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Archive for the ‘New Yorker’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: FLOCK OF DIMES-Tiny Desk Concert #246 (August 10, 2021).

Flock of Dimes is a fun band name.  It’s the solo project of Wye Oak’s Jenn Wasner (I thought Wye Oak was a solo project as well–no, it’s a duo).  [Gee, why wasn’t Andy Stack invited to this sing along?]

For this Home Concert, the solo project turns huge with nine people sitting around having a big ol’ sing along (I’ll assume they are all vaccinated and that this was filmed before Delta took off).

The setup is pretty simple: three guitars (I love that the guys on the couch are lefty (Michael Libramento, baritone guitar) and righty (Alan Good Parker, tenor guitar) so it looks appealingly symmetrical). some percussion and a lot of voices (the men on the right of the screen seems somewhat less invested).

The friends who are singing along include the three singers from Mountain Man: Amelia Randall Meath, Molly Sarlé and Alexandra Sauser-Monnig.  Meath is also in Sylvan Esso and her bandmate Nick Sanborn is also present (he’s one of the less invested men).  The set is filmed at Sylvan Esso’s new studio in Durham, N.C., called Betty’s.

“Two” is a bouncy number with lots of percussion.  I like the way the backing singers join in from time to time, but not constantly–it introduces new voices throughout.

One of the invested men is percussionist Matthew McCaughan from Bon Iver–he’s got a full complement of instruments at hand.  Joe Westerland (from Megafaun) is the other percussionist, he’s just a bit more subtle in his actions, but you can see him gently tapping through “Two.”

“Price of Blue” is a little slower but it has a wonderful melody.  The harmonies really standout on this song.

I don’t know the originals of these songs, but I have to assume the blurb is correct

These acoustic performances actually shed new light, thanks to radiant and radically different arrangements, while fully capturing the warmth we look for from Tiny Desk concerts.

Whatever the case, the backing vocals are tremendous.  You can really hear Molly Sarlé’s gorgeous harmony vocals.

“Awake For The Sunrise” feels like an old fashioned fire side sing along.  I’ve enjoyed Wye Oak’s music but I don’t know it very well.  I rather like Wassner’s delivery here–but i feel like these songs might not be as good without these harmonies!

[READ: August 12, 2021] New Teeth

I’m guessing that Simon Rich had a baby.

This collection of stories is loaded with stories about little kids.  And that’s all right because he has a very funny take on being a parent.

The other stories tackle the corporate environment and are full of fish-out-of-water stories.

“Learning the Ropes” is about being a new parent.  But it is written from the point of view of two pirates. And hilarity ensues.

What’s odd to me is that in his first books, his stories were really short, but I feel like lately his stories have gotten much longer–sometimes too long.  This one in particular kind of dragged at times, because it’s pretty much a one-note joke: what? pirates raising a little girl?!  One pirate is a concerned parent which means he wants them both to care about the child.  It’s got a few very funny moments, and of course, when the pirates who speak in pirate style (“The only man I trust is me first mate”) say things like “Arr… it be called ‘limit testing.’ She be acting out because she be craving discipline,” well, that’s classic Simon Rich right there. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK BEN HOWARD-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #245 (August 9, 2021).

I don’t really know who Ben Howard is.  he is not one of “The Bens” (that was Ben Folds, Ben Kweller and Ben Lee).  For this Tiny Desk (Home) Concert it’s just him and his guitars.  But the blurb suggests the album these songs are from is quite different.

Having spent time with Collections from the Whiteout, Ben Howard’s sonically adventurous fourth album, I was curious to see how he would adapt these songs to the Tiny Desk (home) concert format. So when the opening shot shows Ben in a room alone, an acoustic guitar in hand, it was both an “oh yeah!” and an “uh-oh” moment. Gone were all those textures that he, Aaron Dessner, and a load of talented musicians had worked on, but front and center was that delicate, reflective voice that I love. It’s a voice that, in the recent past, was often swarming in effects and buried in reverb.

Ben plays four songs.  The first, “Follies Fixtures” is on acoustic guitar.

So as Ben Howard opens his Tiny Desk with the album’s opening track, I found myself zeroing in on the oblique and painterly images of “Follies Fixtures”: “Walk with me to the burning spire. / We can count the dеad on Ender’s pyre. / The dusty towns whеre the number’s found / Don’t quite match the missing.”

This song reminds me of Jose Gonzales in this format.

Howard then switches to electric guitar for the rest of the songs.  He adds drum machine for “Far Out.”

“Thanks for having me and allowing me to play the slight variations of songs that I’m forced to settle with at the moment,” Ben says, and with that he kicks on the drum machine …. Watch those fingers on the guitar and hear that tone. “Far Out,” indeed.

His guitar playing is really something in this song, with soft chords and lot so harmonics as well as great use of the low note riffage in between.

“I I Forget Where We Were” is a moody song–he creates soft chords that swell as he sings.

He later premieres a new tune, “Oldest Trick In The Book.”

He laughs saying he just spent the last ten minutes tuning his guitar so we’ll be happy to know he’s in tune.

This song is the slowest with some really deep resonating bass notes (and no drum machine).  It’s fun watching hi play a solo and low notes at the same time with his finger picking style.

[READ: July 15, 2021] “Bear Meat”

This very short story was translated from the Italian by Alessandra Bastagli.

It begins with the comment that spending evenings in a mountain hut after a four- five- or six hour climb is pretty wonderful. The people you find there don’t speak much.  But these clumbers should not be confused with the ones who do speak a lot–hot shot clumbers, extreme climbers.  The adventurers may be worthy but this story is not about them.

The narrator arrived and there were several men there–eating and drinking.  Once the wine began flowing (at that altitude and temperature it is a metabolic necessity) they began talking about their initiation into serious climbing. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: IRIS-Verftet Online Music Festival 2020 (April 1, 2020).

In April 2020, Norway’s Verftet Music Festival streamed an online concert:

Get ready for Verftet Online Music Festival, Bergen’s largest virtual concert festival, where we can enjoy great music together. We want to turn despair and frustration into innovation and positivity, and invite everyone to a digital festival experience out of the ordinary – right home in your own living room.

I was completely unfamiliar with Iris, but she was the only other singer whose set was still streaming.  Because Aurora is a Norwegian singer in the same range, I feel like Iris’ voice sounds similar to hers.  But that’s a lazy comparison.

I suspect that she is a bit more poppy than this set lets on.  Like the Silja Sol set, it feels like a more “unplugged” kind of show.

It opens with “crawl for me” with she her singing to a guitar.  It’s quiet and powerful.  The rest of the band comes out for “mercy” which is “how i would like to to not show me any.”  There are washes of guitar s and keys, including a very cool, almost sinister keyboard sound in the end.

A cellist arrives for “kroppsspråk” which is a cover of a Lars Vaular song.  It’s kind of rapped–but in Iris’s more singing way.  It seems like the original is very dancey and she has dialed it back.

After a gentle piano solo version of “giving in” (her voice is lovely in the spare setting), she played “from inside a car,” my favorite song of the set which  has a breathy quality that I really like.

Then she throws in a Beatles cover.  “Here, There and Everywhere” is a beautiful gentle cover with just her voice and an acoustic guitar.

“hidden springs” stays with the acoustic sound, but she moved to a more techie processed vocal for “your mind, the universe.”  She has a few technical glitches for this song but when they are resolved her voice sounds very cool as it starts and then turns into a much bigger song.

As they prepare the next song she jokes that you shouldn’t eat crackers in bed, which proves to be the opening line of “hanging around you/crackers,” a sweet sounding breakup song.

Before the final song she mentions that all of her band is wearing band T-shirts: Iron Maiden, Metallica, Kiss and um, Reservoir Dogs(?).  It’s an amusing look for such a gentle show.

Before starting “romance is dead” she encourages everyone to visit my You Tube channel for recipes.  This set ending song is soft and lovely, just piano and strings and her beautiful voice.

[READ: July 15, 2021] “Road Trips”

When David was a kid, his father rallied the families on their street in Raleigh to plant maple trees.  For years they were tiny, pathetic things.  Now, decades later they are tall and majestic creating a canopy down the street where his father still lives.

He was home visiting his father who brought him to a block party.  At the party a teenager saw David’s father and groaned “Lou Sedaris, who invited her?”

“My son is gay,” the boy’s mother announced as if none of us had figured this out yet.  David was blown away that someone could casually announce this on the street where he grew up.  As a young homosexual David played all the games that the other closeted kids did.  Dated girls and claimed that sex before marriage was what dogs did–a true union of soles could take eight to ten years!

He kept his secret until he was twenty.  But he would have kept it longer had a couple not picked him up when he was hitchhiking.  It was 1 AM and he was picked up by a Cadillac with people his parents’ age in it. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BLEACHERS-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #235 (July 12, 2021).

People love Jack Antonoff and Bleachers.  I feel like I’m supposed to be blown away by him, but I’m not.  In fact I thought that I had seen him live, but it was actually Porches (not the same thing but sort of similar).

Both as producer extraordinaire and artist in his own right, Jack Antonoff has had an outsized impact on the past decade in pop. And yet, even with such maximalist aims, Antonoff clearly understands the effectiveness of scale: that the most enduring tracks are often intimate portraits.

Surrounded by greenery, the footage is interspersed with close-up angles filtered through an old-school finish (scan the wide shot and you’ll spy a video camera perched on the piano, plus one very tiny desk, too).

They play three songs.

The set opens with “91,” the album’s ambitious opening cut.

The songs opens with the two saxophone players standing really close to each other (where’s the social distancing guys?).  This song is a kind of story song with a lot of words.  The whole presentation reminds me a lot of Tom Waits (no bad thing) or Bruce Springsteen (which I guess makes more sense since Bruce sang on a song of his).

It’s followed by a bombastic revision of “Stop Making This Hurt,” which gets a slick saxophone rewrite courtesy of Zem Audu and Evan Smith.

“Stop Making This Hurt” opens in an interesting way with staccato sax from (l-r) Zem Audu and Evan Smith while Antonoff stabs some piano notes.  I suppose I would like this more if it didn’t sound exactly as it does.  Piano and sax are really just not my thing and that’s pretty much all these songs have.  Mikey Freedom Hart adds keys, but it’s mostly bass notes adding depth to the song.

Springsteen sings on the studio version of “Chinatown.”  Interestingly I felt like this version sounded more like Meatloaf than anything else.  Musically I enjoyed this song and Antonoff seems like a nice guy, but I’ll not be seeing Bleachers anytime soon.

[READ: July 15, 2021] “Old Faithful”

This essays opens with David finding a lump on his tailbone–never a happy discovery.  It was a cyst or a boil–“one of those words you associate with trolls.”

Just sitting hurt him–and forget about laying down.  He threatened that boil–“I’m going to go to a doctor if you don’t go away.”  It didn’t listen.

He says he didn’t go to the doctor because it would have been very expensive in London (really?  Don’t they have NHS?).  But mostly he was afraid of hearing that he had “lower-back cancer” and they’d have to “remove his entire bottom.”

He suffered with the pain believing he was setting a good example for Hugh who tends to moan and complain–a splinter gets into his hand and he claims to know how Jesus Christ felt. (more…)

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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: TENGGER-“Achime” (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 I start with TENGGER

TENGGER is a traveling musical family based in Seoul. TENGGER makes its hybrid sounds with a mix of harmonium and modular synths. The couple’s child joins this performance of “Achim,” playing a bird caller and doing movements that add an otherworldly dimension to the music.

This song is very simple, and very soothing.  It opens with a somewhat harsh but soft note, followed by a simple looping electronic melody.  The female vocalist sings some soft soaring notes that float atop the melody.

The bird calls are really quite delightful and add a nice level of whimsy.  After this, a bass note is added which gives the song a bit more gravitas.  After about 3 and a halt minutes, a drumbeat comes in and the song feels complete. It loops around for another minute and a half and then fades out.

It’s quite lovely.

[READ: July 10, 2021] “Journey Into Night”

David Sedaris writes about travel a lot. He is, after all, a touring author/speaking.  But he has also lived in many many places around the world.  So he has a lot of experience with air travel.  Of course, since he is famous (and apparently well off).  He tends to fill in what was (at least in 2007 called Business Elite).

He first mentions the flight from JFK to Paris that leaves at 7PM and arrives at 845 AM.  He says there’s a brief parody of evening. Dinner is served, Trays are cleared and then, four hours later it’s time for breakfast–an attempt to trick the body that it has slept the night. Some passengers even prepare for bed–line up at the bathroom with toothbrushes, wearing slippers.

Business Elite is separated from everyone else.  The first time he flew it, he didn’t care for the whole boarding first par, but the pampering was pretty nice.

Although on this one flight he was asked to do the airline a favor.  A passenger was crying–his mother had died and he was returning home.  He was disturbing the neighbors near him and the flight attendant asked if he could sit in the empty set by David.

David, who is usually easily judgmental was horrified by these people.  The man’s mother had died.  He mentions a first class passenger who threatened to sue an airline because a blind person was travelling with  seeing eye dog.  The man said hadn’t paid thousands of dollars to sit next to a dog.

David wasn’t sure how to react to the crying man, so he planned to basically ignore him.  The man waved off his food, but David was pleased to get his dessert.  He even learned that (In Business Elite) he could ask for extra

spend eight thousand dollars on a ticket and, if you want an extra thirteen cents worth of ice cream, all you have to do is ask.

But really the hardest prat was to try to remain somber for this man.  I  mean, there was a Chris Rock movie on the screen. And once you realize you cant laugh, it’s impossible not to.  Like about their Greek grandmother

For children, nothing beats a flatulent old lady.  And she wasn’t embarrassed by it.

Their father would ask if something was funny.  They’d say no while giggling.  He would wallop them on the head with a metal spoon which only made things funnier.

But then as he started to think back to those times–so young and simple–he started to cry too.  Just joining the man in solidarity.

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SOUNDTRACK: BLACK MOTION-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #233 (July 8, 2021).

 Black Motion specializes in Afro-House and this set is infectious.

Afro-House has spread joy and healing across the country of South Africa, transcending local boundaries to become a thriving global dance phenomenon. In my experience, Its indigenous sounds and percussive rhythms drench the soul and heart with healing powers and cultivate communion with the infinite.

This Afro-House set is brought to life thanks to several featured vocalists and guest musicians.  Black Motion’s Tiny Desk (home) concert, recorded at the former residence of Nelson Mandela, feels like a spiritual sound bath. The South African production duo turntablist Bongani Mohosana of the Zulu tribe and percussionist Thabo Mabogwane of Sotho tribe — open their set with “Mayibuye iAfrica,” a cry for Africa to return to its culture and history.

“Mayibuye iAfrica” opens with a fun introduction.  There’s whooping, growling, cawing, (from DJ and producer Bongani Mohosana and keyboardist Almotie “Alie-keyz” Mtomben).  There’s some great percussion (producer and drummer Thabo Roy Mabogwane’s set has over ten different drums and a few cymbals).  Then, after a minute or so Siyabonga Hosana Magagula’s grooving bass and Lifa “Sir_Lifa” Mavuso’s slow but perfect-sounding guitar enter the picture.

Then the singers come in singing a beautiful chorus.  The three of them are: Lusindiso “Jojo” Zondani (tenor), Gugu Shezi (soprano) and Noxolo Radebe (alto), and there voices gel wonderfully.

Up next is “Rainbow” which shuffles along with the DJs sampling and a simple keyboard melody (that sounds a bit like The Way It Is).

South African singer Msaki makes her third appearance in our (home) concert series, after earlier credits with Black Coffee and our Coming 2 America special. She lends her vocals to “Marry Me,” a soulful jam from Black Motion’s 2020 album, The Healers: The Last Chapter.

Next up is “Marry Me.” Msaki sings lead vocals on this song which has a grooving echoing lead guitar. “Alie-keyz” plays a cool retro organ solo before “Sir_Lifa” jams out a guitar solo.

Interestingly, Msaki’s voice was relatively deep, but on the next song, “Joy Joy,” Brenden Praise’s voice is pretty high (in the choruses).  For the verses, he sings a bit deeper.  I like the way the backing vocalists sound like gospel singers here.

“Imali,” featuring Nokwazi, soothes the lingering remnants of pandemic fears,

The snare drum introduces the colorfully dress Nokwazi who sings “Imali.”  Her call and response singing is really great, as is her intense, growling style.

Tabia closes with the lilting “Prayer for Rain.”

Tabia comes out for “Prayer For Rain” and says “let’s pray” as she sings some wordless notes to warm up the song.  When she starts singing, I don’t know what language she’s singing, but the passion is palpable.  And the thunderclap that DJ Bongani Mohosana adds at the end is a welcome touch.

This is a powerful and moving (emotionally and physically) set of songs.

[READ: May 10, 2021]  “Easy, Tiger”

After reading David’s story about shopping in Tokyo, it was funny to go backwards and read about one of his first few trips abroad and how he started learning the local language(s).

He says that he had been using Pimsleur Japanese and felt fairly comfortable when in Japan.  But on this trip he was also going to Beijing and he had forgotten to study.

But this is not so much about China as it is about learning languages in general.

Since he doesn’t drive, phrases like “as for gas, is it expensive” don’t really help him out.  But he uses “fill her up please” when asking for a tea refill.  He also gets to say that he is a man with children since they do not have a phrase for “I am am middle aged homosexual…  with a niece I never see and a small godson.”

He recommends Pimsleur for pronunciations and memorization.  But he also likes Lonely Planet. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKDRY CLEANING-“Her Hippo,”  and “Leafy” (album versions) (2020).

After listening to the Dry Cleaning Tiny Desk (Home) Concert, I wanted to hear the recorded versions since the blurb talked about how different they sounded.

Indeed, these versions sound very different from the Tiny Desk Concert.  Well, actually it’s the guitars sound very different because guitarist Tom Dowse is playing electric rather than acoustic.  But it changes the whole tone of the songs.

On the record, “Her Hippo” opens with quiet but sharp electric guitars that echo as the riff circles around. Lewis Maynard’s bass sounds the same, but Nick Buxton’s drums push this song into more of a rock territory (he played keys and electronic percussion in the Tint Desk)..

Florence Shaw’s vocal delivery is similar but perhaps a but more empathic while being heard over the more rocking band.  The middle part features just the rumbling bass and Dowse’s sharp (but simple) guitar solo.

“Unsmart Lady” opens with roaring, echoing wild guitars and thumping drums.  When he starts playing the main (weird) guitar chords they make more “sense” on the electric guitar, but they are still noisy and abrasive.  Dowse wrenches all kinds of screeching feedback and squeals out of his guitar.  The Tiny Desk version sounded really good, but this version is fantastic.

At the Tiny Desk “Leafy” was all delicate synth, but on the record, Dowse plays a kind of lead solo throughout the song–melodic and pretty while keeping the bass company.

I’m glad I listened to the recorded versions of these.  But I’m also glad I listened to the Tiny Desk (Home) Concert first, because hearing the structure of the songs was a great way to be unprepared for the distortion of the recorded versions.  I’m looking forward to hearing the rest of the record–and seeing them live.

[READ: May 10, 2021]  “The Perfect Fit”

This is a hilarious essay about shopping in Tokyo.  It’s especially funny to imagine David and his sisters running around the city buying all manner of strange clothes.  Because if there’s one thing we know about the Sedaris family, it’s that they love odd items.

They stayed in Ebisu so they could shop at their favorite place Kapitol.  He talks about all of the delightfully odd clothes they sell there.  The store is still open, here’s a fun piece.

The store’s motto seems to be “why not?”  They make clothes that refuse to flatter you.   A shirt whose arm holes are not made like a capital T but like a lower case t. A jacket that poofs out at the small of your back where for no reason there’s a pocket.  He bought three hats that he wore stacked. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: DRY CLEANING-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #232 (July 6, 2021).

I thought I was familiar with Dry Cleaning, but I’m thinking I heard them discussed on an All Song Considered episode and maybe even heard the song they played.  But that was almost nine months ago, and things were quite different then.  So it’s interesting to hear that their music doesn’t typically sound like the way this Tiny Desk (Home) Concert sounds.  [I really like the sound of this].

Up until now, Dry Cleaning’s post-Brexit post-punk relied on a robust dynamism of jagged, thudding lushness and a speak-song voice. It’s music that coos and quizzes at once. How energizing to hear Dry Cleaning recontextualize its established sound for a relatively subdued Tiny Desk performance from World of Echo, a record store in East London beloved to the British band.

Tom Dowse trades his effects pedals and electric guitar for an acoustic; its weird bends and weirder chords surprisingly complement the atmospheric keyboards and minimal beats of Nick Buxton, who’s normally on drums. Lewis Maynard’s bass doesn’t throttle at this volume, but still grooves.

It’s actually Maynard’s bass that you notice right away once “Her Hippo” opens.  After a grooving riff, Florence Shaw starts speaking (not even really speak-singing, just reciting).

The house is just twelve years old
Soft landscaping in the garden
An electrician stuck his finger in the plug hole
And shouted “Yabba”

The acoustic guitars sound great in contrast here–soft and ringing–while Shaw sneers

The last thing I looked at in this hand mirror
Was a human asshole

Between songs they joke around a bit (which belies their more serious sounding music).  Buxton plays some dancey music between songs as they get set up for the next track.

Brash and unusual (for an acoustic guitar anyway) chords open “Unsmart Lady” before the rumbling bass keeps the rhythm.  This time Florence speaks even more quietly

Fat podgy
Non make-up
Unsmart lady

The middle portion is a terrific juxtaposition of unusual chords and rumbling bass.

Florence Shaw’s voice [is] an instrument of resolute deadpan…. Some might call her delivery wry, even disaffected — her lyrics non-sequitur — but here a sly inquisitiveness inclines a smile (“I’d like to run away with you on a plane, but don’t bring those loafers”) and burns a harsh memory (“Never talk about your ex / Never, never, never, never, never slag them off / Because then they know”).

For “Leafy” Dowse puts away his guitar and heads behind the keyboard for washes of synths.  After a verse or so, the slow bass comes in adding rhythm to Shaw’s lyrics:

What are the things that you have to clear out?
Baking powder, big jar of mayonnaise
What about all the uneaten sausages?
Clean the fat out of the grill pan
This is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do, now
Trying not to think about all the memories
Remember when you had to take these pills

Dowse returns to his guitar for “Viking Hair” (from an earlier EP).  This song has something of a main riff and Shaw actually seems to be humming before the lyrics begin.

Stick up for me, do what you’re told
But sometimes tell me what to do as well
I just want to sexually experiment in a nice, safe pair of hands
Don’t judge me, just hold still

A lot of times, especially with pop bands, I like the way a band sounds in their Tiny Desk and don’t like their recorded output.  But the blub makes me think I’d enjoy their original recordings even more.  So I’ll have to check that out.

[READ: July 10, 2021] “Bravado”

(This story is about reprobates in Ireland.

It begins on Sunderland Avenue, where an Indian shop keeper is concerned about the group of five teens who approached the store.  He is closing up and they give him a hard time. The three boys are nasty but the girls are silent (this is unusual–usually the girls are drunk and terrible).  The shopkeeper pretends to be talking to the cops on the phone.

There were another two boys who had just left a club, they’d seen the band Big City.  And even though the had a mile walk home, they didn’t mind because the show was so good.

The fivesome included Manning and his girlfriend Aisling.  The other two boys, Kilroy and Donovan, were Manning’s mates. Ailsing found them harder and less enjoyable than Manning, but he hung out with them and she was stuck doing so as well. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SLEATER-KINNEY-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #231 (July 1, 2021).

Sleater-Kinney were once an abrasive riot grrl band with vocals that were challenging and guitar riffs that were often abrasive.  The songs and the vocals intertwined in fascinating ways, making music like nobody else.

They took a lengthy hiatus and reemerged sounding a little different.  Then they released another album which sounded very different (so different that it caused Janet Weiss, holy drummer of the trio, to depart).

That album was not Sleater-Kinney.  It was good, very good in fact, it just wasn’t the same band.  Now, they’ve released another album and this one verges even further from their trio sound.

It’s still good, but it’s disconcerting that our two guitar-wielding singers aren’t playing much in the way of guitars.

“Path of Wellness” opens with a funky drum beat (from Vince Lirocchi) and bass.  Bass!  The gypsies had no home and Sleater-Kinney had no bass.  Well now they do in the form of Bill Athens.

On the previous album I bemoaned that Carrie Brownstein and Corin Tucker’s vocals didn’t intertwine like they used to.  It’s nice that the two sing the song together.  The vocals are much closer to traditional harmonies than untraditional S-K vocals.  But there is a bit of that wild S-K interchange in the voices.  And, once the song takes off in the middle though, Carrie plays some leads and Corin plays big loud chords.

Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein sing of human frailty and self-improvement, vibrating with low notes of disgust. Then Brownstein shoots Tucker a knowing smile as they sing, “You could never love me enough,” and the pair, who have been making music together for nearly 30 years, start to unwind things: Brownstein hisses “I am on a path of wellness” through gritted teeth before ripping into a four-note riff that feels like it’s pulling your guts out; Tucker sets her voice at maybe 75 percent howl capacity to sing “I feel like I’m unknown” and Brownstein still has to raise a hand to steady herself against the force. She can’t stop grinning.

“High In The Grass” feels looser and hazier than on the album;

“High In The Grass” has Corin playing the chords, Carrie playing the main riff and third guitarist Fabi Reyna playing the high lead read.  I don’t know if Corin would have normally played that or not, but having an extra guitar doesn’t hurt.

Corin sings this song rather delicately, in a kind of soft falsetto.  But when they get to the chorus is sounds like classic S-K vocals.

The guitars are pretty awesome in the middle part as all three women play different things  Corin is playing chords up and down the neck, Carrie has some riffage going on in the middle and Fabi is playing a scorching feedbacky solo.

Track three is a surprise.  Going back to 2002’s One Beat, they play the title song.  Corin and Carrie put down their guitars and keyboardist Galen Clark plays piano while Bill Athens plays bowed upright bass.

“One Beat” played with piano and bowed upright bass, making it that much easier to hear how, by the end, Tucker’s pleas and Brownstein’s yelp have been inextricably knitted together.

The album version is spare intertwined guitars and tribal drums–a very different sound.

“Worry With You” feels heavier [than the album].

The guitar riff sounds very S-K, and the guitars (and keys) do bring a heaviness to the proceedings.  The verses are jumpy and erratic but they resolve into one of their catchiest chrouses yet.

So yes, you can hear Sleater-Kinney in this album. But one aspect of the band is definitely gone.  Nevertheless, the core remains and it sounds terrific.

[READ: June 10, 2021]  “Standing By: Fear, loathing, flying.”

It was fascinating to read this article in 2021 because at the end he talks about fearing to ask the person near him on line who they voted for.  I wondered when he wrote this because it really applies to pretty much any election in the 21st century.

The essay opens with the joke that when your flight is delayed it’s a national tragedy–why isn’t this on the news!  But when you hear about it from someone else, it’s totally ho hum.

But mostly he gets to be snooty about his fellow passengers.  Like the guy next to him in a T-shirt and shorts:

It’s as if the person next to you had been washing shoe polish off a pig then suddenly threw down his sponge saying, “Fuck this.  I’m going to Los Angeles.”

He also talks about flight attendant friends who have given him some insight.  “I’ll be right back” is code for “Go fuck yourself.”  When he asked another attendant how he dealt with unruly travelers, the answer (at the end of the essay) is very satisfying.

He talks about another flight in which he saw an old woman with her young grandchildren who were dressed beautifully–like children from a catalogue.  The boy was even wearing a tie–clip on, but that’s ok. (more…)

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