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Archive for the ‘Fables’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: JOYCE DiDONATO-Tiny Desk Concert #933 (January 15, 2020).

I was sure that Joyce DiDonato had performed a Tiny Desk Concert before, but I actually knew her from a gorgeous NPR Field Recording from 2015.

the last time we filmed the down-to-earth diva, she insisted on singing an opera aria at the Stonewall Inn, the iconic gay tavern in Greenwich Village.

DiDonato is an opera singer and her voice is amazing–she can soar and growl and everything in between.  But this Tiny Desk is not what you’d expect.  For although DiDonato sings in her beautiful operatic voice, the music the band is playing is anything but.

When opera star Joyce DiDonato told us she wanted to sing centuries-old Italian love songs at the Tiny Desk we weren’t surprised. But when she said she was bringing a jazz band to back her up, we did a double take. But that’s Joyce, always taking risks.  On paper, the idea of jazzing up old classical songs seems iffy. At the least it could come across as mannered and at worst, an anachronistic muddle. But DiDonato somehow makes it all sound indispensable, with her blend of rigor, wit and a sense of spontaneity.

The first song is by Alessandro Parisotti.  “Se tu m’ami” sets the stage for what this show is going to be like.  Gorgeous jazz with DiDonato’s impressive voice.

The musical formula for these unorthodox arrangements makes room for typical jazz solos while DiDonato molds her phrases to the flexible rhythms and inserts old-school trills and flamboyant roulades.

A cool trumpet solo from Charlie Porter takes a cool trumpet solo while DiDonato admires his skill.

After three minutes they segue seamlessly into Salvator Rosa’s “Star vicino.”  This one features a piano solo from Craig Terry which he begins with a line from “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.”  The song also features a muted trumpet solo with a few drum breaks for Jason Haaheim

My favorite moment in the set comes just before 6 minutes where she sings a beautiful lilting melody and then hits a growly note that I was sure was the trumpet until Porter played the same note on his muted trumpet.  It was very cool and kind funny.  Especially when she says

there’s no soprano in the world who could get away with that

Less than a minute later she runs through her enormous vocal range from low to very high to soaring.  It’s amazing.

She says that in the classical world, the standard is perfection–rarely achieved.  Young singers try so hard to get it perfect that they lose the “grease” as the jazz players say.  So this project was designed to put the swing back in these old love songs.

The third song she says is by anonymous, but it is credited to Giuseppe Torelli. “Tu lo sai” is a love song that says, “you have no idea how much I love you.  No matter how much you scorn me, I still love you,”  She says they giving this the Chet Baker treatment.  I’m not exactly sure what that means, but there is some wonderful trumpet work in this song.

It has a slow opening with piano and voice.  The other instruments slowly come in and there is a wonderful moment during Porter’s trumpet solo where she picks up the note from him and runs with it.

Bassist Chuck Israels (who has played with everyone from Billie Holiday to the Kronos Quartet) never solos but he keeps the whole enterprise running perfectly.

For the final song Francesco Conti’s “Quella fiamma” they bring out Antoine Plante on the bandoneon.  She says, “Yea we’re going to South America in a minute.”

Porter uses a different kind of mute which creates a unique sound.  Then the bandoneon comes in and the South American flair is complete.  There’s an incredible moment at the end of the song where Joyce just trills away–showcasing so much of what she can do.

As the blurb says, despite how great the band is

the star of the show is the continually amazing DiDonato, whose voice is certainly one of the great wonders of her generation. The flexibility of the instrument, the colors she conjures and her fine-tuned dynamic range are a few of the reasons she’s still at the peak of her powers. She looks and sounds like she’s having the time of her life.

I see that she sings in Princeton pretty often.  Next time she;s in town I will make sure to check her out.

[READ: December 20, 2019] The Raven’s Children

This story was fascinating in the way it started as a very real story, suddenly added magical realism and then turned into an utterly fantastical story.  And yet it all works perfectly well as an allegory of the oppressive regime under Stalin.

Not bad for a book with talking animals.

This book was translated by Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp and she brings this story to life.

Shura is a young boy living in Leningrad.  He lives with his mama and papa as well as his older sister and a little brother.  They live in an apartment building and he and his sister are lucky enough to have a room to themselves.  The amusing set up is that they have to walk through a wardrobe that their father set up to separate the rooms (he removed the back but you can’t tell from the front).  This weird construction actually saves them later in the story.

Shura’s friend is named Valya.  His parents don’t want him hanging out with Valya, but they like to do the same things, so he disobeys.  Today they are putting pennies on a railroad track.  They had been doing this for long enough that they can tell how heavy a train is by the way the resulting items come out.

On this occasion the train that went by seemed to be full of people.  People crammed into each car.  As it sailed past, a piece of paper sailed out.  Valya grabbed it. Neither of the boys could read very well but they could see some numbers on it.  Shura was sure that the paper was important and he desperately wanted it. But he didn’t know how to get it from Valya without making him want it more.

They walked home and by the time they got to Shura’s place, they were physically fighting.  Shura manged to snatch the paper and Valya threw a rock at him.  The rock smashed a window of an older lady’s apartment in their building.  Shura knew he was in trouble for the window.  But it was Valya’s fault.  Of course, he wasn’t supposed to be playing with Valya. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKRHEOSTATICS-The Horseshoe Tavern Toronto (February 17, 2001).

It’s hard to believe these shows were 18 years ago!

This was night 4 of 4 of the Horseshoe Tavern’s 53rd Birthday bash.  It was the final night and one of the longest shows I can recall at almost 3h in length. The Chickens opened the show.

It was hard to find information about The Chickens.  What I learned was that they were originally a band called U.I.C. which was first an acronym for Unemployment Insurance Commission but was later changed to Up in Canada.  They broke up and then years later reformed but as a different band.  From Now Toronto:

Not only do the Chickens boast the propulsive rhythm section of former U.I.C. drummer Murray Heywood and bassist Dan Preszcator along with the devastating firepower of U.I.C. guitarist Fred Robinson, but they also have the megacity’s most exciting microphone mauler, U.I.C.’s Dave Robinson, fronting the band.  That’s right, Exeter’s answer to the Stooges have clawed their way back from obscurity to kick ass with a vengeance. So why the name change? Well, despite the fashion-world dictate, the 80s are over and the Chickens aren’t a nostalgia act.  The songwriting savvy of former El Speedo guitarist Ken Mikalauskas has added a sharper pop edge to the compositions, as can be heard on the Chickens’ cranking new Prepare To Plug In (Egg-cellent) album.  “We went through about a million names and even contemplated going back to U.I.C., but it didn’t click. Ken has contributed so much to our sound that this really feels like a new group. Besides, none of us really liked the name U.I.C. anyway.”

So that’s the opening act.

For the main act, the band plays for nearly three hours.  They played almost all of Night of the Shooting Stars (songs are in bold–excluding “Remain Calm” or “Satan”).  There was a nice intro by Jeff Cohen (which states that The Horsehoe was originally a country club, which makes sense.)

And then they jumped n with six new songs.

“The Fire” which Martin says is “a new song Dave and i are working on.”  There’s some great harmonizing between the two of them at the end–they don’t duet enough.  It’s followed by some short, poppy song: “It’s Easy To Be With You” and “Superdifficult.”  Martin speaks the title through his robotic voice in low and high register and Tim says that thing was in my dreams last night.  It’s such a great but far too short song.

“The Reward” has such a great slinky guitar riff.  It’s another satisfying new song.  As is “Mumbletypeg” although they can’t seem to synch up on the intro to this song.  Dave yells “all together now” and they get going.  The new stuff ends with “Song Of The Garden” which Tim dedicates to Sarah Harmer’s new album.

Then it’s back to older songs.  There’s a soaring “Self Serve Gas Station” which segues into a screaming “RDA.”  They throw in some tags to The Clash’s “I’m So Bored with the U.S.A.” with DB shouting: “I’m so bored with the U.S.A.  I’m so angry at the U.S.A.  I don’t give  a fuck about the U.S.A.”  When the song is over, Dave says,  “We almost sounded like The Chickens there.”

There’s a discussion of music and hockey and The Chickens should be called The Gas Station Island Five since the starting line is the entire chickens band–they’re amazing on the ice.  One of them says “We’re gonna kick The Morningstars ass (Bidini’s team) at the Exclaim Cup.  DB notes: “Different division.  They can’t put us in the same division because there’s always a big terrible beautiful brawl when we play each other.  The Exclaim Cup.  April 13-15–it’s free.  It surprises you that it’s free to watch these guys play hockey?

Tim says they’re going “way back for” “Torque, Torque” which was fun to hear.  Especially since the follow-up the new song “In It Now” has a similar guitar sound.  I love the guitar riff and melody of this song.

They tale a small break to talk about the celebrities they’ve spotted on the last couple of nights, including Dave Reid, from Centennial High, where they performed Harmleodia.

Someone shouts “I’m looking for some fun” (the opening of Fish Tailin’)  DB: “Hey Martin that guy wants to talk to you.”  Martin says they’re playing something else.  When the guy shouts again, DB says, “Perhaps you would like to try another club if you’re still looking  Because we’re cooking.”

They play a great “Junction Foil Ball” during which a fire alarm goes off.  After the song Tim checks, “that wasn’t a real fire, right?  It was just Dave’s riff was too hot.”

They play a long “Dope Fiends and Boozehounds” with a wild drum solo in the middle and loud and roaring ending.   Then they play “Me and Stupid” and Dave forgets the words in the first verse (perhaps the first time I’ve heard him forget a lyric) but he is undaunted and they do fine until the end.  Mid song, Don quotes a poem “High Flight” by John Gillespie Magee, Jr. “and done a hundred things/You have not dreamed of –Wheeled and soared and swung.”  Then Dave quotes Wilderness Gothic by Steven J. Gibson “something is about to happen / two shores away a man hammering in the sky.”   [Both poems are printed in their entirety at the end of the post].


 

Martin’s been nominated for a Juno award for original art work–they’re never nominated for a musical category–the art has always been better anyway.  The Story of Harmelodia is being produced by the One Yellow Rabbit theater company in Calgary.  So up next is “The Sky Dreamed” on which Don Kerr takes lead vocals.

 

Don says he’d like to thank Maureen for “giving me an official Canadian tartan jacket, which means I am now an official Rheostatic.  Martin says Canadian tartan used to be our uniform.  Tim: and our bedding.

 

“Baby I Love You” a goof track from Nightlines Session is requested many times.  Tim says they considered it for Valentine’s Day, but it’s too complicated and doesn’t work without a Fender Rhodes.

 

For “Loving Arms” they are joined by Carmen from a fine band called Check (I guess). She sings backing vocals which sounds very pretty.  I never noticed that the ending melody sound like the guitar for “Here Comes the Sun.”  It’s followed by one more new song–a great version of “P.I.N.

 

Dave says they played Sydney, Cape Breton where they don’t get a lot of bands and they go crazy.  Somebody sent up shots of tequila and we stopped a song and played “Tequila.”  We kept shouting tequila but nobody was sending up any more shots.  And then all of a sudden there were 48 of them.  We’ve never been the same.

 

Then the bust out a surprise: “The Ballad Of Wendel Clark Part 1 and 2.”  During the song, Dave B talks to Dave of the chickens about what it would be like playing against Wendell.

 

Then it’s time for two Stompin’ Tom songs.  “Horseshoe Hotel” which they learned just for this occasion.  Tom wrote it in 1971 about this hotel where people drank a lot.  Tim follows with “The Ketchup Song.”  people requests “Bud the Spud”, but they have a two song Tom quota.  Plus, no more than one song about potatoes you don’t wanna get to filled up on potato songs.

 

Then comes an amazing trip of a set ender.  A simply beautiful version of “Stolen Car” followed by an intense “Horses.”  The version includes Dave chanting the Talking Heads’ lines from “Crosseyed and Painless” and Martin reciting the Tragically Hip’s “Blow at High Dough” through his computer voice.  The noisy outro of Horses segues into a lovely quiet intro of “The Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald” and the crowd goes nuts.

 

It’s an amazing set ender that should satisfy anyone, but the Rheos are not done.  After a fairly long break they’re going to play for about 40 more minutes.  Someone shouts “Saskatchewan” and Dave says, yes, we were gonna do that but we ran out of time.

 

So instead, it’s “Legal Age Life At Variety Store” which features Tim Mech on guitar.  As they start the chords, Dave says, “you’re writing something in your notebook but how do you know which song were doing?  We could be doing “Rockin My Life Away” by Jerry Lee Lewis or “The Swimming Song” by Loudon Wainwright III.  But of course it’s “Legal Age Life” and everyone gets solos: Freddy and Davey from The Chickens and Timmy (Mech) who does a weird solo.   Tim Dave and Fred–the triple threat!

 

Somebody shots “Everybody Knows This is Nowhere,” but Dave says they can’t do it without The Bourbons and the guy shouts “I take it back!”

 

Two more new songs include a rockin “CCYPA” and “We Went West” which seems a weird song for an encore (it’s pretty slow), but it sounds good.  It’s followed by another surprise, their version of Jane Siberry’s “One More Colour.”  Dave says that they have a song on the (incredibly diverse) compilation box set Oh What a Feeling 2.  Proceeds go to charity.  They are on it after Jane Siberry.

 

Then they leave, but they’re not done.  JC comes out and announces that it’s 2:30 in the morning (!).  Do you want to hear any more? No rules tonight.

 

The guys play “Northern Wish” in the crowd acoustic and unmic’d.  The recording is pretty good and the crowd really sings along–great fun there.

 

Everyone assumes they are done, but they’ve got room for one more, a rocking, late night version of “Introducing Happiness,” which sounds like it’s 2:45 in the morning but is pretty awesome, nonetheless.

 

What a show.

 

They played 63 different songs over the four nights.  There were 30 songs that were played more than once.

[READ: February 14, 2019] Mythical Irish Beasts This book is a fun illustrated collection of the historical origins of Irish beasts. Joyce does a lot of research (there’s footnotes!) and mentions many original documents to explain where these myths came from, but it is still a very simple introduction to these stories–a way to pique your interest. He also illustrates every beast in his striking but unusual artistic style.  I really like the look of his beasts, but they are certainly unconventional.  They’re very modern looking, which is interesting for these ancient creatures. There does not appear to be a reason for the order, but I’m going to list all of the creatures just because it’s fun to have some many weird words in print. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KASVOT VÄXT-“We Are Come to Outlive Our Brains” (1981/2018).

Back in 1994, Phish started covering a classic album for its Halloween costume. In 2015 they covered the Disney album: Chilling, Thrilling Sounds Of The Haunted House, which pretty much meant all bets were off.  So in 2018, they decided to cover an obscure Scandinavian prog rock band called Kasvot Växt and their sole album, í rokk.  This proved to be a big joke–they were a nonexistent band.  They had so much fun creating this band, that they even enlisted others to expand the joke.  This included impressively thorough reviews from WFMU and from AllMusic.

The joke is even in the name: when translated together Kasvot Växt and í rokk means “Faceplant into rock.”.

Here’s some more details they came up with:

The Scandinavian prog rock band purportedly consists of Jules Haugen of Norway, Cleif Jårvinen of Finland, and Horst and Georg Guomundurson of Iceland.  The album’s label, Elektrisk Tung, supposedly went out of business shortly after the LP’s release and little information about the record appears on the internet. Bassist Mike Gordon made a tape copy of í rokk in the mid-’80s and Phish would play it “over and over in the tour van in the early ’90s.” In the Playbill, guitarist Trey Anastasio insisted, “Every time the Halloween discussion comes up, we talk about Kasvot Växt. We honestly were worried we wouldn’t have the chops to pull it off or do justice to the sound, but when it came down to it, we just couldn’t resist any longer.”

The decision to go with an obscure album few have heard or even heard of appealed to the members of Phish. “We’ve paid tribute to so many legendary bands over the years, it felt right this time to do something that’s iconic to us but that most people won’t have heard of,” Gordon said as per the Phishbill. “And with these translations we’re really performing songs that have never been sung in English before.” Keyboardist Page McConnell added, “I love the mystery surrounding this whole thing. If those guys ever hear we did this I hope they’re excited because we absolutely intend it as a loving tribute.” As for what Phish fans can expect? “A weird, funky Norweigan dance album! Get out there and put your down on it!” exclaimed drummer Jon Fishman.

While the listings for the 10 tracks on the original í rokk were in a Scandinavian language, the titles appear in English in the Playbill. Phish called upon a Nordic linguist to translate the lyrics to English for tonight’s performance.

These songs do not really sound like a Norwegian prog rock band.  They do sound an awful lot like Phish (although with a more synthy vibe overall. The band has this part of their live show streaming on Spotify under the Kasvot Växt name.  And I’m ending the year by talking about each song.

This song starts with a simple high-note bass.  In the live, set the visuals corresponded nicely with nine white cubes floating in the sky (lyrics include: “shapes are hanging over you” and “nine cubes”).  The chorus has a repeated rising singing of the title that is super catchy.  This song also includes the puzzling lyric: “I’m the glue in your magnet” (translation, indeed!).

The last three minutes have a solo that is pure Trey–upbeat and cheerful, with the “glue” line repeated and the switching to the title phrase a few more times.  It’s a nother solid song in this collection.

[READ: December 22, 2018] “A Chicken in Every Pot”

Here is a Christmas tale to help everyone prepare for the holiday.

Morris has curated a collection of 19th and 20th century socialist fairy tales, like this one, which were recently published.

This one is set in the time before man had completely established domination over the animal world.  As it was nearing Christmas, the poultry gathered in a solemn conference with an important issue to consider: “the debate partook of the gravity of he times…and the all-important subject, With what sauce shall we be eaten?”

The hall was crowded and every poultry was heard–even the bantam hens’ cackling was considered. (more…)

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(Field Recordings, January 12, 2012). 

This is a lengthy Field Recording [Mantra: Post-Minimalist Percussion In Aisle 12].  It has some interruptions by one of the guys.  Then he talks about how they have set up the board–suspending it on pegs.

There’s something primeval about guys banging on wood. But the New York percussion group Mantra takes such primitive pounding to a surprisingly refined level. For composer Michael Gordon’s mesmerizing new work — Timber, written for six two-by-fours — Mantra set up a public performance of the piece in the lumber department of a big-box hardware store in Alexandria, Va. Who knew 60 inches of processed pine could sound so good?

It’s unclear how long the piece is since there are constant interruptions.   Although it does run for about 2 and a half minutes uninterrupted.

For the most part the six players play a constant rhythm that creates overtones and resonances.  It’s a little monotonous until one of the starts to play a slightly different rhythm.  And by the end, there’s a couple of different rhythms that make it sound even better.

It’s a neat piece and would be fun to walk unto a hardware store and see that.

[READ: January 22, 2018] “Elf-Cio”

This is from a children’s book called Elves for Dignity.  It was published by a worker’s cooperative in Buenos Aires–one of 170 worker-run businesses in Argentina. The piece was translated by Burke Butler.

Once upon a time there was a greedy and merciless King.  One morning he awoke with the idea of converting one of his palaces into a hotel.  He hired a legion of elves whom he considered selfless and docile. They all abandoned their markets and farms to serve the King.

They worked night and day to ensure the splendor of the hotel. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SUFJAN STEVENS, BRYCE DESSNER, NICO MUHLY-“Mercury” (Field Recordings, June 8, 2017).

I love Sufjan’s Steven’s voice.  And this song, from the Planetarium project is just beautiful.  [Watch Sufjan Stevens, Nico Muhly And Bryce Dessner Play ‘Planetarium’ Track ‘Mercury’]  It opens with just the simple repeating piano melody and Stevens’ singing.  Eventually a guitar is added, playing complimentary melody.

Steven’s voice remains pure and powerful in this live recording. The viola from Nadia Sirota adds a lovely counterpoint to this song and leads it into the middle part which is minor keys and stings.

“Mercury” is the closing track off Planetarium, a song cycle about the planets by Stevens, Dessner, Muhly and James McAlister. The work was originally composed on commission for the Dutch concert hall Muziekgebouw Eindhoven, and first performed there in 2012. Five turns around the sun later, Planetarium will arrive in recorded form on June 9 via 4AD. “Mercury” is one of the most intimate songs on the record, a quality that’s emphasized by its spot just after the 15-minute, ambient, electronic epic, “Earth.” Where the record’s other songs foreground synthesizers and spastic electric drum samples reminiscent of 2010’s The Age of Adz, “Mercury” largely rests on Muhly’s gentle piano work and Stevens’ beautiful vocal. Where once, in the original live performances, the song swelled to a cinematic rush on the order of Illinois, it’s now spare and elegant. Its warm intimacy is all the more apparent in the group’s live performance, which features Dessner of The National lightly doubling on guitar Stevens’ wordless refrain at the song’s close. Like many of the pieces on the record, its lyrics are a constellation of the cosmic, the personal and the mythological. The song, named for the messenger god, is a perfect musical setting for the feeling of having something dear carried away from you. “All that I’ve known to be of life / and I am gentle,” Stevens sings. “

I love hearing his voice live, because it’s so perfect on record and while this is in no way imperfect, it lets us see a bit of humanity.  Even if this recording isn’t in a field or even an unconventional space, it’s still quite lovely.

[READ: January 3, 2015] “Little Man”

I feel like it takes a lot if chutzpah to recreate a story that is familiar to everyone.  This is the story of Rumpelstiltskin as told from the point of view of the little man himself.

But the twist on it is that Rumpelstiltskin isn’t a strange psycho bent on stealing children.  Rather, he is a lonely man, with no hope of finding love or having a child of his own.  Indeed, the first section is taken up with the man’s desire to have a child and his belief that having a child is not like ordering a pizza, which is how many couples seems to take it.

The story is written in second person (you), so it is meant to be even more intimate. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: CRASH TEST DUMMIES-Oooh La La! (2010).

Crash Test Dummies were once huge, then mocked and then silent.  They are still a band, although the band is really only singer Brad Roberts anymore.

In fat they were more or less broken up but then in 2010 Roberts began experimenting with toy instruments, the Optigan and Omnichord.

Those instruments were the inspiration for this music and yet the songs don’t sound like novelty or “toy” creations.  Both of the instruments were proto-samplers and they allowed Roberts to generates sounds on styles he didn’t normally play.  And so we get this interesting and fun release which features many contributions from fellow Dummy Ellen Ried, who still sounds amazing.

Roberts’ voice is still deep, but he really has his songwriting chops down well.  “Songbird” is a pretty folk song with a lovely chorus.

“You Said You’d Meet Me (In California)” was recorded as a Dummies song, although this version is more fun, with the way he sings it and the way he uses the instruments’ effects.

“And Its Beautiful” really is beautiful–it’s a very catchy song with pretty instrumentation and great backing vocals from Ellen Reid.  “Paralyzed” is a slow piano ballad while “In between Places” has some cool effects sprinkled on the song.

“Not Today Baby” is a goofy song.  Dummies have always been seen as a novelty band, and it’s songs like this that are why. But honestly, what’s wrong with having a sense of humor in your music.  This song isn’t ha ha funny but it should raise a smile.

“Heart of Stone” is the kind of sad song that Brad does so well.  Ellen Reid’s doo doo doo doo” are a lovely touch.

“Lake Bras d’Or” is a pretty ballad with minimal instrumentation, while “What I’m Famous For” is over the top.  This one has a kind of Western feel–a banjo-picking, fast-talking monstrosity.  And yet it’s a fun country ditty with some pretty funny lyrics.

Roberts talked about the big band sound of “Now You See Her” as something of an inspiration for the album–that this toy could make this kind of music and he wanted to see if he could wrote a song in that style   is a kind of big band.  It’s again, kind of a novelty, but I think he pulls it off really well.

The final song “Put a Face” is played with accordion and violin and is sung entirely by Ellen Reid.  It’s a beautiful song and a lovely ending to this unexpected disc.

[READ: January 20, 2017] “Two Men Arrive in a Village”

I usually love Zadie Smith stories–even when she writes things that are quite different from her usual style  But this one is simply odd.

The title is sort of a parable and the story reads like one as well.  It even starts as if the title is the first half of the sentence:

Sometimes on horseback, sometimes by foot, in a car or astride motorbikes, occasionally in a tank—having strayed far from the main phalanx—and every now and then from above, in helicopters. But if we look at the largest possible picture, the longest view, we must admit that it is by foot that they have mostly come…. Two men arrive in a village by foot, and always a village, never a town. If two men arrive in a town they will obviously arrive with more men, and far more in the way of supplies—that’s simple common sense.

After a fairly long setup of the things two men might carry, we find that these two men arrived in the narrator’s village at sunset. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: TROUBLE FUNK-Tiny Desk Concert #748 (May 30, 2018).

If Tiny Desk was set anywhere other than Washington D.C. I would never have heard of go-go.  It is a regional funk style that seems to have never left the area and of which the DC crowd is very proud.

Go-go — Washington D.C.’s regional twist on funk — reigned in the DMV during the 1980s, and one of the scene’s signature acts was Trouble Funk. More than 30 years later, the collective — led by Big Tony Fisher — still fills sold-out venues with heavyweight percussion and call-and-response lyrics. Trouble Funk concerts are bona fide jam sessions, so I was determined to squeeze their unrelenting rhythms behind the Tiny Desk. While the late Chuck Brown is often acknowledged as the godfather of go-go, Trouble Funk was a key part of the sound’s second wave.

And considering that the band is decked out in matching Trouble Funk baseball uniforms, it seems like they have no intention of going anywhere (clearly not all of the members are original).

How do you fit 12 members behind a Tiny Desk?  Put the horns: (Dean Harris (trumpet), Eric Silvan (saxophone), Paul Phifer (trombone)) on the right.  Put the drummer (Tony Edwards) on the left and the hugely important percussionists (Chris Allen and Larry Blake) back and center, anchoring everything.

Then you have the keyboardists (Allyson Johnson and James Avery) and the guitarist/vocalist David Gussom (only one guitar in the whole band of 12 people!).

Right up front you have the two singers Derrick Ward and Keith White and orchestrating the whole thing is Big Tony Fisher (bass/vocals).

They begin with the 1982 banger, “Pump Me Up”, which has a great watery funky bass sound (from the keys) and tremendous percussion.  All of the verses are rapped in a 35-year-old-style–rhythmic more than rapping (with lyrics about Calvin Klein and other jeans, Superman, Studio 54 and Fat Albert).  Four of them take a verse, but the show is all about Big Tony Fisher, who has got this great deep voice.

Incidentally, this song was

sampled in Public Enemy’s protest anthem “Fight the Power” and M/A/R/R/S’s dance classic “Pump Up The Volume.”

I need to hear the original to figure out what was sampled.

The drums breaks here are definitive go-go and it was hard to discern who was having more fun: the band or the audience.

As they shift to “Grip It,” you can hear the change of style but not intensity as the song shifts and “buoyant and staccato horn melodies propelled the song forward.”

It segues to “Let’s Get Small” through a funky bass line.  It features Trouble Funk’s classic call-and-response chants of “I like it!”

The music stops but the rhythm continues as they segue into “Drop the Bomb,” “another notable gem from their lengthy discography which keeps the energy level high.”

“Don’t Touch That Stereo” was the first song where I couldn’t hear much of a difference between it and the preceding song.  And I realized that they’d been playing nonstop for nearly 14 minutes–all in a similar funky style.  It’s a great fun party even if the individual songs are kind of beside the point.

They did take a short break as Tony introduced their first hit from 1979 “E Flat Boogie.”

I’m rather surprised that go-go never took off anywhere else, since, as the blurb says, the music “inspires a spirit of dance, rhythm and sheer joy.”

[READ: July 7, 2016] “Fable”

This was another story that I found strangely unsatisfying.

I feel like this story was almost perfect but that there were elements that prevented it from being so.

Since it is called “Fable,” it begins with “once upon a time.”  But we know that it is not a real fable exactly because the next part is “there was a man whose therapist thought it would be a good idea for the man to work though some stuff by telling a story about that stuff.”

His first attempt is short and dull: “one day the man woke up and realized that this was pretty much it for him.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BORIS-Noise (2013).

You really never know what you’re going to get with Boris.  Most of the time, there are multiple editions of releases with different covers and different mixes.

In this case, despite the different covers of this record (see below), the track listing is exactly the same (except that the Japanese version came with a bonus disc).  Total length: 57:52

I like that this album cover parodies (sort of) Nirvana’s Bleach album cover.

“Melody” (黒猫メロディ) 6:40 The disc opens with some ringing alt-rock wit a distorted rocking chorus.   Despite the cover, it’s not like Nirvana, it’s more soaring  there’s catchy backing oohs and a cool hi-hat flourish.

“Vanilla” 4:15 is heavy in the same vein as “Melody” and “Ghost of Romance” (あの人たち) 5:49  has slow guitars and soaring leads with a heavy solo.  “Heavy Rain” (雨) 6:12 starts quite slowly with vocals by Wata and then there’s a big crash and the heavy section follows.  It alternates between quiet and loud at intervals.

“Taiyo no Baka” (太陽のバカ) 3:36 is almost a pop metal sound with dancey vocals and woah hos.  There’s even a simple guitar riff that follows along.  At three and a half minutes it’s a pure pop gem.

“Angel” 18:42 Angel, on the other hand pushes 19 minutes and it’s an epic workout.  It begins with a pretty, quiet guitar riff interlaced with a second guitar and interesting percussion.  There’s slow vocals as well.  But after 6 minutes, a loud distorted guitar interrupts the pretty melody, but it’s only playing an intermittent chord.  Even the powerful drums blasts don’t change the overall tempo of the song until a minute later when it takes on a loud droning quality with harmony vocals and a distorted bass moments.  There’s a soaring guitar solo as well.  By around 10 minutes the song turns into an uptempo rocker with falsetto vocals!  The song seems to climax at 13 minutes with a big gong.  But there’s more.  The song turns into a kind of soaring instrumental with echoing guitars and thumping drums.  With two minutes left the song returns to that opening guitar riff with a tidy solo over the top.  It’s like the song is nicely bookended with itself.  It’s quite the centerpiece.

“Quicksilver” 9:51 Who know what another band might follow a 20 minute song with, but Boris chose a nearly 10 minute song.  It seems at first that “Quicksilver” is going to be a short blast with the super fast pummeling hardcore sound.  There’s screamed vocals and wild drumming but it’snot that simple.  At 3 and a half minutes, the song slows down some although it stays heavy.  By around the 5th minute there;s lou dbacking voclals to accompant the lead vocal.  Once again, a false climax comes at 7 minutes but there’s more feedback to come along with a quiet, pretty guitar outro.  Until the final two minutes when there are loud droning chords that play through to the end.

“Siesta” (シエスタ) 2:50 Siesta is the shortest song on the disc, an instrumental that is kind of pretty and kind of woozy at the same time.  It’s definitely a slow down from the erst of the album and a nice conclusion.

This was the first Boris album I bought and it’s still a favorite.

The Japanese edition (cover to the right) came with this bonus disc, which I’ve not heard.

CD 2 (Another Noise) Total length: 23:26
1. “Bit” 9:35
2. “Kimi no Yukue” (君の行方) 4:51
3. “Yuushikai Revue” (有視界 Revue) 3:32
4. “Discharge” (ディスチャージ) 5:32

[READ: July 23, 2015] “Love is Blind and Deaf”

This was the 2015 New Yorker fiction issue.  It featured several stories and several one-page essays from writers I like.

In addition to those essays on Time-Travel it also included this short piece from Safran Foer.  I hadn’t seen much from Safran Foer recently, so I was interested to read this (very) short story.  It’s all of one page.

Much as Zadie Smith’s story about celebrities was unexpected, so was this one (on the following page in the magazine no less) about Adam & Eve.

We learn that Adam was blind and so never had to see Eve’s hideous birthmark.  And that Eve was deaf and never had to listen to Adam’s whiny narcissism.  And then they ate the apples and knew everything.  (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE NATIONAL-Tiny Desk Concert #279 (June 10, 2013).

I rather like The National and yet I haven’t spent much time really listening to them.  This Tiny Desk Concert really shows them off well.  It is extremely winning and enjoyable.

I enjoyed this part of the introduction:

we’d gotten word that the group would strip its sound way down for the occasion, sticking to two acoustic guitars and a bit of hand percussion. What we got instead was a fully fleshed-out septet, complete with horns and piano; the band showed up at 9:30 to rehearse and sound-check.

Though singer Matt Berninger had barely rested his voice from a show in the area the night before, The National dutifully performed gorgeous acoustic renditions of four tracks from its fine new album, Trouble Will Find Me.

I like the way the first song “This is the Last Time” starts quietly with just some acoustic guitars (playing quite interesting chords too) but builds, adding more and more instruments.  It grows and grows until it hits a new section where there’s a trumpet solo that fits perfectly in the song.  This new section introduces the second half of the song which never returns to the first part.  The backing vocals–between the guys singing the lines and the other guys singing the high “ahhh” that almost sounds like a horn–also work great together.  It’s a wonderfully full song.

“I Need My Girl” has a cool part with the two guitars.  They play a simple picked melody, but after the second verse, the second guitars plays it one step after the first, making it sound like an echo. And again that lone trumpet sounds terrific here.  This song is a bit more mellow.  In fact, this whole acoustic vibe sounds different from what I expect from the band.

The third song “Pink Rabbits” begins as primarily piano with lots of backing vocals.  But again the song builds slowly (with trumpet and trombone).  And again, after the horns go down there’s a backing voice that sounds a bit like muted trumpet.

Through the whole concert, I love Berninger’s casual demeanor while singing–hands in pockets, gently swaying.

Bob tells them that they are performing Tiny Desk’s first encore.  The blurb notes that the band:

even treated the hundreds of worshipful gawkers to Building 2.0’s first-ever Tiny Desk encore, in response to a roar of applause that could be heard in the far reaches of the newsroom downstairs.

Berninger says this is usually when they run back stage to piss but we’ll just go behind your desk.  Bob jokes that it’s no different from the trombone spit that he sees back there.

Berninger introduces “Sea of Love” by saying this is the only song we’ve ever written with a harmonica in it…and its the last one.

The full band sings and it sounds terrific.  I especially like the pause in the line “they say love is a virtue don’t….they” is pretty dramatic.  And I am tickled by the final lines of the song (while the backing singers do some great work: “I see you rushing down / tell me how to reach you / I see you rushing down / what did Harvard teach you.”

The National are usually more dramatic, I believe–almost theatrical, but this quieter version is really quite enjoyable.

[READ: April 2, 2016] Feathers

Jorge Corona introduces this book by explaining that he had an idea for a Beauty and the Beast kind of story that features a boy with feathers.  And it slowly expanded into the story we have here.

The story opens with a bright white city in the distance.  In the foreground, there’s some dark Victorian-looking houses.  And as we zoom in, we learn that the dark city is known as the Maze.  And in this Maze live the poor.  Little kids, called “mice” are street urchins who run all over the Maze.  And then there’s a man with a beard.  The man finds a baby in an alley.  The baby is born with feathers and he decides to take the boy in and raise him.

The scene jumps to eleven years later.  The boy, known as Poe has grown up and has stayed hidden.  He still has feathers and he goes out at night, but no one knows about him.  People just speak of the ghost–Poe–who swoops down unseen and does things (mostly to help the poorest) and then flees. (more…)

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[LISTENED TO: December 2016] A Boy Called Christmas

boyS. brought his audiobook home for us and we started it the night we went to pick out our Christmas tree.

This is a delightful story of Nikolas, an 11-year-old boy living in Finland in the olden days.  His parents called him Christmas, because he was born on Christmas day.

Nikolas’ life has been one of terrible hardship.  His mother was killed when she was attacked by a bear (a bear that lingers around their house to this day).  His father, Joel, is a woodcutter.  He cuts enough wood for them to survive, but otherwise things are bleak.  They eat mushroom soup for every meal and, in Nikolas’ whole life, he has received just two toys: a sled and a doll with a turnip head.

The only friend that Nikolas has is a mouse named Mika.  Now, this may be a fairy-tale kind of story but even Nikolas can’t understand Mika’s squeaks (although we can).  Mika is constantly on a quest for cheese–even though he has never tasted it.

Joel has noticed a man, a hunter, in their vicinity.  He turns out to be an excellent bowman with silver arrows.  In fact, once, when the bear that killed Nikolas’ mother is nearby, an arrow flies through the air and scares off the bear, saving Nikolas’ life.  The hunter finally comes to their house with a proposition for Joel.

The hunter is on a quest on behalf of the king.  They are setting off to prove that Elfhelm, the mythical land of elves, really does exist.  If they can bring proof to the king, they will be incredibly rich men. Joel and Nikolas believe very strongly in magic and in Elfhellm, and after much hemming and hawing, Joel decides to go on the quest.

This leaves Nikolas alone (with Mika).  So Joel calls his sister Aunt Carlotta to watch over Nikolas while he is gone.

There’s a lot of villains in the story, but Aunt Carlotta might be the worst of them.  She is mean from the start.  She takes all of the cushions for herself and forces Nikolas to sleep outside.  He is put to work immediately–gathering food and firewood–and cooking for her.  And finally she reveals that the only reason she came is because if his father does return–which she doubts–he will give her a lot of money.  As the section with Aunt Carlotta continues, she commits the gravest sin imaginable.  And that’s when the last straw is broken and Nikolas leaves. (more…)

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