Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Futility’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: TRUPA TRUPA-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #44 (July 3, 3030).

Trupa Trupa is a band from Poland who play some really great indie rock.  They were supposed to be touring the U.S. and doing a Tiny Desk, but instead they are home.

In a little dirty rehearsal room basement in Gdańsk, we find Poland’s great rock band Trupa Trupa on lockdown. Had it not been for COVID-19, this band would have been behind my desk this week, but as it is, they’ve settled into their rehearsal space.

Their songs are pretty intense, but this Home Tiny Desk features lighter versions of the songs.

They open their set with “Another Day,” from the 2019 record Of The Sun.  It has a great throbbing bassline Wojciech Juchniewicz while singer Grzegorz Kwiatkowski plays acuostic guitar.  He says its the first time he’s played the acoustic guitar in a really long time.

There’s a cool theremin-type sound that is coming from Rafał Wojczal.  The credits say the instrument is called an ondes Martenot, but this is a homemade device–and it sounds pretty cool.

I’ve seen them perform this; it’s always had an apocalyptic feel, but now the words “another day, waiting for another,” prompts Grzegorz to mention how this has turned into a quarantine song.  Grzegorz tells us that life in Poland has been difficult in this young democracy, but they are staying optimistic and playing music.  There’s darkness in the basement, yet their music is a bright beacon.

“Dream About” starts with a snappy drum from Tomasz Pawluczuk.  Kwiatkowski plays as scratchy rhythm on the guitar before  Juchniewicz plays a great rolling bassline that runs throughout the song until it abruptly stops for a some single notes.  Then it resumes again.  Wojczal adds some guitar before bringing that Martenot back.

“None of Us” is slow and deep basslines.  Initial vocals come from Juchniewicz who has switched to guitar.  The acoustic guitar is more prominent on this song.  And Juchniewicz’  fuzzy electric guitar sound is deep and menacing.

Their U.S. Tour was cancelled, but they weren’t going to play near me.  Maybe when they come back they can squeeze in a Philadelphia date.

[READ: June 20, 2020] Bagombo Snuff Box

This is a short story collection that I read when it came out.  When I read all of Vonnegut’s books a few years ago, I decided to re-read this collection.  It has only taken me several years to get to it.

But what a great bunch of short stories.

The Preface explains that these stories were written in the 1940s and printed in magazines before he had written his first big novels.  After the War, there were many magazines that featured fiction, so Kurt was able to make some good money on the side while he worked at General Electric.  He left the company in 1950.

Vonnegut has an introduction as well.  He talks about the beneficial effect short stories can have on a person.  He also says he generally feels good about these stories although he feels a bit badly for the way some (many) of the women are treated–not that Vonnegut specifically treated them badly, but that was sort of the way it was then. (more…)

Read Full Post »

SOUNDTRACK: JERU THE DAMAJA-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #16 (April 30, 2020).

I’ve always liked Jeru the Damaja’s name; I find it very satisfying.  It’s amusing to me that with a name like that he raps about positive things.

He used the concert to share his inspiring philosophy of self-knowledge. Jeru drops lyrics about what it takes to achieve self-actualization in tough conditions for not just himself, but for the culture.

I don’t actually know any of his songs; this is a “medley of his classics.”  Jeru’s got a great, deep voice that adds a lot of strength to his lyrics.

Like Black Thought, Jeru sits in a chair, surrounded by his gear.  Unlike Black Thought, Jeru is in motion pretty consistently bobbing and waving his hand like he does care.

He starts with 50 seconds of “Can’t Stop the Prophet” after which he says “we need a superhero and we forget that the superhero resides within us.”  he encourages everyone to be creative in this time because idle hands do the devil’s work.  This is his lead into the 90 seconds of “Ain’t The Devil Happy.”

His prescient lyrics remain as relevant as ever as he addresses the deepening fissures of socioeconomic inequalities exposed by the coronavirus crisis.

He even updates the lyrics of “Scientifical Madness”

Mind Jah lick you with disease
So I inflict MC’s like Ebola Corona
Or some other man made cancer

He says he doesn’t want to be inside, but he’s grateful that he has a place to be because living outside is “So Raw.”  I really like the slow grooving beat of this song.

After the 90 seconds of “My Mind Spray” he says his mind is always working.  He’s always wondering if this and if that. But the old saying goes “If if’s were fifth, we’d all be drunk.”  In the song “If” he adds “If if was a spliff, we’d all get smoked up.”

He closes his set from his home in Berlin with a new song, “The Power,” and offers up a message we all need: “No matter who you are, the power resides in you…We can overcome anything if you put your mind to it, you just can’t get in your mind too much.” The prophet cannot be stopped.

“The Power” is a full song which was inspired by a things his mother used to say that he didn’t understand until he got older: “nothing matters except for how we treat people.”

[READ: May 6, 2020] “Shelter Seekers”

This story is written as a letter to the “scholarship liaison officer.”

The letter writer received a $4,000 Daniel White Foreign Study Scholarship via the Government of Canada.  The money was to fund three months in Argentina to study how the region is “adapting its approach to housing in the interest of sustainability.”

This letter is the final report which is “unconventional in form, long overdue and in excess of the stipulated two-page limit.”

The writer left her husband for three months to undertake this challenge.

On the flight to Patagonia ($1,297) she read the Award Holder’s Guide.  She imagined building clay houses and hanging out with her fellow researchers, drinking Fernet and Coke.  She even considered the idea of an affair with an attractive researcher.  (more…)

Read Full Post »

SOUNDTRACK: MARGO PRICE & JEREMY IVEY-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #2 (March 26, 2020).

Since the quarantine began, many many many musicians have been playing shows at home.  There are so many online home recordings that it is literally impossible to keep up with them.  I have watched a few, but not many.  I’m not sure how many of the online shows are going to be available for future watching, but at least these are saved for posterity.

The Tiny Desk is working from home for the foreseeable future. Introducing NPR Music’s Tiny Desk (Home) Concerts, bringing you performances from across the country and the world. It’s the same spirit — stripped-down sets, an intimate setting — just a different space.

I respect Margo Price’s lyrics and attitude. But her music is just too country for my tastes.  I don’t know anything about her husband Jeremy Ivey (turns out he released his first album this year at age 41).

In this concert, Margo’s accent is subdued and her songs sound great.  Plus, she says what we are all thinking between the first and second song.

Margo Price and her husband, Jeremy Ivey, performed a Tiny Desk (Home) Concert from their Nashville attic. Behind them are two handmade signs inspired by John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s Bed-In For Peace that simply reads “Stay Home” and “Save Lives.”

They play three songs

They played “Stone Me,” a song they co-wrote and included on Margo’s upcoming album, That’s How Rumors Get Started.

Maybe it is best is Margo stays in the country world, because her lyrics really stand out against the status quo:

Love me, hate me
Desecrate me
Call me a bitch
Then call me baby
You don’t know me
You don’t own me
Yeah that’s no way
To stone me

Plus it’s really catchy.

After the song Ivey jokes that you can hold your applause until the end.  But then Margo gets serious saying the last time they did Tiny Desk trump had just gotten elected and didn’t think things gcould ever get worse…here we are.

The second song, “Just Like Love” is from an EP.  It’s a minor key song, less catchy but more affecting with Ivey’s excellent backing vocals and guitar solos.

Margo and Jeremy dedicated this concert to all those that are struggling right now and thank “all the people still out there working, the doctors, all the sanitation people, everybody out there just doing what they have to do to so we can survive, all the people working in grocery stores. And to everyone who has lost their job, we feel you.”  In addition to the rapidly spreading virus, Nashville was recently ravaged by tornadoes.

The video cuts to black and Margo returns saying Take 25, while carrying a hand drum.

They ended the set with a premiere, a song called “Someone Else’s Problem,” that they wrote together on an airplane while Margo was pregnant. It’s a song dealing with the guilt many of us have, being part of a problem instead of part of a solution.

This is another minor key song and it’s quite long (about 7 minutes).  It’s almost like a Bob Dylan story song (including a harmonica solo).

She ends the set by looking at the camera and asking, Where’s the ventilators” if only the stereotypical country fan would listen to her and maybe change their minds about the impeached president.

[READ: March 30, 2020] The Adventure Zone 2

I loved this book.  It is a graphic novel realization of a Dungeons & Dragons campaign.  It is based on a podcast called The Adventure Zone.  The podcast is fun and is a real scenario of friends (in this case brothers) playing D&D.  The podcast is pretty funny if a little unedited.

Book Two picks up more or less where the last book left off.  Our heroes Taako the elf mage, Merle the dwarf cleric and Magnus the fighter meet with the leaders of the Bureau of Balance, a volunteer organization dedicate to finding and eliminating weapons of magical destruction.

They are given new gear, they level up, they shop at Magic Costco.  Then they are to board the Rockport Express train and retrieve the Oculus, a magical object.  The person who had it, Leeman Kessler, was killed for it.

The train is pretty cool with a crypt safe that can only be opened if the engineer’s hands are on it for an hour.

There a bunch of hilarious NPCs in the game including the engineer, Hudson, and the guy who is there to help them, Jenkins.  Jenkins brings their food and shows them the magic portal room (it’s not-only-a sex thing).  The fun that the characters have at Jenkins’ expense it totally worth the reading of the book.

Also on board is a young boy (I’m ten, not eight) Angus McDonald the self-proclaimed world’s greatest detective who offers to help him (and sound snotty doing it).   Angus knows about Leeman Kessler’s death and he is out to find “The Rockport Slayer.”  The three adventurers agree to help him.  As they go snooping around they discover another dead body.  His hands and head were cut off.

Coincidentally also on board is the professional wrestler, Jess the Beheader (Magnus loves her and has both her action figures, the regular one and the rare one).  But Merle snarks: “Don’t you know wrestling is made up fantasy bullshit?”

The rest of the book becomes kind of a mystery story–finding the Rockport Slayer and eventually getting the magical oculus out of the cryptsafe. There’s magical spells, serious hit point damage, a large  crab, preposterous story lines and a nice plot twist.

The fun part at the end comes when our heroes hand over the oculus (come on that’s not a spoiler) but the head of the BOB reveals that there are a total of seven magical items that they must retrieve and thanks to our heroes, they now have two.

So you’re telling us that you and your big organization and secret moon base and flying snow globes have been doing this for however long and your score is zero?!

Two?

No that’s our score…BOB Incorporated has a big old goose egg.

As the book ends a mysterious hooded figure who has been lurking throughout the book crosses out the oculus on a list.  The phoenix fire gauntlet is already crossed out.  That leaves Five to go.

I really enjoyed this story even if it was more of a mystery than a good old D&D story.  Although honestly I haven’t looked at D&D since the 70s so maybe it’s different now.

Although, more specifically there is no way this is how a D&D story could work.  The repartee and the battles are too clean cut and plotted.  Now I realize that the book borrows liberally from various things to create the story line.  So maybe they have taken the podcast and taken the highlights and best quips and made this story from it  I mean, it works as story but it doesn’t work at all as a campaign.  Which is fine, since this is a story not a campaign.

I’m just curious how the actual campaign worked.

Read Full Post »

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[READ: December 29, 2019] Pyongyang

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

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

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

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

The book was translated by Helge Dascher.

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

Read Full Post »

SOUNDTRACK: GURR-“Christmas Holiday” (2018).

I really enjoyed Gurr when I saw them live this year.  I wanted to see what their studio music sounded like and I found this release called the Christmas Business EP.  There are two songs that feature Eddie Argos from Art Brut.

This first track has a very B-52’s vibe to it.  With Eddie Argos doing his thing and the women from Gurr singing lovely backing vocals, it sounds like a punkish update to their style.

A thumping beat introduces Eddie speaking (in his own distinct way) “Silent Night, holy night everything is gonna be alright.  Silent Night holy night, maybe not but lets pretend it might.”

Then the Gurr women sing a line (with lovely ahhs behind it).

The chorus is simple and catchy “We’re on Christmas holiday / sat around with nothing left to say / We’re on Christmas holiday / you don’t have to stay if you donb’t want to.”

The song is short (less than three minutes) and it continues with more great Eddie Argos lines like “We’ve got something cooking in the kitchen / it doesn’t fit in with your dietary restrictions” (this sounds the most like the with B-52’s since both women do the ahhs.)

After another chorus, Eddie ends the song with this heartfelt Christmas wish

I’ve gathered you all here today to say … I  hope you are all enjoying Christmas exactly the same amount as … I am enjoying Christmas.

Check it out here.

[READ: December 1, 2019]Beginnings

This year, S. ordered me The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This is my fourth 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

The Short Story Advent Calendar is back! And to celebrate its fifth anniversary, we’ve decided to make the festivities even more festive, with five different coloured editions to help you ring in the holiday season.

No matter which colour you choose, the insides are the same: it’s another collection of expertly curated, individually bound short stories from some of the best writers in North America and beyond.

(This is a collection of literary, non-religious short stories for adults. For more information, visit our Frequently Asked Questions page.)

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.

Want a copy?  Order one here.

I’m pairing music this year with some Christmas songs that I have come across this year.

The story it is told in many different parts–22 numbered sections.  Number 1 is called “The Beginning” and in its entirety, it consists of

 I find you impossibly beautiful, the man tells me. Give it a year, I tell him, and you’ll find me impossible

(more…)

Read Full Post »

SOUNDTRACK: THE DIVINE COMEDY-“Don’t Mention the War” (2019).

The Divine Comedy contributed a song to the Amazon Prime series Modern Love.

I don’t know anything about the show, but I was delighted to hear a new song from Neil Hannon.

This is a much quieter songs than he has put out recently. It features acoustic guitars and strings and over a slightly bouncy melody, he gently sings.

Do you remember when? No I don’t either
All this remembering we’re none the wiser
It’s time to let go and say

The chorus is similarly bouncy but more nostalgic than happy.

Don’t mention the war
Don’t talk of those days
What good is it for?
Don’t mention the war
Let history lie
Kiss the old days goodbye
They’re no help anymore
Don’t mention the war

This song isn’t mind blowing (an apparently is a left over from something else). but it’s a delightful slice of chamber pop.  I’d like to think it might introduce him to a whole new audience who will love him, but realistically, I think it will get some nice plays on Spotify and that’s good enough.

[READ: November 29, 2019] “Hurricane Season”

Sedaris says that when you grow up in North Carolina, you know not to get too attached to a beach house. If this year’s hurricane doesn’t get you, next year’s will.  And so it was in 2018 that Hurricane Florence took away their house, the Sea Section.

While Hugh was devastated David could only think to mock the old fashioned hurricane names “they sound like finalists in a pinochle tournament.”  Where’s Hurricane Madison or Skylar? Category 4 Fredonté?

They were in London when the hurricane hit, so their friend, owner of the Dark Side of the Dune checked on their house for them.  The pictures made  the place look so tawdry he was embarrassed to share them.

Luckily for them they had purchased the house that’s next door to the Sea Section as well –preemptively avoiding a McMansion (eight bedrooms were common, spread over three or  four stories).  The place is ancient by Emerald Isle standards (vintage 1972).  But what you really didn’t want next door to you was a swimming pool.  All you hear is Marco Polo over and over. (more…)

Read Full Post »

SOUNDTRACK: IGOR LEVIT-Tiny Desk Concert #914 (November 22, 2019).

Igor Levit is a 32 year-old Russian-born pianist.  I really don’t know anything about him, although the blurb implies that he plays Beethoven and little else.  It says that he

has been playing the German composer’s music for half his life. He recently released a box set of all 32 Beethoven piano sonatas and once again he’ll be performing complete cycles of the sonatas in various cities to mark the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth in 2020.

Most of us know many Beethoven pieces whether we realize it or not.  And, of course most of us know them by their “nickname” rather than their full name.  So when you see “Piano Sonata No. 14 ‘Moonlight,’ I. Adagio sostenuto” it’s easy to forget that that means “Moonlight Sonata,” the beautiful piece that is familiar with the very first notes.

Levit’s “Moonlight” emphasized the mesmerizing qualities in the music, with its oscillating pulse, smoldering low end and tolling bells.

After saying that “Moonlight” seemed like a good beginning to a Tiny Desk, he says he’s about to disrupt the situation as much and as hard as he can with anther sonata–this one a little bit earlier.  This one has no nickname, no title, no marketing gag, nothing.  Just G major sonata (officially “Piano Sonata No. 10, II. Andante”).

Levit says that this it is one of the funniest, wittiest pieces that Beethoven ever wrote. And…wait til the end.

The second piece proved Beethoven wasn’t always the grumpy guy he’s made out to be. His sly sense of humor percolates through the set of variations in a jaunty march rhythm, punctuated with a final, ironic, thundering chord.

After this, he returns to the familiar with “Bagatelle in A minor, ‘Fur Elise'”  Everyone knows ‘Fur Elise’ from the moment it starts.  Levit even jokes about playing it:

Sure, it’s a “total eye-roller,” Levit admits, but he also describes it as “one of the most beautiful treasures in the piano literature.”

He says people argue whether it was Beethoven’s piece–he thinks it is.

His playing is beautiful–I love that you can hear everything so distinctly.  He makes the familiar songs sound vibrant and alive.  And the unfamiliar piece (while not rolling-in-the-aisles funny or anything like that) does have little moments that will induce a smile.  He is also quite subtle in “Für Elise”–not emphasizing the most familiar parts.

Although many people have performed Beethoven over the years, I would absolutely look for his name if I wanted to hear a great performance.

 [READ: August 2019] American Housewife

This book had been sitting around our house for a few years.  I feel like I saw the cover of the woman on the toilet doing her nails every time I went into the spare room.  Then a TV show came out called American Housewife.  I knew that Sarah Dunn, the creator of the show, had written novels, but I had forgotten her name.  So I assumed that this book was the basis for the show.  Whatever the case, this book has nothing to do with the TV show.

This book is a collection of very short pieces and somewhat longer pieces.

Generally speaking, I found the shorter pieces a lot less funny as they seemed more like bullet point lists than actual jokes. (more…)

Read Full Post »

SOUNDTRACK: JON BENJAMIN JAZZ DAREDEVIL–Well, I Should Have…* *Learned How To Play Piano (2015).

In 2015, H. Jon Benjamin released a jazz album on which he played piano.  He did this despite not knowing how to play piano.

This album should be a trainwreck.  However, he has employed the talents of Scott Kreitzer (saxophone), David Finck (bass), and Jonathan Peretz (drums) to assist him.  And they are really good.

It’s hard to believe that Benjamin has never played at all before, because while he’s not good by any definition, he certainly knows how to press the keys on the piano in a reasonable way.  Meaning, when he plays a solo he is at least trying to sound like he’s playing a solo.  It’s not like cats on a piano playing utterly random crap.  He’s certainly bad, but he’s bad within the ballpark, which makes this amusing to listen to and not intolerable.

Obviously, part of the joke is that Benjamin hates jazz and this pretty much mocks improv piano.  And yes, his playing sometimes sounds like an improv pianist deliberately plying wrong notes until the right ones come back into focus (although Benjamin’s never do come back in to focus).

The disc is quite short.  It’s under 30 minutes.  It includes a skit at the front called “Deal with the Devil.”  It is a really funny introduction in which H. Jon tries to sell his soul to the devil.  Kristen Schaal as the secretary get a very funny joke or two, but the devil (Aziz Ansari) explains that usually selling your soul is a last resort, not a first step.  There’s a vulgar joke (which I found really funny), but which makes the track unplayable for family gatherings (if you were to do such a thing).

There are four main pieces on the disc “I Can’t Play Piano” Parts 1-4.

“I Can’t Play Piano Part 1” (3:39) starts off with a rollicking sax solo and some bouncing jazz and then Jon’s tinkling at the high end of the piano.  The band even pauses a few times to give him a proper solo or four.  All of the solos are horribly inept and pretty funny.  Midway through the song, bassist David Finck takes a cool upright bass solo and you can hear Jon shout “play it Joe” or something like it.

Part 2 (3:09) has a riff that Jon tries to follow and fails to play spectacularly.  There’s less “soloing” in this one and more “playing with the band.”  At times you almost don’t quite realize that he’s playing with everyone else–something just seems slightly off.  There’s also some nice drum soloing from Jonathan Peretz.

There’s a hilarious skit [not on this record] by Paul F. Tompkins in which he talks about jazz as “a genre of music that is defying you to like it.”  He talks about going to a jazz show (by accident or because you lost a bet) and just at the point when you’re almost asleep, you think the bass player is going to play [blanhr] but instead he plays [blownhr].  And next.. this is the worst thing that jazz guys do.  The other guys on stage start laughing like it was the funniest thing they ever did see.  And you’re sitting in the audience thinking “I don’t get the jazz joke Why is that note so hilarious?  You’ve played many notes this evening, none of them particularly side splitting.”

This album is pretty much a musical rendition of that joke.

“It Had to Be You,” is a pretty conventional cover of the song (at least for the saxophone).  Jon clearly knows how the song goes, he just doesn’t know how to play it or which notes should even be in the song.  The middle of the song is a saxophone solo (no piano) and once again, you are kind of lulled into thinking the song is pretty straightforward, and then Jon comes back for a solo.  It’s a slow solo so at first it doesn’t seem so bad, but once he starts going, you realize how bad he really is.

“Soft Jazzercise” is a skit. Jon talks over a slow piano piece (presumably not by Jon as it is actually melodic).  Jon says that his soft jazzercise is very very very very very very very low impact.  You have to do it slow.  Like a turtle slow, like an opiated panda slow.

Back to the improv with “I Can’t Play Piano, Pt. 3” (4:57).  The song starts as a kind of call and response between the saxophone and the piano (hilariously bad every time).  Jon also gets a solo in the beginning.  He even slides his hand up and down the keys a few times–almost convincingly.  In the middle of the song you can hear Jon really getting into it shouting almost audible encouragement and saying “here we go!” and “dig this!” then the saxophone starts playing a response to what Jon is playing–can he even play that badly?  Jon even says “you can do better” at one point.  The sax almost plays “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” twice before the riffing ends.

The final improv piece “I Can’t Play Piano, Pt. 4 – (Trill Baby Trill)” (5:25) starts with Jon’s piano and the rest of the band apparently trying to follow or keep up.  Once again it’s not as horrible as you might expect.  It’s not good, but it almost seems like it could be a serious improv.  There’s a lengthy bass solo (no funny notes that I can hear).   Then, after the drum solo when the sax takes the lead again, you kind of forget that Jon is even playing.

The final track is a funky/rap about anal sex.

The five instrumentals would be hilarious to mix into any dinner party to see what people thought or if they even notices.  The other three tracks are definitely NSFW.

[READ: June 1, 2018] Failure is an Option

I love H. Jon Benjamin.  Or, more specifically I love his voice.  He has voiced some of my favorite characters over the years including Archer and Bob Belcher.

But I have found that when I watch things that he has created, I don’t enjoy them quite as much.

So, which way would this ode to failure go?

It’s a mixed bag but overall it’s quite funny.

It has an introduction with this appropriate line:

I am writing this at the dawn of the Trump presidency, particularly apropos of failure being an option.  A very horrible and dangerous option in the case of a entire country’s future.

The opening talks, as many of these memoirs do, about how exhausting it is to write a memoir (“when I was saddled with the task of writing a book”). (more…)

Read Full Post »

SOUNDTRACK: JACOB COLLIER-Tiny Desk Concert #869 (July 22, 2019).

I’ve never heard of Jacob Collier, but wow is he an impressive figure.

the North London 24-year-old can hardly contain his creative energy. It comes out in his wardrobe and most definitely in his music, but it’s not misdirected or out of control. These are intricate and precise compositions, like a ship in a bottle made of thousands of planks of wood, yet light enough to sail in a breeze.

He starts with “Make Me Cry.”  Collier plays a fascinatingly deep-sounding acoustic guitar (with amazing flourishes).  But the biggest shock comes when he sings.  He has such a deep sonorous voice.  The backing vocals (from Becca Stevens–who also plays the charango–and MARO on the acoustic guitar) are high–a real contrast to his voice. That is until he switches to piano (while still holding the guitar) and then his voice reaches the high notes as well. Drummer Christian Euman adds some nice xylophone bells to the song as Collier’s voice soars impressively.

After the first song he says “I’ve spent the last year or so making four full length albums [called Djesse].  I don’t know why, its quite exhausting. But its fun.  Each is it’s own musical universe.”  All three songs today are from Vol 2.

But another example of his excess is this:

This year he covered Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer’s “Moon River” by recording himself 5,000 times and working in 144 other vocal submissions, and then he printed and sold signed copies of his Logic Pro audio session for fans while on tour.

“Feel” opens with a simple drum pattern and everyone giving some gentle oohs before Jacob plays a slow piano motif.  Robin Mullarkey switches from acoustic to electric bass.  This song is a more jazzy composition with some lead vocals from MARO (Collier sounds great doing backing vocals as well).

Before the final song,”It Don’t Matter” he explains that he wrote this song about five days ago specifically for this event.  It starts with him making a fascinating array of sounds with his mouth–clicks, hisses and water droplets–and then adding percussive elements like the top of the piano. Then he plays a funky bass line on the tiny acoustic bass.   Becca Stevens gets a lead verse.  And the middle of the song has a melodica solo.

Virtually every combination of band members harmonizes at some point in the show. It’s reflective of his philosophy on music as a connecting tool, to use the instrument we all possess, which drew me to his art in the first place. And as if to make good on those beliefs and bring all of us into one moment, he invited the crowd to sing the final lyrics of the concert together.

The NPR employees are always good sports (and have good voices) so the end of the show is a good one.

[READ: August 1, 2019] “The Alps”

I noted the last time I read a story by Colin Barrett that he writes about Ireland and drugs.  This story was also about Ireland.  But not about drugs.

It’s also not about the Alps as you might expect.

In this story, The Alps are three brothers: Rory, Eustace and Bimbo.  Bimbo was 37, the other two in their fifties.  They claimed to be tradesmen, but none of them have a trade.  Rather they painted, wired, tiled and plumbed at a competitive rate.  They ate too much take out, and downed vats of Guinness.  They traveled together, they worked together, they drank together.

As they pull into Mikey’s pub, Bimbo sees a light up in the sky. It’s behaving strangely and for a minute I thought this story was going to be about UFOs.  But instead, Bimbo realizes it’s a drone surveying the landscape.  Its owned by Landry, a rich man with a lot of land. (more…)

Read Full Post »

SOUNDTRACK: THE CALIDORE STRING QUARTET-Tiny Desk Concert #843 (April 22, 2019).

Whenever I hear a wonderful string quartet, I yell at myself for not listening to more classical music.  I’m not sure why I don’t–I just like my rock too much I guess.  But these 18 minutes of strings are really fantastic.  And I’m adding The Calidore String Quartet [Jeffrey Myers, violin; Ryan Meehan, violin; Jeremy Berry, viola; Estelle Choi, cello] to the list of quartets I particularly admire.

The blurb is great for unpacking what’s going on, so I’ll let it do just that.

The [string quartet] genre was born some 250 years ago and pioneered by Joseph Haydn, but composers today are still tinkering with its possibilities. Consider Caroline Shaw. The young, Pulitzer-winning composer wrote the opening work in this set, First Essay: Nimrod, especially for the Calidore String Quartet [back in 2016].

Over a span of eight minutes, the supple theme that opens this extraordinary work takes a circuitous adventure. It unfolds into a song for the cello, is sliced into melodic shards, gets bathed in soft light, becomes gritty and aggressive and disguises itself in accents of the old master composers. Midway through, the piece erupts in spasms that slowly dissolve back into the theme.

I love the pizzicato on the cello–there’s so much of it, from deep bass notes to very high notes.  Including the final note.

Their new album explores composers in conflict.  In the case of of the next song, loveless marriage.

The Calidore players also chose music by the quirky Czech composer, Leoš Janáček who, in 1913, set one of his operas on the moon. He wrote only two string quartets but they are dazzling. The opening Adagio, from “String Quartet No. 1, ‘Adagio'”, is typical Janáček, with hairpin turns that veer from passionate romance to prickly anxiety.

This piece is much more dramatic with powerful aching chords ringing out.

Reaching back farther, the ensemble closes the set with an early quartet by Beethoven, who took what Haydn threw down and ran with it. The final movement from Beethoven’s “String Quartet Op. 18, No. 4, Allegro – Prestissimo” both looks back at Haydn’s elegance and implies the rambunctious, even violent, risks his music would soon take.

2020 is the 250th anniversary of his birth.  They are celebrating by playing all of his string quartets in various cities.  He says that this piece is the most exiting part.

I love the trills that each instrument runs through in the middle of the song.

All of these pieces sound amazing.

[READ: April 22, 2019] “Cut”

This story started out is such an amusing way:

There’s no good way to say it–Peggy woke up most mornings oddly sore, sore in the general region of her asshole.

But it’s not an amusing scene at all.  It burns when she uses the toilet and she finds blood in her pajamas.

She could see a cut but only when using a hand mirror while she was crouched at the right angle.  But even so, her groin “was that of a middle-aged woman and not as strictly delineated as it once had been.”  Nevertheless, whenever she looked for it she always “paused to appreciate the inert drapery of her labia.”

The cut was there, but it seemed to migrate.   She tried to look it up online, but only found porn.  Adding Web MD brought back porn in doctor’s offices.  And adding Mayo Clinic introduced her to people with a fetish for mayonnaise. (more…)

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »