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Archive for the ‘History’ Category

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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SOUNDTRACK: LUCINDA WILLIAMS-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #55 (July 27, 2020).

I don’t really like Lucinda Williams.  Her voice really bugs me. I don’t know if she always sang like this but this sort of drunken drawl just hurts my head.

I know that she’s a legend and everyone loves her, but I have a hard time getting through her songs.  And that’s a shame because her lyrics are great.  Well, maybe not her lyrics, but her sentiments.

Because the lyrics to “Bad News Blues” are not great.  It’s a pretty standard blues song in which she lists all of the bad news that she has around her.

Bad news on my left
Bad news on my right
Bad news in the morning
Bad news at night

The only thing interesting about this song really is the bluesy lead guitar work from Stuart Mathis.  Otherwise, it’s a blues song.

“Big Black Train” is a slower bluesy song about not wanting to get on board the train that’s barreling towards us.  Wow, her singing the chorus really hurts my ears.

“You Can’t Rule Me” is on the radio a lot and I’ve been turning it off when it comes on.  It’s obviously a song of empowerment but I can’t stand the drawl of her voice.  Although once again Stuart’s lead is pretty tasty.  In fact the guitar work from both of them is great throughout.

The set ends with “Man Without A Soul” and this is the song that made me think more highly of her.  Musically the song isn’t much.  In fact, it sounds pretty close to “Bog Black Train” in the chorus.  But its’ the words that are impactful.

It’s pretty clear who this song is about:

You’re a man without truth
A man of greed, a man of hate
A man of envy and doubt
You’re a man without a soul
All the money in the world
Will never fill that hole
You’re a man bought and sold
You’re a man without a soul
You bring nothing good to this world
Beyond a web of cheating and stealing
You hide behind your wall of lies
But it’s coming down
Yeah, it’s coming down
You’re a man without shame
Without dignity and grace
No way to save face
You’re a man without a soul

She says she wrote this to shake people up and wake people up.  I don’t know if it will do either, but I hope some people’s minds are changed by it.

[READ: July 31, 2020] “The Lottery”

This issue of the New Yorker is an Archival Issue.  It’s weird to me that at a time of unprecedented everything, the magazine would choose to have virtually no new content.

Except that the articles in it are strangely timely.

Calvin Trillin (he was writing in 1964?) was on a flight that Martin Luther King, Jr. was on and he overheard a white preppy-looking post-college boy who disagreed with King (believing that King was advocating violence and was therefore unChristian).  It was a remarkably peaceful conversation even if the boy never saw King’s point of view.

The second article is about Black Lives Matter with the subtitle “A new kind of movement found its moment.” What will its future be?”  But this article was written in 2016 and it ends “Black Lives Matter may never have more influence than it has now.”  How wrong that was?

And then there is the Shirley Jackson story, originally written in 1948.

I read this story in sixth or seventh grade and it has stuck with me all of these years.  I remember being rather blown away by it in school, thinking it was one thing and then realizing it was something else entirely.

I have not read it since. I felt that I didn’t really have to read it because it stuck with me so much.  But I’m glad I did re-read it, because although some details were still there, I had forgotten some pretty intense stuff.

(more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: A moment of silence (July 30, 2020).

[READ: July 30, 2020] “Together, You Can Redeem the Soul of Our Nation”

Congressman John Lewis is one of the most important civil rights leaders of the 20th and 21st century. His graphic novels March are required reading.

Lewis died on July 17.  He had the presence of mind to write this essay shortly before his death and asked The New York Times to publish it on the day of his funeral.

I am presenting it here in full because it is so full of hope, so full of love and so meaningful, that everyone should read it.

~~~~

While my time here has now come to an end, I want you to know that in the last days and hours of my life you inspired me. You filled me with hope about the next chapter of the great American story when you used your power to make a difference in our society. Millions of people motivated simply by human compassion laid down the burdens of division. Around the country and the world you set aside race, class, age, language and nationality to demand respect for human dignity.

That is why I had to visit Black Lives Matter Plaza in Washington, though I was admitted to the hospital the following day. I just had to see and feel it for myself that, after many years of silent witness, the truth is still marching on.

Emmett Till was my George Floyd. He was my Rayshard Brooks, Sandra Bland and Breonna Taylor. He was 14 when he was killed, and I was only 15 years old at the time. I will never ever forget the moment when it became so clear that he could easily have been me. In those days, fear constrained us like an imaginary prison, and troubling thoughts of potential brutality committed for no understandable reason were the bars.

Though I was surrounded by two loving parents, plenty of brothers, sisters and cousins, their love could not protect me from the unholy oppression waiting just outside that family circle. Unchecked, unrestrained violence and government-sanctioned terror had the power to turn a simple stroll to the store for some Skittles or an innocent morning jog down a lonesome country road into a nightmare. If we are to survive as one unified nation, we must discover what so readily takes root in our hearts that could rob Mother Emanuel Church in South Carolina of her brightest and best, shoot unwitting concertgoers in Las Vegas and choke to death the hopes and dreams of a gifted violinist like Elijah McClain.

Like so many young people today, I was searching for a way out, or some might say a way in, and then I heard the voice of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on an old radio. He was talking about the philosophy and discipline of nonviolence. He said we are all complicit when we tolerate injustice. He said it is not enough to say it will get better by and by. He said each of us has a moral obligation to stand up, speak up and speak out. When you see something that is not right, you must say something. You must do something. Democracy is not a state. It is an act, and each generation must do its part to help build what we called the Beloved Community, a nation and world society at peace with itself.

Ordinary people with extraordinary vision can redeem the soul of America by getting in what I call good trouble, necessary trouble. Voting and participating in the democratic process are key. The vote is the most powerful nonviolent change agent you have in a democratic society. You must use it because it is not guaranteed. You can lose it.

You must also study and learn the lessons of history because humanity has been involved in this soul-wrenching, existential struggle for a very long time. People on every continent have stood in your shoes, through decades and centuries before you. The truth does not change, and that is why the answers worked out long ago can help you find solutions to the challenges of our time. Continue to build union between movements stretching across the globe because we must put away our willingness to profit from the exploitation of others.

Though I may not be here with you, I urge you to answer the highest calling of your heart and stand up for what you truly believe. In my life I have done all I can to demonstrate that the way of peace, the way of love and nonviolence is the more excellent way. Now it is your turn to let freedom ring.

When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war. So I say to you, walk with the wind, brothers and sisters, and let the spirit of peace and the power of everlasting love be your guide.

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download (62)SOUNDTRACK: NILÜFER YANYA-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #54 (July 22, 2020).

download (61)Nilüfer Yanya is a pretty mesmerizing singer.  I feel lucky to have seen her live and would like to see her again.

In the meantime, this Tiny Desk (Home) Concert will have to do.

There’s something unique about the way Yanya constructs songs.  And her singing voice is really unlike anyone else’s that I’ve heard.

For this Tiny Desk (Home) Concert, she plays four songs.  Three from her 2019 album and one new one.  All four are different from when she played Tiny Desk last year.

In her previous Tiny Desk Concert and when I saw her live, she had a full band. But for this one, it’s just her guitar and her voice.

For “Heat Rises,” she plays spare guitar lines and quiet chords as she sings in her unique style.  As the song moves along she adds high notes to the chords–fleshing things out in a subtle but effective way.

After performing “Heat Rises,” Nilüfer Yanya pauses to say a few things about herself, something we’ve been asking artists to do for these Tiny Desk (home) concerts.

“One of the things that’s been on my mind a lot is the racism and violence and injustice going on towards Black people and people of color, not only in America but here in the U.K. and all over the world. As a person of mixed heritage” — Nilüfer’s father is Turkish and her mother is of Irish and Barbadian descent — “this issue is something close to my heart.” Nilüfer urges us all to see the hurt being done. It’s the only way forward.

She then plays “Paralyzed,” a song that she says relates to the issue.  She’s never played it live before.  The song has a cool four note chord progression followed by a sinister feeling five note riff.

Bob Boilen writes: “I hear these words so differently now:”

I hear strained screams from Heaven singin’
“save me”
This can’t be okay
Shadow’s lyin’ here
And it’s blocking out the light
(I am paralyzed)

The above part of the song turns musically bright as she sings those dark lyrics.

“Day 7” is the new song.  She sings in a similar style to the one she uses on “Baby Luv” where she sings with an accent or inflection that is impossible to place but is very compelling.  This song also features a simple but unusual riff as she builds the song using all of the neck of her guitar (the chords she plays during the “go go” section are so interesting).

She ends the set with the final track from her album, “Heavyweight Champion of the Year.”  This is the only song from this set that she played when I saw her.  I was blown away by the song when I saw her live because the song mixed quiet and range perfectly.  It’s more subtle here and demands that you listen closely to the words.

[READ: July 20, 2020] “Nobody’s Business”

I’ve wanted to read more from Jhumpa Lahiri for years–she’s yet another writer who I feel like I need more stories from.  And I really liked this story a lot.

The story is written in the third person.  It’s about a woman named Sang.  She is living in Boston, having just dropped out of a graduate program from Harvard.   Sang has two roommates, Paul and Heather.

What was so interesting about the way that it was written is that it seems to be Sang’s story.  She is, after all, the person with all the action.  But by the end of the story it becomes more about Paul.  I thought that shift of perspective was quite engaging.

Sang is Bengali and every so often she would receive a call from a Bengali man who was courting her. These men had heard that she was pretty and smart and unmarried at thirty, so they were trying to arrange something with her.  Sang was never rude to these men.  She even met some of them.  But Sang was very serious about her boyfriend, Farouk, who was presently in Cairo.  That’s not a ruse, she is really dating him. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: DIANA GORDON-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #51 (July 15, 2020).

I was immediately attracted to this Tiny Desk (Home) Concert because I (still) have the exact same neon green iBook.  I don’t know how old Gordon is, but I have to wonder if it’s original.

I don’t know anything about Diana Gordon.  That’s probably logical since although she’s been in the music world for a while, it was mostly a s songwriter and under a different name.

After years of writing hits for others and releasing music under the moniker Wynter Gordon, the Queens, N.Y., native has awakened new aspects of her artistry in recent years that she’s finally ready to share under her given name.

So if she wrote hits, her music must be poppy, right?  Not exactly

But while her earlier work routed through the pop and dance worlds, Wasted Youth balances influences of Whitney Houston, Alanis Morissette and The Cranberries’ Dolores O’Riordan.

I actually hear a lot of Natalie Merchant in her quieter singing–especially with the gorgeous acoustic guitar of her masked-up guitarist, Davin Givhan.

Like the workplace props that flank her, [folders, boxes and a Curb Your Enthusiasm mug and check out that phone!] Gordon’s latest EP, 2020’s Wasted Youth, feels so fitting for these unprecedented times.

Starting with “Rollin,” you can hear “Gordon’s nihilistic invincibility” in a song that name checks Nirvana.  It starts with a great deep guitar riff (it even sounds bad ass on the acoustic guitar).  She adds a raspy vocal intro before singing with a cool (dis)affected 90’s alt rock vocal style.  I really dig it (the record version has a more thumping bass sound making it more danceable but also more distorted).

When the song is over she demonstrates a yodeling sound that underpins her singing in “Rollin.”

“Wolverine” is a quiet ballad that showcases her “forlorn lilting yodel.” It’s a more traditional song with her Natalie Merchant-esque delivery.  This is a pretty song from one of her earlier EPs.

The blurb describes “Wasted Youth” as “a sonic eyeroll-shrug,” but I feel it’s more of an intense song of pain.  Although not to be prudish but I wish there wasn’t quite so much cursing in it.  I mean every instance if the phrase “wasted youth” (several times per chorus) is preceded by “fuckin.”  It would be effective once, but just gets worn out for an entire song.  It’s a really good song otherwise.

“Once A Friend” is another ballad. This one features her “tear-jerking honesty.”  The record version sounds much the same–acoustic guitar, straightforward vocals and a gut punch of a lyric–all in less than two minutes.

I’m definitely going to have to listen to her some more.

[READ: July 20, 2020] “The American Persuasion”

This was a New Yorker Shouts & Murmurs.  These pieces are usually one page, but this one was three.   It’s also labelled “Part 1: The Scent of Liberty.”  I can’t decide if that means there are actually more parts or if that is part of the joke (there’s no part two in a future issue).

The premise of this piece is amusing, it is even more amusing reading it after Hamilton has come out because it also deals with the founding fathers in an unusual way.

The piece starts with George Washington trying to impress the Marquis–the man who would “be known as the noble Lafayette.”  Washington is a dandy, admiring himself in the mirror with fragrance dabbed behind his ears.  He “understood the power of his beauty, and he was not above using it now.”  Lafayette finds him hard to resist.

Washington was assisted in his Revolutionary quest by “noted voluptuaries and lovers of pleasure” Paul Revere, John Hancock and the Adamses. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: DAVE-Tiny Desk Concert #908 (November 8, 2020).

Usually if you go by a mononym, your name is unique.  This British rapper goes by “Dave,” which seems rather bold since it’s hardly unique.  It also seems like it would be very hard to find in a search engine.

Perhaps the understated name applies to his understated delivery.  He has a lot of great things to say, but he’s not grandiose about how he says them.

He also seems very nervous (you don’t mind if I steal one of these waters, do you?).

 Dave made a special trip all the way from the UK just for his Tiny Desk performance. If that isn’t proof that it was a big deal, his nervousness before the show confirmed it. But he powered through in a performance that puts his gift for making the personal political on full display.

“Location” is first.  Tashera Robertson sings the introduction. There’s quiet but somewhat complex guitar work from Markelle Abraham.  Daves’ rapping is very understated almost quietly rhymes.  His delivery is almost mumbly because it is so quiet, but her remains clear.

He shares the inspiration behind the aptly-titled song “Black” from his opus of a debut. “It’s just about the black British experience,” he says. “Everyone’s experience of being black is a little bit different, but this is my take on it. I wanted to deliver it to the world and here it is for you guys.”

“Black” starts with a spooky piano melody Aaron Harvell and a very simple drum beat Darryl Howell based around rim shots.  The bass from Thomas Adam Johnson punctuates the melody.  There’s cool scratching sounds from Abraham on the guitar which add a spooky texture.  Robertson sings backing oohs and ahhs.

But the lyrics are fantastic

Look, black is beautiful, black is excellent
Black is pain, black is joy, black is evident
It’s workin’ twice as hard as the people you know you’re better than
‘Cause you need to do double what they do so you can level them

With family trees, ’cause they teach you ’bout famine and greed
And show you pictures of our fam on their knees
Tell us we used to be barbaric, we had actual queens
Black is watchin’ child soldiers gettin’ killed by other children
Feelin’ sick, like, “Oh shit, this could have happened to me”

Black is growin’ up around your family and makin’ it
Then being forced to leave the place you love because there’s hate in it

Her hair’s straight and thick but mine’s got waves in it
Black is not divisive, they been lyin’ and I hate the shit
Black has never been a competition, we don’t make this shit

Black is my Ghanaian brother readin’ into scriptures
Doin’ research on his lineage, findin’ out that he’s Egyptian
Black is people namin’ your countries on what they trade most
Coast of Ivory, Gold Coast, and the Grain Coast
But most importantly to show how deep all this pain goes
West Africa, Benin, they called it slave coast

Black is like the sweetest fuckin’ flavour, here’s a taste of it
But black is all I know, there ain’t a thing that I would change in it

The song builds slow and dramatically with more guitar work as Dave’s delivery gets more powerful.  It’s really intense.

But the climax here comes near the end, when Dave takes a seat at the piano to accompany himself while rapping his 2018 hit, “Hangman.” In the moment before he plays the opening keys, he pauses to take a breath before channeling the weight of the world through his fingers.

“Hangman” is more of the intense personal political storytelling.  His delivery is so perfect for this power of his lyrics.  This song has a few extra musical elements–some cool bass lines and guitar fills.  It also has an instrumental interlude at the end which allows Robinson to sing wordlessly.

I’m not sure if he has earned his mononym, but it’s a great show.

[READ: April 30, 2020] Bitter Root

I was drawn to this book by the outstanding cover art.  A 1920s era family dressed to the nines standing around a robot-like creature.  It’s sort of steampunk, but with a Harlem Renaissance twist,

In the essays in the back, the style of this book is described with a bunch of awesome phrases: cyberfunk (black cyberpunk), steamfunk (black steampunk) and dieselfunk (black dieselpunk).  There’s also EthnoGothic and ConjurePunk.

This story starts in 1924 indeed, during the Harlem Renaissance.

The story opens with music and dancing in full swing until something terrifying happens.

Next we see some police officers.  The black officer saying that “these people” give me the creeps.  A white police officer says “these people?” and the black officer says “The Sangeyre family ain’t my people. My people don’t mess with this mumbo jumbo.”

So then we meet the Sangeyre family.  Blink Sangeyre says she doesn’t like it that the police just bring them to their store. But Ma Etta Sangeyre says it’s better they bring them in before the kill someone.

We cut to the roof where Berg Sangeyre, a very large man with a wonderfully expansive vocabulary says “Cullen, might I offer you a bit of sagacious insight to your current predicament.  My assistance would hardly prove heuristic to your cause.”

Cullen Sangeyre is a skinnier, younger gentleman and he is fighting a bright red, horned demon known as the “Jinoo.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JESCA HOOP-Tiny Desk Concert #965 (April 3, 2020).

I really liked the Tiny Desk Concert that features Sam Beam and Jesca Hoop.  So much so that I bought the CD and it made me want to see both of them live.

Jesca Hoop last appeared at the Tiny Desk as a duet with Sam Beam (Iron & Wine) in the spring of 2016. They sang songs from their collaborative record Love Letters For Fire.

This time it is just Jesca and I have realized that I liked her more as an accompanist rather than a lead singer.  Actually, that’s not exactly right.  Her voice is lovely.  I just find the songs a little meandering.

This time around, Jesca Hoop came to the Tiny Desk with just her guitars, her lovely voice, and brilliant poetic songs. She has a magical way with words, and she opened her set with “Pegasi,” a beautiful song about the wild ride that is love, from her 2017 album Memories Are Now.

“Pegasi” is nice to watch her play the fairly complex guitar melodies–she uses all of the neck.  The utterly amazing thing about “Pegasi” though comes at the end of the song when she sings an amazing note (high and long) that represents a dying star.

She wanted to sing it today so it could live on Tiny Desk.

The two songs that follow are from her latest album, Stonechild, the album that captured my heart in 2019, and the reason I reached out to invite her to perform at my desk.

“All Time Low” is a song, she says, for the “existential underdog.”  She switches guitars (to an electric) and once again, most of the melody takes place on the high notes of the guitar.  Her melodies are fascinating.  And the lyrics are interesting too:

“Michael on the outside, always looking in
A dog in the fight but his dog never wins
If he works that much harder, his ship might come in
He gives it the old heave-ho.”

After the song, she says, I’m going to tune my guitar, but I’m not going to talk so it doesn’t take as long. If you were at my show, I’d be talking the whole time and it would take a long time.

And for her final tune, she plays “Shoulder Charge.” It’s a song that features a word that Jesca stumbled upon online: “sonder,” which you won’t find in the dictionary. She tells the NPR crowd “sonder” is the realization “that every person that you come across is living a life as rich and complex as your own.” And that realization takes you out of the center of things, something that is at the heart of “Shoulder Charge” and quite a potent moment in this deeply reflective and personal Tiny Desk concert.

This word, sonder, came to my attention back in 2016 when Kishi Bashi first discovered it and named his album Sonderlust for it.

The song is like the others, slow and quite with a pretty melody that doesn’t really go anywhere.

I found that after three listens, I started to enjoy the songs more, so maybe she just writes songs that you need to hear a few times to really appreciate.

[READ: March 2020] Ducks, Newburyport

I heard about this book because the folks on the David Foster Wallace newsgroup were discussing it.  I knew nothing about it but when I read someone describe the book like this:

1 Woman’s internal monologue.  8 Sentences. 1040 pages

I was instantly intrigued.

Then my friend Daryl said that he was really enjoying it, so I knew I had to check it out.

That one line  is technically (almost) accurate but not really accurate.

The story (well, 95% of it) is told through one woman’s stream of consciousness interior monologue.  She is a mother living in Ohio.  She has four children and she is overwhelmed by them.  Actually she is overwhelmed by a lot and she can’t stop thinking about these things.

She used to teach at a small college but felt that the job was terrible and that she was not cut out for it.  So now she bakes at home and sells her goods locally.  She specializes in tarte tatin.  This is why she spends so much time with her thoughts–she works alone at home.  Her husband travels for work.  Whether she is actually making money for the family is a valid but moot question.

So for most of the book not much happens, exactly.  We just see her mind as she thinks of all the things going on around her.  I assume she’s reading the internet (news items come and go in a flash).  She is quite funny in her assessment of the world (how much she hates trump).  While I was reading this and more and more stupid things happened in the real world, I couldn’t help but imagine her reaction to them).  She’s not a total liberal (she didn’t trust Hillary), but she is no conservative either (having lived in Massachusetts and New York).  In fact, she feels she does not fit in locally at all. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: LESLIE ODOM, JR.-Tiny Desk Concert #909 (December 2, 2019).

I knew I had heard of Leslie Odom Jr. but I couldn’t remember from what.  Apparently I have heard of him from….everything.

A Tony- and Grammy-winning star, Odom has added a slew of achievements to his portfolio since 2016, when he left his role playing Aaron Burr in Broadway’s Hamilton. He’s continued his work in television and film, written a book and released jazz and Christmas albums. He co-wrote most of the songs on his latest project, Mr; out earlier this month, it’s his first album of original material.

Dang.

His singing voice is fantastic and these songs that he wrote are really wonderful.

“Cold” is a hopeful ballad with a beautiful melody and a hint of contemporary musical theater.  It opens with a lovely acoustic guitar from Jeremy Ting and piano from Tommy King.  Odom’s voice is powerful and strong and he hits some nice falsetto notes.  This is all accented by rim shots and cymbal taps from Garrison “G-Beats” Brown.

His backing vocalists, Christine Noel Smit, Nicolette Robinson (Odom’s wife) and Astyn Turr add some nice calla and response and then harmony voices. There’s a pretty acoustic guitar solo as well.

And all the while Odom’s voice and lyrics are fantastic.

When it’s finished he says, “you are the second group of people to hear that song.”

Then he

recalled advice he’d received from a friend: “You have to get used to it — you are part of a cultural phenomenon in New York City,” Odom said, before quipping, “I feel so blessed to be a part of … Law & Order: SVU for three magnificent seasons.”

Up next is “Foggy,” which he says is the most personal song on the album.  It’s much more spare, a love song filled with the regret of failed good intentions.  It’s almost entirely just he and the piano.  Although half way through some xylophone notes add a cool echoing sound.  As the song nears its end, Astyn Turr sings along with him.

Introducing the final song, “Hummingbird,” he says “This song is admittedly… I think it’s a bop, but it’s an odd little bop.  But it has been tested by my 2 year old and it is her favorite song on the album.  For this song Tommy King and Theron “Neff-U” Feemster switch places so “Neff-U” (who worked with him to make the record) is now playing piano.

The song features some wonderful violin from Andrew Joslyn.  It’s a fun boppy song and I love that everyone raucously sings the “you’re my hummingbird” line.

I really didn’t know what to expect from this set, but Odom has a fantastic voice and his songs are really very beautiful.

[READ: August 2019] Gods Without Men

I had read a review of this book by Douglas Coupland on two occasions and each time it made me want to read the book.  So I decided to read the book.  And what a book.

Coupland had warned, in a sense, that there were UFOs and aliens–but not to be put off by them.  And he’s right.  The book centers around aliens and such, but there are no “little green men.”

Rather, the book looks more at a location and the spiritual power it has had on people throughout history.

The book bounces back and forth between various eras and the present.  In most summaries of the book, the present takes prominence–and it is the most often visited timeline in the book.  But at times I found the story in the present to be less interesting than those in the past.

The book begin in 1947 with a man named Schmidt.  Schmidt drove out to the Pinnacles “three column of rock that shot up like the tentacles of some ancient creature, weathered feelers probing the sky.”  He used his diving rods and sensed the power here.  He paid $800 to a woman who owned the property and then settled in.  Schmidt built an underground structure to live in.  He bought an Airstream trailer and set it up as a diner.  Then he put in an airstrip and a fuel tank.  Soon enough pilots were stopping in for fuel as they sailed across the desert.  Schmidt is an interesting character (with a reprehensible past).  He also, every night, lit up the lights on top of his property that said WELCOME.

One night a ship descended from the sky. (more…)

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