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Archive for the ‘Homelessness’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: iLe-Tiny Desk Concert #874 (August 3, 2019).

It’s not very often that you hear a song that is all percussion.  But the first song of this set is only percussion and (Spanish) vocals.

iLe is a singer in the Puerto Rican band Calle 13.  Her most recent solo album Almadura:

is filled with metaphors and allegories about the political, social and economic conditions in Puerto Rico.

When vocalist Ileana Cabra Joglar and her band visited the Tiny Desk, they’d just arrived from the front lines of the historic demonstrations taking place in Puerto Rico. Two days earlier, they were part of a crowd of tens of thousands who were on the streets calling for the resignation of embattled Gov. Ricardo Rosselló. (Rosselló recently stepped down, effective August 2.)

Right from the start, it was clear what was on iLe’s mind in her song “Curandera” — “I am a healer / I don’t need candles to illuminate / I bring purifying water to cleanse / Removing pains so they never return” — as congas and percussion shook the room with an Afro-Caribbean beat.

This is the song in which all of the band members play percussion–primarily congas although Ismael Cancel is on the drum kit.  While everyone plays congas, it is Jeren Guzmán who is the most accomplished and who plays the fast conga “solo.”

In the chorus of the slow-burning “Contra Todo,” iLe sings about channeling inner strengths and frustrations to win battles and remake the world. Her lyrics are rich with history, capturing the spirit of the streets of San Juan even as she stood, eyes closed, behind the Tiny Desk. Her entire performance is a startling reflection of this moment in Puerto Rican history.

“Contra Todo” has a rich deep five string bass from Jonathan Gonzalez and two trombones (Joey Oyola and Nicolás Márquez). Two guitars (Bayoán Ríos and Adalberto Rosario) add a kind of percussive strumming and a quiet song-ending riff.  Jeren Guzmán plays the congas with mallets, something I’ve never seen before.

By the time iLe and her band launched into “Sin Masticar,” they’d already captured the full power of protest, as their musical arrangements raged with the intensity of a crowd joined by a shared cause and pulse.

“Sin Masticar” has a super catchy chorus, perhaps the best way to get people involved in a protest.

[READ: August 2019] Midnight Light

Two years ago Dave Bidini co-founded The West End Phoenix, a newspaper that is for people in Toronto’s West End.  It’s print, it’s old school, and it’s pretty awesome.  I don’t think I’ve ever been to the West End, but I find the writing and the content to be interesting and really enjoyable.

It’s no surprise that Bidini has worked in journalism and loved and hated it.

I’ve always loved newspaper: the smell of the ink and the rough of the newsprint weighted in my hands, their broadsheets flapping like Viking sails.  When I was a kid, our family read them all–the Globe and Mail, the Toronto Star, The Sun, and before that The Telegram–at the kitchen table with each person drawing out whatever they needed: comics, sports, business, entertainment (and yet never Wheels, the Star’s automotive supplement).

He started writing before he picked up a guitar.  When he was 11 he submitted a poem about a hockey player to The Sun‘s “Young Sun” section.  It was accepted and he won a T-shirt.

In 1991, he was asked to write a regular column for a Star satellite weekly called Metropolis.  The day his first piece was to be in print he waited at the nearest newsbox for the delivery man.

But he had no stamina and fewer ideas and he was eventually let go.  Which led to writing books.  But he still wanted to write for the paper and then he remembered: Hey, Yellowknife had a newspaper.

This book is about journalism.  But it’s also about the Canadian North.  And while the journalism stuff is interesting–and the way it ties to the North is interesting too, it’s the outsider’s perspective of this region of the world (that most people don’t even think about) which is just amazing to read about–the people, the landscape, the conditions.  It’s fascinating. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKFRAGILE ROCK-“Smile More” Tiny Desk Family Hour (March 12, 2019).

These next two shows were recorded at NPR’s SXSW Showcase.

The SXSW Music Festival is pleased to announce the first-ever Tiny Desk Family Hour showcase, an evening of music by artists who have played NPR Music’s Tiny Desk Concert, at Central Presbyterian Church on Tuesday, March 12 from 8-11pm.

It’s hard to talk seriously about Fragile Rock since they are a band of puppets.  Literally.

To say that Fragile Rock sent the evening hurtling sideways would be an understatement, as the band unleashed a torrent of faux-grim hilarity and chaos when it wasn’t urging the audience to shout out its prescribed antidepressants or berating fans for grinning along. (“We don’t appreciate your smiles,” seethed Brently Heilbron, in the persona of wounded frontpuppet Milo S. “You wouldn’t do that to Conor Oberst.”

And yet they are a good punk band and their lyrics have become even more pointed.  Especially this one.  They explain:

This is a song that Nick and I wrote reflecting on the #metoo and #timesup movements (that’s right lady in the back snapping your fingers you are correct).

This is a great punk blast and frankly it’s nice to hear a song sung by the female vocalists instead of the Fred Schneider-sounding male lead singer.

For “Smile More,” the spotlight shifted to Emily Cawood (performing as Briex Cocteau) and Megan Thornton (aka Nic Hole), who spent two minutes savaging the patriarchy. “Don’t tell me to smile more, don’t tell me what my mouth is for, from a man who started every war,” Thornton and her puppet shouted in unison. And, see, here’s the secret to Fragile Rock’s raucous, ridiculous charm: Subtract the puppets, the stage antics and the silliness of all, and you’re still left with some pretty damned good songs.

And nice succinct lyrics:

You could have had it all
You blew it didn’t you
I’m gonna watch you fall and
Never ever pity you
You’re purposeless
Your license is expired
Your services are no longer required

Your time has come and gone….time’s up!

All in two minutes.

[READ: March 14, 2019] Florida

When I started reading this book, I instantly remembered reading “Ghosts and Empties” in the New Yorker.  I assumed and was pleased that this was a full novel built out of that story.  Why?  Because nowhere on this book does it say that these are short stories.   Not on the cover, not on the front page, nor the back page.  It’s somewhere on the fly leaf, but since Groff also writes novels, it’s a bit of an oddity to not say “stories” somewhere on it.  I looked at the Table of Contents, obviously, but just assumed those where chapter headings.

I was exited to read the fuller story of the woman who walks at night.  And then I found out that the next “chapter” was a new story.  It turned out to be a fantastic story.  So that’s all good.  I don’t mind reading short stories at all, it was just a surprise.

It also turned out that I have read five of these short stores before (she is often printed in the New Yorker–the other stories were in different journals which I put in brackets after each title).

“Ghosts and Empties” (New Yorker, July 20, 2015)
I see now that I didn’t really enjoy this story the first time I read it (and yet it stayed with me all these years).  But I did enjoy it more this time (I still find it unsatisfying that the opening parental freakout part is never really addressed).  But basically this is a story in which woman walks around her neighborhood every night and observes things changing–for better or worse.  Old nuns dying, new houses being built, neighbors changing.  All in the heat of Florida. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JOHN PAUL WHITE-“The Long Way Home,” Tiny Desk Family Hour (March 12, 2019).

These next few shows were recorded at NPR’s SXSW Showcase.

The SXSW Music Festival is pleased to announce the first-ever Tiny Desk Family Hour showcase, an evening of music by artists who have played NPR Music’s Tiny Desk Concert, at Central Presbyterian Church on Tuesday, March 12 from 8-11pm.

I have recently been re-listening to The Civil Wars and re-remembered how great John Paul White is.  He’s playing near me in a few weeks, but I can’t go see him.  I do hope he comes back.

John Paul White is a Tiny Desk veteran two times over: He’s performed once as a solo artist and once as half of the decorated and now-defunct Americana duo The Civil Wars. So he was a natural to take the stage for NPR Music’s Tiny Desk Family Hour.  The room felt at once packed and cavernous, with White perfectly suited to the setting. He’s got a voice made for high ceilings.

White is up on stage with just his guitar and his voice.  He plays a song that is about his love/hate relationship about the music business.

White introduced the song with a boast any artistically inclined parent will understand: “I want to do a song for you now that I’m really happy to say makes my kids cry.  It’s not easy. My kids are hard. I immediately felt guilty but knew I was going to record it for the next record. But “The Long Way Home” taps into greater universal truths than that, capturing the way even our most ambitious pursuits can feel like a mere stepping stone to the comfort of the everyday.

It’s a bouncy minor key song and you know it’s going to be a gut-wrencher.  The chorus: “I ain’t leaving, I’m just taking the long way home to you.”

Yikes, if all of White’s songs are as emotionally charged as this, maybe I don’t want to see him in person.  But his voice sounds fantastic.

[READ: March 3, 2019] “Sweet”

This was one-page and thoroughly confusing.

It begins: “Gregory Speen learns to not doubt himself and Mike Brenlan supports him wholeheartedly.”

Then we get small sections about Speen.

Speen can tell that a woman is cruel. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KURT VILE-Tiny Desk Concert #822 (February 6, 2019).

I love Kurt Vile.  I love his sense of humor, I love his attitude and I love most of his music–I love the way his songs are often circular with catchy parts.  I wish I liked his music a lot more-but some of his stuff is a little too meandering for me.

Having said that, he was dynamite live.  And this Tiny Desk is a delightful distillation of his live show.

For this show Kurt plays acoustic guitar and he’s joined by guitarist Rob Laakso and a drum machine.

“Bassackwards” is a wonderful song–and really highlights everything I love about Kurt.  It’s a mellow song with chill out lyrics, a beautiful melody and a circular style in which the song never really seems to go anywhere and yet even at over 6 minutes, it never gets dull.

I love that Kurt does most of the musical heavy lifting even on the acoustic, with Lassko providing the rhythm.

He’s very funny between songs.  This son is from my new album as well.  It’s called “A Working Class HEro is Something to Be” but, uh, also “Loading Zone.”

“Loading Zones” is a faster song which feels like it’s going to overtake itself at some point.  The totally relaxed harmonica (I’ll give John Popper a run for his money…as usual)and his laconic delivery of I park for free is a wonderful contrast.

For the final song “Tomboy” his switches guitar and jokes, “this song’s about John Popper.’  I love this song with its beautiful guitar lines and his halting vocal delivery.  Again, a wonderful juxtaposition of styles, which the blurb addresses:

Kurt Vile exudes a casualness at the Tiny Desk in his style and body language that is so unlike most anxious artists who come to play behind my desk. …The way he plays guitar, he seems distracted, yet the complex guitar lines he so nonchalantly plays, along with his musical mate Rob Laakso, are effortlessly beautiful and lyrical.

On the surface, it all can seem just chill. But there’s a lot of rumination in these songs — and even when he’s gazing into the overhead office lights, I think he got his mind on the stars and the world at large.

Imagine how good he is live when he switches between seven or eight guitars (and banjo).

[READ: February 4, 2019] “Asleep at the Wheel”

I really hope this is an excerpt because I want to read a lot more.  Plus there’s a lot going on, not all of which is resolved.

Set in the not too distant future (I fear), technology has taken over more than it has now.  Cindy is driving a self-driving, cognizant vehicle named Carly.  It not only tells her which way will be fastest, it also reminds her about a purse she wanted to pick up (which is now on sale).

In fact, there are no non-automated vehicles anymore–except in race tracks and in the desert.  There are ad-driven free cars called Ridz that take you to your destination after stopping by a few of the stores you like to shop at first.  Some daredevils even try to hop on automated cars –they ride on the roof–despite the dangers–and go as far as they can.

One such daredevil is Cindy’s son.  While he is riding on top of a car he sees his mom in the car next to him.  He is sure he’s busted until he sees that she is napping. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: OF MONSTERS AND MEN-“Mountain Sound” (Field Recordings, June 13, 2012).

When this song first came out I was instantly smitten by it.  The combination of male and female vocals, the big chorus and interesting instrumentation were just terrific.  And the song is catchy as anything.

And then the rest of the world thought the same and this song became inescapable.

Around the same time I heard Of Monsters and Men, I also heard The Head and the Heart who had a similar aesthetic.  And I still have a hard time telling them apart (even if OMAM is from Iceland and THATH is from Seattle).

This Field Recording [Of Monsters And Men Brings Out The Sun] was filmed on the first day of the Sasquatch! Music Festival.

We managed to get backstage of the Gorge Amphitheater to capture a live session with one of the hottest new bands to hit the festival circuit, Of Monsters and Men. No strangers to natural beauty, the Icelanders were nevertheless stunned by the picturesque backdrop of the Gorge as they performed “Mountain Sound,” one of the new songs added to the American release of their debut album.

“We sleep until the sun goes down,” they sang repeatedly while the sun instead broke through the clouds as if called out by the song’s radiant optimism. The band will continue to thrill fans in larger and larger venues, but it’s private moments like this when Of Monsters and Men best displays its natural charm.

This is a wonderfully low-key take on the song with just a couple of guitars, and accordion and a trumpet (and a big plastic drum as the percussion).

I’ve heard this song so many times that it’s nice to hear it in such an unadorned fashion.  To actually hear the two lead vocals–how unusual they sound.  And to see how much fun the band is having playing at the Sasquatch Festival (yes, in Seattle).

[READ: November 12, 2018] “Show Recent Some Love”

I love Sam Lipsyte’s stories.  I love the tone and breeziness he showcases, even in stories with serious undertones.

This story ( I assume it is an excerpt) is unofficially set during the #metoo movement.  Mike Maltby was recently fired from his own company: “Only an ogre could defend Mike Maltby.”  Isaac, the protagonist, was not an ogre–maybe a jerk–said Nina his life partner.

But Isaac agreed that Mike’s ouster was for the best–Mike had done all kinds of heinous things in executives suites, “because it wasn’t about sex.  It was about power.  And sex.  And probably a few other things.”

But Isaac felt a twinge of remorse because Maltby had hired him and “had also been, weirdly enough for a brief time, his stepfather.” (more…)

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 SOUNDTRACK: PHISH Live Bait 14 (2018).

Phish has just released its 14th compilation of free downloads.  This one is a little over two hours with seven long songs.

Harry Hood (8/2/97 Gorge Amphitheatre – George, WA) 18:11
After a slow intro–it’s about two and a half minutes before the vocals come in–then there’s jazzy bass and funky keys.  The jam is pretty mellow, he even asks to have them kill the lights “so I can have the outdoor vibe here.”  A relaxed piano comes in around 12 and it’s not until 17 minutes that they sing the end of the song.

McGrupp And The Watchful Hosemasters (10/29/98 Greek Theatre – Los Angeles, CA) 11:45
This is a fun treat as they don;t play this song much anymore.  The piano opening is very quiet, but the middle is cool with a piano and splash cymbals.  The ending is twinkling piano that segues perfectly (despite being nearly a year later) into the next song.

Wolfman’s Brother (9/24/99 South Park Meadows – Austin, TX) 18:55
opens with a quiet piano but it quickly grows upbeat with a hot jam. Although the final section is dark for a bout a minute before it ends.

Gotta Jibboo > Saw It Again > Magilla (7/4/00 E Centre – Camden, NJ) 39:28
Gotta Jibboo brings back the lightness again. It’s got a happy solo with a pulsing high keyboard note that runs for almost ten minutes while Trey solos.  It turns funky/groovy around fifteen minutes in and then around 17 minutes in it shifts gears and grows slowly noisy and chaotic before sequing to Saw It Again.  Around 34 minutes, it slows down and segues into Magilla with really cool drums.

What’s The Use? (6/25/00 Alltel Pavilion at Walnut Creek – Raleigh, NC) 9:52
This is an instrumental that starts out sounding quite raw–the guitar is sharp with feedback moments.  After  couple of minutes the guitar fades and it gets quiet and pretty before the guitar returns and grows noisy again.

Runaway Jim (7/9/99 Merriweather Post Pavilion – Columbia, MD) 12:21
As always this song rocks.   Although the jam is pretty mellow and pleasant sounding.

Tweezer > Prince Caspian (8/22/15 Magnaball, Watkins Glen International – Watkins Glen, NY) 34:17
Most of the songs on this compilation are from the turn of the century, but this one is from just a couple years ago and it’s a big old “Tweezer” exploration.  This version sounds pretty loose–Trey even modifies the open chord riff somewhat.  Even the “Uncle Ebeneezer” noise is somewhat subdued.  It grows fairly calm before a funky guitar solo.  By 11 minutes, there’s a lot of piano added and then through 17 minutes “Prince Caspian” begins.  It’s a typically fun version of the song.  And by 31 minutes it feels like the song is circling back around to “Tweezer,” but it never actually gets there.  It just kind of ends.

Hard to complain about a free compilation, and there’s not much to complain about here.  Good selection of songs and great performances.

[READ: January 19, 2018] “The Blade”

This is story of tramps.  Hoboes.

There is a young kid who reminded Ronnie of himself from way back.  But it generally assumed the kid will be tossed off the train car before two long.

After some silence Vanboss and Stark begin talking.  Vanboss tells of a head on collision between two cars going 100 mph and how the cars were melded into a small cube but somehow a baby escaped unharmed.  No one believes that, so they talk of other deaths, brutal and extraordinary. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ROYAL THUNDER-Tiny Desk Concert #624 (May 30, 2017).

Royal Thunder is a loud rock band that is stripped down in this Tiny Desk Concert to just two acoustic guitars and a snare drum.  But that’s fine because the real power of this band is in singer Mlny Parsonz’s voice.

Mlny Parsonz’s bluesy belt has been the grounding force of Royal Thunder’s stirring hard-rock for almost a decade now, and on the band’s third album, Wick, the songs all knot and unravel with psychedelic power. True to its name, volume and a small army of effects pedals play a large role in Royal Thunder. But what happens when we ask the Atlanta band to unplug that… thunder?

From the first note, you could hear Parsonz’s sandpaper soul blasting down the hallways of NPR. Both “Anchor” and “April Showers” are slow-burners, built up from the complex guitar interplay of Josh Weaver and Will Fiore; the acoustic treatments here turn them into proggy blues hollers. The band closes with the emotionally wracked “Plans,” featuring just Fiore and Parsonz. The performance is absolutely raw — Parsonz screams and beats her chest as her voice cracks, drawing power from a desperate vulnerability.

Interestingly, I listened to these songs on the album and I prefer this stripped down version–there’s too much production and things going on during the album.  But here it’s just her voice and their guitars.  And it is far more powerful.

As “Anchor” starts, you can hear how engaging Mlny Parzonz powerful strained-sounding voice is.  It sounds honest and pained and really emotional.  The song is surprisingly catchy, especially when the “round ad round” section kicks in–wow, it really grabs you.  Josh Weaver plays the lead guitar solo on this song, and there’s some interesting little guitar notes in the middle of the song as well.  After belting that out, she quietly says “Thanks y’all, thank you” with the Southern charm of the Indigo Girls or even Ben Folds.

“April Showers” opens with a cool separate guitar and bass lines (played on acoustic guitar).  Fiore plays the “lead” intro notes whereas Weaver plays the bass notes I’m not really sure what’s going on in this song, but it’s pretty dark: “you were never really innocent but you were given the gun.”  And later: “then my father found suicide.”  Again, though her voice is so powerful and engaging that you feel the pain in her lyrics.

Before the final song, “Plans,” Weaver and drummer Evan Diprima say “we’re checking out.”  She jokes, “You quit?”   Then she looks at Fiore and says, you have any “Plans” boom-chi.  This song is much slower (interestingly on the record the drums are really loud, so it’s especially surprising that they ‘re not here).  And you can really hear the power and ache in her voice as she sings, “I thought I did the right thing / coming back for you / it was the right thing at the wrong time / I really loved you.”  The way her voice strains as she sings “You ripped out my heart / It’s really emotional.  And after all of that she shrugs and admits, “sorta forgot the words on that one…sorry.”

I’ll give their album another listen , but I really much prefer this rawer iteration.

[READ: April 24, 2017] “Two Ruminations on a Homeless Brother”

I have read a few things by Means and never been all that impressed by them.  Add this to that list.

The word “ruminations” is quite apt in this title as this story is really just a series of thoughts about two men.

The first one is titled Sviatoslav Richter, but is actually about a homeless man wandering the streets of whichever city this is set.  The man walks the same pattern every day searching through garbage.  But rather than delving into this man, this story delves into the people who see the man.  And it covers all possible reactions–most of which you have probably guessed already–from guilt to anger.   This is followed of course by the inevitable fear that we may one day become like this poor soul. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE NATIONAL-Tiny Desk Concert #279 (June 10, 2013).

I rather like The National and yet I haven’t spent much time really listening to them.  This Tiny Desk Concert really shows them off well.  It is extremely winning and enjoyable.

I enjoyed this part of the introduction:

we’d gotten word that the group would strip its sound way down for the occasion, sticking to two acoustic guitars and a bit of hand percussion. What we got instead was a fully fleshed-out septet, complete with horns and piano; the band showed up at 9:30 to rehearse and sound-check.

Though singer Matt Berninger had barely rested his voice from a show in the area the night before, The National dutifully performed gorgeous acoustic renditions of four tracks from its fine new album, Trouble Will Find Me.

I like the way the first song “This is the Last Time” starts quietly with just some acoustic guitars (playing quite interesting chords too) but builds, adding more and more instruments.  It grows and grows until it hits a new section where there’s a trumpet solo that fits perfectly in the song.  This new section introduces the second half of the song which never returns to the first part.  The backing vocals–between the guys singing the lines and the other guys singing the high “ahhh” that almost sounds like a horn–also work great together.  It’s a wonderfully full song.

“I Need My Girl” has a cool part with the two guitars.  They play a simple picked melody, but after the second verse, the second guitars plays it one step after the first, making it sound like an echo. And again that lone trumpet sounds terrific here.  This song is a bit more mellow.  In fact, this whole acoustic vibe sounds different from what I expect from the band.

The third song “Pink Rabbits” begins as primarily piano with lots of backing vocals.  But again the song builds slowly (with trumpet and trombone).  And again, after the horns go down there’s a backing voice that sounds a bit like muted trumpet.

Through the whole concert, I love Berninger’s casual demeanor while singing–hands in pockets, gently swaying.

Bob tells them that they are performing Tiny Desk’s first encore.  The blurb notes that the band:

even treated the hundreds of worshipful gawkers to Building 2.0’s first-ever Tiny Desk encore, in response to a roar of applause that could be heard in the far reaches of the newsroom downstairs.

Berninger says this is usually when they run back stage to piss but we’ll just go behind your desk.  Bob jokes that it’s no different from the trombone spit that he sees back there.

Berninger introduces “Sea of Love” by saying this is the only song we’ve ever written with a harmonica in it…and its the last one.

The full band sings and it sounds terrific.  I especially like the pause in the line “they say love is a virtue don’t….they” is pretty dramatic.  And I am tickled by the final lines of the song (while the backing singers do some great work: “I see you rushing down / tell me how to reach you / I see you rushing down / what did Harvard teach you.”

The National are usually more dramatic, I believe–almost theatrical, but this quieter version is really quite enjoyable.

[READ: April 2, 2016] Feathers

Jorge Corona introduces this book by explaining that he had an idea for a Beauty and the Beast kind of story that features a boy with feathers.  And it slowly expanded into the story we have here.

The story opens with a bright white city in the distance.  In the foreground, there’s some dark Victorian-looking houses.  And as we zoom in, we learn that the dark city is known as the Maze.  And in this Maze live the poor.  Little kids, called “mice” are street urchins who run all over the Maze.  And then there’s a man with a beard.  The man finds a baby in an alley.  The baby is born with feathers and he decides to take the boy in and raise him.

The scene jumps to eleven years later.  The boy, known as Poe has grown up and has stayed hidden.  He still has feathers and he goes out at night, but no one knows about him.  People just speak of the ghost–Poe–who swoops down unseen and does things (mostly to help the poorest) and then flees. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: WEEZER-Raditude (2009).

I didn’t buy this Weezer album when it came out because I had heard really bad things about it (like the “guests”), but when I saw it cheap I decided to check it out.  This has to be the most polarizing Weezer album of them all.  I listened to it twice yesterday.  The first time I thought I had been too harsh on it.  The second time I thought it was godawful.  It’s amazing what a couple of hours can do.

It opens with a wonderful bit of poppy wordplay ala Cheap Trick: “(If You’re Wondering If I Want You To) I Want You To.”  It’s catchy as anything and is a wonderful start to the album, even if it is probably their poppiest song ever.  From there though, the album really degenerates.  And mostly it’s because it’s so dumb.  I mean the album title should tell you what you’re in for, but who would have expected the moronic sub-pop-metal of “The Girl Got Hot” or even the reprehensible lyrics of “I’m Your Daddy” “You are my baby tonight And I’m your daddy.”  It’s just creepy.  Or gah, a song about the mall?  “In the Mall.”  It’s not even worth mocking.  And really, try to picture Rivers Cuomo in a mall.  Any mall.

But nothing could prepare anyone for “Can’t Stop Partying.”  Unlike Andrew WK’s ouvre, which is so sincere about partying that you can’t take it seriously, this song really seems to be about the guys partying.  It’s laughable.  The anemic rap but Li’l Wayne certainly doesn’t help.

Even the collaboration with Indian musicians on “Love is the Answer” (yes, seriously) doesn’t really work.  It feels like they wrote the song and then said, “Hey let’s throw some sitar on it.”  It’s not enough to be exciting but too much to ignore.

This is not to say that these songs aren’t catchy.  I mean, geez, I still have “Can’t Stop Partying” in my head while I’m listening to something else.   Rivers knows how to write a pop trifle.  And the more he writes songs like this, it makes me thing that Pinkerton was the fluke.  Which is fine. The music world needs poppy songs, right?

[READ: early August 2011] various nonfictions

I thought about doing individual posts for all of Arthur Bradford’s non-fiction that’s available on his website (that’s right,  yet another author that I have read short uncollected pieces by without having read any of his bigger works–I’m looking at you Wells Tower).  Bradford has links to all of his nonfiction ( I assume) on his website.  There are 12 links in total.  One is to his blog (which I’m not reviewing).  The rest are for articles covering a pretty broad array of topics from a pretty broad variety of sources.  (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SHARON VAN ETTEN-Epic (2010).

Sharon Van Etten caught my attention with the song “Don’t Do It,” which I love.  The rest of this album doesn’t have the intensity of that song, but rather, it gets under your skin with some great songs and interesting and subtle textures.

There’s only seven songs (running time just over 30 minutes), so “epic” is kind of a joke.  But she packs a lot into these songs.  The opening two songs are about 3 minutes each, and they are great alt-folk songs, especially “Peace Signs.”  They are sparse but effective.

“Save Yourself” adds more instrumentation, including a slide guitar.  But it’s the harmonies that really make the song great.  “DsharpG” is a cooly brooding song that never wears out its 6 minute length.   And “One Day” also has major potential to be a hit.

Of course for me the highlight is still “Don’t Do It” which gives me goosebumps with each listen.

What’s really impressive about the disc is how on the surface it seems like a simple folk album and yet every song has subtly different sounds and textures to makes this a really complex recording.

[READ: February 16, 2011] “Homeless in Sacramento”

Vollmann wrote a lengthy piece about death in the November issue of Harper’s.  Now, four months later, he’s back with an 18 page (!) article about homelessness. Now, normally I wouldn’t read an article about homelessness, because, well, because its a major bummer, but also because there isn’t anything that I can do about it and it doesn’t seem like there’s much new to say about it.

But I decided recently that I was going to try to read Vollmann whenever I encountered him, since it was unlikely that I’d ever go back and read his vast output.  So, here I am.

Vollmann does, in fact, manage to say something new about the homeless.  He begins by explaining that the house he bought had a vacant lot next to it.  And he has been tacitly encouraging homeless people to sleep there when they need to.  He has learned to like many of them and he finds that the frequent users have become “friends”–as much as you can in that situation. (more…)

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