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Archive for the ‘Essays’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: HAYLEY WILLIAMS-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #124 (December 9, 2020).

I basically missed Paramore entirely.  I’ve heard a few songs not realizing it was them and really liked them.  I listened to a bit more recently and really like the pop punk energy.

So this Tiny Desk (Home) Concert came as a real surprise. The music is stripped down and really spare.  There’s a real dancey element (funky bass and drums) and the guitars are really quiet.

The second big surprise came when Hayley introduced her band.  Becca Mancari on keys and backing vocals!  And Julien Baker on guitar!

This change in musicians and sound is intentional.

Petals for Armor is a soul-cleansing exhale from years of holding her breath. Originally released in a series of EPs, her solo debut sings through heartache in a tangle of triumph and hard-earned wisdom. It’s a pop album that knows sadness can simmer, but also shout over an ever-shifting sonic palette.

She plays three songs in ten minutes.

During the pandemic and protests, Williams has played these songs from her couch with muted restraint, and self-serenaded with acoustic covers — sad songs really can be sympathetic companions during dark days. But in her home, surrounded by blank canvases, Williams and friends splash a bottled-up energy.

The joy is infectious, as “Pure Love” bursts from first bloom

Aaron Steele counts off on the drums, while Williams gives a Huh! and Joey Howard introduces a funky bass line.  Her voice is powerful and soars throughout.

I’m disconcerted by the high fiving after the song–I hope they’ve been safe.

“Taken” shows off Baker’s jazzy-funk licks.

It opens with an outstanding bass from Joey Howard line that repeats throughout.  The song feels quintessentially dancey and a very different sound from Paramore.  Baker plays quietly wah-wah’d guitar as Mancari sings the backing bah bah bahs.  Williams plays a keyboard on a very tiny stand (I feel for her back).  The best moment comes with the five seconds of silence while Williams looks around and then jumps back into the danciness.

For the final song, Williams leans into the “Dead Horse” kiss-off with gleeful abandon.

The foundation of this song is the funky drum and bass once more. Williams picks up the guitar, but it’s Baker who plays the slightly askew riff that opens the song.  Baker plays lead licks throughout while Williams adds grace notes.  The best of which comes at 10:08 when both Williams and Baker plays a single note in harmony to make it really stand out.

And that kiss off?

When I say goodbye, I hope you cry.

[READ: January 5, 2021] “A Philadelphia Local is Unamused by the Fuss”

Today seemed like an ideal day to post about this election-related essay from Dave Eggers.

Today, a bunch if seditious Senators are going to pretend like our election was unfair.  They are going to make a spectacle of themselves and question the integrity of our very democracy.  They should be removed from office immediately.

This essay shows, in a small aside, how this phony scandal, this manufactured outrage, was created by the trump team long before the election happened.

On November 5th, while the election results were being tabulated, Eggers was in Philadelphia talking with Anna Palagruto.

Palagruto is the quintessential Philadelphian:

Palagruto has an accent so acute–“gonna” was “go-won-a” and an attitude so Philly-specific, that, if the city ever wanted a no B-S tourism spokesperson, no one but her would suffice. Come to Philly, she’d say. Or don’t.  No one cares.

Palagruto is fed up with the protesters on both sides. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ASHLEY RAY-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #125 (December 11, 2020).

Ashley Ray is a singer from Kansas.

Her voice is raw and harshly accented–purely from Kansas.  But her voice goes beyond country into what sounds like ancient folk music.

In this Tiny Desk (home) concert, Ray is

sitting on a screened-in porch with producer, songwriter and longtime friend Sean McConnell (and a distant chorus of crickets chirping in the early evening light).

I don’t know what her music normally sounds like, although this blurb says the songs 

all from Ashley Ray’s latest album, Pauline feel like a breakout release for this Kansas native, but she’s been putting in the hard work for close to 20 years now, spending much of her time waiting tables while writing songs for better-known artists.

All three songs feature Ray singing.  She plays guitar on the first one.  She is accompanied by McConnell.  He plays guitar as well, but it’s when he adds his harmony vocals that the songs really flesh out.  The second song, “Dirty work” almost feels like an X song (or many a Knitters song) with Exene singing lead and John Doe adding the harmonies (and playing the only guitar).

It’s interesting that Ray’s speaking voice is almost unaccented, when a song like “Pauline” is so clearly Southern.

“Just A House” feels more country than the other two–the melody of the chorus, I’m sure.  But I like the understatedness of it.

I do not like country music (duh), bit I really enjoyed this.  It was devoid of production and twang and felt real.

[READ: January 5, 2021] “Delaware Voters Await Joe Biden: ‘We Just Need Him'”

Today Georgia voters get to decide if Joe Biden will be roadblocked by The Worst Man in America, Mitch McConnell (he may have actually done more damage than trump).  

They get to decide if two trump supporters, who have already proven that their role in government is exclusively to get rich and screw the rest of us, should be thrown to the curb (preferably from a moving car).  

This election shouldn’t be happening.  These two horrible people should in no way be close to winning an election for anything.  And yet here we are. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: CHLOE X HALLE-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #123 (December 8, 2020).

Chloe x Halle’s album, with its arresting album cover, has been on all the top album lists this year.  I hadn’t heard anything off of it, so this is my introduction to this “powerful sister duo.”

Flanked by personal memorabilia supplied by their mother, the Bailey sisters did their best to make this studio performance really feel like a home concert.

I don’t know what he album sounds like, but this recording (complete with a full band, horns and strings) sounds pretty amazing.  Almost as amazing as Chloe and Halle’s voices.

As they volley off each other, swapping lead and harmonies, it’s amazing to watch how years of practice and innate genetic chemistry have them synced tight.

After introducing themselves, the sister play “Don’t Make It Harder on Me.”  There’s a clean bass opening from Elin Sandberg and quiet guitar chords (it’s fun to watch Lexii Lynn Frazier play as she is smiling a lot and really into it).  The addition of the trumpets (Arnetta Johnson and Crystal Torres) adding soft and then loud accents is a really nice touch.  But nothing can distract from the voices.

Halle takes the higher notes and wow does her voice soar.  But the two of them together, whether singer counterpoint or their gorgeous wordless harmonies are really amazing.

“Baby Girl,” the second song here, starts with notes reminiscent of Crystal Waters’ “Gypsy Woman (She’s Homeless),” and is preceded with Chloe sharing “I know this year 2020 has been absolutely bonkers for all of us. For those moments where you kinda feel less than and you’re not good enough … that’s why we wrote this song. … Whatever happens, we’ll be OK. And this is our world.”

The song is softer with keyboard splashes from Elise Solberg and soaring strings from Stephanie Yu (violin), Chelsea Stevens (cello) and Marta Honer (viola).

Halle sings the first verse with Chloe adding punctuation on this cool refrain

step up to the patio
listen to the radio
try to play it on my Casio

more great punctuation from the horns nicely flesh out this song.  The song ends with a short drum breakdown from Brandi Singleton with some ripping bass work as it segues into “Do It.”  “Do It” is a great moment to see the sisters play of of each other.  It’s fun watching them smile at each other as they bounce and bop and back and forth with the “do it”s and the “woo”s.

“Ungodly Hour” is upbeat but “Wonder What She Thinks of Me” is a very different song.  Chloe says it’s a song telling the perspective of the other woman and what does that feel like?  What would we do in that situation.  Chloe sings the first verses accompanied by gorgeous strings.  It’s a beautiful torch song and their voices are simply fantastic.  Their harmonies in the third chorus are, frankly, jaw dropping.

I don’t tend to like R&B albums, (and it’s possible the album doesn’t sound like this), but this set was really impressive.

[READ: January 3, 2021] “Preparing to Spin the Wheel of Fortune”

I like when an author I enjoy has a Personal History in the New Yorker.

This one was especially fun because David Gilbert relates his experience appearing on Wheel of Fortune.

The studio is cold.  There are contestant handlers who are mystically upbeat.  They tell them to clap without clapping (so they dont mess up the sound recording).

He rather enjoyed the make up because she makes him look very good (he’s very critical of himself).  Before talking about the whole process though, he gives some background on the show. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: LIDO PIMIENTA-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #94 (October 13, 2020).

This set is utterly fascinating.

I’d never heard of Colombian vocalist Lido Pimienta, although apparently she

had one of the musical highlights of a year marked by tragedy and uncertainty. The healing magic of her album Miss Colombia transfers beautifully to this visually stunning Tiny Desk (home) concert.

Pimienta is dressed nicely with ribbons in her hair. Her hair is fascinating and, in braids, reaches the floor!

The set design is set up to recall a quinceañera.

I actually thought that Pimienta was a teenager (she is in her thirties), because after the first song she says:

Welcome the show that celebrates … me.  I am fifteen years old and I am a musical prodigy.

She even acts fifteen when she says, “you can hire us for the very cheap price of one million dollars USD” and “Wikipedia, get my birth date correct, I am fifteen and just starting out.”

The quinceañera design is

a coming of age tradition that Pimienta could not share with her mother who had to flee Colombia. With her mom, Rosario Paz, present at the video shoot, Pimienta uses her energetic performances to close a dramatic circle with her mom as we celebrate with her.

The first song “Eso Que Tu Haces” is mostly voice and percussion.  There is just so much percussion here, it’s hard to believe only two guys play it all: Brandon Valdivia and Reimundo Sosa.

The vocalists are varied and add such a wall of beautiful voices to the song.

Backed up by a bevy of international musicians based in her new home of Toronto (I see you, members of the Cuban group Okan).

Magdelys Savigne and Elizabeth Rodriguez of Okan sing along as do The Road to Avonlea choir: Felicity Williams, Robin Dann, Isla Craig, and Ivy Farquhar-McDonnell.

The song gets bigger and more musical as it moves along with a tenor saxophone solo from Karen Ng that combines with the trumpet from Tara Kannangara.

“Nada” starts as Ng plays flute (Pimienta comments that this is her show not Ng’s so she should stop being so multitalented).  It’s a catchy dancey song and the end is a beautiful mix of the backing vocals and Pimineta’s solo soaring voice.

When her mom comes out on stage she jokes, are you glad that I’m finally a woman?

Introducing “Coming Thru” she says she always likes to work with women and feminine energy.  The world needs feminine energy so we can heal.

As the song starts, Elizabeth Rodriguez plays violin while Lido sings.  They are joined by the horns which flesh out the sound nicely.  Lido really does have a wonderful voice.

And as the variety of sounds indicates,

you can hear… how Pimienta’s quartet of songs challenge the concept of just what qualifies as “Latin music” in a way that both honors and expands tradition.

They are also joined by Prince Nifty, who plays keys and fleshes out the songs.  Although the start of the final song, “Resisto Y Ya” begins with just voice and percussion.

Lida explains that the song means, “I just resist.”  She says it is about Colombia and all of its drama and beauty.  The country is full of anger and also breathtaking landscapes.  The full band joins in by the end and the song just grows and grows as the set ends.

This is a terrific introduction to Pimienta’s music, whatever her age is.

[READ: November 20, 2020] “The Ability to Cry” 

This essay came out over a month after yesterday’s essay.  But they seemed so thematically similar that they work well together.

I’ve really enjoyed Yiyun Li’s stories over the years.  This piece of nonfiction was remarkably sad.

It begins with the death of a valued friend.  Or maybe not a friend so much as a caretaker.  The woman Julia, was supposed to dog and baby sit for Yiyun while she was out of town before her husband got home.  But she never answered the phone calls.  Julia had dogsat for thame on many occasions in the past and she always took pictures of the dog to show how well the dog (and garden) were doing.

Yiyun Li says that death has been prominent in her life in the last year and a half.  Her eldest son, her mother-in-law and her father have all died.

She did not cry when any of then died.  But when she saw Julia’s obituary, she broke down.   She felt like she was part of the delayed crying club. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE FLAMING LIPS-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #93 (October 9, 2020).

The Flaming Lips have recently performed a live concert in front of an audience (Yes!).  They did this by putting themselves and every audience member in one of Wayne Coyne’s giant bubbles.  What an amazing idea and a wonderful experience, I’m sure (especially after nine months of no live music).

Back in October, The Lips did their very first Tiny Desk Concert.  And, being the Lips, they decided to do their home concert entirely in their own bubbles.  (Although technically two people share two bubbles).

This Tiny Desk Concert features two songs from their newest album American Head.

The Flaming Lips have always embraced the surreal. Drugs are undoubtedly part of the culture, and on their new songs from American Head, drugs are at the core. These are songs for the lost, the overdosed dreamers, the damaged, the car crashed.

The open the set with “Will You Return/When You Come Down,” a simply wonderful song.

On the album’s opening track “Will You Return/When You Come Down” (which also begins this concert), Steven Drozd asks in falsetto, “Will you return? Will you come down?” while Wayne Coyne responds, “Thinking back to those lost souls / And their ghosts / Floating around your bed / Hear it said / Now all your friends are dead.”

I love everything about his song.  Gentle bells (from percussion Nicholas Ley) open the song along with Steven Drozd’s falsetto singing the refrain.  (Drozd is an amazing guitarist but only plays the keys in this set).  Wayne begins singing the verse.  It’s gentle and pretty, and then with a drum flourish from Matt Duckworth in comes Michael Ivins’ typically wonderful bass lines.

The song builds beautifully into a big major chord with Derek Brown’s acoustic guitar leading the way.

Whenever I’ve seen The Lips live, Jake Ingalls almost always sits on the floor.  In this set he’s sitting with Steven.  I’m never quite sure what he does, but I imagine he’s creating all kinds of interesting sounds.  Ingalls’ band Spaceface is pretty wonderful, but the way.

“God and the Policeman” features one of Ivins’ coolest basslines around.  It’s a stuttering rumble that seems to come from nowhere and adds a fantastic element to this song.  Ley adds in some tubular bells and Wayne plays the siren on his megaphone.  The main musical melody is a pretty piano circuit that soars with Wayne’s voice.

On the record, Kacey Musgraves sings the backing vocals but Steven takes them here. Wayne says that he has a good Kacey-esque voice.

Steven replies:

It sounds like you’re saying something nice but I can’t hear anything you’re saying.

The go back to 2013’s The Terror for “Be Free, A Way.”  Wayne says he wrote this when he was depressed.  He’s only been really depressed once or twice and this song came out of one of them.  I love the echoing vocals as Steven follows Wayne’s lead.  The vocal melody of two word sentences is just fantastic.

They end the set with “It’s Summertime” from 2002’s Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots. Yoshimi is a fantastic album from start to finish, although this song is somewhat of a left-field choice–not one of the big hits from the album. Wayne gets a nice trumpet solo too.

This is a wonderful set to see.  And I really hope they bring their bubble shows to a theater near me.

[READ: November 20, 2020] “My Three Fathers”

I have not read any of Ann Patchett’s books, although I keep meaning to.  Her soon to be released novel is supposed to be fantastic.

This essay sounded kind of interesting even without knowing anything about her.  She talks about having had three fathers during her life.  She prefaces all of this by saying that marriage is irresistible to her family members: “we try and fail and try again.”  She and her sister have both been married twice, while her mother married three times (thus, three fathers).

Her first father was her biological father.  He and her mother divorced when she was little. Her second father was her mother’s second husband–he adopted her.  Her third father was her mother’s third husband.  Her mother married him when Ann was an adult.

She writes about this third wedding, the rare time when all three of Ann’s fathers were together and at which she got a picture of herself with the three of them.

Then she talks about all three men. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE-“Killing the Name” (1991).

I was living in Boston when this song came out.  It was an electrifying shot across the bow of institutional racism–thirty years before that terms was on everyone’s lips.

This song was amazingly catchy and very vulgar.

It had few lyrics, but they were repeated over and over–a chant, a call to action.

Some of those that work forces
Are the same that burn crosses…
Well now you do what they told ya…
Those who died are justified
For wearing the badge
They’re the chosen whites
You justify those that died
By wearing the badge
They’re the chosen whites…

The song begins with a staccato opening, then some thumping bass and drums.  A cow bell and off goes the riff.  It’s as jagged and aggressive as angry as the lyrics.

The bridge is a pounding three note blast as the sections repeat.

Then comes a guitar solo.  One thing I remember distinctly when this album came out was that most of the talk was of Tom Morello’s guitar playing.  The album stated in the liner notes “no samples, keyboards or synthesizers used in the making of this record.”  It was an odd disclaimer, but with the bizarre sounds that Morello made, it was fascinating to wonder how he did it all.

The solo came at the four minute mark and, if radio wanted to play the song, they could fade it right there (that’s still plenty long for the radio).  But if they didn’t, then the chaos began, with crashing drums, and a slow build as Zach de la Rocha started quietly and got louder the simple but effective refrain

Fuck you. I won’t do what you tell me.

A band anda  room full of people chanting that song might just frighten the authorities a bit.

And that’s why in 2020, that song is being played a lot.

[READ: October 15, 2020] “On Defense”

A quote attributed to Dostoyevsky (who evidently never said it) is”

The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.

This quote is in the visitor center of the Manhattan Detention Complex (known as The Tombs). De La Pava says The Tombs is “one of the most hideous places on earth.”

I have really enjoyed Sergio De La Pava’s fiction.  I knew that he was involved in the New York City court system (his novels were too detailed about the system for him not to be).  This essay is a non-fiction account of his time as a public defender (he is still in the system, and is now the legal director of New York County Defender Services).

It seems like the public defender is not always appreciated–he or she stands in the way of putting criminals behind bars.  But De La Pava’s experience (along with many of the accused) shows that he has the really hard but important task of keeping innocent people from unfair punishment. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: Æ MAK-“We Have It Right Here” (2020).

Æ MAK is Aoife McCann.  She creates a fascinating tapestry of music.  It feels classical and operatic and yet also feels very electronic and oddly poppy.

This song begins with muted xylophones -sounding electronic tones playing a pretty melody (which reminds me of Björk).

McCann’s voice comes in and lilts and flutters almost bird-like. She sings in English but with interesting emphases on words.

Her vocal delivery and melodies conjure Regina Spektor.

About halfway through the, until now entirely electronic song, adds some soft acoustic guitar and gentle bells.

The second chorus is almost all voice with simple percussion and a kind of Kate Bush vocal trill.

The electronics come back in and suddenly start getting fuller and louder–filling up your headspace with sounds as her voice echoes itself and adds other lines before building to a remarkably catchy ending.

There’s so much going on in this song even though it often feels very minimal.

And wait until you see her on stage.

[READ: September 21, 2020] On Contemporary Art

I have enjoyed Aira’s novels and was intrigued by this short essay about Contemporary Art.

The entire book is 60 pages and it includes and Foreword and an Afterword.  That jibes with the premise of the imprint itself.  Ekphrasis Press reprints works about visual art that are not meant to be academic in nature–but compelling as prose.

In the Foreword Will Chancellor, talks about how language can throw you off.  He recalls bring a child and seeing the Objects in the Mirror are Closer Than They Appear warning.  He wondered how objects and their appearances could diverge.  He continues that Aira suggests this gap between appearance and reality might be the origin of cotemporary art.

~~~

The main body of the book is Aira’s essay, translated by Katherine Silver.

He starts by saying he is a writer who looks for inspiration in painting.  He says that cave painters painted facts, but it took a person relating the adventure, the storyteller, to make the episode come alive.

As a lover of art, he subscribes to many art magazines, namechecking Artforum, Art in America, Flash Art, Frieze, art press and more.  He says the magazines look better every year but that their ability to convey art gets worse every year–they cannot properly convey what an art piece looks like.  You have to read the texts to see what is happening.

His essay concerns the Enemy of Contemporary Art who says that today’s

frauds who pretend to be artists depend on a justifying discourse to validate the nonsense they produce.

They say that contemporary art doesn’t speak for itself–that it needs critics to explain it. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: D12-“Bizarre” (2001).

Hornby said that this track, a skit on the D12 album, was “I think the single most dispiriting moment of my professional life so far this millennium.”  Which meant I had to see what was so horrible.

I didn’t want to listen to the whole D12 album because I basically agree with his sentiments, I just think he;s way over the top into curmudgeonland.

So this skit starts with guys talking about hos and general sex ideas.  Then a guy introduces Bizarre (one of the D12) to Cindy.  She asks about Eminem (which is pretty funny) and he says he doesn’t know who that is.  He starts hitting on her and then farts very loudly.  When she protests, “the fuck you didn’t” he says, “Girl chill out, that shit came from my soul.” Which also made me chuckle.

Then he farts loudly again and asks for a kiss.  And that’s pretty much it.

It’s juvenile and light-hearted (which is probably necessary given how dark and misogynistic the rest of the album seems).  But I can’t imagine anyone wanting to hear it more than once if you were actually listening to the album.

Nevertheless, you have to be a real curmudgeon to not enjoy humor in music.  And, given his reaction to Blink 182, I’m guessing Hornby likes his bands to be Sophisticated, only.

[READ: September 10, 2020] “Pop Quiz”

I have enjoyed recent essays by Hornby in which he jokes about being a curmudgeon.  But boy was he ever a real musical curmudgeon in 2001.

He says that back in July 1971, the top ten list included Sticky Fingers by The Rolling Stones, Whats Going On by Marvin Gaye, a live album by CSN&Y and Aretha Franklin Live at the Fillmore East.  He says even the most curmudgeonly critics probably gushed over this list.  [Let’s gloss over the fact that there were a lot fewer albums released back in 1971 and that record sales were pretty well determined by radio airplay etc–so you had a pretty set idea of what would be popular].

But now there are many different top ten lists, probably because most critics don’t like what’s on the actual top ten list.  Many of those critics from 1971 are still critics today.

He says there is literary, critically approved pop–Wilco, Lucinda Williams, Nick Cave–none of whom trouble the Billboard statisticians much.

But he was unfamiliar with most of the people on the top ten on July 28, 2001.  So he decided to listen to them all (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: CHRIS FORSYTH WITH GARCIA PEOPLES-Peoples Motel Band (2020).

This is a fantastic document of a band an an artist who are totally in sync with each other, making forty minutes of amazing jamming music.  I saw this combination of artists in New York City on New Year’s Eve and the set was spectacular.

I absolutely could have (should have) gone to this show.  It was recorded on September 14, 2019 at Johnny Brenda’s in Philly, a place I have been to many times.  I can’t recall why I didn’t go to this one.  But this document (while obviously shorter than the real set) is a great recording of the night.

Recorded September 14, 2019 before a packed and enthusiastic hometown crowd at Johnny Brenda’s in Philadelphia, Peoples Motel Band catches Chris Forsyth with Garcia Peoples (plus ubiquitous drummer Ryan Jewell) re-imagining songs from Forsyth’s last couple studio albums with improvisatory flair.

As is often the case with Forsyth shows, the gloves come off quickly and the players attack the material – much of it so well-manicured and cleanly produced in the studio – like a bunch of racoons let loose in a Philadelphia pretzel factory.

Recorded and mixed with clarity by Forsyth’s longtime studio collaborator, engineer/producer Jeff Zeigler, the record puts the listener right in the sweaty club, highlighted by an incredible side-long take of the chooglin’ title track from 2017’s Dreaming in The Non-Dream LP (note multiple climaxes eliciting wild shouts and ecstatic screams from the assembled).

The disc opens with “The Past Ain’t Passed” a kind of noodling warm-up with three guitarists all taking various solo pieces and it segues into the catchy riff of “Tomorrow Might as Well Be Today.”  It’s a bright instrumental with a series of jamming solos all around a terrific riff.

Up next is “Mystic Mountain,” the only track with vocals.  It has a classic rock vibe and Forsyth’s detached voice.  The highlights of this nine-minute song are the riff and the soling.

The best part of the disc is the 20 minute epic “Dreaming in the Non-Dream.”  The studio version of this song is terrific with Forsyth playing some stellar riffs as both lead and rhythm lines.  But here with three lead guitarists Forsyth, Tom Malach and Danny Arakaki) the experimentation is phenomenal.  But it’s Forsyth’s wailing solo at 18 minutes, when he is squeezing every noise he can out of his guitar, that is the peak of the song and the set.

Also playing: Peter Kerlin: bass guitar; Pat Gubler: organ/synthesizer and two drummers: Cesar Arakaki and Ryan Jewell.

This is a great release and I’m pretty happy to have gotten the vinyl of it..

[READ: September 1, 2020] “Serenade”

I started reading this and thought it was a short story (the title where it says “Personal History” was blocked).  It seemed to be oddly written.  Then when I got to the paragraph where he talks about writing Love in the Time of Cholera, I realized it was non-fiction.

He says that Love is based around his parents’ own love story.  He had heard it so many times from both his mother and his father and he seemed to remember it in different ways, so that by the time he wrote the book he no longer knew what was the actual truth.

And what a fascinating and tangled story of love they shared. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: FLATBUSH ZOMBIES-Tiny Desk Concert #64 (August 13, 2020).

download (93)I’ve never heard of the Flatbush Zombies, but I really like their chill rap style.  Musically the songs are groovy and complex and the live backing vocalists (l-r: Danielle Withers; Nayanna Holley; Stevvi Alexander) really flesh out the sound.

Plus, there’s three lead rappers who have very different vocal styles and combine wonderfully.

Most of the music comes from keyboardist Brittani Washington and bassist Robin Bramlett.  But its the live drums (Drin Elliott) that really punch these songs (the cymbals sound really sharp and clean).

You’ve never really experienced Flatbush Zombies if you haven’t been to one of their live shows. The hip-hop group’s knack for tearing down festival stages is well documented and the energy transfer between members Zombie Juice, Meechy Darko and Erick Arc Elliott and their crowds is ferocious to put it lightly. So when I heard that they were recording a Tiny Desk concert from home, I was curious as to if and how that energy would manifest in a confined space.

It’s fun watching the band perform in this socially distanced house–everyone is far apart but clearly jamming off of each other, and the camera(s) are all over the room.

The Zombies present themselves like we’ve never seen or heard. Stripped down versions of “when i’m gone,” fan favorite, “Palm Trees” and the brand new James Blake-produced “Afterlife” are almost completely different from the recorded versions.

This may be yet another instance where a Tiny Desk Concert brings out the best of a rap band.  I don’t know what their recorded versions sound like, but the live band is great.  If this is really the first time they’ve played together, it’s a testament to how good they can all play together.

“when i’m gone” song starts out with Zombie Juice rapping.  He’s got a soft but intense delivery that I really like.  The backing vocals are really lovely.  Erick Ark Elliott takes the second verse.   His delivery is also quiet.  But it’s the addition of Meechy Darko’s gravelly, intense rapping that sets the song apart.  There’s also a nice instrumental breakdown at the end.

Between songs, the guys introduce themselves.  Erik says he is Erik The Architect and Meechy says his government name is Dimitri Simms (which makes everyone laugh).

Introducing “Palm Trees” Erik says this is the first time you’ll hear this song in this way.  Meechy sings the first part with his deep gravelly Jamaican vocals.   For the second half, Zombie Juice raps in a kind of comical falsetto that I really like.

Meechy is a hilarious hype man, making all kind of hype sounds [Blap blap. gaboom, r-r-r-rah, bakka, bakka] as they introduce the band members.

The guys stand up for “Afterlife.”  Erik takes the lead and the other two guys back him up nicely.  There’s fantastic backing vocals on this song and it’s pretty clear that these guys are terrific live.

I really enjoyed this set and am looking forward to hearing more from these Zombies.

[READ: August 15, 2020] “All My Pronouns”

This essay kind of updates the prescriptivist/grammar article that David Foster Wallace wrote in Harper’s almost 20 years ago.

Anne Fadiman addresses the increased usage of they/their as both a singular pronoun and for nonbinary persons.

She explains that she is a classic prescriptivist when it comes to language and to life.  She sorted her M&Ms by color before eating them.  (Apparently 18% of respondents to a survey responded that they did this while 82% said “no, that’s weird”).  I think that’s weird, but I do go along with her on some other “splitter” attitudes.

She separates splitters vs. lumpers.  Splitters makes distinctions rather than finding commonalities.  Splitters don’t say you’ve seen a bird, or even a hawk, say a red-shouldered hawk.  Splitters enjoy organization; splitters enjoy grammar.

Splitters tend to be presciptivitsts–this is how people should talk.  While lumpers tend to be descriptivists this is how people actually talk.

Prescriptivists are called (usually by descriptivists) elitists, killjoys, curmudgeons, cranks, fussbudgets, old farts, usage nerds and grammar fascists.  Descriptivists are called (usually by prescriptivists) corrupters, miscreants, barbarians and vulgarians.

But now prescriptivists have to address the issue of the pronoun “they.” (more…)

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