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SOUNDTRACK: LABESS-GlobalFEST Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #133 (January 11, 2021).

LabessGlobalFEST is an annual even, 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 second band on the first night is Labess.

This Algerian and Canadian band proves that music has no boundaries even in times of isolation. Recording its set from France and Colombia, Labess blends flamenco and Gypsy jazz-influenced North African chaabi into energetic soul music with a nonstop beat. Singing in Arabic, French and Spanish, lead vocalist Nedjim Bouizzoul mixes realism and hope, gentleness and fury, in stories about exile that illustrate the joys and the distress that pave the road from the native countries to new homes and back again. Through his poetry, he proposes we reflect on cultural diversity and the necessity to unite, no matter our differences.

“Yal Maknin” opens with Rabah Khalfa playing the derbouka hand drum and a great riff on the banjo from Simon Demouveaux.  Nedjim Bouizzoul sings lead.  As the song move on, Demouveaux plays a solo along with strings from Simon Lannoy (cello) and Loran Bozic (violin).  It’s a lot of different sounds that work well together.

“Yemma” is a much quieter ballad.  Bouizzoul plays acoustic guitar and sings.  Khalfa plays the derbouka and Demouveauz plays a grougious melody on the oud.

They end with “La Vida Es Un Carnaval.” Mike Rajamahendra opens with drums accompanied by François Taillefer and Julio Frias on percussion.  Pierre Bonnet played some excellent bass in the first song. It sounds even better in this song.  Bouizzol sings in Spanish on this one.  The middle of the sing shifts gears and sounds very Spanish, with great horns from Javier Villa (trombone), Rafael “Pachalo” Gavilan (trumpet) and Moises Marquez Leyva (saxophone).  Then comes a drum and percussion section (including Bouizzoul playing percussive guitar.   Finally, along comes the star of the song–Miche Molina plays a wonderful button accordion solo.

[READ: January 2, 2021] A Poor Season for Whales

After having not had much exposure to South African writers (or really much of anything South African), I’m now on my second book.  This one is fiction.

My ignorance of South Africa is pretty vast, so I had to do a bunch of looking things up while I was reading.  Race plays a pretty big role in this book, so i wante dto look up some information about that.

About 80% of South Africans are of Black African ancestry, divided among a variety of ethnic groups speaking different African languages. The remaining population consists of communities of European, Asian, and multiracial ancestry.

According to the 2011 census, the two most spoken first languages are Zulu (22.7%) and Xhosa (16.0%).  The two next ones are of European origin: Afrikaans (13.5%) developed from Dutch and serves as the first language of most coloured and white South Africans; English (9.6%) reflects the legacy of British colonialism, and is commonly used in public and commercial life.

The vast majority of black South Africans were not enfranchised until 1994.

So South Africa has a pretty intense history.  This story addresses that history in some ways–it seems almost unavoidable frankly–but it’s more about an older white woman and the relationship she forms with a younger colored man.

The book starts on November 20, 2018 and runs through the new year.

Margaret Crowley a white fifty-something woman.  She is an architect, is clever and rich and has just moved into a home she designed for herself in Hermanus.  She used to live in Cape Town but left all of her friends and family to find some space in the more bucolic suburbs. The only living creature she brings with her to Hermanus is her dog Benjy, a fun and loyal Doberman.  

There’s some more fascinating things I learned about South Africa.  This story is set at Christmas time and in South Africa, Christmas is warm.  There are also whales who come to calve outside of Hermanus, making it a very popular tourist destination.  The title “a poor season for whales” refers to the fact that not many whales came to calve this year.

Margaret has recently had more upheaval than just a new house.  After twenty-six years of marriage, her husband has left her for a younger man.  She is not angry about it–she’s coping rather well, but she is still disappointed in the way things turned out.

The back of the book draws you in with this

After nearly fifty six years in the world with very little to stress or vex her, it was therefore hardly to be foreseen that in her fifty-sixth year she would kill a man with a kitchen knife.

Things get exciting at the very start of the book.  Margaret is walking Benjy along the sea front when he spots some dassies and charges after them.

Okay, so what the hell are dassies?  That was the first thing I had to look up (they are an African rodent found among rocky outcroppings.)  They were several meters down the cliff.  Benjy went after them he had no way to get back up.  And if he went further over the cliff he would clearly plummet to his death.

As she is freaking out a young man calms her down.  He says he will help.  He rappels down the side of the cliff an helps poor Benjy up and back to safety.  Benjy has made a new friend for life.   The man is a twenty four year old named Jimmy Prinslii-Mazibuko. 

He is very handsome with gray green eyes and caramel skin.  Jimmy is what is known as “colored” in Africa–

In early 20th-century South Africa, the word “Coloured” was a social category rather than a legal designation and typically indicated a status intermediate between those who were identified as “white” and those who were identified as “black.” The classification was largely arbitrary, based on family background and cultural practices as well as physical features. Most South Africans who identified themselves as Coloured spoke Afrikaans and English, were Christians, lived in a European manner, and affiliated with whites

Margaret is obviously very grateful to Jimmy for saving Benjy.  She asks how she can repay him and Jimmy basically asks if he can stop by her house for coffee and maybe a clean up (he’s cut in a few places).  Margaret is hesitant obviously–she doesnt know this man at all–but Jimmy is persuasive and seems sincere enough.  She agrees.

As she puts the ointment on his leg (at his insistence), she finds the whole scene erotcialy charged–but what could a 24 year old want with a fifty-six year old woman?   

Jimmy stays for a time and is completely irritating to her.  He loves to argue and enjoys giving her grief about pedantic issues.  Their conversations are wonderful–funny and very believable.  Jimmy is clearly smart and knows how to turn convention on its head to get what he wants.

Jimmy has really left an impression on her, but she assumes she’ll never see him again.  But the next morning when she goes to the grocery store, she sees him hitchhiking.  He flags her down and she takes him in to town.  She assumes that’s the end of it but he’s waiting at the car when she is dione shopping. She gives him a ride back home and he helps unload the groceries and then offers to make a meal for her.  (She is a terrible cook and he studied to be a chef).

She really doesn’t know what to make of this young man.

One of the most wonderful things (and timely for today–ITMFA) about this book is how much their discussion revolves around eviscerating donald trump.

The ANC was off the wall, Brexit had been a colossal blunder and donald trump was a buffoon, albeit an extremely dangerous buffon.

Even better is Jimmy assessment of how trump won

“I know I’m not saying anything original, said Margaret, but it remains a mystery how a developed, prosperous country like America could have elected a vulgar huckster as its president”
He laughed, “What is democracy but vulgar hucksterism dressed up as the will of the people?
“But democracy is the will of the people,” she objected.  “At least of a majority of the people.”
“Okay fair enough, yea but what determines the will of the people?”  Most people wouldn’t know what to have for breakfast if their TV didn’t tell them.  It’s all showbiz, reality TV, and Trump wasn’t on reality TV for chicken shit. His deal is selling himself to people who like to believe hey too can live in gold-plated skyscraper and screw supermodels”
“But he’s so unappetising.”
… “Sure he’s unappetising but that’s part of his appeal.  Most of the people who vote for him aren’t that appetising either–you’ve seen them on TV, men with paunches, brassy blonde women with too many teeth.  It’s the Revenge of the Uncool, the people left behind in Gun-and-God Gulch, who at the snobbery of the cool, with their trigger warnings and their safe spaces and their gay marriages and their abortions, the people who fly over what they call flyover country and cannot understand how anybody can actually live there…and electing Donald fucking Trump doesn’t make them any more cool, but it sure makes the cool eat a lot of shit. Because the last revenge of the uncool is to annoy the cool.

The story also deals with race issues in an unexpected way.

Jimmy introduces margaret to his friend Thuthukile.

She says to Margaret, “as a black person, I feel unsafe in Sea Point, I feel my identity threatened by the rising tide of whiteness.”
“Excuse me,” Margaret could not help but saying, “but did you say ‘as a black person?'”
“Yes, sure I did, I mean just because I was born with a white skin that doesn’t mean I’m white, Right?”
“Oh, I thought that was exactly what it did mean.”
“No, that’s the old essentialist argument.  I have a while skin but I self-identify as black. I mean, you have people born with penises who self-identify as women, and people born with vaginas who self-identify as men, right?”

When she talks to her friends and family back home about Jimmy, they have amusing reactions. Her best friend Frieda is scandalized (but fascinated) by this young man and wants all of the salacious details.  Her daughter Celia is actually too interested in her own life to care all that much, but her son Carl is concerned.  He is the same age (almost) as Jimmy and goes to the same school that Jimmy did.  He finds out some things about Jimmy that Margaret is not too pleased about.

As Christmas approaches, Margaret get st the unwelcome news that her former cleaning lady Rebecca needs to move in with her.  When Margaret moved to this smaller place, she no longer needed Rebecca who went to live with her own daughter.  But now the cleaning lady finds her living situation unbearable and insists that Margaret allow her to live with her.  Margaret can’t say no largely out of guilt.

There was an earlier comment from Jimmy that I found interesting.  When Margaret told him that she no longer employed a cleaning lady he was offended that she had money and wouldn’t give a needy person a job.  She had felt a little guilty about employing someone to clean for her, but he says it’s better that she an income, right? 

Rebecca lives in a sketchy area and Margaret is nervous to go there, but Jimmy offers to drive. He also speaks isiXhosa which impresses Rebecca and her neighbors very much.

Another wonderful subplot comes when Maraget goes to her daughter’s engagement party.  No one is looking forward to it because no one really likes her fiancee.  But everyone has a pretty good time.  Margaret also runs into her ex-husband’s sister Felicity.  Felicity is a large brash woman–the exact opposite of her brother.  She is flirtatious (even with her nephew) and tells some wonderfully scandalous stories (she believes that her father killed her mother).

This all leads to a big event on Christmas Eve at Margaret’s house.  She invites Miriam, her children and Felicity.  Jimmy agrees to cook and serve.

The party is a disaster with Felicity getting drunk and offending everyone: “when did young people get so humourless.”  At the talk of politics, Felicity grew animated

with trump the troll in the white house, Timid Theresa in Number 10 and Balls-over-Brains Vlad in the Kremlin, we’re fucked.  America is fucked, of course, it goes without saying, but where America goes the planet goes, so the planet is fucked.  And you know why?  Because fifty-two percent of white American women want their pussies grabbed.  That’s the percentage of white America women who voted for trump, right?  In the full knowledge of his pussy-grabbing propensities.
Aunt Felicity are you saying women want to be sexually assaulted?
No love I’m saying that a politically significant number of white women, fifty two wpercent,to be exact don’t regard pussy grabbing as sexual assault otherwise they wouldn’t vote for that tangerine troll, would they?
They may think that trump’s other virtues cancel ot his less admirable propensities
What other virtues love?  His humility?  His honesty?

At this point Celia stormed off.  Felicity was too drunk to drive home. Her son was too drunk to drive home. Carl and Jimmy hit it off and Jimmy wound up spending the night, with Carl.  Margaret is not sure what to think of this.

Things get very intense after this.  Margaret finds out that Jimmy’s secretive past is quite bad–he is mixed up with some very bad people  She can’t decide if she wants him gone for ever or wants him around all the time.  Two big unexpected events happen–one with Jimmy and one with Jimmy’s associates.

And yes, she does stab someone with a kitchen knife. 

I really enjoyed this story a lot and it has led me to other South african authors who I have also liked a lot.  

Incidentally, this book has a blurb: “Pitch Perfect. Aclever, bitingly funny novel.  It had me riveted,” from Finuala Dowling and I just happen to have a book by her with a blurb from Heyns: “Alive with wit and intelligence and beautifully written, this novel will keep people talking and arguing for a long time.”

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SOUNDTRACKSEVDALIZA-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #130 January 5, 2021).

Sevdaliza is the first Tiny desk Home Concert to be published in 2021.  Let’s hope she signals a great new year.

Sevdaliza is Iranian born although this concert is filmed in a culturally significant bookstore and publishing house in Amsterdam called MENDO.

Her collection of music is a wonderful mix of the organic and the electronic all centered around her gorgeous voice.

The set opens with “an old reel-to-reel tape machine spinning some Brazilian bossa nova.”  Then it stops and she starts singing “Human,” a song which

casts away the notion of artists — particularly female artists — as products.

It’s a moody Portishead-like track.

It opens with synths and drums as she sings achingly.  Her voice sounds a bit like Beth Gibbons as well.  Then in the middle of the song, the electronics drop off and she recites

I am flesh, bones / I am skin, soul / I am human /Nothing more than human.
I am sweat, flaws / I am veins, scars / I am human / Nothing more than human.

While she speaks, the strings of Jonas Pap (cello) and Mihai Puscoiu (violin) play an eerie backdrop.  When the strings stop a very cool electronic section takes over.  Leon den Engelsen manipulates sounds, making voices sound mechanical and machines sounds human–it’s really cool watching him do this.  Meanwhile, drummer Anthony Amirkhan adds some complex electronic and analog drums.

Then den Engelsen resumes the bossanova tape as Sendaliza announces:

“Good afternoon humans, my name is Sevdaliza, you’re very welcome on flight 808; our destination is Shabrang.”

I feel like “Dormant: sounds even more Portishead-like.  Her voice carries Gibbons’ ache as she sings “I need a different type pf caring, a different type of sharing.”  The percussion is minimal but interesting.  Meanwhile the electronics are buzzing around while the strings ground the song in melody.

As the song fades out she sings notes and words which I believe the keys are manipulating in real time.

“All Rivers at Once” opens with a pre-recorded guitar melody.  The song is just full of samples and interesting melodies and then the middle falls into place with a lovely violin solo.  It ends with a deep resonating cello note

“Gole Bi Goldoon” is sung in Iranian (I assume).  It sounds much more like an old folk song–strings and piano.

I really enjoyed this set and want to check out more of her album.

[READ: January 9, 2021] Do the Macorona

I’m not exactly sure why we have been getting so many books from South Africa at work lately, but it’s fantastic.

This book is a collection of editorial cartoons from South Africa’s Daily Maverick newspaper.  Zapiro (Jonathan Shapiro) has been making editorial cartoons and caricatures since the early 1990s and has 25 books of cartoons published.

Although I have been reading some novels from South Africa, I really don’t know very much about the country.  I have learned, however, that reading about a year’s worth of editorial cartoons is a pretty great way to learn about a country.  I don’t understand all of the jokes in here, but I do feel like I have a vague grasp on the country now. However, it’s when Zapiro turns his pen abroad–especially against trump, that I can see how good of a satirist he is.

It feels especially timely to include this post now as we prepare to get the corrupt traitor out of office for good.  He has, in fact, made a cartoon out of the insurrection. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MULATTO-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #117 (November 25, 2020).

Most of the Tiny Desk (Home) Concerts have been live (or slightly edited).  This one is clearly not.  There are many times when as she crosses her leg one way, a quick cut shows her with her legs crossed the other way.  So I’m not sure what’s going on–if it’s multiple takes or just her lip-syncing, but it’s very disconcerting.

Mulatto, known as Big Latto has released her debut album, Queen Of Da Souf,

At a time when women in hip-hop are running laps around the guys without so much as shifting their lace fronts, Latto is finding her footing in the new rap canon with Gold-charting singles and standout freestyles.

Also, who knew this was a thing:

As the inaugural winner of the Lifetime reality show The Rap Game and someone who’s made music since the age of 10, the personality that Latto brings to her bars is goofy, assertive and steadfast.  Latto rocks an aqua wig and raps perched from her throne.

I really like that the first song features a live violin (Joy Black).  It’s such an interesting idea and she plays some fast, intense strings.  It works perfectly.

“Blame Me” is a slower sone.  The melody sounds more than a little like “The Way It Is.”

It’s not until “He Say She Say” when Latto rises up from her seat to put extra emphasis behind this reminder: “Self-made b****, hell you talkin ’bout? / Yea, I got it out the mud, no handout.”

“He Say She Say” has a cool off-kilter almost horror movie melody from keyboardist SK.  Her singing and rapping is really good, but I get really bored of all the bitches and f-bombs and n-words.  I realize that that’s the street and the way young people talk, but it gets really monotonous.

[READ: December 20, 2020] Long Way Down: The Graphic Novel.

Jason Reynolds wrote the novel Long Way Down in 2017.  This graphic novel adaptation has some great artwork by Danica Novgorodoff

This is the story of William Holloman–Will.

The story starts out with Will and his friends on the basketball court.  His friend Tony is a great player but he is short and he knows you can’t go pro if you’re short. Will’s brother Shawn comes over to say hi to them.  Then there is a gunshot. Everybody

Did what we’ve all been trained to do.  Pressed our lips to the pavement and prayed the boom, followed by the buzz of a bullet, ain’t meet us.

But this time it hit Shawn.

When bad things happen, we can usually look up and see the moon big and bright shining over us.  But when Shawn died the moon was off.

Novgorodoff does some wonderful color work in these scenes–really creating a range of emotions in a small space. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JOYCE DiDONATO-“Silent Night” (#SingForToday, Princeton University Concerts, December 21, 2020).

I first heard of Joyce DiDonato from an NPR session many years ago.  I loved that she had a gorgeous voice but was not too precious about herself or her music.  She had a lot of fun.

I can’t imagine the chills you would feel hearing her live.

Here’s the next best thing.  In conjunction with Princeton University Concerts and University Musical Society of the University of Michigan, Joyce created the #SingForToday series.

The third entry is this gorgeous version of “Silent Night,” performed by Joyce DiDonato and Àlex Garrobé on guitar.

Joyce has a lovely mezzo-soprano voice and the accompanying guitar by Garrobé  sounds classical in its soft resonance without being fast or complicated.

She sings the songs straight through.  Then for a second round, she changes  the words: “peace, peace, peace on earth…”  I’ve never heard this before and I don’t think it’s part of the song normally.

For the final sing thorough, she she sings over herself with both voices doing the different lyrics in a kind of fugue.  She also adds in some harmony.

This has always been one of my favorite Christmas songs, i think it is so beautiful.  This version is just amazing.

[READ: December 21, 2020] “Our Day of Grace”

This year, S. ordered me The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This is my fifth time reading the Calendar.  I didn’t know about the first one until it was long out of print (sigh), but each year since has been very enjoyable.  Here’s what they say this year

You know the drill by now. The 2020 Short Story Advent Calendar is a deluxe box set of individually bound short stories from some of the best writers in North America.

This year’s slipcase is a thing of beauty, too, with electric-yellow lining and spot-glossed lettering. It also comes wrapped in two rubber bands to keep those booklets snug in their beds.

As always, each story is a surprise, so you won’t know what you’re getting until you crack the seal every morning starting December 1. Once you’ve read that day’s story, check back here to read an exclusive interview with the author.

It’s December 21.  Jim Shepard, author of The Book of Aron, cannot find a stamp. [Click the link to the H&O extras for the story].

This story is a series of letters written near the end of the Civil War.  There is a Southern woman and her beau–a soldier on the front.  They write to each other although their letters do not always overlap.  He references another soldier, C.W.  We see the letters that C.W.’s wife writes to him and we see in her letters that he does not write back–as she gets more and more dismayed. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MICKEY GUYTON-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #108 (November 9, 2020).

Mickey Guyton is a country singer, which is probably why I have never heard of her.  And yet, when Guyton sang her first song, I never would have guessed she was a country singer.

Her first song “Black Like Me” is beautiful.

In June, after the killing of George Floyd, Guyton released “Black Like Me,” which tells her own story in a way that gently but resolutely calls for change.

Her desk holds the book that inspired it.  Her voice is powerful and there’s not a twang in sight.  The lyrics are sensational, with the excellent chorus:

if you think we live in the land of the free
you should try to be black like me.

The only problem I have with the song is that although the piano accompaniment from Lynette Williams is lovely, I feel that the song deserves a much bigger arrangement.

I love the arrangement of the next song “Salt.”  Soulful keyboards, the Afro-Caribbean instruments of percussionist Paul Allen, Jon Sosin’s acoustic guitar.  She sounds a lot more country music in her delivery (there’s an actual delivery style that you can hear as she sings, even without the twang).  I liked this song, and I think it’s clever, but after the resonance of the other two songs, this one–a warning to men about women–seems beneath her.  Although the lyrics are pretty clever.

In February, as protests against sexism intensified in the country world, she debuted “What Are You Gonna Tell Her” and it caused an instant sensation.

She sang the he song at the ACM awards and was the first African-American woman to sing an original song at the awards–in 2020!

It’s back to just piano again–maybe the more important songs are more spare?  For some reason, the music of this song makes me think it could fit into Hamilton.  And the lyrics, once again, are terrific.

She thinks life is fair and
God hears every prayer
And everyone gets their ever after
She thinks love is love and if
You work hard, that’s enough
Skin’s just skin and it doesn’t matter
And that her friend’s older brother’s gonna keep his hands to himself
And that somebody’s gon’ believe her when she tells
But what are you gonna tell her
When she’s wrong?

Wow.

[READ: December 7, 2020] “Cut”

This year, S. ordered me The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This is my fifth time reading the Calendar.  I didn’t know about the first one until it was long out of print (sigh), but each year since has been very enjoyable.  Here’s what they say this year

You know the drill by now. The 2020 Short Story Advent Calendar is a deluxe box set of individually bound short stories from some of the best writers in North America.

This year’s slipcase is a thing of beauty, too, with electric-yellow lining and spot-glossed lettering. It also comes wrapped in two rubber bands to keep those booklets snug in their beds.

As always, each story is a surprise, so you won’t know what you’re getting until you crack the seal every morning starting December 1. Once you’ve read that day’s story, check back here to read an exclusive interview with the author.

It’s December 7. Catherine Lacey, author of Pew, presses every button in the elevator on her way out.  [Click the link to the H&O extras for the story].

I read this story back in April, when it was printed in the New Yorker.  It’s the only story in this collection that I’ve read before so far.  It was bizarre and I loved it.  I’m going to post a briefer version of my original post which you can read here.

This story started out is such an amusing way:

There’s no good way to say it–Peggy woke up most mornings oddly sore, sore in the general region of her asshole.

But it’s not an amusing scene at all.  It burns when she uses the toilet and she finds blood in her pajamas.

She could see a cut but only when using a hand mirror while she was crouched at the right angle.  But even so, her groin “was that of a middle-aged woman and not as strictly delineated as it once had been.”  Nevertheless, whenever she looked for it she always “paused to appreciate the inert drapery of her labia.”

The cut was there, but it seemed to migrate.   She tried to look it up online, but only found porn.  Adding Web MD brought back porn in doctor’s offices.  And adding Mayo Clinic introduced her to people with a fetish for mayonnaise. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MATT BERRY-Music for Insomniacs (2014).

Matt Berry is a renaissance man and I love everything he does.  Whether it’s acting in over the top comedies or making over the top prog rock, Berry is my guy.  He has several albums out already.  This one was his fifth. Evidently he created this album in the middle of the night while unable to sleep.

The back cover image is of him sitting amid a Rick Wakeman-like array of keyboards.  And if you’re into gear, he lists everything that he plays on this album:

Arp Odyssey Synthesiser, Korg MS-20 Synthesiser, Korg MS-20008 Synthesiser & Vocoder, Korg Sigma Synthesiser, Korg Polyphonic Ensemble, Korg SV1 Electric Piano, Minimoog Synthesiser, Mellotron-Pro, Solina String Ensemble, Roland Jupiter 4m Synthesiser, Roland Pro Mars Synthesiser, Roland juno 6 Synthesiser, Roland Gaia Synthesiser, Roland Jupiter 80 Synthesiser, Yamaha CS-15 Synthesiser, Yamaha CS-60 Synthesiser, Hammond XKB Organ, Korg & Roland rhythm boxes and found percussion.

Why would anyone need so many synthesisers?  Well, to make an album like this.

It is two 23 minute “songs.”  They are meandering, trippy sounds mashed up with snippets of “songs.”

Part 1 opens with vocals and then an organ playing a familiar-ish classical organ melody but it’s only a nod to classical music because soon enough a bass comes in and turns the music into a very different sounding piece.  I particularly love the way he phases and echoes the drums.  Variations on this song/theme run for about five minutes with more and more interesting sounding effects, until it all fades out into waves of synths.

The swirling synths create an atmosphere for another five minutes when abruptly, you hear something being turned off (or on) and a shushing.  More trippy synth washes follow and then at 13 minutes a new keyboard melody is added to the washes–a gentle tune that give the washes some momentum.  It starts building until 16 minutes when it grows distinctly dark.  Creepy echoing voices come out of the fog.  And you can hear someone shouting okay okay.  Then out of the quiet, a martial drumbeat grows louder and louder as a song starts to form.  At 19 minutes, the melody from “October Sun” from his Kill the Wolf album starts playing.  A processed voice sings the lyrics, but they are very hard to hear.  I assume it is Cecilia Fage, as she is credited with voice/choir.

Part two is not radically different.  It opens with a choir of voices.  It morphs into gentle washes of synths like mid-period Pink Floyd, complete with space sounds–whooshing and zapping.  Then comes what sounds like a horse walking by and some slightly dissonant keys before some hugely vocodered voice start singing a melody.  It’s followed by pianos at seven and a half minutes which merge with the rest of the synth melody.  There is much more going on in the background–voices, sounds, who knows what.

Things abruptly end with a big splash of water at 8:45 and remain underwater for a time before a new synth pattern emerges. Things become celestial with a choir around 13 minutes.  After a big explosion at 14 minutes, spacey chords return followed by another explosion and a return underwater–squishy sounds, then a distant bay crying (my daughter just walked in and said this music is creepy).  Other sounds swim in and out as angelic voices sing.  This goes on until 17 minutes when things settle down into a more stately organ-fueled section.  Things drift away almost to silence and then at 19, a pulsing synth bass starts things up again.  He adds a jaunty synth melody to the bass and it’s suddenly a new wave song.  This dancy part continues until the end of the song when things grind to a halt.

This is a peculiar record for sure.  It’s not soothing for sleep, nor is it particularly upbeat for non-sleep.  But it is an interesting look into Matt Berry’s headspace.

[READ: November 18, 2020] “Fata Morgana”

This is an excerpt from Koeppen’s novel Pigeons on the Grass which was translated by Michael Hofmann.

I’m not sure where in the story this comes from, but I feel like it jumps in right in the middle of a scene.

A black man, Washington Price, is walking through the streets of tenement houses (in Germany) with a bouquet of flowers: “he had marriage on his mind.”

He wasn’t particularly notable in this area, but the fact that he arrived in a blue limousine started a lot of people grumbling behind the tenement windows.

He was there to see Carla.  Carla lived on the third floor with some other girls and their minder, Frau Welz.  The other girls were there for the soldiers.  As (maybe?) was Carla.  They all knew he was there for Carla, but that didn’t stop them from trying to entice him into their room. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: CONTROL TOP-Control Top (2019).

Control Top is an intense punk/new wave band from Philly.  They are a must-see live.  Ali Carter is a dynamic front person.  Al Creedon’s guitar is a blast to see live and Alex Lichtenauer’s drums are even better when you can feel them.

This is their debut album.  A couple of songs run over 3 minutes, but most are in the two and a half minute range (the album is ten songs in 29 minutes).  While the music is mostly hardcore-ish, they have a very cool early new wave sound–robotic and precise.  There’s angular rhythms and interesting juxtapositions all underneath carter’s (mostly) screamed vocals.

“Type A” sets the mold with screamed vocals, interesting lead riffs and heavy chords.  Creedon makes all kinds of interesting walls of noise which never detract from the melody of the song itself.  “Office Rage” has thundering drums and a cool change of guitar sounds midway through the song.  not to mention when Carter sings “service with a smile,” the band pauses and she shouts “eat shit.”  How they manage to squeeze a guitar solo into this 3 minute song is beyond me.

“Chain Reaction” has jagged guitar chords and a robotic vocal delivery.  I love the way Carter’s bass holds down the melody while the guitar is just playing a wall of noise.  “Unapologetic” runs to almost four minutes with two distinct parts, the main verses that have distorted harmonic guitar notes and Carter’s staccato delivery and the piercing high notes of the “who’s” the bull in the China shop now?” part.

“Straight Jacket” is less abrasive than the other songs with a more new wave feel and Carter’s vocals more melodic.  “Covert Contracts” plays a lot with empty space–there’s moments with just bass and moments with just drums but the loud guitars are never far away, ready to fill in with squalls just when the song seem like they might be getting too quiet.

“Betrayed” returns to the angry style of the earlier songs–harsh guitars and appropriately angry vocals.  “Ego Deaf” has a few pummeling drum rolls in just over two minutes with a bass and drum-only portion before the ringing solo comes in.  “Traffic” is only 90 seconds long and it soars with harsh notes and angry vocals. Amazingly, it even has time for a slower middle section and a pause before the speed resumes.

“Prism” is a terrific new wave song.  The verses start with just bass and drums and vocals.  The chorus is crazy catchy, yes catchy.  Although the noisy guitar squalls after the chorus keep it from being too poppy.  The disc ends with “Black Hole” which shows off more of those drum fills and that rumbling bass.

This album is a cathartic blast and when the 30 minutes are over, you’ll want to start it again.

[READ: November 10, 2020] Mind of My Mind

I recently read (and loved) an excerpt from one of Octavia Butler’s stories.  So when this book came across my desk (perhaps all of her books are getting reissued in trade paperback?) I immediately decided it was time to start reading her books.

Obviously one wants to read a series in order.  But this was the book I so I hoped I could start here.  I had seen there was a prequel to this book, but that it was written after this one.  Just to make things more confusing, none of the books in the Patternist series were written in chronological story order.  Here is the story timeline (and when they were written).

1 Wild Seed (1980)
2 Mind of My Mind (1977)
3 Clay’s Ark (1984)
4 Survivor (1978)
5 Patternmaster (1976)

So this is the second book written and the second book chronologically.

At any rate, I didn’t need the other books to appreciate or understand this one.

The premise is fairly simple, but the execution is outstanding. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE ROOTS feat. JILL SCOTT-“You Got Me” (1999).

I’ve wanted to listen to more from The Roots ever since I was exposed to them on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.  But as typically happens, I’m listening to other things instead.  So this seemed like a good opportunity to check them out (based on Samantha Irby’s rave below).

One of the best things about this recording (and The Roots in general) is Questlove’s drumming.  In addition to his being a terrific drummer, his drums sound amazing in this live setting.

Erykah Badu sings on the album but Jill Scott (Jilly from Philly) who wrote the part, sings here.

It starts out quietly with just a twinkling keyboard and Scott’s rough but pretty voice.  Then comes the main rapping verses from Black Thought.  I love the way Scott sings backing vocals on the verses and Black Thought adds backing vocals to the chorus.

Midway through the song, it shifts gears and gets a little more funky.  Around five minutes, the band does some serious jamming.  Jill Scott does some vocal bits, the turntablist goes a little wild with the scratching and Questlove is on fire.

Then things slow down for Scott to show off her amazing voice in a quiet solo-ish section.  This song shows off how great both The Roots and Jill Scott are.  Time to dig deeper.

[READ: November 1, 2020] Wow, no thank you.

This book kept popping up on various recommended lists.  The bunny on the cover was pretty adorable, so I thought I’d check it out. I’d never heard of Samantha Irby before this, but the title and the blurbs made this sound really funny.

And some of it is really funny. Irby is self-deprecating and seems to be full of self-loathing, but she puts a humorous spin on it all.  She also has Crohn’s disease and terribly irritable bowels–there’s lots of talk about poo in this book.

Irby had a pretty miserable upbringing.  Many of the essays detail this upbringing.  She also has low self-esteem and many of the essays detail that.  She also doesn’t take care of herself at all and she writes about that.  She also doesn’t really want much to do with children or dogs.  And yet somehow she is married to a woman with children.

From what some of these essays say, it sounds like she is married to this woman yet somehow lives an entirely separate life from the rest of the house.  It’s all rather puzzling, although I suppose if you are already a fan, you may know many of the details already. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BORIS-“asia” (2015).

Back in 2015, Boris released three albums on the same day all under the “new noise literacy” banner: “urban dance” “warpath” and “asia” [according to their label numbers, this is the order they go in, but I’m posting them out of sequence].

All three records are experiments in abrasive noise.  Despite the adorable child on the covers, these records will scare children.

This album has three songs.

“Terracotta Warrior” Runs for 20:38.  It opens with quiet, slow rumbling–almost inaudible for the first 30 seconds or so.  Then the pulsing sounds start bubbling up under a hissing, mechanical sound.  Around seven minutes the rumble stays pretty steady, but the higher noises–hissing, clanging, horror movie sounds, start to grow more intense.  At 8 minutes, some discernible guitar chords ring out (heavily distorted, but clearly guitars).  It turns into a lengthy drone with squeaky feedback noises throughout.  At 17 and a half minutes the feedback gets louder and louder until it abruptly cuts off and after moment of silence distance guitars start ringing out again.  There’s even the first sign of drums (a gentle hi-hat).

“Ant Hill” is half as long, but similar is tone.  It is primarily pulsing electronics and high pitched squealing electronic manipulation.  There’s also some digital glitching sounds. After 8 minutes the song fades to a pause only to resume a few seconds later with some more digital glitching and manipulation.  With 30 seconds to go, a drum beat comes in and the distortion takes on a more melodic sound including what sounds like someone sawing in the distance.

“Talkative Lord vs Silent Master” is also ten minutes long and it is the most unpleasant of the three songs.  It is full on static and noise with what sounds like a monstrous voice growling in the distance.  By the end of the song it sounds like being in the middle of a howling winter storm.  And as it closes up there is some serious digital glitching.  Not for the sensitive of hearing.

The album is credited to: takeshi: guitar & bass / wata: guitar & echo / atsuo: drums & electronics.

[READ: January 19, 2017] “The Very Rigid Search”

Jonathan Safran Foer has become something of a more serious writer over the last few years, so I’m alway happy to read one of his earlier funnier works (himm, that sounds familiar).

This story is written from the point of view of a Ukrainian tour guide named Alexander Perchov.  He is writing this tale in English, although his English is slightly off (as the title hints at).  He speaks very good English, but his word choices often eschew idioms for literal translation (and much hilarity ensues).

Alex’s family own a Ukrainian branch of an international travel agency and it is his job to pick up and translator for an American traveller.

Alex refers to the traveler as the “hero” of the story.  And the hero’s name is Jonathan Safran Foer.

Jonathan Safran Foer is not having shit between his brains  He is an ingenious Jew.

JSF was travelling from New York to Lutsk. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MARCO BENEVENTO-Between the Needles and Nightfall (2010).

This is the third album by Marco Benevento and his trio: Reed Mathis on bass and Andrew Barr on drums.

It’s hard to put this release into any genre because of how fluid Benevento is.  He has some poppy songs, some jazzy bits and some experimentation.

Most of the songs are pretty long (over 6 minutes) and none of the songs have words (well, one has a aspoken section).

“Greenpoint” flows around a very simple bass line as Marco plays a poppy piano throughout the song.  There’s also some synthy blasts that move the song beyond a simple piano motif.  Around the four minute mark, the song shifts gears, growing a little faster and little more intense as the drums crash through.

“Between the Needles” is a slower song with a pretty bass line and slow piano chords.  After a minute and a half it takes off a bit with bigger piano chords and a more dramatic tone.  But then it all slows down to just piano before building up again, this time with even more evocative lead bass.  “Two of You” is quieter, with a waverly keyboard line that lays under the lead piano  The main piano line acts like a lead vocal line and is really pretty and quite catchy as well.  It builds into a nice bouncy song by the end.

“Numbers” is a slow song with a lead bouncing bass and simple keyboard intro chords.  The song builds in layers until it is a loud, almost-crashing sound with some jazzy piano soloing on top.  “It came from You” is a super catchy piano melody with some complicated electronic drumming. It turns into a bouncy and fun romp by the end.

“Ila Frost” is one of the catchiest things on the album–a lively piano melody both in the repeated background and the main lead line.  It’s followed by the even catchier “RISD.”  In addition to the fun pulsing bass, the main echoing keyboard melody is simple but instantly catchy.

“You Know I’m No Good” is the shortest song on the disc.  It’s a slinky torch song that is actually written by Amy Winehouse. Knowing that, you can hear it in the delivery.  There’s a sort of crashing drum section in the middle.  This song also has the only vocals–worldless “da da daing” toward the end.

“Music Is still secret” is a lovely, slow jazzy ballad. While “Wolf Trap” is the opposite.  There’s some loud clangy drums and a big fuzzed up bass that matches perfectly with the really noisy piano melody.  Once the song starts going, there is some ferocious soloing from Marco as the rest of the band jams behind him.

The disc ends with “Snow Lake” an electronic kind of processed sounding track that mixes some interesting synths and some low ringing bass.  It ends with a wild cacophony of sounds–electric and otherwise–and then abruptly ends.

There’s not a lot of earworms on this disc.  But everything sounds great.  The musicianship is top notch and the songs are all pretty fun.

[READ: September 14, 2010] “Lucky Girls”

In this story, the narrator is an American woman living in India.

As the story opens she says she always imagined what it would be like meeting Arun’s mother for the first time.  She pictured a fancy restaurant with herself looking stunning.

But in reality, Mrs Chawla showed up at the apartment one day, unannounced.  The narrator had been living there for five years and had yet to meet the mother of the man who owned the place.

The narrator was in her painting clothes when Mrs Chawla showed up.  The narrator considered changing, but decided against it.  Mrs Chalwa was shorter than expected; she looked at the narrator as if she too were not what was expected. (more…)

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