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Archive for the ‘Valentine’s Day’ Category

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But it was her ceiling so he did it.

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

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

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

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SOUNDTRACK: Go_A “SHUM” (Ukraine, Eurovision Entry 2021).

Eurovision 2021 is upon us. It’s hard to follow Eurovision in the States, but you can see highlights and most official entries online.

I have been rather enjoying the folk metal genre, especially as practiced by Eastern European bands.  So I was pretty fascinated to hear about Go_A [Ґоу_Ей].

The name Go_A is meant to mean “return to the roots” and was made by combining the English word “Go” with the Greek letter “Alpha.”  There’s four members: Kateryna Pavlenko, Taras Shevchenko, Ihor Didenchuk and Ivan Hryhoriak

Lead singer Kateryna Pavlenko has a pretty fascinating backstory (if Wikipedia is to be trusted, and when is it not?).  [The entire quote is (sic)].

Due to unsatisfactory living conditions, she developed lung disease. As a teenager, she underwent several surgeries, including surgery to remove a lung tumor. After that she can’t sing in the traditional way. “The sound is not formed in my lungs or bronchi, because there is not much space there, but somewhere here (points to the back of the head). This is especially true of high notes, ”she said.

Her voice is quite striking–surprisingly powerful.  In the video, she looks as striking as her voice.  She’s dressed in an awesome leather jacket with a black dress.  She’s got some kind of metal(?) thing on her face–I can’t determine what it is., aside from cool-looking.

The song opens with a repeated unearthly sound–a kind of siren.  She starts singing in powerful Ukrainian as menacing chords emerge.  Then the song pumps along.

Once again the video is pretty spectacular as the band is driving in a kind of Munsters meets Mad Max truck.  The song is loud and fast with some big distorted guitars.

And before you know it, the song breaks and there’s a tin whistle solo and a jaw harp keeping pace (!).

In the middle of the song her voice sounds a bit less harsh as the music builds and fills in.  And then a throbbing bass bounces along to the tin whistle.  And after a beat the drop kicks in and the song is now twice as fast.

The video is pretty entertaining–the “story” is fun to watch, anyhow.  But as the song ends she hits a really high note–almost a screech.  In the video a hawk lands on her outstretched hand.

Nice touch.  Did they do that live during Eurovision?

UPDATE: No hawk live, and they came in fifth (with a really cool set).

[READ: May 10, 2021]  “Card Wired”

Back in the mid to late 1990s, David Sedaris wrote a few Shouts & Murmurs for the New Yorker.  It’s interesting to see a writer whom you know for a certain style of writing crafting jokes in a very different manner.  Shouts & Murmurs are rarely actually funny, and that’s true of most of these.

Obviously the topical nature of most of these means there’s a component of “wait, what was going on?”, but the set up usually explains everything pretty well.  Now we are more likely to say, “Aw, remember when that’s all we cared about?”

This piece is based on an article in The Independent that says greeting card companies are getting in on the “mass-therapy act” so if you buy enough of these cards you could hold an entire conversation with your loved one without opening your mouth. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: LUCY DACUS-“Ma Vie en Rose” (2019).

Lucy Dacus has been on a roll lately.  Her album Historian is fantastic.  She has put on some amazing live shows (I’ll be seeing her again in March), she did some amazing work as 1/3 of boygenius and now she has made a delightful version of “Ma Vie en Rose.”

The original is swooning and slow, allowing for the words to linger and tickle every inch of the listener’s ear.  But sometimes love isn’t slow and languorous.  Sometime, it hits you hard and runs fast with your heart.

So Lucy has recorded a version with this tempo in mind.  She says

I want someone to listen to this while running at top speed to the doorstep of the person they adore, ready to profess their deep, undying love.

Musically the song is pulsing beat and piano–electric guitar and bass and it is just relentlessly chipper.

She sings the song first in French and then in English in her gorgeous quiet(ish) voice in under 3 minutes–that’s a minute faster than the original which is only in French.

And she released it just in time for Valentine’s Day.

[READ: February 11, 2019] The City on the Other Side

The book begins on the other side of the veil that separates our world from the fairie realm.  It is a very thin but very powerful veil and virtually no one can cross it.

This is a story of fairies and humans.  And how our worlds impact one another.  When we build buildings, the fairies feel the digging and when the fairies had a war, it caused earthquakes,   The massive San Francisco earthquake of 1906?  That was caused by a massive fairie war.  That fairie war started when the Seelie (the creatures who bless brightness–birds, ferns, humans) and the Unseelie (who celebrate darkness-worms, rotting logs etc) couldn’t agree on a ruler.  They are expected to rule the underworld in equal parts–six months at a time.  But recently there had been trouble. The leader of the Unseelie didn’t like the way the Seelie seemed to be taking over (because humans were becoming so powerful) so he captured the Seelie leader’s daughter and waged war.

Back on earth we meet a young girl, Isabelle.  She is the daughter of a wealthy aristocrat who wishes her to be perfect–clean, respectful, and quiet.  In the summertime, she is shunted off to her father–an artist who is more interested in his work than his daughter.  But at least she can relax and play and get dirty.  It is while she is here that she sees a Seelie with a magical necklace. The Seelie is supposed to get that necklace to the kidnapped daughter of the Seelie leader.  But he has been wounded.  Since Isabelle is allowed to cross dimensions he pleads with her to help the Seelie.

While heading into the city with a helpful talking mushroom named Button, Isabelle’s necklace is stolen by…another human?  This young boy is shocked to discover that she is a human.  When he tells his story they agree to work together.

It turns out that the earthquake killed his parents and his discovered a rift between the worlds when the ground opened up.  He was rescued by the now-missing Seelie daughter which granted him the power to cross the veil. But no one has seen the daughter for many years so he–who is not welcomed in Fairlieland and has nothing waiting for him in human land–has become a simple thief.

The thief knows his way around the fairie world and has made something of a name for himself.  But that also means that Unseelie warriors are aware of what he does and where he goes.

How will these two humans find a princess in the fairie realm?  And will they ever even want to go back home?

This story was a little to fast for my liking–everything seems to be very truncated.  Maybe that’s because it’s a children’s book?  And while I am glad that it wasn’t stretched into two books, it just felt like it took on a lot and resolved it all really fast.

I also didn’t love the artwork.  I really didn’t like the fairie characters at all–they seemed hastily drawn and I didn’t really like the main characters all that much either.  The whole book felt like it was done very quickly.

Having said that, it’s a good introduction for kids to know about the Seelie and fairie stories–there are so many they can explore later on.  I did like how the final pages with Button the mushroom (my favorite character) were informative both about the story process and the history of San Francisco and the earthquake.

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SOUNDTRACK: CHRIS WALLA AND J. ROBBINS-Create ‘Mercury’ (Project Song: October 12, 2009).

Project Song was a nifty little show that NPR Music created.  The premise was that NPR would give a musician some prompts and a recording studio.  They then had two days to write and record a song.  I don’t know how much of the process was to be filmed, but presumably most of it. Then it would be edited down to a fifteen minute show.  The results are pretty cool and it’s a shame they only made five of them.

The fourth one they did was over a year and a half after the previous one.  This Project was offered to Chris Walla (of Death Cab for Cutie) and a performer he’d admired, J. Robbins (of Jawbox and Burning Airlines).

What made this project especially difficult was that the two had never even met before they stepped into NPR’s performance studio.

I supplied some inspiration for their song: photo collages created by artist Tom Chambers [The picture are really, really cool]. They chose a photograph of a house in a canyon filled with water, tilted and flooded. Not far from the house is a dog on a boat, floating either toward or away from the house. I also supplied a series of words. They selected the word “cerebral” and promised when they wrote the song not to be too cerebral about it.

Unlike the pairing from Georgie James, this pair is instantly excited at the possibilities–changes and ideas.

Robbins says he will not write any lyrics, it takes him a month and a half to hone them,

But it didn’t take long for Robbins to pick up his bass guitar, for Walla to pick up a guitar, and for the two to begin their musical friendship.

They were inspired by JG Ballard and his drowned world series. In these books there are people who know the world is dying but they embrace it as a forward movement into the unknown

J. get a great bass line right away (its sounds very Death Cab, interestingly).  Bob asks about the music and J. says the music sounds like a dog on a boat heading towards a half-submerged house.  And Walla is singing the word “mercury.”

Walla and Robbins were joined by Robbins’ friend, drummer Darren Zentek.

He adds a wonderful beat and the song sounds great.  They get excited filling out the possibilities–end on the bridge!

Walla goes off by himself to write lyrics.  And Robbins works on a piano part.  And then things really come together when Walla picks up the 12 string.

The song they created, “Mercury,” takes its subject matter from that photograph, which is a bit of a cataclysmic scenario turned into a song about the climate crisis.

The result has a definite Death Cab feel, but with Robbins and Walla alternating lead vocals it is a different, wonderful thing.

[READ: July 23, 2018] “I Walk Between the Raindrops”

This story centers around Valentine’s Day.  But it’s a T.C. Boyle story so there’s always something else to look forward to.

I love the way this story opens with Brandon the narrator telling us.

This past Valentine’s Day, I was in Kingman, Arizona, with my wife, Nola, staying in the Motel 6 there, just off the I-40. You might not think of Kingman as a prime location for a romantic getaway (who would?), but Nola and I have been married for fifteen years now, and romance is just part of the continuum….  Were we slumming?  Yes, sure.  We could have stayed anywhere we liked…and if it’s not ideal, at least it’s different.

They were there because Nola’s father lives nearby and they decided to pay a visit and to let Nola search for antiques.  They went to Denny’s (the only place her father will eat), and after eating, Nola went antiquing and Brandon went to a bar to wait for her.

It’s not unfriendly (despite some graffiti like “fuck you, liberal pussies” (which he chooses to take as ironic), but he doesn’t order a Pinot Noir or anything.  (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: Y-Not Radio (2011).

I received an email recently from Josh Landow.  I know, who?  Well, he went on to tell me that he and some friends had started Y-Not Radio.

I’m still trying to piece together all the details, but Landow was a DJ for WXPN’s Y-Rock radio.  His email states that he and a bunch of other DJs left (or were asked to leave?) WXPN and started Y-Not Radio as Philly’s “real alternative.”  What they have going on is strangely impressive for a station that has only an online presence.  There’s also a disclaimer that (despite lifting and modifying the Y Rock logo) they are not affiliated with The U of Pa of WXPN.

The YRock Branch of WXPN is still operational.  And, looking at the music they still play, it’s not that radically different from the music of Y-Not Radio (in other words, it’s all great current indie rock and old school alternative music).  So, basically what we have is an embarrassment of riches from alternative radio online.  Of course, I don’t really like listening to the radio online (except at work).  I only wish I could get them both in on my actual radio.

It’s all a fascinating fight about indie rock and online radio.  Let’s see how it plays out!

[READ: March 12, 2011] Babymouse: Heartbreaker

The kids at the library love Babymouse.  And since I am greatly influenced by the opinions of fourth graders, I decided to read it as well.  This is the fifth book in the series (but relax, they don’t appear to have any kind of thread that makes it hard to follow).

The basic set up of the stories is that Babymouse is a mouse in school.  Her classmates are other animals.  It’ hard to determine very much about the school or even the setting of where Babymouse lives because this whole book is about Valentine’s Day.

The most fun aspect of the book for me was the dream sequences.  I’m not even entirely sure if the targeted audience would get all of the references, but I sure liked them.  For instance, while Babymouse is wondering if anyone will invite her to the dance, she has a Cinderella dream sequence and a Snow White Dream sequence (which goes astray) and, my favorite, a Dirty Dancing sequence (“Nobody puts Babymouse in the corner,”) complete with a Swayze quiff on the male mouse. (more…)

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