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Archive for the ‘Funny (ha ha)’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: RACHELE ANDRIOLI-GlobalFEST Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #135/153 (January 13, 2021).

Rachele AndrioliGlobalFEST is an annual event, held in New York City, in which bands from all over the world have an opportunity to showcase their music to an American audience.  I’ve never been, and it sounds a little exhausting, but it also sounds really fun.

The Tiny Desk is teaming up with globalFEST this year for a thrilling virtual music festival: Tiny Desk Meets globalFEST. The online fest includes four nights of concerts featuring 16 bands from all over the world. 

Given the pandemic’s challenges and the hardening of international borders, NPR Music and globalFEST is moving from the nightclub to your screen of choice and sharing this festival with the world. Each night, we’ll present four artists in intimate settings (often behind desks donning globes), and it’s all hosted by African superstar Angélique Kidjo, who performed at the inaugural edition of globalFEST in 2004.

The third artist of the third night is Rachele Andrioli from Italy.  She is (almost) a one-woman band and makes amazing music with her voice and a loop pedal.

Recording from southern Italy, Rachele Andrioli’s performance highlights her mix of old and new, of traditional music and modern technology. Her trance vocals and loop pedals create a sound all her own, mixing music from Italian, Indian, Lebanese, Albanian and Romani cultures and traditions.

She plays three songs.  For the first, “Te Spettu” (“I Respect You”) she loops a jaw harp (who would have thought that that could be the basis for a song).  Then she loops her voice crooning.  She picks up a hand drum that looks like a tambourine (and gets an amazingly robust sound from it).  Her vocal style feels Middle Eastern.  It’s a really impressive piece of music.

“Pranvera Filloi Me Ardh” (“Spring Started with the Coming”) is in Albanian.  As the song starts, her accompanists come out.  Redi Hasa picks up a cello and plays a harmonic note (looped) followed by a gentle plucked melody.  Then Rocco Negro plays the accordion.  The mournful accordion solo sounds very Italian.  Hasa plays a mournful melody and she sings gently with them both.

The men leave and it’s just her for  “Ederlezi.”   She loops her voice singing a single note and then accompaniments herself including a distortion on her voice making it a very deep harmony.  She plays another small hand drum which gets an amazing sound.

This is a wonderfully unique set that I really enjoyed.

[READ: January 22, 2021] Snapdragon

For a while, I was reading every single First Second book that was published.  Once the pandemic hit, I fell behind and have not really been able to catch up just yet.  But S. brought this book home and I thought it looked interesting even before I saw that it was from First Second.

The cover is a little disconcerting.  Snapdragon, the girl in the picture, has hair up in pig tails.  But with a ghostly deer behind her, the way her har is drawn, it almost looks like some kind of antler (probably not intended).  But there’s a lot of things that are confusing in this story at first (and even second and third) glance.  I assume that these other decisions are deliberate.

Many of the characters in this story are African-American, including Snapdragon.  But her skin coloring is very different from all of the other characters.  I don’t think it matters for the story, whether she is or not (until the very end anyhow).  But it was very nice to see so many characters of color in the book.  In a strangely similar way, a main character, Jacks, I was sure was a man, but indeed, she is not.  Snap recognizes her as a woman right away, but I wasn’t sure if that made a difference either.  In fact, Jacks’ masculine appearance is important in the story, but I’m not sure if the reader is supposed to think that Jacks is a man as well?

None of that matters, of course, because once you learn the reality, you can just move on.

So just what the heck is this story about?

Snapdragon is a girl (all the women in her family are named after flowers).  She’s a little odd and the other kids are happy to let her know that.  The only kid who is nice to her is her neighbor Louis.  Louis thinks Snap is weird, but Louis is also pretty unconventional. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKVOX SAMBOU-GlobalFEST Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #135 (January 13, 2021).

Vox SambouGlobalFEST is an annual event, held in New York City, in which bands from all over the world have an opportunity to showcase their music to an American audience.  I’ve never been, and it sounds a little exhausting, but it also sounds really fun.

The Tiny Desk is teaming up with globalFEST this year for a thrilling virtual music festival: Tiny Desk Meets globalFEST. The online fest includes four nights of concerts featuring 16 bands from all over the world. 

Given the pandemic’s challenges and the hardening of international borders, NPR Music and globalFEST is moving from the nightclub to your screen of choice and sharing this festival with the world. Each night, we’ll present four artists in intimate settings (often behind desks donning globes), and it’s all hosted by African superstar Angélique Kidjo, who performed at the inaugural edition of globalFEST in 2004.

The first band on the third night is Vox Sambou a Haitian band recording in Montreal.

There are few performers as “alive” as Vox Sambou, whose energy and soul transcends the virtual space. He starts his performance at Tiny Desk Meets globalFEST with a short moment between himself and his son, overseen by a painting of his mother, highlighting the ways we pass down traditions from generation to generation. Based in Montreal, Quebec, Vox Sambou writes and performs in Hatian-Creole, French, English, Spanish and Portuguese. His music is a joyous fusion of Haitian funk, reggae and hip-hop.

He starts with a call and response with his adorable son.  Then the music starts and doesn’t let up  There’s intense trumpet, lots of percussion and some fantastic dancing from he co-singer.  He introduces everyone, but between his accent and their very French names, I couldn’t pick out a single one.

“African Diaspora” has fast intense and fun rapping and singing in French.  The joyousness of the music is infectious, and i love watching everyone dance.

“My Rhythm” is slower with a pronounced beat.  It’s great watching them all move in synch to that rhythm.  The song pauses for a few seconds until another dancer comes out.  There’s a ripping trumpet solo followed by a cool sax solo with all three up front dancing.  There’s even a brief time to show off the conga players.

“Everyone” ends the set fast and intense.  So much drumming, so many horns. It’s pretty wonderful.

These guys must be exhausted!

[READ: December 16, 2020] Something to Live For

S. read this book last year when it was called How Not to Die Alone.  In her post about it, she comments about what a great title it was.  I agree with that and am not sure why they changed it to the more generic Something to Live For. Although it was the cover/title that grabbed me when I saw it at work, so I guess this new title is good to.  But I think the Die title is better.

Compared to some of the more complicated stories that I’ve been reading lately–where I feel like a lot of background information needs to be filled in–this story was delightfully straightforward.  It was an enjoyably fast-paced read and resonated in a surprisingly powerful way.

Andrew is a middle aged British man.  He had worked in a public service role for many years until his position was terminated.  His boss helped him find a new job in the public service field.

This new job is absolutely fascinating to me and I have to wonder if we have such a job in the States.  Andrew’s job is to go to the house of a recently deceased person.  These are people who died alone and apparently have no contacts.  Andrew’s job is to determine if the deceased has someone to contact to come to (and pay for) the funeral or if the deceased has enough money in their apartment to pay for the funeral themselves. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKDakhaBrakha-GlobalFEST Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #133/141 (January 11, 2021).

DakhaBrakhaGlobalFEST is an annual event, held in New York City, in which bands from all over the world have an opportunity to showcase their music to an American audience.  I’ve never been, and it sounds a little exhausting, but it also sounds really fun.

The Tiny Desk is teaming up with globalFEST this year for a thrilling virtual music festival: Tiny Desk Meets globalFEST. The online fest includes four nights of concerts featuring 16 bands from all over the world. 

Given the pandemic’s challenges and the hardening of international borders, NPR Music and globalFEST is moving from the nightclub to your screen of choice and sharing this festival with the world. Each night, we’ll present four artists in intimate settings (often behind desks donning globes), and it’s all hosted by African superstar Angélique Kidjo, who performed at the inaugural edition of globalFEST in 2004.

The final band on the first night is DakhaBrakha.  I have wanted to see DakhaBrakha live for years–ever since I saw them ona Tiny Desk Concert.  It’s wonderful to see them again, this time with new songs.

Tonight marks DakhaBrakha’s return to globalFEST and Tiny Desk. The Ukranian band’s first globalFEST performance was in 2014, and their 2015 Tiny Desk concert remains a favorite. We’ve had them in our spaces, so it’s a real treat to see them in theirs, the Dakh Theater in Kiev. Coming together, their performance maintains the energy and joy that define their music, bouncing off each other musically and emotionally. DakhaBrakha aims to keep Ukraine’s musical and storytelling tradition alive by making it more accessible to a younger, international audience, a kind of self-proclaimed “ethno-chaos.” They craft stunning sonic worlds for traditional songs, reinventing their heritage with a keen ear for contemporary resonances.

I was initially disappointed that they only played two songs, but these are long complex and varied song.  And they are both great.

“Komora” is a new song.  It opens with Nina Garenetska singing while slowly bowing the cello. Keyboardist Iryna Kovalenko and drummer Olena Tsybulskajoin join in on backing vocals with great harmony and sweeping high notes.  Then Nina starts playing a bass line on the cello and accordion player Marko Halanevych and the other ladies seem to be having a conversation of sounds.  Iryna takes over on lead vocals.  Marko adds some accordion while Olena plays soft drums.  Nina is back to bowing then it returns to cello/bass line and lots of oohing from all the singers.

Then Marko sings a lead line and the women seem to be answering him.  The song starts getting faster and faster as they call to each other leading to a spectacular ending.

“Vynnaya ya” is from their latest album.  It opens with Iryna and Olena clappin a rhythm and Nina plucking the cello.  Marko sings lead and they sing back in a call and response.  Nina takes over on vocals to mostly drum and cello accompaniment.  Then Marko plays a “horn” solo using just his hands.  It sounds like a duck call or muted trumpet and is weird and wonderful.

Olena sings the next verse and then Iryna sings the final verse.  When her verse is done, Marko puts down the accordion, stands up and plays another “trumpet” solo with his hands.  Then the whole band kicks up the tempo to nearly double speed as they race to a wild conclusion.

I can’t wait to see them in person!

[READ: November 15, 2020] Starlite Memories

I had never heard of Dov Fedler.  The title of this book made me look at it twice and then I skimmed the back cover blurb.

Beloved political cartoonist Dov Fedler had the opportunity in the 1990s to make a lifelong dream come true: Directing a movie. …  A laugh-out loud story of pitfalls follows.

Turns out he was a political cartoonist for The Star for over 50 years.

Then I saw that Fedler is from South Africa.  I’d never read anything by anyone from South Africa before this, I don’t think.  So I was curious to see what a comedy from South Africa was like.

Somewhere along the line I completely missed that this was a memoir.

So I spent the first 2/3 of the book believing that this was based on something that really happened but that he was making up names and other details to protect the innocent.  Especially since in the beginning the note to the reader says writing is always about the story.

There are times when a writer may have to embellish, obfuscate, conflate and conjure to keep the thing alive.

Again, somehow I glossed right over that word memoir (actually I thought it was a the main character talking about writing a memoir or something).

None of that really changed the way I would have read this.  I had no idea who he was or any of thing the things he did, so it might as well have been fictional.  But I think it’s funnier that it really happened.

This memoir proved to be mostly funny with a lot of thoughtfulness thrown in for good measure.  It is written by a political cartoonist who has always loved movies.  He is a Jewish man in South Africa.  There are not very many Jewish families in South Africa, but there are enough to have a small cultural center there.

Each chapter of the memoir is titled after a film.  He then summarizes the film in a few words.  The chapter is tangentially tied to either what happens in that film or to the title of the film.

Dov explains that he was hired to directed the film Timer Joe Part 3.  This crazy film title is a real film–the third after two popular movies.  But this one is clearly made simply to ash in on the popularity of the other two.  The film is basically the brainchild of his producer Moe Mankowitz.  Moe says, “I make films for black audiences.  Black people like the same moveis we do, but they like them with black people.”  Timer Joe 1 and 2 were a success, so he wants Dov to write the script for 3.  What’s it about?  All he knows is that it’s a comedy. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ACTIVE CHILD-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #131 (January 6, 2021).

Active Child has been around a long time, although I was completely unfamiliar with him.

Active Child is the music of Patrick Grossi. … He layers his choral-styled voice on top of melodic harp and piano. Electronic beats propel selections from his latest album, In Another Life, as well as one of his earliest and well-known songs, “Hanging On.”

He opens with “Hanging On.”  A drumbeat begins along with his high soaring voice.  As the camera fades in, he is playing the harp.  As he samples and loops himself, he switches to piano to play the main verse.  Then the loop starts and the room fills with music.  It’s pretty neat to watch him jump from piano to harp and again for a solo.

From a stunning room overlooking the San Gabriel Mountains in Pasadena, Calif., we hear the ethereal sounds of Active Child. “I chose this space, as this is where I’ve written nearly every piece of music for my active child project. my music and this house / this view are completely intertwined.”

As he’s talking, the drm for “In Another Life” begins.  I couldn’t see how he triggered it at all.  Over a drum beat and harp, he sings an ethereal melody.  When he switches to the piano his voice loops in a nice harmony.

There’s a very slow fade from one scene to the other as he begins “Cruel World.”  He starts looping and harmonizing with himself.  This is the catchiest of the three mostly from all of the looping.

[READ: January 6, 2021] Days of Our Lockdown Lives

In addition to the Zapiro book of editorial cartoons, we also got a comic strip collection from Stephen Francis and Rico (Schacherl).  This was a book in the Madam & Eve comic strip series.  There are thirty plus collections and this is the most recent.

Madam & Eve is a daily comic strip syndicated in many South African newspapers.  It started in 1992 and went daily in 1993. The premise is based around a middle-class white woman, Gwen Anderson (“Madam”), and her black maid, Eve Sisulu and how they manage in the new South Africa as the Apartheid era drew to a close.

Theirs is a relationship of affectionate squabbling.  Perhaps in the spirit of equality, neither character is portrayed as particularly sympathetic. Madam is always coming up with silly ideas in order to fit in more with the new way of life. Eve meanwhile keeps coming up with ways of obtaining extra cash out of Madam and others.

There is also a lot of political humor with strips mentioning topical incidents and also featuring some of the political figures in the news–so the Zapiro book is a nice companion. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKSEVDALIZA-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #130 January 5, 2021).

Sevdaliza is the first Tiny desk Home Concert to be published in 2021.  Let’s hope she signals a great new year.

Sevdaliza is Iranian born although this concert is filmed in a culturally significant bookstore and publishing house in Amsterdam called MENDO.

Her collection of music is a wonderful mix of the organic and the electronic all centered around her gorgeous voice.

The set opens with “an old reel-to-reel tape machine spinning some Brazilian bossa nova.”  Then it stops and she starts singing “Human,” a song which

casts away the notion of artists — particularly female artists — as products.

It’s a moody Portishead-like track.

It opens with synths and drums as she sings achingly.  Her voice sounds a bit like Beth Gibbons as well.  Then in the middle of the song, the electronics drop off and she recites

I am flesh, bones / I am skin, soul / I am human /Nothing more than human.
I am sweat, flaws / I am veins, scars / I am human / Nothing more than human.

While she speaks, the strings of Jonas Pap (cello) and Mihai Puscoiu (violin) play an eerie backdrop.  When the strings stop a very cool electronic section takes over.  Leon den Engelsen manipulates sounds, making voices sound mechanical and machines sounds human–it’s really cool watching him do this.  Meanwhile, drummer Anthony Amirkhan adds some complex electronic and analog drums.

Then den Engelsen resumes the bossanova tape as Sendaliza announces:

“Good afternoon humans, my name is Sevdaliza, you’re very welcome on flight 808; our destination is Shabrang.”

I feel like “Dormant: sounds even more Portishead-like.  Her voice carries Gibbons’ ache as she sings “I need a different type pf caring, a different type of sharing.”  The percussion is minimal but interesting.  Meanwhile the electronics are buzzing around while the strings ground the song in melody.

As the song fades out she sings notes and words which I believe the keys are manipulating in real time.

“All Rivers at Once” opens with a pre-recorded guitar melody.  The song is just full of samples and interesting melodies and then the middle falls into place with a lovely violin solo.  It ends with a deep resonating cello note

“Gole Bi Goldoon” is sung in Iranian (I assume).  It sounds much more like an old folk song–strings and piano.

I really enjoyed this set and want to check out more of her album.

[READ: January 9, 2021] Do the Macorona

I’m not exactly sure why we have been getting so many books from South Africa at work lately, but it’s fantastic.

This book is a collection of editorial cartoons from South Africa’s Daily Maverick newspaper.  Zapiro (Jonathan Shapiro) has been making editorial cartoons and caricatures since the early 1990s and has 25 books of cartoons published.

Although I have been reading some novels from South Africa, I really don’t know very much about the country.  I have learned, however, that reading about a year’s worth of editorial cartoons is a pretty great way to learn about a country.  I don’t understand all of the jokes in here, but I do feel like I have a vague grasp on the country now. However, it’s when Zapiro turns his pen abroad–especially against trump, that I can see how good of a satirist he is.

It feels especially timely to include this post now as we prepare to get the corrupt traitor out of office for good.  He has, in fact, made a cartoon out of the insurrection. (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: THE DISTILLERS-Very Special Christmas Special, “Baby It’s Covid Outside” (December 18, 2020).

Despite going to many live shows, I haven’t watched a lot of streaming concerts. It’s not the same, and I don’t really like watching things on my computer anyway.

I’m not exactly sure what prompted me to buy a ticket for this one.  I saw The Distillers last year and enjoyed the show. But I feel like I didn’t get to fully appreciate it because the crowd was really rowdy and knew the band far more than I did.

So this seemed like a chance to see them “live” up close. The entire special was barely 40 minutes.  This is a bit of a bummer, but at the same time, it was really a perfect length for me.

In addition to the music, there were some skits.  As the show opens, Black Metal Santa unpacks some presents from his sack.  There’s a gun on a stack of presents, he pulls out a squeaking chicken dog toy and then a very adult toy.  He turns around, all Black Metal and says “Merry Fucking Christmas boys and girls, here’s The Distillers.”

On a well-decked-out Christmas-themed set The Distillers start to play.  There’s all kinds of Christmas things–blow up snowmen and giant stocking as well as digital flames.  And a full rig of lights. The band sounds great and the recording is well mixed.  The drums and bass sound huge.

They open with “Sick of It All.”  Brody Dalle is up front playing guitar and singing.  To her right is Tony Bevilacqua on guitar.  To her left is Ryan Sinn on bass.  All three are wearing Santa hats.  They all sing the opening verses and it sounds like a wall of vocals. Drummer Andy Granelli is not wearing a Santa hat, but he does have a knit cap on. The song sounds great–a blast of punk to celebrate the season.

They follow with the outrageously catchy punk of “Oh Serena.”  When I saw them, they opened with these two songs as well.  But this set list deviates somewhat. 

Up next is the quieter “L.A. Girl.”  It starts with everyone playing softly while Brody sings.  Then the whole band kicks in with massive drumming and some tasty bass fills. A martial drum beat opens “I’m a Revenant.”  Both guitarists play the lead riffs before Brody starts singing.  This song has some great sing-along moments as well as a brief part where it’s just Brody before the band marches in again.

“Sunsets” comes next.  They didn’t play this when I saw them.  Brody’s guitar is clean as the song opens.  She sings without a snarl.  The song does not turn into a balls out rocker.  It stays slow but gets very intense.  Bevilacqua makes interesting bendy sounds from his guitar in the middle jam section.  The song slows to a bass rumble before some Christmas music starts playing.

Black Metal Santa comes out and gives Brody a present.  It’s the album Faith by The Cure.  But there’s nothing inside–it’s just the cover. Black Metal Santa says, “Its my ‘Primary’ Christmas gift to you.  A cover.  Now play the damn song.”  It’s an amusing introduction to the song “Primary,” which I did not expect at all.  It sounds fantastic–close to the original, but heavier and obviously with Brody’s vocals sounding very different from Robert Smith’s.  She restrains her vocals until a loud snarling “oh remember” part.

Brody removes the Santa hat for “Dismantle Me” and the lights get brighter so you can see her more clearly.  This song has a great split with really fast guitars from Bevilacqua and slower guitars from Brody. 

The super fast chords continue into “Die on a Rope.”  This song also has some “Oh way oh” parts that are really catchy for such a dark song.  The middle jam is just bass and drums and Bevilacqua’s squeaky feedback while Brody sings.  There’s some thunderous drumming in the end as they jump into “City of Angels.”  This song is really catchy as she and the boys sing together.  There’s another cool middle section of just Brody’s guitar and noisy guitar sounds from Bevilacqua before the band roars off again.

The song ends and Brody looks off stage and says “Jesus.”  Granelli chides, “Brody, it’s Christmas.”  But she points off stage and Jesus comes out.  They ask what he’s doing there and he says it’s his birthday. They ask if he can make it snow.  Jesus says he makes miracles happen–he’s got a guy.   He calls a guy who comes down and the snow starts to fall.  Jesus and the guy get in a fight over who actually makes the miracles happen.  The guy says “ever since cofefe.”  But Granelli stops them, “we’re trying to do a Christmas show here, knock it off.”

Brody takes the mic and says “this year’s been a real ass kicker.  We’re looking forward to the new year.” 

Then they start Ramones’ “Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want to Fight Tonight).”  It sounds great and is a perfect set ender for a holiday special.

The show ends and they play the Ramones song over the credits.  The band takes bows and makes snow angels.

It’s a fun special and totally worth the $15.

[READ: December 25, 2020] “The George Spelvin Players”

This year, S. ordered me The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This is my fifth time reading the Calendar.  I didn’t know about the first one until it was long out of print (sigh), but each year since has been very enjoyable.  Here’s what they say this year

You know the drill by now. The 2020 Short Story Advent Calendar is a deluxe box set of individually bound short stories from some of the best writers in North America.

This year’s slipcase is a thing of beauty, too, with electric-yellow lining and spot-glossed lettering. It also comes wrapped in two rubber bands to keep those booklets snug in their beds.

As always, each story is a surprise, so you won’t know what you’re getting until you crack the seal every morning starting December 1. Once you’ve read that day’s story, check back here to read an exclusive interview with the author.

It’s December 25.  Rebecca Makkai, author of The Great Believers, could’ve sworn she left that porridge bowl right over there [Click the link to the H&O extras for the story].

I started this story and thought it was so familiar that I was sure I had read it before.  But as it went along, it didn’t seem familiar anymore, so maybe there is a similar component of it that I had read in another story. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKADRIANNE LENKER: Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #114 (November 18, 2020).

Adrianne Lenker is the singer and songwriter for the band Big Thief.  I really enjoyed the first Big Thief album, but haven’t enjoyed the rest of the band’s output as much.

NPR’s Bob Boilen loves Lenker.  He has done from the very start (he’s the reason I got their first album).  He loves the new albums by Lenker but to me the songs suffer from exactly what I found less interesting about Big Thief’s later albums.

The newer songs tend to be quieter–really emphasizing her voice which is lot more twangy than it was on album #1.  The new stuff (and solo stuff) also doesn’t rock as hard.  It’s not to say that her voice isn’t good, it’s juts not as interesting to me as it was on that first record.  As Bob says

The songs, the words, the voice of Adrianne Lenker has been at the top of my year-end musical loves for the past five years, more so than any other artist. It began with her work as the singer and songwriter on Big Thief’s electric debut album, Masterpiece, in 2016 and runs through this year’s two sister solo albums, one titled songs and the other instrumentals. Those albums contain nothing more than an acoustic guitar, voice, and the bug, birds, and creatures captured while recording.

Her yearning voice, simultaneously frail and strong, draws me to those songs — songs about people, everyday life, everyday death, and ordinary places. All the while, she picks the tunes out of her guitar or paints the rhythms with a brush.

She plays five songs from songs (I’m curious to hear if I’d like instrumentals).

For her Tiny Desk (home) concert, Adrianne Lenker’s home is a camper trailer parked somewhere in Joshua Tree National Park. It’s the appropriate setting for the five songs she performs from her new album, tunes birthed in a wooden cabin in Massachusetts.

The songs all sound similar in style, with subtle differences that pay off nicely.  “zombie girl” has a very high capo.  All high notes are fingers picked.

For “two reverse” she adds lower guitar notes (and a very cool riff) which sound rich and resonating.

“dragon eyes” is nifty in that she plays the guitar with a brush instead of a pick which gives the guitar a very soft almost delayed sound–I’ve never seen that before.

After a quick shot of the outside of her trailer, she plays “anything,” a song with no capo.  It’s the catchiest song of the bunch with a nice story.

“ingydar” ends the set with an instrumental opening (with pretty harmonics). I thought this was an instrumental but it’s not.

So I came away from the set liking her more than I did, but not enough to get her record(s).

[READ: December 20, 2020] “The Decade I Kept on Getting Stabbed”

This year, S. ordered me The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This is my fifth time reading the Calendar.  I didn’t know about the first one until it was long out of print (sigh), but each year since has been very enjoyable.  Here’s what they say this year

You know the drill by now. The 2020 Short Story Advent Calendar is a deluxe box set of individually bound short stories from some of the best writers in North America.

This year’s slipcase is a thing of beauty, too, with electric-yellow lining and spot-glossed lettering. It also comes wrapped in two rubber bands to keep those booklets snug in their beds.

As always, each story is a surprise, so you won’t know what you’re getting until you crack the seal every morning starting December 1. Once you’ve read that day’s story, check back here to read an exclusive interview with the author.

It’s December 20.  John Jodzio, author of If You Lived Here You’d Already Be Home, can cut straight through a tin can, just watch. [Click the link to the H&O extras for the story].

This super short (barely four pages) story was great and had me laughing out loud.  It packed a great number of funny lines into a small space.

The narrator explains that he kept getting stabbed:

once on the bus, once at the barber, once at the bus stop outside the barber, once accidentally by my Labradoodle Conrad.

His friends told him to stop going to stabby places or to stop taping knives to Conrad’s paws. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KURSTIN x GROHL-“Sabotage” (The Hanukkah Sessions: Night One” December 10, 2020).

  Producer Greg Kurstin (who I have not heard of) and Dave Grohl (who I have) decided that, rather than releasing a Christmas song this year, they would record eight covers of songs by Jewish artists and release them one each night for Hanukkah.

“With all the mishegas of 2020, @GregKurstin and I were kibbitzing about how we could make Hannukah extra-special this year. Festival of Lights?! How about a festival of tasty LICKS! So hold on to your tuchuses… We’ve got something special coming for your shayna punims. L’chaim!!”

The first night is a ripping version of Beastie Boys’ Sabotage.

As the only Rock and Roll Hall Of Famers with a lyric about kugel, we thought it would be a shanda to not kick off this party with New York’s (and Abraham’s) finest…known by some as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abedenego, known by others as Ad-Rock, Mike D, and MCA…known by their Imas and Abbas as Adam Horovitz, Mike Diamond and Adam Yauch… Beastie Boys!

Kurstin plays synth (the bass is not quite as cool sounding as the original, but is otherwise pretty spot on).

Grohl plays drums and sings.  The singing is hilarious because he does his best Beastie Boys vocal style, including a tinge of an accent.

The video is done in one take, including a moment where Grohl drops his drumstick (the video mockingly points this out).  But he manages to get it back without any real damage to the song

This is a fantastic introduction to this enjoyable new tradition.

[READ: December 11, 2020] “Must be Peopled”

This year, S. ordered me The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This is my fifth time reading the Calendar.  I didn’t know about the first one until it was long out of print (sigh), but each year since has been very enjoyable.  Here’s what they say this year

You know the drill by now. The 2020 Short Story Advent Calendar is a deluxe box set of individually bound short stories from some of the best writers in North America.

This year’s slipcase is a thing of beauty, too, with electric-yellow lining and spot-glossed lettering. It also comes wrapped in two rubber bands to keep those booklets snug in their beds.

As always, each story is a surprise, so you won’t know what you’re getting until you crack the seal every morning starting December 1. Once you’ve read that day’s story, check back here to read an exclusive interview with the author.

It’s December 11. David Burr Gerrard, author of The Epiphany Machine, kindly requests that you un-tag him from that photo.[Click the link to the H&O extras for the story].

This story was hilarious and dark at the same time.  It was an opportunity to live out a perverse fantasy and then to see what doing so would send back your way.

The narrator says that he and Kate often joked about ranking friends’ baby pictures from cutest to ugliest.

I mean, who hasn’t?

Anyway, Kate has left the narrator, so he is now going to start ranking.  Publicly.

He begins by saying “Maryanne Jameson is the curtest baby on my feed Congratulations, Maryanne!!!!”

Within seconds many people have liked the post–primarily Maryanne’s mom and her friends.  (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKCOPLAND HOUSE: Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #110 (November 13, 2020).

Every Tiny Desk (Home) Concert is unique.  But this one seems extra special.

the desk – and the home setup – for this performance beats them all. The location is the home, and not so tiny writing desk, of Aaron Copland, America’s beloved composer.

Copland, who would have turned 120 on Nov. 14, gave us Appalachian SpringFanfare for the Common Man and Rodeo, among many other works that helped define a singular American sound.

These pieces are familiar to anyone who has listened to any classical music anywhere (or Emerson, Lake & Palmer).  But these three pieces were ones I didn’t know at all.

The set begins with one of the composer’s earliest pieces in a jazzy vein.

The piece is called “Three Moods: III. Jazzy.”  It is an upbeat, yes, jazzy, bouncy piano piece.  That last all of 80 seconds.  It is indeed, as Michael Boriskin says, delectable.

Michael Boriskin plays Copland’s own piano. He’s the artistic and executive director of Copland House, located an hour north of New York City in the lower Hudson River Valley. What was once Copland’s home is now a creative center for American music.

Up next, Boriskin plays a duet with violinist Curtis Macomber.

The Violin Sonata that follows embodies America’s wide open spaces, filled with possibilities.

“Sonata for Violin and Piano: I. Andante semplice – Allegro” is the only major piece Copland wrote for violin. It is sombre and pretty, with a kind of back and forth violin and piano.  There’s lots of lengthy, slow, almost mournful violin parts.

Macomber departs and is replaced by flutist Carol Wincenc.  They play “Duo for flute and piano: II. Poetic, somewhat mournful; III. Lively, with bounce.”  Those descriptors are part of the title and also describe how the music is to be played.  This piece

 was actually written at the very desk seen in this video.

The first part is slow and sad, while the second one is much more fun and bouncy.  The middle of the second part has a a sow staccato dialogue between the flute and piano.  There’s a fun moment where the flute and piano play the exact same very high note and the sound is really unusual.

I found these pieces to be less engaging than his more famous pieces.  But maybe that’s just because I am much more familiar with them.

[READ: December 9, 2020] “Parade for the Dead and Dying”

This year, S. ordered me The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This is my fifth time reading the Calendar.  I didn’t know about the first one until it was long out of print (sigh), but each year since has been very enjoyable.  Here’s what they say this year

You know the drill by now. The 2020 Short Story Advent Calendar is a deluxe box set of individually bound short stories from some of the best writers in North America.

This year’s slipcase is a thing of beauty, too, with electric-yellow lining and spot-glossed lettering. It also comes wrapped in two rubber bands to keep those booklets snug in their beds.

As always, each story is a surprise, so you won’t know what you’re getting until you crack the seal every morning starting December 1. Once you’ve read that day’s story, check back here to read an exclusive interview with the author.

It’s December 9.  Kelly Luce, author of Pull Me Under, can always pull a quick U-turn if she misses the exit. [Click the link to the H&O extras for the story].

I love how this story started in a kind of surreal location and then did a U-Turn and wound up in an even more surreal place.

Palmsville, Florida, has decided to have a parade for the dead and dying.  The floats were from various hospitals.  County supplied four bodies from the morgue to ride on the back of one of the floats.  Mount Sinai putthree geriatrics (and their ventilators) in a convertible. (more…)

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