Archive for the ‘20 Under 40’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: PHISH-Live Bait Vol. 8 (2012).

Live Bait Vol 8 included 6 songs in 90 minutes with a date range of 1993-2011.

It opens with a rollicking, shambling, fun version of “Run LIke an Antelope” from 1994.  The song opens with a Simpsons title riff and a big D’oh! from everyone.  The song sort of starts going but it is interrupted by a verse or two from “Big Black Furry Creature from Mars” (Just the “When I get home from work, what do I do? I try to kill you” part).  By ten minutes the music has gotten so far afield from the original.  There’s as creaming guitar solo from 14-17 minutes and at 18 minutes there’s a little bass solo until the try to rein it back in.  You almost forget what song they are playing and when it’s time for the words, Trey gets the line wrong, saying “Set the gear shift…” but quickly corrects himself and reverts to instead of “Rye Rye Rocco.”  In total this 21 minute song has about 2 minutes of actual “antelope.”  It’s pretty fun.

It jumps to a 2000 version of “Bathtub Gin.”  Page is in good form as this one opens with lots of wild piano in the introduction.  It’s a fun, groovy version that lasts about 15 minutes.

Back to 1996 for a bouncy funky version of Simple.  The middle shows of Page once again as he plays with all kinds of sounds from his keyboard rig.  The middle is some great funky organ.  The end of the song (after some 14 minutes, mellows out with some lovely piano from Page and what I suspect are bells played by Fish.

The fourth track is a 1998 version of the instrumental “Buried Alive.”  That riff is so good and they jam it for quite a while.  Trey really scorched throughout the song and he returns to the original riff after some 12 minutes of jamming.

The oldest track is a “Halley’s Comet” that segues into “Slave to the Traffic Light” from 1993.  The opening of “Comet” has everyone singing in harmony.  While the harmony is going on, Mike has got some good funky bass going too.  But six and a half minutes there’s more piano work from Page.  The segue into “Slave” comes at 9:45.  This version of the song is solid and sounds great.

Finally the freebie disc wraps us with a 15 minute “Tweezer” from 2011.  The opening lines all have little instrumental jams in them so it takes four-minute to get to the Ebenezer line.  The jam is very bright and cheerful with pretty solos from Trey and nice accents from Page.

While certainly shorter than some oft he other Bait, it’s a solid collection of 6 lengthy jams.

[READ: January 3, 2017] “The Abandonment”

This story was (I believe) deliberately confusing as it started.

It opens with a man searching around a neighborhood.  He is hoping to find a woman who isn’t there. Then it flashes back to he and his wife getting married in Cuba and, in the same paragraph, he acknowledges that they will now get divorced.

So far the only characters are the he and her (no names yet).  So in the next section when he winds up at a place and hopes to find her there, we have to assume it is his wife.

He buzzes the intercom and gives his name, (Nick) so that he is able to go in.  But when he gets to the elevator, a woman exits and says “Oh my God…I thought that was you…You are just…awesome….  I mean it, I love you…  Oh, I’m so embarrassed.” (more…)

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Becca Mancari plays a pretty acosutic guitar melody while Blake’s effects-laden pedal steel guitar soars and echoes around her.

I don’t know the original, but according to the blurb, “Mancari removes the clicking pulse of the studio version to underline the song’s lonely atmospherics.”

The song is simple–one that speaks to a relationship: “‘I can’t face myself,’ Mancari repeats the line like a broken admission spoken through a pinhole camera, a whispered truth so potent it can’t be looked right in the eye. “

At 2:41, the guitarist hits a great effect that turns the soaring pedal steel guitar into a buzzy rocking guitar solo while Becca strums on.  It’s a great interlude that really sells this song.

I also love that the final 30 seconds is just the sound of the guitar(s) fading out.

There are moments in this video where the Nashville-based singer-songwriter turns away from the many faces of the Life Underground installation by Hervé Cohen, which is part of the SXSW Art Program and supported by the Cultural Services of the French Embassy in the United States. What’s being projected onto the screens in the room are interviews with subway passengers from around the world who share their stories and dreams. The installation’s notion is that empathy often comes by just asking a few questions, which, maybe for “Dirty Dishes,” is just too damn hard right now.

[READ: April 12, 2016] “The Tiger’s Wife”

Téa Obreht took the literary world by storm with her debut novel The Tiger’s Wife.  I’ve had a copy of it on my bedside I guess now for 8 years.  I’ve been meaning to read it but other things always jump in first.

So finally I got around to reading this excerpt from the novel.

The excerpt is, I assume, the first few sections of the novel since they are numbered and begin with 1.

The first part is called The Tiger and it talks all about the titular tiger.  The tiger was in a zoo (or a circus) in 1941 when the Germans began bombing the city for three straight days.

The tiger should have died in the concussion and rubble, but he managed to escape and wandered to the village. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: VIOLENTS & MONICA MARTIN-Tiny Desk Concert #626 (June 5, 2017).

I don’t really understand why Jeremy Larson chose the name Violents.  His music is anything but–pretty piano melodies with (in this show) really nice string arrangements.  I love the way the strings really dramatize the pop song elements.

About the strings, (who go by the Rootstock Republic),he says “they saved our lives this week–because even though a solo vocal performance with her would be amazing…,”

“Equal Powers” has such beautiful melodies.   I really like the way Martin’s voice plays off of the piano.  The chorus melody line is perfect and the high notes “I know I know” are like a perfect icing topper.  I like this lyrical construct:

lean in, let me feel your breath on my skin/I know, I know
lean in, liquor on your breath/ I’m tasting, I know, I know

Her voice has a lovely delicate straining to it that is really pretty.

So who is Martin?  The last time we saw singer Monica Martin at the Tiny Desk she was singing with Phox, her folky, poppy band based in Madison, Wisconsin. But, while that band is on hiatus, Martin took time to walk into the world of Violents, the project of pianist, string arranger and songwriter Jeremy Larson. Larson and Martin make a lovely pair and have created a subtle, soulful record — Awake And Pretty Much Sober — that benefits greatly from Larson’s classical training.  It’s the first full-length Jeremy Larson has released as Violents, a project that, generally, sees him joined by a different singer each outing, resulting in an EP.

“Unraveling” has a pretty, slow piano melody.  It’s more of a ballad.  Once again the chorus is gorgeous–especially the way Martin hits some of those notes in the ooooh section.

and again her voice hits some lovely notes and her ooohs are delightful against the strings.

Before introducing “Spark” he says playing the Tiny Desk is “a bucket list kind of thing.”  He says they’re gonna do one more song.  We were supposed to do a different one but this one’s a bit more appropriate for a smaller setting its called “Spark.”  It has a simpler melody and is certainly a ballad.  It is not as powerful but it’s still quite lovely.

The Rootstock Republic is Juliette Jones (violin); Jessica McJunkins (violin); Kristine Kruta (cello); Jarvis Benson (viola).

 [READ: May 3, 2017] “On the Street Where You Live”

I have really enjoyed Yiyun Li’s stories of late, although i didn’t fully enjoy this one.  I found the location of it a little hard to follow and then it seemed to be about something but was then about something else.

It begins in China, with Bella and Peter walking down the street.  Bella and Peter are friends and have been for 25 years.  They met in Boston.

Bella is Chinese by birth but moved to the USA to study.  They are in China because Bella and Peter always talked of going there.  And it turns out that Peter’s boyfriend Adrian is doing research on his ancestors from China.  So they decided to use it as a chance to travel together.

This was kind of mistake.  (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SURFER BLOOD-Live on KEXP, December 1, 2009 (2009).

This performance takes place before Surfer Blood’s debut album came out.  The DJ is amazed at the size of their following (which is indeed quite huge for a band with no record yet).  The band is young and fun and they engage her with stories and joke. They’re a treat to listen to.

And so is the music. “Floating Vibes,” sounds great and it flows seamlessly into “Swim” (their “hit”), which also sounds fantastic here live.

“Catholic Pagans” is a brief rocker which melds into “Anchorage,”  a 7-minute slow burner that ends with a noisy workout.  It’s always great to hear a new band who sounds awesome live.  Here’s where you can listen to them.

[READ: November 13, 2012] “Extinct Anatomies”

Daniel Alarcón is an author whom I feel has been around for a very long time, but that doesn’t appear to be the case.  He was listed as a New Yorker 20 under 30 just two years ago, so he can’t be that old either.  (Indeed, he has released only a collection of short stories and a novel at this point).

Anyhow, this short fiction was really interesting.  The writing style was delightfully straightforward and compelling, despite the rather banal subject matter.  An uninsured musician is in Lima visiting his cousin.  Since he has no insurance in the States, and his cousin is a dentist, he decides to have extensive dental work done by his relative (he had broken his front teeth).  This cousin lived with them in Alabama when they were kids but they haven’t really seen each other much since then.

Back in Alabama, the cousin, who was older, was chasing after girls when the narrative was but 8 years old.  The narrator didn’t understand the flirting that the cousin did on the phone (“Oh, your hair”) and the cousin seemed exasperated about what American women might want.

But again, this somewhat banal story is filled with deception and intrigue.  He tells a lie to his cousin about how he teeth were broken.  And his cousin “ordered X-rays, as if to confirm my story.”   The cousin’s dental assistant is very nice and gentle but is always hidden behind a mask.  So the narrator imagines her as very beautiful.  And after a few sessions he has fantasies about her to take his mind of the procedure. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: cuppa joe-“Better in Your Head” (2012).

After an eternity (okay, 18 years), Cuppa Joe is back with another release on Dromedary Records.  Things have changed over the years in cuppa joe’s world.  Their previous release, nurture was a delightful twee pop confection.  This track (you can see the video here) adds an unexpected depth to their catalog.

The first change comes from the minor chord guitar strums; the second comes from the bass, which is following its own cool riff–although it melds nicely with the verse, it’s unexpected from cuppa joe.  The pace of the song is much slower than the frantic songs on nurture.  Even the vocals, while noticably cuppa joe, seem less so–call it a more mature version of the vocals. Indeed, the whole sounds seems to have relinquished their more childlike qualities  and embraced a more mature outlook.

This could be a death knell for a band, but not in this case.  All of their songwriting sensibilities remain intact.  Indeed, they have added a wonderful new component: terrific harmonies in the chorus (which may have been there before, but which really stand out here).

It would almost seem like an entirely new band (18 years will do that to you).  But rather than a new band it’s like an old band coming out of a coocoon like a butterfly.  (That’s too treacly, sorry guys–maybe we’ll just stick with them being older and wiser.  Welcome back guys.

The new cuppa joe album Tunnel Trees is available here.

[READ: September 8, 2010] “The Science of Flight”

I read this story in September of 2010.  I liked it but I wasn’t that impressed by it.  Well, it turns out I either skipped or missed an important section of the story.  So I’m trying again.  here’s the start of my original post

Yiyun Li’s is one of the 20 Under 40 from the New Yorker.  This story (which I assume is not an excerpt) is about Zichen.  Zichen (whose name is unpronounceable to Westerners) emigrated from China to live in America with her then new husband.

As the story opens, we see Zichen at work at an animal-care center.  She is talking with her coworkers about her upcoming visit to England (this will be her first-ever vacation that is not to China).  The men are teasing her about the trip (why would she want to go to the ocean in the winter, she doesn’t know anyone there, etc).  The teasing is friendly, because they are friendly, although Zichen is very reserved around them.  Of course, of all the people she has known, she has opened up to them the most–which still isn’t very much.

That much is accurate.  However, the rest of my post about this story is completely (and rather ineptly, I must admit) incorrect.  Recently, Carol Schoen commented on my original post and informed me that I was a bonehead (although she said it much more politely than that).  I had completely missed the point of this story the first time around.  And indeed, re-reading it this time, I can’t help but wonder what happened last time.

Zichen is a bastard, literally.  She was born our of wedlock to a man who ran away.  In China, this was like compounding one sin atop another one.  Her grandmother agreed to raise her (after a failed adoption) more or less to spite Zichen’s mother, provided Zichen’s mother had nothing to so with her.  And so, Zichen’s grandmother worked in her shop extra long hours to care for a child who was a visible symbol of the family’s disgrace.  (I seem to have gotten the point about her grandmother raising her, but seem to have missed the important part about her parents not being in her life at all). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BUILT TO SPILL-There is No Ememy (2009).

I’ve liked Built to Spill for quite a few years (I first encountered them on Perfect from Now On), but they always hang just below my radar when I think about great albums.  Nevertheless, many of their songs have landed on compilations I’ve made.

I listened to this disc a few times when it came out and when I popped it in again today I couldn’t believe how well I knew the whole album and how much I really, really liked everything on it.

This may in fact turn out to be my favorite BtS disc.  It isn’t radically different from other releases of theirs, but there’s some ineffable quality that seems to raise the whole disc above the fray.  The total package is fantastic.  The first few songs are quite short, just over three minutes each (which is surprising after the release of the live album which had so many extended songs and solos (a 20 minute cover of Neil Young’s “Cortez the Killer”).

Of course there are a few extended jams as well.  Four songs are over six minutes long (and three of them make up the last four tracks, so the disc does to tend feel a little heavy at the end–although “Things Fall Apart” has a horn solo (!) and “Tomorrow” has some unexpected time changes).  But the first long song, “Good Ol’ Boredom” has a great chugging riff that hold ups to the six minutes very well.  The nearly seven minute “Done” has a wonderfully effects-laden end section. The solo is pretty lengthy, but the backing music/sounds keep the whole thing interesting.  Of course, there’s also “Pat” a two and a half-minute blast of punk abandon.

Doug Marsch has a pretty high voice, but it never grows whiny or annoying, and in fact, it has a kind of gravitas to it.  And it is more than matched by the full band sound on the disc.  Martsch’s lyrics are also wonderfully unexpected [“Is the grass just greener because it’s fake?”].

BTS has made a great album and I’m going to have to revisit their back catalog too.

[READ: November 14, 2010] “Twilight of the Vampires”

This was a banner issue of Harper’s (I’ve felt kind of down on the magazine lately, but it made up for itself this month).  We have the Lydia Davis/Flaubert stories, a lengthy piece by William T. Vollmann and the cover story about Rupert Murdoch (which I won’t be posting about).  In fact, normally I don’t post too much about non-fiction (recent obsessions notwithstanding), but this particular piece was by Téa Obreht, one of this year’s New Yorker 20 Under 40.  Obreht had barely had anything published when they selected her, and so I figured it would be easy to keep tabs on her.  So here’s a nonfiction to add to her two stories.  (And it’s about vampires!)

Obreht is originally from Russia (her family is apparently still there).  As the essay opens, she is going to meet her mother in Belgrade for their trip to Serbia.  Their ostensible reason to travel to the Balkans is to find out about vampires.   (But when her mother injuries herself before the trip is about to commence, it convinces her mother that the whole trip is possessed by devils).

But why travel to the Balkans in search of vampires when her adopted homeland of America is overrun by vampires right now?  Because as she relates, our vampires are rather different from theirs. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE EXTRA LENS-“Only Existing Footage” (2010).

I listened to this song on NPR’s All Songs Considered without knowing who the band was. And while I listened to this song I kept thinking it sounded like someone, but who?  Who?

And it took me reading about them on allmusic to realize that this is a side project between The Mountain Goats and Nothing Painted Blue (who I don’t know).   My friend Andrew gave me a bunch of Mountain Goats albums which I have enjoyed but which I haven’t written about yet.  However, I can’t say how much this sounds like a Goat’s album (as I’m not an expert yet).

Nevertheless, like a Goats’ songs, it is simple (with one simple guitar accompanied by another simple guitar) and incredibly catchy.  At 3 minutes it makes for a perfect delicate pop song.  The chorus builds wonderfully (even if, really it’s not that much fuller than the verses).

Charming seems like a condescending word, and yet this song feels charming  (even if lyrically it’s rather dark:  “oblivion’s been calling since it found out where I live.”)

[READ: October 20, 2010] “Vins Fins”

Ethan Canin is the penultimate writer in the 1999 New Yorker 20 Under 40 collection, but his was the last story I read.  I was really intrigued by the excerpt that was in the main issue, but I feel like the full length story disappointed somewhat.

At eleven pages, this was one of the longest stories in the collection and it felt to me like it was simply too long.  There were a lot of things, not details, or even dead end plots, just aspects of the story that seemed extraneous.

I am fond of fiction set in the 1970s.  In some ways it seems an easy decade for mockery, and yet really any decade, if limited to a bunch of stereotypes, is ripe for easy mockery.  But there’s something about the 70s that lends itself to fun story concepts.  And this promised something similar.

Under the shadow of Watergate, on the Western edge of Cape Cod, a young man grows up.  The narrator’s father feels that Nixon will get through Watergate unharmed.  His father is a chef and restaurateur who, despite his skills, seems to make most of his money by flipping restaurants (to use a recent term…it’s not used in the story).  His specialty is French food, which is convenient since his wife is French, as in actually from France.  We learn a bit about how they met and a lot about her (and I think perhaps this is where there is too much story as she turns out to be a fairly minor character in what I think of as the main plot).

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This song is available from NPR’s All Songs Considered.  I’d never heard of Sharon Van Etten before, so I didn’t know what to expect.  And this was a great way to learn about someone new (to me) and to find a song that I fell in love with.

This is a dreamy kind of track, sort of like later period Cocteau Twins, but less ethereal.  And I have to say on first listen I was really blown away because what starts as a simple song really blossoms into a full blow epic.

The song isn’t staggeringly original, by which I mean I can hear many precedents in the song (Throwing Muses, perhaps, but again, not as extreme).  And yet, she takes this template and really makes it shine in her own way.  This song is layered and textured with more depth of sound coming on each verse.  And it feels like by around the third minute or so, you’re totally caught up in the song.

On further listens, that effect is still there.  It’s very subtle, but really effective.  And I keep getting sucked right in.  I’ll definitely check out her full length, Epic.

[READ: October 20, 2010] “Peep Show”

This was the final story of the 1999 New Yorker 20 Under 40 collection that I read (there’s one more after this, but I read them out of order).  The excerpt in the main issue was intriguing but very short and the whole story blew my mind with its unexpected surrealism.

Allen Fein, a man with his shit together, trips over a curb on his way to Port Authority.  It throws off his stride and his whole day.   When he straightens up, he looks up to see a barker offering peep shows for 25 cents.  Fein had been to a peeps how once before as a teen, and he sort of thinks that his day is a mess anyhow, so why not.

When he goes in, things are not as the were when he was a kid.  In fact, the glass that usually keeps peeper from peepee is removed, and the first word that the woman says when the door goes up is “Touch.”  And Allen finds himself in a weird position, especially when he touches the woman and his erection won’t subside. (more…)

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NPR hosts a free online version of this song from Sufjan’s new album The Age of ADZ. I’ve been a fan of Sufjan’s orchestral pop for quite some time now. Although I’m less thrilled by his overly electronic experiments.  This song is an electronic meisterbrew, over-filled with all kinds of swells and electronica.

It still has Sufjan’s wonderful voice underneath it, and it retains many elements of Sufjan’s style, but it doesn’t make me all that excited to hear the rest of the album.   Of course, in the past, Sufjan has made many esoteric long-form electronic noodles (this one is over 6 minutes) as sort of supplements to the real deal.

So maybe this is an experiment?  We shall see.

[READ: October 22, 2010] “The Hofzinser Club”

Michael Chabon is another of the 1999 New Yorker’s 20 Under 40 authors.  I enjoyed Kavalier & Klay, but I read it long enough ago that I didn’t recognize this as an excerpt from it (clearly I will have to read it again).

This excerpt is from Josef Kavalier’s early attempts at magic.  We see Josef’s patience and unabashed desire to become a great magician (he has even written a musical based on Houdini).  He begins studying under Bernard Kornblum, who is a respected magician and a member of the prestigious Hofzinser Club.  This Club is (mixed metaphor alert), the brass ring that Josef imagines and hopes will accept him some day.

Josef’s younger brother Thomas is even more excited at the prospect of Josef’s fame, and he tries to think of amazing stunts that will shorten Josef’s wait until he is honored by the Club.  He suggests jumping from a plane while tied to a chair.  Young Josef of course wonders how he would even get a plane.  But spurred on by his brother’s excitement, Josef hatches a plan that’s within his reach. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: TRICKY-“Kingston Logic” (2010).

I really liked Tricky’s debut album Maxinquaye.  Although I felt he had somewhat diminishing returns after that.  Then he got into acting so I assumed his musical career was over.

Now he’s back with this album (although I see on allmusic that he has actually been releasing for quite some time, and had a “comeback” album in 2008).  This song, which you can hear on NPR, while still kind of angry, is less claustrophobic than his early stuff (which I liked, but it’s nice to see him coming out from under that).

The female vocalist that he employs on the song is fine–she raps more than sings, which is kind of a shame since Tricky usually picks women with great and interesting voices.  But since this “rap” seems more like another instrument than actual singing/lyrics, it works quite well as a sound collage.

The selling point of the song is the infectiously simple guitar line that repeats throughout.  There’s a lot of other things going on that keep the song very busy, including a spoken section by Tricky himself.  The whole song is not even 3 minutes long;  it comes in, does what it intends and then takes off.

The more I listen to the song that more I really like it and I’m going to have to check out the whole disc to see what else he does.  I miss the gorgeous vocals, but I’ll happily take more of this, too.

[READ: October, 20, 2010] “Issues I Dealt with in Therapy”

Matthew Klam is another of the 1999 New Yorker 20 Under 40 authors.  I enjoyed the excerpt of this story in the main issue, but I have to say I was rather surprised at how differently the  story turned out than I expected.

The protagonist of this story and his girlfriend are invited to a wedding on a fancy exclusive island (think Nantucket, although it is never stated).  He is a pretty average guy, but the guest list includes the Al Gore family as well as Madeline Albright and many other VIPs.  The island has been pretty much taken over for this wedding and it is clearly going to be a big deal.

The bulk of the story is a flashback which answers the question, “What was I doing here?”

The narrator and Bob (the soon-to-be husband) were in college together.  They were even roommates for a year.  Their friendship was kind of silly and superficial, but they formed a bond that lasted over the years.  Even though the narrator isn’t a VIP, he was still asked to be an usher (and to give a speech) at the wedding. (more…)

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