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Archive for the ‘Dementia’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: KIRILL GERSTEIN-Tiny Desk Concert #958 (March 11, 2020).

I can’t really keep track of classical pianists. There are so many who are truly amazing.  But I love hearing them.  I also like it when they have a good sense of humor, which most of them seem to have.

The last time pianist Kirill Gerstein was at NPR we gave him a full-size, grand piano to play in a big recording studio. But for this Tiny Desk performance, we scaled him down to our trusty upright. “What will you ask me to play the next time,” he quipped, “a toy piano?”

Even if we had handed him a pint-sized instrument, I’m sure Gerstein could make it sing. Just listen to how Chopin’s lyrical melodies, built from rippling notes and flamboyant runs, flow like a song without words in Gerstein’s agile hands.

What sets Gerstein apart?  Perhaps its his connection to jazz.

The 40-year-old pianist, born in Voronezh, Russia, taught himself to play jazz by listening to his parents’ record collection. A chance meeting with vibraphonist Gary Burton landed him a scholarship to study jazz at Boston’s Berklee College of Music. At age 14, Gerstein was the youngest to enroll at the institution.

He opens the set with Chopin: “Waltz in A-flat, Op. 42.”  It is fast and amazing with some slow, jaunty parts.  Near the end, wow, doe he pound out those bass chords.

Before the second piece he says that it hasn’t been heard on a recording yet–it’s a newly written piece by Thomas Adès.  Two lovers want to hide in the closet and … sleep with each other.  They emerge dead in the morning, so its lascivious and morbid and a very beautiful piece.

The Berceuse for solo piano was written for Gerstein by Thomas Adès, adapted from his 2016 opera The Exterminating Angel. The work, both brooding and beautiful, receives its premiere recording at the Tiny Desk.

It is slow and beautiful, full of sadness and longing.  Until the end when the bass comes pounding and rumbling, full of ominous threat and dread.  And listen to how long he lets those last bass notes ring out!

Up next is a piece by Liszt who I am particularity fond of (even if I only know a few of his pieces).  Gerstein says that Liszt is perhaps the greatest composer that ever touched the instrument.  There are several hundred not famous pieces.  This is a late piece called “A quick Hungarian march.”  Technically it’s called “Ungarischer Geschwindsmarsch”

Gerstein follows by dusting off a truly neglected – and quirky – Hungarian March by Franz Liszt. To my knowledge it’s been recorded only once.

It is jaunty and spirited until the middle where it goes back and forth between fast runs and bouncy melodies.

Since I hadn’t read about his jazz background the first time I listened to this concert I was really surprised when he said he’d be playing the Gershwin-Earl Wild standard “Embraceable You” which he says is for dessert at this lunchtime concert.

Gerstein’s jazz background is still close to his heart. Which brings us to his lovely-rendered closer: Gershwin’s “Embraceable You,” arranged by the American pianist Earl Wild.

Like all master performers, Gerstein gives you the illusion that he’s making it all up as he goes along, even though the virtuosic transcription is intricately mapped out. And somehow, he makes that upright piano sound nine feet long.

It really does sound like he is working on the fly–playing beautiful runs. It’s hard to imagine transcribing and learning all of those notes instead of just improvising them, but that’s what make a great pianist, I guess.

[READ: November 2019] The Abyss

I saw this book at work and thought, a turn of the 20th century Russian author writing about the Abyss?  What’s not to like?

I had not heard of Leonid Andreyev, perhaps because much of his work has not been translated into English.  He died in 1919 and is considered “the leading exponent of the Silver Age of Russian literature.”

This book was translated by Hugh Aplin and it is remarkable how contemporary these stories sound (aside from obviously nineteenth and twentieth century details).

Bargamot and Garaska (1898)
Bargamot was a policeman–a big, thick-headed policeman.  His superiors called him numskull.  But the people on the streets he looked after were quite fond of him because he knew the area and what he knew he knew very well.  This story is set on Easter Saturday night.  People would soon be going to church.  But he was on duty until three o’ clock and he wouldn’t be able to eat until then. The day was going smoothly and he would soon be home until he saw Garaksa, clearly drunk, heading his way: “Where he had managed to get sozzled before daylight constituted his secret, but that he had got sozzled was beyond all doubt.”  Bargamot threatened to send Garaska to the station, but Garaska talked to him about the festivities of the day and was about to present to him an egg (a Russian custom).  But Bargamot’s rough handling smashed the egg.  This story turns surprisingly tender and sad, with a rather touching final line.

A Grand Slam (1899)
This has nothing to do with baseball.  It is about a card game called Vint, which is similar to bridge.  For six years these four people have been playing it: fat hot-tempered Maslennikov (whose name is Nikolai Dmitriyevich, we find out about five pages in) paired with old man Yakov Ivanovich and Yevpraksia Vasilyevna paired with her gloomy brother Prokopy Vailyevich.  Dmitriyevich desperately wanted a grand slam but he had been paired with Yakov Ivanovich who never took risks. Ivanovich was very conservative and never bet more than four–even when he ran an entire trick, he never bet more than four–you never know what might happen. They speak of news and local happenings (like the Dreyfus Affair), but Dmitriyevich stays focused on the game because his cards are lining up for a Grand Slam.  As he goes for that last card, he falls out of his chair, presumably dead.

Silence (1900)
This story is divided into sections.  Fr. Ignaty and his wife need to speak with their daughter Vera. They have a fight and Fr. Ignaty refuses to speak to her any more.  Soon enough she goes out and throws herself under a train [I would hate to be a train conductor in Russia].  In Part II silence has fallen over the house.  In Part III he tries to talk to his wife about his feelings and his sadness over their daughter, but she remains silent.  In the final part, Fr Ignaty finally breaks down.  But is it the silence that has gotten to him?

Once Upon a Time There Lived (1901)
Laventy Petrovich was a large man. He went to Moscow for someone in the city to look at his unusual illness.  He was a silent and morose man and he specifically asked for no visitors.  The hospital assigned Fr. Deacon to him.  Fr. Deacon was another patient, unfailingly positive.  He and Petrovich were at opposite sides of the spectrum.  But even as it became clear that Fr. Deacon was deathly ill, he remained positive.  Until Petrovich told him that the doctors said that Fr. Deacon has a week to live.  There was also a young student who was daily visited by the girl he loved.  They liked Fr deacon and did not like Petrovich. I’m not sure if the ending is a surprise, but it is certainly sudden with happiness doled out in very specific ways.

A Robbery in the Offing (1902)
That night there was to be a robbery and maybe a murder.  A man, alone with his thought is scared by nearly everything–he is very jumpy because he is the one about to do the robbery.  The man was frightened by a noise until he saw it was a little puppy.  The puppy was shivering and the man tried to frighten him to get him to go home. But the puppy seemed too ignore him.  So began the battle of wits between a big strong man and a tiny freezing puppy.  Imagine a man with a robbery in the offing worrying about a little puppy.

The Abyss (1902)
Two young lovers went for a walk.  Zinochka was 17 and very much in love.  Nemovetsky was 21 and similarly in love.  They wandered into an area they didn’t recognize and happened upon three men.  The men punched Nemovetsky and knocked him out then they chased Zinochka . When he came to, he found her body, naked but still alive.  This was a hard story to read.

Ben Tobit (1903)
This was one of the first stories in the book that I really really liked.  It is set on the day of Jesus Christ’s crucifixion.  On that day, Jerusalem merchant Ben Tobit had a terrible toothache.  Ben was a kind man and did not like injustice, but it was hard to be kind with this much pain.  His wife tried to help by giving him various medicines (like purified rat droppings). She then tried to distract him when the thieves came trudging past on their way to the crucifixion site.  It distracted him somewhat but mostly didn’t interest him.  She said, “They say he healed the blind.”  He replied, “If only he’d cure this toothache of mine!.”  The next day he felt better and they walked to the site to see what they missed.

Phantoms (1904)
Yegor Timofeyevich had gone mad so his relatives collected money to send him to a clinic.  He knew he was in a madhouse but also knew that he could make himself incorporeal and walk wherever he wanted.  He was exceedingly happy. There was a patient who would continually knock on any locked door.  He would walk through all the unlocked doors but when he got to a locked one he would knock and knock and knock.

There was a doctor’s assistant the hospital named Maria Astafeevna, whom Yegor was certain liked him.  He thought very highly of her.  But another man Petrov could say nothing nice about her.  He felt that she was like all women: debauched deceitful and mocking. This attitude upset Yegor tremendously.  Maria was actually in love with Dr Shevyrov. But she hated that he went to Babylon–where he drank three bottles of champagne each night until 5 AM.  She imagined that one day she would ask to be his wife bit only if he stopped going there.

The man Petrov was also terrified of his mother, believing that she had bribed officials to lock him up. He would become hysterical when she would visit.  It was only Yegor’s assurances to her that her son was a decent man that made her feel okay.

Most days things went on exactly the same, the same faces, the same conversation and the same knocking.

The Thief (1904)
Fyodor Yurasov was a thrice-convicted thief.  While on the train, even though he had plenty of money, he stole a gentleman;s purse.  As he tried to blend in, he imagined everyone thought he was an honest, young German (he came up with the name Heinrich Walter).  But when he tried to be civil, everyone ignored him.  Some were downright rude to him.  Later when he hears that the gendarme are looking for someone, he assumed it is he.

Lazarus (1906)
This story looks at what Lazarus’ life was like after he came back–appearing a few days dead and with a shorter temper.  People understood and forgave him, but still.  Soon, however, people began to avoid him and claimed that all of the madmen in the village were people whom Lazarus had looked upon.   It’s such an interesting (if exceeding dark) tale that no one bothered to investigate before.

A Son of Man (1909)
As Fr. Ivan Bogoyavlensky grew older he grew more disatisfied with his role in life.  He wanted to remove his surname and replace it with a five-digit number (The church elders assumed he’d gone mad).  He then bought a gramophone and listened only to stories of Jewish and Armenian life.  His wife hated it and it drove their puppy mad (?!).  Indeed he kept trying to get the puppies to listen to the gramophone and they consistently went crazy and eventually died.  The church sent a deacon to help Fr Ivan through this but he the deacon and Fr Ivan butted heads immediately.  Fr Ivan began mocked everything about their religion.

Incaution (1910)
A priest arrived at a railway station and saw a steam engine for the first time. There was no one around, so he climbed aboard.  It wouldn’t be dangerous to flick some switches and pull some levers.  Would it?

Peace (1911)
A dignitary was dying and an devil–an ordinary devil–came to his bedside offering him eternal life in hell.  The man didn’t want to suffer but the devil said that suffering was terrible until you got used to it and then it was nothing.  The devil makes a stronger and stronger case if only the man would take this pen and sign.

Ipatov (1911)
Nikolai Ipatov was a rich merchant who went bankrupt. Soon he became silent and despondent.  The local priest chastised him saying that the house of god was a house of joy.  He refused to let the merchant back in until he grew happy again.  Which he didn’t.  Eventually his children took over the situation and and put his house up for sale.  But when someone came to look at the house, they heard Ipatov’s moaning and grew existential realizing that a man without guilt could still be afflicted this way.

The Return (1913)
The narrator had been in a cell n St Peterburg for three years because of a political incident.  His wife, who was supposed to be waiting for him in a hotel room had stepped out with another man.  He hired a cab to follow them.  They kept driving around and around, some streets seeming to stretch on endlessly.  Then the cab driver told him that they had been at the same intersection many times.  He finally arrived at the gate and when he banged on it, who should open the gate but his prison guard.

The Flight (1914)
Yury Mikhailovich was an experienced pilot.  Twenty eight flights and no troubles.   He always felt, “If I crash, I crash, nothing to be done about it.”  Despite everything he had on earth, he longed to be up ion the sky…possibly forever.  It’s incredible that Andreyev wrote a story like this in 1914!

 

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SOUNDTRACK: LIAM KAZAR-“Sunloathe” (from WILCOvered, UNCUT Magazine November 2019).

The November 2019 issue of UNCUT magazine had a cover story about Wilco.  It included a 17 track CD of bands covering Wilco (called WILcovered or WILCOvered).  I really enjoyed this collection and knew most of the artists on it already, so I’m going through the songs one at a time.

I don’t know Liam Kazar (he was in Kids These Days and Marrow).  This song is a simple folkie version of the song with some nice slide guitar and some cool keyboard sounds in the middle.

Kazar’s mellow singing with these instruments makes this cover sound not too different from the original.

[READ: August 23, 2019] The Adventurist

I was intrigued by the title of this book.  I didn’t know a thing about it or the author, but the title and the blurbs were promising a funny and thought provoking novel.  And they were right.

Henry Hurt is a surprisingly likable narrator given his general disposition.  He thinks we need a war in this country–not exactly, but when he looks in the rearview mirror and sees “a glare from my fellow citizen…a look of such opprobrium, such astonished offense (I change lanes too abruptly) that I would have the nerve, the gall to interrupt even for a moment her progress in the world…. Yes: tank treads and the tromp of boots, here on our courteous soil.  It is the only remedy.”

He also loves work. Not just his own work but work in general.  Unlike his sister:

in her mythology a corporate job is a necessary evil, to be tolerated only until a person finds what he was Meant To Do.

He felt that way once as well, when he first got his job at Cyber Systems but

what changed my mind was love. Of money.  I am only partly joking.  It’s no good avowing one’s regard for money.  You set yourself up as a satirical creature.  [but] it didn’t take long to see that acquiring a skill, linking arms with others to fix problems, fulfilling one’s duties with aplomb, all toward a commercial end, is its own kind of nobility.

His sister works for a non profit.  He admires the mission but finds all her coworkers too self-satisfied.

So how could one enjoy this person as a main character?  Because hes funny and insightful and because he presents a perspective that you don’t often see in literature–a non-caricatured business man. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THOU-Tiny Desk Concert #847 (May 6, 2019).

I saw Thou play a show last year and they were loud, abrasive and intimidating.  So much so that when I saw this collective of people behind the Tiny Desk, I had to double check to make sure it was the same band.

I mean, the band I saw had a male singer who growled/screamed all of the lyrics.  This band had three women singing and was entirely quiet.

I had a ticket to a show recently featuring Screaming Females (who headlined for Thou last time, too) and what was listed as a rare acoustic show from Thou.  I assume it must have sounded something like this.

And this is pretty awesome.

But what is going on?

The first-ever metal band at the Tiny Desk is a little bit of a head fake. Make no mistake, Thou makes some of the heaviest, most tortuous music around; but the band also constantly experiments with beautifully ornate arrangements that balance its most extreme measures. In a set culled from the acoustic-driven Inconsolable — one of six full-lengths, EPs and splits the band released last year (no, really) — Thou shows us just how crushing quiet can be.

Guitarist KC Stafford plays guitar and sings lead.  The song is brooding and powerful in its slow quietness.

“This is the softest I’ve ever played,” guitarist KC Stafford told me during sound check.  Yes, their downtuned guitars are turned down low at the NPR Music office, but the weight is still ever-present. Stafford takes the lead on “The Hammer” as co-vocalists Emily McWilliams (blonde) and Melissa Guion (dark hair) sing, “Bring down the hammer / A bludgeon to my shrines / Bring down the hammer / To the corpse of my worship.”

McWilliams’ more high -pitched voice is an excellent companion to Stafford’s deeper delivery.

Guion also makes ambient-pop music under the name MJ Guider and MJ Guider was the opening act for the quiet show.

Stafford played bass when I saw them.  The bassist at this show, Mitch Wells, doesn’t look familiar from that night although he and rhythm guitarist Andy Gibbs are founding members (along with lead guitarist Matthew Thudium).  Perhaps Mitch was not around for that tour?  But he certainly brings some mirth to the proceedings.  He;s wearing a crazy bright shirt (not typical for a doom metal band) and he says that playing the Tiny Desk was a big old bucket list.

Even though the band’s line up has stayed pretty consistent since they began in 2005, they have had three drummers.  Tyler Coburn (who might be the reincarnation of Andy Kaufman) joined in 2018 which means I probably didn’t see him at my show.

The cryptic lyrics and melodies are largely written by Bryan Funck, who normally screams his existential despair for Thou. But for these songs and this Tiny Desk, he lurked in the audience.

So that’s where he was.  Turns out that for the Inconsolable EP, he didn’t sing anything, allowing guest vocalists to sing everything.

For the second song “Come Home, You Are Missed” McWilliams sings lead.  She sang on the EP as well.  Guion accompanies her very nicely.  For this song Stafford’s guitar seems tuned down so far you can hear the string vibrating and rumbling as she plays open chords.

The final lines, “Privacy is priceless to me” are repeated three times.

Thou’s decade-plus discography is an exercise in exploration and refinement, finding new textures in heft, which is why this set offers such a slow-burning thrill to its oeuvre.

I am now regretting even more not going to that show.  I can’t get over what a different experience it would have been.

The closing cut, “The Unspeakable Oath,” lead by guitarist Matthew Thudium, is a twinkling grunge song that overlaps guitar melodies with the grace and grandiosity of a whale.

I don’t believe that Thudium ever sang when I saw them, but his voice is fantastic.  He doesn’t even sing on the EP.  His voice seems wasted in a screaming band.

I really like this song a lot.  I like the way the verses quietly build up and then release with a simple but effective guitar riff as a segue to the next part.  The final part of the song also features some interesting/creepy “ahhhs” from McWilliams and Guion which conclude the song very tidily.

[READ: May 6, 2019] “The Escape”

Eddie Prior is the protagonist of this story and he makes a grand entrance.

As the story opens, Eddie has entered the Pavilion and is heading down the grand staircase when he slips (leather dancing shoes on parquet floor).  But he keeps smiling and manages to tap out the beat with each step, rescuing himself as he comes to a stop between two striking women.  Both women are named Millie and both are embarrassed by his attention.

The blonde Millie is dismissive.  The brunette Millie is embarrassed, but finds him handsome.  Later she agrees to dance with him and a year later agrees to marry him.

As with another recent New Yorker story, this one jumps ahead quickly.  There are children, a war, and bitter words but through it all they are Catholic, so they just get on with it. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KING CRIMSON-The Elements Of King Crimson – 2014 Tour Box (2014).

When King Crimson reunited in 2013, they prepared to tour as a seven piece behemoth the following year.  There would be three drummers, two guitarists, bass and horns.

And they were totally reinvigorated.

To celebrate this tour, Fripp and his minions created this Elements Tour Box, a 2 -disc set dedicated to displaying the elements that made up the band from the beginning until now.  It was made up of alternate takes, excerpt (lots of excerpts), live recordings and rehearsals from the entirety of the Crimson canon, including some of the 2014 shows.

It is a treasure trove for Crimson fanatics.  But it is also an excellent resource for anyone looking to explore the Crimson underworld without buying $150 boxsets.

The discs follow a vaguely chronological overview, starting in 1969 and moving on through 2008.  But there are 2014 takes of old songs thrown in as well–some sound better than others, but overall the quality is quite good.

The first disc covers 1969-1974.  It opens with
“Wind Extract,” which is the sound of Fripp’s mellotron being turned on back in 1969.
“I Talk To The Wind” is an instrumental version of the second song on ITCOTCK.  Purists will be able to tell how many things are different between this version and the actually-released product, but in a nutshell, this is the album version with no vocals.  It’s really interesting to focus just on the music and not the words for a change.  The song is quite pretty, with lots of flute.

“Cadence and Cascade” is from In the Wake of Poseidon and no one involved in the recording remembered Greg Lake singing a version of it.  Guest vocalist Gordon Haskell sang the album version.  Then someone recently found this “guide vocal” version of Lake singing it for apparently the first and only time.

The boxes often contain brief excerpts like this one–fifteen seconds of Fripp’s classical sounding guitars from “Cirkus.”  This is kind of an acoustic bridge before we hear the full song recorded in 1971 on the Lizard tour.  This song in particular sounds very dated live and the middle “circus sounds” sections are 70s crazy.
“Hoodoo (extract)” is a 2014 rehearsal that’s all of 20 seconds which segues into a raucous recording of Fripp playing a wild guitar solo for “Sailor’s Tale.”  It’s wild and really shows Fripp throwing everything he can at the song.
“The Talking Drum” is an early alternate mix which sounds great to me.  It gets really crazy by the end.

The “Lark’s Tongues in Aspect I” excerpt is from 2014 and is just Mel’s flute for 2 minutes.  It’s followed by a 1972 extract that’s just violin and dulcimer and harp.

This turns into a great new mix of the 11 minute “Fracture.”
After a minute of gorgeous harmonics by Fripp from “Fallen Angel,” we get a full, gorgeous 6-minute instrumental version of the song.  Because Crimson songs are so complicated and so carefully constructed, they are one of the few bands whose songs can have lyrics removed without them falling flat.
There’s a weird-sounding version of “21st Century Schizoid Man” from 1974, which sounds so very mid-70s in the recording style.  It seems somewhat slapdash compared to the utter tightness of the 2014 band.  The disc ends with Mark Charig’s cornet recording for the end of “Starless.”  On the proper release they use Mel Collin’s saxophone, but the cornet sounds delightful.

Disc two covers 1981-2008.

  This is pretty much the Adrian Belew era.  Belew was not invited back for the new incarnation, so that’s a little awkward.

It begins with an alternate take of the instrumental “Discipline.”  After a 45 second drum intermission, there’s a track called “Manhattan (Neurotica)” which is an instrumental version of “Neurotica.”  I love that the opening guitar sounds like sirens and car horns.
A minute and a half of the middle of “Neal and Jack and Me” is followed by the Steven Wilson mix of “Sleepless (Bearsville)” with an incredibly 80’s sounding slap bass from Tony Levin.

Then there’s a recording session of “Sex, Sleep, Eat, Drink, Dream.”  We hear lots of stops and starts, bass only, guitar parts and someone repeating “this is tough, tough shit.”
There’s a live version of “THRAK” followed by a minute of Fripp soloing around “Larks Tongue” called “Venturing Into Joy.”

This is followed by two tracks from Fripp’s side ProjeKcts,  “The Deception of the Thrush” is performed live by ProjeKct Four in 1998 with big thumping almost splatting-sounding drums.  Then there’s a trippy and ambient early version of “Heaven & Earth” by ProjeKct X.

After a scorching “Level Five” from 2008, there’s a minute long drum solo which would ultimately morph more fully into “The Hell-Hounds of Krim” and then two tracks from A Scarcity of Miracles.  “Separation” is an edited version of the bonus track (the disc label calls it something else).  And there’s an alternate take of “A Scarcity Of Miracles”–still long and a little too jazz-lite for me.

This is a really solid collection of all eras and styles of Crimson.  And it also showcases the various parts coming together.  A great production all along.

[READ: January 19, 2018] Monsters of the Ivy League

This book collects a series of Ivy League graduates and puts them in context with a they have a lot of support for all of their declarations.  Each entry gives a brief (biased) biography that highlights their flaws, outrages and downright unforgivable behavior.

So, rather than rewrite summaries of these assholes, I’ll present a grid with the shortcut (and some choice tidbits).  You can find the book and read the details for why our Ivy leagues have bred so many shitheads, including current miscreants:

Samuel Alito, Ben Carson, Ann Coulter, Ted Cruz, Laura Ingraham, Henry Kissinger, Dr. Oz, trump, and many more.

The introduction says that the term Ivy League refers to a bunch of football teams. (That’s why it says “league”).  The League was formed in 1954 to formalize the sporting relationship between eight teams: Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Univ of Penn, Princeton and Yale.

Of course, no one goes to these schools for sports, they go to find the best future contacts for your budding careers.

But read this book and remember:

An ivy education doesn’t force you to become a hideous person, but it doesn’t necessarily prevent it, either.

What follows is a smart-shopper warning to those applying, a count-your-blessings consolation to those who have been rejected and a watch-your-back caution to those already attending.

(more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: VOIRVOIR-The Free-P (2016).

I got this Free Ep at a VoirVoir (not Voir Voir) show in Bethlehem.  This EP contains four songs.

Two of them are new and two are re-recordings of songs from their debut album.

“Quit It All” is a bit poppier than their debut album.  The 90s synth is a nice touch to this song which, make no mistake, still rocks.   The middle noise section (skronking guitar solo and great drums) is a highlight as are the catchy verses.  The band even submitted a video for the Tiny Desk Contest (I had no idea).

“Sides” is perhaps one of the best catchy alt rock songs I’ve heard in years and I am bummed that they didn’t get recognized for it.  It’s got a great 90s alt-rock sound and wonderful harmonies in the backing vocals.  There’s a video for this song as well.  You can also stream the song on bandcamp.

The other two songs, “Stupid for Now” and “There are No Good Goodbyes” were recorded at WDIY (Lehigh Valley’s Community NPR Station) in a stripped down format.  You can stream the songs here.  It’s interesting to hear them without the fuzz and drums.  The songs are solid and work very well although I do like the originals better.  The show also includes an interview with the three members who play the stripped down show.  The DJ asks their influences and while main singer guitarist Matt Molchany demurs,  April Smith says Built to Spill) and Josh Maskornick says Primus and Superchunk.

And if you can’t get enough (since they haven’t released that much) here’s a live show from Shards.

[READ: January 10, 2016 & January 10, 2018] Goldfish Memory

For some reason, I read this book back in 2016 and then didn’t post about it–I felt like I needed to read it again, and so I waited almost exactly two years and re-read it and enjoyed it even more this second time.  Almost like actual goldfish memory.

The back of this book made the stories sound really compelling:  “what does it mean to have a connection with someone? This is the question these brilliant short stories try to answer.”  The note said that this was the first translation of Monique Schwitter’s form-breaking work.  The translation was by Eluned Gramich.

I’m not sure how form-breaking these stories are, but they are certainly interesting.  They remind me in some ways of Julie Hecht–a narrator who is connected to people but very distantly.  But while Hecht’s narrators are critical and dismissive of everyone, Schwitter’s narrators just seem to be incapable of connecting properly.  You can feel the longing in the distance between them.  I also like how these missed connections cover all kinds of relationships–familial, sexual, friendship, professional, even passing acquaintances.

Few of the characters seem to be able to tell anyone else how they really feel–even when they are dying.  There is sadness at loss, but a kind of c’est la vie about it as well.  And all along, Schwitter’s writing is consistently excellent and the stories are really enjoyable. (more…)

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  SOUNDTRACK: KING KRULE-Tiny Desk Concert #681 (December 6, 2017.

King Krule is one of those artists that I love on paper.  But who in actuality I find really rather unpleasant.  He was raved about by so many people this year, and yet, aside from a few parts of these songs that were good, this was all kind of slurry jazz to me.

The blurb says the music is a kind of mashup of “cool” and “jazz” and an acquired taste well worth dipping in.

I guess I don’t have that taste.

They play three songs with instruments including sax, guitars, bass, drums, live vocal processing of Archy’s voice and electronics

“Midnight 01 (Deep Sea Diver)” has interesting sound effects and echoes on his voice, which I like.  But his voice is deep and mumbly and the music is pretty standard lite-jazz.   There’s a sax solo and a jazzy guitar solo.

I don’t know if it’s the whole picture but this vibe turns me off:

lyrics that talk about the sorts of depression singer and guitarist Archy Marshall has dealt with in his young life (he’s 23).  “Why’d you leave me? Because of my depression? / You used to complete me but I guess I learnt a lesson.”  All this comes from someone who honestly looks like he couldn’t care less, which seems like a far cry from the words and care he puts into his twisted, woozy tones.

His “whatever” attitude annoys me and I can’t hear these words anyway.

“Lonely Blue” There’s some interesting things going on in this song–the shifts in tension and volume.  But those few moments can’t rescue the song for me.

“Logos/Sublunary” is 7 minutes and is either one long song or two shorter ones.   He switches to keys and I like it a bit more.  This song sounds like some other songs I like but those jazzy elements (two saxes!) bug me.  After 4 minutes it switches to a more funky style (that would be “Sublunary,” I guess).  The end is my favorite part.

But once again, I feel like I was set up to be blown away, and it sounds too much like jazz to me.  The musicians include: Archy Marshall; Connor Atanda; John Keek; George Bass; Jack Towell; James Wilson.

[READ: September 17, 2017] Science Comics: Plagues

This might just be my favorite of First Second’s Science Comics series.  I love the topic, I really love the art, and I love the way Koch has created a compelling story as well.

The book opens with a Bubonic Plague creature (a cute blue hot dog with yellow bits) meeting up with Yellow Fever (a yellow-green ball with nodules).  They are in a host body and are looking to take advantage of their surroundings. Before they can do any damage, though, they are attacked by a large, scary T-cell.

A fight ensures bit it is short-lived because, in fact, everyone is in a simulation created by ECHO [Education Control Hologram Overseer].  They are in CHAMBER [Center for Holographic Advanced Microorganism and Bio Engineering Research].

In CHAMBER, the researchers observe cells–like way white blood cells learn about germs (anything that makes us sick) and is able to fight it. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ALBIN LEE MELDAU-Tiny Desk Concert #638 (July 20, 2017).

I’d never heard of Albin Lee Meldau.  His style reminds me of a number of gruff powerful-voiced singers.

So who is he?

Meldau grew up in Gothenburg, Sweden the son of musical parents. His mother is a music teacher and jazz singer, while Meldau says his father is a “punk rocker.” (Both write and record their own songs.) As a kid, Meldau originally played trumpet but mostly dreamed of being a professional soccer player.

The blurb notes:

When I [Robin] first saw him perform, at a church in Austin … it felt like the entire audience was on the edge of its seat, hanging on every twisted word. His voice is breathtaking, soulful, thunderous and impossible to ignore.

Watching Meldau in this Tiny Desk set, the first thing you’ll notice, apart from that voice, is how possessed he is by the music. The words and melodies seem to take hold of him while at the same time offering a release, if only for a moment, from the knot of emotions he’s carrying inside. It’s in no small part because Meldau’s music is so personal, centered on desperate souls in deeply troubled times.

He sings for songs and his voice is powerful, loud, aggressive and emotive.  He is hard to ignore, for sure.  His band consists of Simon Andermo (bass) and Simon Söfelde (guitar).  For the first two songs Kalle Stenbäcken plays piano, but on the third song he switches to drums.

“Lou Lou,” the track he opens with and his most popular song, is a story of drug addiction and mental illness, inspired by a girl he knew while growing up in Sweden. It’s short and powerful, you can feel the anguish in his voice–he seems really transformed by it.

His other two songs, “Mayfly” and “Persistence,” are more about hanging on when it seems there’s nothing left to live for.

He says the “Mayfly,” she only lives for one day.  Like the first song, it’s barely 2 minutes long.

Before “Persistence” he says “give it up for My Beautiful Sweets (the backing band).  They don’t come cheap, do they?”  He’s going to play one more song with them and then he seems to jokingly say (but who can tell) “I wouldn’t dance with no other, baby.”  It starts slow, but the addition of he drums is a great kick in the pants.  The guitar and melody are pure Dire Straits, and the chorus is outstanding.

Before the final song he jokes, “It’s a deep honor to be here,” Meldau told the NPR audience. “I’ve been to the BBC and now I’ve been here, so now I can die.”   But he’s so deadpan it’s hard to know how much he’s joking.

He calls “Bloodshot,” the track he closes with, “dark and horrible,” about the wreckage of a tortured relationship and the crazed paranoia of jealousy.  He says “Let’s see if I can remember the chords.”  He does and he sounds great.  When his voice grows powerful and strained it’s really emotional.

If he can capture the same wave of love that people gave Hozier (with whom he has stylistic traits in common) I could see him going far.

[READ: July 20, 2017] “Because You Have To”

This is a rambling story inside a woman’s head.  There are many thoughts, but none are especially compelling. Things like:

If you stop answering the phone, eventually it stops ringing.

Essentially she misses someone.  When she hears her dog barking, she almost called out “your name.”  But it was actually Wayne who had found a loose dog and wondered if it was hers.  Which it obviously wasn’t, since her dog was right there.

I love the line that her grandmother was “the most beloved fascist in the family.”  She used to say “You have to count your blessings, and when the narrator dared to ask why, “she gave me a great smack to the ear: “Because you have to.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SAN FERMIN-Tiny Desk Concert #315 (October 28, 2013).

When I first heard San Fermin I was immediately grabbed by the female lead voice (the song was “Sonsick”).  It was so powerful and gripping. I didn’t realize then that the female leads were the lead singers of Lucius (who I also didn’t know at the time).  San Fermin is the creation of Ellis Ludwig-Leone.

Since then I have enjoyed other songs by them as well, although I find that the songs sung by Allen Tate to be somewhat less exciting to me– I feel like his voice could one day hit me as amazing but it’s almost a little to understated for me.  And yet musically I love the orchestration and chamber poppiness.  As Bob writes:

San Fermin’s music bursts with ambition, talent and extreme joy. Its self-titled debut is charged with great storytelling and amazing vocals by both Allen Tate and Lucius singers Holly Laessig and Jess Wolfe. Then there are the arrangements: little gems that turn these songs into cinematic vignettes using trumpet, sax, keyboard, violin, guitar and drums.

San Fermin is the musical vision of Ellis Ludwig-Leone, who wrote these songs with Tate’s dark, rich voice in mind. Here at the Tiny Desk, Rae Cassidy makes the album’s female vocal parts her own.

So it’s interesting that the songs were meant for Tate.  I want just some more oomph from him.  especially here in this set.  And that’s because Rae Cassidy absolutely rules this set.

“Oh Darling” begins with a gentle piano and Cassidy’s pretty, delicate voice.  After a verse from her, Tate’s voice comes in and it’s almost comically low and formal (and actually perhaps a bit too quiet).  But when they all come in and sing it is just beautiful–the women in particular.

For “Sonsick” Cassidy sings lead with just drums.  As the song builds there’s a great chorus where the backing vocals (including Tate) sing in falsetto.  This version is quite stripped down compared to the recorded version and it really allows Cassidy’s voice to shine.  When she hits those incredibly high notes with such power, it gives me chills.

In the final song, “Renaissance!” Tate sings lead over a slow piano and violin.  The women sing backing vocals.  I like the way that the song builds in intensity with more instruments, but his voice is a little too flat for me–although he does kick in extra at the end.

There’s a really stunning version of the first two songs with the band singing live in a street and cafe and France.

Incidentally, Cassidy has since left the band and gone solo, and I wish her much success.

[READ: December 28, 2016] Humans of New York Stories

Sarah got me this book for Christmas.  I knew of Humans of New York, of course, but I wasn’t a follower of it.  So while I knew of it I didn’t really know that much about it.

There’s a brief introduction to this book (which is his second HONY book) in which he explains that HONY grew from five years of experimenting.  It evolved from a photography blog to a storytelling blog.  His original inspiration was to photograph 10,000 New Yorkers.  But then he decided to start including quotes from some of them.

He started interviewing people and found their stories became the real heart of the blog.  Of course, he thanks the community of readers and participants, because without them, he has nothing.

The rest of the book–425 pages–collects the photos and the stories. (more…)

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pfilSOUNDTRACK: MACKLEMORE & RYAN LEWIS-Tiny Desk Concert #254 (December 3, 3012).

mackI missed the whole Macklemore & Ryan Lewis thing when it happened in 2012.  I was vaguely aware of “Thrift Shop,” but really didn’t know much about him until the hype blew up all over the place.

And now four years later, I’m catching up on him and finding it all pretty great.

This Tiny Desk Concert is interesting for a number of reasons.  All of the backing females vocals are prerecorded, but the trumpet is live (I gather that’s Lewis on the mixing board).  And he and the audience really get into it–I’m not sure when he was in his rise at the time of this show.

I gather that all three of these songs were well-known at the time.  But I’d never heard “Same Love” at all before. It is a surprisingly powerful and moving song about gay rights and human rights.  It seems to start out with a different tone altogether—he is scared that he is gay.  But it quickly turns into something much sweeter and loving. It’s actually quite a tear-jerker.  Then he changes the mood entirely.

“Thrift Shop” has an amazingly catchy melody for the chorus.  The vocal line is a sample as well.  And while I have heard the song before I never noticed the “this is fucking awesome” final line, which has been stuck in my head for weeks now.  This song is really funny.  The R Kelly line is hilarious [Probably should’ve washed this, smells like R. Kelly sheets (Pissssss…) But shit, it was 99 cents! ] and the whole bit about paying $50 for a T-shirt is spot on.  He hops around and is full of infectious energy.  There’s a live trumpet solo at the end.  Lewis plays with a set of sleigh bells and then knocks them off to much laughter.

As the song ends he grabs the Emmy and says, “Thank you, we’re outta here.  Peace.”

The final song is “Can’t Hold Us.”   The chorus of that song sounds so familiar.  I’m sure I’ve heard it before but I can’t imagine where (maybe roller skating?).  But man, is it catchy.  For this version, Ray Dalton sings with them.  I guess maybe he’s the guy who sang the original?  It sounds like there’s also a recording going with it, though, so who knows, and who cares.  The live trumpet is a nice touch.

As Bob notes: “The live, sweet, soulful sounds of singer Ray Dalton belting, ‘Like the ceiling can’t hold us’ had Macklemore standing on my desk and shaking the dust off the ceiling tiles.”  It is fun an exhilarating.  And as the show fades, you can hear him ask, “You guys have a shower?”

[READ: February 8, 2016] The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil

Saunders wrote this novella during the Bush administration. But it feels shockingly more relevant now.  This is the story of an unqualified buffoon who takes charge and attempts to force his will on a country.

But in typical Saunders fashion it is over the top and somewhat absurd, except that it is all quite real.

The story is about a small country called Inner Horner.  Inner Horner is so small that only one citizen can stand in it at a time.  The other five citizens must stand in The Short-Term Residency Zone.  Outer Horner is huge with lots of empty space.  The Outer Hornerites don’t really mind the Inner Hornerites being in the Zone, but they didn’t want to offer any of their own land to Inner Horner because, well, what if other countries wanted land too.

Then one day, a seismic shift makes Inner Horner even smaller.  Now only 1/4 of a citizen can fit in Inner Horner at a time.  Leon, an Outer Horner Border Guard noticed that this citizen (whose name was Elmer) was mostly in Outer Horn and he sounded the alarm that meant Invasion in Progress.

The Outer Horner Militia (Freeda, Melvin and Larry) came over and glared at Elmer.  They don’t believe in the shrinking–decent countries don’t shrink.  But the militia doesn’t know what to do.  And then Phil, a guy standing nearby, says why not tax them?

Phil was in love with Carol, a citizen of Inner Horner. But she had married Cal (another Inner Horner citizen) and they had a child, Little Andy.  This made Phil very bitter.  (more…)

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62SOUNDTRACK: THE JAYHAWKS-Tiny Desk Concert #556 (August 8, 2016).

jayhawksWhen The Jayhawks first had a hit back in 1992 (“Waiting for the Sun”), I actively disliked it.  I’m not sure why but at the time something about it really rubbed me wrong.  Now, I happen to really like the song. But more interestingly, I think that their newest album, especially “Quiet Corners & Empty Spaces” is fantastic.  It’s one of my favorite songs of 2016.

The verses are simple and catchy, the chorus is mesmerizingly fun to sing.  And the way the band fills in around Gary Louris’ voice is just perfect (and those harmonies, wow).  The version here is perfect–feeling a little more  “live” than it does on record (as it should)

“Lovers of the Sun” mixes the verses of an unwritten Sloan song with a 1960s folk California chorus.  The e-bow (which they’re worried didn’t get picked up) sounds cool and eerie at the same time.

“Leaving the Monsters Behind” has a bouncy bassline that propels this song and everyone sings delightful harmonies.  There’s close harmonies with Louris and higher ones from the drummer.  The middle section (ostensibly the solo) is really interesting for the way it shifts dramatically and the bass plays something very different from the bouncy main part.  The parts work very well together.

“Comeback Kids” opens with a high riff on the guitar and a slow bass keeping the pace.  I love that keyboardist Karen Grotberg switches back and forth between piano and this little synth pad thing that plays cool theremin-like sounds.  The riff that leads to chorus is really dramatic as well.  The ending, in which everyone sings some “oohs” and the riffs build and build, is right on.

I’m delighted at how much I’ve changed my mind about The Jayhawks.  And it only took 24 years (and many many breakups, re-formations and personnel changes) for me to change my mind.

[READ: February 26, 2016] “A Night at the Opera”

I found this story to be rather unsatisfying.  And it may have just been that when I printed it out, the first section was on one page and the second section–the start of page two–seemed so different that I wondered if I had somehow printed the wrong second page.

The story opens with the narrator reflecting on watching the Marx Brothers movie A Night at the Opera and how they laughed and laughed.

Then the second part jumps to a hospital known as Park House.  It is a place for people who need assistance all the time.  There are varying degrees of mental deficiencies in the hospital: the violent, the uncontrollably deluded, those who had murdered or who would murder, and the speechless. (more…)

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