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Archive for the ‘Native Americans’ Category

indexSOUNDTRACK: LARA DOWNES-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #29 (May 30, 2020).

laraI don’t know Lara Downes, although from the picture you can see that she is a pianist, obviously.  But she also works in communities with young people–something she has been unable to do since the coronavirus took over.

This Tiny Home Desk is visually more interesting than most of the others, because she has a mobile cameraman, her son Simon, who walks around and zooms in on her fingers and elsewhere.

She plays three songs

all from her recent album Some of These Days… They are strong statements that resonate in new ways. From Margaret Bonds, one of the first celebrated African-American women composers, there’s “Troubled Water,” a poignant riff on the spiritual “Wade in the Water” that Downes says takes a “journey from classical virtuosity to gospel, jazz, blues and back again.”

It has a very fluid feel but is also quite dark.

The next piece surprised me not because of the song but because of the arranger.  Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, yes the author, created this arrangement of “Deep River.”  I’m surprised that there is nothing else said about him.  I had no idea he was musical as well.

She says there are many interpretations of the river in this song.  For some, it is crossing over into the afterlife.  In the time of slavery, it meant crossing to freedom.  For Downes it represents “crossing over” the coronavirus crisis, to something better.

She is looking to raise money for FeedingAmerica.  If you go to her site and donate you can get a signed copy of her new album.

The final song is Florence Price’s “Some of These Days,” which she sees as a vision of better times ahead.  It is a beautiful slow piece.

The set ends with a jump edit to her snuggling her beloved pooch, Kona.

[READ: May 31, 2020] “Two Nurses, Smoking”

This story is broken up into titled paragraphs.  The title often works as the first part of the first sentence.  At first I didn’t understand this technique, but by the end it made a lot of sense.

The story is indeed about two nurses smoking.

Gracie grew up living in a motel that people paid for week by week.  A high school counselor encouraged her to go to nursing school.  Marlon grew up on the Shoshone reservation then his mother moved East and married a man who drank as much as she did.  He had been in the war and has a scar from an IED. (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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[POSTPONED: CANCELLED: April 11, 2020] Basia Bulat / Samantha Crain

indexI saw Basia Bulat on a Tiny Desk Concert many years ago. She played the pianoette and sounded amazing.

That Concert is from 2011 and she has changed a bit since then.  She is more poppy and less folky.  I’m not entirely sure I like her new stuff as much as her old stuff, but I was pretty sure she’d play some old stuff and maybe bring out the pianoette as well.

Samantha Crain is a Choctaw-American songwriter and has been performing since 2004.  I’m surprised I haven’t heard of her before as she is quite well regarded.  Well I look forward to seeing her in person some day.

UPDATE: On June 15, I received a refund, officially cancelling this show.

 

 

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SOUNDTRACK: STUMPTOWN: Dex’s Mixtape (2020)

One of the fun things about Stumptown is Dex’s car–an old beat up Ford that she loves.

It has a cassette stuck in the player and the player goes on and off seemingly at will.  I don’t think the show has explored all of the music on the tape yet, but it keep the soundtrack squarely in the 1980s.

This Spotify playlist has 90 minutes worth of music that could easily fit on the cassette in the car.

The only discrepancy I have it is that “Yellow Ledbetter” from Pearl Jam didn’t come out until 1992.  We haven’t heard it in the car yet, although we have heard it in her house, so we’ll just consider that song a bonus cut.

Here’s the track list

  • SIMPLISTICS-Heat of the Night
  • BLONDIE-Heart of Glass
  • ELTON JOHN, KIKI DEE-Don’t Go Breaking My Heart
  • TIFFANY-I Think We’re Alone Now
  • BLUE SHOES-Hey
  • NEIL DIAMOND-Sweet Caroline
  • THE O’JAYS-Love Train
  • ASIA-Heat of the Moment
  • CAPTAIN & TENNILLE-Love Will Keep Up Together
  • PRETENDERS-Brass In Pocket
  • HALL & OATES-Private Eyes
  • CHAKA KHAN-I’m Every Woman
  • KISS-I Was Made for Lovin’ You
  • SNAP-Power
  • AIR SUPPLY-All Out of Love
  • PAT BENATAR-We Belong
  • PLAYER-Baby Come Back
  • EURHYTHMICS-Sisters Are Doin’ It For Themselves
  • CYNDI LAUPER-Girls Just Want to Have Fun
  • MISSING PERSONS-Walking In L.A.
  • WILSON PHILLIPS-Hold On
  • XTC-Dear God
  • PEARL JAM-Yellow Ledbetter (1992)

What’s great about the soundtrack is that the rest of the show is contemporary and very cool, with some really good song choices.  But I love that they can have this unexpected throwback musical story running through as a commentary.

[READ: March 20, 2020] Stumptown Volume 1

I had heard promising reviews of a new show called Stumptown.  It is based on this graphic novel series from Greg Rucka (who has written some amazing books over the years).  When I saw that the graphic novels were still available (possibly with new covers–the publishing history is a little confusing), I knew I had to check it out.

I have since watched most of the episodes (I’m a little behind) and I am hooked.

This book is more or less the start of the first episode of the show, but the show has changed things (and basically made the ending very different).

But before I get to the story I want to comment on Matthew Southworth’s drawings which are really terrific.  His style is realistic but rough around the edges which works perfectly for this storyline.  There’s a lot of impressionistic moments where you can feel the person moving (or being moved) without the need for action lines.  Also, the casting of the show was really perfect.  Cobie Smulders is a dead ringer for Dex Parios in the book and Cole Sibus is amazingly cast as Ansel (Southworth does a great job showing Ansel’s Down Syndrome).  Cole Sibus is really outstanding in the role–his comic timing is excellent.  The only character who looks nothing like the book is Jake Johnson as Grey.  However, Jake Johnson is awesome and he is absolutely perfect for the role–I feel like he’s far more interesting than the comic book character (although in fairness, Grey doesn’t have that much to do in the book). (more…)

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[ATTENDED: July 27 & 28, 2019] Newport Folk Festival

Back in 1998, I won a radio contest (not through luck, I knew the name of a song and couldn’t believe no one else did!) and scored a ticket to the Newport Folk Festival.  It was in a lull back then and also, I believe there was only one stage (it’s hard to remember).  Now it is at full power, selling out before artists are even announced.

S. and I have talked about going and finally this year I saw when tickets were announced and I bought 4 tickets for us.  I knew that our son wouldn’t want to go, but I decided to make a long vacation out of it–a couple days in Rhode Island and then about a week in Maine.  He couldn’t say no to going to that.

I didn’t get Friday tickets because three days seemed excessive.  Plus, you never know who is going to appear until long after you buy the tickets. and that actually worked out pretty well.   Turned out, there wasn’t anyone I really wanted to see.

So we rolled in for Saturday.  I was told that if you wanted to get the poster you had to get their very early.  We arrived at 12:30 and they were long sold out.  Oh well. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: DONKEY-“Memory Haunts Me” (Moose: The Compilation, 1991).

Back in the 1990s, it was common to buy a compilation or soundtrack or even a band’s album based on one song.  Only to then find that you didn’t really like anything else on it.

Maybe that single sounded like nothing else on the album.  Maybe the movie was almost entirely one genre, but they had that one song that you liked over the credits.  Or maybe the compilation was for something you didn’t know, but a song you really wanted was on it, too.

With streaming music that need not happen anymore.  Except in this case.

I bought this compilation, used, recently exclusively for one song, Rheostatics’ “Woodstuck.”  It’s a goofy song and this is the only place you can get the studio version.  The actual compilation was not well documented, so I didn’t know what the other bands on it might sound like.  It turns out to be a compilation for Ontario based Moose Records which specialized in Rock, Folk, World & Country.  They put out another compilation in 1992 and that’s all I can find out about them.

Donkey is NOT the Donkey from Atlanta.  This is a band from Toronto founded by Alex Radeff (the band now goes by Alex Radeff & Donkey). It’s a shame this song is buried so far down on this album, because it’s really great.  It’s got a cool Byrdian sound, but with a slightly darker feel.  This song sounds mildly sinister.  And then with chorus of “memory haunts me every single day,” you can tell why the tone works.

It’s got a guitar solo that sounds like it was recorded in a tinny room, with the rest of the band dropped down somewhat so it really stands out.  It’s certainly a peculiar song.  Like his website says: Founded by singer/songwriter/guitarist Alex Radeff as a vehicle for his eclectic songs.  The song even ends with a bit of backwards guitar solo.  Cool stuff.

[READ: July 20, 2019] “Indian Country” 

This is a story about Low Man Smith, a Coeur d’Alene Indian and successful writer.

He was returning to the Reservation (which he said was always horribly monotonous until some horrible violence interrupted the monotony) to meet up with Carlotta.

But when he arrived, she had sent someone to meet him because she had just run off and gotten married to Chuck.  She wasn’t planning on it, but Chuck showed up a couple days ago, eleven years sober and they ran off together. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: CANADIAN GUITAR SUMMIT (RIK EMMET, ALEX LIFESON, LIONA BOYD, ED BICKERT)-“Beyond Borders” (Guitar Player Magazine, July 1987).

I was not familiar with this recording and just happened upon it this weekend while looking up Rik Emmet.  So it turns out that back in 1987, around the time of the release of the final Triumph album with Rik Emmet, Rik had created this instrumental composition.  It features four superb Canadian guitarists.  I didn’t know Liona Boyd (classical) or Ed Bickert (jazz), but if course I know Rik and Alex.

Evidently Rik wanted to do something which fused genres together (Rik plays all manner of guitar quite successfully).

Fusing different musical forms is hardly new in the guitar world: The marriage between jazz and rock has survived nearly two decades, while jazz and classical get together fairly often. Of course, the more styles you try to blend, the less probable success becomes and the greater the risk of producing something whose sum is smaller than each individual element.

Rik Emmett, leader of the rock power trio Triumph and the author of Guitar Player’s Back To Basics column, was fully aware of the artistic hazards involved when he proposed a Sound page recording to Editor Tom Wheeler in late 1986 that would fuse rock, jazz, and classical. While such a project promised to be the most complex one of its nature since the Sound page’s debut in the Oct. ’84 issue, after hearing Emmett’s concept and who he had in mind to fill out his guitar quartet-Alex Lifeson, Liona Boyd, and Ed Bickert-the go-ahead was given.

The resulting composition-Emmett’s masterful “Beyond Borders” -succeeds in melding its various elements on a number of levels. Although brilliant playing abounds, the piece is more than a vehicle for virtuosic displays as it integrates various styles and weaves in and out of different moods, textures, tones, rhythms, key centers, and time changes. The players receive ample solo space; however, the emphasis clearly is on interaction-a surprising outcome, considering the ever-present temptation to fall back on excessive blowing (Emmett discusses “Beyond Borders” on page 80; the Sound page and musical excerpts are on page 82).

It’s a really lovely piece with each musician playing to his or her strength but also doing some unexpected things.  I feel like Alex has the most fun with th epiece as he seems to create a lot more textural stuff that actual solo material.

This recording is available on line in many places, but I chose this one because the sound quality is quite good.

During this lengthy piece in Guitar Player, there’s an interview with all four guitarists as well as some background information about the piece itself.

There’s also this explanation from Rik about who plays what, so you can follow along:

“Beyond Borders” is basically 120 bars long, and it begins with an adagio section with a tempo of 72 beats per minute. I do the lead guitar off of the top, and Alex plays the atmospheric stuff in the background, which includes low weird things and floating sound effects. Ed comes in with a little melody that lasts from bar 4 into measure 5, and then Liona’s little melody enters at bar 6. The lead that comes in at measure 8 is Alex. In measure 15 Liona plays a little classical lick that Richard Fortin wrote. At bar 17 I play a long feedback melody that continues to measure 26.

Liona begins her classical tremolo solo at measure 22; in the background you’ll notice the feedback guitar part. Liona’s and Ed’s parts cross at bar 28, as Ed takes over with a rubato chord-melody solo. At measure 33 he kicks into an allegro tempo of 140 beats per minute. That’s where I back him up with a simulated bass guitar part that I play on my Yamaha arch-top. For the warm bass sound I rolled the treble back and played with the fleshy part of my thumb. Ed does a cadenza at measure 64, and Alex plays an atmospheric technique where he holds a chord and brushes the strings quickly with the fleshy pads of his right-hand fingers; Lenny Breau was the first person I saw use that.

Bar 65 has an adagio tempo of 70 beats per minute. I play the lead guitar, and Alex adds the arpeggiated electric guitar part behind it. That continues to bar 76, where Liona plays her Lenny Breau octave harmonic lick. That’s also where I begin using the Coral Electric Sitar, with echo repeats on it. Bar 77 is semi-country acoustic fingerpicking with an andante tempo of 90 beats per minute. I play the acoustic steel-string, and Liona plays nylon-string in unison, all the way to bar 102; sometimes I break into harmony, but it’s a unison part essentially. During that same section I also play the Dobro part and all of the electric fills that have a Pat Metheny-esque sound. Alex did the violin sounding swells in the background with a volume pedal.

Where measure 101 crosses over to 102, I did a little lap steel thing with a volume pedal and echo that goes up from a fifth to an octave; it’s kind of a Steve Howe cop. Measure 102 is the beginning of the end. Liona plays the little classical part, and then I break into the harmonies above it. During this section I did all of the wire choirs, which are triads with some of the voices doubled, and I also played the 6/ 8 melody lead guitar fills on the tag right near the end.

It’s really great.

[READ: June 4, 2019] “Javi”

This was a wonderful, slowly evolving story that was one thing on the surface, but had so much more roiling underneath.

As it opens, Javier has knocked on the house of a “lady” in the middle of nowhere, New Mexico.  The person who answers the door doesn’t like that word and to Javi’s mind he’s not sure if the person is even a woman.  He clarifies that he’s looking for the painter.  She concedes that she is the only painter in the area.  He says that his moms heard she needed help.  She asks how old he is.  He replies “I’m four– I’m sixteen.”  The painter says she is 82, how can a young boy help her?  He lists the various things he can do for her–cook, clean, drive etc.  She is concerned that people are talking about her but he assures her it was for his benefit, not hers.

He explains that he walked the twenty miles from Pueblo.  If she’s impressed by this it’s hard to tell.  She is rather inscrutable.  She is supposed to go to an old age home, but if Javi can help her, she can delay that for a year or so.

There’s plenty of wonderful details that unfold slowly, because that is how she is: ‘watching her work is calming, hypnotic.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: LULA WILES-NonCOMM (May 16, 2019).

I thought Lula Wiles was a person, but they are a trio.

Contemporary roots trio Lula Wiles shined brilliantly on Thursday night. The young band, consisting of Eleanor Buckland, Isa Burke and Mali Obomsawin — joined by Eli Cohen on drums — [played] a passionate mix of bluegrass, country rock and folk music.

All four members of the group grew up in Maine, and they met while taking lessons at Maine Fiddle Camp, “which I know is, like, disgustingly adorable,” Buckland remarked during the show.  All three singers are also songwriters and instrumentalists, and they displayed impressive group chemistry in several different instrumentations throughout their performance. The trio has always sounded stellar in a traditional bluegrass format — like fiddle, guitar and upright bass — but they added new dimensions to their set when they chose to break out of that format and explore other sounds.

They opened with a traditional country-sounding song, “Hometown”

Lula Wiles’ opener, the poignant “Hometown,” found Burke playing an electric guitar with plenty of added fuzz, which propelled the song forward on top of Cohen’s steady backbeat. Buckland sang three verses from the perspective of an adult returning to her beloved hometown to find her friends and family struggling to make ends meet; the song’s lens gradually moved from personal to historical. “Flip a coin and call it pride or shame / Red and white and the working blues / Welfare, warfare, laying the blame / No matter who wins, someone’s gonna lose,” she proclaimed in her third verse.

“Nashville Man” is even more country, but a more stompin’ country with lots of fiddle from Burke and old-fashioned harmonies.

The album, What Will We Do, which follows their self-titled 2016 debut, fits within the stylistic paradigms for American roots music, but the songwriters also bring personal specificity and a modern edge — they pose questions about identity, history, and the principles of justice. In a statement on Lula Wiles’ website, Obomsawin explains, “We wanted to make an album that reflected, in a current way, what we are all staying up late thinking about and talking about over drinks at the dinner table […] What is everyone worried about, confiding in their friends about, losing sleep about?”

The first two songs seemed kind of fun (musically at least), but things get more serious when Burke introduced “Shaking as It Turns,”

She explained that she had written the song following the violent neo-Nazi rallies that took place in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017.

She says it’s about how she felt that summer and how I feel about what it’s like to be a person in America today.  Do you all have feeling about that.  We only have a 20-minute set or we’d expound on that longer–you’ll have to pay attention to the lyrics.

“Is this land yours? Is this land mine?” Burke solemnly wondered between plucks on her banjo. “Baby, do you know just who your enemies are?”

Musically, this was the most interesting with its percussion heavy banjo and loping beat.

Up next is the most powerful and affecting song of the night, “Good Old American Values.”

It is a country waltz on which Obomsawin sang and played a touching upright bass solo. Obomsawin, who is Native American and belongs to the Abenaki Nation, wrote the song “about growing up in a country that was built on the genocide of your people,” she explained.  She was inspired to write the song when protests against the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline occurred on the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota in 2016.

She doesn’t hold back on the lyrics, and the slow melody allows the words to stand clearly.

“Indians and cowboys and saloons / It’s all history by now, and we hold the pen anyhow / drawing good old American cartoons.” Then, after a verse about “American tycoons kicking their feet up in Cancún,” the chord changes took a dark turn, leading into a steely fiddle solo by Burke. “On those good old American values / There’s a fortune to be made,” Obomsawin concluded at the end of the song.

Obomsawin also told the crowd that she has been working on an essay for the Smithsonian Center’s Folklife Magazine about her experiences growing up as a Native person in Maine — I spoke with her for a few minutes after the show about her writing. Obomsawin explained that Native people are the “most invisible” of any ethnic group in the United States, and that she wanted to write about the many ways in which she sees Native peoples’ history and culture being made invisible in the twenty-first century.

When she was growing up, she and her family were the only Native people in their community, which was predominantly white. Although she did not remember experiencing explicit discrimination, she remembered times when she felt alienated by other people in some ways that were “fetishizing” and other ways that were “just ignorant.” As she became involved in the folk music community as a young person, she realized that the culture of American folk music bears a legacy of using Native tropes in songs and performances — especially Native clothing and images of Native people. These forms of cultural appropriation by white musicians are sometimes so ubiquitous, she noted, that many people don’t even notice they are happening. Obomsawin concluded by saying that when Smithsonian Folklife publishes her piece later this year, she hopes people will “read it with an open mind,” because sometimes Native peoples’ critiques of American culture are “so fundamental,” and they lead so deep down to the core of our country’s history, that they challenge our deepest notions of American identity.

The final song of the night is “Love Gone Wrong” the first track on the new record.  It’s a more rocking song with a nice guitar sound a great harmonies that reminds me of I’m With Her.  This song is a

vulnerable reconciliation about an imperfect romance. “What you got left when the flicker dies out? / Tell me what we’re gonna do now?” Burke and Buckland asked together. After the second chorus, the song suddenly turned slow and brooding as Cohen’s drums began to thunder. “There’s never gonna be a right time,” all three singers cried out together, their close three-part harmonies at their boldest and brightest.

That shift in tempo makes the song so much more dramatic.  It is a great set-ender.

[READ: May 22, 2019] “Enough”

This is a short story of a woman’s life.

The story begins with her as a young girl, the youngest of six, whose job it was to clean the plates after Sunday meals.  Each Sunday was a feast topped off by dessert. Every fourth Sunday was ice cream, the day she loved best.

She would bring in two dishes at a time (it was the good china) and proceed to lick the bowls clean from rim to rim.  She also delighted in the ice cream in her own bowl, but was always told not to be so unladlylike in her enjoyment.

When she got older, she developed “the problem with the couch.”  The problem was that she kept getting caught with a boy on it.  First when she was fourteen, both children blushing brightly. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: NEGATIVLAND-A Big 10-8 Place (1983).

After the cut-and-paste craziness of the first two Negativland albums, this third one was a bit more thought through as a whole.  It’s still a bizarre pastiche of samples and sounds, but there’s a more unifying theme.  And a lot of cursing.

There are six tracks on the disc.  It opens with “Theme from a Big 10-8 Place.”   Many of the sounds that you’ll hear throughout the disc are sampled here, but the main point of this song is a simple drum beat and David speak/singing “very stupid, very stupid” as well as some other thematically appropriate lines.

One two stupid
Three four dumb
Five six idiotic
Seven eight seat bee sate
Very stupid very stupid very stupid very stupid!
I like Concord
And 180-G
I like Pleasant Hill
No other possibility

The track ends with fascinating instructions like, “I want you to put parakeet feathers into your television set if you’re watching MTV” and “I want you to trip over your grocery cart if you’re shoplifting from Safe Muffins.”

The bulk of side one is “A Big 10-8 Place –Part One”: 13 and a half minutes of samples placed back to back.  These include: A woman screaming “Tommy?”; a clip from what sounds like a butchering video (“the second thing that happens is that the butcher loses control”) ; car commercials (“then the door closes behind you in safe and secure comfort”) ; house shopping commercials and the piano from “Clowns and Ballerinas.”  After about 6 minutes the bad language comes in–insults from what sounds like a CB radio.

“Clowns and Ballerinas” is 90 seconds of a little girl singing the song “Clowns and Ballerinas” to a simple piano accompaniment.

“Introduction” brings David out as he prepares us for him to talk about 180 and the Letter G.  “In a few moments we’re going to be 10-8.”

“Four Fingers” is a surprisingly catchy song played on an acoustic guitar with a whistling solo.  The vocals are smooth and clean and the lyrics are almost creepy but are actually funny:

I am a man, a man with two fingers
A man with two fingers on my hand
I am a man, a man with two fingers
But that doesn’t count my middle finger, my index finger, or my thumb.

Then comes “180-G: A Big 10-8 Place –Part Two” a 16 minute pastiche of David telling us how to get to 180 and the Letter G.  There’s cut up music behind them with choice lines like this:

Okay people we are 10-8 and the number is 180 and the letter is G.  There is no other possibility.

But before you get onto the bridge, around one big turn, you’ll come up to the place where the sex chemicals burned up.

First of all it’s very important that you turn on your AM radio. Set it to 1010 on your dial, and let the radio frequency energy from K-101 overload your little tuner until it distorts very highly [crazy extreme distortion] . And right at the point of that extreme distortion, there’s the big chairs. I’m not exactly sure, but I think that’s where all the sewer water from Oakland goes.

my favorite ham radio repeater station — that’s WR6 Automatic Bowel Movement.  And any of you who are into jamming, keep talking, keep jamming, because I’ll be listening on my scanner radio, and just maybe…you’ll be on the next album.

And just before you get to the top of the hill, you’ll notice the green slime oozing out from under the house at 180 and the letter G.

I repeat, you’re gonna have to shoplift the HR Steam Cleaning System from Safe Muffins.

About half way through it turns more jazzy (with guitars and bongos)

The door opens automatically, and the first thing you see is the orange carpet inside 180…and you’ll see the dog juice, the horrible dog juice all over the orange carpet at 180 and the letter G.

And then comes another well-known section from Negativland, a lengthy argument between David and his mother about where he put her cigarettes.

“I think I’d like to have a cigarette now. Where are my cigarettes, David?”
“They’re on top of the refrigerator.”
“I looked on top of the refrigerator. They aren’t there. will you please tell me what you did with my cigarettes?”
“Maybe you left them in the car.”
“I haven’t been in the car all day. You must have put them somewhere and I can’t find them. You better tell me now or I’m going to really get mad.”
“Oh yeah, I think I know where they are. They’re in back of the TV set, where all the parakeet feathers are.”

It’s all crazy and bizarre, but it’s kind of fun as a fractured narrative.

[READ: April 19, 2019] “Le Mooz”

This story is set in Ojibweg land.  Margaret has survived three husbands.  Nanapush has survived six wives.  They got together, “they were old by the time they shacked up out in the deep bush.”

They were both heated and passionate–both in love and in anger, “they made love with an amazed greed and purity that astounded them.  At the same time it was apt to burn out of control.”

To survive their passions, they rarely collaborated on any task, finding solitary work was more productive for both of them.  One day Margaret came swiftly home.  She beached the boat and was running up shouting “Le Mooz!”

Nanapush was sleeping and was irritated to be awoken by the yelling.  But if there was a Mooz, a moose, that would be meat for them for a long time. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: GRUFF RHYS–American Interior (2013).

Gruff Rhys was (is?) the singer and composer in Super Furry Animals, a fantastic indie-pop band from Wales.   After several years with SFA and several solo albums, Gruff decided to do something a little different.  Actually, everything he does is a little different, as this quote from The Guardian explains:

“The touring musician can feel like the puppet of consumer forces,” he writes, bemoaning the way that “cities have now been renamed ‘markets’ and entire countries downgraded to ‘territories'”. So, over the last five or so years, he has come up with the idea of “investigative touring”: combining the standard one-show-a‑night ritual with creative fieldwork. In 2009, he went to Patagonia to trace the roots of a disgraced relative called Dafydd Jones, and the Welsh diaspora in South America more generally, and played a series of solo concerts, as well as making a film titled Separado!. Now, Rhys has reprised the same approach to tell another story, and poured the results into four creations: an album, another film, an ambitious app, and this book – all titled American Interior, and based on the brief life of John Evans: another far-flung relative of the singer, who left Wales to travel to North America in the early 1790s.

So yes, there’s a film and a book and this CD.  This album is a delightful blend of acoustic and electronic pop and folk.  Rhys’ voice is wonderfully subdued and with his Welsh accent coming in from time to time, it makes everything he sings somehow feel warm and safe (even when it’s not).   Rhys creates songs that sound like they came from the 1970s (but better), but he also explores all kinds of sonic textures–folk songs, rocking songs, dancing song, even songs in Welsh.

“American Exterior” is a 30 second intro with 8-bit sounds and the repeated “American Interior” until the piano and drum-based (from Kliph Scurlock) “American Interior” begins.  It’s a catchy song with the repeated (and harmonized) titular refrain after each line and it’s a great introduction to the vibe of the record.  It’s followed by the super catchy stomping “100 Unread Messages” which just rocks along with a great chorus.  You can see Gruff “composing” the lyrics to this in the book.

“The Whether (Or Not)” introduces some electronic elements to this song.  It’s basically a great pop song with splashes of keys and some cool stabs of acoustic guitar.  “The Last Conquistador” and “The Lost Tribes” are gentler synthy songs, as many of these are.  “Liberty (Is Where We’ll Be)” returns to the acoustic sound with some really beautiful piano.

“Allweddellau Allweddol” (English translation: Key Keyboards) is the only all-Welsh song on the record and it romps and stomps and is as much fun as that title suggests it would be.  There’s even a children’s choir singing on it (maybe?).

“The Swamp” is a simple electronics and drumming pattern which leaps right into “Iolo” one of the most fun songs on the record.  It’s a nod to the Welsh poet who inspired but backed out of Evans’ expedition at the last-minute but also a rollicking good time with the chanted “yoloyoloyoloyolo” and great tribal drums from Kliph.

The end of the album slows things down with “Walk Into the Wilderness” a slow aching ballad and the final two animal-related songs.  “Year of the Dog” is kind of a mellow opus when it is joined by the instrumental coda “Tiger’s Tale.”  Both songs feature goregous pedal steel guitar from Maggie Bjorklund.

Gruff Rhys is an amazing songwriter.  He could write the history of an obscure Welshman and still get great catchy songs out of it.  And that’s exactly what he’s done here.

[READ: December 2018] American Interior

How to explain this book?

I’ll start by saying that I loved it.  I was delighted by Rhys’ experiences and, by the end, I was genuinely disappointed to read that Evans’ trip didn’t pan out (even though I knew it didn’t).  The only compliant I have about the book is that I wish he had given a pronunciation guide for all of the welsh words in there, because I can’t even imagine how you say things like Ieuan Ab Ifan or Gwredog Uchaf or Dafydd Ddu Eryri (which is helpfully translated as Black David of Snowdonia, but not given a pronunciation guide).  But what about the contents?

The subtitle gives a pretty good explanation but barely covers the half of it.

Here’s a summary from The Guardian to whet one’s appetite for Rhys himself and for what he’s on about here:

[John] Evans was a farmhand and weaver from Waunfawr on the edge of Snowdonia, who was in pursuit of something fantastical: a supposed tribe of Welsh-speaking Native Americans said to live at the top of the Missouri river, who were reckoned to owe their existence to the mythical Prince Madog, a native of Gwynedd who folklore claimed had successfully sailed to the New World in 1170. In 1580, this story was hyped up by Elizabeth I’s court mathematician and occultist John Dee (born of Welsh parents), in an attempt to contest the Spanish claim to American territory. Two centuries later, with the opening of new frontiers, talk of a tribe called the Madogwys and “forts deemed to be of Welsh origin” began to swirl anew around Wales and North America, and became tangled up in the revolutionary fervour of the time, along with a radical Welsh spirit partly founded in nonconformist Christianity.

All this was moulded into a proposal made by a self-styled druid named Iolo Morganwg (“a genius”, but “also a fraud of the highest order”, says Rhys), who “called for the Americans, in the light of Madog’s legacy, to present the Welsh with their own tract of land in the new country of the free, so that the Welsh could leave their condemned royalist homeland”. Morganwg stayed put in Cowbridge, near Cardiff (the site of his “radical grocery” shop is now occupied by a branch of Costa Coffee), but Evans was inspired by his visions, and eventually set sail.

Rhys goes on a “journey of verification”, following Evans’s route from Baltimore, through such cities as Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, and then up the Missouri river to the ancestral home of the Mandan tribe of Native Americans, who had been rumoured to be the Welsh-speakers of myth, and among whom Evans lived, in territory argued over by the British and Spanish. Along the way, he does solo performances built around music and a PowerPoint-assisted talk about Evans’s story, keeps appointments with historians, and also tries to glimpse the America that Evans found through the cracks in a landscape of diners, what some people call “campgrounds”, and Native American reservations.

The Guardian’s review also talks about why the book works: (more…)

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