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Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category

SOUNDTRACKHIT LA ROSA-GlobalFEST Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #134 (January 12, 2021).

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

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

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

The second band on the second night is Hit La Rosa from Peru.

Kidjo says their music is like a psychedelic surf-punk cumbia.  That’s true, but in a rather restrained way.  The music is cool and a little wild but it never gets out of control.  They play three songs and again, the musicians’ names aren’t given.

From the candle-lit home of their lead singer, Hit La Rosa comes in hot and doesn’t stop until the final measure. The band explores the many facets of Peruvian cumbia music, infusing it with pop music, folklore, jazz and dancehall to produce its distinctive grooves and hooks. The band’s precise-yet-dreamlike music and punk sensibility all come together to make music that explores life’s shadowy sides. Despite living through a political crisis in Peru, the band brings a message of hope and joy in the midst of struggle and upheaval.

“La Montañita” has a latin drum opening with a weird echoing surf guitar intro.  Sliding bass and trippy keys propel this danceable song along.

“La Marea” opens with a mellow keyboard and slow bass and guitars.  After a coupe of minutes,a drum fill introduces the faster part of the song.  An echoing vibrato-filled guitar solo and trippy synths are accented with Peruvian percussion and drums and it all works really well together.

“Salvia” is trippy and moody with more of the vibrato guitar soloing.  I really like at the end of the song the juxtaposition of the looping guitar melody and the bouncing bass.

[READ: December 14, 2020] Simantov

This story (originally written in Hebrew and translated by Marganit Weinberger-Rotman) was a combination police procedural and eschatological novel about the end times.

I read the summary of the book at work, but the summary really doesn’t indicate just how supernatural the book is going to get.

It would greatly help to have a solid foundation in Biblical lore to fully understand what’s going on in this book.  I mean, the first chapter title contains a footnote:

The First Day of the Counting of the Omer*
*According to the Torah (Lev. 23;15) Jews are obligated to count the days from passover tp pentecost. This counting is a reminder of the link between the Exodus and harvest season.

Things are supernatural right from the get go.  Elijah the prophet comes to Earth to prepare for its smiting (it’s quite an elaborate introduction).  Elijah lands in Israel and leaves a trail of destruction all the way to Shamhazai’s mansion.

So, obviously it helps to know who Shamhazai is (I didn’t–Shamḥazai and his companion Uzzael or Azael are fallen angels of Nephilim).  The Nephilim are literal giants in the Bible–often taken as fallen angels.  That’s a lot of background for the first 9 pages.

The next chapter reminds the reader of the first humans created by God–Adam and Lilith.  Shamhazai was gaga over Lilith.

Incidentally, after reading the book I was looking at what other readers had thought.  One reader on Goodreads said she had to stop reading the book on page 10 after this sentence:

[Lilith] was dark and comely, her eyelashes fluttered like turtledoves, her perky breasts like two erect towers.

I’m going to admit that I found this simile to be really awkward (translation problem or just poor writing?).  I mean, even if Lilith were a giant, her breasts wouldn’t be like towers, right?  It’s hard to know even where to begin with a simile like that.  But I pressed on. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKSOFIA REI-GlobalFEST Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #133 (January 11, 2021).

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

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

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

The third band on the first night is Sofia Rei.  Rei is

an award-winning Argentine vocalist and songwriter [who] blends South American folk traditions with experimental pop and electronic music. That mix of tradition and modernity extends to her surroundings, which features traditional iconography, exuberant plants and looping pedals.

Rei plays three songs.  “Un Mismo Cielo” (The Same Sky) opens with her looping her voice.  Big electronic drums are added and then JC Maillard is messing around with their electronics to create interesting sounds and textures.   After a quiet introduction, Jorge Glem adds lovely cuatro and Leo Genovese plays a trippy electronic flute-sounding keyboard solo.  I enjoy watching Maillard playing the electronic melodies on the keys and then the quick switch to bass guitar for a funky riff.

“Negro Sobre Blanco” (Black On White) is about putting things into perspective.  Rei picks up the charango as the drums echo in.  The charango plays a delightful echoing melody.  Ana Carmela Rodriguez Contramaestre sings backing vocals and platys percussion.  The middle jam with some wild electronics then Maillard picks up guitar a plays kind of spaghetti western melody.  Then the song returns to the original melody with an even fuller sound.

Saving the best for last, Jorge Glem takes an amazing solo on the cuatro.  His hands move so fast and he simultaneously plays high chords along with percussive strumming.  At the end of the solo he does so fascinating strumming with his fingernails to make a trippy psychedelic sound.  It’s phenomenal.

The set ends with “Escarabajo Digital” (Digital Beetle), a fun dancing song.  The juxtaposition of the fast cuatro with the grooving bassline is fantastic.

I enjoyed this set a lot and want to hear more from her (and Glem who has several of his own albums out).

[READ: January 11, 2021] Okay, Okay, Okay

This story is set around Adamastor University in South Africa.  The focus is on Simon, a former teacher (now an administrator) and his family.  Also his assistant Viwe (and his family).  There’s also Vida, a sound technician for live theater.  She is unrelated to them but she gets pulled into their drama.

The story initially seems to be about how Simon (the “Head of Effective Communication”) is desperately hoping to get promoted into a more plum position. He is currently in a very good position financially, although his former colleagues feel like he threw his soul away when he became an admin.  But the story grows bigger–tackling University policies as well as racism and sexism in South Africa.

But the book opens on Vida. Vida is a sound engineer.  She is familiar with University politics because she has been to a few of Professor Bruno Viljoen’s academic parties.  Viljoen is head of the drama department and invited Vida along because she has done sound work for them.

The one thing I didn’t care for in this book was some of the younger characters occasional throwing in text speak (WTF, LOL).  While those are certainly things people of that age might say (although Vida is in her 40s), it was jarring to see text speak in a character’s thought process:

A dinner party full of academics: WTF, she’d had more fun driving her car around with nowhere to go.

Why not write it out?  It just seemed odd.

Aside from that, Vida is a wonderful character–no nonsense, takes no crap from anyone.  She loves sound and is great at her job.  She also has two dogs and two cats and she is crazy about them.  There’s at least five times when she speaks her mind and it’s terrific.

Cecily is Simon’s daughter.  She is currently taking a class with Boris. He is, everyone agrees, a silver fox.  Even younger girls swoon for him.  But Cecily has known him since she was little and she’s not impressed.

As this class opens, Boris is encouraging them to dig into their past to present a monologue.

Half the people in this class probably have slave ancestry.  That blood flows in your veins.  You are slaves.

Immediately a student raises her hand:

I just want to say that it gives me offense when you, a settler, say that I, whose ancestors are buried here, am a slave.  “Slave” implies that a person is not a person–not a mother, a lover, a human being.

After class Bruno asks Cecily what that was all about.  She says that students are very sensitive these days so just mind what he says.  He then offers to set her up with his nephew–a rather handsome fellow who looks like “a Puerto Rican Ken doll.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BORROMEO STRING QUARTET-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #127 (December 15, 2020).

This is the second of three Tiny Desk Home Concerts to honor Beethoven’s 250th birth anniversary. 

The Borromeo String Quartet consists of Nicholas Kitchen: (first) violin, Kristopher Tong: violin, Mai Motobuchi: viola and Yeesun Kim: cello (who is Kitchen’s wife).

Beethoven doesn’t score high when it comes to positive personality traits. Paranoid, litigious and a micromanager, Beethoven didn’t suffer fools and often fought with friends. Still, he possessed a well-developed funny bone, which Nicholas Kitchen and company put on display here, along with their own whimsical tiny “desks.” Because of the virus, and the confined space, the players wear masks.

The humorous side of Beethoven’s personality seeps into his music, such as the false stops and musical giggles that fuel his two-minute-long Presto from the Quartet Op. 130, which opens this performance.

“String Quartet in B-flat, Op. 130, II. Presto” has many fast moments and interesting parts where the first violin pays fast melodies but the rest of the quartet plays slow triplets over and over.  This is one of Beethoven’s shortest movements and is full of variety and energy.

For contrast, the Borromeos follow with a serious movement from later on in the same piece, the prayerful Cavatina, which Beethoven said even got him choked up.

This movement is full of serenity and tranquil beauty.  This is called the beklemmt section meaning trouble breathing. 

Kitchen can barely contain himself about the humor in the next piece, “String Quartet in F, Op. 135, II. Presto.”  He says this has a playful melody and “berserk” middle with instruments going all over the place.

More hijinks ensue in the Vivace from the Quartet in F, Op. 135, where Kitchen says the music becomes “completely berserk.”

And finally, in the last movement of the same quartet, Beethoven inserts a musical inside joke, the brunt of which falls on a wealthy music lover who displeased the great composer by not showing up at an important concert.

Kitchen says that Beethoven never met an occasion when he did not have a pun.  And he enjoyed injection his own brand of humor into his pieces.  In “String Quartet in F, Op. 135, IV. Der schwer gefasste Entschluss” there is an inscription: question must it be?  answer: It must be it must be!  Kitchen explains there was a patron who did not attend the premiere of opus 130.  The next day the patron  asked Beethoven to send him the music so his court musicians could play it. Beethoven said he’d send it but “you not only have to pay the price of admission for the concert you missed but for everyone in your family.”  The man looked at him and said “Must It be?”  Beethoven wrote a canon for four men to sing “it must be it must be.”  Then he made that joke the basis of the last movement of Op. 135.

[READ: January 3, 2021] Dinner

The Linden Tree was an interesting trip down memory lane for Aira.  

Dinner, by contrast is a wild violent fantasy (translated by Nick Caistor).  But its starts in the mundane–with a man and his mother going to dinner.

The two of them went to his friend’s house.  The friend was a terrible storyteller.  But he and the narrator’s mother had one thing in common–they were great at remembering the names of everyone in Pringles.  They knew the genealogies and configurations of nearly all the families.

But the narrator was terrible at remembering names–he had no facility for it at all.  He had plenty of memories from the town, but could never put a name to an event.

Evernatully the friend brought out a precious toy that he had.  It wa an old and rather sophisticated wind-up toy.  Two separate gears would go at the same time.  As it began to run, the door to a bedroom opened an a fat man came out and started to sing (as well as an old 19th century toy could sing). An old woman was in bed and she began to move back and forth “as a blind person does.” Then the second mechanism kicked in an the bedspread began to move and it looks like flocks of birds were flying out from underneath it. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SPILLAGE VILLAGE-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #101 (October 23, 2020).

I never imagined that a video filmed in a church would have an explicit language warning at the beginning of it.  But such is Spillage Village.

The Atlanta collective consists of Dreamville records standouts J.I.D and EARTHGANG along with Jurdan Bryant, Hollywood JB, Benji and Tiny Desk alumnus Mereba. R&B star 6lack, also a member of the group, was unable to make it to the shoot due to travel restrictions.

There’s 12 people in the church (let’s hope they are all tested since they are not social distancing). And seven of them are rapper/singers.  The rest is a live band, and they are tight.  They sound great.  It’s amazing how much a live band can add to a rap concert.

Musically, “End of Daze” is very cool with funky bass from Benji and lots of grooving wah wah solos from the guitarist on the back.  The verses are rapped and everyone gets a turn.  What I especially liked was the diversity of voices and styles.

WowGr8 goes first.  He has a cool accent and delivery.  JID has a fantastic style–his voice is higher than the others and very distinctive.  Mereba has one of the best verses–referencing Nipsey Hustle’s murder.  Jurdan has the most conventional-sounding delivery.  Hollywood JB seems a but more lighthearted in his delivery.  Then OLU (dressed in a fantastic suit) sings his verse.  He has a great singing voice.  While he sings his verse and the song fades sprinkling keys twinkle.  They all sing the super catchy chorus. The backing band is apparently all related but someone is playing the keys and the credits don’t say who: Justin Barnett: guitar; Jerramy Barnett: bass; Nick Barnett: guitar; Dj Barnett: drums.

Christo the DJ starts out “Baptize” with a sample.  OLU raps.  I love his delivery–.his verse is choppy and funky.  JID takes the next verse, and I like him even more.  The song has a fun sing along chorus which seems strangely raunchy for a song about baptism.  WOWGr8 takes another verse and shows off some really fast rapping.

Before the next song, someone’s phone rings and one of them says “turn off your phone in church.”  Mereba sings this next song, which she says is called “Hapi.”  After she says this, someone sings “because I’m happy…) very quietly.  The song proves to be a full on gospel type song.  Mereba has a kind of spoken word section and then OLU croons beautifully.

“Jupiter” ends the set.  Mereba grabs an acoustic guitar and the whole group sings an almost campfire singalong.  The church does feel like an appropriate setting for these last two songs.

I’m really impressed by this group.

[READ: November 15, 2020] Where Are We Now?

Glenn Patterson is from Belfast, Northern Ireland.  This novel is a small (in scope) story about life in Belfast.  I don’t know that I’ve ever read a story that focused in such detail on the daily life in Belfast, post-Troubles.  The Troubles don’t really enter into the story–except that there are ever present reminders of them.

This is the story of Herbie.  Herbie is a middle-aged man.  I initially assumed he was older middle aged, then I thought he might be younger middle-aged.  I don’t believe it is ever stated.

I had a remarkably difficult time reading this book because there was so much I simply didn’t know.  Stuff that the average Belfastian person probably knows very well and with no problem.

It started pretty early on when someone says that a person had dumped a Portakabin on one of the roads running up to the hills on the far west of the city.

Okay so first, you have to find out what a Portakabin is (a mobile home of some sort). Then there’s a lengthy talk about who might do such a thing.  And I really didn’t understand much of what they were talking about.  Although I did like that they conclude that whoever did it could be summed up as The Ungivers of Fuck. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: CARLOS VIVES-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #95 (October 14, 2020).

This is a hugely fun Tiny Desk (Home) Concert.

Everything about Vives’ music feels uplifting and joyful.  And boy is that a nice feeling.

Carlos Vives kicks things off in high gear on this Tiny Desk (home) concert with his trademark sound: a celebration of the music from his beloved home country of Colombia, mixed with rock and other Latin music styles.

The opening song “Pa’ Mayte” starts out with a ripping accordion melody from Christian Camilo Peña and some wonderfully funky fluid bass lines from Guillermo Vadalá.  Vadalá is my favorite component of this set without question.

Vives’ voice is strong and powerful and he is joined with a chorus of backing vocalist and percussionist, especially Guianko Gómez from Cuba and Mayte and Tato Montero.

The middle of the song has a rap followed by some really fast and complicated lead guitar from Andrés Leal (followed carefully by Vadalá).

Spirited champeta dance grooves from the country’s Pacific coast permeate his classic 1995 hit “Pa’ Mayte,” and if you look closely you’ll see two of his backup vocalists also playing traditional gaitas Colombianas (flutes).

Then comes the flute solos.  First Mayte Montero on the traditional gaita then Tato Marenco joins in.  Of course no song like this would be complete without some excellent drum and percussion and Martin Velilla is fantastic in that role.

Vives speaks in Spanish between songs. He says that “Cumbiana” is dedicated to his country (Colombia) and the people there.  It opens with pretty, echoing guitar and some wonderful lead bass notes.

It starts slowly, like a love song but turns into a bit of a banger in the chorus.  He even plays a harmonica solo.  During the quiet ending there’s just guitar and harmonica as the song fades.

Next is transition between the title cut of his new album Cumbiana and “La Bicicleta” a vallenato fueled by a bit of reggaeton.

It was originally recorded with his compatriot Shakira and he dedicates the song to her–“the bike to travel the whole world.”

The song is upbeat and a lot of fun.  The middle has a lead flute solo which is echoed by the lead guitar–a great combination. It ends with with a solo accordion melody as the song fades out.

Vives says that “cumbiana is that amphibian territory that I call where cumbias vallenatos and porros are born.

Evidently this is Vives’ signature sound:

a celebration of the music from his beloved home country of Colombia, mixed with rock and other Latin music styles.

They end with “No te Vayas” (“Do Not Go”) opens with quiet guitar.  As he sings the two flutes come in playing the melody along with his voice.  It’s a wonderful combination and an altogether fantastic set.

[READ: November 20, 2020] “A is for Alone”

This story has an interesting setup,.

The narrator is an artist and her latest project is inspired by Mike Pence.  She has called it “Interrogating Graham/Pence” and plans to interview a series of men.  She will give them a questionnaire and take their Polaroid.

The two key questions are:

When, prior to today did you last spend time alone with a woman who is not your wife?  Are you aware of the Modesto Manifesto also known as the Billy Graham Rule, also known as the Mike Pence Rule?

The first man she interviews, Eddie, is an old friend from college.  They took a ceramics class together. They both have fond memories of those days, although since school Eddie has become very successful in the investment world.  Eddie is married and has children and admits that he isn’t alone with other women very often.  But he agrees that the Mike Pence rule is weird.

One of the other questions on the questionnaire is “what did you think when I invited you to lunch?” Eddie assumed that she was sick or dying.

She had planned to meet a different man each week, but then realized she didn’t know 52 men.

The next man she invited was her son’s hockey coach.  He is confused and somewhat alarmed at the lunch invitation.  He assumes there will be more people.  He thinks that the Graham/Pence rule makes sense.  He is not willing to contribute to or particulate in her project. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: GRUFF RHYS-Yr Atal Genhedlaeth (2004).

In 2004. Super Furry Animals frontman Gruff Rhys released his first solo album. The sung-entirely-in-Welsh Yr Atal Genhedlaeth.  It’s a lo-fi bedroom kind of recording.  Mostly catchy as anything, but with some typically weirdo songs as well.   Most of the songs are well under three minutes.

I’ve included some notes from Wikipedia (in italics) that offer translation advice.

The album opens with “Yr Atal Genhedlaeth” which is 8 seconds of warping looping nonsense.  In Welsh the title means ‘The Stuttering Generation,’ but ‘atalgenhedlu’ is also Welsh for a contraceptive.

“Gwn Mi Wn” is a proper song with Gruff singing over a drum pattern.  As the song moves along more looped vocals are added making the song bigger and bigger–almost trance like by the end.  Gwn Mi Wn translates as ‘I Know [that] I Know’, but could also mean ‘a gun I know’, a reference to the battle in the song.

“Epynt” is a 2 minute rocking raw song of guitar and synth and some shouted lyrics.  It’s oddly catchy.  The song is named after a mountain in Mid Wales, but is about money, with the ‘E’ standing for the Euro, and ‘pynt’ sounding similar to the Welsh word for Pound.

“Rhagluniaeth Ysgafn” is a slower, more electronic-sounding song (from the drums and sound effects).  Although guitars do move the song along.  There’s a kind of scream/laugh effect that’s played here and it gets repeated on other songs.  It translated as ‘Light programming’, but ‘lluniaeth ysgafn’ means a light snack.  This is also a catchy song that is a total sing along, if you know Welsh.

“Pwdin Ŵy” literally means ‘egg pudding’, or “egg custard’, two love songs.  “Pwdin Ŵy 1″ is a swinging song that features some nice layered vocals.  It’s upbeat and dancy.  “Pwdin Ŵy 2” is very different–it’s a mellow guitar song with a harmonica solo.

“Y Gwybodusion” (‘The Experts’) is a garage rock song with a cheesy synth solo.  The addition of a (cool) bass line half way through really fleshes the song out.

“Caerffosiaeth” is literally ‘sewage fortress’. ‘Caer’ is a common part of Welsh place-names used to indicate that there was a castle in the town.  It’s an all drum-machine rap full of sound effects.  As with all of the other songs he manages to make it really catchy by the end.

“Ambell Waith” (‘Sometimes‘) is a quiet folk song with interesting sound effects floating around.  The slight echo on everything makes it feel very full.  And the trumpet (!) solo comes as quite a surprise.

The final two songs are much longer than anything else on the disc.

“Ni Yw Y Byd” means ‘We Are The World,‘ but is not a cover.  It’s upbeat, four minutes long and feels fuller than the others.  It reminds me a bit of the melody of “The Gambler” and is therefore crazy catchy.  It’s even easy to singalong to even if you don;t know Welsh.  There’s a clapalong section followed by a flute solo.

“Chwarae’n Troi’n Chwerw” means ‘When Play Turns Bitter’ and comes from a Welsh proverb.  this song is a Welsh language standard originally written and sung by Caryl Parry-Jones.  It’s got a quiet electric guitar playing some lead riffs as he sings in a deeper register.  It ends with 30 seconds of quiet banjo playing.

This is a true solo record from Rhys–snippets, excerpts and home recordings.  It’s a quiet treat.

[READ: November 17, 2020] “New Poets”

When I started reading this story I was afraid that it was going to be one of those grimy violent stories that doesn’t exactly glorify bad behavior, but kind of revels in it.

The narrator, Monk, is recently sober, but he has had a string of bad luck and has moved in with an old college buddy named Dogman.  Dogman has not stopped drinking.  Indeed, he drinks a lot.  Which is odd because Dogman is an accountant in the Philadelphia office of one of the country’s largest banks.  It’s a boring job, so the weekend is for drinking.

They are in a pub (it’s the middle of the day) and Dogman tells Monk that a surprise guest is coming.  The guest is Sudimack.  Monk is really not happy about that. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: AND THE KIDS-When This Life Is Over (2019).

I’ve seen And the Kids twice and they put on a fantastic live show.  I highly recommend seeing them when live shows start again. 

The core of the band is Hannah Mohan on guitar and vocals and Rebecca Lasaponaro on (fantastic) drums.  For this record they were a four piece (although no names are included on the disc).

“No Way Sit Back” starts the record with a slow swinging song that features the wonderful wordless hook of Mohan singing “oooh oh oh no.” Midway through, the song shifts gears to a kind of glockenspiel melody over the lyrics “the world is never made for us.”  Even though lyrically this album is dark, musically it is really lovely.

“Butterfingers” lopes along at an unusual pace before a really catchy guitar melody kicks in midway through.  There’s some more catchy melodies as the two vocals line intertwine with each other.  Then comes “Champagne Ladies” a remarkably catchy song right from the get go.  The quietly rumbling guitar and the great vocal melody is nicely mimicked by the bass.  It’s a really fantastic song and should have been a big hit, even with the uplifting chorus: “life is a bastard, it wants to kill you don’t let go.”  But if the lyrics are too dark, there’s another fun wordless “ah ah ah” melody near the end.    

“2003” opens with a penny whistle introduction (when I saw them live, Mohan played the whistle and then just tossed it aside before she started singing).  There’s some excellent unusual and complex drumming at the top of this song. 

“The Final Free” has grooving guitars and a cool part in the middle where the guitar follows the vocal line in a quiet but catchy melody.  “When This Life Is Over” has a kind of hawaiian feel to it with guitars and choral vocals.   “Special For Nothing” is a quieter song that builds into a gorgeous soaring chorus. When the song shifts to the middle part and the music all falls back except for the vocals, it’s really quite lovely.  I love when the backing vocals do counterpoint over the refrain

“Get To That Place” is a short song, less than two minutes and sounds like a bedroom recording (lots of hiss) but as the song gets bigger there’s some cool vocal tricks (so much soaring highs) and glockenspiel.  It’s followed by another short song.  The mellow “Somethings (Are) Good” is just over two minutes with more overlapping vocals and a dynamite melody. 

“White Comforters” sounds bigger and more full sized.  It’s much slower with a bouncy guitar melody and a lot of spare playing. It starts a little too quietly but it builds very nicely.  “Religion” brings back the rocking guitars with a loud opening and a simple but catchy guitar melody, the joyous vocals with two layers of oh ho ho s really makes this song soar to glorious heights.

The disc ends with “Basically We Are Dead” a longer song that opens with a quieter guitar melody and vocal.  Atmospheric keys fill in the backing moments along with a bouncy synth melody and some joyful bah bah bahdahs.  But before the song ends, some familiar chugging guitar chords enter the song and they sing the chorus to “Champagne Ladies” one last time before it’s all over.

And the Kids play wonderful indie pop with plenty of unexpected twists.  And they are terrific live, too.

[READ: November 5, 2020] The Divided Earth

This is the final book in the The Nameless City trilogy.

The book opens with the leaders of the city agreeing that their sacred fire, Napatha, must be destroyed, lest it be used by one of the splintering factions.  But one copy of the recipe spared–given to the monks to hide for as long as was necessary.

Then we flash forward.

Kaidu is sitting with Rat and the others, resting up for what’s to come.

We see Mura, the woman who was abandoned by the monks as a little girl, receiving that copy of the book from the monks (they are hesitant).  She has every intention of learning the formula and creating the Napatha again. She imagines giving the formula to all of the other Dao generals for maximum production against the Yisun.  But Ezri, who has forcibly put himself in charge of the Dao people, wants to keep it under wraps.  Being a treacherous person, he anticipates treachery from everyone else as well.

The Yisun army is marching on the city.  Ezri hopes to have the Napataha ready to use against them.  He has just enough to show how powerful it is.  And it has the desired effect.

When Rat and Kaidu see what happened, Kaidu announces that he is going to steal the book from Mura’s clutches.  How?  Well, that’s where most of this book’;s adventure comes in.  It’s clever and stealthy and very exciting with switches and crosses and trouble everywhere.  They even get help from their minstrek friends (it’s always nice to see minor characters come back). 

At the same time, Kaidu’s parents (Kata and Andren) are (unbeknownst to Kadi and Rat) planning to negotiate with the Yisun army to save the city  Kata explains that she is in charge of the Dao tribe Liuvedao and she is no friend to the Dao regime currently ruling.

The soldier in charge of the Yisun army scoffs at this idea.  Until Kata’s secret weapon (which she didn’t know she had) steps forward and explains why the Yisun leader might want to hear them out. Kata proposes an dambush on the city, using an equal amount of Kata’s forces and the Yisum army. 

None of the attacking plans go smoothly.  Rat and Kaidu face very difficult odds (and many soldiers) and the ambush team literally walks into a dead end and needs to be rerouted through a sewer tunnel (ew).

There is a terrific showdown between Rat and Mura, two women whose lives began in a similar way but who took very different paths. And there are many many pages of battle scenes.  Hicks does a great job of keeping the action exciting and clear, with lots of one one one combat as well as an army of warriors.

The story has an epilogue set three years later, which is fun. It’s neat to see Kadi and Rat grows up some, although I could have used a dozen more pages of epilogue to see what things are like now.  And to see them catch up (there’s no Facetime back then). 

But even so, this was a great series, full of excitement and very emotional moments,.

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SOUNDTRACK: BORIS-präparat (2013).

präparat is Boris’ 18th album.  It contains a huge variety of styles in its 40 some minutes.  It also features a couple of guests.  Michio Kurihara plays guitar on track 3 and 5 and Gisèle Vienne offers spoken word on track 6.

So this album starts with one of the band’s most beautiful instrumentals.  “december” is slow with a cool bassline and gentle drums. The lead guitar perfectly matches the strummed bass.  It’s a lovely post-rock instrumental complete with a section that manipulates the volume knob to bring in extra soft notes.

The pretty guitars continue to ring in on “哀歌 -elegy-” for about 20 seconds before the ominous distortion means an oncoming crash of chords.  But this is a slow crash of chords with some gentle singing (from Takeshi?) in the melodic verses.  About three minutes in the song jumps into a fast rocking section with a great guitar riff and heavy drumming. It’s excellent.

It segues into the 57 second noise fest that is “evil stack 3.”  It’s just distortion and wild soloing, a noisy interlude that is abruptly ended by the gentle “砂時計 -monologue-”  This song is four minutes long complete with gentle drums, and pretty guitars.  About halfway in, it takes off in another postrock spectacle of pretty guitars and a gentle melody.

“method of error” features Michio Kurihara on guitar and starts with some slow heavy thumping chords.  Church bells come echoing in followed by soaring guitars.  The drums interject crashing sounds from time to time.  Two guitars provide an extra wailing solo as the rest of the band jams a heavy chunky riff.  This song runs over 7 minutes.

“bataille sucre” starts off quietly but then brings in a loud ringing guitar.  Then an old school heavy metal riff begins with some screaming lead guitars.  The guest vocals are whispered (presumably in French) and add texture (if you don’t know what she’s saying).

Then comes two songs in under a minute.  “perforated line” is 34 seconds of fast heavy guitar (and synth) that feels like the beginning of song, but it abruptly ends and jumps into the oddball, almost dance stylings of “コップの内側 -castel in the air-” all SEVEN SECONDS of it.  It’s followed by “mirano” which is a warped, carnivalesque waltz with keys and possibly vibes.

“カンヴァス -canvas-” has the tone of a Kim Gordon Sonic Youth song with fuzzy guitars and an almost whispered vocal, although the chorus is pure shoegaze with layers of soft vocals.  About half way through the band add a noisy wall that sounds like it’s going to explode, but it just drops away for some clear crooning from Takeshi.

The disc ends with the eight and a half minute “maeve.”  It opens with skittery percussion and faraway gongs.  Then comes a distorted slow riff.  It’s a slow drone-like song that lumbers along for about six minutes.  The last two are a wave of distortion that sounds like a slow heavy train echoing through your head. 

I love the diversity of this record and the tracks that are not experimental are just dynamite.  I’m really glad this album is no longer hidden away.

[READ: November 12, 2020] The Proof

The Little Buddhist Monk (written 2005) has been bundled with The Proof (written 1989) together in one book.  Both stories were translated by Nick Caistor.

The Proof is about as different from The Little Buddhist Monk as you could get.  It’s also the most visceral story I’ve read by Aira, whose stories tend to be very “of the mind.”

Indeed, you can tell this story is quite different just from the way it starts.

“Wannafuck?”

This question is asked to Marcia (a senior in high school?–she’s “fourth year”) as she is walking down the street.  There are groups of teenagers hanging around,and this question comes from one of the girls.  (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BORIS-Vein (2006/2013).

Boris continues to reissue their back catalog in streaming format.  Which is pretty amazing since so much of their work is so hard to find.  Possibly not great for collectors, but great for those of us who actually want to hear the music.

Vein is Boris’ thirteenth album.  Because they are Boris, the released two different albums under the same title in 2006.  The packaging was identical on both records and the only way to tell them apart was to check out the surface of the vinyl itself.

The “Hardcore version” had punk, hardcore, and drone.with vocals that are screamed rather than sung.  The  “Noise version” had drone and noise music as well as punk. This version of the album does not include any vocals.

In 2013, the band announced that the album would be released as a 2-CD set not as a reissue, but rather a re-arrangement of both albums combined.

Given all of this, it’s not even entirely clear to me what has been released her on bandcamp.  But it seems like the first two tracks (here labeled “v” and “e” are the hardcore version.  The third and fourth tracks “i” and “n” are a little harder to place.

“v” is 14 minutes long, broken up into several small pieces:

It starts with a wall of noise–static and low feedback swirling and manipulated until 4.01 when it segues into segues into ringing bells and effects that sound like a jet taking off and broken glass swirling and zipping around.   Then some drums and chords are introduced.   At 6:15, there’s a samples from the 1979 film Stalker, by Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky. A man says “И пусть посмеются над своими страстями” (Russian for “Let them laugh at their own passions”) followed by a blistering hardcore song  until 7:52.  After an abrupt halt comes the next screaming hardcore song which is more fuzz than chords with screams and feedback which at 9:06 segues into another super fast song which is distinguished from the others because of a riff where the chords go up and up higher and higher and faster as if they are going to explode, although it rumbles unto feedback at around 10:24 when a new tone of fuzzy nose feedback and a much slower introductory opens before before the pummeling hardcore resumes until 12:03.  This first song ends with a moment of silence and then a woman saying “unpleasant dreams” before a Wata fast high note solo is balanced by slow pummeling chords and drums and cymbals. After a minute or so, the hardcore returns this time with a solo all over the top of the song.  The song ends with a humming and what sounds like car keys jingling

“e” is over 15 minutes long and is one third hardcore punk and two thirds slow lengthy drone.  It starts with an Atsuo scream and hardcore drums. There’s a blistering hardcore song–fast riffage and screamed lyrics (which I assume are in Japanese).  Although the hardcore songs sound similar (and are unnamed) the riffs are distinctive enough to tell them apart.  Some backwards masked sounds come in at 1:05 and a similar riff at 1:15.  I have never seen them play this kind of set–it must be exhausting.  At 2.01 a loud bass comes in with a lot of cymbals and the song is buried under a blanket of distortion.  two minute song starts with.  At 3:04 a buzzsaw sound and a cool riff is coupled with some intense screaming.  At 4:45 it morphs into feedback that contains another sample from an Andrei Tarkovsky film, this time the 1986 film, The Sacrifice.  A man say “I hela mitt liv har jag väntat på det här. Hela mitt liv har varit en enda väntan på det här.” (Swedish for “All my life I’ve been waiting for this. My whole life has been a long wait for this.”)  The rest of the song feels like it might stay a lengthy drone, but at 5:46 after some cracks of the snare, a slow powerful Boris riff emerges.  But the riff dies away for some slow Wata soloing over droning chords.

Track 3 is probably the “noise version” (which is 17 minutes long) or the 2013 re-release (which is 17:25) but this track is 18:04.  Of course, if the “noise” version has no vocals, it can’t be this because it does have vocals.

It opens with a similar kind of noise that opens “v” but more staticky and with distant riffing going on.  At 1:58 a riff comes in.  The songs are like “v.”  A shorter version of the jet sounds are followed by some slow heavy chords.   At 3.22 there’s some chirping feedback that introduces the first hardcore song in “v.”  At 5.22 [#4 above] segues into a scream-filled hardcore song followed at 6:14 by the riff that goes higher and higher.  At 7:36, there’s slow thumping with noise and feedback (this might be new and not on “v”) then a sudden drop off of sound and near silence before the screeching feedback that starts at 8:39 with a blistering hardcore song that sounds unlike anything before. There’s heavy fast riffing with a pause and a big scream before resuming.  At 11:50, warping sounds and a thundering drum compete with a really fast riff which sounds like the first part of “e.”  At 13:05 song 2 from “e” begins–short, fast and loud.  Then at 13:51 comes track 4 from “e” (there’s no track 3) with the buzzsaw opening. At 15.21 there’s some backwards recording which eventually becomes the guitar solo that ended “v,” although this time it’s just under 3 minutes long.

Track 4 is “n.”  Perhaps it’s the “noise version” as there are no words.    It’s 17:59 and is a noisy composition of drone and feedback.  There’s some heavy chords and some quieter moments.  The high soaring notes seem to fit in very nicely with the sludgy bottom parts.  About half way through it turns into a fast, heavy hardcoreish track with a lot of drums, but buried under a wall of feedback and distortion.

[READ: November 12, 2020] The Little Buddhist Monk

The Little Buddhist Monk (written 2005) has been bundled with The Proof (written 1989) into one book.  Both stories were translated by Nick Caistor.

The Little Buddhist Monk is an absolutely bizarre, borderline stream of consciousness story.  It jumps from topic to topic like a fever dream and resolves itself in an even more unexpected way.

The story opens with us meeting the little monk who would very much like to leave Korea (where he was born and where he studied). But he has no money and no reasonable expectation for ever emigrating.  

Then one day a French photographer, Napoleon Chirac, and his wife Jacqueline Bloodymary (!) happened in his path.  They were on vacation and spoke French to each other.  The monk knew French and joined in the conversation.  They were delighted to meet a fellow French speaker in such a foreign land.  He imagined that they could be his ticket out of Korea.  So he decided to help them throughout the day.

They talk a lot about art.  Napoleon photographs empty rooms with a 360 degree camera and then splices it together as one image.  He has traveled the world filming places and he is looking to do a Korean monastery.  What luck, the monk can take them to a good one. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BORIS-“warpath” (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].

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

This album has four songs, all of which are variations on drone.

“Midgard Schlange” is 11 minutes of heavy distorted chords played slowly, as they ring out and rumble.  Its a a sort of seven-note melody but stretched out impossibly long.  At around 5 and a half minutes the electronics start to fade in from far away.  The first time I listened to the song I thought an airplane was flying overhead as these sounds came in.  These sounds eventually resolve into chords that acts as a kind of counterpoint to the guitar drones. It’s relatively fast tempoed for a drone song, but it still long and stretched out.

“Behind the Owl” continues the drone, but in a different way. There aren’t pummeling guitar chords that ring out.  Rather, they are just quietly building distortion waves, pulsing in and out.  It’s rather understated, a low menace that seems to cycle slowly between two notes.

The wonderfully named “Dreamy Eyed Panjandrum”starts with a kind of staticky electronic pulsing with occasional glitchy percussion sounds.  It sounds like somebody doing light construction for about 8 minutes.

The guitars come back on “Voo-vah,” and ominous ten and a half minutes of dark rumbling.  This time, the guitars are low and ringing, with waves of pulsing bass and stretched out chords. Around 8 minutes some higher-pitched notes come in, almost sounding like ghosts in the night.  Closing credits to a nightmare.

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

[READ: November 5, 2020] “Sitting with the Dead”

I really enjoyed the way this story revealed its details.

It begins with an old, sickly man asking to go out to his barn. It was winter and he wore only his pajamas and a winter coat.  A week later, the doctor assured his wife Emily that that’s not what killed him–it didn’t even hasten the inevitable.

At half past seven on the day he died, the Geraghty sisters knocked on her door.  They were two middle-aged women who sat with the dying.  They were known in the area although Emily didn’t know them personally.  They had heard that her husband was dying and they came to sit with him, but they were too late.

Emily laughed to herself at how much he would not have wanted these two there to sit wit him.  He was not religious and he would have said that their sitting with him had an ulterior motive. (more…)

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