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Archive for the ‘Morality’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: TH1RT3EN-Tiny Desk (Home Concert) #146 (January 18, 2021).

I had never heard of TH1RT3EN before this Tiny Desk Concert. But I was hooked from the beginning.  I liked everything about them.  The fuzzy distorted guitar from Marcus Machado, the excellent delivery of Pharoahe Monch and especially the fascinating drumming and drum style of Daru Jones (look at the way his drums are set up!).

Both the moniker TH1RT3EN and supergroup were born out of a frustration with the veneer of American society that underestimates the darkness of white supremacy.

“I knew 5 years ago where we headed,” Monch shared over the phone. “Sure, we’ve always done socially and politically aware music, but I’m tired of this “love will win” nonsense. Love may be the most powerful vibrating force, but consciousness is spreading and it’s impossible not to be more aware of the evil that has kept the world in complete darkness. TH1RT3EN is the musical personification of me and my comrades at combat.”

“The Magician” is based around the riff from Yes’ “Roundabout.”  Machado plays the riff throughout which I find much more interesting than if it was sampled.  Monch’s lyrics are smart and pointed.  There’s an incredibly fast rapping middle section with some amazing drumming.  I really like his delivery.

Moinch says that that song is about a student who was bullied and grew up to be a school shooter.  Ironically there hasn’t been any school shootings because we’re in the middle of a pandemic–a pandemic that has taken the lives of 250,000 Americans.  And yet Americans reman more afraid of Black Lives Matter than of COVID 19.

TH1RT3EN recorded this set in August 2020, as evidenced by Monch’s interlude, this four-song set still channels the discontent outside our windows today.  Shot in a padded “panic” room, this Tiny Desk (home) concert reflects the rage felt by this three-man battalion.

Monch continues “We are in need of cleansing and an exorcism.  “Cult 45” opens with a sample of a horn riff.  It’s quieter musically so it’s mostly vocals.  When the guitar joins in it’s mostly to add free jazz noises along with some wild drumming.

“Scarecrow” returns to the slow dirgy, aggressive guitar sound behind some fast rapping.

He says he started the band because he wanted a bit more authentic aggression by finding these two musicians.  And the set ends with “Fight” which has a nice big riff and crashing drums.

How’s this for an aptly aggressive verse

Burn a cross, water hose, dogs and nightsticks
Yeah, that’s what it used to be, see, they would usually
Just hang a nigga, fuck ’em
Now they don’t have the time to decorate the trees so they buck ’em

I’m going to have to check out this album.

[READ: February 28, 2021] You’ll Never Believe What Happened to Lacey.

Amber Ruffin is a writer and comedian, most notably from “Amber Says What” on Late Night with Seth Meyers and The Amber Ruffin Show on Peacock.  Amber is hilarious.

But Amber is also righteously angry about the way Black people are treated in America.  Somehow she manages to take the most horrible things you can imagine and report about them with enough humor to make you listen and laugh and still get outraged.

This book is a collection of stories of racist things that happened to her sister Lacey.   Lacey lives in Omaha, Nebraska, where they grew up.  I don’t know anything about Nebraska or Omaha.  Apparently Omaha is a big city and has sections that have a lot of Black folks.  White people who are not from the city find the thought of going to Omaha scary.  It also means that when Lacey gets jobs outside of Omaha she is typically the only Black person in the building.

Which seems to make all of the white people there think it is okay to say whatever crazy racist shit they want to say.  But even outside of work, it seems like Lacey is a magnet for racist comments.  Is it because she is tiny and good natured?  Maybe.  But she is a also a bodybuilder, so watch out.

About this book Amber says:

When you hear these stories and think, None of these stories are okay, you are right.  And when you hear these stories and think, Dang, that’s hilarious, you are right.  They’re both.

There are going to be a lot of time while you’re reading this book when you think There is no motivation for this action. It seems like this story is missing a part because people just aren’t this nonsensically cruel.  But where you see no motivation, you understand racism a little more.  It’s this weird, unprovoked lashing-out, and it never makes any sense. It’s why it’s so easy for people to believe the police when hey beat someone up–because no one would be that cruel just because the person was Black.  But the are!  So as you read this book, when you see there’s no motivation, know that there is: racism.

The Preface has an anecdote that really sets the tone for the rest of the book.  Lacey paid at a store with a check. The checks had Black heroes on them.  Lacey paid with one with Harriet Tubman on it.  The cashier who had been very nice up to that point said “Wow you have checks with your picture on ’em.”  There is then a hilarious juxtaposition of the check with Tubman and one with Lacey’s photo.

Amber contrasts her life in New Yorke City.

Everyone I work with is stark raving normal. We don’t have any crazy bigots (dumb enough to run up) and I’m no one’s first Black friend.  Now I’m not saying no one ever says anything crazy to me–I’m still a Black woman in America–it’s just that we all know there are consequences for talking to me as if you’ve lost your mind.

But in the Midwest it is an unchecked tsunami of dumb questions and comments.  People think it your job to answer “Why can’t I (insert the most nonsense shit you’ve ever head)?”

Lacey chimes in (in a different font) from time to time with things like that she’s happy her little sister is successful in New York:

where someone would get fired for out-and-out racism.  I love that that really happens.  Never seen it, but I love it.  Like Santa Claus.

Amber ends the preface by saying

Hopefully the white reader is gonna read this, feel sad, think a little about it, feel like an ally, come to greater understanding of the DEPTH of this type of shit, and maybe walk away wit a different point of view of what it’s like to be a Black American in the twenty-first century.

And I did.  Boy did I ever. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ROKIA TRAORÉ-GlobalFEST Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #136 (January 14, 2021).

Rokia Traore.GlobalFEST is an annual event, held in New York City, in which bands from all over the world have an opportunity to showcase their music to an American audience.  I’ve never been, and it sounds a little exhausting, but it also sounds really fun.

The Tiny Desk is teaming up with globalFEST this year for a thrilling virtual music festival: Tiny Desk Meets globalFEST. The online fest includes four nights of concerts featuring 16 bands from all over the world. 

Given the pandemic’s challenges and the hardening of international borders, NPR Music and globalFEST is moving from the nightclub to your screen of choice and sharing this festival with the world. Each night, we’ll present four artists in intimate settings (often behind desks donning globes), and it’s all hosted by African superstar Angélique Kidjo, who performed at the inaugural edition of globalFEST in 2004.

The final artist of the fourth and final night is Malian singer Rokia Traoré.

Rokia Traoré performed at globalFEST in 2005, the music festival’s second year, and it’s a thrill to present her meditative performance as part of Tiny Desk meets globalFEST. Her work is rooted in the Malian musical tradition, but defies the confines of a single culture. Born in Mali to a diplomat father, Traoré had a nomadic upbringing that exposed her to a wide variety of international musical influences. She joins us from Blues Faso, a theater inside her Foundation Passerelle in Mali, which she created to support emerging, interdisciplinary artists, from music and the performing arts to visual arts and photography.

She plays three songs that more or less segue into each other.  I don’t know a lot about music from Mali, but the little I know I can recognize from the Ngoni played by Mamah Diabaté and the guitar played by Samba Diabaté, with lots of speedy runs.   In “Souba Lé” melody is played on the balafon by Massa Joël Diarra (although I wish they’d have shown us it up close).  Both this song and “Tiramakan” feature subtle bass from Aristide Nebout.  The final song “Fakoly” is a little louder and drummer Roméo Djibré is a bit more prominent.

But all of these songs are all about Rokia Traoré’s vocals which soar and ring out.

[READ: February 25, 2021] March Book 3

Each book has gotten longer.  Book one was 121 pages, Book 2 was 187 and Book 3 is 246.

This book begins right after the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist church in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963.   You meet the victims before they were killed.  It continues through until the passing of the Voting Rights Act in 1965.  Holy cow was there a lot of violence in these two years and the amazing art by Nate Powell never shies away from showing it.

Eagle Scouts at Klan rallies who then go on to kill Black teenager’s, hicks in pickups celebrating the deaths of the girls in the church with anti-integration chants and, as we see more and more in this book, police killing innocent people and not getting in any trouble because of it.

This book has opened my eyes to what Black people have known all along about police forces.  That they are completely corrupt and need to be restructured from the ground up.  When you see that it was their job to be racist in 1963, is it any surprise that they are still racist in 2021?

Reading a book like this I can’t help but think that the best thing we could have done for our country would have been to let the south secede.  Bring all people of color north and let the racists fester in their own lack of diversity.  Because their racism poisons the whole country.  And yet that is exactly the opposite belief that this book is based upon.

I’m embarrassed at how naïve I am. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKELISAPIE-GlobalFEST Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #136/156 (January 14, 2021).

ElisapieGlobalFEST is an annual event, held in New York City, in which bands from all over the world have an opportunity to showcase their music to an American audience.  I’ve never been, and it sounds a little exhausting, but it also sounds really fun.

The Tiny Desk is teaming up with globalFEST this year for a thrilling virtual music festival: Tiny Desk Meets globalFEST. The online fest includes four nights of concerts featuring 16 bands from all over the world. 

Given the pandemic’s challenges and the hardening of international borders, NPR Music and globalFEST is moving from the nightclub to your screen of choice and sharing this festival with the world. Each night, we’ll present four artists in intimate settings (often behind desks donning globes), and it’s all hosted by African superstar Angélique Kidjo, who performed at the inaugural edition of globalFEST in 2004.

The second artist of the fourth and final night is First Nations singer Elisapie.

Elisapie returns to Tiny Desk for a show-stopping performance from Montreal, with the disco globe of our dreams helping to light her set. Elisapie, in both her songs and work, is a resounding advocate of First Nations culture in Canada. In her set, she harnesses an incredible energy with electrifying, emotive vocals.

I had really enjoyed Elisapie’s previous Tiny desk.  I found her to be a less extreme, but no less dramatic performer than Tanya Tagaq.  Her band is outstanding creating all kinds of textures to surround her voice.

The first song is “Qanniuguma.”  It starts quietly with a single ringing guitar note from Jean-Sébastien Williams and little taps of percussion from Robbie Kuster.  Joshua Toal adds some quiet bass as the guitar plays some higher notes.  After a minute Elisapie starts singing.  Another 30 seconds later the drums get louder and Jason Sharp start sprinkling in some raw bass saxophone.  As the song grows more intense, Elisapie adds some breathing and chanting–throat singing.  Things quiet down and then build again with the sax and the guitar soloing as the drums and bass keep things steady

Behind her you can see Mont Royal, which has a lot of history.

The second song “Wolves Don’t Live by the Rules” is “a small song” but very meaningful.  It starts in a similar way with ringing notes an thumping drums.  She sings this one in  English and it feels like a much more conventional sounding song.  It’s pretty quiet but the instrumental breaks adds huge guitar chords and the end is really loud.

Introducing the final song, “Arnaq” (which means Woman) she says women tend to forget that we have a lot of strength and we should celebrate it loud and clear.  This one opens with a loud raw sliding guitar like an early PJ Harvey song.  The song’s chorus builds with an “ah ya ya ya” as the instruments add chunky noises–scratches from the guitar and skronks from the sax and all kinds of precious.  It’s a cool noise fest, although the guitar could be a smidge louder.

I’d really like to see her live.

[READ: February 25, 2021] March Book 2

Book Two picks up John Lewis’ life.

Like the first, it starts with Lewis’ preparations for the inauguration of Barack Obama.

Then it flashes back.  Lewis was in college and had moved to Nashville where the growing student movement was gaining strength.

The visuals are even more striking in this book.  The panels of the white woman pouring water and then soap (or flour) on the quietly sitting Black diners and then hosing them down is really arresting.  As is the sequence (which is almost entirely black) of a room full of peaceful protestors being locked in a room when the fumigator was set off.

I couldn’t believe that a man couldn’t really left us there to die.  Were we not human to him?

Then next round of protesta was at the segregated movie theaters.  I love that they chose the Ten Commandments to protest (the irony was lost on the whites in Alabama).  The Black protesters would line up and would be refused seating.  Hundreds of people who would then get back on line and be refused seating again.  Whites would throw things at them and hurl abuse at them. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKEDWIN PEREZ-GlobalFEST Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #136/155 (January 14, 2021).

Edwin PerezGlobalFEST is an annual event, held in New York City, in which bands from all over the world have an opportunity to showcase their music to an American audience.  I’ve never been, and it sounds a little exhausting, but it also sounds really fun.

The Tiny Desk is teaming up with globalFEST this year for a thrilling virtual music festival: Tiny Desk Meets globalFEST. The online fest includes four nights of concerts featuring 16 bands from all over the world. 

Given the pandemic’s challenges and the hardening of international borders, NPR Music and globalFEST is moving from the nightclub to your screen of choice and sharing this festival with the world. Each night, we’ll present four artists in intimate settings (often behind desks donning globes), and it’s all hosted by African superstar Angélique Kidjo, who performed at the inaugural edition of globalFEST in 2004.

The first artist of the fourth and final night is Edwin Perez.

From the basement of the Bowery Electric in downtown Manhattan, composer and vocalist Edwin Perez and his 10-piece band come together to put on a show. With a strong backbeat and enough room to move around, Perez’s up-tempo energy brings the party and keeps it going. The theme of the night is salsa dura music, which originated in New York in the 1970s and gained acclaim thanks to acts like the Fania All-Stars and Spanish Harlem Orchestra.

This set is a lot of fun (even with the seriousness of the second song).  Cuban music is so full of percussion and horns it’s hard not to want to dance to it.  And this band has three percussionists: Nelson Mathew Gonzalez: bongo, cowbell (from Puerto Rico); Manuel Alejandro Carro: timbales (from Cuba); Oreste Abrantes: (from Puerto Rico).  The horn section is also pretty large: Leonardo Govin (from Cuba) and Michael Pallas (From Dominican Republic): trombone; Jonathan Powell (from USA) and Kalí Rodriguez (from Cuba): trumpet.

They play three songs. “La Salsa Que Me Crió” has lots of percussion and a great trumpet solo.  Perez even dances during the instrumental breaks.  And throughout, Jorge Bringas (from Cuba) keeps the bass steady.

After introducing the band, he says “Say her name Breonna Taylor.  Say his name Philando castile.  Say his name George Floyd.  End the abuse.”  This is the introduction to the quieter “No Puedo Respirar” (I Can’t Breathe).   Despite the subject, this song is not a dirge.  I don’t know what the words are but there is joy in the music as well.  There’s a jazzy keyboard solo from Ahmed Alom Vega (USA).

Yuniel Jimenez (From Cuba) opens the final song “Mi Tierra” with a fantastic introductory solo on the Cuban tres guitar.  The rest of the song brings back the Cuban horns and percussion. There’s even a drum solo (or two) in the middle.

[READ: February 25, 2021] March Book 1

I had heard amazing things about this trilogy of books.  I don’t know why it took me so long to get around to reading them.  Now that John Lewis is dead for almost a year, it was time to read them.

This is essentially a biography so it’s not easy to write about.  It’s also an incredible story of selflessness, fortitude and unbelievable courage.

The framing device is very well executed.  After a brief prologue that shows John and is marchers getting attacked by police, the book shows us Washington D.C. January 20, 2009, the day that Barack Obama is being inaugurated President.  Since John is (in 2009) in office he will be attending the ceremonies.

As he is preparing and getting ready to leave, a woman and her two children walk into his room hoping to look at Mr. Lewis’ office–a inspirational moment for her young boys.  But it happens that John (or Bob as he is called) is still in his office. They are embarrassed to interrupt, but he welcomes them warmly and shows them some of the things around his office.

Like photos of him meeting President Kennedy when Lewis was 23.  And from the March on Washington in 1963, where Dr King gave his “I have a dream” speech.

Then the boy asks him why he has so many chickens in his office.

The story then flashes back to young John (called Bob by his parents).  His father purchased 110 acres in Pike County, Alabama for $300. John was incharge of the chickens on the farm.  He also loved preaching.  He learned to read at 5 and began preaching to the chickens (they never said Amen or anything).

He also loved going to school.  He would even away from his house on the days his father insisted all the children work in the field because he didn’t want to fall behind.  (Even if it meant getting in trouble).

One of the first being moments in his life wa when his Uncle Otis drove him North.

Otis knew which places offered colored bathrooms and the ones where you would never get out of the car: “Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky.  These were the states we had to be careful in as we made our way North.”

It wasn’t until they got to Ohio that his uncle relaxed.  They arrive in Buffalo 17 hours later and John was amazed to see white and black people living next door to each other. (more…)

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 SOUNDTRACK: THE REDNECK MANIFESTO-The How (2018).

Despite a terrible name that would keep me away from wanting to see them, The Redneck Manifesto are a very interesting and complicated band.  I discovered them through the book of Irish drummers.  TRM drummer Mervyn Craig is in the book.

The How is the band’s fifth album (and first in eight years).  The album is chock full of instrumentals that touch all genres of music.

There are jazzy elements, dancey elements and rock elements.  There are solos (but never long solos) and jamming sections.  Most of the songs are around 4 minutes long with a couple running a little longer.

“Djin Chin” has jangly chords and quiet riffs that switch to a muted melody.  All the while the bass is loping around.  It shifts tempos three times in the first two minutes.  Around three minutes the bass takes over the lead instrument pushing the song along with deep notes.

“The Rainbow Men” has a circular kind of riff with swirling effects that launch the song during the musical pauses.  After a minute and a half it drastically shifts direction and the adds in a cool solo.

“Sip Don’t Gulp” starts with a catchy bouncy guitar riff and bass lines.  At two minutes it too shifts gears to a staggered riff that sounds great.

“Kobo” is the shortest song and seems to tell a melodic story.  The two guitars play short, fast rhythms as call and response while the bass rumbles along.

“Head Full of Gold” is over 6 minutes with a thumping bass, rumbling drums and soft synths.  “No One” is nearly 7 minutes and feels conventionally catchy until you try to keep up with the beats.  After a middle series of washes from various instruments, the back half is a synthy almost dancey rhythm.

“Sweep” is a pretty song until the half-way mark when it just takes off in a fury of fast drumming and complex chords.  The end builds in upward riding notes until it hits a calming ending

“We Pigment” is a poppy staccato dancey number.  The second half turns martial with a series of four beat drum patterns and a soaring guitar solo.  More staccato runs through to the end.  “The Underneath Sun” also has a lot of staccato–fast guitar notes interspersed with bigger chords.  The end of the song is just littered with sweeping guitar slides until the thumping conclusion.

This album is great and I’m looking forward to exploring their other releases.

[READ: January 10, 2021] A History of Ireland in 100 Words

This book looks at old Irish words–how they’ve evolved and how they show the way Irish history came about.  The authors say:

our store of words says something fundamental about us and how we think.  This book is meant to provide insights into moments of life that may be otherwise absent from history books.  The focus is on Gaelic Ireland throughout as Gaelic was the native language of the majority of the inhabitants of the island for the last 2000 years. It yielded its primacy to English only in the last 150 years.

We selected words with the aim of illustrating each of our themes as broadly as possible.  We wanted the words in all their richness to tell their story … like how the word that originally meant noble came to mean cheaper (saor).

Almost all of the entries reference The cattle raid of Cooley (The Ulster Cycle) which features the hero Cú Chulainn.  This story is at the heart of most of historical Ireland and it’s pretty fascinating how many of these Gaelic words either originate with that story or get their foundation from the story.

There’s a general pronunciation guide although I wish each word had a phonetic guide because anyone who speaks English will look at Irish a if it is just a jumble of nonsensical consonants.

The book is broken down into sections, although the authors insist that there is no correct way to read the book.

  • Writing and Literature
  • Technology and Science
  • Food and Feasting
  • The Body
  • Social Circles
  • Other Worlds
  • War and Politics
  • A Sense of Place
  • Coming and Going
  • Health and Happiness
  • Trade and Status
  • Entertainment and Sport
  • The Last Word

There are also delightfully weird wood carving-like drawings from by Joe McLaren scattered throughout the book.

The words are listed below with either a definition or an interesting anecdote included. (more…)

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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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