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SOUNDTRACK: JAPANESE BREAKFAST-Live at Philly Music Fest @Ardmore Music Hall, Philadelphia PA, September 25, 2020).

I saw Japanese Breakfast back in 2018 at Union Transfer.  It was a really fun show.  Since Michelle Zauner is from Philly she really made the show personal. 

During the introduction to her set for Philly Music Fest, the announcer said that he’d been trying to get Japanese Breakfast to play this festival since it began.  So one good thing about the pandemic was that the band was still in Philly and not world touring.

We got to watch the band come out from back stage, take up their instruments and start “Diving Woman.”  This song has a wonderful, memorable bass line and a jamming guitar solo from her lead guitarist.

For this show she had the addition of Molly on violin.  Molly added so much to the upbeat and poppy “In Heaven.”

Michelle put down the guitar for “The Woman That Loves You,” a shorter song that was followed by the funkier “Road Head.”  This song is really catchy and has a very interesting slide sound from the bass.

It was funny to see her not playing the guitar because usually when she just had the microphone, she would interact with the crowd some.  But she only had the video monitor to look at.  Nevertheless, after the song she said “it feels great to feel like you have a purpose again.”

They played a new song–the first time the band played it together–called  “Kokomo Indiana” which is from the perspective of a love-lorn 17 year-old boy whose girlfriend moved to Australia for a summer exchange program.  It was a slower song with a slide guitar melody.

Michelle returned to the guitar for “Boyish” the catchy song from her old band Little Big League, with the chorus

I can’t get you off my mind
I can’t get you off in general
so here we are we’re just two losers
I want you and you want something more beautiful

Up next was “The Body is a Blade” with some slinky guitar lines.  After the song, someone triggered a sample of a crowd cheering, which was fun to hear and made Michele laugh.

Michelle put the guitar down again for “Essentially,” with a dynamite bass line that runs through the song.

Then she sat at the keyboard for the next song.  A new one called “Tactic.”  This is the first time she’s sat at the keyboard, “I feel very professional.” Her guitarist also played keys for this slow song.

She commented that it was lovely to see The Districts play–they are rehearsal space buddies and she felt it was surreal hearing them practice for the same show that her band was.

Then it as time for an old classic, the bouncy “Heft,” with a really nifty guitar line after the chorus.

During the quarantine, Michelle made a quarantine music project with Ryan from Crying.  The band is called BUMPER, and they released an EP called Pop Songs 2020.  She did a countrified version of the song “Ballad O” which was a look at both perspectives from Kenny Roger’s “Don’t Take Your Love To Town.”  Peter plays the slide guitar and the drummer sings the male parts.

She announced that her bass player Devon was going to get married (cue the fake cheers from the sampler) and so she was going to play a sing about marriage, “Til Death.”  This is the first song I’d heard from Japanese Breakfast many years ago and it always sounds great live.  The opening verse feels even more poignant today:

all our celebrities keep dying
while the cruel men continue to win

Then came a surprise cover: Tears for Fears’ “Head Over Heels.”  Musically it sounded spot on and I enjoyed her vocal take on it–not unusual or weird, just very differed with her voice instead of Roland Orzabal’s.  Then for the “da da da da” part at the end, three of The Districts came out (with masks on) to sing into one of the microphones.  It was a wonderful moment of live spontaneity (or not, but still) that is what makes live shows so much fun.

They followed that with a ripping version of “Everybody Wants to Love You.”  The drummer sang the backing vocals on this part to good effect.

Michelle took a moment before the last song to use her platform and say that of course “Black Lives Matter.  Not just saying it, it means marching and fighting.  Please vote.  We must work to defund the police and invest in our communities.”

That’s another thing I’d missed about live shows–bonding over good causes.

They ended with a “goofy” cover of a “Taste of Ink” by The Used.   I don’t know the song or the band, but it was a jangly bouncing song and the most rocking song of the night.

And then it was over.   While it was nice not having to drive an hour to get home, I still would have preferred to be there (although maybe not right now).

Diving Woman [§]
In Heaven [¶]
The Woman That Loves You [¶]
Road Head [§]
Kokomo, Indiana [new]
Boyish [Little Big League song]
The Body is a Blade [§]
Essentially [newish]
Tactic [new]
Heft [¶]
Ballad 0 [BUMPER song]
Til Death [§]
Head Over Heels [Tears for Fears cover]
Everybody Wants to Love You [¶]
Taste of Ink [The Used cover]

[§] Soft Sounds from Another Planet (2017)
[¶] Psychopomp (2016)

[READ: September 24, 2020] “Sultana’s Dream”

During the COVID Quarantine, venerable publisher Hingston & Olsen created, under the editorship of Rebecca Romney, a gorgeous box of 12 stories.  It has a die-cut opening to allow the top book’s central image to show through (each book’s center is different).  You can get a copy here.

This is a collection of science fiction stories written from 1836 to 1998.  Each story imagines the future–some further into the future than others.

As it says on the back of the box

Their future.  Our present.  From social reforms to climate change, video chat to the new face of fascism, Projections is a collection of 12 sci-fi stories that anticipated life in the present day.

About this story, Romney writes

I first learned about Muslim Bengalese feminist and writer Begum Rokeya through a massive landmark anthology: Ann and Jeff VanderMeer’s The Big Book of Science Fiction published in 2016. …  The story was first published in The Indian Ladies Journal in 1905…. She simply switches the roles of men and women in her Muslim society.  This may seem like a simple trick, but … writers of science fiction have long known that sometimes a switch on perspective is all it takes to illuminate truths that are otherwise obscure.

This story is pretty simple and straightforward.  A woman, Sultana, falls asleep.  She dreams (or is it real?) that a woman named Sister Sara has come to walk her through the streets of Darjeeling. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JADE JACKSON-NonCOMM (May 17, 2019).

I thought this was Jade Bird when I saw her name listed.  I have come to like Jade Bird quite a bit.  I had also forgotten about Jade Jackson.

Jackson is getting ready to release her second record, Wilderness, next month, and she and her band came prepared with a seven-song set of catchy country rock tunes.

I guess it’s the “country” part that meant I’d like her less.  I don’t like country music (duh) but I do really like the feminist lyrics that so many country singers have been writing lately.  All of these new country singers who are getting crossover airplay write about strong women.  I just wish I liked their music and their voices (too twangy) better.  Having said that Jackson’s voice is far less twangy than most.

And her lyrics are pretty good. Like in “Bottle It Up”

I cross my heart
I don’t need a man’s hands to open the jar

Although it seems like a lot of modern country songs are about drinking (old ones too, of course).

But her songs are certainly more rocking than country, I’d say.  “City Lights” rocks a lot harder and was more enjoyable to me.

 Jackson pushes the boundaries of that genre label in any way she can, citing influences from Lucinda Williams to Mazzy Star and The Smiths, and enlisting seasoned punk rocker Mike Ness of Social Distortion to produce her records.

Jade Jackson flew in from California just in time to play the last set of NonCOMM this afternoon. But you’d never guess the singer-songwriter was a bit jet-lagged — and struggling with a guitar that had just endured a cross-country flight in the cargo hold — if she hadn’t told us.

“Finish Line” is slower but still pretty catchy.  “Tonight” is even slower.  She says it’s a personal song about something that happened to her.  The lyrics are not explicit although it is clear what happens and “Jackson emphasized that its very personal content made it the most difficult one on Wilderness to write.”  It’s surprising to make it have such a catchy chorus.

She thanks the audience for being so nice and promises that they will carry on their guitars next time.

Her older songs have a lasting familiarity, like the foot-stomping “Good Time Gone.”

This does sound familiar, but I’m not sure if I’ve ever heard it before.  It is catchy and foot stomping.

“Secret” opens with an guitar intro that sounds a bit like U2’s “Sunday Bloody Sunday” but which goes in a different direction.  There’s a pretty ripping guitar solo which I adds an edge to the song.  She says she wrote it in her car on the way to the gym.

She ends the set with “Troubled End.”  This one is the real foot-stomper, the one kind of country song I like.

So yes, I guess she’s a country crossover sing that I do like.

[READ: June 3, 2019] “Prosperity”

After reading the essay from Salman Rushdie about India, I was interested to read a story about India–using what I learned from that essay to help flesh out this story.

And this story had everything: torturing dogs, torturing cats, child prostitutes, religious violence, infidelity and incest!

This was, without question, the most horrible story I have ever read.

All of the above things were done by the narrator (well, he didn’t torture the animals, but he did calmly report about it and described it in detail).  All of it is told in first person, which makes it so much worse. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JAY FARRAR-NonComm (May 17, 2019).

I didn’t like Uncle Tupelo back in the day. So when they broke up I didn’t really care.  I was supposed to care about the alt-country movement, but I didn’t. So I wasn’t interested in Sun Volt or Wilco.

Years later I have really gotten into Wilco and I feel like I’m supposed to dislike Jay Farrar because of the acrimonous split back in the day. But heck without the split, there’d be no Wilco.

I’ve never given Jay Farrar or Son Volt much thought.  So here’s my first real listen to him.

In this setting I find that he sounds a lot like John Doe, a deep soulful voice with acoustic guitar and electric accompaniment.

Jay Farrar‘s soulful folk sound graced the NPR Music stage Friday afternoon for the last day of NonCOMM. While he softly strummed his acoustic guitar, his Son Volt bandmate Mark Spencer backed him up on electric.

This set was made up of Son Volt songs.

He started with “The Reason” a thoughtful song and an indicator of what the rest of the set would sound like.  Calm music, lovely harmonies and pretty backing guitars.

Up next was “Reality Winner” which he introduced as saying “she was put in jail for sharing the truth.”  It’s a powerful song about a real incident that made news at the time but, like so many other things, it was eclipsed by the daily insanity of our government.  From The Boot:

Reality Winner, born in the South Texas town of Alice, is a veteran of the United States Air Force. On June 3, 2017, Winner was arrested after leaking a confidential document to an online news site, The Intercept.  “It’s a really unjust situation where Reality Winner leaked information for the right reason,” Farrar tells The Boot. “She proved that there was Russian interference in the 2016 [presidential] election.”

The lyrics:

What have you done, Reality Winner?
Reality Winner, what have you done?
This jail is a stone-cold answer
The biggest mistake of a Texas lifetime
In this ballad of the commander-in-chief
Is there any mercy for this standing belief?
Felt like gaslighting, not something to just accept
Proud to serve, just not this president
Those that seek the truth will find the answers

Up next was “Devil May Care”

Spencer harmonized with Farrar on a few songs; their vocals joined beautifully together for the chorus of “Devil May Care.”

There isn’t a lot of diversity in these songs.  Farrar’s voice is great but doesn’t change all that much.  They are good folk/country songs.  But I think it might be his presence that makes these song work so well:

The crowd was singing along to Farrar’s set and there was a feeling of mutual respect flowing between the performer and his audience. He has a stage presence that’s just plain cool. Not everyone can wear sunglasses inside without looking like a total jerk.

He introduced the next song saying that these songs are on the new Son Volt album of protest songs.  You may say “What is there to protest and I’d say Just about everything.”

Before singing “Union,” Farrar made a statement about there being protests about everything lately. He continued to tell this story through song while Spencer killed it on steel guitar.

This is a simple song that lays out our country’s divide and recounts Farrar’s father’s belief about the need for something to bind the country together: “He said national service/ Will keep the union together.”

“The 99” is also straightforward.  It may not be timely in the title (I don’t think people use that phrase as much anymore), but the sentiment is spot on:

Journalists in jail covering the scenes
The profit columns rise for the corporate machines
Take the stand now, protest and holler
Desecration of the land for the almighty dollar
Ninety-nine percent
Ninety-nine percent
It’s a trickle-down world
Like you’re stuck in cement

All of the songs were from the new album Union, but he ends the set with an old song.

The mood was brought back up as the set concluded with “Windfall”, a two-decade-old Son Volt song [from Trace].

It is certainly more positive, I guess from back when things were a bit better (the 90s).

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

It’s not often that people intentionally read twenty-year old news.  Maybe for historical reasons or, in my case, because you want to read a piece by a particular author.

So here is a twenty-year old essay from Salman Rushdie about the first time he returned to India after the fatwa had been put on his head twelve years earlier.

He returned to India in April 2000 (I guess the 90s weren’t great for Rushdie).

But first he talks about the many times he left India.  First when he was thirteen and went to boarding school in Rugby, England.  While he was away his father sold their family home in Bombay.  Salman was devastated and is still angry about it.  He believes he would be living there today if they still owned it. (more…)

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