapped Katchoo up in the mystery.  In several pages of wordless panels, Stephanie breaks into a secure building. She walks through a series of rooms activating secret panels.

She gets what she came for and heads out.  But when she steps outside, an unkindness of ravens swarms on her.

She drops her satchel and one of the ravens picks it up and flies off. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BUDDY & KENT JAMZ-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #25 (May 22, 2020)

It’s fascinating to learn that there’s an artist (or two) who are apparently well-known enough to not need an introduction that you have not heard of.

Or that you have not only heard of one of them, but even posted about his Tiny Desk Concert just five months ago and since then you have completely forgotten about him.

Such is the case with Buddy, who had a Tiny Desk in January, although I don’t think that Kent was there.  All I remember about that Tiny Desk (after looking it up) is that Buddy wanted to smoke a joint in the office.  And maybe that’s all I needed to take away.

Buddy and Kent Jamz aren’t just the life of the party, they’re the last two to leave. … So in the vein of Method Man and Redman, Cheech and Chong, and other mischievous pairings, they bring us the after-afterparty. For their Tiny Desk home session, or Jank session as they put it, they mirror the cover of their new project, Janktape Vol. 1: seated on a couch, red cups and bottles scattered, with the 1990s cult classic cartoon Bebe’s Kids projecting on the wall behind them. From their quarantine quarters in Los Angeles, they trade melodic bars and hooks from Janktape, with a little help from socially distanced Brody Brown on bass and keys.

I was surprised to see that this set was only 11 minutes long. The songs flow together pretty seamlessly.  Their rapping and singing is chill  and they are clearly enjoying themselves.  I enjoyed some of the lyrics

“She Think” has this fun intro

She saw me on TV and she think she falling in love
she smoke up all my weed and she think she falling in love

Kent says this is by Axel Foley who I know is an Eddie Murphy character, so is that the name of a rapper or are they just messing?

“For The Ladies” has a cool retro dance sound.  I wonder if the songs are more than just a loop when properly played without just Brody Brown (appropriately masked) playing everything.  Obviously this song is for the ladies.  This verse made me smile

one time for the groupies
two times for the hoochies
hop in the Jacuzzi
this is gonna be a doozy

Pretty much the entire lyric of “Inconsistent” is “she says I’m inconsistent.”  But “Terrified” has a bouncy melody.  I guess like an after party, this is nice to hear but easily forgotten.

[READ: May 20, 2020] Five Years #7

There’s not much left in this story, so how can Terry Moore spend an entire issue where nothing (really) happens?

Because this issue is wonderful.

There’s some great art, an amazing flashback and a fascinating action sequence.

Katchoo flies to Russia and in the voice over she says she’s never been there before (which is surprising) and doesn’t know the language.

Tambi got her a room so she doesn’t have to worry about that.  It’s no Marriott, thats’ for sure. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SYLVAN ESSO-Tiny Desk (home) Concert #24 (May 21, 2020).

Is it possible to make dance music while sitting on a couch?  Is it possible also to dance to that music while sitting on a couch?

These pressing questions are answered in this Tiny Desk Home Concert

Sylvan Esso, the Durham, N.C., couple of Amelia Meath and Nick Sanborn gives us three songs from their home couch using modular synths, a rhythm machine and Amelia’s heartfelt vocals.

Sanborn sits in front of box with all kind of wires patched into it. It’s an unholy mess and he manages to make the melody by pushing the buttons between those wires.

Meath sits in front of another box and supplies most of the beats. It’s neat watching her sing verses and then push a button as the drums enter or leave “Die Young,” a fun dancey song.  She answers one of the above questions in the middle of this song which has a “dance break” as Meath waves her arms and gently bounces on the couch.

“Rewind” is a slower song.  Sanborn walks off camera while Meath starts the simple drum rhythm.  I assume he’s playing a synth, although midway he picks up a guitar (how frustrating that he’s off camera–c’mon Esso!).

In keeping with Tiny Desk tradition, bands I actually like–like this one–do a set that is less than 15 minutes, while artists I’ve never heard of or don’t especially like ramble on for over 20.

So they have only one more song.  But before playing it, they plug their new release

This home concert stands in sharp contrast to Sylvan Esso’s remarkable new film, WITH, which features a host of their dear friends reshaping and reimagining their brilliant catalog of songs during the duo’s 2019 tour. Add that to your list of things to do while sitting on your couch, hopefully with someone you like.

After some technical troubles (the sound is totally wrong), they start “Radio” a very familiar dance song.  There’s more couch dancing and even some dancing from Sanborn as his finger move all over that cluttered machine.

[READ: May 20, 2020] Five Years #6

This issue makes everything seem like things are going according to plan, there’s even a lot of levity.

We see Rachel in Russia. The morgue attendant, Yana, has brought her home.  They speak Russian, although Rachel’s Russian “sounds ancient, like something she only heard at university once or twice.”  Yana wonders why she is not dead.

Rachel doesn’t die.

Then some short scenes: (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RAUL MIDÓN-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #23 (May 16, 2020).

Raul Midón performed a Tiny Desk Concert back in 2018.  He was solo then (the blurb says he usually has a band with him) and he’s solo here now.  So there’s not a lot of difference between the two.

Except that in this home concert he plays five new songs.

It kicks off with two tracks from The Mirror, an album released just as we entered our quarantine period in mid-March: “I Love The Afternoon” and “I Really Want To See You Again,” a song that poetically captures the joy of friendship.

For both of these songs, Midón plays a very percussive guitar.  Whether it’s actually slapping the guitar like a drum to open the first song or the way he practically has the strings slap back against the guitar as he plays his complicated melody, there’s all kinds of rhythm going on.

He also has a light, fast, handpicking style.  And in “I Love the Afternoon” he adds a trumpet solo just with his mouth.

Midón’s jazz-influenced vocal phrasing throughout comes to the fore with just his acoustic guitar as accompaniment, illustrating once again why he’s normally one of the bright spots on our musical landscape and even more so at this moment.

Introducing “A Certain Café” he says Boris Karloff played bass.  Then he stops himself and laughs, Boris Kozlov–that’s from too much old-time radio.  It’s a slower, pretty song with a much gentler playing style.

He says that “Disguise” has fluegelhorn on the record but he’ll replace it here with his vocal fluegel, which is pretty cool.

“You’re The One” ends the set with a beautiful guitar introduction.  I was disappointed to hear that he raps the verses because the chorus is really catchy.

[READ: May 20, 2020] Five Years #5

This issue has two components.

In the first, Zoe is taken to see “Rachel’s” body. She fantasizes about killing Vlad in two spectacularly violent ways.  Zoe obviously realizes the body is not Rachel and the morgue attendant signals her in someway–although I can’t decipher it.

As they leave, Vlad offers Zoe a job since she has so much talent and potential.

Then we see Tambi parachute out of the sky with someone (is that Kathchoo?  It’s hard to tell). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ASHLEY McBRYDE-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #21 (May 14, 2020).

Ashley McBryde is the latest country singer who I enjoyed very much until she started singing.

Ashley is charming and funny.  She tells us that she and her band mates self-quarantined and then washed their hands in front of each other for 20 seconds.  And she is so happy they did because she had taken it for granted hearing other people sing with her.

She even drew her own little Tiny Desk sign (she googled it) because she was supposed to be behind the Desk but was denied.

We were scheduled to host a Tiny Desk performance by Arkansas-born country singer Ashley McBryde on March 31. Obviously, we had to postpone McBryde’s visit.

McBryde sang four songs (which I assume is one more than she would have gotten at an actual Tiny Desk).  All four songs are country songs.  Which means they are catchy and have (mostly) interesting lyrics, but that Arkansas twang is just too much for me.

The first song,

“Hang In There Girl” which opens both the album and this set — is a perfect song for this moment, not that there’s ever a wrong time to hear someone sing, “Trust me when I say, you’re doing fine.”

Matt Helmkamp plays a solo, so I guess it is nice to have three guitars.  Chris Harris sings nice backing vocals.

Before the next song she says that they are playing live and she even made a setlist.  But that she misspelled “One Night Standards” as “Standars”  NPR called it “one of our Best Songs Of 2019.”

For “Velvet Red” Harris switches to mandolin and has to tune all eight strings–“it was in tune when he bought it” and they play the bluegrass- (and wine-) inspired love story featuring “basically all of the rule-breaking.”

McBryde is sporting a “Wash Hands Please” T-shirt, and encourages everyone to follow CDC guidelines before ending the set with “Sparrow.”

She’s very funny and I’d enjoy watching her banter between songs.  If she is going to have a proper Tiny Desk soon, what songs will she play if she played all of these already?

[READ: May 16, 2020] Five Years #4

This book’s voice over is by Kachoo.  In addition to getting everyone up to speed about the Phi bomb, she has been sitting on the beach for hours.

Francine doesn’t like it.  She knows what a visit from Tambi means (I haven’t seen Francine this angry in a while–I didn’t like it).

Francine is distracted so the girls get to take advantage of it: “can we have ice cream [for breakfast]?” “Mm Hmm.”  The scenes with the girls are the only levity in this dark issue. (more…)

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