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Archive for the ‘Ben Gibbard’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: BEN GIBBARD-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #5 (April 4, 2020)

I feel like Ben Gibbard released the first new quarantine song.

On March 26 he released “Life in Quarantine,” and it’s the first song he plays in this Home Concert: “Hello, this is Ben Gibbard, welcome to Tiny Desk, Seattle style.”

Some of the other Home Tiny Desk Concerts were uplifting and lighthearted, but Ben’s mood is pretty down.  He lives in Seattle where things were very bad first.

And with that, the heavy-hearted Death Cab for Cutie frontman performs his newly written song from America’s first coronavirus hotspot, Seattle. The song is called “Life in Quarantine,” and it’s not only portrait of his city’s current state; it’s a gift to that city. Ben is donating money from streaming and purchases to Aurora Commons, a self-described “welcoming space for our unhoused neighbors.”

It’s a pretty song, but very sad (as you might imagine).  And Ben is not planning to cheer us up for the rest of the show.

And as if there weren’t enough sadness, Ben performs an homage to songwriter and musician Adam Schlesinger of the band Fountains of Wayne, who passed away on April 1 from complications due to COVID-19. Ben was a long admirer of Adam’s music and sings us one of his favorite Fountains of Wayne songs, as well as a song Ben wrote for The Monkees’ Good Times album, a record that Adam produced.

“Me & Magdalena” (The Monkees song) is slow.  It’s similar to The Monkees’ version, although Ben’s delivery makes the song sound even sadder.

He talks about Fountains of Wayne and how he and Chris Walla took a road trip San Francisco and listened to the debut FoW record the whole way down and back.  His favorite song was “She’s Got a Problem.”  Even though I think of FoW as being poppy and cheerful, this song, in keeping with the mood, is not.

I really like Death Cab for Cutie and Ben Gibbard, but this is one show I won’t be listening to again, it’s just too much of a downer.

[READ: April 10, 2020] Black Canary: Ignite

I believe S. brought this home because Meg Cabot wrote it.  I haven’t read any of Cabot’s books, but S. is a fan. This is Cabot’s first graphic novel (it somehow seems odd that it’s a DC book).  I don;t know if Black Canary is a familiar character (I’ve not heard of her, but then I’m not much of  DC fan).

This book is part of DC’s Zoom imprint which means its written for younger kids (which also means I’ll like it more than standard DC fare).

Dinah is the daughter of Detective Lance.  She is thirteen and is in a band.  She wants to try out for the Gotham City Junior Police Academy (during Career Week).  Both of these things make her father angry.  She believes its because she’s a girl, but he says that Gotham is just not a safe place to live. [So why not move?].

The Joker has escaped [again].  One thing I dislike about DC is that it seems that everything is about The joker and Arkham Asylum, must have no security at all. (more…)

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[ATTENDED: June 10, 2019] Jenny Lewis

I somehow missed Rilo Kiley from the get go.  It’s not that I didn’t like them, i didn’t know them.  I may have heard a song or two, but otherwise nothing.

Same with Jenny Lewis solo.  I know a lot of people love her, but I just missed her completely.  I’ve heard a few of her songs from her last album and I rather liked them.  So I was pleased enough that she was opening for Death Cab for Cutie.

Obviously I had no idea that they had a connection to her.  (From the same region, on the same label, she sang on Ben Gibbard’s side project).  So this was a nice tour for them.

We arrived at Starland Ballroom to find a line wrapping around the parking lot.  So although we were early, we didn’t get into the building until about 5 minutes before she went on (and it wasn’t even sold out!).  It was packed though and trying to find a spot in the center was impossible.  So we wound up standing on the elevated platform off to the right.  Not the best location, but honestly if we were on the floor, it would have been really crowded and really hard to see. (more…)

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manner SOUNDTRACK: BEN GIBBARD-Tiny Desk Concert #251 (November 19, 2012).

benBen Gibbard is the voice of Death Cab for Cutie.  His voice is instantly recognizable and his melodies are surprisingly catchy.

This Tiny Desk Concert (they say it’s number 250, but I count 251) is just him and his acoustic guitar.  I didn’t know he did solo work, but apparently he does (in addition to being in The Postal Service and All-Time Quarterback).

Gibbard just released a solo album, Former Lives, which he’s said is a repository for material that didn’t work as Death Cab for Cutie songs; from that record, only “Teardrop Windows” pops up in his Tiny Desk Concert. For the rest, he draws from Death Cab’s most recent album (“St. Peter’s Cathedral,” from Codes and Keys) and, of all places, last year’s Arthur soundtrack (“When the Sun Goes Down on Your Street”).

As mentioned he plays three songs and his voice is so warm and familiar I felt like I knew these songs even if I didn’t.

I knew “St. Peter’s Cathedral.” It is a lovely song with very little in the way of chord changes.  But the melody is gentle and pretty.  And the song appears to be entirely about this church.  Which is interesting because the second song is also about a building in Seattle.  “Teardrop Windows” is a surprisingly sad song about an inanimate object.  It’s written from the building’s point of view as he mourns that no one uses him anymore.  And such beautiful lyrics too:

Once built in boast as the tallest on the coast he was once the city’s only toast / In old postcards was positioned as the star, he was looked up to with fond regard / But in 1962 the Needle made its big debut and everybody forgot what it outgrew

The final song “When the Sun Goes Down on Your Street” was indeed for the Russel Brand movie Arthur.  Somehow I can’t picture those two together.  It’s a lovely song, too.

I prefer Gibbard’s more upbeat and fleshed out music, but it’s great to hear him stripped down as well.

[READ: January 2017] “My Writing Education: A Time Line,” “The Bravery of E.L. Doctorow,” “Remembering Updike,” and “Offloading for Mrs. Schwartz” 

I had been planning to have my entire month of February dedicated to children’s books.  I have a whole bunch that I read last year and never had an opportunity to post them.  So I thought why not make February all about children’s books.  But there is just too much bullshit going on in our country right now–so much hatred and ugliness–that I felt like I had to get this post full of good vibes out there before I fall completely into bad feelings myself. It;s important to show that adults can be kind and loving, despite what our leaders demonstrate.  Fortunately most children’s books are all about that too, so the them holds for February.

George Saunders is a wonderful writer, but he is also a very kind human being.  Despite his oftentimes funny, sarcastic humor, he is a great humanitarian and is always very generous with praise where it is warranted.

The other day I mentioned an interview with Saunders at the New York Times.  Amid a lot of talk with and about Saunders, there is this gem:

Junot Díaz described the Saunders’s effect to me this way: “There’s no one who has a better eye for the absurd and dehumanizing parameters of our current culture of capital. But then the other side is how the cool rigor of his fiction is counterbalanced by this enormous compassion. Just how capacious his moral vision is sometimes gets lost, because few people cut as hard or deep as Saunders does.”

These first three pieces are all examples of his love and respect for other writers–both for their skill and for their generosity.

“My Writing Education: A Time Line”

“My Writing Education” comes from a book called A Manner of Being: Writers on Their Mentors.  Saunders’ mentor was Tobias Wolff.  And for this essay, his admiration takes the form of a diary.  (more…)

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 loverboysSOUNDTRACK: FOO FIGHTERS-Sonic Highways (2014).

sonicThree years after Wasting Light, Foo Fighters gathered to make Sonic Highways. It only has 8 songs on it (3 are five minutes one is 6 and 1 is one is seven).

There is a lot of back story about this album.  And I’ll use the Wikipedia summary because it is so tidy

In writing the album’s eight songs, singer and guitarist Dave Grohl traveled to eight cities across the United States to conduct interviews with musicians, recording engineers, record producers, and other individuals discussing each city’s musical history, which he used as inspiration for the songs’ lyrics. The band and producer Butch Vig then traveled to a different recording location in each city to record the songs. Each track features contributions from one or more musicians with ties to that city’s musical history.

They made a documentary about it which I have not seen, but which I feel I ought to.

I can’t say I recognize the sound or any signs of whatever city is supposed to be represented ion each song.  I was initially concerned that it meant that the Foos were going try to make a “Chicago song” or, gasp, a “Nashville” song, but that isn’t the case.  So perhaps in that regard the traveling part was unsuccessful, although perhaps it was good for inspiration.  Plus the album is really quite good.

“Something for Nothing” [Chicago (featuring Rick Nielsen)] There’s a nice riff on this song and an interesting guitar sound (Neilsen I assume).  The first 90 seconds feel like an intro to the more chugging riff that is yet another interesting part to the song.  I love that the second repeat of that section includes a clavinet.  And with all of those parts, I love that the song turns into a hugely metal section (“fuck it all I came from nothing”) by the end.

“Feast and the Famine” [Virginia (featuring Peter Stahl and Skeeter Thompson)] has a quick and tidy introductory riff and quickly jumps into a loud chorus.  Stahl and Thompson are in Scream, the hardcore band Grohl was in before he moved to Nirvana.  You can hear their influence in the cool backing vocals during the “Is there anybody there” part.

“Congregation” [Nashville featuring Zac Brown] This song does not feel Nashville at all.  It has a simple but very catchy riff.  There’s a nice chorus which doesn’t get too heavy.   Zac Brown does “devil pickin'” and backing vocals on “Congregation.”  It has a lengthy middle section which is quite different (and angry) before returning to the big chorus.

“What Did I Do? / God As My Witness” [Austin, featuring Gary Clark, Jr.]  This song starts out with a big rumble of chords and then a nearly a capella vocal turn.  I like the way the chords build and then stop for each line.  The “What Did I Do” section feels very classic rock (the way that guitar lick is played–knowing that Joe Walsh is on the record I would have assumed he was on this song).  Gary Clark plays the solos on this song.  The middle of the song is just like the opening.  And then it segues into “God as My Witness” which seems to elevate the song in an interesting way (this is where the much longer guitar solo kicks in.

“Outside” [Joshua Tree, featuring Joe Walsh].  This song has a great fast riff (kind of like a Pearl Jam riff, actually).  The song is fast all the way through with no major distinction between verse and chorus.  Walsh plays lead guitar during the lengthy jam section–mostly just quiet bass and drums while the guitar natters away.  It’s a very different style of song for the Foo Fighters.  And while it’s a little dull at 5 minutes, it’s not bad by any means.

“In the Clear” [New Orleans featuring the Preservation Hall Jazz Band].  Despite the location and the guests, I never would have guessed the location of the song.  It has a big riff to open with but it quickly settles down to a verse that ends “god damn I swear.”  It’s a simple song but it has big catchy chorus with horns playing along with the guitars.  Although I wouldn’t have wanted to have a big jazz influence on the song (and they have done jazzy things before) it’s a little wasted to have the ensemble only add horns to the song.  I like it nevertheless, but it feels like they could have done more.

“Subterranean” [Seattle, featuring Ben Gibbard] is a slow build of a song (with two people playing eerie e-bow).  It lasts six minutes and has several stages as more musicians enter the song.  Even at 6 minutes it is still quite a subdued song with no really big chorus, the chorus is actually kind of understated and very moody.  And yet I can’t hear Gibbard at all.

“I Am a River” [New York, featuring Tony Visconti and Kristeen Young] The song is over 7 minutes and has a very slow introduction, with overlapping guitars and the vocals not coming in until about 90 seconds in.  It seems like it’s going to take off about 2 minutes in, but there’s a delay at work and the slow verses continue.  The song builds slowly to a big chorus (although it’s not a dramatic change from the verse either).  I love Kristeen Young but I can’t hear her anywhere on this song (she has a unique voice too).

This is certainly not my favorite Foos’ album but it’s very solid and despite a few songs being too long,  it’s a pretty tidy album (at 42 minutes) and could have been way overblown (the strings at the end of the album are almost too much but they are actually quite restrained for this concept album).

[READ: May 25, 2015] Loverboys

I know Hernandez’ brother Jaime’s work a little better than Gilbert’s.  And I have to say that I like Jaime’s better as well. There’s something I find lightly offputting about Gilbert’s drawing style.  It seems very boxy and childlike–despite the fact that he clearly has a great grasp of anatomy. There’s something especially odd about the faces that I just find… odd (to say nothing of the breasts on Mrs Paz and the waists on every woman in the book).

So, having gotten past that concern, what about the content of the story.

Well, I found the story a little confusing as well.  I mean, the basic premise is obvious, but there were some side issues that I thought were really weird.

So the premise is that in the small city of Lagrimas (“tears”), there are a number of characters. There are some young girls who are sill in grade school, there are some mid 20s men who are out of school and working and there are some older women–successful workers. (more…)

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mermaSOUNDTRACK: HEY MARSEILLES-Live at the Newport Folk Festival (2013). 

heymar For reasons I’m unclear about, the first two songs (at least the first two listed on the NPR web page, (“To Travels & Trunks” and”Gasworks”) ) are not included in the download.  But we do get the band’s introduction of themselves.  So maybe the NPR list is wrong?  Weirder things have happened.

The band drove all the way from Seattle and are pleased to announce that they are the first band to play the Festival (a nice, if insignificant piece of trivia).

Regardless, we get a solid 35 minute set.  The band opens with “Heart Beats,” a folky song.  Indeed, Hey Marseilles continues the tradition of large bands (6 members at last counting) who play folk music with lots of unexpected(ish) instruments.  But the singer sounds quite a bit like Ben Gibbard.  Indeed that first song sounds like a less commercial Death Cab for Cutie—you keep expecting a big commercial chorus to come but it doesn’t, and there’s something very satisfying about them not giving it to us.

Although the band does sounds quite a bit like DCFC (both in the voice and the arrangements), their instrumentation brings an unfamiliarity to the songs that makes them so intriguing—like when the accordion pops up put of nowhere in “From a terrace.”  Or other songs where strings fill out a song–not in a “look we’re unplugged” sort of way but as  natural part of the song.  I really enjoyed their songs and may track down their CDs (and their cool scarf).

[READ: July 3, 2013] Mermaid in Chelsea Creek

This was the second YA book that McSweeney’s has released.  It is (say it with me) the first book in a trilogy.   And I have to say that I really didn’t like the first 100 pages.

There were a number of small things that kept me interested, but for the most part I found the story pretty dreadful.  On a personal note I really didn’t like that the Chelsea Creek was not revealed to be in the Boston area until very far into the story.  I hated that it was so specific (Chelsea) and yet so generic (which of the dozens of Chelseas was it?).  But more importantly I hated that Sophie (the protagonist) and her friend Ella, play the ‘pass-out” game.  In the game, one of the girls chokes herself until she passes out.  The other girl watches and wakes the first up after about 30 seconds.  This is what they do for fun  This is their cheap high.  And it constitutes a large part of the beginning of the story.  So much so that when her mother finds out about it, she tells her doctor.  And what made it all the crazier was that her doctor reveals that not only did she play the pass out game as  a girl but she is sure her mother did too.  And her mother says yes.  What the fuck?  Oh and her mother is mean and overworked and exhausted and generally always ready to fight with Sophie.

I imagine that if I had another book with me on vacation I would have put this down and read that one instead.  But I pressed on, mostly because when Sophie passed out she saw a mermaid in Chelsea Creek, a filthy sewage filled river.  (The fact that Ella is a germophobe is quite funny, especially when Sophie falls into the creek when she passes out).  That kept me interested as did Dr Chen (the above doctor).  Because the Doctor keeps pigeons on her roof and she has tied flutes to some of their tails so that they make beautiful music when they fly.  This scene was so good–so briefly magical–that I forgave the rest of the book and gave it a blank slate.  I was bummed when the pigeons went away, but was delighted when they came back a little later, once the magic began for real.

And there is magic aplenty.  Especially as Sophie learns more and more about her family and neighborhood. (more…)

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CV1_TNY_04_08_13Ulriksen.inddSOUNDTRACK: THE POSTAL SERVICE-“A Tattered Line of String” (2013).

postalI enjoyed The Postal Service record but I wasn’t as big of a Death Cab for Cutie fan at the time.  Now, having enjoyed DCFC so much in the last couple of years, this song sounds much more like a DCFC song but with keyboards (Ben’s voice is so distinctive).

This song has been released with the reissue of the Postal Service album.  It’s not on the original but it also sounds like it might be a remix (the skittery backing vocals make me think remix).

Either way this is a supremely catchy song (Gibbard knows from melody) and when you throw the keyboards and dancey beats on it, it’s even more poppy than DCFC’s stuff.  I wonder why the album wasn’t bigger when it came out.

[READ: April 21, 2013] “Valentine”

Tessa Hadley has written another story that I enjoyed–with that same quaint feeling of love in 1970s England.

The story opens with the narrator Stella and her friend Madeleine waiting at the bus stop.  They are fifteen, have never kissed boys, and think about nothing else (especially since they go to an all girls school).   Madeleine is willowy with long curls a “kitten face” and “luscious breasts” while Stella is small, plump and shapeless.

As they wait for the bus, Valentine approaches (yes I though the title was about the day not a person).  He is in school as well but he is new to them.  Valentine has just moved to the area from Malaya.  And, as he sizes them up, offering them each a smoke, when it comes down to it, amazingly, he chooses Stella.

She likes him because he is different as she is different–they are clearly soulmates.  While her parents (well, Gerry is her stepdad) don’t ‘t approve of him (his hair, his dress, his attitude).  He barely talks to her parents when they interrogate him and then he imitates their voices when they are alone.  Regardless of what others thought or really, because if it, they are soon hanging out all the time.  And soon he is her boyfriend.  And soon enough she had lost weight (because all they did was talk and smoke), they died their hair black (a proto-goth in the hippie 70s) and they basically began to look alike. (more…)

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