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Archive for the ‘Morality’ Category

waljuneSOUNDTRACK: KEVIN DEVINE-“Freddie Gray Blues” (2016).

a1265312378_16This week, Rough Trade and Bank Robber Music released a compilation on bandcamp called Talk – Action = Zero: A Compilation Benefitting Black Lives Matter.   On one day they raised $12,000 for Black Lives Matter, which is pretty fantastic.

The record features 100 songs, a majority of which are previously unreleased and some of which seem to have been written in the past week.

This Kevin Devine song is not new.  In fact, it has been recorded twice.  First with a band on his Instigator album and then reimagined as an acoustic song on his We Are Who We’ve Always Been record.  The acoustic version is included on the compilation and it really allows you to hear these lyrics.

It’s depressing that he wrote this song four years ago after the death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old Black American man who was arrested by Baltimore Police for allegedly carrying a switchblade on April 12, 2015.

Gray fell into a coma in the back of a police van and passed away on April 19.  An investigation found that the arresting officers failed to follow safety protocols “through acts of omission” due to the spinal injuries Gray received during the police transport, which led to his death.  The six police officers were not convicted but faced various charges from second degree-murder to manslaughter.

Here it is four years later and the song is just as relevant and fits in this compilation all too well.

The lyrics are straightforward, the melody simple.

I’m talking Freddie Gray blues
I’m talking what happened to you
You were just 25
When they ended your life
When “to serve & protect”
Meant break your leg, snap your neck
Meant to kill you, to sever your spine
No matter what, there’s no good reason why

Devine also speaks from personal experience because of his family’s association with the police:

When I’m talking these killer cop blues
I’m kinda talking my family to you
See, my dad was a cop
And his dad was a cop
And my uncles were cops
And my cousins were cops
I’m partly here because of cops
And I love all those cops
And I know not every cop
Is a racist, murdering cop
But this is bigger than the people I love
The system’s broken
Not breaking
It’s done

And then, like any white person who is an ally, he realizes his position.

I’m talking white privilege blues
I’m talking confession to you
I don’t know what it’s like
To be afraid all my life
Looking over my shoulder
Behind each officer, a coroner
Entrenched inequality
No access, no empathy
Crushed in stacked decks
Institutions & death
This is not my reality
I’m afforded the luxury
Of shaking my head
I shut the screen, go to bed
I can turn off what you never can
And watch it happen again and again (and again and again and again and again, and again).

[READ: June 5, 2020] “Rookie”

I can’t get over how many stories there are about tree-planting, something that I feel like no one in the States ever does but which seems to be a rite of passage in Canada.

Every story talks about how horrible it is.  You can make a lot of money if you can put up with the conditions.  The cold, the backbreaking work, the pressure, living in a trailer or hotel for months.  Although you could make $10,000 in two months if you were good. And, pretty much everyone there let the drugs and drink and sex flow.

There’s always people who thrive and can plant 4,000 trees a day (at 9 cents per tree) called highballers.  While a rookie is lucky to plant 1,000 (which would mean breaking even after camp costs, like food).

In this case the highballers are Skye and Jen who seem to be a couple.  The rookie is Jake and the story is mostly about him.  Jake is a religious twenty-something.  He is God-fearing and serious.  He intended to go tree-planting with his friends from Bible College.  Elmer was the group leader and they would keep tabs on each other to make sure they didn’t smoke, do drugs or have sex.  Jake decided to join up, but by that time, Elmer’s crew was full, so he wound up with another crew in Ontario. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ANGELICA GARCIA-Tiny Desk Concert #968 (April 15, 2020).

I saw Angelica Garcia open for Phoebe Bridgers.  Her show started off okay but she totally won me over by the end.  She played guitar, she looped her voice and synths and was really impressive.  She also sang some songs in Spanish.

Well, two years later, Angelica Garcia is very different.

The biggest change is the amount of color she has added (when I saw her she was in a black floral print dress).  She is also embracing her heritage a bit more than when I saw her.  It was present then, but it is way out in front here.

Angelica Garcia decorated the Tiny Desk with colorful fabrics, orange flowers, a fuchsia dress, and a great deal of pride in what she calls her “Salva-Mex-American” heritage. Her song “Orange Flower” got my attention back in 2016, but I thought of her only as a Virginia rock and roller. Not anymore. Angelica Garcia’s music in the 2020s embraces her heritage, her life growing up in Los Angeles, and the ranchero music she heard from her family.

The show opens with a sample of a high pitched voice (presumably hers) saying “I wanna be like her.”  It works as a repeated sample in “Guadalupe.”  In this song

Angelica expresses respect for La Virgen de Guadalupe, the patron saint of Mexico, singing “I wanna be like her.” Guadalupe inspires her to declare that “power isn’t defined by your physique.”

But power comes from the loud rocking guitars from John Sizemore (what a great raw sound).  Josh McCormick plays big electronic drums, including some electronic cowbells.  In between the power chords, the melody is provided by a quiet and interesting keyboard sound from Ryan Jones

And let’s not overlook Garcia’s impressive voice.  She has power and a lot of diversity in her delivery.  She might even sound better than she did when I saw her.

The middle of the song has a breakdown where she and percussionist Kenneka Cook sing together a kind of scat.  Anchoring all of this is really great bass sound from Chrissie Lozano.

For “Valentina in the Moonlight” Angelica plays the quieter guitar melody (she’s really good).

This song is slower and quieter, a love song.  When the whole band kicks in, the song gets really full, with quiet guitar chords from Sizemore, while Garcia plays the main melody.  You can clearly hear Lozano’s nice bass sound in this song.

Angelica moved to Virginia at age seventeen. The songs she sings at the Tiny Desk, all from her album Cha Cha Palace, reflect the way she was seen, or more to the point, not seen, in her new home. “Jícama” captures that feeling of invisibility:

“Jícama” starts out with cha cha sounds.  Angelica sings with a pronounced accent.  I really like the splash cymbal sounds that accent her song.  When the whole band kicks in there’s a real Tex-Mex vibe  which feels like a children’s song melody, perhaps the best way to get the message across

“I see you, but you don’t see me
Jícama, jícama, guava tree
I been trying to tell ya but you just don’t see
Like you, I was born in this country.”

Angelica Garcia has definitely changed.  And for the better.

[READ: May 2, 2020] Strong Female Protagonist

Strong Female Protagonist is a webcomic which is on hiatus (although I don’t know for how long).

We’ve had this book floating around the house for a while and I’ve been meaning to read it.  I loved the title–so simple, so terrific.  I finally grabbed it off the shelf and decided today was the day.

I didn’t really know what the story was about and I found myself very surprised.  This proved to be a superhero story with a difference–a huge difference.  Both the origin story of the superpowers and the exploration of the ethics of superpowers are handled in a very different way.

One oft he big differences right up front was the language–these people say bad words… a lot.  It’s while reading this book that you realize you’ve never heard Superman or Spiderman say “fuck.”  But then these superheroes are not superheroes in the conventional sense. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JESCA HOOP-Tiny Desk Concert #965 (April 3, 2020).

I really liked the Tiny Desk Concert that features Sam Beam and Jesca Hoop.  So much so that I bought the CD and it made me want to see both of them live.

Jesca Hoop last appeared at the Tiny Desk as a duet with Sam Beam (Iron & Wine) in the spring of 2016. They sang songs from their collaborative record Love Letters For Fire.

This time it is just Jesca and I have realized that I liked her more as an accompanist rather than a lead singer.  Actually, that’s not exactly right.  Her voice is lovely.  I just find the songs a little meandering.

This time around, Jesca Hoop came to the Tiny Desk with just her guitars, her lovely voice, and brilliant poetic songs. She has a magical way with words, and she opened her set with “Pegasi,” a beautiful song about the wild ride that is love, from her 2017 album Memories Are Now.

“Pegasi” is nice to watch her play the fairly complex guitar melodies–she uses all of the neck.  The utterly amazing thing about “Pegasi” though comes at the end of the song when she sings an amazing note (high and long) that represents a dying star.

She wanted to sing it today so it could live on Tiny Desk.

The two songs that follow are from her latest album, Stonechild, the album that captured my heart in 2019, and the reason I reached out to invite her to perform at my desk.

“All Time Low” is a song, she says, for the “existential underdog.”  She switches guitars (to an electric) and once again, most of the melody takes place on the high notes of the guitar.  Her melodies are fascinating.  And the lyrics are interesting too:

“Michael on the outside, always looking in
A dog in the fight but his dog never wins
If he works that much harder, his ship might come in
He gives it the old heave-ho.”

After the song, she says, I’m going to tune my guitar, but I’m not going to talk so it doesn’t take as long. If you were at my show, I’d be talking the whole time and it would take a long time.

And for her final tune, she plays “Shoulder Charge.” It’s a song that features a word that Jesca stumbled upon online: “sonder,” which you won’t find in the dictionary. She tells the NPR crowd “sonder” is the realization “that every person that you come across is living a life as rich and complex as your own.” And that realization takes you out of the center of things, something that is at the heart of “Shoulder Charge” and quite a potent moment in this deeply reflective and personal Tiny Desk concert.

This word, sonder, came to my attention back in 2016 when Kishi Bashi first discovered it and named his album Sonderlust for it.

The song is like the others, slow and quite with a pretty melody that doesn’t really go anywhere.

I found that after three listens, I started to enjoy the songs more, so maybe she just writes songs that you need to hear a few times to really appreciate.

[READ: March 2020] Ducks, Newburyport

I heard about this book because the folks on the David Foster Wallace newsgroup were discussing it.  I knew nothing about it but when I read someone describe the book like this:

1 Woman’s internal monologue.  8 Sentences. 1040 pages

I was instantly intrigued.

Then my friend Daryl said that he was really enjoying it, so I knew I had to check it out.

That one line  is technically (almost) accurate but not really accurate.

The story (well, 95% of it) is told through one woman’s stream of consciousness interior monologue.  She is a mother living in Ohio.  She has four children and she is overwhelmed by them.  Actually she is overwhelmed by a lot and she can’t stop thinking about these things.

She used to teach at a small college but felt that the job was terrible and that she was not cut out for it.  So now she bakes at home and sells her goods locally.  She specializes in tarte tatin.  This is why she spends so much time with her thoughts–she works alone at home.  Her husband travels for work.  Whether she is actually making money for the family is a valid but moot question.

So for most of the book not much happens, exactly.  We just see her mind as she thinks of all the things going on around her.  I assume she’s reading the internet (news items come and go in a flash).  She is quite funny in her assessment of the world (how much she hates trump).  While I was reading this and more and more stupid things happened in the real world, I couldn’t help but imagine her reaction to them).  She’s not a total liberal (she didn’t trust Hillary), but she is no conservative either (having lived in Massachusetts and New York).  In fact, she feels she does not fit in locally at all. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ORQUESTA AKOKÁN-“Mambo Rapidito” (2019).

Since this story is about something shameful in Cuba, I thought I’d tie it to something that is wonderful in Cuba: Orquesta Akokán

Orquesta Akokán is a band comprised of Cuban musicians and “Latin music freaks” from New York.   They play the kind of Cuban music that filled New York nightclubs in the 1940s and 1950s.  As their website explains:

Robust, time-tested musical architectures of son cubano and mambo are honored and modernized through a synthesis of the rich compositional styles of Havana, New York, and beyond.

This song begins with a descending piano riff that quickly gives way to horn hits and a cowbell that doesn’t stop for the whole three minutes.

The main melody comes in as a swinging, wholly danceable riff with shouted refrains of “baile!”

Then lead vocalist José “Pepito” Gómez shows where the rapidito comes in as he sings an insanely fast vocal part ( I wouldn’t even guess what he’s saying).

The song is fun and swinging and should make everyone want to baile!

Then comes an awesome flute solo.  There’s a cool swinging instrumental sections in the middle before the call and response of the backing vocalists and Pepito.

Then a wild and cacophonous piano solo sprinkles the end of the song.  It is a ton of fun.  The NPR blurb says that

when globalFEST decided to host this year’s edition at New York’s Copacabana nightclub — a venue with a history that stretches back nearly 80 years and boasts a long association with Latin music — the festival’s organizers decided that Akokán had to be the first group they invited this time around.

Mambo!

[READ: December 23, 2019] Guantánamo Kid

This is a story of injustice.

Injustice at the hands of Americans.

Americans should be humiliated and outraged by this injustice.

Injustice that is utterly horrific to behold–and I suspect that this graphic novel holds back a lot of the really unpleasant details to make it readable.

This is the story of Mohammed El-Gharani, an innocent kid who was sent to Guantánamo Bay for seven years.

At the age of 14, Mohammed El-Gharani made money in the streets of Medina, Saudi Arabia.  His family was from Chad and, as such, he was treated like an outsider in Saudi Arabia.  He wasn’t allowed to go to school and the locals treated him badly.  He and his friend knew this was no way to make a living.

One day his friend told him that if he went to Pakistan he could learn how to fix computers.  He even knew people there who would put him up while he studied. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: CARLY RAE JEPSEN-Tiny Desk Concert #915 (November 25, 2019).

It has been eight years (!) since Carly Rae’s ubiquitous “Call Me Maybe” took over the airways.  In those eight years I have grown to like the song and think of it fondly.

I also basically didn’t realize that Carly Rae was still making music.  Of course, she’s not all that prolific either–she has put out two albums since the album that featured “Call Me Maybe.”

I don’t know if she still has the same pull as she did back then.  I don’t know if this pop sensation is as big a draw as Taylor Swift was (I expect not).  Although evidently she is still beloved.

In 2012, Jepsen’s No. 1 hit “Call Me Maybe” was inescapable, and her 2015 album, E-MO-TION, made her a critical darling. An extremely high proportion of NPR employees also happen to be fans of the pop star; despite the nonstop impeachment hearing coverage happening just down the hall, Jepsen commanded a considerable and captivated crowd at the Tiny Desk.

The three songs she plays at this Tiny Desk are nowhere near the earworm that “CMM” was.  But there is something very sweet about how happy she is singing these certainly catchy songs..

From the moment Carly Rae Jepsen arrived at NPR HQ for her Tiny Desk concert, she brought an obvious sense of joy. Take, for example, her sound check: Working with her band of longtime collaborators, she seemed downright delighted, beaming at the musicians as she gave notes after each meticulous run-through. It’s that attention to detail that has helped build her a devoted fan base ready to make memes of her every move.

All three songs are from this year’s Dedicated album.

“Now That I Found You” is certainly the catchiest of the three.  There’s a cool, slightly funky guitar riff (from Tavish Crowe).  The whole song has more of a disco vibe (in the bass from Adam Siska) and there is something delightful about her breathy whispered vocals.  She doesn’t do the trills and vocal acrobatics that pop singers are prone to.  Midway through the song, everything drops out except for the piano (from Jared Manierka) and some lovely backing vocals (from Sophi Bairley) then the end takes off as a big dancefloor banger.

Introducing “Want You in My Room” she says, “This is the most direct, to the point song that we’ve ever been a part of performing and I’ve been a part of making.”  I was impressed to learn that her band was made of “longtime collaborators.”  But I also got a kick out of the way she seemed a bit shy describing the song as “a real come hither song.  You’ll see what I mean.”

It’s amusing that she says this is the most direct song that she has written.  It is kind of explicit, and yet compared to the rest of the pop world, it comes across as endearing.  Indeed, even if she does exhibit “Smiling swagger” I’m won over by her apparent innocence.

The song has a fun snare drum opening (from Nik Pešut) and a big “Hey” in the opening.  The chorus sounds a lot like something else but I can’t place it, but it is fun to hear her sing (and get into)

On the bed, on the floor
(I want you in my room)
I don’t care anymore
I wanna do bad things to you
Slide on through my window
(I want you in my room)
Baby don’t you want me too?

The pretty yellow plaid jacket comes off for the final song “The Sound,” a pretty song that starts as a ballad and gets bigger by the end.  This song didn’t leave much of an impression on me.  Perhaps since they were “modulating the album’s sparkling pop-disco vibe to fit our sun-filled office,” the hooks went away on that track.

Amazingly, her set is only 10 minutes long (one of the shortest ones I can think of).  And she doesn’t even do “Call me Maybe”!

It’s also frustrating that with such a short set they don’t even show they little joke at the end that you can hear everyone laugh at.

But I came away from this concert with more respect for her.  I might just have to listen to her critically acclaimed album after all.

[READ: October 21, 2019] Machines Will Make Better Choices Than Humans

When you look up books by Douglas Coupland, you will find all manner of tiny books.  Most of them have content published in similar form elsewhere.  But its not always obvious how edited the pieces are.  And frankly, the things he writes about are often so similar that it’s not always easy to know if this is an essay you’ve read before.

This book, published by V2 in Rotterdam is 37 pages in very large font.

The cover image as well as the texts on pages 13 and 19 come from “Slogans for the 21st Century”

The three are:

  • Machines Will Make Better Choices Than Humans
  • I’m Binge Watching My Data Stream
  • My Data Stream Doesn’t Judge Me

(more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE NEW PORNOGRAPHERS-Live at Massey Hall (October 1, 2017).

I’ve been a fan of the The New Pornographers for years.  Their first single, “Letter from an Occupant” was one of my favorite songs of 2000.  For nearly twenty years, they’ve been releasing super catchy fun poppy alt rock.

I was really excited to see them last week.  And then almost equally excited to see that they had a show on Live at Massey Hall.

This show did not have Neko Case singing and while she is not the crux of the band, I’m glad she was at my show, because her voice is great and having three women singing was more fun than having just two.

Before the set, singer and songwriter AC Newman says, “I’m nervous because I realize this is what I do … people paid to come see you.”  His niece, keyboardist Kathryn Calder is with him.  She says she loves having the momentum of 7 people on stage.  It’s a very in the moment feeling shared by all of them.

The show starts with an older song “The Jenny Numbers.”  There’s a wild ripping guitar solo from Todd Fancey in the middle of this otherwise poppy song.  Calder and violinist Simi Stone sound great with their backing vocals–so full and complete.  And excellent compliment to the songs.

Up next is “Whiteout Conditions” which starts with a ripping violin melody from Stone.  I happen to know their newer songs a lot better than their middle period songs and I really like this song a lot.

The full setlist for this show is available online.  They played 22 songs at he show, so it’s a shame to truncate it to 35 minutes.  How did they decide what to cut?  They cut “Dancehall Domine.”

Up next is one of the great songs from the Together album, “Moves.”  The opening riff and persistent use of violin is perfect.

Between songs, Newman says to the audience, “you’ve got to promise not to sit down because it’ll be like a dagger in my heart.”

In the interview clip he says he always love the compartmentalized songs of Pixies.  They influenced the way he wrote music.  So did The Beach Boys for harmonies.  He says it’s hard to know what seeps through, but there’s a ton of it.  Sometimes I’ll hear an old song I used to love and realize I totally stole a part from that song and I didn’t know it.

The show skips “Colosseums” and moves on to “The Laws Have Changed.”  I loved seeing this live because of the amazing high notes that AC Newman hits in the end of the song.  This is also a chance for Kathryn to shine a bit.  “High Ticket Attractions” comes next in the show and here.  It’s such an insanely catchy song.  From the call and response vocals to the overall melody.  It’s one of my favorites of theirs.

The show skips three songs, “Champions of Red Wine,” “Adventures in Solitude,” and “All the Old Showstoppers.”  So up next is “This is the World of the Theater.”  I’m glad they chose this because Kathryn Calder sings lead vocals and she sounds fantastic.  The middle section of the song also includes some hocketing where Newman, Calder, Stone and maybe some others sing individual notes alternately to create a lovely melody.

I noticed that drummer Joe Seiders sings quite a bit as well.  And a shout out to bassist John Collins because he gets some great sounds out of that instrument.

Newman tells the audience that Massey Hall is an intimidating venue, but one you get here it feel welcoming and warm.  The crowd applauds and he says, “soooo, I’m not sweating it.”

Up next comes the poppy and wonderful “Sing Me Spanish Techno.”  It has a constant simple harmonica part played by Blaine Thurier who also plays keyboards.   It’s such a wonderfully fun song.

They skip pretty much the rest of the show to play the big encore song, “Brill Bruisers.”  [Skipped: “Backstairs,” “Play Money,” “Testament to Youth in Verse,” “Sweet Talk, Sweet Talk,” “Avalanche Alley,” “Use It,” “Mass Romantic” )that’s a surprise!) and “The Slow Descent Into Alcoholism”].

“Brill Bruisers” is from the then-new album.  The first time I heard it I was blown away.  Those “boh bah boh bah bah bohs” in the beginning are so arresting.  The harmonies that run through the song are sensational and the “ooh” part in the verses just knocks me out.  Its a great great song.

“The Bleeding Heart Show” closed the show and it is played over the closing credits.

This is a terrific example of how good this band is live, but nothing compares to actually seeing them.

[READ: August 1, 2019] Bit Rot

A few years ago I had caught up with Douglas Coupland’s publications.  I guess it’s no surprise to see that he has published more since then.  But I am always surprised when I don’t hear about a book at all.  I just happened to stumble upon this collection of essays.

Coupland’s general outlook hasn’t changed much over the years.  He is still fascinated by “the future,” but he looks at technology and future ideas in a somewhat different way.  He tends to mourn the loss of some things while often embracing what has replaced it.

As my son is now a teenager, I wondered what his take on some of these essays would be–if he would think that Coupland is an old fuddy duddy, or if he was right on.  Or, more likely, that he had never looked at some of these ideas that way at all.  Coupland is quite cognizant that young people are growing up in a very different world than ours.  And that they don’t have any problem with that.  They don’t “miss cursive” because it never meant anything to them in the first place.  They can’t imagine not having Google and hence all of the world’s information at their fingertips.  Of course they assume that technology will continue to get smaller and faster. We older folks may not be prepared for that (or maybe we are), but that’s what younger people expect and can’t wait for

This was a very long, rather thick book that was just full of interesting, funny, thoughtful essays and short stories. I really enjoyed it from start to finish, even if I’d read some of the pieces before. (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: WHITEHORSE-Live at Massey Hall (December 8, 2017).

I saw Whitehorse open for Barenaked Ladies a few years ago and they blew me away.  I really want to see them again.

When I saw them it was just the two of them and the magic of their interplay was what really impressed me the most.  For this special Massey Hall show, they have a full band.  But as Melissa McClelland explains:

This is the first time playing the Massey stage with a full band.  We wanted to … finally invite some friends on stage with us and play music.

Those friends include John Obereian on drums, Ryan Gavel on bass, guitar and backing vocals and on keys and bongos and guitar, the second best singer in this band Gregory MacDonald.  He replies, “Thanks to the second best guitar player in the band.”  I have seen MacDonald on tour with Sloan a bunch of times and he is awesome.

As to why they are a duo, she says

we knew that Whitehorse was always going to be just the two of us and that everyone would know that we are equal partners in the band.  But we didn’t want it to be a folk duo so we started brainstorming and bought looping pedals and a kick drum and a stomp box and we  found new arrangements and once we got it we were like Yeah!

The show opens with hand clapping from the band and the audience and then Melissa’s slinky bass intro to “Baby Whats Wrong.  Then comes Luke Doucet’s echoing Western guitar. Their voices are wonderful together and I love when Doucet sings in that weird telephone microphone.  He also plays a ripping guitar solo.

Luke introduces “Tame as the Wild Ones” by saying they needed to write a sexy song so “Melissa kicked me out and said she’d do it alone.  I go to the bar to get drunk and when I come home, she plays me this song.  And nine months later our son Jimmy was born.”  I love the way the bridge (or is it a chorus) builds and settles–that melody is just gorgeous.

“Pink Kimono” has a simple rocking riff and the two singers singing at the same time.   Doucet’s soloing is on fire in this song.

“Die Alone” is a showstopper.  A slow moody piece in which Melissa sings over a wash of synths.  The music so much build as just unfold as first Luke sings with her and then the band kicks in.  Wow can Melissa belt out a song.

“Downtown” is a celebration of how you can put hundreds of thousands of people in a city and for the most part everyone gets along.  It s got a great throbbing bass and some cool guitar scratching and riffs from Doucet.  It’s a bummer that they interrupt the awesome middle solo section with an interview, even if it is quite interesting.

After Melissa lays out how they wanted the band to sound, Luke says that when people ask him about what it’s like to do Whitehorse, he says

we were solo artists first but we had been involved with each others albums as singer or producer  or touring musician.

So in order to be successful

you have to hang out together for five or six years and play in each others bands and make eight albums together and then you have to go on tour as freelance/hired gun musicians working for Blue Rodeo or Sarah McLachlan and then you have to live together for five or six years and listen to music together and fight and then you have to get married and once you’ve done all these things and listened to 10,000 hours of music and dissected Tom Waits entire catalog and argued about which is the best Beatles record and had fights on stage about who is speeding up or slowing down and once you’ve done all those things together then start a band.

It certainly worked for them.  The only bad thing about this show is that it’s only 30 minutes.

[READ: January 24, 2019] Hits & Misses

It has been a while since Simon Rich published a collection of his stories.  This one was pretty enjoyable.  Overall, not as much fun as some of his previous collections, but still a lot to laugh at.  Rich tends to write what he knows, which is often a very good sign.  However, sometimes what he knows is limited to writing and filming, which tends to miss the everyman silliness of his earlier pieces.

Having said that there are still some hilarious pieces that anyone can enjoy and some pieces about writers that are very funny.

A few of these pieces appeared in the New Yorker, and I indicate as much, with a link to my longer review.

“The Baby.”  This was a highlight.  A sonogram reveals that their baby is holding a pen–he is going to be a writer!  But when word gets out that the baby is already getting a reputation AND representation, well, that baby’s writer father is pretty damned jealous.  Wonderful absurdity based on reality taken to its extremes. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: DEBO BAND-“Ney Ney Weleba” (Field Recordings, May 16, 2012).

This is yet another Field Recording [Debo Band: Ethiopian Funk On A Muggy Afternoon] filmed during SXSW at the patio of Joe’s Crab Shack.

I was not familiar with Debo Band.  They are led by Ethiopian-American saxophonist Danny Mekonnen and fronted by magnetic singer Bruck Tesfaye.  The group infuses its dance-friendly songs with the Ethiopian pop and funk music of the 1960s and ’70s.

Compared to a dark club full of dancing fans, a muggy Austin afternoon with the sun peeking out over our isolated spot at Joe’s Crab Shack isn’t the ideal setting for a Debo Band performance. But once the group began digging into “Ney Ney Weleba” — a classic song by Alemayehu Eshete — it didn’t take long to get caught up in Debo Band’s deep, infectious groove.

This is a bizarre song to write about because there are just so many elements and so many things going on.  Lead accordion, violin, horns and lyrics in Amharic.  But with guitar, bass and drums and a rocking beat.

This vibrant 11-member group collects its influences like trading cards: It finds common ground in jazz, classic soul, psychedelic rock and New Orleans party bands, playing with song forms, manipulating rhythms and finding space for improvisation.

Plus, the fact that the band is signed to Sub Pop — a label more known for indie-rock and pop — represents something of a statement. Debo Band is a rock group first and foremost, and one that can bring joyful intensity to listeners who might not otherwise naturally gravitate to this music. It’s a winning cross-cultural stew of sounds that grabs you instantly, and ought to have you bobbing along and sweaty in no time.

The whole song lurches along with a really fun beat, and then there’s a trumpet solo and a very psychedelic echoing guitar solo.  It ends with a rocking jam from the two saxes and then a re-visitation of the opening.

I have no idea what the song is about but I like it.

[READ: November 2008] “It All Gets Quite Tricky”

I thought I had read everything that David Foster Wallace had published in Harper’s but as I was going through back issues, I found this little thing.  It’s basically correspondence between Wallace and some students.

These letters were written about in the David Foster Wallace Reader.

Anne Fadiman’s Afterword about the State Fair (which these letters reference) in the book is my favorite because she talks about using the essay in her classes. She focuses on just one section (the one about food) and asks them to really parse out its structure and content.  She also says that one student got to write to DFW each semester and that he would answer their questions for him.  His letters always ended with, “Tally Ho, David Wallace.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ST. VINCENT-Masseduction (2018).

St. Vincent’s latest album seemed like a radical departure for Annie Clark.  It seemed to be all synth–a transgression from her guitar prowess.  But in fact it was a continuation of the sound that Clark generates with her guitar.

Her albums have always used synths.  And her albums have always used effects on her guitars to create different sounds.  They have just moved further along on this album.

“Hang on Me” opens the disc with drums and sound effects.  The guitar comes in but it sounds like synths (like most of the album).  Her voice is up front  (It would have been very cool if it sounded like she was whispering in your ears).  The song builds with more and more sounds.  The processed guitar still sounds nothing like a guitar but you can tell from the way it is played that it is a guitar–which is pretty cool.

“Pills” is almost all dance–lots of drums and synth sounds (which may be guitar, who can tell).  It’s the chorus, (the repeated pills pills pills) that really grabs you.  The guitars that come through have a very Prince-like feel (and the sexual connection–pills to fuck) even when the roaring fuzzed out guitar solo comes blasting through it’s not unlike something Prince would have done.  When the second part of the song comes in–absolutely quiet compared to the chaos that came before (S. assumed it was a different song) it has a beautiful melody and really showcases Annie’s voice nicely.  The two parts are so very different and yet both are really catchy in their own way.

“Masseduction” is the most poppy song on the record (and probably of her career).  It starts again with drums and Annie’s whispered vocal (again mixing her right in your ears would have been very intense).  Then comes there’s the big chorus of echoed vocals singing “mass seduction” with roaring guitars underscoring everything (even though this album feels very un-guitar there are noisy guitars galore on it, they’re just buried underneath everything).

Chanted vocals and programmed synth open up the fast-moving “Sugarboy.”  I love that the riff from “Los Ageless” is presented her in much faster and more staccato and mechanical way.  This song has a great, catchy chorus.

“Los Ageless” was the second single off the album and the dancey beat and synth sounds were quite a shock when the song came out.  For this one, her voice is mixed right in the middle of your head, which is very cool.  But it’s the “how can anybody have you” part that is so incredibly catchy and wonderful.  There’s not a lot of guitar on this song until the third verse in which all the synths drop out and you get a nasty guitar playing behind the verse–once again so inorganic but so interesting.

“Happy Birthday Johnny” is a beautiful piano ballad that showcases a great melody and lovely vocal from Annie.

“Savior” features a slinky guitar line with bits of wah-wah on it (slighty porn-y to be sure, especially given the topic of the song).  The bridge picks things up and with each subsequent verse more and more is added (backing vocals, big drums and sound effects).  It’s when the song gets to the third part, the ‘pleeeease” that it totally soars.

“New York” is another piano song, this one with more dance beats in it and the rather graphic “you’re the only motherfucker in the city who can stand me” for a chorus (odd choice for first single).  The bridge “I have lost a hero” just soars out of the piano section in a very cool way–the juxtaposition is outstanding.

After the quite ending of New York the noise and electronica of “Fear the Future” comes as quite a shock.  It’s practically a wall of noise before and abrupt ending

“Young Lover” is quieter and sounds a lot more like early St. Vincent songs.  The music is spare–thumping drums and washes of music.  But that first chorus grows very loud–crashing electronic drums and soaring vocals.  The amazing part comes toward the end as Annie hits some incredibly high notes and then caps it off with a high note that gives me chills every time I hear it.  The fact that she duplicated it live was just staggering.

“Dancing with a Ghost” is 46 seconds of waves of synths (or guitars) that I never quite realized was its own song.  It almost segues into “Slow Disco” which is a quiet song with strings and Annie singing.  When the harmony vocals come in it builds the song nicely.   Then someone (Annie?) sings a recurring motif of “don’t it beat a slow dance to death.”  It’s my least favorite song on the album and the one she has now made two (slower) remixes of.

That feels like it should end the album, but there is one more song, the dramatic “Smoking Section.”  With a husky voice Annie sings of getting stomped out and screaming “let it happen, let it happen, let it happen.”  The strings build dramatically until a loud three note riff introduces the second part of the song.

This album is pretty polarizing, even though it is St. Vincent through and through.

[READ: October 3, 2018] “The Rise and Rise of Annie Clark”

The previous story that I read by John L’Heureux was also about the Catholic church.  That one was the story of Jesuit Priesthood, circa 1954, and a man trying to join.

This one is also based around the Catholic church circa 1950.  The subject is very different, but with the same questioning attitude.

Annie Clark is a middle-aged woman in the 1950’s .  I’m unclear where this is set.  At first I thought France, but that is unlikely. so somewhere in the States, but I have no idea where.

Since the end of WWII, Annie knows that women were the real winners–women are taking charge of their lives.

But Annie is Catholic and must proceed slowly. (more…)

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