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Archive for the ‘All Songs Considered’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: LEY LINE-“Oxum” (SXSW Online 2021).

I never intend to go to SXSW–I find the whole thing a bit much.  But I also appreciate it for the way it gives unknown bands a place to showcase themselves. NPR featured a half dozen artists online this year with this note:

This year, the South by Southwest music festival that takes over Austin, Texas every spring happened online. Couch By Couchwest, as I like to call it, was an on-screen festival, with 289 acts performing roughly 15-minute pre-recorded sets across five days in March.

This list was curated by Bob Boilen.  He also notes:

 I didn’t enjoy hearing loud, brash music while sitting on a couch the way I would in a club filled with people and volume, so I found myself engaging in more reflective music instead.

I’m going in reverse order, which means Ley Line is next.

Ley Line is four women, based in Austin TX, playing an upright bass, a guitar and soft percussion.

The first ninety seconds of this song slowly evolve from a pretty guitar melody and lead vocals, to harmony vocals supporting a lead vocal and a soft echoing drum

And then the bouncing drum is joined by cymbals and a satisfyingly deep bass melody.

Ley Line is four singers, including a pair of twin sisters, who find inspiration in music from Latin America, West Africa, and Europe as well as North America. The simplicity is what I loved most about this Austin-based group, both in its spare percussion and lovely harmony.

It’s fascinating to hear to song shift from Spanish to a wordless language (I think) to English, all while retaining a similar sound.

That is until three and a half minutes when the song suddenly shifts to a a dancey song.  Bouncy bass, a fast rhythm and more of that cheerfully singing (in Spanish once again).  It’s quite arresting.

[READ: July 10, 2021] “Understanding Owls”

David asks the universal question, “when does one reach a point in your life when you say ‘I’ve got to weed out some of these owls?'”  We’ve all been there.

Of course, you don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, so you can’t get rid of the crocheted owl from your sister.  You keep the owl napkins and candles–those are useful. But trivets and trinkets can go in the trash or to goodwill.

This overwhelming feeling happens when you tell people you like something.  His sister Amy said she liked rabbits and soon enough, she had cushions, slippers, bowls, magnets etc.

Amy’s started with a live rabbit.  But Hugh and David’s owls started with art.  Hugh painted birds on a client’s ceiling.  He painted song birds and then she asked for owls.

It made no sense nature-wise–owls and songbirds work different shifts, and even if they didn’t they would still never be friends.

But it was her ceiling so he did it.

He bought the book Understanding Owls to learn what they looked like.  The book became an inside joke for them–i wish I could see what a barn owl looked like, if only there was some guide nearby to show me.

Then, pushing the joke further, David decided to buy Hugh a stuffed owl.  But he learned that it is illegal to own one in the United States–even if it dies on your property you cant keep it.

he had gone to a taxidermist.  One taxidermist even went so far as to stretch a chicken over an owl form.  It was disturbing. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: TENGGER-“Achime” (SXSW online, 2021).

I never intend to go to SXSW–I find the whole thing a bit much.  But I also appreciate it for the way it gives unknown bands a place to showcase themselves. NPR featured a half dozen artists online this year with this note:

This year, the South by Southwest music festival that takes over Austin, Texas every spring happened online. Couch By Couchwest, as I like to call it, was an on-screen festival, with 289 acts performing roughly 15-minute pre-recorded sets across five days in March.

This list was curated by Bob Boilen.  He also notes:

 I didn’t enjoy hearing loud, brash music while sitting on a couch the way I would in a club filled with people and volume, so I found myself engaging in more reflective music instead.

I’m going in reverse order, which means I start with TENGGER

TENGGER is a traveling musical family based in Seoul. TENGGER makes its hybrid sounds with a mix of harmonium and modular synths. The couple’s child joins this performance of “Achim,” playing a bird caller and doing movements that add an otherworldly dimension to the music.

This song is very simple, and very soothing.  It opens with a somewhat harsh but soft note, followed by a simple looping electronic melody.  The female vocalist sings some soft soaring notes that float atop the melody.

The bird calls are really quite delightful and add a nice level of whimsy.  After this, a bass note is added which gives the song a bit more gravitas.  After about 3 and a halt minutes, a drumbeat comes in and the song feels complete. It loops around for another minute and a half and then fades out.

It’s quite lovely.

[READ: July 10, 2021] “Journey Into Night”

David Sedaris writes about travel a lot. He is, after all, a touring author/speaking.  But he has also lived in many many places around the world.  So he has a lot of experience with air travel.  Of course, since he is famous (and apparently well off).  He tends to fill in what was (at least in 2007 called Business Elite).

He first mentions the flight from JFK to Paris that leaves at 7PM and arrives at 845 AM.  He says there’s a brief parody of evening. Dinner is served, Trays are cleared and then, four hours later it’s time for breakfast–an attempt to trick the body that it has slept the night. Some passengers even prepare for bed–line up at the bathroom with toothbrushes, wearing slippers.

Business Elite is separated from everyone else.  The first time he flew it, he didn’t care for the whole boarding first par, but the pampering was pretty nice.

Although on this one flight he was asked to do the airline a favor.  A passenger was crying–his mother had died and he was returning home.  He was disturbing the neighbors near him and the flight attendant asked if he could sit in the empty set by David.

David, who is usually easily judgmental was horrified by these people.  The man’s mother had died.  He mentions a first class passenger who threatened to sue an airline because a blind person was travelling with  seeing eye dog.  The man said hadn’t paid thousands of dollars to sit next to a dog.

David wasn’t sure how to react to the crying man, so he planned to basically ignore him.  The man waved off his food, but David was pleased to get his dessert.  He even learned that (In Business Elite) he could ask for extra

spend eight thousand dollars on a ticket and, if you want an extra thirteen cents worth of ice cream, all you have to do is ask.

But really the hardest prat was to try to remain somber for this man.  I  mean, there was a Chris Rock movie on the screen. And once you realize you cant laugh, it’s impossible not to.  Like about their Greek grandmother

For children, nothing beats a flatulent old lady.  And she wasn’t embarrassed by it.

Their father would ask if something was funny.  They’d say no while giggling.  He would wallop them on the head with a metal spoon which only made things funnier.

But then as he started to think back to those times–so young and simple–he started to cry too.  Just joining the man in solidarity.

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SOUNDTRACK: Bob Boilen’s Favorite Tiny Desk Concerts of 2019.

For 2020, I intend to put more albums in my Soundtrack section.  But it’s amazing how time consuming that can be.

Nevertheless, I’ll always be posting about Tiny Desk Concerts because I watch all of them.  So I’ll start 2020 with Bob Boilen’s favorite Tiny Desk Concerts of 2019.

It amuses me that Bob Boilen and I often share very similar tastes in music, but our favorite things are usually quite different.

When we first started filming musicians playing behind the Tiny Desk in April 2008, the beauty was in the intimacy and simplicity of these concerts. Now into our 11th year, after more than 900 Tiny Desks, the other treasure I find in these concerts is the variety. I remember having the cast of Sesame Street here in May, with NPR parents and their children seated on the floor watching the Muppets. The following Monday we had the blood red-faced raging of Idles, climbing all over the desk and singing “I’m Scum.” The scope of music is invigorating, especially considering a world of listening where we can not only get comfortable with what we love, but where the quantity of music from any particular genre could keep us happy all year. Tiny Desk concerts are here to shake up your tastes a little and help you stretch your ears and discover something you never knew existed or convert you to something you never thought you’d like. Here are 10 great examples of that magic from 2019.

I don’t have a list of favoirtes, but I will make some observations about Bob’s.

Bob seems to really like bands who put their names in all caps.  Also bands who have a number (specifically 47) attached to their letters.

Quinn was the Tiny Desk Contest winner.  Sesame Street is pretty iconic.  Taylor Swift is something of a surprise, but was clearly the biggest name they’ve ever had.  And yet, Lizzo’s Tiny Desk has twice as many views as Taylor Swift’s (5 million to 2.5 million!).

Looking forward to their 1,000th show later this year.  I wonder who it will be.

[READ: January 6, 2020] “Playing Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain”

This was a great short story about playing a video game.

For decades, the video game industry has been releasing video games in which a protagonist kills people from other countries.  Since I don’t play these games, I never really thought about what it would be like to be from that country and to play those games.

Surely people from all around the world like to play video games, and they probably want to play the popular ones as well.

In this story an an Afghani-American kid, Zoya, who works at Taco Bell has saved up all of his money (the money that he doesn’t give to his out of work father) to buy the final game in the Metal Gear series.  He has been playing this series which has becomes “so fundamentally a part of your childhood that often, when you hear the Irish Gaelic chorus from “The Best is Yet to Come” you cannot help weeping softly into your keyboard.” (more…)

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[ATTENDED: October 29, 2019] Jay Som

A few years ago, I listened to a podcast on All Songs Considered, in which they talked about Jay Som, Japanese Breakfast and Mitski as being similarly-minded songwriters.

I made a point to try to see all three of them and Jay Som was my third.  I feel like her songs might be the most commercial-sounding (I mean, “Superbike” is awesome!) and yet she played in the smallest venue of the three.  But the fans were really into the show!

Jay Som is the creation of Melina Duterte.  She came out last after her band set up and checked out to make sure everything was cool.  When she came out on stage there was much applause and she thanked us for coming to her show while Sum 41 was playing downstairs.  he said that she and the band checked out a few songs before their set started.  Actually their set was so short, they could have easily gone down afterward and heard more.

Up on stage with her were Oliver Pinnell on guitar, Zachary Elsasser on drums and Dylan Allard on bass and keys.  There was also a fifth person on stage.  A woman.  And that’s all I really know about her.  I’m sure she was introduced, but I never caught her name.  And, because of the position of the keyboard rack, I literally never saw her face.  She played keys and bass.  When she stood in front of the keys, the upper keyboard blocked her face and when Dylan played keys, he totally blocked her.  So, apologies, unknown band member. (more…)

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[ATTENDED: October 29, 2019] Boy Scouts

I had heard a song by Boy Scouts on NPR and I was pretty happy they were going to open for Jay Som.

Traffic was a little heavy and I feared that since another band [SUM 41!] were playing in the main part of the building, that it would be tough finding parking. But I got a spot and made it up to The Foundry with no problem. I wound up right behind a short person who was against the fence.

Boy Scouts is basically the creation of Oakland-based songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Taylor Vick.  She writes delicate, harmony-laced folk and sings in a gentle tone.

I really enjoyed that the songs were simple but not obvious.  There was usually something unexpected in the song that kept it from being monotonous.  Whether it was an unexpected pause before a beat or just the way she stretched out a chord at the end of a line.

She also played some unexpected chords–or at least unexpected high on the neck of the guitar. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE ANGELUS-“The Young Birds” (2019).

Every once in a while I like to check in with Viking’s Choice on NPR’s All Songs Considered.  Lars Gottrich specializes in all of the obscure music that you won’t hear on radio.  For this month, he did a special focus on Patient Sounds. a small label based out of Illinois.

[UPDATE: At the end of 2019, Patient Sounds closed shop. I’m not sure if any of these songs are available outside of Bandcamp].

Lars had this to say about the label

Matthew Sage, who runs the label, knows that dynamic drone, jittery footwork, oddball drone-folk, hypnagogic guitar music and cosmic Americana can exist in the same space.

The second song of the week is by The Angelus.  Lars describes the song:

Redemption often comes at the hands of something bigger than yourself, but as The Angelus’ soul-rattling doom-gaze reminds us, the love of young children will make you humble.

This song starts with crashing heavy chords–cymbals and loud guitars.  But then it settles down to a groovy death riff.  The surprise to me was when the singer began singing.  He has a soft melodic voice which totally changes this from a heavy dark song into a kind of melodic slow heavy song.  The chorus is surprisingly heavy and even ends on a kind of positive mood.

[READ: September 1, 2019] “Class Picture”

This story surprised me because it started

Robert Frost made his visit in November of 1960, just a week after the general election.  It tells you something about our school that the prospect of his arrival cooked up more interest than the contest between Nixon and Kennedy.

If Nixon had been at their school, they would have glued his shoes to the floor.

This is quite a lengthy story and there are a lot of components.  Wolff fleshes out this school very well.  So well, in fact, that I could see this being developed into a novel [It is actually an excerpt from a novel]. Although for the purposes of this story, the plot is dealt with fully.

It also makes me wonder if such a school could actually exist.  Certainly not in 2020, but even in 1960?  Because this school exhibited pride in being a literary institution. Glamorous writers visited three times a year and the English masters carried themselves as if they were intimates of Hemingway.  The teachers of other subjects (math, science) seemed to float around the fringe of the English masters’ circle.

The tradition at the school was that one boy would be chosen to meet the famous author who was coming next.  This year it is Robert Frost.  Each boy would submit an entry (in the case of Frost it would be poetry).  The author himself would select the winner.  And these meetings were a big deal to everyone on campus.

The narrator is very excited but he knows that his poems are subpar–he writes fiction.  He was on the school’s literary magazine board so he was familiar with the other great writers in his class.  There were three.

George Kellogg was a proficient writer of poetry, although the narrator found the boring.

Bill White was the narrator’s roommate.  He’d written most of a novel already and his poems were impressive.

Jeff Purcell was the third.  He was also on the literary magazine and was quick to dismiss others.  Could that translate to his own writing?

The one detour from the poetry angle is about smoking.  The school forbade smoking but a lot of boys did anyway.  The narrator said he loved smoking.  He smoked in storage closets and freezers, steam tunnels and bathrooms.  He even went out for cross-country so he could smoke while running in the woods.

If you were caught smoking you were expelled.  It happened every once in awhile.  A person was sent home just before the Frost Poem deadline.  This made the narrator quit smoking on campus.

The narrator wrote a poem for the occasion but he didn’t think it was good enough.  So he decided to submit an older one on the off chance that Frost liked it.

I won’t spoil the winner, but Frost did come to the school and he read some of his poems aloud.  During the Q&A that followed a master asked a question.  Interestingly he misstated the title of the poem.  He called it “Stopping in Woods” which Frost corrected instantly to “Stopping by Woods on a  Snowy Evening”  The master continued the question asking about iambic lines  Frost says “Good for you, they must be teaching you boys something here.”

The boys all laughed and Frost seemed pleased–had he made a mistake about the master or had he known all along?  The boys were surprised to learn later that Frost was quite funny.

The end of the story shows the winner of the contest questioning the value of his poem.  He felt that Frost mis-read it and that perhaps he won for the wrong reasons.  Should he blow off Robert Frost?  Is he crazy?

I really enjoyed this piece and found myself thoroughly engaged.  If this is part of a novel, I would be very curious to read it.  Turns out it is an excerpt from the novel Old School.

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SOUNDTRACK: DEATHPROD-“Disappearance / Reappearance” (2019).

Every once in a while I like to check in with Viking’s Choice on NPR’s All Songs Considered.  Lars Gottrich specializes in all of the obscure music that you won;t hear on radio.  For this month, he did a special focus on Patient Sounds. a small label based out of Illinois.

[UPDATE: At the end of 2019, Patient Sounds closed shop. I’m not sure if any of these songs are available outside of Bandcamp].

Lars had this to say about the label

Matthew Sage, who runs the label, knows that dynamic drone, jittery footwork, oddball drone-folk, hypnagogic guitar music and cosmic Americana can exist in the same space.

The first song is by Deathprod.  Lars says:

Deathprod’s first album in 15 years, Occulting Disk, smothers dank, dark drones around the void of your soul, like a frozen hug from a cyborg teddy bear.

This song is 8 minutes long.  It consists almost entirely of a single loud distorted note/chord played on a synth until it fades into distorted crackles.  The note changes, but it is a pretty ominous soundtrack, like the slowest monster approaching you.

[READ: September 2, 2019] Blackbird

This book starts out with a very realistic concern but quickly become supernatural.

Nina was 13 years old and had a vision of an earthquake coming.  Her sister just called her a crazy baby (something the whole family called her). But moments later, the Verdugo Earthquake happened.  She and her family fled, and were almost crushed by a collapsing bridge.

But then a beautiful celestial monster came down and fixed the bridge and saved them.  The creature cast a forgetting spell over everyone, but somehow Nina remembered it all.

Despite the magical creature’s help, Nina’s life went to hell from there.  Her mother and father began fighting.  He began drinking and she died in a car accident while trying to get away from him.  Nina had been a great student but high school became unbearable.  She became “the girl who talked about magic and wizards and paragons.”

Now as an adult, she has a dead end job at a bar, is living with her sister and is sneaking painkillers.

There’s a guy, Clint, who seems to be stalking her at the bar.  I mean, he’s cute, but he’s always there. (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: LIGHTSPEED CHAMPION (“Field Recording” March 2, 2009).

Years before NPR created a category called “Field Recordings,” they were creating Field Recordings–“backstage” (or elsewhere) recordings of bands.  Most of these seem to happen at Music Festivals where musicians just seem to be hanging around anyway.

I have no idea how many of these there are.  In fact, the only reason I discovered this one is because there was a link to it from the Blood Orange Tiny Desk Concert.

Because it turns out that Devonté Hyness, the guy behind Blood Orange was once Dev Hynes, the guy behind Lightspeed Champion.

And so, eleven years ago, Lightspeed Champion played SXSW.

It was a spectacularly beautiful day in Austin, TX when Lightspeed Champion’s Dev Hynes and violinist Mike Siddell met with All Songs Considered’s Bob Boilen for this exclusive outdoor performance. Hynes and Siddell offered up an intimate little set as they ran through four songs, opening with “Tell Me What It’s Worth,” followed by “Everyone I Know is Listening to Crunk,” “Galaxy of the Lost” and an inspired cover of Olivia Newton John’s “Xanadu.”

For all four songs, it’s Dev on acoustic guitar and Mike on violin.  Like on “Tell Me What It’s Worth” Dev sings mostly quietly with his accent audible.  The violin adds sweet touches and occasional solos.

He introduces “Everyone I Know is Listening to Crunk” by saying that crunk is a musical genre that originated about two hours east of here.  Li’l John more or less started it and the queen of crunk is Sierra.  It features this amusing chorus (?)

my drawings are starting to suck
My best friends are all listening to crunk
i feel like the world’s gone crazy
…sometimes in the cold night my phone rings but it’s not you

“Galaxy of the Lost” is a slow pretty ballad with a lovely rising scale in the middle.

Finally comes his cover of “Xanadu” (a song I love).  The opening guitar sounds like “Sugar Pie Honey Bunch” and I love the way he resolves it into “Xanadu.”  The sprinkles of violin are a nice touch.

It’s pretty amazing how different this sounds from Blood Orange.  It’s an impressive development for an artist.

[READ: January 23, 2019] Secret Coders: Potions & Parameters

Secret Coders 4 ended with a puzzle.  But I read it months ago, so I haven’t even thought about it since then.  In fact, I have conceded that I will not learn basic programming from this series, so I’m not even trying.  I could see, though, that if you were reading these in quick succession that it would be fun to learn how to do what they are doing and to try the tests.

When we last left our heroes they were being attacked by biting ducks (!).  They use their program skills and the hard-light-generating Light-Light to escape.  And they wind up in a room with all the people who have drunk the green soda.  Including Hopper’s dad.  What?

As they try to snap him out of the “green!” stupor he is in, Dr. One-Zero arrives with Paz.  Turns out Paz was double crossing the kids all along and now Dr. One-Zero has the hard light generator and has the kids trapped.  He’s that much closer to winning–and his final plan is pretty terrible. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SHAKEY GRAVES-Live at Newport Folk Festival (July 28, 2018).

I really only know Shakey Graves (Alejandro Rose-Garcia) from NPR Music.  I enjoyed his Tiny Desk and have thought he’d be a fun folk rocker to see live.  He’s got a raspy voice and is not afraid to go loud as needed.  He says that with this show, he has now played all four stages at Newport.

He’s going to “Kick this off with a waltz that I wrote years ago that has sadly become more relevant every year I’ve played it.  It’s about not listening to people and listening to people at the same time.  What?  How’s that possible?  It’s called ‘Word of Mouth.'”

This song is just him on his guitar with a kick drum and tambourine (not sure if he’s doing the percussion, but I assume he is).  Midway through, he kicks in the distortion for a loud middle section.  The song is long, about 7 minutes, and in the middle, he says, “And if you can’t handle shit here in the United States you better get the fuck out.  That’s terrible advice, honestly.  You gotta stand your ground and hear yourself out.”

The ending feedback segues into “Foot of Your Bed.”  A full band has evidently joined him as there is now a pedal steel guitar, drums, and a harp (?!).  It’s a quiet song which they segue into the much louder “Cops and Robbers.”

“The Perfect Parts” opens with a complex drum part and then a stomping clap-along with a big dah dah dah dah chorus (that he gets everyone to sing along with).

“Big Bad Wolf” opens with some cool guitar sounds before turning into a song that builds nicely.  “Mansion Door” is my favorite song of the set.  It builds wonderfully with Graves’ rough voice totally soaring. It’s followed by “Can’t Wake Up” which he says is about a “sleepy person, oh so sleepy.  No, it’s about changing things that you’re capable of changing even if they bring you distress.”

“Dining Alone” is the theme song of this fake person Garth Nazarth (all of his songs are about this fictional guy).  Garth hates his job, but all he does is fantasize instead of changing any aspect of it.”  Continuing with the downer aspect is “Counting Sheep.”  He says that the whole new album is about suicide “oh my gosh, not that.”  He says he was never suicidal, but he has gotten letters from people who have mentioned some intense feelings.  So he encoded “don’t die” messages throughout the record.  “Counting Sheep” is “a straightforward ‘don’t die’ song.  If you need a hug, come find me, I’ll give you a hug.”

The band leaves after the rocking “Excuses.”  It’s another great song from this show.

The final two songs are solo renditions of “Bully’s Lament” and “Roll the Bones.”  There’s some great rocking guitar on “Roll the Bones.”  I feel like the energy that Graves creates is what really makes his live shows special.  I hope he plays the Festival this year.

SET LIST:

  • “Word Of Mouth”
  • “Foot Of Your Bed”
  • “Cops And Robbers”
  • “The Perfect Parts”
  • “Big Bad Wolf”
  • “Mansion Door”
  • “Dining Alone”
  • “Counting Sheep”
  • “Excuses”
  • “Bully’s Lament”
  • “Roll The Bones”.

[READ: January 19, 2019] “Do Not Stop”

For some reason I thought that Salvator Scibona was an author I really liked and I was puzzled that I didn’t like this story very much.  Then I figured out that Scibona is not who I was thinking of at all, and that the last story I read by him I didn’t really enjoy that much either.

The first sentence sums up the story pretty well: “Okinawa was a fever dream of mosquitoes and Falstaff beer.”

The whole story, which is a Vietnam war story, is also a confusing fever dream that seems endless.

Vollie is getting shitfaced, but the Marine Corp rule was that they couldn’t put Vollie on the plane to deploy if he was too drunk to walk unassisted.  As he leaves the bar he is assaulted by people selling things, and advertising jingles just compound the alcohol in his head. (more…)

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