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Archive for the ‘Tiny Desk Concert’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: MR. BUNGLE-The Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny Demo (2020/1986).

In 1986, Mr. Bungle released a demo tape called The Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny.

In 2020, after a reunion tour of sorts, the band rerecorded the album, with some slight personnel changes. Original singer Mike Patton was still there as was masterful guitarist Trey Spruance and bassist Trevor Dunn.  But they had two impressive guests stars (who also performed live with them), Scott Ian (from Anthrax) on rhythm guitar and Dave Lombardo, drummer extraordinaire.

And thus they re-recorded the initial demo.  Fans of Mr. Bungle’s later genre bending work would be a little disappointed because this was pretty much a heavy heavy metal record.  But it is Mr. Bungle so you know there’s gonna be some weird stuff too.

The only song they don’t play from the original is “Evil Satan” which is more or less a goof anyway.

“Grizzly Adams” opens the album with a very pretty guitar instrumental. Spruance really shines with this moody, weird piece.  But even when the full band joins in in the last 30 seconds, it doesn’t prepare you for the heaviness to come.

“Anarchy Up Your Anus” is old school metal–heavy guitars with an Anthrax/Slayer vibe.  There’s even a lengthy scream after the opening drum fills.  This song has an opening narration by Rhea Perlman.  Yes.  Rhea Perlman.  The narration comes from the Chilling, Thrilling Sounds Of The Haunted House Disney album (on the demo they just played the audio from the record).

“Raping Your Mind” is out of sequence from the demo (it was originally song 6).  It continues with the heavy Anthrax-like riffage and some serious drumming.  There’s a cool middle moment where there’s two guitar solos and just bass and drums in the back–there’s some seriously wicked guitar soloing going on.

“Hypocrites /Habla Español o Muere” was originally a longer song, but they decided to shorten it and add this humorous cover of the Stormtroopers of Death song.  The title is mentioned in the first few seconds, then after 30 seconds, the song jumps into a bit of “la Cucaracha” and then segues into “Speak Spanish or Die.”

“Bungle Grind” is really heavy with some classic mosh sections and faster riffage.

“Methematics” is a new song.  It’s a bit more standard heavy metal and not so much early thrash until the double bass drums kick.  There’s lots of parts including a classic punk style in the middle.  This is more akin to the later, adventurous Mr. Bungle, but at 8 minutes it is a little long.

“Eracist” is another new song.  This one is great.  Really catchy with some good old fashion metal riffs and chanted chorus.  There’s a seriously heavy middle section, too.

“Spreading the Thighs of Death” was the third song on the demo.  It’s some good fast thrash with wicked chord changes and massive double bass drum.  There’s some really wild guitar soloing too.

“Loss For Words” is a Corrosion of Conformity cover.  It’s a pretty serious cover version.  Patton’s vocal delivery is even a little different.

“Glutton for Punishment” is another new song that fits into the classic riff an thump thrash.  There’s a whispered vocal part where you can actually hear the words!  And a fascinatingly fiddly guitar solo that left me wondering how he did it.

“Sudden Death” ended the demo and ends this as well.  A heavy chugging riff and super fast thrashing–it’s impressive that they can keep it up for seven plus minutes.  I rather liked the “yes/no” chanting at the end.

This album isn’t for everyone (as most Mr. Bungle albums aren’t).  But it does show off some quality old school metal and some serious skill for a band covering themselves 30 years later.

[READ: March 24, 2021] Zed

I saw this book in Barnes & Noble and fell in love with the cover.  I made sure to look for it at the library and was pretty psyched when it came in.

And I was pleased as soon as I started reading.

Set in the not too distant future, one tech company, Beetle, dominates the world.  I thought that Beetle was pretty inspired name.  It could be Apple (who have a connection to The Beatles, with Apple Records) and it looks a lot like the word Google, although I suppose it is probably closest to being about Amazon–with their online assistant Athena.

Nearly every citizen (the book takes place in London, but Beetle is global) wears a BeetleBand which monitors everything you do–like a Fitbit or Apple Watch on steroids.

It tells you when you are stressed or when you should hydrate or that you shouldn’t have that donut.  Indeed, everything is now really “smart”: fridges, doors, cars.  Everything in your house is monitoring you. And everyone has a Veep, a personal assistant who does everything for you (except for physical things, since it has no body). You pay for all the best stuff in Beetle bucks–the cryptocurrency that replaced actual  money as the dominant currency.  If you didn’t convert your pounds, euros or dollars, when the rate was good, you’re just stuck.

When the book says everyone, it’s really mostly everyone. There are some people who can’t afford such extravagance.  People who don’t work for Beetle get paid in regular money which isn’t very useful.  There are also neo-Luddites who want nothing to do with Beetle.  But they are carefully monitored by Beetle.

Most people work and communicate in a virtual world with avatars that are some version of themselves.  And most importantly, every person has a Lifechain–the algorithm that determines the longevity and happiness you should experience.  This predictions are pretty much never wrong and everyone uses them to judge people–employers, police, etc. Everything you do, every decision you make changes our Lifehchain, which changes you likelihood of doing x y or zed. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MILEY CYRUS–Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #161 (January 28, 2021).

I’m quite torn about Miley Cyrus.  I respect her individuality and her desire to push boundaries (and her Happy Hippie Foundation [created to rally young people to fight injustice facing homeless youth, LGBTQ youth and other vulnerable populations] is pretty great).  But sometimes I don’t always love her choices.

In all that time I’ve never given much attention to her music.  She was a pop singer (or worse, a country singer) and that was that.

Now, after getting mixed up with The Flaming Lips, who even knows what she’s up to.

For her Tiny Desk Concert (I can’t believe it’s barely over 11 minutes when so many other have done them over 20) she has built a tiny room, complete with a bed and a window and posters on the wall.  The room itself is probably three feet high and Miley, bedecked in a fascinating array (fake, one assumes) furs an leopard skin pants and a big hat and glasses.

The blurb gives rather an extensive narrative to Cyrus’ video

Here, the scene opens with Cyrus, dressed head to toe in rock-star faux fur, in what looks like a teenage girl’s bedroom. But the perspective in this pink-and-purple space feels a little … odd.  As Cyrus sings, it becomes clear that this is her Wonderland – like Alice full of magical cake, she’s grown to exceed her surroundings. By the end of this three-song set, Cyrus reveals that it’s the adolescent enclave that grew too small for her, not the other way around.

That give a lot of credit to a little video.  But whatever.  First she lounges on her bed and sings a pretty intense version of Mazzy Star’s “Fade into You.”

The original was pretty chill (and maybe a little boring) and Miley inject some powerful screams in the middle and her voice gets all raw.  It adds some drama to an otherwise chill song.  Or as the blurb says

a hazy psychedelic anthem that she infuses with just the edge of the next day’s hangover.

Up next are two songs from her latest album.

The two songs from Plastic Hearts that follow are her own bids at classic-rock timelessness.

In “Golden G-String” Cyrus assesses her own life in the spotlight with Leonard Cohen-esque charm.

She takes off her coat and hat (the video ifs filmed from different angles and there’s some overlapping edits.

This song is really quite catchy.  I think Id like to hear the album version.

And “Prisoner” is the power ballad that lets Cyrus really break out – as she leaves the tiny room — just a box, it turns out, on a soundstage – and joins her band,

Her poor band is never really on camera. It pans around a little before prisoner–you see some hands and some hair of Stacy Jones: drums; Mike Schmid: keys; Max Bernstein: guitar; Jamie Arentzen: guitar and Joe Ayoub: bass.

“Prisoner” sounds like a classic rock song-maybe from Heart or Fleetwood Mac.  This album is getting some good accolades and I might just have to check it out.

[READ: March 18, 2021] I Text Dead People

We brought this book home from the library for my daughter, but I found myself reading and (sort of) enjoying it.

Annabel Craven and her mother have just moved from Sacramento to this small town.  They moved because Annabel’s Uncle died and left his house to them.  Since they lived in a tiny apartment in Sacramento, her mom figured it was a step up.  Except that their new house is actually a creepy old “haunted” house that is adjacent to a cemetery.

On her first day of school, Annabel took a shortcut through the cemetery where she found a phone.  She had recently broken her phone and her mother was trying to teach her the value of things by making her save up for a new one.

Obviously, she will return this found phone to its owner, but until then, it might be nice to be able to communicate with people  Sadly, the phone has no power so she couldn’t locate its owner anyhow. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: LOUS AND THE YAKUZA-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #168 (January 27, 2021).

If I listen to a few Tiny Desk Concerts in a row, it can get pretty dull hearing the same more or less generic pop music (the bar has been lowered I’d say for Home Concerts).  So it’s really nice to hear something different.  Like vocals in French!

Lous — an anagram for “soul” — is Marie-Pierra Kakoma, a 24-year-old artist based in Belgium but born in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  Lous and The Yakuza perform a Tiny Desk from the Book Bar in the Hôtel Grand Amour in Paris.

“Dilemme,” her 2019 single, opens the set.

The song conjures up images of growing up in the Congo and Rwanda: “Living haunts me, everything that surrounds me made me mean,” she sings in French. Her songs are often set to Congolese rumba rhythms, filled with resilience, beauty and resistance.

I just love the way the chorus ends with a choruses and echoed “na na na na” (or “non non non non”) as Ayelya Douniama and Myriam Sow sing along and harmonize.

“Bon Acteur” opens with some sharp drums from Jamiel Blakeand and then gentle keys from Joseph Nelson while Lous kind of raps–quickly–in French. It is pretty sweet.  The song has a slower soft jazz feel at the end.

Up next is her favorite song on the album “Dans La Hess” means “being broke” ’cause that’s what I used to be.  “It’s over now because we’re shining.  Some black girl magic.”  The song has a soft bounce with some slightly funky five-string bass from Swaeli Mbappe.

And while the music is smooth, upbeat and warm, what lies beneath in Lous backstory, in her French lyrics, is, at times, deep and disturbing.

She came to Belgium because her family escaped war in the Congo. They were refugees.  These songs from her 2020 album, Gore, are steeped in a life that saw her mother imprisoned in the Congo for being Rwandan, then become separated during their escape to Belgium. They were eventually reunited, but Lous was a troubled teen and spent a period of time adrift before pulling her life together in pursuit of music and art. There’s much to uncover and discover here. This Tiny Desk (home) concert is a deep journey.

“Solo” is a quieter ballad with just washes of keys and her voice for the first half of the song.  Eventually the bass and drums come in, but they stay quiet accenting her wonderful voice.

She thanks everyone and then speaks in French to introduce “Amigo.”  This song feel more tense than the others.  There’s a wicked drum beat (mostly rims) and a sliding funky bass that counterpoints the swirling keyboard chords.

It’s fascinating not knowing what she’s saying and honestly being unable to tell what the tone of the lyrics are meant to be (if she is playing music that’s contrary to the lyrics, I’m a total loss).

“Amigo” feels very dancey with nice backing vocal but the highlight is the moment in the middle where it’s just the keys and her spoken word.  Who knows what she’s saying, but it sounds great.

[READ: March 20, 2021] “Seven”

I don’t often think that short stories published in the New Yorker are actually excerpts from future novels.  I’ve got it in my head that these are all short stories.  Which is patently false.  Although it doesn’t say anywhere on the page whether it is or not, so I simply don’t know.

What has happened many times is I’ve felt that a short story had a poor ending only to find out it wasn’t an ending, just a part of a whole.

So I’m assuming that this story is part of a much greater story because otherwise the ending is a total fizzle.  And yet the story felt like it could have been a short story–the detail wasn’t extravagant (the best sign that it’s a part of a novel is if it seems like there is too much detail).

This story is fairly simple, so far.  A Haitian immigrant is living in New York.  It has been seven years since he has seen his wife.  We learn a little later that they were married for exactly one day–as a binding agreement–before he left for New York.

He had been trying to get her a visa and it took over six years (hence the title “Seven”). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SEVANA-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #159 (January 26, 2021).

I had not heard of Sevana, although she is a member of Protoje’s In.Digg.Nation collective

“If You Only Knew” is a pretty pop song.  I enjoyed the way the music dropped out and there wa s quiet drum fill Mark Reid.

This concert was filmed at the Kingston Creative Hub back in September 2020 (the interludes you’ll hear about the pandemic are reflective of that time).

The second song “Blessed” opens with gently picked guitars from and Nicolas Groskoef and Almando ‘Mundo Don’ Douglas who also both play solos throughout Almando first, Nicolas later in the song.  It sounds like a Santana song and is an example of her

jumping delicately between traditional R&B, Caribbean gospel and soul, with touches of reggae interspersed.   On “Blessed,” an infectious ode about the miracle of life and faith, she welcomes us with open arms into her church and demonstrates the wide range of her multi-octave voice.

“Be Somebody” has some interesting sound effects and vocal samples from Jean-Andre Lawrence and washes of keys from Rhoan Johnson.

She closes out the four-song set with her most recognizable tune, “Mango,” a dancehall-influenced love song.

I would have thought this dancehall song would be more of a banger, but aside for some quietly pulsing bass from Kawain Williamson, the song is pretty mellow.

[READ: June 3, 2019] “A Dream of Glorious Return”

This is an excerpt from Rushdie’s novel Fury which I have not read.  The thesis sentence comes fairly early though.

Life is fury, he’d thought.  Fury–sexual, Oedipal, political, magical, brutal–drives us to out finest heights and coarsest depths

It concerns professor Malik Solanka, a fifty-five year old retired historian of ideas.  He is presently living in Manhattan, although that is a recent change in his life.

He seemed to mostly want to be a solitary man–celibate by choice–ignoring those around him.  Like his neighbor, that damn Mark Skywalker who asked if the slogan “The sun never Sets on American Express International” would seem offensive to Britons.

The novel really sets the time and place quite well–current movies, the election (“unlovable presidential candidates (Gush, Bore))” and the talk of Cuban refugee Elian Gonzales.

The phone rings and it is his wife Eleanor in England.  She complains that their son is ill and he doesn’t seem to care.   But more importantly

without a scrap of credible explanation you walked out on us, you went off across the ocean and betrayed all those who need and love you most.

He thinks back to how they met and how he had fallen in love with her voice.  Fifteen years ago when he phoned a publishing friend, Eleanor had answered and he was smitten with her voice–asking her out for dinner that evening.

So how could he leave her and his child?  One night

he sat in the kitchen, in the middle of the night, with murder on the brain: actual murder, not the metaphorical kind.  He’d even brought a carving knife upstairs and stood for a terrible, dumb minute over the body of his sleeping wife.  Then he turned away, slept in the spare bedroom, and in the morning had packed his bags and caught the first flight to New York

He had left his first wife Sara earlier in a less dramatic fashion.  They married too quickly and felt trapped almost immediately.

He reflected back to his childhood in Bombay when Mr Venkat, the big-deal banker whose son Chandra was the ten year old Malik’s best friend

became a sannyasi on his sixtieth birthday, and abandoned his family forever, wearing no more than a hand-hewn loincloth, with a long wooden staff in one hand and begging bowl in the other.

He would never return.

This story could go in many directions from here.

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SOUNDTRACK: JLCO SEPTET WITH WYNTON MARSALIS-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #163 (February 2, 2021).

I was looking for some era-appropriate music for this post, then I saw this Tiny desk from Wynton Marsalis which hearkens back to big band but is very contemporary (just like this story).

Marsalis has been writing music about democracy and the call for justice for decades. “I hope that the social and political corruption and turmoil of these times cast a light on the individual investment required to maintain a libertarian democracy,” he wrote on his blog in January. “May the events of these times inspire us all to engage even more deeply in the rights and responsibilities we have as citizens.”  Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz At Lincoln Center Orchestra Septet recorded their Tiny Desk (home) concert at Dizzy’s Club, or what they call “the house of swing.”

The first of the three pieces is called “Sloganize, Patronize, Realize, Revolutionize (Black Lives Matters),” a six and a half minute instrumental that  features tasty solos from just about everyone.

“Sloganize, Patronize, Realize, Revolutionize (Black Lives Matters),” [is] a bold statement about humanity and the consequences of racism. Marsalis says this piece — as well as the rest of the music on his new album, The Democracy! Suite — deals with the timeless human issues we see exacerbated during the times of the pandemic, like social challenges and matters of the heart.

It’s got a big swinging intro and then things settle down for individual moments.  First Walter Blanding plays a grooving tenor saxophone solo.  Wynton takes a bright trumpet solo.  Carlos Henriquez gets a little upright bass solo action and has a little back and forth with Obed Calvaire on drums.  I often wonder if these solos are written out, or if they follow a general guideline or if they are all improvised.

After a return to the main melody, Ted Nash gets a very different sounding alto saxophone solo after which Elliot Mason plays a ripping trombone solo.  Dan Nimmer plays a slightly dissonant piano solo before the band returns to the main theme and brings it all home.

The next two pieces of the suite run uninterrupted into each other.

“Deeper than Dreams” is a reverential piece Marsalis wrote for those who have lost loved ones during the pandemic. Marsalis … lost his father, the legendary pianist and jazz patriarch, Ellis Marsalis, to complications from COVID-19 last spring, and [he] speaks affectionately of “the times when our old folks come and sit with us in the spirit realm when we are sleeping.”

This piece starts slow and swoony. This time the solos are more duos.  With Marsalis and Nash playing together, then Blanding and Mason going back and forth and finally a piano and bass moment for Nimmer and Henriquez.

To close, “That Dance We Do (That You Love Too)” is playful and funky and inspires a hopeful message, one that Marsalis says is “for everybody who got out and got down during this time on behalf of freedom.”

This final piece opens up with a funky introduction.  Nimmer mutes the piano strings as he plays a sound that sounds like a guitar.  The bass brings in a funky rhythm and then the horns all go to town.  The biggest surprise comes when Blanding brings out a tiny saxophone that looks almost like a toy and yet he plays a wicked and wild solo on it.

Then Marsalis plays a muted raw trumpet solo–he gets some wild and crazy sounds.

Obed Calvaire never gets a drum solo per se, but his work throughout the songs is always interesting and complex with all kind of nice percussion and rhythm.

This was a really fun set.

[READ: March 15, 2021] Matthew Henson and the Ice Temple of Harlem

I saw this book at work and thought it might be a reprinted Blaxploitation novel.  But in fact, this is an entirely new book.

I also didn’t realize that Matthew Henson was a real person.  I’m embarrassed not to know that but I see that it was almost by design that I didn’t know who he was.

Henson was an American explorer who was one of the first people to reach the geographic North Pole.  He was essentially partners with Robert Peary on several voyages to the Arctic over a period of 23 years.  [I’d never heard of Peary either, so I didn’t feel too bad about not having heard of Henson].  But unsparingly, upon the success of reaching the North Pole, it was Peary who received the accolades and Henson was dismissed as his helper or even his servant.  Henson received nothing for his work and wound up languishing until many years later when his work was finally recognized:

In 1937 he became the first African American to be made a life member of The Explorers Club; in 1948 he was elevated to the club’s highest level of membership. In 1944 Henson was awarded the Peary Polar Expedition Medal, and he was received at the White House by Presidents Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower. [He died in 1955].  In 1988 he and his wife were re-interred at Arlington National Cemetery. In 2000 Henson was posthumously awarded the Hubbard Medal by the National Geographic Society.

So that’s the background.

In this story, Henson has come back from his expedition and has been making a name for himself as a kind of hero for hire.  It’s a wonderful conceit and a great way to get attention for a man who deserves more name recognition.  Also very cool is that the book includes Bessie Coleman, (the first African American and Native American woman to earn a pilot’s license–although she had to go to France to earn it since America wouldn’t give her one). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: PUP-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #149 (January 21, 2021).

A lot of Tiny Desk Concerts are by bands I don’t know (and then really like).  Some are by bands I don’t like.  And every once in a while they have one by a band I like a lot.

Pup is a hugely popular pop punk band from Canada.  I’m bummed I didn’t get to see them when they played around here, but I wasn’t really aware of them at the time.

I have since come to enjoy their music quiet a lot.

“Rot” (from the group’s aptly-titled 2020 EP, This Place Sucks A** ) opens with some fast drumming from Zack Mykula, then Stefan Babcock starts singing and playing rhythm guitar.  After the first verse, Steven Sladkowski adds higher harmony notes–a simple but cool effect.  It’s not until the (outrageously catchy) chorus that Nestor Chumak adds the bass notes and, suddenly, the song feels huge.  I really like that Babcock adds some noisy harmonics and mini feedbacks into the chaos.

The other fun thing is that everyone except Babcock is wearing a mask–even while signing backing vocals (it’s not hard to wear a mask, people).  For a fast punk song, it’s actually quote long–over three minutes.

“My neighbors hate us, and I don’t blame them,” Babcock said.  The Toronto group refused to dial down the volume, filling Babcock’s neatly-furnished living room – complete with an Ontario pennant – and just maybe making a few enemies down the street in the process.

“Kids” (From 2019’s Morbid Stuff) opens differently–bass and harmonics for the first verse, before the rest of the band crashes in. There’s even a harmonic-filled guitar solo.  I like in the middle when it’s almost only drums and Mykula plays some cool rhythms on the floor tom.

Up next is “Reservoir,” a track off the group’s debut.  It’s full on with lots o crash cymbal, and lots of fast playing from everyone during the chorus.

“Scorpion Hill” runs to almost seven minutes and has several parts.  It opens quietly with just Babcock singing and playing.  After the first verse the whole band joins in including backing vocals.  But it’s still fairly quiet until after a pauses a n a misdirecting guitar strum, the song rockets off with lots of thumping drums and bass  After a couple of lengthy section, there’s pause and then a simple riff during which everyone sings “ah ah ah oh.”

This was a wonderful set.  And the even better news

the handmade “Ceci n’est pas une Tiny Desk” (“This is not a Tiny Desk”) sign serves as a warning: When the Tiny Desk returns to NPR HQ and the U.S.-Canada border reopens, prepare to have your workday interrupted.

[READ: February 1, 2021] “Comfort”

This story seemed rather different from Munro’s usual work.

It is about Nina and her husband Lewis. Lewis was a teacher at the high school left until he left under less than positive circumstances.

Nina met with Margaret (another former teacher who left on good terms) at the high school tennis courts.  Nina had not set foot on high school grounds since Lewis had left

When she returned (victorious from her matches), she discovered that Lewis had taken his own life.  They had talked about Lewis doing this, but Nina always thought she would be there–a ceremonial act of some sort.  But clearly Lewis didn’t want her to see him do this.  (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MUZZ-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #162 (January 29, 2021).

I had not heard of Muzz before this set.  They are a project of Interpol singer Paul Banks.

Paul Banks and Josh Kaufman have known each other since childhood. You likely know Paul Banks as the singer for Interpol; Josh Kaufman is a producer and one-third of Bonny Light Horseman. They are both friends with drummer Matt Barrick, who played a Tiny Desk concert in 2012 with his band The Walkmen.

The trio plays three songs from their self-titled debut album.  I’m not sure what the record sounds like (Barnes suggests that at least one of the songs is more rocking), but this is a mellow gathering.

Josh Kaufman told me via email that “Paul was stuck in Glasgow and Matt and I were quarantining with families in Philadelphia and Brooklyn, respectively. At the very end of a long couple of days of rehearsal and taping, we — very late at night, Paul jet-lagged and the rest plain exhausted — stayed awake a little longer to try a campfire style strum along to some of the songs from our new LP. The result here is our Tiny Desk.”

All three of them are wearing masks and Barnes can sing no problem–people need to lighten up about the masks.

“Bad Feeling” has one guitar from Kaufman and quiet malleted drums as Banks sings.  I don’t really hear Interpol in this at all, it’s much folkier

“Knuckleduster” is kind of a rock n roll song but they’re playing it rather quietly.  It doesn’t sound any different in this format except the drums are heavier and there are some deeper chords.

Barnes picks up a guitar for “Trinidad” and plays the opening melody.  Having the two guitars playing harmonies is really nice.  The drums are just brushes rubbed on the heads.  It has a very campfire feel.

As they prepare for the last song, Barrick brings his drum mic up front.  It takes a moment or two (no edits, Banks jokes). “Summer Love” has a drum machine and Barrick playing a very quiet synth. It, too is a pretty, quiet song with a delicate solo from Kaufman.

[READ: March 10, 2021] “Family Furnishings”

One of the great things about Alice Munro stories is the way she fully fleshes out the characters.  In this story, the plot (such as it is) is one thing, but Munro adds in so much detail  about the characters–details that give you a fuller picture of them, but which don’t really have an impact directly on the plot–that you feel like you are fully a part of this world. We learn that the narrator was married twice an we learn a bunch  about her first and second husbands. None of this has any direct bearing on the story, but these details give you the most complete picture of the narrator and helps to flesh out the decisions she makes.

This is the story of a young woman who grows up to become a writer and how her father’s cousin had an unexpectedly big impact on that career trajectory.

When the narrator was little her father’s cousin Alfrida (Freddy) was a dramatic and dynamic person.  She worked for the newspaper and was part of the collective of writers who contributed to “Flora Simpson Housewives’ Pages” (there was no Flora Simpson, just a photo of a woman).  She also wrote the “Round and About Town” column which allowed her to give her opinion on all things local.

She was appropriately full of herself but she was always a delight to have around.  The rest of her family was quite dull and formal and the narrator felt like Alfrida loosened everyone up. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKNORA BROWN-GlobalFEST Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #136/148 (January 14, 2021).

Nora BrownGlobalFEST is an annual event, held in New York City, in which bands from all over the world have an opportunity to showcase their music to an American audience.  I’ve never been, and it sounds a little exhausting, but it also sounds really fun.

The Tiny Desk is teaming up with globalFEST this year for a thrilling virtual music festival: Tiny Desk Meets globalFEST. The online fest includes four nights of concerts featuring 16 bands from all over the world. 

Given the pandemic’s challenges and the hardening of international borders, NPR Music and globalFEST is moving from the nightclub to your screen of choice and sharing this festival with the world. Each night, we’ll present four artists in intimate settings (often behind desks donning globes), and it’s all hosted by African superstar Angélique Kidjo, who performed at the inaugural edition of globalFEST in 2004.

The third artist of the fourth and final night is fifteen year old banjo player Nora Brown.  Nora was born and bred in Brooklyn, but she has a huge affinity for Appalachian banjo music.

30 feet below the surface in Brooklyn, 10th grader Nora Brown brings incredible, surprising depth to the Appalachian music she plays. Over the course of her Tiny Desk Meets globalFEST concert, surrounded by innumerable globes and instruments, she infuses new life and energy into the traditional songs of Addie Graham, Virgil Anderson and Fred Cockerham. Nora weaves together songs and storytelling, speaking of the great history of the music that came before her and at which she excels.

Nor plays three songs. “The Very Day I’m Gone” is an Addie Graham song.  Graham was a singer from eastern Kentucky.  It is a slow piece that is primarily a bass riff with some high notes and very soft singing.

Her dad made the banjo she is playing.  As the song ends you can hear the shuttle train that runs back and forth about every seven minutes.

Nora has her school stuff on her tiny desk, since she’s been doing remote school learning.  And she’s a high school student which means she ends her sentences with, “So yeah”

“Miner’s Dream” is a Virgil Anderson tune.  He is from the Kentucky/Tennessee border and brought a bluesy touch to his banjo playing.  This one is a faster instrumental played on a snake head Gibson banjo, the bowl of which is over 100 years old.

“Little Satchel” is by Fred Cockerham.  The banjo she is playing is from John Cohen’s of the New Lost City Ramblers.   Roscoe Halcomb would use it when touring with John.  John recently passed away and the banjo is on its way to the Library of Congress.   The song has fast playing with a cool lyrical melody.  It’s my favorite of the three.

[READ: February 10, 2021] 5 Worlds Book 4

I had actually forgotten about this series, and was quite happy to see this book at the library.  This is book 4 of 5 (5 due out in May).

The book does a nice job of bringing us back up to speed in the first few pages–reintroducing everyone and reminding us what is going on.

Of all the books, this one was the most straightforward.  There’s not a lot of travels and we understand most of what’s going on by now.

Oona, Jax, An Tzu and Ram Sam Sam land on planet Ambrine in the town of Salassanra (where Ram Sam Sam is from).  They receive a mixed welcome.  Since they have lit 3 beacons things have not been great on all the worlds.  (The task is not completed, and the process is a little rocky).  Oona is met with some hostility although the planet people love her (she brought water to them after all).

But this task (to light the fourth (amber) beacon) seems pretty easy. The beacon is in a pyramid.  It’s right in front of them and they meet little resistance.  As Oona begins to dance she realizes this beacon is encrusted in indestructible amber.  She can’t break it, but old runes pop up and most likely lead to a clue. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKMAX RICHTER-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #150 (January 22, 2021).

I really enjoyed Max Richter’s Tiny Desk Concert back in January of last year.  The pieces were pretty and sad and had a modern classical feel.

For his Home Concert, he seems to be one of the few people who actually plays in his home.

Shot in artful black and white, their simplicity and beauty invite us into a world as we once knew it, where fresh air wafts through open doors and dogs peacefully snooze (canine cameos by Evie and Haku) in the late summer sunshine in southern England.

These half-dozen short pieces can offer two very different modes of experience.  There’s a mysterious potency in instrumental music, where the mind is open to wander and free-associate. Max Richter taps into that power with singular grace and humanity.

His entire set is 16 minutes, so indeed all of these pieces are quite short.

He played “Vladimir’s Blues” when he was at the Tiny Desk.  There’s no blurb about it here, but the first time, the blurb told us

Its delicately toggling chords are an homage to novelist Vladimir Nabokov who, in his spare time, was a respected lepidopterist, obsessed with a subfamily of gossamer-winged butterflies called the blues. Richter plays the piano with the practice pedal engaged for a warm, muted sound.

It’s a 2004 piece that’s only a minute and a half and it is quite lovely.

Up next are the

gently swaying chords of “Origins,” where the music lumbers in the lower half of the keyboard.

It reminds me a lot of a famous piano piece which I can’t quite remember the name of.  After about three minutes of the piece, one of the dogs who had been lying outside gets up and walks almost up to the camera.

Infra is a ballet he made with Wayne MacGregor for the Royal ballet in London in 2008.

He plays the “soothing, oscillating figures” of “Infra 3” and follows it with the mellow but more upbeat “Horizon Variations.”  This piece also lasts less than two minutes as well.  It’s lovely.

“Prelude 6” from Voices which has a much faster melody than the other pieces.  About half way through, the other dog (who looks like a puppy) comes in all tail-wagging and heads over to dog number 1 (both off camera now).

“Fragment” is a pretty, sad piece to end the set (also about a minute in a half).  As he signs off he says

“Looking forward to the time when gigs can come back and we can do this for real,”

As the video ends, both dogs get up and walk into the lovely sunshine.

[READ: March 1, 2021] Klawde: Evil Alien Cat

I saw this book at the library (actually I saw book 5, I think) and thought it sounded funny. They had book one so I decided to start from the beginning.

The title says it (almost) all.  Klawde is an evil alien warlord cat.  The book opens on the planet Lyttyrboks where Klawde (whose Lyttyrboks name is Wyss-Kuzz) is on trial.  He is found guilty of clawing his way to power and committing crimes against felinity.

The elder says that thousands of years ago the punishment’s on Lyttyrboks was banishment to a vast wasteland of a planet inhabited by a race of carnivorous ogres.  For generations they sent their convicts there, but eventually that punishment was deemed to cruel.  However, given the severity of Wyss-Kuzz’s crimes, they have resurrected this punishment.  He is transported across the galaxy to the horrible planet known as Earth.

Alternating chapters are written from the point of view of Klawde’s and an earth boy named Raj.  Raj’s family recently moved from Brooklyn to Elba, Oregon and he is bored and alone.  So when a spaceship lands in front of his house and the doorbell rings… well how exciting to find a cat without a tag.  Even if this cat meows like nothing he’s ever heard before and seems kind of mean.

The book is full of illustrations by Chenoweth.  I love the wickedness of Klawde and Raj’s parents are a hoot as well.

Klawde sees the humans as furless ogres and fears what they will do to him.  They put him in a cage (kitty carrier) and force him to eat horrible food–what is this torture?  Raj’s dad names him: “like clawed, but spelled in a more exciting way.  Why use a C when you could use a K?  K is the alphabet’s party letter.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKGABRIEL GARZÓN-MONTANO-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #147 (January 19, 2021).

Gabriel Garzón-Montano did a solo Tiny Desk Concert a few years ago, as the blurb quickly points out

If Gabriel Garzón-Montano’s solo Tiny Desk back in 2017 was an exercise in restraint and vulnerability, his home set is the polar opposite. It beams ingenuity and unveils multiple layers, figuratively and literally.  In this performance he brought the full band, sporting all white from mask to toe and bringing to life all the sonics we hear on the record, last year’s genre-snubbing Agüita.

They play three songs.

Garzón-Montano morphs into three different characters from Agüita and stretches the boundaries even more, adding salsa flavor to “Muñeca” and delivering some bonus bars on the set opener, “With A Smile.”

“With A Smile” opens with just his face surrounded by flowers as he plays a pretty acoustic guitar.  The flowers move away as the Gracie Sprout’s harp adds more pretty notes.  As the song moves along with Gabriel’s soft and sexy voice, Itai Shapira’s bass and Lenny “The Ox”‘s drums come thumping in.

Like the rest of his band, Gabriel is in all white, including white Uggs and a long white coat with tails.   The only color is from the sweater underneath.

At the end of the song he raps in Spanish, which has a really nice flow.

Taking advantage of of the rare opportunity to gather musicians in quarantine times, he says “It’s like being a child who’s allowed to do what they always wanted to do when they didn’t wanna get up for school, and it’s also felt like an adult who didn’t know what to do at 3 p.m. on a Tuesday afternoon. I’m focusing on oscillating between those states with ease.”

For “Muñeca” he takes off the big coat and shows off the colorful sweater which has a fascinating cut, including tails.  For this song, it’s a trio of bass and Daniel Rodriguez on drums. Rodriguez plays a funky middle with conga and cowbell as Gabriel gets up and dances.  He picks up the guitar again at the end of the song for a little strumming outro.

Before the final song, Gabriel moves to the piano.  He takes off the colorful sweater to reveal a sleeveless shirt underneath (which shows off his tattoos).

“Tombs” features the KROMA Quartet and everyone else on synths.  Nicholas Semrad plays the lead, but everyone else adds melody.  It’s a delicate song with an interesting and slightly creepy synth melody.  About half way through this six minute song he gets up and picks up an electric guitar.  He and  Justin “Jhawk” Hawkins play a harmony solo together, which sounds pretty cool.

I am quite intrigued by this singer, and I love the description of genre-snubbing.

[READ: February 28, 2021] Pops

I have often said I wanted to read more books by Michael Chabon.  And after finishing this I realized that the only novel by him that I’ve read is Kavalier and Clay and that was 21 years ago.  So maybe it’s time to get into some of these other books.

Pops is a collection of (very) short essays.  Most were written for Details Magazine (which folded in 2015), one for GQ and a final one I’d already read in the New Yorker.

“Introduction: The Opposite of Writing”
It’s not too often that you really enjoy an introduction, but this one was pretty great.  In it, Chabon talks about when he was an up and coming writer and he met a well-established Southern writer.  This writer told him that the secret to being a good writer was not having children.  That for every child you have, you will lose one book.

Chabon had no children with his first wife but has had four with his second wife (the writer Ayelet Waldman).  So clearly they have lost eight books between them.

The writer’s argument was that children take away time from novel writing and that novel writing takes away time from children.  Chabon had always felt that his father was not very present (as one of the essays says) and he promised to be much more involved in his children’s lives).  These essays suggest that he was.  So how did he find time to write?  He does not say. (more…)

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