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Archive for the ‘Beyonce’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: IGOR LEVIT-Tiny Desk Concert #914 (November 22, 2019).

Igor Levit is a 32 year-old Russian-born pianist.  I really don’t know anything about him, although the blurb implies that he plays Beethoven and little else.  It says that he

has been playing the German composer’s music for half his life. He recently released a box set of all 32 Beethoven piano sonatas and once again he’ll be performing complete cycles of the sonatas in various cities to mark the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth in 2020.

Most of us know many Beethoven pieces whether we realize it or not.  And, of course most of us know them by their “nickname” rather than their full name.  So when you see “Piano Sonata No. 14 ‘Moonlight,’ I. Adagio sostenuto” it’s easy to forget that that means “Moonlight Sonata,” the beautiful piece that is familiar with the very first notes.

Levit’s “Moonlight” emphasized the mesmerizing qualities in the music, with its oscillating pulse, smoldering low end and tolling bells.

After saying that “Moonlight” seemed like a good beginning to a Tiny Desk, he says he’s about to disrupt the situation as much and as hard as he can with anther sonata–this one a little bit earlier.  This one has no nickname, no title, no marketing gag, nothing.  Just G major sonata (officially “Piano Sonata No. 10, II. Andante”).

Levit says that this it is one of the funniest, wittiest pieces that Beethoven ever wrote. And…wait til the end.

The second piece proved Beethoven wasn’t always the grumpy guy he’s made out to be. His sly sense of humor percolates through the set of variations in a jaunty march rhythm, punctuated with a final, ironic, thundering chord.

After this, he returns to the familiar with “Bagatelle in A minor, ‘Fur Elise'”  Everyone knows ‘Fur Elise’ from the moment it starts.  Levit even jokes about playing it:

Sure, it’s a “total eye-roller,” Levit admits, but he also describes it as “one of the most beautiful treasures in the piano literature.”

He says people argue whether it was Beethoven’s piece–he thinks it is.

His playing is beautiful–I love that you can hear everything so distinctly.  He makes the familiar songs sound vibrant and alive.  And the unfamiliar piece (while not rolling-in-the-aisles funny or anything like that) does have little moments that will induce a smile.  He is also quite subtle in “Für Elise”–not emphasizing the most familiar parts.

Although many people have performed Beethoven over the years, I would absolutely look for his name if I wanted to hear a great performance.

 [READ: August 2019] American Housewife

This book had been sitting around our house for a few years.  I feel like I saw the cover of the woman on the toilet doing her nails every time I went into the spare room.  Then a TV show came out called American Housewife.  I knew that Sarah Dunn, the creator of the show, had written novels, but I had forgotten her name.  So I assumed that this book was the basis for the show.  Whatever the case, this book has nothing to do with the TV show.

This book is a collection of very short pieces and somewhat longer pieces.

Generally speaking, I found the shorter pieces a lot less funny as they seemed more like bullet point lists than actual jokes. (more…)

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  SOUNDTRACK: THE-DREAM-Tiny Desk Concert #886 (August 30, 2019).

I had never heard of The-Dream and couldn’t imagine why the name was hyphenated.  Turns out The-Dream is an R&B singer with a kind of gentle falsetto (not too high, but higher than expected).  The blurb says: “The-Dream delivered his lyrics with that signature high-pitched whisper, just shy of a falsetto..”

He’s also written hits

for the likes of Beyoncé (“Single Ladies”) and Rihanna (“Umbrella”).

and apparently he is a big deal.

R&B hasn’t sounded the same since The-Dream changed the game. Maybe growing up off Bankhead on Atlanta’s west side gifted him with a hip-hop swag native to the soil. Indeed, it’s worth remembering that he preceded the current era of melodic, sing-songy rappers who disregard traditional lyricism for raw, heart-rending delivery.

All three songs here are about getting into the bedroom as one might guess from the title of his album: Ménage à Trois: Sextape Vol. 1, 2, 3.

The first song “Bedroom” (calling all bodies to the bedroom) is soft and steamy.  It’s also got some humor

All ladies read before 11
So you got all day to get your mother-n’ nails done
I know you soak that thing ’round 7
And it’s already 4, go get your mother-n’ hair done
Ooh, you look so sexy
Come and bless me

[I found out later that these lyrics are cleaned up for Tiny Desk].

There’s gentle horns from DeAndre Shaifer and Theljon Allen (trumpet) and Elijah Jamal Balbed (saxophone) and a smooth bass line from Justin Raines.

He is also amusing at the end of the song:

“It’s kinda hard to sing like that with the daylight out,” The-Dream said after finishing the first number in a steamy set of songs more appropriate for the bedroom than the sunlit cubicles of NPR.

“Back In Love” has more simple echoing synths (from Carlos McKinney) and spare drums (from Larone “Skeeter” McMillian) and with some clever rhyming:

I miss that body in the hallway
I used to meet that body in the foyer
If you were right here, we’d have to skip the foreplay

and

I was mad at you, you was mad at me
C’est la vie, arrivederci
Still, all I loved was you

“I Luv Your Girl” is a less of a sexy song and more of a stealing-your-shawtie kind of song.

I hate the adenoidal “ahhhhh.” that apparently indicate sex, but the lyrics are pretty funny nonetheless.  Actually in looking at the actual lyrics I see that he has really made himself more PG-13 than X-Rated on these songs.

And she runnin’ Fingers through her hair, tryin ta call her over there but she like, Na Na Na Na!
She drop it down to the floor, I’m sayin shorty you should go, and she like Na Na Na Na!

Those na na’s are an amusingly safe version of the actual lyrics.  And after listening to the actual song, I found even the original to be kind of funny-while he’s stealing your woman.

As with a lot of R&B I prefer the Tiny Desk version because it’s much less produced.  Of course I still don’t know why there’s a hyphen in his name.

[READ: October 14, 2019] “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”

This is a dark story (very Joyce Carol Oates) about the environment and how you can no longer flee to the country to get away from pollution–or worse.

It begins enigmatically with

“This matter of the mask for instance.”

Luce sometimes wears the mask–a half mask, green gauze mask–but never outside of the home.  She wore it any time the wind “smelled funny,” “smelled wrong.”  Especially from the industrial cities to the South.

She removes it if Andrew comes home. When he sees her he claims she is “catastrophizing” (Is that even a word?). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BETTY WHO-Tiny Desk Concert #861 (June 26, 2019).

I had never heard of Betty Who before this show and my word did she win me over.  She is so much fun, so entertaining that it makes me want to explore her music (and maybe even see her live show).

However,  Betty Who is an Australian cellist who plays dance pop music.

Her third LP, Betty, falls squarely in the … sun’s-out, buns-out pop genre.

I suspect that as with most of the pop stars who play quietly at Tiny Desk, I will probably much prefer these version to the original–so maybe I should just leave it here.

Some background

She grew up in Sydney, Australia, and started playing [cello] at the age of four (just like Yo-Yo Ma). Maybe it had something to do with her mom being in the room, but emotions ran high for the charismatic and chatty singer. “I didn’t want to be the girl who played cello and sang,” she told the crowd gathered to watch. “‘Cause that girl feels really far away from ass-out, sparkle-covered pop-star me.”

I would not have guessed her pop star ambitions as the first song starts with just her voice and cello.

When all the studio production is stripped away, what’s left are intricate melodies that soar through Betty’s impressive vocal range and relatable lyrics. As the audio engineer for the Tiny Desk concert series [Josh Rogosin], I’m always curious how the vocals will translate without the aid of pitch correction and tons of effects you hear on the album. I’m a sucker for great melody and Betty Who’s raw vocal performance at her Tiny Desk had me in a state of aural ecstasy.

It sounds fantastic.

She plucks the cello for the beginning.  She has a terrific voice, although she sings a little too pop for my full appreciation.  After the first verse, Myla Bocage adds some keyboard notes to flesh out the song.  After another verse, Jemila Dunham adds some cool bass lines.  Her bass throughout the show is pretty excellent.

After a chorus or two, she throws in a bowed cello solo which works perfectly (and sounds great of course).

After the song she is so bouncy and bright and energetic.

She tells us that she always wanted to be a pop star–she likes sparkles and have her ass out.  She wanted to be the love child of Beyonce and Britney Spears.  But she studied classical music since she was little.  She says, “I told myself I would commit to pop star life and dance and do what I always wanted to do and make that vision come true.  And then one day I’d just whip out my cello and say oh P.S. By the way.…  And this is the first time I’ve been able to do this.”

One of my favorite things about Tiny Desk concerts is that artists are often inspired to experiment. Betty Who was in town recently for a three-night residency at D.C.’s famed 9:30 Club where her sound was larger than life. The subwoofers cranked out backing tracks you could feel in your gut and dancers flanked the pop star, punctuating every pulsating beat. But she began her Tiny Desk performance with only her cello and her voice — the first time she’s ever accompanied one of her original songs with the instrument.

Song two is “Friend Like Me,” which is one of her favorite songs she’s written.

She wanted to wrote a song that said, I love you but you make me fucking crazy and I want to punch you in the face or I love you so much but you’re your own worst enemy and you’re taking yourself down.

It’s just her on the acoustic guitar and her voice is really lovely (less loud and poppy)  After a couple of verses Bocage adds some keyboard twinkles.  Some bass fleshes out the song, but it remains a very pretty ballad.

Before the final song, “I Remember,” she introduces the band and says “Ian Barnett on the [drum] pad.  You should come see us, he does much more than this.”

Betty Who says she dreamed of having a Tiny Desk concert ever since she was a teenager. She chose to end hers by asking everyone to sing along to the track, “I Remember.”

Dancing under the stars
Kissing you in the dark
I remember your love, oh
Never giving you up, giving you up, oh.

I love that she gives hand motions and massive encouragement as she teaches everyone the words.  She says she has three plants in the audience.  They’re going to sing loud and you can all mumble along if you want.

She says this song is about real couples “not kind of Instagram we love each other so much.  People who don’t fight, ick, what is that.  The best couples know each other the best and can push each other’s buttons.  It’s an amazing feeling to love someone so much but also want to strangle the life out of them,  They make you the most crazy, but that’s what makes you love them so much.

Betty’s reaction to their singing is wonderful.

She’s great and I hope she starts selling bigger venues.

[READ: July 1, 2019] “Bad Dream Job”

The Summer 2019 issue of The West End Phoenix was a special all comics issue with illustrations by Simone Heath.  Each story either has one central illustration or is broken up with many pictures (or even done like a comic strip).

Each story is headed by the year that the story takes place–a story from that particular summer.

1978: Dave Bidini got his first job working in a record store at the Albion Mall (made famous (to me) in the Rheostatics’ song “Jesus Was Once a Teenager Too”).

It was a dream job–that’s where he bought his 45s and LPs.  It was right across from an Orange Julius! (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: WYCLEF JEAN-Tiny Desk Concert #668 (November 6, 2017).

Wyclef Jean is a pretty exceptionally famous person.  And it is wonderful just how sweet and funny he is.

He starts his set with two highlights from his latest record, and finishes with a climactic rendition of his signature hit like you’ve never seen or heard.

The Tiny Desk Concert didn’t start out that inspiring me though.  For some reason he is reciting over and overt about bars on the bass.  No idea what that means.  He raps a brief biography that really kicks in when he sings:

“I flipped the language.  I called Trump started speaking Spanish (a Spanish verse).  Trump hung up the phone said I’m still not convinced.  I said you might be convinced when I sing in French.”  It’s all a lead in to the first song “Borrowed Time,” where he sings and plays lead bass.  Interestingly, he is playing a lead bass while Patrick Andriantsialonina also plays bass (throughout this song and each song).  It’s a gentle song, sweet and pretty.

When the song is over he removes his jacket:

I ain’t gonna front.  Everybody that’s watching this live right now knows when I was doing the rehearsal I did not have my jacket on.  I threw it on because I had to get my swagger.  Speaking of swagger, the blurb notes:

A seasoned pro, he walked through our doors greeting and charming anyone within arm’s reach. Once in front of an audience, he was in attack mode, playing every instrument in sight. Clef doled out stories ranging from his upbringing and rise with The Fugees to intimate musical encounters with Whitney Houston and Destiny’s Child. The mentions were properly placed and added substance to the performance, but to me, he pulled what I’d call a “subtle stunt.” Hip-hop is and has always been about youth and freshness, so most elder statesmen of rap aren’t celebrated to the degree of their peers in rock ‘n’ roll and country music. Every now and again it’s necessary to inform the younger generation, who would otherwise never know these epic moments ever happened.

He tells a funny story about his father wanting him to sing church music (he does a funny impersonation of his father “you got to serve gawd or the devil”).  He chose music and was kicked out of the house.  He moved in with his Uncle and that’s where they made The Score.  He’s been doing music since he was in his twenties.  He says people might say:

“Yo Clef is thug, but he kinda geeky.”  It’s the audio side.

He tells a story being 20-something (being a cocky 24-year-old) and making a beat for Destiny’s Child and Beyonce.  And then a hilarious story about Whitney singing flat.  As a producer I think Whitney hit a flat note.  “Oh my god, Wyclef Jean has to tell Ms. Whitney Houston that the note is flat.  As a producer we’re like astronauts we have obligations.” [laughter].  He continues in a whiny voice: “I don’t know if this rocket is gonna fly.”  He continues: “‘Whitney, the note is flat.”  Dead silence.  She goes, ‘Baby, the note is not flat, I just bent the note.’  And that’s the highest level of diva I’ve ever seen in my life.”  But she was right,  she took the note out of pitch and brought it back.”

He plays the keyboards on “Turn Me Good” with vocals from his niece Jazzy Amra.  When he introduces her, she comes and a guy follows to adjust the mic.  As he does, Wyclef comes out to “steady” the guy, it’s quite funny.  Wyclef sings the main chorus: “What we gonna do when we get to Zion?  We gonna make love all night like a Marvin Gaye song.”  {That’s an odd song to duet with your niece].  She has a pretty voice but I don’t like her delivery.

When the song is over he says, “I’m swearing like a monkey, dog, but don’t edit the footage, coz I got to show the kids how the work go.”  He asks for a towel “Is this like a Tiny Desk Towel exclusive?”

Introducing “Gone Till November” he says to his bassist, “Ask me the coolest thing about ‘Gone to November.'”  Patrick asks him and her replies, “Well Patrick, the coolest thing… I did this song because it’s about making runs about selling drugs….  I’m a big fan of Bob Dylan so the lyrics be having triple entendres not just double entendres.  I wanted Bob Dylan to be in the video.  Haters they be shouting ‘Bob Dylan will never show up for your video he doesn’t even show up for his own son’s video.’  But Dylan showed up.  So Mr Dylan if you’re watching we’re going do a rad version of for you coz you’re so cool man.”

Wyclef picks up the guitar.  After a buzzy guitar solo, the song settles down to some pretty chords and Wyclef singing.  This is apparently his big hit, but I don;t know it.  After a few verses and choruses, he slows it down: I got to talk to some of these kids, I’m 20 years older than most of them.  He does a slow rap followed by a really fast verse.  Manny Laine on drums does a great job so slowing down the beat and then bringing it back up during Wyclef’s (really long) solo.  It has a very Hendrix feel.  After playing for a minute or so, he puts the guitar behind his back and plays fairly well.  Then he plays with his teeth.  And finally picks up an NPR mug and uses it as a slide.  It’s all in good fun and the crowd eats it up.

It’s a really fun set, and Wyclef makes a great impression.

[READ: April 19, 2017] Captain Marvel: Stay Fly

I mentioned that Captain Marvel is confusing.  And even after I think I’ve straightened it out it’s still confusing.

This series is Volume VIII.  It contains 3 books: Captain Marvel, Volume 1: Higher, Further, Faster, More; Captain Marvel, Volume 2: Stay Fly; Captain Marvel, Volume 3: Alis Volat Propriis.

Prior to this, DeConnick wrote another Captain Marvel series Volume VII.  No idea why they are different volumes.  But there are also three books in this series Captain Marvel, Volume 1: In Pursuit of Flight; Captain Marvel, Volume 2: Down; Captain Marvel, Volume 3: Captain Marvel and the Carol Corps and, according to Goodreads at least, included in Volume VII is Avengers: The Enemy Within which seems to come before Carol Corp.  For some reason, very few libraries seem to carry this particularly series.

And then, just to throw more confusion into the works, there is a new series (the Captain’s logo looks different and it is not written by DeConnick) called Captain Marvel 2016.  There are five books in it with two being out so far: Captain Marvel, Vol. 1: Rise of Alpha Flight and Captain Marvel, Vol. 2: Civil War II.

Phew.

So, with all that background, it took me two years to track down Book 2 in the Volume VIII saga.  And I was really surprised at how silly it was.  Not necessarily in a good way, either.  I mean, sure I love the Marvel humor and I love that they play around with some interesting ideas, but I feel like Carol Danvers is a pretty great hero and she is spoken of in very high regard.  So why then does this book prominently feature cats, rats, rock stars and Santa Claus?  It seems to really play down her mad skills.

I was also a little put off by the artwork.  I really don’t care for Marcio Takara’s style in the first few chapters.  In part because it looks so very different from the cover art and Lopez’ art. I actually had a hard time following what was going on (which may have been the two-year gap, but I don’t think so). (more…)

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june23SOUNDTRACK: MONTY PYTHON-“Rock Notes” (1980).

mpThis skit (more of a monologue) comes from Monty Python’s Contractual Obligation Album, the first Python album I ever bought.  It’s not my favorite bit from them, but it’s short and wedged in the middle of the rest of the album which means that I know it by heart.  Now, the skit is most famous for naming Toad the Wet Sprocket (Eric Idle says he tried to come up with the most absurd name he could think of and there it was).  The band featured Flamboyant Ambidextrous Rex who fell off the back of a motorcycle.

What I tend to forget is that the rest of the joke is all about one band Dead Monkeys who have just broken up again.  They were together for ten years, but for nine of those years the band had other names.  Primarily, the names are fishy: Dead Salmon, Trout, Poached Trout in a White Wine Sauce, Dead Herring.  Then they ditched the fishy references for Dead Loss, Heads Together, Dead Together and ultimately Helen Shapiro.

This extended riff is rather silly and I’m not even sure it’s appropriate for a joke on bands.  I can’t think of many bands who have broken up and reformed under new names (I mean, yes, there’s a couple, but not enough to warrant this extended joke).

And yet, I still remember the joke, so it must be something, right?

What do I think of Dead Duck? or Lobster?

[READ: September 16, 2014] “Liner Notes”

This Shouts & Murmurs piece begins so strongly that I was super excited to read it.  Saunders riffs on liner notes in albums, specifically failed albums.  His liner notes are for the album 2776: A Musical Journey Through America’s Past, Present & Future which is just another attempt to “engage with the vast sweep of American history” via the musical epic.

The best joke is citing Meat Loaf’s “Ben Franklin Makes Love in a Foggy Grove of Trees” (which failed to translate to live performance).  [I would totally listen to that song].  He then talks about a Tim Rice-Andrew Lloyd Webber production of “Johnny Tremain” which was too intellectual for a nineteen-seventies audience.  But I feel like Saunders goes off track when, instead of staying with the slightly absurd realism, he jumps the shark by saying that the songs were too risqué “for a staid culture that, at that time, still believed that babies came when you left a pastel turtleneck rolled up in a wad overnight.”  It broke me right out of the exaggerated realism into the realm of outrageous farce.

Which is a shame because returning to real artists like Tom Waits making a biography of Jesse James called “A White-Trash Rambling Christ Figure Just Shot Your Brother, Amigo” is pretty darn funny. (more…)

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