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diaSOUNDTRACK: JAPANESE BREAKFAST-Tiny Desk Concert #663 (October 25, 2017).

I had it in my head that Japanese Breakfast was a weird band–psychedelic or wacky indie or something.   And maybe they are.  But certainly not here.

For this concert, the band is all acoustic (except for the electric bass).  For the first two songs there is a sting section.  Interestingly, the string section is Rogue Collective who also performed with Landlady on a recent Tiny Desk.   [Landlady’s Adam Schatz told Zauner that the Rogue Collective make pretty great Tiny Desk partners].

So the blurb corrects me about the band, describing their music as having “gauzy, astral synths.”  Those are clearly not present here.

As Japanese Breakfast, Michelle Zauner writes sparkling, opulent dream pop about grief and love (and, occasionally, robots). After releasing its debut album, Psychopomp last year, the band returned with this year’s stunning Soft Sounds From Another Planet. Where Psychopomp, written in the immediate aftermath of the death of Zauner’s mother, zeroed in on the experience of Zauner’s grief, Soft Sounds widens her aperture, featuring paeans to her coping mechanisms, ruminations on crooked relationship dynamics and said sci-fi robot fantasy.

“Boyish” aches with sadness (“your boyish reassurance is not reassuring”).  The melody (her guitar and Deven Craige’s bass to start) is lovely and heartbreaking.  Then the strings really punctuate the sentiment of these great lines.  And there’s some great backing vocals from drummer Craig Hendrix.

If you go to her don’t expect to come home to me.
I can’t get you off my mind /I can’t get you off in general
I want you and you want something more beautiful
I can’t get you off my mind / you can’t get yours off the hostess

I love the opening lines to ‘Till Death,’ which really sums up the end of 2016:

all our celebrities keep dying / while the cruel men continue to win.

She says the song is about marriage (and then chuckles).  The blurb says she sings “as she often does, in a way that strains her voice to the crackling, taut edge of heartbreak.”  This song is really lovely–the melody is a knockout.  The piano and bass start the song.  After the first verse the strings come in and Hendrix adds more backing vocals.

I love a song that ends with this final line:

PTSD, anxiety, genetic disease, thanataphobia

Everybody leaves for the final song, “This House.”  Except Hendrix moves from drums to piano.

Another great lyric opens the song:

This house is full of women
playing guitar cooking breakfast
sharing trauma doing dishes
and where are you

The song describes moments in love that are more fearful labor than bliss, the hazy space where commitment, confusion and longing intersect. Like much of Japanese Breakfast’s music, the performance shows Zauner looking unblinkingly at fear and pain, daring us to do the same.

Interestingly, for this concert, Rogue Collective has a different lineup.  They are a trio: Alexa Cantalupo (violin) and Natalie Spehar (cello) are back but Kaitlin Moreno (violin) is there while Livia Amoruso (violin) and Deanna Said (viola) are not.

In a cool footnote, the blurb says “The Collective practiced with Japanese Breakfast the day before the Tiny Desk, and was a featured guest later that night at the band’s D.C. show.”

I enjoyed this Concert a lot and will have to give a closer listen to their new album.

[READ: March 1, 2017] El Dia Mas Largo del Futur

This book came across my desk at work and I loved the look of it right away.  I can stumble through some Spanish books, but imagine my delight to see that this one had no words at all!  It is a wordless graphic novel (novela gráfica).

I especially liked the look of it because it reminded me in some ways of Chris Ware–very detailed, incredibly crisp lines, and really pleasing shapes.  It is also very dark, like Ware’s work.

But the comparison ends there.  This story is set in a dystopian future where violence is the norm, where robots can be easily programmed to kill and where love seems an unlikely prospect.

And NOW, after having read it, I have just learned the total history of this book.  It was originally written in French as Le Jour Le Plus Long du Futur.  Varela is from Argentina.  It has also been published in English as The Longest Day Of The Future by Fantagraphics books.  So even though I felt proud about “reading” the book in Spanish, I could have just found it in English too.  Well, I’m keeping with my original post, so….

You can see more details of the book from the publisher website.

But here’s what the site says (in Google-translated English, no the irony is not lost on me): (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: LANDYLADY-Tiny Desk Concert #657 (October 6, 2017).

As I started watching this video I said to myself, Is that Son Lux’s drummer (Ian Chang)?  Look at the way he is drumming, it must be him.  And it is!

I had never heard of Landlady but I was instantly intrigued that Chang was playing with them.

The Brooklyn-based band’s songs are the initial creation of leader Adam Schatz, who observes the world with fresh, almost alien eyes.  Landlady is also a band of brilliant musicians who carefully craft their playing to serve the songs. Each player on their own might seem to be making quirky sounds or playing odd rhythms, but together they create head-turning tunes.

The opening track for Landlady’s Tiny Desk performance, “Cadaver,” has its origins in a friend of Schatz’s who went to medical school, and the years she spent examining a single cadaver over and over and even more specifically about a tattoo on that cadaver’s buttocks.

“Cadaver” opens with prepared piano sounds although the song quickly resolves itself into a kind of quirky Steely Dan vibe.  I love that Chang is using big soft bright blue brushes on the drums and that he even plays the desk and everything else around him during the slightly noisy middle section.

After the song, Schatz is very funny.  “Thanks for coming to work today I think a lot of us are actually very impressed by people who actually go to work.  Afterwards we’ll have all sorts of questions.  So know that while you’re looking at us wondering how do they do it.  Know that we’re looking back at you… wondering how do we do it.”

“Solid Brass” opens with some lovely guitars.  This song feels like something Gabriel Kahane might have constructed.  The chorus begins with just the piano and him singing “My voice is lower in the morning” over and over.  And then the whole band joins in on that simple sentiment.  That chorus melody is repeated but with other different simple ideas: “your legs are shorter in the evening.”  After that chorus, the guitarist Will Graefe plays some wildly distorted noises while the piano has stopped and only Ryan Dugre on the bass is there to keep it going.

For their Tiny Desk Concert they came in as a foursome but also recruited the Washington D.C. string quartet, Rogue Collective to flesh-out their sound on the third song, “Electric Abdomen.” That cut, which seems to be about being uncomfortable in your own skin, sounds like it came from a long-lost tape from The Beatles during a session for Abbey Road, full of wonder and, like this Tiny Desk performance, worth digging deep into.

Schatz introduces the quartet: “These are our new friends Rogue Collective.”  [Alexa Cantalupo (violin); Livia Amoruso (violin); Deanna Said (viola); Natalie Spehar (cello)].  One of them jokes: “Not Rouge Collective.”  Schatz quickly replies: “That’s us.”

He tells us:  “They learned all the music.  That was very nice of them.  This is hard.   You get nervous when you’re not used to being nervous.  So I thought I’d say that out loud.  A lot of people come here and they don’t seem nervous.  Top artists of today…  Who are some of the….  Like John Philip Sousa.  Guys like them they act all macho and they think they can just nail it.  But its hard and it puts us in a vulnerable place and I think that’s the point of this.

“So I want to say ‘Thank you, Bob and everyone for putting us in this compromising position.’

“I’d like to dedicate this last song to one of the most important pieces of Public Radio that was ever produced.  A program that changed the world and you can’t imagine the world before it existed.  So I’d like to dedicate this song and the rest of our lives to Car Talk, which basically raised me.  They were like to extra parents.”

“Electric Abdomen” opens with the sound of vibes and prickly guitar.  Then the strings fill in and the guitar sounds great and.  And, yes, it has s decidedly Abbey Road feel to it–the guitar sound especially.

I enjoyed this set immensely and watched it many times.   And I was only saddened to discover that Landlady (and Okkervil River) played a show in Philly the night before I watched this video.  Sigh.  That’s a lovely pairing.

[READ: January 24, 2017] “My Guilty Pleasures”

Many times in short New Yorker pieces, the jokes are topical, which means they don’t always hold up well.  And, sometimes, they get stuck in one thing and don’t really move beyond that.

George Saunders is usually pretty good at getting his topical jokes to move beyond whatever he is spoofing.

But he also likes to really hammer home one idea for a while.  Like this one, in which his guilty pleasure is watching reality shows (all based around The Bachelor). (more…)

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