Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Depressing’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: TH1RT3EN-Tiny Desk (Home Concert) #146 (January 18, 2021).

I had never heard of TH1RT3EN before this Tiny Desk Concert. But I was hooked from the beginning.  I liked everything about them.  The fuzzy distorted guitar from Marcus Machado, the excellent delivery of Pharoahe Monch and especially the fascinating drumming and drum style of Daru Jones (look at the way his drums are set up!).

Both the moniker TH1RT3EN and supergroup were born out of a frustration with the veneer of American society that underestimates the darkness of white supremacy.

“I knew 5 years ago where we headed,” Monch shared over the phone. “Sure, we’ve always done socially and politically aware music, but I’m tired of this “love will win” nonsense. Love may be the most powerful vibrating force, but consciousness is spreading and it’s impossible not to be more aware of the evil that has kept the world in complete darkness. TH1RT3EN is the musical personification of me and my comrades at combat.”

“The Magician” is based around the riff from Yes’ “Roundabout.”  Machado plays the riff throughout which I find much more interesting than if it was sampled.  Monch’s lyrics are smart and pointed.  There’s an incredibly fast rapping middle section with some amazing drumming.  I really like his delivery.

Moinch says that that song is about a student who was bullied and grew up to be a school shooter.  Ironically there hasn’t been any school shootings because we’re in the middle of a pandemic–a pandemic that has taken the lives of 250,000 Americans.  And yet Americans reman more afraid of Black Lives Matter than of COVID 19.

TH1RT3EN recorded this set in August 2020, as evidenced by Monch’s interlude, this four-song set still channels the discontent outside our windows today.  Shot in a padded “panic” room, this Tiny Desk (home) concert reflects the rage felt by this three-man battalion.

Monch continues “We are in need of cleansing and an exorcism.  “Cult 45” opens with a sample of a horn riff.  It’s quieter musically so it’s mostly vocals.  When the guitar joins in it’s mostly to add free jazz noises along with some wild drumming.

“Scarecrow” returns to the slow dirgy, aggressive guitar sound behind some fast rapping.

He says he started the band because he wanted a bit more authentic aggression by finding these two musicians.  And the set ends with “Fight” which has a nice big riff and crashing drums.

How’s this for an aptly aggressive verse

Burn a cross, water hose, dogs and nightsticks
Yeah, that’s what it used to be, see, they would usually
Just hang a nigga, fuck ’em
Now they don’t have the time to decorate the trees so they buck ’em

I’m going to have to check out this album.

[READ: February 28, 2021] You’ll Never Believe What Happened to Lacey.

Amber Ruffin is a writer and comedian, most notably from “Amber Says What” on Late Night with Seth Meyers and The Amber Ruffin Show on Peacock.  Amber is hilarious.

But Amber is also righteously angry about the way Black people are treated in America.  Somehow she manages to take the most horrible things you can imagine and report about them with enough humor to make you listen and laugh and still get outraged.

This book is a collection of stories of racist things that happened to her sister Lacey.   Lacey lives in Omaha, Nebraska, where they grew up.  I don’t know anything about Nebraska or Omaha.  Apparently Omaha is a big city and has sections that have a lot of Black folks.  White people who are not from the city find the thought of going to Omaha scary.  It also means that when Lacey gets jobs outside of Omaha she is typically the only Black person in the building.

Which seems to make all of the white people there think it is okay to say whatever crazy racist shit they want to say.  But even outside of work, it seems like Lacey is a magnet for racist comments.  Is it because she is tiny and good natured?  Maybe.  But she is a also a bodybuilder, so watch out.

About this book Amber says:

When you hear these stories and think, None of these stories are okay, you are right.  And when you hear these stories and think, Dang, that’s hilarious, you are right.  They’re both.

There are going to be a lot of time while you’re reading this book when you think There is no motivation for this action. It seems like this story is missing a part because people just aren’t this nonsensically cruel.  But where you see no motivation, you understand racism a little more.  It’s this weird, unprovoked lashing-out, and it never makes any sense. It’s why it’s so easy for people to believe the police when hey beat someone up–because no one would be that cruel just because the person was Black.  But the are!  So as you read this book, when you see there’s no motivation, know that there is: racism.

The Preface has an anecdote that really sets the tone for the rest of the book.  Lacey paid at a store with a check. The checks had Black heroes on them.  Lacey paid with one with Harriet Tubman on it.  The cashier who had been very nice up to that point said “Wow you have checks with your picture on ’em.”  There is then a hilarious juxtaposition of the check with Tubman and one with Lacey’s photo.

Amber contrasts her life in New Yorke City.

Everyone I work with is stark raving normal. We don’t have any crazy bigots (dumb enough to run up) and I’m no one’s first Black friend.  Now I’m not saying no one ever says anything crazy to me–I’m still a Black woman in America–it’s just that we all know there are consequences for talking to me as if you’ve lost your mind.

But in the Midwest it is an unchecked tsunami of dumb questions and comments.  People think it your job to answer “Why can’t I (insert the most nonsense shit you’ve ever head)?”

Lacey chimes in (in a different font) from time to time with things like that she’s happy her little sister is successful in New York:

where someone would get fired for out-and-out racism.  I love that that really happens.  Never seen it, but I love it.  Like Santa Claus.

Amber ends the preface by saying

Hopefully the white reader is gonna read this, feel sad, think a little about it, feel like an ally, come to greater understanding of the DEPTH of this type of shit, and maybe walk away wit a different point of view of what it’s like to be a Black American in the twenty-first century.

And I did.  Boy did I ever. (more…)

Read Full Post »

SOUNDTRACK: POCHONBO ELECTRONIC ENSEMBLE-“Where Are You, Dear General?”

One thing the book does not mention is this song which is played every morning in Pyongyang at 6AM.

There’s a clip of the song being broadcast in front of Pyongyang Station here.

In this clip, the music is creepy and empty, played through exterior speakers and bouncing off of government buildings.  As one person commented, if this music had a color, it would be grey.

This recorded version, by North Korea’s most popular act, is a little different.  It’s much warmer with soft synth not unlike synthy new age from the 70s/80s.

Here’s some detail about the creators of this music (according the BBC):

The Pochonbo Electronic Ensemble were formed by Kim Jong-il in the early-80s and were the first North Korean band to use electric guitars, synthesisers and saxophone, drawing on Korean folk music, but also Chinese, Soviet and, to a smaller extent, Western pop. They take their name from the 1937 Battle of Pochonbo, in which a group of guerrillas were led by Kim Il-sung in an attack on occupying Japanese forces (yet, despite this, they have toured in Japan). They’ve released over 150 CDs.

After 2 minutes of spacey intro, the vocals come in–a big chorus of voices asking “Supreme Headquarters. Where are you? Lead us to you.”

At 3 minutes the lead vocals come in, sung by Hyon Song-wol.  The music stays much the same (with echoing sounds and trippy synths) but Hyon Song-wol’s voice soars over the top and is quite lovely as she sings unabashed propaganda wonder where their supreme general is and when he will keep them warm and safe.

For a longer essay about this mysterious wake up alarm, check out this article from nknews.

[READ: December 29, 2019] Pyongyang

I really enjoyed Delisle’s A User’s Guide to Neglectful Parenting.  It was very funny and I really liked his drawing style.  Delisle has written several other books (published by Drawn & Quarterly) and I was really excited to see this one come across my desk (it’s a 2018 printing although it doesn’t look like there’s anything added).

The introduction by director Gore Verbinsky sets the stage for what this book is.  In 2001, Delisle was allowed into North Korea to work on an animated cartoon for two months.

In animated movies, there are “key frames” which are sort of the highlight moments.  In between these key frames are where the North Korean animators draw–the in-betweens.  Canadian and Europeans (and some American) directors then supervise the completion–often trying very hard to get the animators to understand simple Western ideas.

Verbinsky says that Delisle “reduces the amplitude to get underneath the narrative and break down a belief system into something infinitely relatable.  He looks at the daily life of people existing in these “in-betweens” and looks at the citizens who “exist in a bubble of fear.”

The book was translated by Helge Dascher.

Delisle’s self-portrait character is a simply drawn man with a big nose, tiny eyes and a very expressive face. As the story opens he is at customs where they ask about the book he brought (1984–with a funny scene about that later) and his music Aphex Twin.  His driver picks him up from the airport–you don’t go anywhere in North Korea without an escort.  Delilse is shocked that the driver is smoking in than air conditioned car with the windows closed:  “Great.  I can’t breathe and I’m cold.” (more…)

Read Full Post »

yorkernSOUNDTRACK: SOUL COUGHING-“Is Chicago, Is Not Chicago” (1994).

soul cI really enjoyed Soul Coughing’s output, and Ruby Vroom stands out as a great debut.  They had a terrific blend of great music played behind a more or less spoken word.  The idea wasn’t unique, but they made it work as more than a gimmick.

The musicians of Soul Coughing were tremendous and Mike Doughty’s voice has a wonderful resonance for telling is offbeat/absurd stories/poems.

This track seems especially appropriate when talking about Saul Bellow.

Starting with rhythmic guitar chunks, an upright bass plays a very cool rising and falling bass run.  It sounds like modern noir.

Then Doughty tells us “a man drives a plane into the Chrysler building.”  It’s difficult to hear it now, but in 1994 it was simply a fantastical image.   The drums come in as the guitar starts making shapes and slashes of sounds.

The chorus is a rather boppy moment amid the noise as things slow down for the recited “Is Chicago is not Chicago.”

Then the bridge(s):

Saskatoon is in the room
Poulsbo is in the room
Bennetsville is in the room
Palmyra is in the roomKhartoum is in the room
Phnom Penh is in the room
Pyongyang is in the room
Cairo is in the room

The song ends with a wonderful cacophony of guitar scratches and drum beats that definitively ends the song without it having to end itself.

[READ: September 1, 2019] “Re-Reading Saul Bellow”

I decided to read this article because I like Philip Roth and because I have never read any Saul Bellow.  In fact, although Saul Bellow is a name I was familiar with, I wasn’t entirely sure what he had written. So I was pretty surprised to read that he wrote The Adventures of Augie March, which I had without a doubt heard of, but which I knew very little about.  I was also really surprised to find out that he was still alive when Roth wrote this esay (Bellow died in 2005).

Roth knew Bellow, of course, and Bellow had once told him that his Jewish heritage led him to doubt himself as a writer.  This was mainly because “our own WASP establishment, represented mainly by Harvard-trained professors considered a son of immigrant Jews unfit to write books in English.”

By the time he wrote Augie March, he was prepared to open not with a line like “I am a Jew, the son of immigrants,” but “I am an American, Chicago born.”

Roth summarizes a few of Bellow’s works and talks about how he progressed as a writer.  Of course, he writes this re-reading as if we ourselves have read the books (so, spoiler alerts).

He more or less dismisses the first two novels Dangling Man (1944) and The Victim (1947) and moves straight on to The Adventures of Augie March (1953) saying how the transformation from the earlier writer to the writer of Augie is remarkable.  It won the National Book Award.

He especially likes “the narcissistic enthusiasm for life in all its hybrid forms” that is propelling Augie.  He cries out to the world “Look at me!”

What appeals to me about the way Roth describes this book is the “engorged sentences” as “syntactical manifestations of Augie’s large, robust ego.”  That sounds like a fun 500 page book to me.

Up next was Seize the Day (1956) which is a short novel and the fictional antithesis of Augie March–a sorrow-filled book about the culmination of a boy who is disowned and disavowed by his father.  Whereas Augie’s ego soars, Tommy Wilheim’s is quashed beneath its burden.  Tommy cried out to the world “Help me!”

Bellow seemed to alternate between comedy and tragedy and I would much rather read the comedies myself.

Next came Henderson the Rain King (1959) which contain an exotic locale, a volcanic hero and the comic calamity that is his life.  Henderson is a boozer, a giant, a Gentile, a middle-aged multimillionaire in a state of continual emotional upheaval.  He leaves his home for a continent peopled by tribal blacks who turn out to be his very cure. Africa as medicine.

According to Wikipedia, Bellow became very conservative and somewhat (or very) racist as he got older.  I hesitate to read this book although it was written when he was younger.  On the other hand, I do enjoy that Roth calls it “a screwball book but not without great screwball authority.”  So that’s a tentative maybe on reading this.

Herzog (1964) also won the National Book Award.  Moses Herzog is a labyrinth of contradiction and self-division. He is Bellow’s grandest creation.  Herzog is American literature’s Leopold Bloom.  Although in Ulysses, “the encyclopedic mind of the author is transmuted into the linguistic flesh of the novel and Joyce never cedes to Bloom his own great erudition… whereas in Herzog, Bellow endows his hero with a mind that is a mind.”

Much of the plot is given away in the review, presumably because a 50 year-old award-winning book is pretty well known.

Roth says that Herzog is Bellow’s first excursion into sex in a novel. Adding sex allows Herzog to suffer in ways that Augie March never did.  He also says that “in all of literature  I know of no more emotionally susceptible male, of no man who brings a greater focus or intensity to his engagement with women than this Herzog.”

In Herzog, there is barely any action that takes place outside of Herzog’s brain.  Roth suggests, the best parts of the book are the letters that Herzog writes.

This book sounds rather appealing.  Unlike Mr. Sammler’s Planet (1970) which also won the National Book Award (dang this guy must be good).  Roth gives it a rather short write up, but it appears to be about a man dealing with the culture around him.  It is a darker story, that sounds like a critique of the sixties.

That leads to Humboldt’s Gift (1975) which won the Pulitzer Prize for Literature [that is an impressive amount of awards Mr Bellow].  Roth describes it as the “screwiest of the euphoric going-every-which-way-out-and-out comic novels.”  It is “loopier and more carnivalesque” than the others.  It’s like the tonic that helps him recover from the suffering in Sammler.

Interestingly. Roth doesn’t really talk about the rest of Bellow’s works: The Dean’s December (1982); What Kind of Day Did You Have? (1984); More Die of Heartbreak (1987); A Theft (1989); The Bellarosa Connection (1989); The Actual (1997); Ravelstein (2000).  Rather he continues with Humboldt and talks about Bellow’s relationship with Chicago.

Roth says that in Bellow’s early books Chicago was barely mentioned–a few streets here and there, but by Humboldt Chicago infuses the book.

Perhaps Below didn’t seize on Chicago at the start of his career because he didn’t want to be “a Chicago writer” any more than he wanted to be “a Jewish writer.”

Roth does in fact mention The Dean’s December, but only to say that the exploration of Chicago in this book is not comical but rancorous.  Chicago has become demoniacal.

It feels like Bellow is no longer a part of Chicago.

Read Full Post »

SOUNDTRACK: JUPITER & OKWESS-Tiny Desk Concert #784 (September 7, 2018).

Jupiter Bokondji comes from the troubled capital of Democratic Republic of the Congo.

He and his band Okwess dress in wonderfully colorful garb.  Jupiter’s jacket is practically a zoot suit with blue and white stripes on one side, a red field on the other and giant white stars  He has a big hat as well.  But he can’t hold a candle on the shirtless drummer who is wearing a red white and blue wrestling mask the whole show.

The guitarist has a beautiful patterned gold shirt with blue lapels and the percussionist in addition to wearing another cool hat has on a terrific sweater.

The band plays “the vibe of Kinshasa street musicians, that feels both African and American” and indeed, “their fierce energy here is an astonishing performance.”

Then of course there’s Congolese rumba, the popular dance music from as early as the 1940s, not too dissimilar from some Cuban music of the day. And the message of the music has been steeped in the complicated politics of the region, stumbling between chaos, anarchy and oppression.

This is urgent music … that stems from the gut but has thought and theatrics to flesh out the feelings. It’s music to be experienced. This is your entry point.

They play 3 songs each with a similar feel but with a very different sound.

“Ofakombolo” is so wonderfully catchy with the percussionist and drummer chanting the chorus on the first time around.  On the second the rest of the band sings too, for a nice harmony.  The bassist gets what sounds like a rap guest verse before playing a kind of funky bass solo.  The percussionist is great for shouts and trills animals noises, too.  The music is nonstop, propulsive and fun, with a distinctive guitar solo sound.

“Pondjo Pondjo” starts with a quiet guitar intro.  But it is joined by the drummer whistling and the percussionist pulling a string through a plastic container, making a crazy squeaky sound that works wonders as a percussive sound.  The bassist seems to be singing lead on this song (a very different voice).

 Jupiter introduces “Ekombe” by saying “Let’s go to dancing!” It opens with a funky bass line and the drummer playing a fast hi-hat beat and chanting.  It’s a very dancey with a slinky guitar line running throughout the song.  There’s a nifty breakdown in the middle which features some fun on the bass and a wild solo to end the song.

This is a wonderful introduction to Congolese music.  Stay for the end, as they end the show with a post-credits kung fu pose.

[READ: January 5, 2017] “In the Act of Falling”

Boy this was a dark, dark story.  After the last line I actually said aloud, “Jesus, Danielle, what the hell.”

This is the story of a family: a woman, her husband and their nine-year-old son, Finn.  Finn was recently suspended from school for punching a fellow student in the mouth.

They live in a an old house that they imagined fixing up but two years later even the dining room is unfinished.

Finn is in the yard setting up a volleyball net–but he is doing it sideways like a hammock.  It turns out he is setting it up to catch ducks as they fall from the sky.  Birds were the next heralders of the apocalypse.  And, she had seen that all of the ducks in St Stephen’s green were dead–all of them.  She probably shouldn’t have told Finn this, but she did. (more…)

Read Full Post »