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Archive for the ‘Funny (ha ha)’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: FLOCK OF DIMES-Tiny Desk Concert #246 (August 10, 2021).

Flock of Dimes is a fun band name.  It’s the solo project of Wye Oak’s Jenn Wasner (I thought Wye Oak was a solo project as well–no, it’s a duo).  [Gee, why wasn’t Andy Stack invited to this sing along?]

For this Home Concert, the solo project turns huge with nine people sitting around having a big ol’ sing along (I’ll assume they are all vaccinated and that this was filmed before Delta took off).

The setup is pretty simple: three guitars (I love that the guys on the couch are lefty (Michael Libramento, baritone guitar) and righty (Alan Good Parker, tenor guitar) so it looks appealingly symmetrical). some percussion and a lot of voices (the men on the right of the screen seems somewhat less invested).

The friends who are singing along include the three singers from Mountain Man: Amelia Randall Meath, Molly Sarlé and Alexandra Sauser-Monnig.  Meath is also in Sylvan Esso and her bandmate Nick Sanborn is also present (he’s one of the less invested men).  The set is filmed at Sylvan Esso’s new studio in Durham, N.C., called Betty’s.

“Two” is a bouncy number with lots of percussion.  I like the way the backing singers join in from time to time, but not constantly–it introduces new voices throughout.

One of the invested men is percussionist Matthew McCaughan from Bon Iver–he’s got a full complement of instruments at hand.  Joe Westerland (from Megafaun) is the other percussionist, he’s just a bit more subtle in his actions, but you can see him gently tapping through “Two.”

“Price of Blue” is a little slower but it has a wonderful melody.  The harmonies really standout on this song.

I don’t know the originals of these songs, but I have to assume the blurb is correct

These acoustic performances actually shed new light, thanks to radiant and radically different arrangements, while fully capturing the warmth we look for from Tiny Desk concerts.

Whatever the case, the backing vocals are tremendous.  You can really hear Molly Sarlé’s gorgeous harmony vocals.

“Awake For The Sunrise” feels like an old fashioned fire side sing along.  I’ve enjoyed Wye Oak’s music but I don’t know it very well.  I rather like Wassner’s delivery here–but i feel like these songs might not be as good without these harmonies!

[READ: August 12, 2021] New Teeth

I’m guessing that Simon Rich had a baby.

This collection of stories is loaded with stories about little kids.  And that’s all right because he has a very funny take on being a parent.

The other stories tackle the corporate environment and are full of fish-out-of-water stories.

“Learning the Ropes” is about being a new parent.  But it is written from the point of view of two pirates. And hilarity ensues.

What’s odd to me is that in his first books, his stories were really short, but I feel like lately his stories have gotten much longer–sometimes too long.  This one in particular kind of dragged at times, because it’s pretty much a one-note joke: what? pirates raising a little girl?!  One pirate is a concerned parent which means he wants them both to care about the child.  It’s got a few very funny moments, and of course, when the pirates who speak in pirate style (“The only man I trust is me first mate”) say things like “Arr… it be called ‘limit testing.’ She be acting out because she be craving discipline,” well, that’s classic Simon Rich right there. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: IRIS-Verftet Online Music Festival 2020 (April 1, 2020).

In April 2020, Norway’s Verftet Music Festival streamed an online concert:

Get ready for Verftet Online Music Festival, Bergen’s largest virtual concert festival, where we can enjoy great music together. We want to turn despair and frustration into innovation and positivity, and invite everyone to a digital festival experience out of the ordinary – right home in your own living room.

I was completely unfamiliar with Iris, but she was the only other singer whose set was still streaming.  Because Aurora is a Norwegian singer in the same range, I feel like Iris’ voice sounds similar to hers.  But that’s a lazy comparison.

I suspect that she is a bit more poppy than this set lets on.  Like the Silja Sol set, it feels like a more “unplugged” kind of show.

It opens with “crawl for me” with she her singing to a guitar.  It’s quiet and powerful.  The rest of the band comes out for “mercy” which is “how i would like to to not show me any.”  There are washes of guitar s and keys, including a very cool, almost sinister keyboard sound in the end.

A cellist arrives for “kroppsspråk” which is a cover of a Lars Vaular song.  It’s kind of rapped–but in Iris’s more singing way.  It seems like the original is very dancey and she has dialed it back.

After a gentle piano solo version of “giving in” (her voice is lovely in the spare setting), she played “from inside a car,” my favorite song of the set which  has a breathy quality that I really like.

Then she throws in a Beatles cover.  “Here, There and Everywhere” is a beautiful gentle cover with just her voice and an acoustic guitar.

“hidden springs” stays with the acoustic sound, but she moved to a more techie processed vocal for “your mind, the universe.”  She has a few technical glitches for this song but when they are resolved her voice sounds very cool as it starts and then turns into a much bigger song.

As they prepare the next song she jokes that you shouldn’t eat crackers in bed, which proves to be the opening line of “hanging around you/crackers,” a sweet sounding breakup song.

Before the final song she mentions that all of her band is wearing band T-shirts: Iron Maiden, Metallica, Kiss and um, Reservoir Dogs(?).  It’s an amusing look for such a gentle show.

Before starting “romance is dead” she encourages everyone to visit my You Tube channel for recipes.  This set ending song is soft and lovely, just piano and strings and her beautiful voice.

[READ: July 15, 2021] “Road Trips”

When David was a kid, his father rallied the families on their street in Raleigh to plant maple trees.  For years they were tiny, pathetic things.  Now, decades later they are tall and majestic creating a canopy down the street where his father still lives.

He was home visiting his father who brought him to a block party.  At the party a teenager saw David’s father and groaned “Lou Sedaris, who invited her?”

“My son is gay,” the boy’s mother announced as if none of us had figured this out yet.  David was blown away that someone could casually announce this on the street where he grew up.  As a young homosexual David played all the games that the other closeted kids did.  Dated girls and claimed that sex before marriage was what dogs did–a true union of soles could take eight to ten years!

He kept his secret until he was twenty.  But he would have kept it longer had a couple not picked him up when he was hitchhiking.  It was 1 AM and he was picked up by a Cadillac with people his parents’ age in it. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BLEACHERS-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #235 (July 12, 2021).

People love Jack Antonoff and Bleachers.  I feel like I’m supposed to be blown away by him, but I’m not.  In fact I thought that I had seen him live, but it was actually Porches (not the same thing but sort of similar).

Both as producer extraordinaire and artist in his own right, Jack Antonoff has had an outsized impact on the past decade in pop. And yet, even with such maximalist aims, Antonoff clearly understands the effectiveness of scale: that the most enduring tracks are often intimate portraits.

Surrounded by greenery, the footage is interspersed with close-up angles filtered through an old-school finish (scan the wide shot and you’ll spy a video camera perched on the piano, plus one very tiny desk, too).

They play three songs.

The set opens with “91,” the album’s ambitious opening cut.

The songs opens with the two saxophone players standing really close to each other (where’s the social distancing guys?).  This song is a kind of story song with a lot of words.  The whole presentation reminds me a lot of Tom Waits (no bad thing) or Bruce Springsteen (which I guess makes more sense since Bruce sang on a song of his).

It’s followed by a bombastic revision of “Stop Making This Hurt,” which gets a slick saxophone rewrite courtesy of Zem Audu and Evan Smith.

“Stop Making This Hurt” opens in an interesting way with staccato sax from (l-r) Zem Audu and Evan Smith while Antonoff stabs some piano notes.  I suppose I would like this more if it didn’t sound exactly as it does.  Piano and sax are really just not my thing and that’s pretty much all these songs have.  Mikey Freedom Hart adds keys, but it’s mostly bass notes adding depth to the song.

Springsteen sings on the studio version of “Chinatown.”  Interestingly I felt like this version sounded more like Meatloaf than anything else.  Musically I enjoyed this song and Antonoff seems like a nice guy, but I’ll not be seeing Bleachers anytime soon.

[READ: July 15, 2021] “Old Faithful”

This essays opens with David finding a lump on his tailbone–never a happy discovery.  It was a cyst or a boil–“one of those words you associate with trolls.”

Just sitting hurt him–and forget about laying down.  He threatened that boil–“I’m going to go to a doctor if you don’t go away.”  It didn’t listen.

He says he didn’t go to the doctor because it would have been very expensive in London (really?  Don’t they have NHS?).  But mostly he was afraid of hearing that he had “lower-back cancer” and they’d have to “remove his entire bottom.”

He suffered with the pain believing he was setting a good example for Hugh who tends to moan and complain–a splinter gets into his hand and he claims to know how Jesus Christ felt. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JAMBINAI-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #234 (July 09, 2021).

Why oh why oh why do all the best Tiny Desk Concerts have to be so short?

This show is AMAZING and it’s only 12 minutes long.  Meanwhile, some other bands have dragged theirs out for almost twice as long.  Alas.

I was introduced to JAMBINAI (like many others I’m sure) at the 2018 winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, Korea.  Their set was spectacular and it blew me away.  In reality, the band is much smaller than that spectacle produced, but their sound is still huge and intense.

I don’t think I’ve ever used the word “fierce” to describe a Tiny Desk, but that’s precisely what JAMBINAI has created in this (home) concert. The show begins in front of a massive recreation of my desk and what happens next … well, no spoilers here. Filmed in an immersive media art museum created by an organization known as d’strict on Jeju Island, this Korean band contains multitudes.

JAMBINAI plays traditional Korean instruments, but adds rock guitars and bass.

At its heart, JAMBINAI’s music mixes elements of metal, noise and Korean tradition. There’s full-on distorted guitar, bass and drums, but also a haegeum (a fiddle-like instrument), a piri (a type of flute), a taepyeongso (a reed instrument) and a most appropriately named instrument, a geomungo (a giant Korean zither). We also hear some delicate vocals in the mix.

The two pieces performed here include 2015’s “Time of Extinction” and the more recent and epic “ONDA.”

“Time Of Extinction” is the song they played at the Olympic and while it’s only three minutes long it feels epic and really encompasses their sound.  It opens with a plucked geomungo creating the simple riff.  After 20 second Ilwoo Lee plays a feedbacking guitar note and then Jaehyuk Choi comes crashing in on the drums.  At the same time, the visuals blow your mind.

The basis of the song is Eunyong Sim’ geomungo rhythm and Bomi Kim’s keening haegeum solo.  The guitars add a terrific tension to the basic melody.  In the middle of the song when it’s just drum and Byeongkoo Yu’s bass playing, the thumping is broken by the fully distorted guitar You don’t expect Ilwoo Lee to bust out a taepyeongso and play a traditional and rather discordant horn solo on top.  Just when it seems the song is about to launch to a new direction it’s over.  Just like that.

There is something so unearthly about the geomungo–it’s percussive and stringed and you can feel it rumble and thump ta the same time

“ONDA” is 8 minutes long and opens with Ilwoo Lee playing a saenghwang an amazing looking wind instrument that I cant quite fathom.  He plays a terrific sounding melody with it –almost patronal. Except for the low electronic chords underneath it

Then comes the rumble–the thundering drums and bass and a fast repetition from the geomungo.

Then Bomi Kim sings a gentle, calming echoing vocal line that sound magical under the rumble. After a verse of so Ilwoo Lee joins in on harmony vocals and they sound terrific together.

The song builds in intensity, as lwoo Lee adds the guitar, then it pulls back as Lee plays a piri solo that becomes a call and response with the haegeum.

There’s a wild jamming solo section that grows super intense.  The way it builds to a climax and is followed by huge crashing chords (and great visuals) is monumental.  Everyone joins in singing for the last minute as the melody soars and soars.

Maybe 12 minutes is all we can handle.

[READ: July 1, 2021] The Whispering Wars

This book is related to The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone in that it is set in the same land (The Land of Kingdoms and Empires).  But it is set some thirty years before the adventures of that book.  Through some magic (this is a magical land), we do see Bronte briefly. but if she ever starts to give way anything about the future, she is instantly sent back to where she came from.

In the first book we are aware of the Whispering Wars as being a big event in the past.  This book explains how they started.

This book is told by two (sometimes three) alternating narrators.  There is Finlay, who lives at the orphanage and Honey Bee who lives at the fancy Brathelthwaite school.

How they wind up alternating chapters isn’t explained until much later, which I rather enjoyed (both the delay and the explanation).

As the book opens, Finlay explains that it is time for the annual Spindrift (the town where they live) tournament.  The kids at the orphanage looks forward to this event because they can show up the rich kids.  Finlay is a super fast runner, as is his friend Glim.  The twins Eli and Taya aren’t super fast but they are very strong and good with their hands (and can multitask like nobody’s business).  There’s also Jaskafar, a tiny boy who sleeps on top of the wardrobe–his storyline is very funny until he is the first Orphan to be taken. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE WEATHER STATION-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #237 (July 20, 2021).

For a band this soft, there are sure a lot of players.  I can’t even figure out what Philippe Melanson the second drummer (!) is doing for most of set.  It’s especially amusing since at least initially The Weather Station was just one person: (singer here) Tamara Lindeman.

However, it’s the setting of the Home Concert that is so magical.

There’s a desk and a band playing songs filled with nature’s imagery somewhere in the woods of Mulmur in Southern Ontario, Canada.  …. The songs for this Tiny Desk (home) concert are filled with imagery of nature and our relationship with our planet.

I like that they are really spread far apart–that the camera has to pan far left and right to catch everyone (although, really for most of the set it’s guitarist Christine Bougie and saxophone/ clarinet player Karen Ng who are off screen.

If Melanson is relatively quiet, full on drummer Kieran Adams is one of the loudest players here.  In songs like “Robber” there’s almost nothing but drums (the rest of the music lays a bed on which the drums seem to skitter around).  In fairness, Melanson does get to wail a lot of “Robber” as well, which is easily the most fun track here.

“Tried to Tell You” has a real 70s soft-rock vibe.  It’s amusing, for instance, to watch keyboardist Johnny Spence as his hands literally don’t move almost the whole time that the camera is on him.  I like the way the quiet guitar and clarinet bounce back and forth off of each other in this song.

The keyboard melody is much more prominent for “Parking Lot.”  As with most of the song, the pulsing bass from Ben Whiteley is what really grounds the song.

With images of a blood-red sunset in the song “Atlantic” and the lines “Thinking I should get all this dying off of my mind / I should really know better than to read the headlines / Does it matter if I see it? / No, really, can I not just cover my eyes?,” Tamara writes about her passion for the earth and its future, but the tunes are calming and thoughtful, not doctrines or lectures.

“Atlantic” has a nice pulsing feel with squiggly guitar lines.  The spareness of these songs is really in evidence when you see that Bougie is often barely playing before jumping into a big flourish of notes

“Robber” is a six minute jazzy piece that slowly builds to some wild fun.  The build up is spectacular and once again Bougie’s guitar work is terrific.

[READ: July 15, 2021] Oh, Boris!

My library gets all kinds of strange books–books that don’t really seem like they belong in a University library.  But I believe they like to make sure they cover all of the bases–just in case.

Which explains why we have a book like this.  A 6″x6″ square book that’s 64 pages and looks like it was conceived, written and published in a week.

I found this book while searching through old books to see if they could be cataloged (it actually fell out of the pile because it was so small).  Perhaps the only really interesting thing about this is that it was written in 2016, a full three years before Boris Johnson became Prime Minister.  He had just been named Secretary of State (really!) around the publication of this book.

For those of us in the States who wondered how the Brits created such a buffoon, it’s worth noting that he was born in the United States (guess they should also have a law that a PM must be born in the country). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: LEY LINE-“Oxum” (SXSW Online 2021).

I never intend to go to SXSW–I find the whole thing a bit much.  But I also appreciate it for the way it gives unknown bands a place to showcase themselves. NPR featured a half dozen artists online this year with this note:

This year, the South by Southwest music festival that takes over Austin, Texas every spring happened online. Couch By Couchwest, as I like to call it, was an on-screen festival, with 289 acts performing roughly 15-minute pre-recorded sets across five days in March.

This list was curated by Bob Boilen.  He also notes:

 I didn’t enjoy hearing loud, brash music while sitting on a couch the way I would in a club filled with people and volume, so I found myself engaging in more reflective music instead.

I’m going in reverse order, which means Ley Line is next.

Ley Line is four women, based in Austin TX, playing an upright bass, a guitar and soft percussion.

The first ninety seconds of this song slowly evolve from a pretty guitar melody and lead vocals, to harmony vocals supporting a lead vocal and a soft echoing drum

And then the bouncing drum is joined by cymbals and a satisfyingly deep bass melody.

Ley Line is four singers, including a pair of twin sisters, who find inspiration in music from Latin America, West Africa, and Europe as well as North America. The simplicity is what I loved most about this Austin-based group, both in its spare percussion and lovely harmony.

It’s fascinating to hear to song shift from Spanish to a wordless language (I think) to English, all while retaining a similar sound.

That is until three and a half minutes when the song suddenly shifts to a a dancey song.  Bouncy bass, a fast rhythm and more of that cheerfully singing (in Spanish once again).  It’s quite arresting.

[READ: July 10, 2021] “Understanding Owls”

David asks the universal question, “when does one reach a point in your life when you say ‘I’ve got to weed out some of these owls?'”  We’ve all been there.

Of course, you don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, so you can’t get rid of the crocheted owl from your sister.  You keep the owl napkins and candles–those are useful. But trivets and trinkets can go in the trash or to goodwill.

This overwhelming feeling happens when you tell people you like something.  His sister Amy said she liked rabbits and soon enough, she had cushions, slippers, bowls, magnets etc.

Amy’s started with a live rabbit.  But Hugh and David’s owls started with art.  Hugh painted birds on a client’s ceiling.  He painted song birds and then she asked for owls.

It made no sense nature-wise–owls and songbirds work different shifts, and even if they didn’t they would still never be friends.

But it was her ceiling so he did it.

He bought the book Understanding Owls to learn what they looked like.  The book became an inside joke for them–i wish I could see what a barn owl looked like, if only there was some guide nearby to show me.

Then, pushing the joke further, David decided to buy Hugh a stuffed owl.  But he learned that it is illegal to own one in the United States–even if it dies on your property you cant keep it.

he had gone to a taxidermist.  One taxidermist even went so far as to stretch a chicken over an owl form.  It was disturbing. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: TENGGER-“Achime” (SXSW online, 2021).

I never intend to go to SXSW–I find the whole thing a bit much.  But I also appreciate it for the way it gives unknown bands a place to showcase themselves. NPR featured a half dozen artists online this year with this note:

This year, the South by Southwest music festival that takes over Austin, Texas every spring happened online. Couch By Couchwest, as I like to call it, was an on-screen festival, with 289 acts performing roughly 15-minute pre-recorded sets across five days in March.

This list was curated by Bob Boilen.  He also notes:

 I didn’t enjoy hearing loud, brash music while sitting on a couch the way I would in a club filled with people and volume, so I found myself engaging in more reflective music instead.

I’m going in reverse order, which means I start with TENGGER

TENGGER is a traveling musical family based in Seoul. TENGGER makes its hybrid sounds with a mix of harmonium and modular synths. The couple’s child joins this performance of “Achim,” playing a bird caller and doing movements that add an otherworldly dimension to the music.

This song is very simple, and very soothing.  It opens with a somewhat harsh but soft note, followed by a simple looping electronic melody.  The female vocalist sings some soft soaring notes that float atop the melody.

The bird calls are really quite delightful and add a nice level of whimsy.  After this, a bass note is added which gives the song a bit more gravitas.  After about 3 and a halt minutes, a drumbeat comes in and the song feels complete. It loops around for another minute and a half and then fades out.

It’s quite lovely.

[READ: July 10, 2021] “Journey Into Night”

David Sedaris writes about travel a lot. He is, after all, a touring author/speaking.  But he has also lived in many many places around the world.  So he has a lot of experience with air travel.  Of course, since he is famous (and apparently well off).  He tends to fill in what was (at least in 2007 called Business Elite).

He first mentions the flight from JFK to Paris that leaves at 7PM and arrives at 845 AM.  He says there’s a brief parody of evening. Dinner is served, Trays are cleared and then, four hours later it’s time for breakfast–an attempt to trick the body that it has slept the night. Some passengers even prepare for bed–line up at the bathroom with toothbrushes, wearing slippers.

Business Elite is separated from everyone else.  The first time he flew it, he didn’t care for the whole boarding first par, but the pampering was pretty nice.

Although on this one flight he was asked to do the airline a favor.  A passenger was crying–his mother had died and he was returning home.  He was disturbing the neighbors near him and the flight attendant asked if he could sit in the empty set by David.

David, who is usually easily judgmental was horrified by these people.  The man’s mother had died.  He mentions a first class passenger who threatened to sue an airline because a blind person was travelling with  seeing eye dog.  The man said hadn’t paid thousands of dollars to sit next to a dog.

David wasn’t sure how to react to the crying man, so he planned to basically ignore him.  The man waved off his food, but David was pleased to get his dessert.  He even learned that (In Business Elite) he could ask for extra

spend eight thousand dollars on a ticket and, if you want an extra thirteen cents worth of ice cream, all you have to do is ask.

But really the hardest prat was to try to remain somber for this man.  I  mean, there was a Chris Rock movie on the screen. And once you realize you cant laugh, it’s impossible not to.  Like about their Greek grandmother

For children, nothing beats a flatulent old lady.  And she wasn’t embarrassed by it.

Their father would ask if something was funny.  They’d say no while giggling.  He would wallop them on the head with a metal spoon which only made things funnier.

But then as he started to think back to those times–so young and simple–he started to cry too.  Just joining the man in solidarity.

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SOUNDTRACK: BLACK MOTION-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #233 (July 8, 2021).

 Black Motion specializes in Afro-House and this set is infectious.

Afro-House has spread joy and healing across the country of South Africa, transcending local boundaries to become a thriving global dance phenomenon. In my experience, Its indigenous sounds and percussive rhythms drench the soul and heart with healing powers and cultivate communion with the infinite.

This Afro-House set is brought to life thanks to several featured vocalists and guest musicians.  Black Motion’s Tiny Desk (home) concert, recorded at the former residence of Nelson Mandela, feels like a spiritual sound bath. The South African production duo turntablist Bongani Mohosana of the Zulu tribe and percussionist Thabo Mabogwane of Sotho tribe — open their set with “Mayibuye iAfrica,” a cry for Africa to return to its culture and history.

“Mayibuye iAfrica” opens with a fun introduction.  There’s whooping, growling, cawing, (from DJ and producer Bongani Mohosana and keyboardist Almotie “Alie-keyz” Mtomben).  There’s some great percussion (producer and drummer Thabo Roy Mabogwane’s set has over ten different drums and a few cymbals).  Then, after a minute or so Siyabonga Hosana Magagula’s grooving bass and Lifa “Sir_Lifa” Mavuso’s slow but perfect-sounding guitar enter the picture.

Then the singers come in singing a beautiful chorus.  The three of them are: Lusindiso “Jojo” Zondani (tenor), Gugu Shezi (soprano) and Noxolo Radebe (alto), and there voices gel wonderfully.

Up next is “Rainbow” which shuffles along with the DJs sampling and a simple keyboard melody (that sounds a bit like The Way It Is).

South African singer Msaki makes her third appearance in our (home) concert series, after earlier credits with Black Coffee and our Coming 2 America special. She lends her vocals to “Marry Me,” a soulful jam from Black Motion’s 2020 album, The Healers: The Last Chapter.

Next up is “Marry Me.” Msaki sings lead vocals on this song which has a grooving echoing lead guitar. “Alie-keyz” plays a cool retro organ solo before “Sir_Lifa” jams out a guitar solo.

Interestingly, Msaki’s voice was relatively deep, but on the next song, “Joy Joy,” Brenden Praise’s voice is pretty high (in the choruses).  For the verses, he sings a bit deeper.  I like the way the backing vocalists sound like gospel singers here.

“Imali,” featuring Nokwazi, soothes the lingering remnants of pandemic fears,

The snare drum introduces the colorfully dress Nokwazi who sings “Imali.”  Her call and response singing is really great, as is her intense, growling style.

Tabia closes with the lilting “Prayer for Rain.”

Tabia comes out for “Prayer For Rain” and says “let’s pray” as she sings some wordless notes to warm up the song.  When she starts singing, I don’t know what language she’s singing, but the passion is palpable.  And the thunderclap that DJ Bongani Mohosana adds at the end is a welcome touch.

This is a powerful and moving (emotionally and physically) set of songs.

[READ: May 10, 2021]  “Easy, Tiger”

After reading David’s story about shopping in Tokyo, it was funny to go backwards and read about one of his first few trips abroad and how he started learning the local language(s).

He says that he had been using Pimsleur Japanese and felt fairly comfortable when in Japan.  But on this trip he was also going to Beijing and he had forgotten to study.

But this is not so much about China as it is about learning languages in general.

Since he doesn’t drive, phrases like “as for gas, is it expensive” don’t really help him out.  But he uses “fill her up please” when asking for a tea refill.  He also gets to say that he is a man with children since they do not have a phrase for “I am am middle aged homosexual…  with a niece I never see and a small godson.”

He recommends Pimsleur for pronunciations and memorization.  But he also likes Lonely Planet. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKDRY CLEANING-“Her Hippo,”  and “Leafy” (album versions) (2020).

After listening to the Dry Cleaning Tiny Desk (Home) Concert, I wanted to hear the recorded versions since the blurb talked about how different they sounded.

Indeed, these versions sound very different from the Tiny Desk Concert.  Well, actually it’s the guitars sound very different because guitarist Tom Dowse is playing electric rather than acoustic.  But it changes the whole tone of the songs.

On the record, “Her Hippo” opens with quiet but sharp electric guitars that echo as the riff circles around. Lewis Maynard’s bass sounds the same, but Nick Buxton’s drums push this song into more of a rock territory (he played keys and electronic percussion in the Tint Desk)..

Florence Shaw’s vocal delivery is similar but perhaps a but more empathic while being heard over the more rocking band.  The middle part features just the rumbling bass and Dowse’s sharp (but simple) guitar solo.

“Unsmart Lady” opens with roaring, echoing wild guitars and thumping drums.  When he starts playing the main (weird) guitar chords they make more “sense” on the electric guitar, but they are still noisy and abrasive.  Dowse wrenches all kinds of screeching feedback and squeals out of his guitar.  The Tiny Desk version sounded really good, but this version is fantastic.

At the Tiny Desk “Leafy” was all delicate synth, but on the record, Dowse plays a kind of lead solo throughout the song–melodic and pretty while keeping the bass company.

I’m glad I listened to the recorded versions of these.  But I’m also glad I listened to the Tiny Desk (Home) Concert first, because hearing the structure of the songs was a great way to be unprepared for the distortion of the recorded versions.  I’m looking forward to hearing the rest of the record–and seeing them live.

[READ: May 10, 2021]  “The Perfect Fit”

This is a hilarious essay about shopping in Tokyo.  It’s especially funny to imagine David and his sisters running around the city buying all manner of strange clothes.  Because if there’s one thing we know about the Sedaris family, it’s that they love odd items.

They stayed in Ebisu so they could shop at their favorite place Kapitol.  He talks about all of the delightfully odd clothes they sell there.  The store is still open, here’s a fun piece.

The store’s motto seems to be “why not?”  They make clothes that refuse to flatter you.   A shirt whose arm holes are not made like a capital T but like a lower case t. A jacket that poofs out at the small of your back where for no reason there’s a pocket.  He bought three hats that he wore stacked. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SLEATER-KINNEY-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #231 (July 1, 2021).

Sleater-Kinney were once an abrasive riot grrl band with vocals that were challenging and guitar riffs that were often abrasive.  The songs and the vocals intertwined in fascinating ways, making music like nobody else.

They took a lengthy hiatus and reemerged sounding a little different.  Then they released another album which sounded very different (so different that it caused Janet Weiss, holy drummer of the trio, to depart).

That album was not Sleater-Kinney.  It was good, very good in fact, it just wasn’t the same band.  Now, they’ve released another album and this one verges even further from their trio sound.

It’s still good, but it’s disconcerting that our two guitar-wielding singers aren’t playing much in the way of guitars.

“Path of Wellness” opens with a funky drum beat (from Vince Lirocchi) and bass.  Bass!  The gypsies had no home and Sleater-Kinney had no bass.  Well now they do in the form of Bill Athens.

On the previous album I bemoaned that Carrie Brownstein and Corin Tucker’s vocals didn’t intertwine like they used to.  It’s nice that the two sing the song together.  The vocals are much closer to traditional harmonies than untraditional S-K vocals.  But there is a bit of that wild S-K interchange in the voices.  And, once the song takes off in the middle though, Carrie plays some leads and Corin plays big loud chords.

Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein sing of human frailty and self-improvement, vibrating with low notes of disgust. Then Brownstein shoots Tucker a knowing smile as they sing, “You could never love me enough,” and the pair, who have been making music together for nearly 30 years, start to unwind things: Brownstein hisses “I am on a path of wellness” through gritted teeth before ripping into a four-note riff that feels like it’s pulling your guts out; Tucker sets her voice at maybe 75 percent howl capacity to sing “I feel like I’m unknown” and Brownstein still has to raise a hand to steady herself against the force. She can’t stop grinning.

“High In The Grass” feels looser and hazier than on the album;

“High In The Grass” has Corin playing the chords, Carrie playing the main riff and third guitarist Fabi Reyna playing the high lead read.  I don’t know if Corin would have normally played that or not, but having an extra guitar doesn’t hurt.

Corin sings this song rather delicately, in a kind of soft falsetto.  But when they get to the chorus is sounds like classic S-K vocals.

The guitars are pretty awesome in the middle part as all three women play different things  Corin is playing chords up and down the neck, Carrie has some riffage going on in the middle and Fabi is playing a scorching feedbacky solo.

Track three is a surprise.  Going back to 2002’s One Beat, they play the title song.  Corin and Carrie put down their guitars and keyboardist Galen Clark plays piano while Bill Athens plays bowed upright bass.

“One Beat” played with piano and bowed upright bass, making it that much easier to hear how, by the end, Tucker’s pleas and Brownstein’s yelp have been inextricably knitted together.

The album version is spare intertwined guitars and tribal drums–a very different sound.

“Worry With You” feels heavier [than the album].

The guitar riff sounds very S-K, and the guitars (and keys) do bring a heaviness to the proceedings.  The verses are jumpy and erratic but they resolve into one of their catchiest chrouses yet.

So yes, you can hear Sleater-Kinney in this album. But one aspect of the band is definitely gone.  Nevertheless, the core remains and it sounds terrific.

[READ: June 10, 2021]  “Standing By: Fear, loathing, flying.”

It was fascinating to read this article in 2021 because at the end he talks about fearing to ask the person near him on line who they voted for.  I wondered when he wrote this because it really applies to pretty much any election in the 21st century.

The essay opens with the joke that when your flight is delayed it’s a national tragedy–why isn’t this on the news!  But when you hear about it from someone else, it’s totally ho hum.

But mostly he gets to be snooty about his fellow passengers.  Like the guy next to him in a T-shirt and shorts:

It’s as if the person next to you had been washing shoe polish off a pig then suddenly threw down his sponge saying, “Fuck this.  I’m going to Los Angeles.”

He also talks about flight attendant friends who have given him some insight.  “I’ll be right back” is code for “Go fuck yourself.”  When he asked another attendant how he dealt with unruly travelers, the answer (at the end of the essay) is very satisfying.

He talks about another flight in which he saw an old woman with her young grandchildren who were dressed beautifully–like children from a catalogue.  The boy was even wearing a tie–clip on, but that’s ok. (more…)

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