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Archive for the ‘Jealousy’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: KIRILL GERSTEIN-Tiny Desk Concert #958 (March 11, 2020).

I can’t really keep track of classical pianists. There are so many who are truly amazing.  But I love hearing them.  I also like it when they have a good sense of humor, which most of them seem to have.

The last time pianist Kirill Gerstein was at NPR we gave him a full-size, grand piano to play in a big recording studio. But for this Tiny Desk performance, we scaled him down to our trusty upright. “What will you ask me to play the next time,” he quipped, “a toy piano?”

Even if we had handed him a pint-sized instrument, I’m sure Gerstein could make it sing. Just listen to how Chopin’s lyrical melodies, built from rippling notes and flamboyant runs, flow like a song without words in Gerstein’s agile hands.

What sets Gerstein apart?  Perhaps its his connection to jazz.

The 40-year-old pianist, born in Voronezh, Russia, taught himself to play jazz by listening to his parents’ record collection. A chance meeting with vibraphonist Gary Burton landed him a scholarship to study jazz at Boston’s Berklee College of Music. At age 14, Gerstein was the youngest to enroll at the institution.

He opens the set with Chopin: “Waltz in A-flat, Op. 42.”  It is fast and amazing with some slow, jaunty parts.  Near the end, wow, doe he pound out those bass chords.

Before the second piece he says that it hasn’t been heard on a recording yet–it’s a newly written piece by Thomas Adès.  Two lovers want to hide in the closet and … sleep with each other.  They emerge dead in the morning, so its lascivious and morbid and a very beautiful piece.

The Berceuse for solo piano was written for Gerstein by Thomas Adès, adapted from his 2016 opera The Exterminating Angel. The work, both brooding and beautiful, receives its premiere recording at the Tiny Desk.

It is slow and beautiful, full of sadness and longing.  Until the end when the bass comes pounding and rumbling, full of ominous threat and dread.  And listen to how long he lets those last bass notes ring out!

Up next is a piece by Liszt who I am particularity fond of (even if I only know a few of his pieces).  Gerstein says that Liszt is perhaps the greatest composer that ever touched the instrument.  There are several hundred not famous pieces.  This is a late piece called “A quick Hungarian march.”  Technically it’s called “Ungarischer Geschwindsmarsch”

Gerstein follows by dusting off a truly neglected – and quirky – Hungarian March by Franz Liszt. To my knowledge it’s been recorded only once.

It is jaunty and spirited until the middle where it goes back and forth between fast runs and bouncy melodies.

Since I hadn’t read about his jazz background the first time I listened to this concert I was really surprised when he said he’d be playing the Gershwin-Earl Wild standard “Embraceable You” which he says is for dessert at this lunchtime concert.

Gerstein’s jazz background is still close to his heart. Which brings us to his lovely-rendered closer: Gershwin’s “Embraceable You,” arranged by the American pianist Earl Wild.

Like all master performers, Gerstein gives you the illusion that he’s making it all up as he goes along, even though the virtuosic transcription is intricately mapped out. And somehow, he makes that upright piano sound nine feet long.

It really does sound like he is working on the fly–playing beautiful runs. It’s hard to imagine transcribing and learning all of those notes instead of just improvising them, but that’s what make a great pianist, I guess.

[READ: November 2019] The Abyss

I saw this book at work and thought, a turn of the 20th century Russian author writing about the Abyss?  What’s not to like?

I had not heard of Leonid Andreyev, perhaps because much of his work has not been translated into English.  He died in 1919 and is considered “the leading exponent of the Silver Age of Russian literature.”

This book was translated by Hugh Aplin and it is remarkable how contemporary these stories sound (aside from obviously nineteenth and twentieth century details).

Bargamot and Garaska (1898)
Bargamot was a policeman–a big, thick-headed policeman.  His superiors called him numskull.  But the people on the streets he looked after were quite fond of him because he knew the area and what he knew he knew very well.  This story is set on Easter Saturday night.  People would soon be going to church.  But he was on duty until three o’ clock and he wouldn’t be able to eat until then. The day was going smoothly and he would soon be home until he saw Garaksa, clearly drunk, heading his way: “Where he had managed to get sozzled before daylight constituted his secret, but that he had got sozzled was beyond all doubt.”  Bargamot threatened to send Garaska to the station, but Garaska talked to him about the festivities of the day and was about to present to him an egg (a Russian custom).  But Bargamot’s rough handling smashed the egg.  This story turns surprisingly tender and sad, with a rather touching final line.

A Grand Slam (1899)
This has nothing to do with baseball.  It is about a card game called Vint, which is similar to bridge.  For six years these four people have been playing it: fat hot-tempered Maslennikov (whose name is Nikolai Dmitriyevich, we find out about five pages in) paired with old man Yakov Ivanovich and Yevpraksia Vasilyevna paired with her gloomy brother Prokopy Vailyevich.  Dmitriyevich desperately wanted a grand slam but he had been paired with Yakov Ivanovich who never took risks. Ivanovich was very conservative and never bet more than four–even when he ran an entire trick, he never bet more than four–you never know what might happen. They speak of news and local happenings (like the Dreyfus Affair), but Dmitriyevich stays focused on the game because his cards are lining up for a Grand Slam.  As he goes for that last card, he falls out of his chair, presumably dead.

Silence (1900)
This story is divided into sections.  Fr. Ignaty and his wife need to speak with their daughter Vera. They have a fight and Fr. Ignaty refuses to speak to her any more.  Soon enough she goes out and throws herself under a train [I would hate to be a train conductor in Russia].  In Part II silence has fallen over the house.  In Part III he tries to talk to his wife about his feelings and his sadness over their daughter, but she remains silent.  In the final part, Fr Ignaty finally breaks down.  But is it the silence that has gotten to him?

Once Upon a Time There Lived (1901)
Laventy Petrovich was a large man. He went to Moscow for someone in the city to look at his unusual illness.  He was a silent and morose man and he specifically asked for no visitors.  The hospital assigned Fr. Deacon to him.  Fr. Deacon was another patient, unfailingly positive.  He and Petrovich were at opposite sides of the spectrum.  But even as it became clear that Fr. Deacon was deathly ill, he remained positive.  Until Petrovich told him that the doctors said that Fr. Deacon has a week to live.  There was also a young student who was daily visited by the girl he loved.  They liked Fr deacon and did not like Petrovich. I’m not sure if the ending is a surprise, but it is certainly sudden with happiness doled out in very specific ways.

A Robbery in the Offing (1902)
That night there was to be a robbery and maybe a murder.  A man, alone with his thought is scared by nearly everything–he is very jumpy because he is the one about to do the robbery.  The man was frightened by a noise until he saw it was a little puppy.  The puppy was shivering and the man tried to frighten him to get him to go home. But the puppy seemed too ignore him.  So began the battle of wits between a big strong man and a tiny freezing puppy.  Imagine a man with a robbery in the offing worrying about a little puppy.

The Abyss (1902)
Two young lovers went for a walk.  Zinochka was 17 and very much in love.  Nemovetsky was 21 and similarly in love.  They wandered into an area they didn’t recognize and happened upon three men.  The men punched Nemovetsky and knocked him out then they chased Zinochka . When he came to, he found her body, naked but still alive.  This was a hard story to read.

Ben Tobit (1903)
This was one of the first stories in the book that I really really liked.  It is set on the day of Jesus Christ’s crucifixion.  On that day, Jerusalem merchant Ben Tobit had a terrible toothache.  Ben was a kind man and did not like injustice, but it was hard to be kind with this much pain.  His wife tried to help by giving him various medicines (like purified rat droppings). She then tried to distract him when the thieves came trudging past on their way to the crucifixion site.  It distracted him somewhat but mostly didn’t interest him.  She said, “They say he healed the blind.”  He replied, “If only he’d cure this toothache of mine!.”  The next day he felt better and they walked to the site to see what they missed.

Phantoms (1904)
Yegor Timofeyevich had gone mad so his relatives collected money to send him to a clinic.  He knew he was in a madhouse but also knew that he could make himself incorporeal and walk wherever he wanted.  He was exceedingly happy. There was a patient who would continually knock on any locked door.  He would walk through all the unlocked doors but when he got to a locked one he would knock and knock and knock.

There was a doctor’s assistant the hospital named Maria Astafeevna, whom Yegor was certain liked him.  He thought very highly of her.  But another man Petrov could say nothing nice about her.  He felt that she was like all women: debauched deceitful and mocking. This attitude upset Yegor tremendously.  Maria was actually in love with Dr Shevyrov. But she hated that he went to Babylon–where he drank three bottles of champagne each night until 5 AM.  She imagined that one day she would ask to be his wife bit only if he stopped going there.

The man Petrov was also terrified of his mother, believing that she had bribed officials to lock him up. He would become hysterical when she would visit.  It was only Yegor’s assurances to her that her son was a decent man that made her feel okay.

Most days things went on exactly the same, the same faces, the same conversation and the same knocking.

The Thief (1904)
Fyodor Yurasov was a thrice-convicted thief.  While on the train, even though he had plenty of money, he stole a gentleman;s purse.  As he tried to blend in, he imagined everyone thought he was an honest, young German (he came up with the name Heinrich Walter).  But when he tried to be civil, everyone ignored him.  Some were downright rude to him.  Later when he hears that the gendarme are looking for someone, he assumed it is he.

Lazarus (1906)
This story looks at what Lazarus’ life was like after he came back–appearing a few days dead and with a shorter temper.  People understood and forgave him, but still.  Soon, however, people began to avoid him and claimed that all of the madmen in the village were people whom Lazarus had looked upon.   It’s such an interesting (if exceeding dark) tale that no one bothered to investigate before.

A Son of Man (1909)
As Fr. Ivan Bogoyavlensky grew older he grew more disatisfied with his role in life.  He wanted to remove his surname and replace it with a five-digit number (The church elders assumed he’d gone mad).  He then bought a gramophone and listened only to stories of Jewish and Armenian life.  His wife hated it and it drove their puppy mad (?!).  Indeed he kept trying to get the puppies to listen to the gramophone and they consistently went crazy and eventually died.  The church sent a deacon to help Fr Ivan through this but he the deacon and Fr Ivan butted heads immediately.  Fr Ivan began mocked everything about their religion.

Incaution (1910)
A priest arrived at a railway station and saw a steam engine for the first time. There was no one around, so he climbed aboard.  It wouldn’t be dangerous to flick some switches and pull some levers.  Would it?

Peace (1911)
A dignitary was dying and an devil–an ordinary devil–came to his bedside offering him eternal life in hell.  The man didn’t want to suffer but the devil said that suffering was terrible until you got used to it and then it was nothing.  The devil makes a stronger and stronger case if only the man would take this pen and sign.

Ipatov (1911)
Nikolai Ipatov was a rich merchant who went bankrupt. Soon he became silent and despondent.  The local priest chastised him saying that the house of god was a house of joy.  He refused to let the merchant back in until he grew happy again.  Which he didn’t.  Eventually his children took over the situation and and put his house up for sale.  But when someone came to look at the house, they heard Ipatov’s moaning and grew existential realizing that a man without guilt could still be afflicted this way.

The Return (1913)
The narrator had been in a cell n St Peterburg for three years because of a political incident.  His wife, who was supposed to be waiting for him in a hotel room had stepped out with another man.  He hired a cab to follow them.  They kept driving around and around, some streets seeming to stretch on endlessly.  Then the cab driver told him that they had been at the same intersection many times.  He finally arrived at the gate and when he banged on it, who should open the gate but his prison guard.

The Flight (1914)
Yury Mikhailovich was an experienced pilot.  Twenty eight flights and no troubles.   He always felt, “If I crash, I crash, nothing to be done about it.”  Despite everything he had on earth, he longed to be up ion the sky…possibly forever.  It’s incredible that Andreyev wrote a story like this in 1914!

 

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81HkprYowjLSOUNDTRACK: SNOH AALEGRA-Tiny Desk Concert #947 (February 18, 2020).

maxresdefault (2)In what seems to be a new trend at the Tiny Desk, here’s another artist whom I’ve never heard of somehow and who manages to cram five songs into 16 minutes.  (I won’t complain about the length of this show because it’s not that long, but everyone knows you get three songs).

The most fascinating things about Snoh is that she is Iranian-Swedish.  And that her band is enormous.  And that they all have great names like: O’Neil “Doctor O” Palmer on keys, George “Spanky” McCurdy on drums and Thaddaeus Tribbett on bass.  There’s also Jef Villaluna on guitar whose name isn’t that crazy,

Unfortunately her songs and albums have terrible names.

Her new album is called Ugh, those feels again and her previous album is called Feels. (and she’s not even millennial).  And then the third song is called “Whoa.”  Good grief,

“Whoa” is a sweet love song that is detailed but not explicit.  Except the chorus which is “you make me feel like, whoa.”

The rest of her songs have a very delicate soft-rock vibe.  Especially with the string section of Ashley Parham on violin, Johnny Walker, Jr. on cello, Asali McIntyre on violin and Brandon Lewis on viola.

But apparently that’s not what her music typically sounds like.

On this day in particular, Aalegra’s tracks were stripped of their punchier, album-version kick drums and trap echoes. In their absence, it’s Aalegra’s delicate vocal runs and chemistry with her supporting singers that resonated most. “I Want You Around” and “Whoa,” which usually rest on a bed of glitchy, spiraling production, felt lighter thanks to the dreamy string section.

All of the songs featured her backing vocalists Ron Poindexter and Porsha Clay,  but they were especially prominent on “Fool For You” which ran all of two minutes.

Snoh seemed a little too cool up there, which did not endear me to her.  Her voice is certainly pretty though, even if I didn’t like her songs.

[READ: March 15, 2020] Best Friends

This book is a sequel of sorts to Real Friends.

It continues the story of young Shannon in sixth grade and how she deals with the minefields that middle school can present.

The same cast is back–the good and bad friends, the girls and boys and all of the insecurities that are practically a character in themselves.

As the book opens, Shannon realizes that she and her friends are not really in sync. She can’t keep up with the pop songs that they like–how do they always know the newest cool song (her family doesn’t listen to pop music so she is way out of the loop).

But aside form that, things seem good.  Shannon is best friends with Jen, the most popular girl in their class.  And since they are the oldest grade in school, Jen is therefore the most popular girl in school.

But the girls are always sniping at each other or trying to get Shannon so say nasty things about one of the other girls behind her back (while the girl was listening).  Shannon never did, though, because she is really a good person.  Something the other girls could use some help with, (more…)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 [READ: August 2019] American Housewife

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

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

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

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SOUNDTRACK: ALLEN BAEKELAND-“Drinkin’ Ex and Askin’ Why” (Moose: The Compilation, 1991).

Back in the 1990s, it was common to buy a compilation or soundtrack or even a band’s album based on one song.  Only to then find that you didn’t really like anything else on it.

Maybe that single sounded like nothing else on the album.  Maybe the movie was almost entirely one genre, but they had that one song that you liked over the credits.  Or maybe the compilation was for something but a song you really wanted was on it, too.

With streaming music that need not happen anymore.  Except in this case.

I bought this compilation used recently exclusively for one song, Rheostatics’ “Woodstuck.”  The compilation was not well documented, so i didn’t know what the other bands on it might sound like.

This is a country song.  You can tell by the fantastic title “Drinkin’ Ex and Askin’ Why”  But it also contains everything else about a country song–slow, kinda mopey, pedal steel guitar and bad grammar with lyric about beer.

There is one saving grace that elevates this above a typical country song. Allen Baekeland is from Toronto and not the south of the U.S.  So his voice doesn’t twang.

This actually sounds kind of like a Negativland song–like a parody of a country song, even though it’s not.

And because it’s from Canada, it’s amusing to hear the line “yea I’m a grown man so I won’t cry / instead I reach into my two-four / for one more / and sit here and get pissed.”

In the 1990s Allen Baekeland started The Rembetika Hipsters who are still active today.

[READ: July 21, 2019] “She Said He Said”

In this story Sushilia was walking in the park.  She saw Mateo and his male assistant sitting on a bench.  Mateo worked for her husband Len for over ten years.

Mateo was very drunk though, and he greeted her by kissing her checks and then asking if she would sleep with him–right now, at his place.  He said he’d always found her sexy but was too nervous to say anything to her.

Obviously, she was shocked by this.  She was friendly with Mateo’s wife Marcie and considered her a confidante.  She chalked this behavior up to drunkenness.

But the next morning Mateo saw her again in the supermarket.  He was sober and yet he reiterated his desire.  He said she must be bored with Len after all these years. She kept her temper but pointedly refused his advances.

Then she called Len and told him what happened. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE TALLEST MAN ON EARTH-“I’m a Stranger Now” (2019).

I’ve enjoyed The Tallest Man on Earth and I’ve been looking forward to seeing him live for a while.  I’ve actually had really back luck with his tours.  One time something came up on the night I was supposed to see him.  Another time he had to cancel his tour.  But, with luck, I will get to see Kristian Matsson live.

The Tallest Man on Earth sings simple folk songs.  The greatness of his songs comes from his voice and delivery.  There’s something about his voice and his style that is steeped in American folk, but the fact that he’s from Sweden changes his outlook and his accent.

This song from his album I Love You, It’s a Fever Dream follows in the style he is known for–spare, simple melodies and his often wordy lyrics.

Starting with fast acoustic chords (played high on the neck), Kristian begins singing in his familiar but unique style.  The bridge ends with a fast vocal melody that is a pure hook that leads to the singalong titular chorus.

After three minutes, the song slows down to a quiet guitar melody and near-whispered vocals.

[READ: May 1, 2019] The Man on Platform 5

I know Robert Llewellyn from the show Red Dwarf, of which I am a huge fan.

In fact, I didn’t know anything about this story, but I figured if Kryten wrote it, it must be good.  I had read his memoir, the wonderfully titled Thin He Was and Filthy Haired, and I was sure I had read this at the time as well.  But evidently not, because when I started flipping through it I realized I didn’t know a thing about this story.  I also see that he has written quite a lot more in the last two decades.

It seems fairly obvious from the get go that this story is a gender reversing story of Pygmalion or My Fair Lady.  Instead of a man trying to improve a woman, in this story, a woman is trying to “improve” a man.  In some ways it’s very modern and progressive and in other ways it’s pretty stuck in gender stereotypes.  But hey it was the 90’s, before writers were enlightened.

The man who needs bettering is Ian Ringfold.  He is a trainspotter!  (I love that Llewellyn made that his hobby as I have heard of it but never knew exactly what it entailed).  He loves obscure facts, dry goods (he works in a supermarket) and being incredibly dorky.  He is deeply into what he likes and genuinely can’t understand why other people wouldn’t like those things.

Enter Gresham and Eupheme.  They are half-sisters and have spent pretty much their entire lives squabbling.  Their train breaks down on the same platform that Ian is currently trainspotting.  Eupheme, the more humane one of the two, bets Gresham that she can turn this sad “anorak” into a “useful member of society.”  Gresham says it cannot be done.  Eupheme (who is short on funds) says that if she can turn this loser into someone that Gresham would fancy that Gresham would pay her a tidy sum.  (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: TREY ANASTASIO-One Man’s Trash (1998).

This is Trey Anastasio’s first solo album. It is a 30 minute collection of odds and ends (hence the title) and experimental pieces.  There are some kernels of real songs and some simple noise experiments (most of which are shorter).

The first three songs are kernels of songs.  “Happy Coffee Song” is a simple blues riff with a guitar solo and scatting lyrics.  “Quantegy” is three minutes long.  It’s got a bass line like Led Zeppelin’s The Lemon Song but with Trey just narrating about quantegy and materials with synths behind him.  “Mister Completely” sounds like a Phish song with intertwining lines and a catchy riff.

“A Good Stalk” is the first of the experimental noise tracks.  Feedback and backwards drum sounds make a 50 second soundscape that does indeed sound like a “A Good Stalk.”

“That Dream Machine” is a fast looping guitar pattern that sounds like it could be a King Crimson melody from the 80s.  “The Way I Feel” introduces a funky bass line (with cowbell).   “Rofa Beton” is almost three minutes of soft but fast echoing drum patterns.

“For Lew (My Bodyguard)” brings lyrics into the songs again.  This song is about two minutes long, primarily keyboard washes and synths that follow the vocal line for

‘Cause Satan is real on the fainting couch,
I can feel my curved back sink into the hot orange light;
Feels good against my arms.

Mustard walls surround me like soldiers face to face
At the Battle of Trenton.
I can feel my curved back sink into the chapel pew.
While Maurice stands guard outside, no one can defy me.
No one can get by me with Maurice standing guard outside.

‘Cause Satan is real on the fainting couch.
Satan is real inside me,
From my head down to my kidney bean.

Yup.

It’s followed by three way experimental pieces.  “At The Barbecue” is a kind of free jazz saxophone/trumpet experimental piece.  “Tree Spine” is similar to “Stalk” with pulsing deep sounds and what could be the sound of insects eating a tree.  “Here’s Mud In Your Eye” is a minute of splashing sounds–made by mouth?

“The Real Taste of Licorice” returns to proper songs with a lively three minute acoustic guitar piece.

“And Your Little Dog Too” is the longest piece at 4 minutes.  It’s echoing drums and sound effects with Trey yelling in the background.  It sounds like it is meant to be almost a savage dance.

“Jump Rope (fast version)” is thirty five seconds of meandering keyboards and what sounds like fast whipping loops (yes, like a jump rope).  “Jump Rope (slow version)” is not a slowed down version of the above.  In this one the looping sound is like a slow moving UFO.

“Kidney Bean” closes the album.  The phrase kidney bean appeared earlier (in “For Lew”).  The return is an elliptical 30 second song with the loud monotone recitation of “Now we’re talking kidney bean.”

There’s not a lot here for the casual listener.  Or even for big fans.  It’s the kind of thing that would be released for free if that was something that could have happened in 1998. I suspect people were kind of pissed to have paid money for this.

But it is kind of fun, if you like weird Phish nonsense.

[READ: May 1, 2019] “Child’s Play”

Alice Munro is a master of the short story.  This story is utterly fantastic.  They way it is written and the stunning ending are mind-blowing.

The story more or less begins with an introduction to Marlene and Charlene.  They were not twins as people might have guessed (from their names).  They were not even related.  But they were at camp together and they bonded over their similar names.  They bonded over their physical similarities and differences.  They bonded over the camp counselor they didn’t like (Arva, “she even had an unpleasant name”).

Camp was religious, but it was United Church of Canada, so there wasn’t much talk of religion, exactly.  Mostly it was talk of being nice.  But Marlene had a story of being not nice.

There was a girl in Marlene’s neighborhood named Verna.  She was described as her neighbor’s granddaughter, but there was no evidence of Verna’s mother.  Marlene had an aversion to her right from the start.  She told her mother that she hated Verna.

Her mother’s standard reaction was “The poor thing.”  Marlene’s didn’t think her mother liked Verna either rather it was  “a decision she had made to spite me, she pretended to be sorry for her”  She said “How can you blame a person for the was she was born?” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: dvsn-Tiny Desk Concert #806 (November 19, 2018).

I love when an artist appears on a Tiny Desk and the blurb is going crazy with excitement and yet I have never heard of them.  When I saw the name dvsn I assumed it was a techno band.  But I couldn’t have been more wrong:

With a four-piece band and three pristine backup vocalists for support, singer Daniel Daley flexed his falsetto pipes and a shiny gold grill, running through a sampler of fan-favorites about breaking up, making up and trying to move on. The short-and-sweet set is an example of the kind of audible acrobatics you don’t often hear at contemporary R&B shows anymore. … Though it’s easy to mistake dvsn as simply the stage moniker of Daley, the act is really a Toronto-based duo comprised of the singer and Grammy Award-winning producer Nineteen85, the (almost) secret weapon behind the boards.

The band has only released two albums, so they’re not especially long-lived, but clearly they have fan-favorites.  And they’ve been playing live for a number of years”

When dvsn visited NPR for this Tiny Desk concert, it reminded me of the first time I saw them two years ago in New York City. They decided to wash the desk in vibrant blue, purple and orange lighting, brought in by dvsn’s team to make the space feel like a concert hall. And while the audience at NPR was almost as densely packed as that NYC venue, it felt much like my live introduction to the group — grandiose in presentation, but at the same time, deliberately intimate in delivery.

They play three songs, “Too Deep” “Body Smile” and “Mood.”  Daniel Daley has an amazing falsetto–hitting crazy high notes almost randomly.  And thee lights are certainly a cool effect.  But these three songs are indistinguishable from countless cheesy-sounding R&B songs.

Of the three, “Body Smile” has the least amount of cheese–his voice sounds good and real and not smoove.

My favorite part of the Concert is actually after he says thank you and walks off because the band jams for an extra minute and they are great.  The guitarist plays a sick solo and then the band plays a gentle little jam to close out the show.

[READ: January 29, 2017] “Happyland”

This story behind this story is pretty fascinating.  Essentially he was inspired by the life of the American Girls creator Pleasant Rowland.  Although as he puts it in the introduction to the eventually-published book in 2013 (he wrote it in 2003), “I didn’t mean to write anything remotely controversial. A former doll and children’s book mogul started buying up property in a small town and the town got mad.  Wouldn’t this make a good novel, people kept asking me?”

He had friends who lived in the town that Pleasant was buying property in and told them not to send him any information about the story.  He didn’t want to write the story of Pleasant, he wanted to take that idea and write the story of Happy Masters a woman with a similar career but clearly a very different woman altogether.  He says, “To this day I know nothing of the real [doll mogul] that I didn’t learn over the phone, from lawyers.”

The original publisher, fearing imaginary unthreatened lawsuits, dropped the book.  As for the mogul herself she had no intention to sue. (more…)

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  SOUNDTRACK: THE RADIO DEPT.-Clinging to a Scheme (2010).

In this final book, Karl Ove mentions buying a record on a whim by The Radio Dept.  Given the timing of the book, I assume it’s this record.  So I’m going to give it a listen too.

I really enjoyed this record which has a feeling of a delicate My Bloody Valentine fronted by The Stone Roses.  The key word in all of this is delicate.  It’s a very soft and gentle record (except for one song).  It hits all the buttons of 90s Britpop and to me is just infectious.

“Domestic Scene” opens the disc with pretty guitars intertwining with an electronic thumping.  After the first listen I was sure the whole record was synthy, but this track has no synths at all, just like five or six guitar lines overdubbing–each opener just as pretty as the others.  The voice sound a lot the guys from The Stone Roses on the more delicate tracks.

“Heaven’s on Fire” opens with bouncy synths and a sampled (from where?) exchange:

People see rock n roll as youth culture.  When youth culture becomes monopolized by big business what are the youth to do.  Do you have any idea?
I think we should destroy the bogus capitalist process that is destroying youth culture.

Then come the jangling guitars and the introduction of synths.

“This Time Around” has a cool high bass line (and what sounds like a second bass line). I love the overlapping instruments on this record.  I couldn’t decide if it was a solo album or a huge group, so I was surprised to find it’s a trio.

“Never Follow Suit” continues this style but in the middle it adds a recorded voice of someone speaking about writing.

“A Token of Gratitude” has some lovely guitars swirling around and a percussion that sounds like a ping-pong ball or a tap dancer.   The last half of the song is a soothing gentle My Bloody Valentine-sque series of washes and melody.

“The Video Dept.” is full of jangly guitars and gentle blurry vocals while “Memory Loss” has some muted guitar notes pizzicatoing along and then what sounds like a muted melodica.

David is the one song that sounds different from the rest.  It has strings and synth stabs and drums that are way too loud.  Most of the songs don’t have drums at all, but these are deliberately recorded too loud and are almost painful.

The final two songs include “Four Months in the Shade” which is an instrumental.  It is just under 2 minutes of pulsing electronics that segues into the delicate album closer “You Stopped Making Sense.”  This song continues with the melody and gentleness of the previous songs and concludes the album perfectly.

I really enjoyed this record a lot.  It’s not groundbreaking at all, but it melds some genres and styles into a remarkably enjoyable collection.

[READ: September and October 2018] My Struggle Book Six

Here is the final book in this massive series.  It was funny to think that it was anticlimactic because it’s not like anything else was climactic in the series either.  But just like the other books, I absolutely could not put this down (possibly because I knew it was due back at the library soon).

I found this book to be very much like the others in that I really loved when he was talking conversationally, but I found his philosophical musings to be a bit slower going–and sometimes quite dull.

But the inexplicable center of this book is a 400 plus page musing on Hitler.  I’ll mention that more later, but I found the whole section absolutely fascinating because he dared to actually read Mein Kampf and to talk about it at length.  I’m sure this is because he named his series the same name in Norwegian.  He tangentially compares Hitler to himself as well–but only in the way that a failed person could do unspeakable things.

But in this essay, he humanizes Hitler without making him any less of an evil man.  His whole point is that in order to fully appreciate/understand Hitler’s evil, you have to realize that he was once an ordinary person.  A teenager who had dreams about becoming an artist, a boy who was afraid of sex and germs.  If you try to make him the inherent embodiment of evil, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that he was a child, a teen, a young man who was not always evil.

Why Karl Ove does this is a bit of a mystery especially contextually, but it was still a fascinating read especially when you see how many things gibe with trump and how he acts and behaves–especially his use of propaganda.  It’s easy to see how people could be swayed by evil ideas (and this was written before trump was even a candidate). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: GUSTER-Live Acoustic (2013).

There was one more Live Guster release around the time of those three full album recordings.

This one is called Live Acoustic and it comes from a tour in 2012.  There’s no dates or locations assigned to the songs and indeed they are all done acoustically.

The most notable aspect of this disc is that none of the rockers are included.  This is good because it means they aren’t trying to strip those songs down.  But at the same time, it means that the disc never really takes off like a Guster show would.  It’s not all ballads, mind you–most of the songs from Easy Wonderful that are included are uptempo, and of course “Satellite” is a super fun single, but there’s nothing like “Fa Fa” or “Barrel of a Gun” or “Amsterdam.”  It speaks volumes to Guster’s songwriting skills that I didn’t even miss these favorites until I really looked at the track listing.

They include songs from all of their albums (except Parachute which was all acoustic) and a “deep B side” from the Satellite EP.

For the most part these songs sound great in an acoustic setting.  My only quibble is that some of the songs have really great orchestration which I miss (but that’s personal preference I suspect).  A bunch of the songs have strings which are a nice addition, especially on a song like “Either Way” and the amazing wild violin solo in “Satellite.”  This reminds me of when we saw them with Kishi Bashi and he played the violin on “Satellite”

The one really nice factor is that with everything stripped away, the guys’ voices sound really powerful.  And as I say, because the tone is somewhat mellow the song selection works to this and you don’t miss the bigger songs.  Plus any show that ends with “This Could All Be Yours” is a great one.

  • Backyard [KEEPIT]
  • Do You Love Me [EASYWON]
  • Long Way Down [KEEPIT]
  • That’s No Way to Get to Heaven [EASYWON]
  • What You Call Love [EASYWON]
  • Beginning of the End [GANGING]
  • Diane [KEEPIT]
  • Rocketship [GOLDFLY]
  • Empire State [GANGING]
  • Rise and Shine [SATELLITE EP]
  • Two Points for Honesty [LOSTANDGONE]
  • Either Way [LOSTANDGONE]
  • Satellite [GANGING]
  • Rainy Day [LOSTANDGONE]
  • Hang On [GANGING]
  • This Could All Be Yours [EASYWON]

[READ: January 19, 2017] “Maybe It Was the Distance”

I enjoyed this story so much, I could have read twice as much (and it was pretty long).

This is the story of a Jewish family: Irv and his 43-year-old son (Jacob) and 11-year-old grandson (Max).  It begins very amusingly with them heading to the Washington National Airport (they refuse to call it Reagan National).  Irv also hates NPR (which they were listening to) because of the flamboyantly precious out-of-no-closet sissiness and the fact that they had a balanced segment on new settlement construction in the West Bank.

The first half of the car ride devolves into an argument between the three of them about opinions and Jewishness.  Jacob is frustrated by his father and Max is both precocious and still a child–it’s all very funny.  Especially when they argue while the light is green.

They were heading to the airport to pick up their Israeli cousins.  They were picking up Tamir, who was Jacob’s age, and his son Barak.  Jacob and Tamir’s grandfathers were brothers in a Galician shtetl that was overlooked by the Nazis.

Issac (Irv and Jacob’s family) moved to America while Benny (Tamir’s family) moved to Israel.  They would visit every few years.  Isaac would show off his American lifestyle and then spend two weeks complaining about Benny after they’d left.  And then Isaac died (he had outlived cancer and Gentiles). Tamir surprised everyone by coming in for the funeral.

Jacob discussed Isaac with Tamir and said that basically he did exactly same thing every day (and the details are very funny, if not sad). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: DARLINGSIDE-Tiny Desk Concert #739 (May 4, 2018).

I genuinely can’t believe that Darlingside hasn’t done a Tiny Desk Concert before as they are a perfect band for it–four guys playing primarily acoustic instruments, singing gorgeous harmonies around one microphone–perfect..

But here they are for the first time sounding somehow bigger than they do live (must be the small space and the surprisingly loud bass).

If you’re Darlingside and you have three albums out (but two that fans really love) and you can only play three songs, what do you choose? You must choose something from Birds Say, of course, but what?

They chose “The God of Love” one of several gorgeous songs on the album and a showcase for Don Mitchell’s 12 string guitar and Auyon Mukharji’s violin.

I did not know that

“The God of Loss” was inspired by the Arundhati Roy book The God of Small Things, and by the main character’s attempts to preserve humanity in the face of competing forces.

As is standard practice, Harris Paseltiner give the opening introduction.  He speaks of being up since five and drinking decaf and eating a delicious quiche.  Don quips, “don’t worry you only have to hear about Harris’ morning in minute detail, not he rest of us.”

And then it’s time to move on to the new album.  The current single “The Best of the Best of Times” allows them to show off the new electronic gizmo that adds sounds to the album as well as Auyon’s mandolin.  It’s also really catchy, and Don throws in all kinds of unexpected dissonance with that little electronic thingy.

Auyon introduces the band by saying how they are similar to Bob Boilen (I did a little research on the internet).

Don: Tiny Desk Concert is named after a band that Bob was part of (Tiny Desk Unit) with a friend named Michael Barron.  Don has a friend named Michael with whom he plays music (Michael Cohen, different Michael, same idea).

Don: has a friend name Michael who whom he played music.  (Michael Cohen, different Michael, same Idea)

Harris: Bob grew up around Italian people and uses his hands to speak.  So does Harris.

Dave: thinks about the sound of words and how good it feels to say things and Bob’s “stage name” Bob Boilen is very pleasant to say so they probably gave that in common.

Auyon: Bob sometimes wears bolo ties I also sometimes wear bolo ties.

The end the set with Harris on cello and Auyon on violin playing the gorgeous, melancholy “Extra life” which

starts off the album with these lines:

“It’s over now
The flag is sunk
The world has flattened out
Under the under grow
I’ve always found
A level further down
As I begin to lose hold of
The fiery flowerbeds above
Mushroom clouds reset the sky
Extralife”

After the string-filled opening Harris jumps back to guitar and Auyon is back on mandolin while Dave Senft is playing the little electronic gadget this time

The opening is nearly a capella so that when the band kicks in, the full instrumentation on the second verse, it feels huge.

Through these end-of-time lyrics comes deep appreciation for what we have and what’s worth holding on to. And through it all Darlingside’s humor shines, with in-between chatter about quiche and common bonds. Don’t miss this band’s music. This is the perfect introduction to Darlingside, right here.

Every time I’ve heard them they’ve been great.  The only downside to this show is that it’s so short.

[READ: March 30, 2018] “Find the Edges”

This was a very sad, rather short story about death and a family disintegrating.

The central metaphor of putting a puzzle together was really effective without being obvious.

His wife loved jigsaw puzzles.  She always said to find the edges and work your way in. But the kitchen table, which usually held her puzzles was now filled with papers, bills for wreaths and the like.  Also on the table was a pie from the Rendons next store. (more…)

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