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Archive for the ‘History’ Category

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

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

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

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

This change in musicians and sound is intentional.

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

She plays three songs in ten minutes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that kiss off?

When I say goodbye, I hope you cry.

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

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

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

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

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

Palagruto is the quintessential Philadelphian:

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

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

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

Ashley Ray is a singer from Kansas.

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

In this Tiny Desk (home) concert, Ray is

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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SOUNDTRACK: DON BRYANT: Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #116 (November 24, 2020).

I was not familiar with Don Bryant, although I must have heard his music over the years.

Bryant, almost 80, has been in the music business since the early days of rock and roll; he wrote his first hit, the Five Royales’ “I Got to Know,” in 1960. He went on to his biggest success as a songwriter for Hi Records in Memphis …. For a number of years he only recorded gospel music, until 2017 when he began releasing soul records again, backed by members of the Bo-Keys.

Although

Classic soul music feels best in a club, with a lead singer and big band, preferably with horns, playing off the excitement of a sweaty crowd, drawing them in to stories of love, or love lost, or love reclaimed. It’s a hard feeling to find in our pandemic times.

Bryant manages to play some gorgeous old-school soul with just a guitarist (Scott Bomar) and a keyboardist (Archie “Hubbie” Turner).  And his voice, of course.

Wearing an elegant black and grey jacket matching his salt-and-pepper hair, Bryant evokes style and experience – someone who has been in it for the long haul.

This set is three songs from his latest record, You Make Me Feel, all written by him

His voice is powerful and resonant, deeply rooted in gospel. The keyboard sound is a classic soul sound and the guitar provides a mixture of rocking riffs and mellow accompaniment.

In “Your Love is to Blame” he even gives some good James Brown yelps.

Between songs he sounds like a preacher:  I’m going to give these songs to you as strong as I can.

“Is It Over” is slower and more mellow.  His voice sounds great, hitting high notes and unlike contemporary singers, his grace notes sound great–strong and not whiny.

“Your Love is Too Late” is a classic soul kiss-off track: “I found somebody new to do the things I wanted you to do.”  It opens with an old fashioned guitar riff and moves on from there with grooving guitars and fleshed out keyboards.

I don’t listen to much soul, but I do rather like it.

[READ: December 26, 2020] By the Way 2

This is Ann Lane’s second book about public art in Ireland.  She compiled the first in 2010.  I haven’t seen it, so I don’t know what is in it.

She says that in the ten or so years since the first book, more art has been added and she had been made aware of all of the art that she had missed.

But the fact that there are over 1,000 images in this book, that this is her second book and that in the introduction she says that she pretty much ignores the big cities (due to size constraints of the book) makes me think that Ireland is absolutely amazing with the amount of public art that the country has.  Ireland is about the same size as Indiana, and I would bet a ton of money that Indiana does not have 2,000 (some absolutely gorgeous) piece of public art to look at.

This book is broken down by county.  Lane includes many pieces of art from each county and provides some context for the piece, whether it is the impetus for the creation, some comment about its construction or even an occasional personal reflection.

It isn’t easy to photograph pubic art.  Some pieces absolutely fail when taken out of context or when trying to encompass an entire piece of art with a tiny photo.  Sometimes you cannot do justice to a piece because it must be seen from different angles to be really appreciated.  But Lane does a great job conveying these pieces.  And if her main goal is to get you to want to come to Ireland see them, then she has succeeded.

I marked off dozens of pictures in here because they were either my favorites or they were interesting in some way.

I followed this format.
COUNTY
Town: Title (Artist) Location.  Comments. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KEM: Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #115 (November 23, 2020).

I have never heard of KEM, so it’s a surprise to see that he’s been recording for almost 20 years.

KEM’s Tiny Desk performance is light, welcoming and beautifully decorated. So is his music.  After almost 20 years of recording R&B hits … he still comforts my soul with his sultry voice and simple, yet satisfying melodies.

That summary is really apt.  These songs are light and simple.

He plays three songs from his latest album.

The first, “Friend Today,” has KEM accompanied by Michael “Nomad” Ripoll on acoustic guitar.  The song

poignantly articulates a love for our fellow humans: “There’s a roll like thunder / They killing our babies, Lord / They headed straight for the border / And we can no longer ignore it.”

About “Not Before You,” KEM says the recording is a demo vocal because he never got around to doing a real vocal so [logic leap here] this song is very special.  I assume he means it is special because it is

a classic romantic love song, as a dedication to his wife, Erica.

Kem adds programming and a deep resonating bass to the guitar backdrop.

For the final song, “Lonely” KEM brought out the “heavy artillery,” David McMurray on saxophone. The song ends the set

with an upbeat, hopeful vibe: “There’s a life waiting for you / In your brokenness.” It’s an affirmation that personal struggles can end in true happiness.

I don’t enjoy a lot of contemporary R&B, but I liked the understatedness of this set.

[READ: November 20, 2020] Ireland Through Birds

I saw this book at work and thought I’d bring it home to read it.  I wasn’t sure if I’d read the whole thing, but once I started, I couldn’t put it down.

O’Brien is a bird lover (he should hook up with Jonathan Franzen for a joint tour/book).  He grew up loving birds and has seen many of them.  He decided to look for these twelve bucket-list birds for an Irish birdwatcher.

These dozen birds tend to be shy and wary or highly localized.  And unfortunately

Some need very specific conditions in which to flourish, conditions now found in only a few protected pockets across Ireland.  Some are endangered–and still declining.

So in addition to talking about the birds, O’Brien is here to talk about nature: what we have done to it and what we can do for it.

For those of us not in Ireland, a map is helpful just to know where he is.  So I’ve added one to the bottom of the page. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: PORTUGAL THE MAN-“Live in the Moment” (Weird Al Remix) (2018).

Portugal. The Man asked Weird Al to remix two songs. This is the second one.  This remix starts with the Weird Al polka medley treatment–lots of fast accordions.  The vocals sound a little different, although maybe that’s just because all of the proper music has been removed and replaced with the oompah bass, accordion and horns blasts.

The transition between verses is tackled with that Weird Al polka flourish, fitting perfectly.

The song definitely feels more frenetic with that intense bass thumping but the chorus is still just as catchy.

After the (serious) second chorus there’s a wild and silly polka instrumental break.  Then Al takes over lead vocals for the final verse.  Since Al’s voice is synonymous with funny, it’s a little strange to hear him sing straight lines–but his voice works operfectly.

[READ: October 10, 2020] The Wolf [excerpt]

K.J. Parker’s Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City contained two excerpts from other books tacked on at the end.  The second is an excerpt from Leo Carew’s complicatedly named The Wolf: Under a Northern Sky: Book One.

The blurb says

In Leo Carew’s thrilling and savagely visceral debut epic fantasy, The Wolf, violence and death come to the land under the Northern Sky when two fierce races break their age-old fragile peace and begin an all-out war.

Roper surveys the scene.  At nineteen, this would be his first battle.  They are in a deluge of rain, which he imagines will shorten the battle–men fight less fiercely in the rain. Ropers father Lord Kynortas says they have no battle plan, they are unsure what they will face. But they have ninety thousand soldiers of the Black Legion marching behind them.

The Sutherners had amassed a similarly large army and threatened the balance of power in Albion.

Kynortas introduces Roper to Uvoren, the warrior that every young boy of the Black Legion aspired to be like.  Uvoren is kindly to the boy and tells him that his father is a lot of fun to watch in a parley situation.

Roper had never seen a Sutehrner before and he was shocked to see that the looked just like him, only smaller. They were childlike.

As the leaders approached, Kynortas announced that the Sutehrners had invaders their land. They had burned and plundered.  Kynortas towered over the Sutherner leader.  Kynortas told him to take his men and leave or he will unleash the Black Legion soldiers and show no mercy.

The leader of the Sutherners was named Earl William.  He was not intimated despite the size difference.  He told Kynortas that his men were very comfortable there and that they have a strong position.  He demanded thirty chests of gold for them to leave.

Roper knew that thirty chests was an absurd number. His kingdom did not have much use for gold and could never procure thirty chests.  Roper concluded that Earl William did not want his offer accepted.

Kynortas said that they neither had that much gold nor would they “satisfy your greed for things that are soft and impotent.”  Then he jumped forward and seized Earl William’s breastplate.  He pulled it off and flung it aside leaving Earl William exposed.

Earl William’s men stormed off.  Except for one named Bellamus.  He snorted at Kynortas and said “being blessed with bone-armor, I cannot imagine you know how it felt for Earl William to have his defences taken so contemptuously from him.  Before this battle is over, I will show you how that feels.”

When Roper asked if this was typical negotiation, Kynortas nodded.  Negotiation is just n exercise in intimidation

When Roper said that they weren’t serious about their gold request–Earl william was goading them into attacking.

Kynorta smiled assuming the Sutherners were overconfident.

I’m vaguely interested in this story, but with so many other books I want to read, I don’ imagine I’ll continue with this story.

 

 

 

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SOUNDTRACK: PORTUGAL. THE MAN-“Feel It Still” (Weird Al Remix) (2018).

Imagine taking this ubiquitous and insanely catchy hit and removing all of the music and replacing it with an oompah-pah polka.

That’s what happened when Portugal. The Man asked “Weird Al” Yankovic to remix their song.

Basically Al has taken the song and turned it into one of his polka medley type songs, but not exactly.  He doesn’t speed up the song (although the polka bass makes the song feel more intense) and he leaves most of the original vocals intact.

The song begins and sounds pretty much the same.  Then come the big tuba (possibly) bass notes that signify polka.  There’s accordion trills at the end of each line and the standard polka transition that Al uses in all of his polka medleys between verses.

Verse two features lots of unnecessary and amusing backing vocals from Al, as well as obligatory “heys!” in the background.

Each further section gets a unique treatment.  The “I’m a rebel just for kicks” part now features fast banjo chords and the “easy coming” part is sung by Al.

It’s a funny treatment–not a typical remix at all.  But it also retains the spirit of the original, just in a very different-sounding way.

[READ: October 10, 2020] The Two of Swords: Volume One [excerpt]

K.J. Parker’s Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City contained two excerpts from other books as bonus material.  The first is an excerpt from Parker’s earlier trilogy The Two of Swords.

The blurb says

A soldier with a gift for archery.  A woman who kills without a second thought  Two brothers, both unbeatable generals, now fighting for opposing armies.  No one in the vast and once glorious United Empire remains untouched by the rift between East and West, and the war has been fought for as long as anyone can remember.  Some still survive who know how it started, but no one knows how it will end.  Except, perhaps, the Two of Swords.

Sounds pretty epic.

The excerpt is actually a very small detail and I found it very compelling.

Teucer is an archer.  He has an excellent draw but his release isn’t great.  He tends to be a bit hasty. But on this day, he was releasing perfectly.  He seemed to be hearing voices in his head–voices that were guiding his hands.  When he snapped out of his reverie, he realized that he had hit eight bullseyes. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: PORTUGAL THE MAN-“Who’s Gonna Stop Me” (feat. “Weird Al” Yankovic) (2020).

Portugal. The Man and “Weird Al” (punctuation buddies, clearly) have worked together in various ways in the past.  But here is something totally weird for Weird Al.  He is providing serious verses to a serious song.

Portugal. The Man songs tend to be dancey and fun, but this song is quite serious (and the video is fantastic).

A quiet opening of drums and echoing keyboard notes.  The hook comes when the vocals speed up in the middle of the first verse.

There are some gorgeous “ooohs” and then Al’s verse comes.  Al obviously has a great voice–he can mimic anyone–he is perfectly matched to the original vocal line and his voice sounds great singing “sneaking out, jumping over backyard fences, we’re always looking for freedom.”

After some more of those haunting oohs, a loud drum fill introduces the second half of the song which elevates the song into a slightly more danceable section full of drums and voices.

And then comes the incredible hook of “toooooooo high!”  The vocal range from the deep “too” the soaring “high” is outstanding.

It sounds like Portugal. The Man are taking their music in yet another direction and this one is quite a good one.

[READ: October 10, 2020] Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City

I read a positive review of K.J. Parker’s “follow up” to this book called How to Rule an Empire and Get Away With It.  When I picked up that book, I saw that the back cover said it was the follow up to Sixteen.  I assumed that meant it was a sequel and that I should read Sixteen first.  Well, Sixteen ends pretty definitively.  It turns out that Empire takes place seven years later and while I haven’t read it yet, I think it’s good I read this one first.

Also, K.J. Parker is the pseudonym of Tom Holt, a fantasy author I have not read but whom I gather I would like a lot.  So it was a good thing to read the review of Empire.

Parker has written several trilogies as well as a few stand-alone books.  I bring this up because I’ve read that some of the characteristics of this story reference other parts of his stories (this is a stand alone story, but I guess there might be parts that refer to his other books).

Like, for instance, the blues and the greens. These are two of the dominant races in the book.  I had a hard time telling them apart because there was no real introduction of either group. It was clear they hated each other, but I couldn’t figure out why (which I assumed was the point). At any rate, another reviewer says that the blues and greens are part of his other books, so maybe they are explained elsewhere.

The City appears to also be a thing that Parker likes to play around with.  In this book, the City is run by the Robur, a dominating group who have successfully conquered much of the surrounding lands. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THICK-5 Years Behind (2020).

Thick is a trio from New York.  They have been releasing music since 2016, and this is their first full length.  All three band members sing and they play a classic punk lineup of guitars, bass and drums. Thick almost describes their sound–it’s not all that thick, but it’s in the area of thickness.  This is a poppy punk album.  It’s full of attitude and feminism–terrific lyrics and great hooks.

“5 Years Behind” has a ringing, catchy opening riff and a wicked solo all supporting a singalong punky chorus.  “Sleeping Through the Weekend” opens with crashing drums from Shari Page and a wicked bass line from Kate Black.  Bright guitars from Nikki Sisti round out the song which is just brimming with terrific harmonies.  I really like the unexpected middle section where things slow down and the band adds four thumping notes at the end of each line.

“Bumming Me Out” is a largely slower song but with some excellent crashing moments.  And the lyrics–simple but totally effective

Never knew I’d be so tired
Fighting for what I believe
Try to take it al in stride
Sometimes it just feels like
Everything that I see is
Bumming Me Out

This song and others clearly address the moment and the administration.  As does “Fake News.”  A blistering 49 seconds of whiplash which deals more with social media than the idiot who uses it so much.

“Home” opens with another catchy riff and a great slow/fast dynamic.  But it’s not a verse/chorus slow/fast, it’s slow at the beginning of the veres with a double time drum and vocals at the end of it.

This all leads up to “Mansplain,” which opens with a series of quotes from men about “girls” in rock.  Hearing it all together should really bring home just how much sexism there still is in the industry.  It packs a wallop in just over two minutes and is crazy catchy to boot.

“WHUB” stands for where have you been which has a fun song along chorus.  I love when there’s another vocal line underneath the chorus singing counterpoint, and this song does that perfectly.  “Won’t Back Down” is a little slower, but it has some outstanding harmonies.  The way the vocal melody plays off the guitar and the way the harmonies interplay with each other is just perfect to me.  I really love this song.  And the lyrics are simple but powerful too, with a crunchy noisy ending.

“Can’t Be Friends” has a fun sing along melody right from the get go.  It’s followed by the screaming punk of the 90 second “Your Mom,” which still manages to have a catchy chorus.

“Party With Me” starts as a quiet almost lullaby-ish song (despite the lyrics “take your clothes off and party with me”).  But it’s a false opening because after the first verse the song takes off in classic poppy punk fashion.

The disc ends with “Secret Track” which I assume is not the title of the song (I’m guessing it’s either “Stop Screaming in My Face” or “Don’t Wanna Hear It”).  I really like the opening guitar which is slightly dissonant in the melody and the call and response vocals are a nice nod to Sleater-Kinney.

This is a fantastic album, with the only bad thing about it being that it barely lasts 30 minutes.  But really, that’s a perfect length for a punk album vecause you can listen to it again and again.

[READ: October 10, 2020] “Not Throwing Away My Yacht”

Ishmael Reed wrote a two-act play called The Haunting of Lin-Manuel Miranda.  It is a response to Hamilton which Miranda based on the biography by Ron Chernow.  The biography (and the musical) white wash a lot of Hamilton’s life, and this play is there to bring up the people whose lives were excluded from the story.

In the play, the spirits of Native American an enslaved Black people whose stories were omitted from the book interact with Miranda and Chernow.  But in this excerpt, Miranda confront Chernow about the information he left out.

Miranda is mad that Chernow lied about the maltreatment of slaves by the Schuyler family.  They had (and abused) slaves for 150 years.

Chernow says that he was confined to 800 pages–he had to be selective about what he kept in.

Miranda counters that Chernow left out the information that would tarnish his heroes.

Chernow argues that he won the Pulitzer Prize; he’s not a liar.  And how dare Miranda complain to him now?

Chernow says in the book that they might have owned slaves.  Besides, does Miranda think that Hamilton would have gotten the support from The Rockefeller Foundation and Disney if the musical was advocating revolution?  Do you think I could get bestsellers, and awards if I told the truth?

Miranda pushes back but Chernow says

Look, Lin, we have a good hustle going for us.  We’re both getting rich…. Why are you making such a fuss about these trivial matters?  They all owned slaves.

Then he gets personal:

Plus, you’re making sixty times as much as the actors–why not share more money with them?  You’re lucky the bass is so loud that it drowns out your trite lyrics.

I’m a little annoyed that people are mad at Hamilton for not including details about slavery.  I don’t know Miranda’s motive, but I suspect that wasn’t the point of the story.  I don’t think it glosses over the fact that they owned slaves, because it does mention it.  You can’t complain about a piece of art for what it doesn’t do, if that’s not what it was trying to do.  Write your own art that compensates for what Hamiltion failed to do.  And that’s what Reed is doing here.

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SOUNDTRACK: DECLAN McCKENNA-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #79 (September 14, 2020).

I really only know Declan McKenna from his Tiny Desk Concert.  (His song “Brazil” was a hit, although I’d never heard it anywhere else).

At that Tiny Desk he was solo, but here he’s got a band, and they sound great.

Declan McKenna and his band rock their Tiny Desk (home) concert. Their “home,” in this case, is The Foundry, a neighboring studio in North London. Declan is decked out with glitter, channeling a more flamboyant side of rock than I’ve seen from him before. He’s still immersed in complex storytelling with characters on the fringes, alienated for reasons of class and politics.

It’s hard to believe he was a teenager when he released his first album–although he does sound older now for sure.  He’s got a new album out.

Three of the songs are from Zeros, his brand new album recorded in Nashville with producer Jay Joyce. It’s been a wild three-year ride since the release of his teenage smash debut What Do You Think About the Car? He’s now 21.

Opening the set with “Daniel, You’re Still a Child” McKenna sits at the keybaord playing the piano-sounding chords.  There’s a deep bass sound from William Bishop anchoring the song which has a surprisingly 70s sounding synth riff from Nathan Cox.  There’s some excellent guitar riffing and soloing from Isabel Torres (including a scratching wah wah section).  I enjoyed that there’s a pause after the line “outside the shop that sells your favorite drink” and drummer Gabrielle Marie King hits a drum pad that sounds like a beer can opening.  King also plays some really great fills all the way throughout.

A nifty bass line (including an unexpected harmonic note) opens “The Key to Life on Earth.”  Declan plays guitar on this one including a suitably fuzzed out guitar solo.  Although I think Torres is a better guitar player, he does get a cool sound from his instrument.  The song is catchy but especially so as it ends.

For “Beautiful Faces” Torres plays a raw a slide guitar riff that follows the vocal line. Once again, he uses some falsetto in the synthy chorus to throw in a little hook.  Declan plays a ripping fuzzy guitar solo.

For the end, Declan performs his best-known song, “Brazil,” a tune steeped in politics and sports, and the enthusiasm has him atop a tiny desk in the end.

“Brazil” has a catchy guitar riff followed but a catch bass riff. And even though I’ve only heard the song here, I still can’t get it out of my head.  (Even if I can’t exactly figure out what it’s about–grizzly bears, football, Brazil).  McKenna gets another ripping solo–but I’d like to have heard more from Torres.

McKenna is an interesting character and I like his song more each time I hear them.

[READ: September 14, 2020] Our Times in Rhymes

This is a short book in which Sam Leith (who I don’t know anything about) summarizes 2019 in verse.

Leith summarizes the major news each month.  Leith is British so most of the news he talks about is British (especially Brexit), but he does have plenty of stanzas devoted to the person occupying the White House.

It’s interesting reading this near the end of 2020, which has been such an incredible shitshow.  It’s hard to believe we cared about dumb things that happened then.  But it’s also hard to believe that tRUMP is still an asshole, that Boris Johnson is even more of a liar than it seemed, that Brexit hasn’t been finalized yet, and that anybody in either country actually supports either of these bozos.  What the hell is wrong with people? (more…)

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download (71)SOUNDTRACK: THAO NGUYEN-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #56 (July 28, 2020).

download (70)I have enjoyed a lot of music from Thao Nguyen and her band Thao and the Get Down Stay Down.  She plays an idiosyncratic type of indie rock that’s catchy but also quirky.  Although I haven’t heard much from her lately.

She plays three songs here and she talks a lot between songs.  What she has to says is both powerful and meaningful.

For her Tiny Desk (home) concert, Thao Nguyen opens with a somber version of “Temple,” the dance-oriented title track from Thao & The Get Down Stay Down’s new album. The song is an homage to her parents, who were refugees of the Vietnam War. Thao sings from the perspective of her mother, honoring their hard-fought freedom and their hopes that their daughter is blessed with the ability to pursue her own happiness. She recorded it as a trio with cellists (and neighbors) Elisabeth Reed and Andy Luchansky. It’s a powerful rendition that celebrates, in Thao’s words, “being queer and being out in my career, something that being out publicly has caused a lot of turmoil and unrest in my own life.”

I hadn’t heard the original of “Temple” before this, but after, I had to give it a listen.  The recorded version is faster and a lot more dancey.  This spare version is quite striking and really brings the lyrics to the fore.  Thao plays the guitar and the addition of Reed and  Luchansky makes the song far more somber.  She said they created this version just for Tiny Desk “because you deserve nice things.”

She says she’s been reading about addressing anti-black racism in Asian and Vietnamese culture.  She has become more educated about what has allowed Southeast Asian refugees to settle in America. Black civil rights leaders, the Black Power movement for directly and informed change in immigration law and made it less racist.

We also hear “Pure Cinema” from Temple which has another interesting twisting riff that she plays quietly as she sings.  She also plays a slightly atonal guitar solo which is really interesting, too.

She ends with a mandolin version of “Departure” from her 2016 album, A Man Alive.  Once again there’s a cool riff and she does some really cool slides up the fretboard as she plays.  I’ve not heard mandolin playing like this before.  I’d love for her and Chris Thile to do a mandolin show together.

[READ: July 31, 2020] “Heirlooms”

This story felt a lot like an excerpt.  I often wonder if pieces in the New Yorker are excerpts–usually when a story doesn’t feel like it ends properly.  This one actually ended pretty satisfyingly, but it just felt like there could be a lot more.

So this is an excerpt from Washington’s forthcoming novel Memorial.

I had read a story from Washington back in January that I really liked.  I’m not sure if that story is also from the novel, but it features a main character who is similar to the one in this excerpt.

The narrator is a man named Ben.  His boyfriend Mike has just left for Japan to be with his dying father.  Although the same day that Mike left, Mike’s mother Mitsuko came to visit.  This is not, apparently, a coincidence.

So this excerpt shows Ben trying to cohabitate with his boyfriend’s mother whom he has never met before.

Ben is angry at Mike.  Both because he has left his mother here, but also because Mike’s father left him for Japan when Mike was a teenager.  Mike hadn’t heard from him in over a decade, but he rushed off to him. (more…)

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