Archive for the ‘Deafness’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: BORIS-tears e.p. (2019).

Boris tends toward being a very heavy band.  Their two recently albums D.E.A.R. and NO are some intense heavy metal.  They also do a lot of noise and heavy drone.  But they are not afraid of melody.  And they are not at all afraid to make pretty, dancey music.

There are five songs.  The first song “どうしてもあなたをゆるせない (doushitemoanataoyurusenai)” is on the disc twice.  The first version of this song is a remix by Narasaki under his name “Sadesper.”  It opens with a grooving bass line and some pretty guitars.  The drums are metronomic and there’s a sprinkling of keys.  I’m not sure who sings, but there’s a lot of falsetto. I love how just before the chorus there’s some orchestra hits.  It’s pretty much a full on dance song and it suits them perfectly.  You’d never guess it was Boris, but it makes sense once you realize it.  It even ends with a nifty guitar solo that sadly fades out.

“u fu fu” opens with a fast simple guitar chugging riff.  After a good ol’ “Whoo!” from Atsuo, the song pulses forward on the insistent grunted  “ooh ah” that works as a foundation to the song.  There’s a lots of great backing vocals in each ear. With about a minute to go, the bass takes over with a fast, heavy rumble before the harmonizing vocals kick in.

Up next is a fantastic cover of a Coaltar of the Deepers song “To the Beach.”  I didn’t know Coaltar of the Deepers before this release, but I have listened to them a bunch since and they are a terrific Japanese band unknown in the States.  I’m not sure how much this differs from the original , but this version is fantastic–slow and moody with lots of build and release.  The song starts with a pretty guitar melody and then a series of crashing chords and cymbals while Wata’s guitar soars.  The verses are slow with a whispered vocal.  But the choruses resume the crashing chords to punctuate things perfectly.  In the middle of the song as the vocals overlap and blend, it sounds magnificent.

“Peaches” comes next, it’s a 2 minute song sung by Wata.  A pulsing bass line propels the song forward as Wata chants the the word “peaches” over and over with an occasional “la la la” fleshes things out.  A repeating piano is added for a bit and then a shift to a kind o funky bass line that leads to the end of the songs.  It’s only two minutes long and kind of goofy but I wish it was longer.

The disc ends with an instrumental version of “どうしてもあなたをゆるせない.”  The song is so catchy and wonderful that hearing it a second time in the EP is a great thing.  It’s one of the few instrumentals that I think might sound better than the original because you can really hear what the musicians are doing–and its some great stuff.

[READ: October 29, 2020] The Ten Loves of Nishino

I have a stack of books waist high next to my desk which I intend to read.  And yet, I continue to find new (to me) books that I jump in and read first.  This book was recommended by the most recent Tiny Desk Contest winner Linda Diaz.  Why on earth would I read a book recommended by a person I’d never heard of before?  She said it was her favorite book ever (which seems weird since it only came out in English last year, but whatever).  It was also pretty short.  So I decided to check it out.

I have enjoyed many of the Japanese writers that I’ve read, so I was intrigued to read a contemporary female author (this book was translated by Allison Markin Powell).

So this book is written in ten chapters–each one written by a lover of Nishino, an enigmatic figure whom we only learn about from the women writing about him.

There is something strangely seductive about Nishino that these women find hard to resist.  He is aloof and puzzling, but that seems to make women want him even more.  But he is perpetually with women (more than these ten, it would appear). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: GUSTER-Lost and Gone Forever Live (2014).

In 2014, Guster released three CDs of them playing their early CDs live in their entirety (excluding for some reason their second disc Goldfly).  This is their third CD ‘Lost and Gone Forever’ recorded live in concert, ten years after its release.

I’m not sure why they don’t say what show it is from, unless they picked the best recordings from a tour?  He does mention Boston at one point, but not sure if the whole show was recorded there.

As with the other two releases, the sound is great.  On “Barrel of a Gun” you can really hear the bongos.

There are a few more guests, which again, makes me think it’s different shows.  Ryan says “We’re inviting a bunch of people to help with instrumentation. Donnie and Amy are going to play strings” [on “Either Way”].  And later, “Fa Fa” has an amazing horn section.

For “All the Way Up to Heaven,” Ryan introduces, “Alright snow kitty bring up the children. It’s 10 o’clock.  It’s late.  Did you teach them the big rock move at the end?  That’s the most important part of the song.”

Like the other discs, they thank everyone for coming out and supporting this album.  He talks about how when they first started playing in 1991 they were all skinnier and had more hair.  They had no idea that so many years later they would still be together and be selling out shows.  “It’s a humbling experience.”

Incidentally when they announced this tenth anniversary tour, they made a video announcement.

[READ: May 31, 2018] “Silver Tiger”

This story involves realism and magical realism.

The narrator Ah Yang, is an adult looking back on his childhood when he lived with Deaf Granny.  He was sent to her early and only rarely saw his parents.

He first saw the titular Silver Tiger near a well pond by Deaf Granny’s house.   Well ponds are an ancient water storage system in China.  They are shaped like pools but are the depth of wells.  It was always off-limits to him  Deaf Granny feared that if he fell in there’d be no saving him (not unreasonable).  But that’s all he wanted to do after he first saw it.

It became even more enticing when a local boy found a turtle in a neighbor’s well pond.  Oh how the narrator wanted his own turtle. (more…)

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 SOUNDTRACK: NICK GRANT-Tiny Desk Concert #625 (June 2, 2017).

I had never heard of Nick Grant either.  And I wasn’t that impressed on an initial listen.  However, it says he’s got a bit of a flu, so kudos to him for pushing on.

In general, though, low-key rap shows are kind of weird.  They are mostly about hype, but its hard to hype a few dozen people.  But Grant is certainly game.

[Grant hails ]from a region where rap’s young guns and lil innovators tend to defy tradition, the South Carolina-by-way-of-Atlanta native proves being a purist is not just for the old heads.

Being cut from a vintage cloth has kept him in good company. He groomed himself on high school freestyle battles before working his way up to become the first signee to Culture Republic.  He’s a sly reminder that, contrary to popular opinion, the South still has a mouthful to say — and it doesn’t always have to be yelled, gurgled or Auto-Tuned to death. Sometimes it can be conveyed coolly, from a seated position, while backed by Washington D.C.’s soul garage band Black Alley, and still cut through all the noise.

I really like the live band, Black Alley.  The percussionist (Walter Clark) is particularly interesting with his congas and an electronic “plate” that plays all kinds of effects.  The bass (Joshua Cameron) is also great and the guitarist (Andrew White) plays a lot of interesting sounds.  I also like how muscular th keyboardist is playing simple chords.  And the drummer is pretty bad ass too.

The first song “Return of the Cool” (feat. B. Hess–not sure what the B. Hess is all about, I think he’s sampled in the chorus).  And that chorus is especially weird because the other singer is recorded and Grant is sort of quietly over the top of it.  It’s the smallness of the audience that makes the whole “hands side to side” part seem kind of weird.  Although it’s funny when he says, “you ain’t got your hands up.”  When it’s over he says “Give yourselves a round of applause.”  Before the next song starts he says “flu is killing me.”

It’s also strange to me in a lot of hip hop that the rappers feel the need to state who they are and where they are and sometimes when they are.  It’s been going on for decades now, but it’s odd .  So when he says “Nick Grant.  Tiny Desk.  NPR.”  it’s just what you do.  About the second song “Drug Lord Couture” he says that “street life wasn’t for me but I was fascinated with the fashion and the material things that came with being a drug dealer being in the streets.”  He says, “it wasn’t for me I found out quickly.”

He introduces the final song, “Luxury Vintage Rap” by saying that you “must be strong, have a lyrical ability to be #1.”  This song is faster with some good lyrics: “I don’t believe the devil would come as a snake / why would he come as something you would actually hate?”   There’s a cool dark end section with a funky riff.  His lyrics turn rather explicit with the startling line “sugar on a clit / that’s a sweet lick.”  As the songs sort of ends, he tells everyone, “Don’t stop.  Keep (the arm waving) going.

Grant won me over by the end.  And as the screen goes to black you can hear him saw, “Flawless….  Flawless any questions?”

[READ: April 22, 2017] “Deaf and Blind”

Vapnyar had a story in this same issue one year and a day ago.

This is the story of a young woman’s mother and her mother’s friend.  The friend was named Olga.  Olga and her mother had met at a fertility clinic.  The narrator’s mother had a child (obviously) while Olga did not.

But they bonded over their collective unhappiness. Olga said her husband loved her like crazy but that she never felt much for him–she always wanted to love someone with every fiber of her being.  The narrator’s mother was just the opposite: she loved her husband but was fairly sure he didn’t love her back.  She hoped a child would bring her husband back.

It didn’t.  And Olga didn’t get pregnant either. (more…)

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deafoSOUNDTRACK: RHEOSTATICS-Centennial Secondary School, Toronto, ON, (November 30, 2000).

martin-anthonyYes, the Rheostatics played a show at a high school.  What I love about this show is that the Centennial Secondary School’s band plays along with them.

Why?  because the School band had recorded a version of The Story of Harmelodia and the Rheos came to play with them.  It is amazing what a few extra instruments (and voices) can do to a song.  This show is utterly unique in the Rheos’ live catalog.  And that is apparent right during the first song, “Saskatchewan,” when the school choir joins in on the “Home Caroline Home” refrain–it sounds amazing!

The next surprise comes during the next song, when the school’s horn section plays the riff of “Soul Glue” (and there’s a sax solo too).  The surprises get bigger when they play “Rain Rain Rain” and the band plays the opening drum/handclap melody (that’s never really done live).  They play “Claire” which gets a great treatment from the choir.  This is the first song where I wish the choir was louder–perhaps Tim is too loud on the song?  I wish you could hear the kids doing the “Ba Ba”s more.  Although overall the volume of the band and the choir is just right.

The final huge surprise comes when they play “Shaved Head” and there is flute accompaniment–it sounds tremendous, bringing a totally different feel to the song.

From that point on, they play a bunch of Harmelodia songs.  And they let the school band really shine–there’s guitar solos from the kids, there’s vocals from Tim Crawford on “Monkeybird” (and he holds a note for 25 seconds!).  Lauren Moorehouse sings lead on “Loving Arms,” and Janine Plott (I don’t know how to spell any of these kids’ names, sorry guys), sings on “Home Again.”

There’s a fun addition of accordion on “What’s Going On?” and more flute on “Take Me in Your Hand.”  The final song, “Legal Age Life,” brings back all the kids for various solos–guitar, sax and the like.  It’s a super fun night.

The more I thought about this the more emotional I got about it.  How cool to have a high school band do a version of your record.  how cool to then be the band that shows up to play with these kids.  And imagine if you were in the school band and really liked the Rheostatics ahead of time, and here they are playing with you.  What a cool night.

[READ: March 11, 2015] El Deafo

Sarah brought this home and then Clark read it and now I read it (Tabby, who is reading like a fiend will likely read it next year).  And we all really enjoyed it.

It is the true(ish) story of Cece Bell who is El Deafo!  Okay, she is actually a woman who lost the majority of he hearing at age 4 (circa 1976) from spinal meningitis (which is really scary).

She could hear sounds (if they were loud enough) but couldn’t really understand words.  The doctors outfitted her with a box with cords (that fit into her ears) and after adjusting the knobs, she is able to hear.  Which is pretty awesome (but she is very self-conscious about those cords).

And indeed being self-conscious is one of the main themes of the book.  I assume that anyone wearing this strange contraption would feel awkward and ungainly (especially in the mid 1970s).  But Cece was extremely anxious about it.  She believed that everyone was staring at her.  And they probably were, although more out of curiosity than malice, I’d imagine. (more…)

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mccarthySOUNDTRACK: PHISH-Undermind (2004).

undermindAs I understand it, Phish fans didn’t like Undermind that much and yet I really liked it and still do.  Indeed, “Undermind” is one of my favorite new Phish songs, it’s clever and boppy and just really catchy.  The album has very Beatles vibe to it—a kind of echoey feel on all the songs.  And I have recently read that people interpret the cover design to be a nod to Let It Be (there are other connections made but I’m not going to go too deeply into that).

“Scents and Subtle Sounds” opens the album.  This is a brief intro–the full songs, which sounds different appears later on the disc (it’s 97 second here)).  It leads into “Undermind” which has a loose, slightly funky sound—one of their more fun songs on recent albums.  The album version has some big fat organ sounds on it which make it even cooler.

“The Connection” is another great poppy song—gorgeous harmonies and wonderful melody, and indeed it was their first real hit.  “A Song I Heard the Ocean Sing” is another great song, great backing vocals, an excellent melody and great alternating verse vocals from Mike.  It also has a great middle guitar section—it’s long and wild and reminiscent of Jimi Hendrix’ solos.  “Army of One” is sung by Page.  It is a big soaring song and it’s got a very upbeat sound.  “Crowd Control” is a very Beatleseque song.

“Maggie’s Revenge” is a noisy instrumental, with Trey’s guitars making all kind of squealing noise.  It’s weird and quite refreshing from Phish’s more recent fair.  “Nothing” picks up with the open and poppy sounds of earlier records and has more great harmonies.  It seems to fade out in the middle though—a song that could have been longer!  “Two Versions of Me” is another mid tempo song with great harmonies and  great chorus.  “Access Me” is a brief poppy song that feels a bit like filler, although it has a cool and interesting coda.  “Scents and Subtle Sounds” resumes

“Tomorrow’s Song” has a very African feel to it.  It is a simple repetitive rhythm that lasts for about 3 minutes before it fades out just like it faded in.  “Secret Smile” is a very pretty piano ballad.  It’s a little heavy handed with the strings, and at nearly 7 minutes it’s too long (especially the long coda), but the melody is certainly nice.  The album ends with “Grind,” a barbershop quartet track which shows just what kind of great harmonies they cool do.

Although it’s a mature sound, there’s enough weird stuff to let them show their funky side too.  The CD comes with a DVD called “Specimens of Beauty.”

[READ: October 8, 2013] C

I received a prepub version of this book back in 2010.  The cover and title were weird and I thought I’d like to read it.  And it sat on my shelf for two years.

And then Borders closed (bummer, their chai tea was the best!) and I saw a hardcover copy of the book for $1 so I bought it (I’m enough of a geek to want to see how prepubs and final copies are different.  In this case, the books appear identical except that in the last two dozen or so pages, there’s a section with ellipses.  In the prepub, they are single spaced but in the final book they are double spaced which throws off the line spacing.  So by the end of the book, the lines are about three lines different.  Fascinating huh?).

Anyhow, what on earth is a book called C about?

Well, it is a Bildungsroman or coming-of-age story.  By definition these stories focus on the psychological and moral growth of the protagonist from youth to adulthood.  Our protagonist is Serge Carrefax, even though he is not the first person we meet.  That would be a doctor delivering materials to Serge’s father, Mr. Simeon Carrefax.  Mr Carrefax runs a school for the deaf in which he tells children to stop using sign language and to start speaking properly.  And he has had considerable success with the children, each of whom acting in a play every year.  (The book, by the way, is set in the late 1800s).  His mother is a silkworm farmer, and much of their money comes from this job.

But the main person in Serge’s life is his sister Sophie.  Sophie is a deviously clever girl who is alternately mean to Serge (as only older sisters can be) and then encouraging him to play with her.  She is mad for science and is constantly experimenting with her chemistry set (leading to more than one explosion in the house).  The early sections of the book show Sophie and Serge’s education.  And when Sophie goes off to school, Serge is lost, especially when she returns from school but keeps telling him to leave her alone.  And then one day, Serge discovers her dead in her “lab” and experiment in progress. (more…)

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[LISTENED TO: May 13, 2013] Musicophilia


My sister-in-law Karen got me this audio book for Christmas.  I had never read any Oliver Sacks before although I have always been amused/intrigued by his stuff (The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat is such a great title).  So this book, as one might guess, is all about how music impacts our lives.  Music is more than just an enjoyable set of melodies, it is a more primordial form of communication.  The key thing for any fan of music to know about this book is that about 97% of the music he talks about is classical.  Which is fine, but you’re not going to get any kind of insight into rock.  The reason for this is twofold.  One–he likes classical (and doesn’t seem to like rock–although he did take one of his patients to a Grateful Dead show) and two–he wants to talk more about music and not so much about lyrics (although again, that’s not entirely true).

I have to admit that while I enjoyed the stories in the book and will certainly talk about it a lot, I found the book a little overwhelming–it was exhaustive and exhausting.  Sacks really tries to cover ever aspect of music (and many I never would have guessed) and so I found the nine hours of story a bit tiring by the end.

Part of that may also have been John Lee, the reader, who spoke very clearly and a little slowly and gave the book something of a lecture-feel.  Which was fine for much of the book, although again, it was a little exhausting sometimes.

The thing that is most exhausting about the book is that virtually every person he talks to or about has had some kind of trauma which makes their appreciation of music different from the norm.  If you are in any way a hypochondriac, this book will make you go insane  I’m not, but even I found myself worrying about having a stroke at any second or experiencing some kind of weird brain thing where I no longer like music or god forbid get some kind of long term amnesia.  Jesus, I was getting a little spooked by the end. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KISS-Rock and Roll Over (1976).

After Alive!, Kiss released what I think of as the cartoon albums.  These next three discs all had cartoon covers, which also coincides with their huge ascent into fame.  I tend to think of Destroyer and Love Gun more than this one (maybe full-bodied pictures are more memorable than just their faces), even though this one has a huge share of important Kiss songs like “I Want You” (which has an amazingly long version on Alive II). 

I never really liked “Take Me,” there’s something about the chanting backing vocals that irks me (although “Put your hand in my pocket, grab onto my rocket” is one of my favorite Kiss couplets).  But “Calling Dr. Love” is a wonderful twisted song (the falsetto backing vocals are so doo wop, it’s funny to contemplate the band’s musical direction at this point).  I loved this song so much it even features in one of my first short stories

As an eight year old, I could never figure out what Gene would be doing in the “Ladies Room”–since he was a boy and all.  Naiveté is a wonderful thing to have as a young person listening to Kiss–I had no idea what was going on in most of the songs–I wonder if my parents bothered to listen to the lyrics at all.

I also never really liked “Baby Driver” all that much–I don’t know if it’s Peter’s voice, or that I can’t figure out what the hell this song is about but it’s still just okay to me–although I like the guitars at the end.   I love the solo in “Love ‘Em Leave ‘Em”–although the sentiment is not the best.  Of course, the sentiment in “Mr. Speed” cracks me up: “I’m so fast, that’s why the ladies call me Mr. Speed.”  Did that mean something different in 1976?

“See You in Your Dreams” was covered by Gene on his solo album, and I think I like that version better (it’s more theatrical).  Although this one has very interesting use of Beatlesesque harmonies.  “Hard Luck Woman” is wonderful song, and I do like Peter’s voice here, yes.  But who the hell is Rhett?  “Making Love” ends the disc.  I like the break in the middle and the awesome guitar solo.  Also, Paul’s vocals have some cool effects on them. 

This is a fun album.  Even the songs I don’t love are still songs that I like quite a bit.  It’s a nice contrast from the bombast of Destroyer.  The amazing thing is that both this album and Destroyer are barely over 30 minutes long.  Were they making albums so frequently that they didn’t have any more songs, or were they just following the Beatles model: make an album every 7 months to stay in the public’s eye?

[READ: October 2, 2011] Dogwalker

I can’t believe how quickly I read this book.  I wasn’t even planning on reading the whole thing just yet, but I started the first story and it was so quick to read and so enjoyable that I couldn’t stop.  I finished the whole book in a couple of hours (it helps that a number of stories are barely 4 pages and that it’s barely 150 pages).  The title of the book is something of a mystery as there are a lot of dogs in the stories, but walking is about the furthest thing from what happens to them.  I was also somewhat surprised to see how many of these pieces I had already read (Bradford was in five of the first six McSweeney’s issues). 

This collection is certainly not for everyone.  In fact when I recounted the story “Dogs,” Sarah was disgusted and said she would never read the story.  Bradford definitely pushes some boundaries, but they’re mostly in an attempt to find humor, so I think that’s cool. Sarah even admitted that the end of “Dogs” sounded funny (although she was still disgusted).  The two things I found odd about the stories were that two of them featured a three-legged dog, which seems a little lazy to me–although I don’t know what the dog might signify.  And two of them featured someone or something singing unexpectedly and the narrator getting a tape recorder to surreptitiously save this special recording.  Again, it’s a really unusual thing to happen at all, but to have that happen in two stories?

Aside from those little complaints, the stories were fun, funny and certainly weird. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MOGWAI-Mr. Beast (2006).

After several mellow, quiet albums, Mr Beast brings back a lot of the Mogwai noise.  I distinctly remember listening to Mr Beast when it first came out because it was the first time I was home with my son and I exposed him to something other than kids music (he was 8 months old at the time).

Mr Beast changes things up from previous disc in a few ways.  There’s no long songs on the disc (5:30 is the longest), but there’s a return of some of the noise from earlier discs.

“Auto Rock”, although featuring keyboard, is a pretty heavy track, with big drums and loud layers of music that try but fail to disguise a riff.  But the best song on the album comes next “Glasgow Mega-Snake” is that awesome Mogwai beast: rocking guitars, a memorable riff and powerful drumming.  It’s recognizable once it starts, it’s got cool screaming solo notes and just when you think it’s going to end quietly, pow–it is indeed mega.

Despite all evidence to the contrary I think of Mogwai as an instrumental band.  So it’s always surprising when they have vocals on a song.  But it’s even more surprising when the song has steel guitars, is exceedingly mellow and has gently sung, slightly synthesized vocals.  And that’s what “Acid Food” is.  It’s followed by “Travel is Dangerous” which features the least processed vocals of any Mogwai track that I can think of.  It’s a wall of sound from the guitars, but it’s also a pretty conventional verse/chorus structure–will wonders never cease?  Despite that, there’s some wonderful screaming feedback during the solo portion of the song.

Diversity is the name of the game on this album though, as “Team Handed” is a gentle piano ballad.  “Friend of the Night” is one of their catchiest melodies–the piano runs through a series of riffs and ending with a beautiful piano line.  “Emergency Trap” and “Folk Death 95” are two more mellow tracks, but these have some intricate guitar lines running through them as opposed to the ashes of sound from previous discs.

“I Chose Horses” has a spoken vocal part from Tetsuya Fukagawa from the Japanese band Envy.  He speaks slowly and placidly over a beautiful piano melody. The disc ends with “We’re No Here” a final blast of noise to show that they’ve not gotten all soft.  It starts like many of the other songs, but by the end, the guitars are ratcheted up, with a simple but powerful solo taking over the back half of the song until a final descending feedback closes out the disc.

It’s an amazing piece of music. The bonus DVD shows how they made the disc.  I think it was the first time I’d ever seen/heard the guys in the band.

[READ: July 6, 2011] Wonderstruck

Brian Selznick’s The Invention of Hugo Cabret was a fantastic pastiche of gorgeous pictures and exciting text–not quite graphic novel and not quite illustrated book.  While the story was wonderful, the pictures were truly amazing–beautiful pencil (charcoal?) pages, many of which spread across two pages.  They were textured and very detailed.  And they brought to life elements of the story in a way that the text couldn’t.

Wonderstruck follows the same format: several pages of wordless illustrations followed by several pages of text.  But unlike Hugo Cabret, the words and pictures tell two very different stories.  The pictures tell the story of a young deaf girl.  The girl adores the actress Lillian Mayhew and even sneaks out to the movies to watch her films (this is set before “talkies”, when the deaf could watch films the same as everyone else).  We follow her through her life as she runs to the New York City and runs into several important figures in her life.  There several surprises are in store for her (and the reader), which I will not spoil here.  Suffice it to say that several times I said, wow! (more…)

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