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Archive for the ‘Poetry’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: ARLO PARKS-Tiny Desk Concert #80 (September 15, 2020).

I had never heard of Arlo Parks before this set and then today Spotify recommended her album to me.  How about that.

Arlo Parks was born Anaïs Oluwatoyin Estelle Marinho in London.

She began writing poetry and songs because (according to her short bio) she spent her high school days “feeling like that Black kid in school who couldn’t dance for s***, listening to too much emo music and crushing on the girl in Spanish class.”

Accompanied by a guitar from her home in London, Parks opens with her latest single, “Hurt”, followed by the three songs that introduced her to the world and remind us that we really aren’t alone.

All of her songs sound similar in style–very gentle guitar and her soft, eloquent vocals.

“Hurt” is filled with nice details like

Charlie melts into his mattress
Watching Twin Peaks on his ones
Then his fingers find a bottle
When he starts to miss his mum

There’s a nice spoken word part–she has a lovely singing voice, but I enjoyed hearing her speaking voice as well.

It’s funny to hear a 19 year-old talk about introspection and reading through her “old journals.”  Especially since the next song, “Cola” is the first song she ever put out–way back in November 2018.

Playing “Cola” makes her reflect on the journey she;s had and what’s next to come.  It’s another pretty, gentle song with lots of specific details.

“Eugene” explores blurring the lines between romance and friendship.  It’s one of her favorite songs that she’s written.  It’s got a simple but really engaging guitar melody.

I had a dream we kissed
And it was all amethyst
The underpart of your eyes was violet
You hung a cigarette between your purple lips
We’ve been best buds since thirteen
I hold head back when you’re too lean
I hold the Taco Bell and you cried over Eugene

“Black Dog” is one of the most emotional songs she’s written.  It’s about mental health and has gotten a very string response from people.  Her voice is so tender, so delicate.  It’s quite lovely.

[READ: September 30, 2019] Personae

I really enjoyed De La Pava’s first and third books but somehow I missed this one, which is quite unlike the other two.  It is several hundred pages shorter and has far less of a narrative.  While the other books are chock full of details, this one feels like he was deliberately leaving things out.

Part 1 is called Our Heroine and begins with Detective Helen Tame.  She is the author of this report: “this Department is obsessed with reports and I am not; if I had to cop to any obsession it would be with the Truth.”

She is amusingly no nonsense.  When addressing a police officer on the case she says:

“You can go now,” I add, but he hesitates.  “That means leave in Etiquette.”

She is writing this report because she has found a dead body–a bloody dead body.  “He is more than century old; was.”  The victim an 111-year-old Colombian writer named Antonio Arce. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: DECLAN McCKENNA-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #79 (September 14, 2020).

I really only know Declan McKenna from his Tiny Desk Concert.  (His song “Brazil” was a hit, although I’d never heard it anywhere else).

At that Tiny Desk he was solo, but here he’s got a band, and they sound great.

Declan McKenna and his band rock their Tiny Desk (home) concert. Their “home,” in this case, is The Foundry, a neighboring studio in North London. Declan is decked out with glitter, channeling a more flamboyant side of rock than I’ve seen from him before. He’s still immersed in complex storytelling with characters on the fringes, alienated for reasons of class and politics.

It’s hard to believe he was a teenager when he released his first album–although he does sound older now for sure.  He’s got a new album out.

Three of the songs are from Zeros, his brand new album recorded in Nashville with producer Jay Joyce. It’s been a wild three-year ride since the release of his teenage smash debut What Do You Think About the Car? He’s now 21.

Opening the set with “Daniel, You’re Still a Child” McKenna sits at the keybaord playing the piano-sounding chords.  There’s a deep bass sound from William Bishop anchoring the song which has a surprisingly 70s sounding synth riff from Nathan Cox.  There’s some excellent guitar riffing and soloing from Isabel Torres (including a scratching wah wah section).  I enjoyed that there’s a pause after the line “outside the shop that sells your favorite drink” and drummer Gabrielle Marie King hits a drum pad that sounds like a beer can opening.  King also plays some really great fills all the way throughout.

A nifty bass line (including an unexpected harmonic note) opens “The Key to Life on Earth.”  Declan plays guitar on this one including a suitably fuzzed out guitar solo.  Although I think Torres is a better guitar player, he does get a cool sound from his instrument.  The song is catchy but especially so as it ends.

For “Beautiful Faces” Torres plays a raw a slide guitar riff that follows the vocal line. Once again, he uses some falsetto in the synthy chorus to throw in a little hook.  Declan plays a ripping fuzzy guitar solo.

For the end, Declan performs his best-known song, “Brazil,” a tune steeped in politics and sports, and the enthusiasm has him atop a tiny desk in the end.

“Brazil” has a catchy guitar riff followed but a catch bass riff. And even though I’ve only heard the song here, I still can’t get it out of my head.  (Even if I can’t exactly figure out what it’s about–grizzly bears, football, Brazil).  McKenna gets another ripping solo–but I’d like to have heard more from Torres.

McKenna is an interesting character and I like his song more each time I hear them.

[READ: September 14, 2020] Our Times in Rhymes

This is a short book in which Sam Leith (who I don’t know anything about) summarizes 2019 in verse.

Leith summarizes the major news each month.  Leith is British so most of the news he talks about is British (especially Brexit), but he does have plenty of stanzas devoted to the person occupying the White House.

It’s interesting reading this near the end of 2020, which has been such an incredible shitshow.  It’s hard to believe we cared about dumb things that happened then.  But it’s also hard to believe that tRUMP is still an asshole, that Boris Johnson is even more of a liar than it seemed, that Brexit hasn’t been finalized yet, and that anybody in either country actually supports either of these bozos.  What the hell is wrong with people? (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JOHN PRINE TRIBUTE-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #8 (April 11, 2019).

I feel like I have been aware of John Prine forever.  Although I also feel like I only really became aware of who he was and what he had done in the last year or so.  Or at the very least since he had surgery and his voice changed dramatically.

I knew that he was a legend in folk circles, but I had no idea how many of his songs I knew–although likely from other artists.

I was not devastated when he died because I didn’t know him enough to be devastated.  But I did feel that it was unbelievably unjust of the world to have him survive cancer only to be beaten by this virus that could have been avoided.  While there are people out there actively doing harm to others, why would a person as thoughtful as him be the victim.

Every time I saw John Prine perform, he invited friends to join him. The outpouring of love and respect has always been so profound. And so when John Prine died on April 7 from complications related to COVID-19, I knew his friends and those he touched would want to pay tribute to him. Here are five artists performing their favorite John Prine tune in their home (or bathtub) in honor of one of the greatest songwriters of any generation.

Here are the five performances:

  • Margo Price and Jeremy Ivey, “That’s the Way That the World Goes Round”
    Recorded in their bathroom, with their baby entering the scene for the final verse.
  • Courtney Marie Andrews, “Speed of the Sound of Loneliness”
    She says that Prine was the best at putting humor and sadness in one song let alone one line.  Her version of this song (that I know very well) is too slow for my taste.
  • John Paul White, “Sam Stone”
    He says he is taking this harder than he thought. This song makes him cry every time.  I knew this song from someone else singing it, although I’m not sure who.
  • Nathaniel Rateliff, “All The Best”
    I didn’t know this one, but I do like it.
  • Brandy Clark, “Speed of the Sound of Loneliness”
    It’s a shame that two people did the same song since he has 19 albums out, but this song is quite lovely.  I like Clark’s version better than Andrews’ even if they aren’t that different.

[READ: April 1, 2020] The Spirit of Science Fiction

I have read pretty much everything that has Roberto Bolaño has written which has been translated into English (many, like this book, by Natasha Wimmer).  This is one of the first novels he ever wrote and it was finally published posthumously in 2016.

It’s a very strange book with a very strange construction (a precursor to the construction of his later, larger books, for sure).

The book is told in three parts and it concerns three major characters.  The narrator, Remo, his best friend Jan Schrella and a third poet, Jóse Arco.

The book opens with Remo being interviewed by a journalist.  He has just won a literary prize.  This interview is spread out over many chapters, but it is sort of summed up by his reply:

you actually predict a bright future for art? You don’t realize that this is a trap. Who the hell do you think I am, Sid Vicious?

Remo lives with Jan, another serious poet, but one who has more or less taken to his bed–barely ever leaving the house at all.

Jan is seventeen and spends nearly all of his time reading, especially science fiction books.  He seems to want to single handedly get recognition for his country men and women.

He spends most of his time writing letters to famous science fiction authors: Alice Sheldon, James Hauer, Forrest J. Ackerman, Robert Silverberg, Fritz Leiber, Ursula K. Le Guin, (twice, first one unsent), and Dr James Tiptree, Jr.

Some of the letters are stories about his dreams, some are general notes of good will, but the overall tones is one asking them to support science fiction written by authors in Latin America.

Remo does go out though,  He goes to writing workshops.  At one of them Jóse Arco enters late.  Remo’s is instantly taken with him. As the first scene with Arco ends, Arco lays back in his chair and recites his new poem Eros and Thantaos from memory.  Arco was a daring fellow riding his (often broken down) motorcycle at 3AM.  Arco is based on Mario Santiago Papasquiaro.

Although Jan is not active, his imagination certainly is. He feels compelled to tell Remo about “Silhouette,” a science fiction short story by Gene Wolfe. (Yes, part of the book is someone describing another book ).

Meanwhile, Remo and Arco decide to investigate a publication called My Enchanted Garden which comments on the torrent of poetry magazines in Latin America.  There were 32 then it jumped to 661 and by the end of the year it was predicted there would be one thousand.

Through Arco, Remo meets young poets Angélica and Lola Torrente and their friend Laura, as well as the queen of local poets, Estrellita. Remo invites them back to his apartment.  Although Lola is the more experienced of the two, it’s Angélica who falls for Jan.  The scene where they first meet is crazy.  Jan was in bed (of course) when they came in

Jan jumped up, his skinny ass exposed and his balls dangling golden, and in two or three swift movements his back to the group, he jammed his papers under the mattress and got back into bed.

What a lovely young man, said Estrellita And his darling balls are the color of gold.

Jan laughed

It’s true, I said

That means he’s destined for greatness.  Golden balls are the mark of a young man capable of … great deeds.

They’re not exactly golden, said Jan.

Shut up.  She thinks they look golden, and so do I. That’s all that matters

And I do too, said Angélica.

It was at this party that Remo fell for Laura.  She was with Cèsar at the time, but that didn;t stop them from kissing.  But when she says they could fuck right there, he says I don’t think I could.

What do you mean, you don’t think you could?  You mean you couldn’t fuck?
Yeah, I couldn’t get it up.  I couldn’t get an erection. It’s the way I am.
You don’t get erection?
No I mean, I do, but it wouldn’t work right how.  This is a special moment for me, if that makes sense, and its erotic too, bu there’s no erection.  Look, feel.  I took her hand and put it on my crotch.
You’re right. it’s not erect, said Laura with a barely audible laugh.

He falls for her immediately though and gives her a nickname–Aztec Princess.

Later in part 2 an actual Aztec Princess–a motorcycle with that phrase stenciled on it, comes into Remo’s life.   How can he refuse to get it?  Even if he has no money, cannot drive a motorcycle and has no licence?

This barely touches half of the ideas that float through this book.  There’s a lot of information about a potato farmer; a lieutenant (Boris Lejeune) watching a recruit shoot a colonel in the chest; Father Gutierrez visiting Pierre LeClerc; and a lengthy story about a village becoming obsessed with woodwork, to the detriment of everything else.  There’s also Jan’s dream of a Russian cosmonaut, and the final chapter called “Mexican Manifesto.”

This last section is all about Remo and Laura going to baths and the strange sexual things that happen in steam.  This section was excerpted in The New Yorker in 2013(!).  That version was translated by Laura Healy.

About it I wrote:

The narrator is the man and the woman, Laura, is the more adventurous of the two.  She is the one who encourages them to go to the baths in the first place and, while he also thinks it is wonderful, it is she who wants them to explore as many different baths in the city as possible.

The first bath that they go to is a nice one, an upscale bath where the man in charge (who is pointedly referred to as an orphan) is very nice and as a result people treat him with courtesy.  There’s never any trouble at this bath.  It’s very nice, but Laura wants to explore other houses.  So they ask him for a list.  And they set out on their voyage of discovery.

It is at these less reputable baths that most of the action takes place (both in the story and out of the story).  People mingle more freely (with sexual contact common), they also share drugs and other entertainments.  The story focuses on one instance in which the entertainment was two young boys and an older man.  The man instructs the boys to begin masturbating each other.  But the boys are tired (as is the old man).  They say they haven’t slept in days.  The old man falls asleep. And with the steam, the boys begin to fall asleep as well.  The steam gets thicker and thicker and soon Laura is squatting nearer to the boys.  The narrator can’t really see what’s happening but it all seems like such a dream that he’s not even sure what to think.

I’m not really sure what this section has to do with the rest.  I’m not really sure what happens in the book at all.  The revelation of Jan’s alias is pretty fascinating though.

This is strange book to be sure and I didn’t really enjoy it that much–I just couldn’t get into it.  But it seems to forecast the kind of (much better) writing that Bolaño would eventually become known for,

I wondered how different the 2013 Healy translation was from this one.  The content is of of course, the same, but they are notably different.

Here is the last sentence first from Healy

The color of the pool’s rocks, doubtless the saddest color I saw in the course of our expeditions, comparable only to the color of some faces, workers in the hallways, whom I no longer remember, but who were certainly there.

Now from Wimmer

The color of the stones around the pool, surely the saddest color I saw in the course of our expeditions, comparable only to the color of some gazes, workers in the hallways, whom I no longer remember, but who were surely there.

If Wikipedia is to be believed, here are the remaining untranslated works

  • 1976 [Reinventing Love] 20-page booklet in México (first publication)
  • 1983[Advice from a Morrison Disciple to a Joyce Fanatic] Novel written in 1983 in collaboration with A. G. Porta
  • 2011 [Bolaño By Himself] Collection of interviews with Bolaño (1998–2003)
  • ? [Diorama] not yet published

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SOUNDTRACK: BLACK THOUGHT-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #7 (April 9, 2020).

?uestlove is (in my mind at least) the heart (or at least the face) of The Roots.  So it’s easy to forget that Black Thought is the man behind the voice.

This video is fascinating because Black Thought is sitting in a comfy chair, legs crossed, casually sitting as he raps the hell out of these songs.

While our culture adjusts to the New Normal, artists are revealing the threads of our common humanity as they find new ways to bring their work to virtual communities. In this installment of Tiny Desk (home) concerts, hip-hop wordsmith Tariq Trotter, aka Black Thought of The Roots crew, took the occasion to premiere three new songs.

On “Thought Vs. Everybody,” Thought calls for unity in response to the conditions of an encroaching dystopia.

It’s really fascinating that he can sound so powerful while chilling in his chair like that.  I also love that it starts with a sample saying “introducing the most powerful black man in the world.”

Thought talks about the Streams of Thought project that he’s been working on.  It started as a Steams of Thought mixtape/EP series he started in 2013.  “Thought Vs. Everybody” and “Nature of the Beast”  will appear on Streams of Thought Vol. 3.

Although the second song, “Yellow,” easily one of my favorite rap songs in years, is not on this EP.

“Yellow,” is song from his upcoming off-Broadway musical Black No More, an adaption of the 1931 Afrofuturist novel by George S. Schuyler, set during the Harlem Renaissance.

He is writing, producing and starring in the Broadway musical.  He says the plot is hard to summarize, but essentially, the main character a black man has decided he’s over the black experience.  There’s a machine that can turn black people white in an attempt to change the racial landscape of America.  Now this man wants everything yellow: yellow money, yellow women, yellow taxis.

Thought says that as a proud black man it challenged him to write from this perspective and to connect with feeling’s he’s never felt.

It is a fantastic song with a great 1920’s jazz score and although the lyrics are tough, he delivers them wonderfully (although I don’t really care for the chorus just repeating the word “yellow”).

He closes with “Nature of the Beast,” a collaboration with Portugal. The Man, who pop up on screen from a remote location.

This song has a really catchy singalong chorus.  I wonder how much of the music was from Portugal.

[READ: April 18, 2020] “The Media”

This was a real challenge to read and honestly I’m not sure what happened in it even after reading it three times.

It begins with Ben walking at dusk recording “this prose poem on his phone.”

He calls someone to ask about their trip–asks the person to call him back.  He’ll be around “until late nineteenth century, when carved wood gives way to polished steel.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: Out of this World: Atmospheric Sounds and Effects from The BBC Radiophonic Workshop (1976).

Neil Gaiman mentions a recording like this in the story.  he says that at a party, the music is like a mix of Kraftwerk and music from the BBC Radiophonic Workshop.

This album came out in 1976.  it was evidently issues on CD in 1991 as Essential Science Fiction Sound Effects Vol. 2.

The album was divided into four sections (two on each side), each representing a different theme: “Outer Space”, “Magic and Fantasy”, “Suspense and the Supernatural” and “The Elements”.

It’s pretty amazing the sounds these people were creating back in the 1970s with the technology that was available.  Some of it sounds a little cheesy and yet most of it is either right-on spooky or has become such a staple of our subconscious that it calls up memories of things like this being very spooky.

I really like that the record credits the men and women who created these sounds.

  • Dick Mills
  • Peter Howell
  • Brian Hodgson
  • Paddy Kingsland
  • Richard Yeoman-Clark
  • Roger Limb
  • John Baker
  • Malcolm Clarke
  • Delia Derbyshire
  • Glynis Jones
  • David Cain

This isn’t something that you would really sit down and listen to (well, I might) but it is fun to pick and choose and to imagine what the creators pictures as they made these sounds.  And I can totally imagine the party music that was  across between this and Kraftwerk,  Cool, man.

Outer Space
A1 –Dick Mills Sea Of Mercury 1:07
A2 –Peter Howell Galactic Travel 0:49
A3 –Brian Hodgson Tardis Take-Off 0:55
A4 –Brian Hodgson Tardis Land 0:22
A5 –Dick Mills Space Rocket Take-Off 0:27
A6 –Dick Mills Space Rocket Land 0:27
A7 –Paddy Kingsland Flying Saucer Land 0:17
A8 –Paddy Kingsland Flying Saucer Take-Off 0:17
A9 –Richard Yeoman-Clark Flying Saucer Interior Constant Run 0:37
A10 –Brian Hodgson Space Ship Control Room Atmosphere 1:00
A11 –Brian Hodgson Space Ship Interior Atmosphere 1:03
A12 –Dick Mills Electric Door Open 0:02
A13 –Dick Mills Electric Door Shut 0:03
A14 –Brian Hodgson Laser Gun, Five Bursts 0:12
A15 –Brian Hodgson “Computer” 0:43
A16 –Brian Hodgson Gravity Generator 0:34
A17 –Roger Limb Time Warp Start, Run, Stop 0:24
A18 –John Baker Venusian Space Lab. 0:50
A19 –Malcolm Clarke Andromeda War Machine 1:10
A20 –Dick Mills Space-battle 0:42

Magic And Fantasy
A21 –Malcolm Clarke Dance Of Fire-Flies 0:43
A22 –Delia Derbyshire Dreaming 1:11
A23 –Glynis Jones Crystal City 1:00
A24 –Dick Mills Enchanted Forest 0:49
A25 –Malcolm Clarke Goblins Lair 0:45
A26 –Glynis Jones Magic Carpet Take-Off 0:14
A27 –Glynis Jones Magic Carpet Flight 0:22
A28 –Glynis Jones Magic Carpet Land 0:12
A29 –Brian Hodgson Magic Flower Grows And Buds 0:12
A30 –Roger Limb Magic Beanstalk Grows 0:09
A31 –Dick Mills Star Fairies 0:38
A32 –Malcolm Clarke Midsummer Elves 0:29
A33 –Malcolm Clarke Fairy Appears 0:05
A34 –Malcolm Clarke Fairy Disappears 0:05
A35 –David Cain Wizard Flies Off 0:09
A36 –Malcolm Clarke Casting A Spell 0:11
A37 –Malcolm Clarke Magic Mushroom 0:03
A38 –Glynis Jones Magic Bird Song 0:30

Suspense And The Supernatural
B1 –Delia Derbyshire Phantoms Of Darkness 1:05
B2 –Dick Mills Uncanny Expectation 0:48
B3 –David Cain Spectres In The Wind 1:02
B4 –Malcolm Clarke Evil Rises Up 1:05
B4 –Malcolm Clarke – “Threatening shadow”
B4 –Dick Mills – “Moments of terror”
B4 –Malcolm Clarke – “Passing shade”
B4 –Glynis Jones – “Psychic fears”
B4 –Glynis Jones – “Two terror twangs”
B4 –Glynis Jones – “Three terror bangs”
B4 –David Cain – “Terror zing”
B4 –Malcolm Clarke – “Terror glissando”
B4 –Malcolm Clarke – “‘Thing’ approaches”
B4 –Brian Hodgson – “Roaring monster”
B4 –Peter Howell – “Firespitting monster”
B4 –Dick Mills – “Nightmare forest”
B4 –Dick Mills – “Fiendish shrieks”

The Elements
B4 –Delia Derbyshire – “Heat haze”
B4 –Roger Limb – “Desert sands”
B4 –Delia Derbyshire – “Frozen waste”
B4 –Delia Derbyshire – “Icy peak”
B4 –David Cain – “Snow swirls”
B4 –Roger Limb – “Passing clouds”
B4 –Glynis Jones – “Starry skies”
B4 –John Baker – “Electric storm”
B4 –John Baker – “Watery depths”
B4 –John Baker – “Rising bubbles”
B4 –Glynis Jones – “Spring tide”

[READ: February 1,2020] How to Talk to Girls at Parties

This graphic novel is an adaptation of a short story that Gaiman had published in 2006.

The illustrators are twin brothers Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá and they are magnificent–they perfectly complement this story both in style and color choice.

Two boys, a studly blond fellow and a smaller, dark-haired fellow are heading off to a party.  The blond guy, Vic is very excited about it because there will be girls there! The other boy Enn, is more realistic and says that Vic will go off with a girl and he’ll be in the kitchen listening to somebody’s mum going on about politics or poetry or something.

But Vic will not be deterred.

He doesn’t actually know the address.  He wrote it down but forget the paper  at home. However, they’ll just hear the party when they get close.

Enn demurs more but Vic says you just have to talk to girls, they’re just girls, they’re not from another planet. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MEREBA-Tiny Desk Concert #916 (November 27, 2019).

Who the heck is Mereba?

Very few artists get to return to the Tiny Desk, and fewer still return twice in the same year. But after contributing background vocals behind the desk for Dreamville artist Bas in early 2019, we invited Mereba back for a solo set that puts her eclectic, major-label debut The Jungle Is The Only Way Out into sharp focus.

As with many singers I’ve never heard of, I’m not sure if these songs sound like this on the record or if they are more dancey.  I do quite like the simple, organic sounds that accompany these songs.

The stripped-down soundscape Mereba achieves live with her four-piece band is equally dreamlike here, drawing from influences as wide-ranging as the many places she’s called home (Alabama, Philly, North Carolina, Atlanta, Ethiopia). As she pulls from genres as seemingly disparate as folk, rap and spoken word, her set reflects the years she spent perfecting her craft on live stages in Atlanta cafes and clubs, where she attracted the attention of the indie creative collective Spillage Village  before joining them in 2014.

She sings three songs and recites a poem (all on the album).

When “Black Truck” started I thought she sounded exactly like Alanis Morissette.  The way she says “and I said world would you please have some mercy on me” sounds very uncannily like her.  The song is a quiet, mellow piece that starts with a simple bass line (including some harmonics) from Chris James and guitar washes that turn into a nice picked melody from Sam Hoffman.  After a minute or so, Aisha Gaillard plays a simple drum beat and the song kicks into higher gear.

Through all of this, the backing vocals from Olivia Walker were just beautiful.  The end of the song turns into a kind of rap as the guitar and bass fade out.  I say kind of a rap because Mereba is also a poet and she has more of a poet’s delivery than a rapper’s delivery.

For “Stay Tru” the guys switch instruments and the bass takes on a slightly more lead role.  But this song is also very mellow.  Mereba’s vocals sound a bit more Jamaican in his song.  Midway through, James switches to violin and Mereba plays keys which adds a whole new texture.  I didn’t like this song as much because the chorus is kinda lame with a lot of repeating of “cut the bullshit, this time” sung in a sweet voice.  It also seems to drag on for a really long time (although it is very pretty).

“Dodging The Devil” is a poem she wrote when things just didn’t seem to be going right.  After a couple of verses, a quiet guitar line fills in the background.

On the last song, “Kinfolk,” Mereba plays the main guitar line while Sam plays single soaring notes.  The song kicks into gear with a simple guitar riff and some prominent bass.

I really enjoyed this set.  I thought the music was beautifully restrained and her voice distinct enough in each song to show such a range of sounds.  It’s always nice to be surprised by a new musician.

[READ: November 15, 2019] Cursed

I saw this book in the new YA section at the library.  I was attracted by the cover and fascinated by the “soon to be a Netflix Original Series” sticker.

I have known of Frank Miller for years.  I’m sure I’ve read graphic novels by him, although I don’t know if I’ve read Sin City (maybe a long time ago?).  Mostly he drew superhero comics which is not my thing.  Turns out I really don’t like his artistic style in this book (at least for the way he draws the heroine–I rather like the way the bad guys are drawn).  If the series was in any way designed to look like the art in the book I don’t think I’d watch it.

But the story itself is petty darn good.  It took me a while to read it for some reason. I guess maybe the opening was a little slow because there’s so much going on it takes awhile to really get settled in this universe.

But the description of the story is pretty intriguing: Whosoever wields the sword of power shall be the one true king.  But what if the sword has chosen a queen?

For this is a story of Arthurian legend with many many twists.  My knowledge of Arthurian legend is surprisingly minimal.  I love the story and I know the main participants, but there is a lot of information in here that I didn’t know about–or even how much Wheeler is making up. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: FRENCH, FRITH, KAISER, THOMPSON-“Bird in God’s Garden/Lost and Found” (1987).

The words are a poem by Rumi.   It is a slow droney song that is primarily drums from John French.  Thompson sings in his quieter style.

There are several different versions of this song. There’s an earlier unreleased version with Richard & Linda Thompson that is much quieter.  I especially like this version because after every other verse they brighten things up with a dramatic five note string riff (or maybe it’s Kaiser on the sanshin) that seems to come out of nowhere.

They spice up the middle of the song with a rollicking traditional Irish sounding fiddle melody from Fred Frith’s “Lost and Found.”  (Frith plays violin).  It adds a bit of zing to an otherwise dirgey song.

After about three minutes of the slow thumping there’s a wonderfully rocking instrumental section complete with fiddles and bass playing some wild melodies.

It was recorded on the album Live, Love, Larf and Loaf and also appears on Thompson’s collection Watching the Dark (1993).

[READ: September 1, 2019] “Nell Zink’s Satire Raises the Stakes”

I have really enjoyed the Nell Zink books that I’ve read. I’ve even read an excerpt from Doxology, the book that’s reviewed in this essay.

What I like about this essay though is the summations of her writing and her earlier books.

Schwartz says that Zink looks at life from the fringes.  She then summarizes her three impossible to summarize books in simple and amusing fashion: (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: LAZY GRACE-“You Don’t Know How Much” (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 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.

Here’s another traditional song performed very slowly.  This feels like a blues song only played with a more country style with violin as the lead instrument.  The two women singing have good harmonies, but it feels so downcast that I don’t want to listen to it again.

[READ: July 1, 2019] “Poem #8–Beetle”

The July/August issue of The Walrus is the Summer Reading issue. This year’s issue had two short stories, a memoir, three poems and a fifteen year reflection about a novel as special features.

I assume this poem is part of a series, although I don’t know for certain

This is a poem about nature.

It is set at a lake in the woods of the eastern slope of the Rockies. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: POLKA DOGS-“Slag Heap Love” (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 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.

Polka Dogs sounded promising–I imagined a rocking polkafied band.  “Slag Heap Love” sounded like it would be a gritty rocking song.

So imagine my disappointment when the song is propelled by a tinny banjo and the accordions are only used as accompaniment, not for wild soloing.  Even the tuba is slow and ponderous and not used as a fun bass instrument.  Top this off with the vocals which are almost comically crooned and this song proved to not be anything I wanted at all.

About half way through (the song is five minutes long) the song goes to double time, which makes it more interesting. But the vocal style remains the same and nobody does anything more interesting than playing the same stuff in double time.

It doesn’t even really sound like a polka until the last forty seconds when the song picks up into triple time, but by then the song is pretty much over (especially since the lyrics don’t really change for the whole five minuets.  “Slag Heap Love” is pretty unexciting.

[READ: July 1, 2019] “Falling, without You”

The July/August issue of The Walrus is the Summer Reading issue. This year’s issue had two short stories, a memoir, three poems and a fifteen year reflection about a novel as special features.

This is simple poem of loss–of a person falling apart.

I rather liked how visceral this poem was, with each stanza being more explicit as she fears she might fly apart. (more…)

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