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Archive for the ‘Regrets’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: JESCA HOOP-Tiny Desk Concert #965 (April 3, 2020).

I really liked the Tiny Desk Concert that features Sam Beam and Jesca Hoop.  So much so that I bought the CD and it made me want to see both of them live.

Jesca Hoop last appeared at the Tiny Desk as a duet with Sam Beam (Iron & Wine) in the spring of 2016. They sang songs from their collaborative record Love Letters For Fire.

This time it is just Jesca and I have realized that I liked her more as an accompanist rather than a lead singer.  Actually, that’s not exactly right.  Her voice is lovely.  I just find the songs a little meandering.

This time around, Jesca Hoop came to the Tiny Desk with just her guitars, her lovely voice, and brilliant poetic songs. She has a magical way with words, and she opened her set with “Pegasi,” a beautiful song about the wild ride that is love, from her 2017 album Memories Are Now.

“Pegasi” is nice to watch her play the fairly complex guitar melodies–she uses all of the neck.  The utterly amazing thing about “Pegasi” though comes at the end of the song when she sings an amazing note (high and long) that represents a dying star.

She wanted to sing it today so it could live on Tiny Desk.

The two songs that follow are from her latest album, Stonechild, the album that captured my heart in 2019, and the reason I reached out to invite her to perform at my desk.

“All Time Low” is a song, she says, for the “existential underdog.”  She switches guitars (to an electric) and once again, most of the melody takes place on the high notes of the guitar.  Her melodies are fascinating.  And the lyrics are interesting too:

“Michael on the outside, always looking in
A dog in the fight but his dog never wins
If he works that much harder, his ship might come in
He gives it the old heave-ho.”

After the song, she says, I’m going to tune my guitar, but I’m not going to talk so it doesn’t take as long. If you were at my show, I’d be talking the whole time and it would take a long time.

And for her final tune, she plays “Shoulder Charge.” It’s a song that features a word that Jesca stumbled upon online: “sonder,” which you won’t find in the dictionary. She tells the NPR crowd “sonder” is the realization “that every person that you come across is living a life as rich and complex as your own.” And that realization takes you out of the center of things, something that is at the heart of “Shoulder Charge” and quite a potent moment in this deeply reflective and personal Tiny Desk concert.

This word, sonder, came to my attention back in 2016 when Kishi Bashi first discovered it and named his album Sonderlust for it.

The song is like the others, slow and quite with a pretty melody that doesn’t really go anywhere.

I found that after three listens, I started to enjoy the songs more, so maybe she just writes songs that you need to hear a few times to really appreciate.

[READ: March 2020] Ducks, Newburyport

I heard about this book because the folks on the David Foster Wallace newsgroup were discussing it.  I knew nothing about it but when I read someone describe the book like this:

1 Woman’s internal monologue.  8 Sentences. 1040 pages

I was instantly intrigued.

Then my friend Daryl said that he was really enjoying it, so I knew I had to check it out.

That one line  is technically (almost) accurate but not really accurate.

The story (well, 95% of it) is told through one woman’s stream of consciousness interior monologue.  She is a mother living in Ohio.  She has four children and she is overwhelmed by them.  Actually she is overwhelmed by a lot and she can’t stop thinking about these things.

She used to teach at a small college but felt that the job was terrible and that she was not cut out for it.  So now she bakes at home and sells her goods locally.  She specializes in tarte tatin.  This is why she spends so much time with her thoughts–she works alone at home.  Her husband travels for work.  Whether she is actually making money for the family is a valid but moot question.

So for most of the book not much happens, exactly.  We just see her mind as she thinks of all the things going on around her.  I assume she’s reading the internet (news items come and go in a flash).  She is quite funny in her assessment of the world (how much she hates trump).  While I was reading this and more and more stupid things happened in the real world, I couldn’t help but imagine her reaction to them).  She’s not a total liberal (she didn’t trust Hillary), but she is no conservative either (having lived in Massachusetts and New York).  In fact, she feels she does not fit in locally at all. (more…)

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81HkprYowjLSOUNDTRACK: SNOH AALEGRA-Tiny Desk Concert #947 (February 18, 2020).

maxresdefault (2)In what seems to be a new trend at the Tiny Desk, here’s another artist whom I’ve never heard of somehow and who manages to cram five songs into 16 minutes.  (I won’t complain about the length of this show because it’s not that long, but everyone knows you get three songs).

The most fascinating things about Snoh is that she is Iranian-Swedish.  And that her band is enormous.  And that they all have great names like: O’Neil “Doctor O” Palmer on keys, George “Spanky” McCurdy on drums and Thaddaeus Tribbett on bass.  There’s also Jef Villaluna on guitar whose name isn’t that crazy,

Unfortunately her songs and albums have terrible names.

Her new album is called Ugh, those feels again and her previous album is called Feels. (and she’s not even millennial).  And then the third song is called “Whoa.”  Good grief,

“Whoa” is a sweet love song that is detailed but not explicit.  Except the chorus which is “you make me feel like, whoa.”

The rest of her songs have a very delicate soft-rock vibe.  Especially with the string section of Ashley Parham on violin, Johnny Walker, Jr. on cello, Asali McIntyre on violin and Brandon Lewis on viola.

But apparently that’s not what her music typically sounds like.

On this day in particular, Aalegra’s tracks were stripped of their punchier, album-version kick drums and trap echoes. In their absence, it’s Aalegra’s delicate vocal runs and chemistry with her supporting singers that resonated most. “I Want You Around” and “Whoa,” which usually rest on a bed of glitchy, spiraling production, felt lighter thanks to the dreamy string section.

All of the songs featured her backing vocalists Ron Poindexter and Porsha Clay,  but they were especially prominent on “Fool For You” which ran all of two minutes.

Snoh seemed a little too cool up there, which did not endear me to her.  Her voice is certainly pretty though, even if I didn’t like her songs.

[READ: March 15, 2020] Best Friends

This book is a sequel of sorts to Real Friends.

It continues the story of young Shannon in sixth grade and how she deals with the minefields that middle school can present.

The same cast is back–the good and bad friends, the girls and boys and all of the insecurities that are practically a character in themselves.

As the book opens, Shannon realizes that she and her friends are not really in sync. She can’t keep up with the pop songs that they like–how do they always know the newest cool song (her family doesn’t listen to pop music so she is way out of the loop).

But aside form that, things seem good.  Shannon is best friends with Jen, the most popular girl in their class.  And since they are the oldest grade in school, Jen is therefore the most popular girl in school.

But the girls are always sniping at each other or trying to get Shannon so say nasty things about one of the other girls behind her back (while the girl was listening).  Shannon never did, though, because she is really a good person.  Something the other girls could use some help with, (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE DIVINE COMEDY-“Don’t Mention the War” (2019).

The Divine Comedy contributed a song to the Amazon Prime series Modern Love.

I don’t know anything about the show, but I was delighted to hear a new song from Neil Hannon.

This is a much quieter songs than he has put out recently. It features acoustic guitars and strings and over a slightly bouncy melody, he gently sings.

Do you remember when? No I don’t either
All this remembering we’re none the wiser
It’s time to let go and say

The chorus is similarly bouncy but more nostalgic than happy.

Don’t mention the war
Don’t talk of those days
What good is it for?
Don’t mention the war
Let history lie
Kiss the old days goodbye
They’re no help anymore
Don’t mention the war

This song isn’t mind blowing (an apparently is a left over from something else). but it’s a delightful slice of chamber pop.  I’d like to think it might introduce him to a whole new audience who will love him, but realistically, I think it will get some nice plays on Spotify and that’s good enough.

[READ: November 29, 2019] “Hurricane Season”

Sedaris says that when you grow up in North Carolina, you know not to get too attached to a beach house. If this year’s hurricane doesn’t get you, next year’s will.  And so it was in 2018 that Hurricane Florence took away their house, the Sea Section.

While Hugh was devastated David could only think to mock the old fashioned hurricane names “they sound like finalists in a pinochle tournament.”  Where’s Hurricane Madison or Skylar? Category 4 Fredonté?

They were in London when the hurricane hit, so their friend, owner of the Dark Side of the Dune checked on their house for them.  The pictures made  the place look so tawdry he was embarrassed to share them.

Luckily for them they had purchased the house that’s next door to the Sea Section as well –preemptively avoiding a McMansion (eight bedrooms were common, spread over three or  four stories).  The place is ancient by Emerald Isle standards (vintage 1972).  But what you really didn’t want next door to you was a swimming pool.  All you hear is Marco Polo over and over. (more…)

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[LISTENED TO: August 2019] The Schwa Was Here

I know about Neal Shusterman because Sarah really loved his Arc of a Scythe series.  I love the cover design of that series, but I haven’t read the books (yet).

I was looking for audio books for our summer vacation and found that Shusterman had written a lot of books before the series.  Including this one, The Schwa Was Here.

I have always loved the word “schwa.”  I never full understood it I just knew it was represented by the upside down e [like this: ǝ].  The epigram of the book actually explains a schwa pretty well.  So here’s the simple version:

The schwa sound is the most common vowel sound. A schwa sound occurs when a vowel does not make its long or short vowel sound.

I also had no idea that this was part a series until I looked it up.  The series is called the Antsy Bonano Novels.  Now I ‘m curious to see where this series goes.

I loved the audio book because Shusterman reads it in his greatest Brooklyn accent. And while the characters aren’t thoroughly diverse is voice, they are diverse enough to keep the characters straight.  But his accent is awesome.  And it’s relevant because Antsy is a Brooklyn boy through and through and he addresses the way they talk.

As soon as his brother says a bad word, their mother “hauls off and whacks him on the head in her own special way… ‘You watch your mout!’  Mom says ‘mout’ not ‘mouth.’  We got a problem here with the ‘th’ sound.”

They also have problems with vowels.  He is Anthony, but known as Antny (which became Antsy).  And, his family are Catlick. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ARI LENNOX-Tiny Desk Concert # 895 (September 25, 2019).

I had never heard of Ari Lennox.  And I assume I will never hear of her again after this show.

I gather she is popular and respected, but as soon as I heard the sounds that came out as the first song opened, I knew I’d never be listening to her again and when she sang in her sweet R&B voice “Why not tell me all the mother fucking things” several times, I knew she’d never get played on the radio.

So who is Ari Lennox?  The blurb is surprisingly unhelpful.

Earlier this Spring, Lennox staked her claim not only on J. Cole’s Dreamville imprint as the sole female artist but also in the upper echelon of R&B with her debut album, Shea Butter Baby.

I don’t know who J.Cole is either, but I guess I’m supposed to.

Turns out that cursing is in no way atypical for her.

Her nuanced but explicit — and sometimes lyrically graphic — approach to seemingly surface-level emotions and situations immediately struck a chord with fans.

The lyrics are particularly disarming because the music is mostly smooth twinkly keys from Chris Worthy with simple drums and percussion from CJ Trusclair and Stanley Banks Jr.

In between songs, she seems very sweet complimenting the women in the audience and just being genuinely pleasant.  Then she made me laugh with this comment

I know you’re here and a little young but this next song is called “Pussy Pop.” [pause] Jesus.

I don’t know if the first song “Speak to Me” gets airplay, but there’s no way “Pop” does with these lyrics

Pop this pussy
For you tonight
Will you promise? Baby
Won’t you make a promise?
That you’ll make me your wife

If you really love me
I’ll fuck you good
Fuck you good, fuck you good

She gets some vocal help from Dave James, although I’m not sure who he is either.

“New Apartment” is up next.  She introduces it saying, “I need you to bust it up for me, seriously everyone 50 and up I need you up front bustin it.”  Musically it’s a bit more interesting with a cool bass line from Jerome Lawrence.  The middle of the song features a very funny call-and response as she tries to get the NPR crowd to sing along:

Everybody say “Get the fuck out” which they do.  Then she goes on “Get the fuck out my apartment.  Fuck that shit that you’re talkin’.  What the fuck is you talkin’ about?”  The audience does sing along but they are subdued, as usual.  She jokes, “Don’t be shy.  Are you all religious?  Whats going on?”  At the end of the song she says, “You all are so sweet and holy.  Thank you so much for stepping outside of your comfort zones and cursing with me.”

“Shea Butter Baby” is my favorite song.  It’s got a rocking Prince vibe with a great guitar solo from Taylor Gamble.  She says, “I made it for my sexy brown queens because we’re sexy and fun.”  Midway through the song she steps back and says, “Now welcome J. Cole, y’all.”  The room goes silent apparently in huge anticipation until they realize she is joking and everyone laughs loudly.  I guess J.Cole is a big deal.

But whatever, it’s a funny moment and she certainly won me over.  So I wish her well as long as I don’t have to hear her music again.

[READ: July 2, 2019] Scooter Girl

I loved Chynna’s Blue Monday series.  I started getting the individual issues of Scooter Girl when it started, but I feel like I may have never gotten them all.  I did however get this collected book.  The interesting thing is that I thought I’d like to read it again, but when I started treading it I realized that I must have never read it at all.    I certainly didn’t recognize very much of it if I did.  In fairness, this was 14 years ago, but I doubt that this story would have vacated my head entirely.

So I love everything about Chynna’s “deal.”  I love her drawing style–her nods to manga in a westernized story.  I love her taste in music (she’s the reason why I started including “soundtracks” in my post in the first place., because all of her scenes have them.  (Although this soundtrack in no way accompanies this story).  I also love reading about the whole mod scene (and that she make it seem so much bigger than I assume it actually is).  I also love that her women are kick-ass.

And that’s why I was so disappointed in the ending of this story.

I was particularly disappointing because in Nabiel Kana’s introduction he says:

Ultimately, though, it’s he unexpected that makes Scooter Girl such a special story.  You think you’ve got it all worked it.  You think you know what you’re in for.  You’re wrong.

But I wasn’t surprised or wrong.

Everything about his story says these two people hate each other and they are obviously going to fall in love by the end.  And (spoiler alert) that’s what happens.  And that’s why I was so bummed.  Not because people shouldn’t fall in love, but because Ashton Archer is such a shit, such a horrifying man, that there’s no way Chynna should have allowed her amazing protagonist to fall for him.  Certainly in the #metoo world, this story would never fly.

The story begins with the King’s Classic.  This is a huge scooter rally in San Francisco: top mods and die-hard scooterists, whose main purpose was impressing everyone around them…themselves above all, of course.  Cut to some classic Chynna scenes of mods–beautiful boys and girls dancing, making out, and sitting on scooters.  Her art is always wonderful.

Then we meet Ashton.  Ashton is the greatest thing in town.  He hooks up with who he wants when he wants.  He has sex with women and tosses them aside.  But he is so groovy and wonderful that no one elver seems to catch on.  They just want him to spin records for them.   He tells us that the men in his family (the Archers) have always been this magnetic.  His grandfather had an affair with Clara Bow, Constance Talmadge and Louise Brooks.   The family is smart, charismatic, attractive, and rich.

Then a girl on a silver special rode up, her name was Margaret Sheldon.  She looked at Ashton and he was suddenly a clumsy idiot.  He actually crashes his bike in front of her.  Obviously he is upset by this but he gets a lot of sympathy in school the next day.  Until he sees that she has started school there too. As soon as he tries to talk to her he falls down the stairs.

We don’t really know what she thinks about this guy who continually falls on his ass or his face in front of her until we see her overhearing one of his mates ask him if he ever goes out with the same girl twice “only if she gives amazing head.”  They also say that the new girl has got a nice mouth on her.  Clearly she is pissed.  She immediately goes to the girls room and rats out what she just heard.  And the slaps come fast and furious.

As he becomes persona non grata at school, he decides to flee and heads off to San Diego (as you do in high school).

Four years pass and he’s got his mojo back.  He’s spinning in San Diego and is doing great.  Until he sees her on the dance floor.  Did she follow him?  Is it coincidence?  Well, all of his flubs come back–this time jeopardizing his spinning career.

He decides that he’s going to get closer to her to find out ways to torment her.  He befriends her brother.  Her brother is a cool guy, not too happy about hanging out with Ashton.  But they soon find that they have some things in common and actually become friends.  Bu the whole time, Ashton is messing with her stuff–hiding her keys, popping her tires, causing irritations.  But every time he tries to do anything around her he gets messed up big time.  His mojo has vanished.

He goes to visit his grandpa in the nursing home.  His grandpa tells a lengthy story about an Arhcer who lived 400 years ago during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.  The Archer man was a stud of course, but when the women got wise to him, they put a curse on him.  That curse lives to this day when a woman from that family comes around.  His grandpa says the only solution is to kill her.

And so, strengthening his resolve, he deices he will kill her.   Of course all the attempts go horribly wrong.  So he decides to hire someone to do it for him.  This guy is a local drug dealer with a reputation (the reason he has such a bad reputation is quite hilarious).

Of course this doesn’t work and even more bad things happen to Ashton.

After all of this what on earth could he possibly do to make her fall for him at all?  It’s probably not worth the revelation.  Which is a shame because the individual scenes and the strength of Meg up until then is pretty fantastic.

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SOUNDTRACK: iLe-Tiny Desk Concert #874 (August 3, 2019).

It’s not very often that you hear a song that is all percussion.  But the first song of this set is only percussion and (Spanish) vocals.

iLe is a singer in the Puerto Rican band Calle 13.  Her most recent solo album Almadura:

is filled with metaphors and allegories about the political, social and economic conditions in Puerto Rico.

When vocalist Ileana Cabra Joglar and her band visited the Tiny Desk, they’d just arrived from the front lines of the historic demonstrations taking place in Puerto Rico. Two days earlier, they were part of a crowd of tens of thousands who were on the streets calling for the resignation of embattled Gov. Ricardo Rosselló. (Rosselló recently stepped down, effective August 2.)

Right from the start, it was clear what was on iLe’s mind in her song “Curandera” — “I am a healer / I don’t need candles to illuminate / I bring purifying water to cleanse / Removing pains so they never return” — as congas and percussion shook the room with an Afro-Caribbean beat.

This is the song in which all of the band members play percussion–primarily congas although Ismael Cancel is on the drum kit.  While everyone plays congas, it is Jeren Guzmán who is the most accomplished and who plays the fast conga “solo.”

In the chorus of the slow-burning “Contra Todo,” iLe sings about channeling inner strengths and frustrations to win battles and remake the world. Her lyrics are rich with history, capturing the spirit of the streets of San Juan even as she stood, eyes closed, behind the Tiny Desk. Her entire performance is a startling reflection of this moment in Puerto Rican history.

“Contra Todo” has a rich deep five string bass from Jonathan Gonzalez and two trombones (Joey Oyola and Nicolás Márquez). Two guitars (Bayoán Ríos and Adalberto Rosario) add a kind of percussive strumming and a quiet song-ending riff.  Jeren Guzmán plays the congas with mallets, something I’ve never seen before.

By the time iLe and her band launched into “Sin Masticar,” they’d already captured the full power of protest, as their musical arrangements raged with the intensity of a crowd joined by a shared cause and pulse.

“Sin Masticar” has a super catchy chorus, perhaps the best way to get people involved in a protest.

[READ: August 2019] Midnight Light

Two years ago Dave Bidini co-founded The West End Phoenix, a newspaper that is for people in Toronto’s West End.  It’s print, it’s old school, and it’s pretty awesome.  I don’t think I’ve ever been to the West End, but I find the writing and the content to be interesting and really enjoyable.

It’s no surprise that Bidini has worked in journalism and loved and hated it.

I’ve always loved newspaper: the smell of the ink and the rough of the newsprint weighted in my hands, their broadsheets flapping like Viking sails.  When I was a kid, our family read them all–the Globe and Mail, the Toronto Star, The Sun, and before that The Telegram–at the kitchen table with each person drawing out whatever they needed: comics, sports, business, entertainment (and yet never Wheels, the Star’s automotive supplement).

He started writing before he picked up a guitar.  When he was 11 he submitted a poem about a hockey player to The Sun‘s “Young Sun” section.  It was accepted and he won a T-shirt.

In 1991, he was asked to write a regular column for a Star satellite weekly called Metropolis.  The day his first piece was to be in print he waited at the nearest newsbox for the delivery man.

But he had no stamina and fewer ideas and he was eventually let go.  Which led to writing books.  But he still wanted to write for the paper and then he remembered: Hey, Yellowknife had a newspaper.

This book is about journalism.  But it’s also about the Canadian North.  And while the journalism stuff is interesting–and the way it ties to the North is interesting too, it’s the outsider’s perspective of this region of the world (that most people don’t even think about) which is just amazing to read about–the people, the landscape, the conditions.  It’s fascinating. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: UMM KULTHUM (أم كلثوم‎‎)-“It is Too Late” (Fit al-ma’ ad) (1967).

I picked this song because it is mentioned in the story.

I don’t really understand the song and I didn’t really understand the story, so I guess it all fits.

Umm Kulthum was an Egyptian singer, songwriter, and film actress active from the 1920s to the 1970s. She was given the honorific title Kawkab al-Sharq (كوكب الشرق, “Star of the East”).

The version of the song that I found is 27 minutes long with three sections.  I can’t find anything useful in the way of translation (even of the title) which means “It’s too late” or “The rendez-vous is over.”

There are several parts to this song, although it is so traditional it is hard for me to determine them.  I also have a hard time understanding why her voice is so remarkable as she doesn’t really “do” very much.  She seems to have a limited range although with a lot of stamina.

Perhaps there is a different standard of excellence in Egyptian music.  Although I do understand how in the story she hears the song in the cab and calls him and he seems to take a Panadol then lays down and relaxes before turning on the radio and the song is still on.

[READ: June 1, 2019] “The Tortoise and the Hedgehog”

This is an excerpt from Sweileh’s novel Remorse Test.

It was translated from the Arabic by Jonathan Wright.  The original won an award for literature in 2017.

I include this last part because I found this story really hard to follow and even harder to enjoy.

It is written from the narrator to “you” and wonders what “remorse” is. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE TALLEST MAN ON EARTH-“I’m a Stranger Now” (2019).

I’ve enjoyed The Tallest Man on Earth and I’ve been looking forward to seeing him live for a while.  I’ve actually had really back luck with his tours.  One time something came up on the night I was supposed to see him.  Another time he had to cancel his tour.  But, with luck, I will get to see Kristian Matsson live.

The Tallest Man on Earth sings simple folk songs.  The greatness of his songs comes from his voice and delivery.  There’s something about his voice and his style that is steeped in American folk, but the fact that he’s from Sweden changes his outlook and his accent.

This song from his album I Love You, It’s a Fever Dream follows in the style he is known for–spare, simple melodies and his often wordy lyrics.

Starting with fast acoustic chords (played high on the neck), Kristian begins singing in his familiar but unique style.  The bridge ends with a fast vocal melody that is a pure hook that leads to the singalong titular chorus.

After three minutes, the song slows down to a quiet guitar melody and near-whispered vocals.

[READ: May 1, 2019] The Man on Platform 5

I know Robert Llewellyn from the show Red Dwarf, of which I am a huge fan.

In fact, I didn’t know anything about this story, but I figured if Kryten wrote it, it must be good.  I had read his memoir, the wonderfully titled Thin He Was and Filthy Haired, and I was sure I had read this at the time as well.  But evidently not, because when I started flipping through it I realized I didn’t know a thing about this story.  I also see that he has written quite a lot more in the last two decades.

It seems fairly obvious from the get go that this story is a gender reversing story of Pygmalion or My Fair Lady.  Instead of a man trying to improve a woman, in this story, a woman is trying to “improve” a man.  In some ways it’s very modern and progressive and in other ways it’s pretty stuck in gender stereotypes.  But hey it was the 90’s, before writers were enlightened.

The man who needs bettering is Ian Ringfold.  He is a trainspotter!  (I love that Llewellyn made that his hobby as I have heard of it but never knew exactly what it entailed).  He loves obscure facts, dry goods (he works in a supermarket) and being incredibly dorky.  He is deeply into what he likes and genuinely can’t understand why other people wouldn’t like those things.

Enter Gresham and Eupheme.  They are half-sisters and have spent pretty much their entire lives squabbling.  Their train breaks down on the same platform that Ian is currently trainspotting.  Eupheme, the more humane one of the two, bets Gresham that she can turn this sad “anorak” into a “useful member of society.”  Gresham says it cannot be done.  Eupheme (who is short on funds) says that if she can turn this loser into someone that Gresham would fancy that Gresham would pay her a tidy sum.  (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE HU-“Wolf Totem” and “Yuve Yuve Yu” (2018).

The HU are a band from Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia who plays what they call Hunnu Rock.  There are four guys in the band: Gala, Jaya, Enkush, and Temka.

They have recently posted two videos online (after having been a band for about seven years).

Two of the men in the band play the morin khuur (морин хуур), or horsehead fiddle.  It’s a traditional Mongolian bowed stringed instrument. It is one of the most important musical instruments of the Mongol people, and is considered a symbol of the Mongolian nation.  The third member plays a shudraga, a three-stringed lute-like instrument which I suspect is being run through some distortion pedals.

Their instruments are beautiful with intricate designs on the neck and the heads.

Despite the traditional instruments, The Hu play very heavy music.  The shundraga appears to be playing some heavy chords, while the morin khuur play lots of cool solos.

The first song, “Wolf Totem” opens with what sounds like 1,000 thumping drums.  The morin khuur plays a bowed melody as the chanted vocals come forward.

The vocals are something of a guttural growl, but it makes sense as what you might think a Mongol leader might sound like.  There may even be some throat singing.

I also like that there’s an eagle call at the beginning and end of the song.

The fact that the video includes a host of leather jacketed motorcycle riders chanting the choral HU is pretty awesome.  And the Mongolian scenery is breathtaking.

The second song is “Yuve Yuve Yu.”  I’m mentioning the video first because it contrasts nicely.  It shows all the band members inside, playing video games, watching TV–very Western stuff.  But when they open the door of their flat, they find themselves outside on the plains.

The first guy steps outside to find his shudraga.  The riff is a but more substantial on this song, but only slightly.  It feels less like a call to arms and more like a song.

Although with a chorus (in Mongolian) of

Hey you traitor! Kneel down!
Hey, Prophecies be declared!

This seems more of a call to arms than the other.

There’s a cool sliding violin riff an instead of the guttural chanting there’s  a relatively high-pitched sung “doo do do” melody.

Both of these songs are quite cool, especially the accompanying videos.  The band has received some attention for the videos (which is how I found them).  They’ve even got their songs on bandcamp.

I’m curious to see if this will translate into somewhat mainstream success in the west.

[READ: January 10, 2019] “Whisky Lullaby”

This excerpt from a longer story is perfectly written–I loved the way it was presented and how the “ending” was revealed (it’s an excerpt, so not the real ending).

Hamid is a Muslim man living in Scotland.  He has recently married a Scottish woman, Ruqiyyah, who had converted to Islam a few years ago.  She was seeking a partner and he was seeking citizenship.

“She had not always been Ruqiyyah, she once was someone else with an ordinary name, a name a girl behind the counter in the Bank of Scotland might have.”

As the story opens, Ruqiyyah is holding a bottle e of Johnnie Walker.  It is his Hamid’s bottle and she shouldn’t know about it.  She is very unhappy about the bottle.  Being an intense convert plus being Scottish, she takes things like this far more seriously than he does.  He knows it is wrong, but in the grand scheme of things, drinking (instead of writing his PhD thesis) is pretty harmless compared to black magic, adultery, abusing your parents.  This was human weakness and wasn’t Allah all-forgiving? (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ST. VINCENT-Masseduction (2018).

St. Vincent’s latest album seemed like a radical departure for Annie Clark.  It seemed to be all synth–a transgression from her guitar prowess.  But in fact it was a continuation of the sound that Clark generates with her guitar.

Her albums have always used synths.  And her albums have always used effects on her guitars to create different sounds.  They have just moved further along on this album.

“Hang on Me” opens the disc with drums and sound effects.  The guitar comes in but it sounds like synths (like most of the album).  Her voice is up front  (It would have been very cool if it sounded like she was whispering in your ears).  The song builds with more and more sounds.  The processed guitar still sounds nothing like a guitar but you can tell from the way it is played that it is a guitar–which is pretty cool.

“Pills” is almost all dance–lots of drums and synth sounds (which may be guitar, who can tell).  It’s the chorus, (the repeated pills pills pills) that really grabs you.  The guitars that come through have a very Prince-like feel (and the sexual connection–pills to fuck) even when the roaring fuzzed out guitar solo comes blasting through it’s not unlike something Prince would have done.  When the second part of the song comes in–absolutely quiet compared to the chaos that came before (S. assumed it was a different song) it has a beautiful melody and really showcases Annie’s voice nicely.  The two parts are so very different and yet both are really catchy in their own way.

“Masseduction” is the most poppy song on the record (and probably of her career).  It starts again with drums and Annie’s whispered vocal (again mixing her right in your ears would have been very intense).  Then comes there’s the big chorus of echoed vocals singing “mass seduction” with roaring guitars underscoring everything (even though this album feels very un-guitar there are noisy guitars galore on it, they’re just buried underneath everything).

Chanted vocals and programmed synth open up the fast-moving “Sugarboy.”  I love that the riff from “Los Ageless” is presented her in much faster and more staccato and mechanical way.  This song has a great, catchy chorus.

“Los Ageless” was the second single off the album and the dancey beat and synth sounds were quite a shock when the song came out.  For this one, her voice is mixed right in the middle of your head, which is very cool.  But it’s the “how can anybody have you” part that is so incredibly catchy and wonderful.  There’s not a lot of guitar on this song until the third verse in which all the synths drop out and you get a nasty guitar playing behind the verse–once again so inorganic but so interesting.

“Happy Birthday Johnny” is a beautiful piano ballad that showcases a great melody and lovely vocal from Annie.

“Savior” features a slinky guitar line with bits of wah-wah on it (slighty porn-y to be sure, especially given the topic of the song).  The bridge picks things up and with each subsequent verse more and more is added (backing vocals, big drums and sound effects).  It’s when the song gets to the third part, the ‘pleeeease” that it totally soars.

“New York” is another piano song, this one with more dance beats in it and the rather graphic “you’re the only motherfucker in the city who can stand me” for a chorus (odd choice for first single).  The bridge “I have lost a hero” just soars out of the piano section in a very cool way–the juxtaposition is outstanding.

After the quite ending of New York the noise and electronica of “Fear the Future” comes as quite a shock.  It’s practically a wall of noise before and abrupt ending

“Young Lover” is quieter and sounds a lot more like early St. Vincent songs.  The music is spare–thumping drums and washes of music.  But that first chorus grows very loud–crashing electronic drums and soaring vocals.  The amazing part comes toward the end as Annie hits some incredibly high notes and then caps it off with a high note that gives me chills every time I hear it.  The fact that she duplicated it live was just staggering.

“Dancing with a Ghost” is 46 seconds of waves of synths (or guitars) that I never quite realized was its own song.  It almost segues into “Slow Disco” which is a quiet song with strings and Annie singing.  When the harmony vocals come in it builds the song nicely.   Then someone (Annie?) sings a recurring motif of “don’t it beat a slow dance to death.”  It’s my least favorite song on the album and the one she has now made two (slower) remixes of.

That feels like it should end the album, but there is one more song, the dramatic “Smoking Section.”  With a husky voice Annie sings of getting stomped out and screaming “let it happen, let it happen, let it happen.”  The strings build dramatically until a loud three note riff introduces the second part of the song.

This album is pretty polarizing, even though it is St. Vincent through and through.

[READ: October 3, 2018] “The Rise and Rise of Annie Clark”

The previous story that I read by John L’Heureux was also about the Catholic church.  That one was the story of Jesuit Priesthood, circa 1954, and a man trying to join.

This one is also based around the Catholic church circa 1950.  The subject is very different, but with the same questioning attitude.

Annie Clark is a middle-aged woman in the 1950’s .  I’m unclear where this is set.  At first I thought France, but that is unlikely. so somewhere in the States, but I have no idea where.

Since the end of WWII, Annie knows that women were the real winners–women are taking charge of their lives.

But Annie is Catholic and must proceed slowly. (more…)

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