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Archive for the ‘Short Story’ Category

julyaugust200SOUNDTRACK: HAMILTON LEITHAUSER-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #37 (June 21, 2020).

hammyHamilton Leithauser seems to always be on the periphery of my listening experience. I hear his name a lot and hear his songs a bunch, but I’ve never actually looked for him.

And yet, I like him and his music.  And, indeed, as this blurb says,

This is the most adorable thing you may see all day.

Known best as the The Walkmen singer, Hamilton Leithauser is the singer of The Walkmen, although I know him better for his solo work.

Here he plays songs from his 2020 solo album, The Loves of Your Life.

Leithauser’s voice is a solid folk-singer voice and he hits a lot of high notes (with a deliberate straining style).  “In a Black Out” features his father Mark Leithauser on harmonica.  It’s a very touching Father’s Day moment.

But it’s made even more magical when for “The Garbage Men” he calls out his band: his daughters Georgiana and Frederika Leithauser and his nieces May and Lucy McIntosh.  The kids sing backing ahhs (quite well) and they all enjoy singing “till the garbage men go by!”  They also do the quiet “oohs” very nicely as well.  And they dance on haystacks.

“Here They Come” is about a friend who would go to the movies and sneak into film after film to avoid going home.  The kids sing the lyrics (pretty well) and dance even more adorably for this rocking song.  It’s important not to forget his wife, Anna Stumpf on congas and percussion way in the back for the middle three songs.

His daughter makes fun of him introducing the tiny desk “Dad you sound so stupid” and Hamilton laughs at the mocking.  They also show that they have a tinier tiny desk from the Calico Critters.

Then he introduces “The Stars of Tomorrow” by saying he and his girls met a Polish woman on the beach.  The woman told them her life story (they’d hadn’t asked).  It had a lot of drama and a lot of contradictions.  Everything in the story is true from what he can remember she told him, “but I can’t vouch for her story.”

The final song “Isabella” is, to me, the most Leithauser of the five songs.  A real folks song slow and passionate.  The girls do a fantastic job singing the “they all go riding home” responses in the chorus.  I’m very impressed with how well they sing.

There have been a lot of cute and sweet Tiny Desk’s but none have been as adorable.

[READ: June 23, 2020] “Lottery Poetry”

This month’s issue of The Walrus is the Summer Reading issue and features two pieces of fiction, one memoir and three poems.

The fifth piece is fiction and it is very timely.

Maisy Wu learned fortune-telling from her mah-mah who’d read faces and palms in a stall in Hong Kong.  Maisy had been doing fortunes at college parties and eventually decided to quit her job at the Vancouver Public Library and go public with her talents.

She read palms and offered her own variation on Kau chim or lottery poetry.

Then the pandemic hit. At first people still came–they wanted her reassurances.  But when she was declared nonessential, she was financially hit hard.

She decided to go mobile with her skills, inspired by take out drivers.  She called it Curbside Divinations.  She received some likes on social media but no calls.  She imagined them saying, “If you’re so good at predicting the future, why did you book a  trip to Mexico in March?”

Then she had a request from a man named Pete.   He was a white man in sweats somewhere between forty-five and sixty-five.

She almost lefty when he asked “If you Chinese were so good at predicting the future, how’d you all get us into this in the first place?”

But as she turned to leave, he said he’d already paid.  And she needed the money.  (more…)

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julyaugust200SOUNDTRACK: LITTLE DRAGON-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #35 (June 18, 2020).

As I was looking at concert listings, I kept seeing an upcoming show for Little Dragon.  I’d never heard of them but the promo made it sound like I should have (they have been around since 1996!).

Indeed, this Tiny Desk blurb says as much.

The group’s latest album, New Me, Same Us, is their grooviest, most concentrated in years, and I was eager to hear these songs as Little Dragon’s music is best experienced: live on stage. “Some of you might know that we were supposed to be on tour in the states, but due to these crazy times it got canceled,” lead singer Yukimi Nagano says.

So I was interested to check out this Tiny Desk (Home) Concert.  Unfortunately, I was was rather unimpressed by this set, because it seemed to be a lot more “Little” than “Dragon.”  However, the blurb indicates that this is not what they might normally be like:

these stripped-down iterations from the band’s home studio in Sweden move me but in a different way. I find myself focusing on the songwriting and how all the instruments come together for these numbers, proving just how strong the tracks from New Me… are.

Little Dragon is a four piece.  In this home concert they are (maybe) socially distanced–maybe they live together.

The first song “Rush” features prominent bass from Fredrik Wallin, trippy keys from Håkan Wirenstrand, gentle drums from Erik Bodin and very soft vocals from Yukimi Nagano.  Nagano plays the wood blocks or whatever they are and then loops them-which is neat.  Midway through the song during a lengthy, chill an instrumental break, Wallin switches to acoustic guitar as Nagano, oohs.  Then he’s back to the bass for the funky end.

“Where You Belong” ratchets up the fuzz on the bass.  This song doesn’t sound all that different, although that bass is pretty great sounding,

Then as a bonus, Little Dragon played an oldie, “Forever,” which is still my favorite track from this genre-bending band.

“Forever” is the first song they ever wrote together.  It comes from their first album from 2007.  It’s a bit bouncier and funkier and sounds like they may have been a bit more dancey back in the day.

They end the set with “Every Rain” which returns to the trippier sound of the first two songs–echoing keys and Nagano’s soft croon.  Although this set doesn’t make me want to see them live.  I am curious to hear what they sound like when they are not stripped down.

[READ: June 23, 2020] “The Ones We Carry With Us”

This month’s issue of The Walrus is the Summer Reading issue and features two pieces of fiction, one memoir and three poems.

The third piece is fiction although it reads a lot like a memoir.

It starts with the fascinating sentence: ” A few years ago, I accidentally midwifed a death.”

This could literally mean many things, although figuratively it makes sense for what she actually means.

The narrator then goes on to tell us about three women whose lives have impacted her.

The woman who died was Agatha. (more…)

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ja1SOUNDTRACK: HAIM-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #34 (June 17, 2020).

haimWhen Haim first came on the scene they were marketed as a kind of hard rocking sister act.  So when I heard them I was really disappointed because they are anything but hard rock.  In fact this Tiny Desk (Home) Concert shows just how nicely their music works as  kind of poppy folk songs.

I haven’t really liked most of their songs, but I do like first and third in this set (I was unfamiliar with the middle song).

“The Steps” is like a classic rock song that’s been around for ever.  “The sunny, take-no-prisoners assertion of independence of “The Steps” recalls the soft rock jams of their earlier albums.”  The very cool sounding lead guitar riff that opens the song is definitely missed in this version, but the song itself is really solid and their harmonies are lovely.  The bass is mixed too loudly in this song, which is a bit of a shame since the rest sounds so good.

Strangely, it’s only Danielle who speaks and introduces only herself.  So you need the blurb to tell you that on her left is her sister Este Haim (bass, keyboard, drum pad, vocals) and on her right is her sister Alana Haim: (guitar, vocals, bongos).

The second song is “the muted techno glimmer of ‘I Know Alone.'”  Este switches to keys, Danielle switches to a rhythm machine and keys and whole Alana keeps the acoustic guitar she is also playing keys.  I think she keeps the guitar for one dramatic harmonic moment..  This song is kind of bland–not much really happens in it.

In comes Henry Solomon (the screen splits into four) to add saxophone for the final song “Summer Girl,”

a song that wavers like a heat mirage reflected off New York’s summer sidewalks, thanks to Henry Solomon’s whisper-toned sax.

I had no idea this song was HAIM  I recognized that saxophone melody immediately and have hear it many times on the radio.   Once again the bass is too loud, which is a bummer since this song is so chill. This song also feels like it has been around forever–there’s a real timeless quality to it.

HAIM recorded its Tiny Desk set before the death of George Floyd, and released “Summer Girl” last year. The world has changed a lot in that time. With its opening line — “LA on my mind, I can’t breathe” — “Summer Girl” becomes another piece of music that takes on a parallel meaning in the evolving social and political landscape of 2020.

I didn’t enjoy Haim’s early stuff, but I have come around on this album.

[READ: June 19, 2020] “Free”

This was a short story about who love ages.

Henry was married to Irene, but he was having an affair with Lila, who was married to Pete.

Irene was stuffy, very proper.  Lila, by contrast, once stripped off all her clothes and skinny dipped into a cold lake in front of him–“her bottom a sudden white heart split down the middle, in his vision.”  Lila lived in the now and gave herself to him completely.  But Henry “was no good at adultery…because he could not give himself, entirely, to the moment.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BABY ROSE-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #31 (June).

I had not heard of Baby Rose until her recent Tiny Desk Concert.  Now here she is at home and her voice is once again remarkable.  With all of the music stripped back, she sounds even more like Billie Holiday.

The depths of sorrow and passion the D.C. native digs into with such conviction has come to be reliably awe-inspiring. It’s the reason her Tiny Desk concert earlier this year stopped us in our tracks. And it’s the reason we’ve invited her back to bring the heat once again, albeit from a safe and secure distance.

Even though Baby Rose’s pianist Timothy Maxey is in the same room with her, he is sitting pretty far away.

The set opens with “Pressure,” a song that accentuates her voice.  Up next is a new song, “Marmot,” which “she hadn’t performed live until this Tiny Desk (home) concert.”

The final song is one that has been getting some airplay.

Earnest intention is the reason Baby Rose’s music has found a place on HBO’s hit series Insecure. In this bedroom mini-show, Rose performs “Show You” (which was used to underscore this season’s most dramatic romantic plot twist).

I don’t have HBO; I’ve never even heard of the show,so I can’t comment on that.  It sounds an awful lot like the other two songs.  But somehow I’m fascinated that she can sing like that while seated.

[READ: June 18, 2020] “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas”

In a post about Bubblegum recently, Jeff mentioned this story which I had not heard of.  Indeed, I have read very little Ursula Le Guin–not for any reason, I just haven’t.

He described is as short but sad, and I wanted to see how it tied to Bubblegum (it does, but I can’t say how without giving anything away).  It’s also wonderfully written.

My first observation is I can’t believe it was written in 1973 because it fees very contemporary.  The details are vague enough that it could be anywher at any time, which is pretty genius.  Although that vagueness actually made it a little bit hard for me to get into the story at first.

But about half way through the vagueness fades and the details come in and are excruciating. (more…)

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indexSOUNDTRACK: LARA DOWNES-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #29 (May 30, 2020).

laraI don’t know Lara Downes, although from the picture you can see that she is a pianist, obviously.  But she also works in communities with young people–something she has been unable to do since the coronavirus took over.

This Tiny Home Desk is visually more interesting than most of the others, because she has a mobile cameraman, her son Simon, who walks around and zooms in on her fingers and elsewhere.

She plays three songs

all from her recent album Some of These Days… They are strong statements that resonate in new ways. From Margaret Bonds, one of the first celebrated African-American women composers, there’s “Troubled Water,” a poignant riff on the spiritual “Wade in the Water” that Downes says takes a “journey from classical virtuosity to gospel, jazz, blues and back again.”

It has a very fluid feel but is also quite dark.

The next piece surprised me not because of the song but because of the arranger.  Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, yes the author, created this arrangement of “Deep River.”  I’m surprised that there is nothing else said about him.  I had no idea he was musical as well.

She says there are many interpretations of the river in this song.  For some, it is crossing over into the afterlife.  In the time of slavery, it meant crossing to freedom.  For Downes it represents “crossing over” the coronavirus crisis, to something better.

She is looking to raise money for FeedingAmerica.  If you go to her site and donate you can get a signed copy of her new album.

The final song is Florence Price’s “Some of These Days,” which she sees as a vision of better times ahead.  It is a beautiful slow piece.

The set ends with a jump edit to her snuggling her beloved pooch, Kona.

[READ: May 31, 2020] “Two Nurses, Smoking”

This story is broken up into titled paragraphs.  The title often works as the first part of the first sentence.  At first I didn’t understand this technique, but by the end it made a lot of sense.

The story is indeed about two nurses smoking.

Gracie grew up living in a motel that people paid for week by week.  A high school counselor encouraged her to go to nursing school.  Marlon grew up on the Shoshone reservation then his mother moved East and married a man who drank as much as she did.  He had been in the war and has a scar from an IED. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: D SMOKE-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #28 (May 29, 2020).

The lineup of musicians for the Tiny Desk Home Concerts has been a fascinating mix of known and unknown folks.

I have never heard of D Smoke.  Apparently it’s not surprising that I don’t know who D Smoke is because

last year, the rapper and pianist, born Daniel Farris, rose to national acclaim when he won Netflix’s MC battle show Rhythm + Flow.

Winning allowed him to quit teaching and produce music full-time.  He plays four songs.

D Smoke’s songs here — taken from his latest album Black Habits, out earlier this year — acknowledge the disparities impacting the black experience that are simultaneously personal and universal. The opening selection, “No Commas,” is a heart-wrenching lament on injustice and inequality. The gentle touch of D’s fingers moving across the keys complement the song’s poignant lyrics, which he raps in English and Spanish.

I am really quite amazed at what rap sounds like without a beat, with no percussion of any kind.  These songs are performed with just the piano.  Stark and powerful.

I enjoyed the lyrics to “No Commas”

I told ’em I’m the one for the job, no commas
And I’m serious, period, no commas
Wanna enjoy my family and my friends with no drama

The song segues into “Closer to God” which has a more jazzy/lounge vibe.  He sings the chorus and has a lovely voice.

This is his first time playing and rapping “Seasons Pass.”  Although he is rapping, his is very musical about it, kind of singing more than straight ahead rapping.  But when he gets rapping, his flow is fast and impressive.

He also performed “Black Habits II,” the affecting finale to Black Habits, for the first time in a live setting.

The album is about his upbringing growing up, for the first nine years, with a single mother and then his pops coming home [from being incarcerated] and being a good role model.

He cautions us that it’s his first time playing it live so, “If I stumble a bit we gonna pick it back up.”  He does stumble a bit but it sounds great.

[READ: May 25, 2020] “Demolition”

It’s always interesting to read a story set in a different country.  I guess one always imagines a story is set somewhere familiar unless you are told otherwise.  It wasn’t until about half way through the story before I realized it was not set in the States.  And I think it was very close to the end that I realized it was set in Australia.

But the setting doesn’t matter so much because the story is about the house across the street which is being torn down today.

Eva lives across the street and is sad that the Biga house is being torn down.  Her husband, Gerald, is happy to see the eyesore go.  As they looked through the blinds, they watched people come and take souvenirs from the place.

Then came the media. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ALEX ISLEY-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #21 (May 15, 2020).

Alex Isley’s father is one half of the Isley Brothers, purveyors of some of the baddest-ass riffs in rock and soul.

So how strange is it that Alex’s song have literally no low end.  Her voice is very high, her keys are soft and gentle chords and her rhythm is finger snaps.  These songs are gossamer and will easily blow away.

From her Los Angeles home, Isley takes us on a tour of her discography, starting with “About Him” from 2013’s Dreams in Analog.

The blurb describes “About Him,” as opening with an “angelic riff,” but I found it more demonic than angelic.  The song is like five minutes long and nothing happens.  The melody just swirls around and she repeats a few lines a lot–yes, this song is about you.

“Into Orbit” is much the same although this song is about her grandfather I think–it’s really hard to focus on what she;s saying because it’s all so ethereal.

Before the third song she gives a shout out to 9th Wonder, apparently a storied hip-hop producer who produced her brand new song, “Rain Clouds,”  This song actually has a drum beat on it and it’s short. There’s also a nice backing vocal track.  This feels like an actual song.

She closed with her latest single, “Gone.”  Even with a slightly interesting synth bass line, the rest of the song is so in the ether that it just seems to drift away.

And the whole show was forgotten just like that.

[READ: May 18, 2020] “The Afterlife”

There was a lot going on in this story but I really have no idea what it was.  The fact that it was divided into short numbered passages really didn’t help in any way.

R. is on a shuttle bus to the afterlife.  The building is unfeasibly large with side rooms.  The place was crowded and he wondered if he’d see anyone he knew.

Then he hears people, his, people muttering nonsensical sentences.  Until finally he sees someone writing something down.  He hopes the man is a poet.  But when R. talks to the man and asks if anything here adds up, the man says

“It doesn’t add up to anything at all. Not unless you saw the sequel.”
“The sequel?”
Avengers: Endgame.”

What?  Are you kidding me? (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ICE NINE KILLS-“Jason’s Mom” (2020).

I heard about this song from Metal Sucks who hilariously showed the three ways this song is perfectly timely:

  1. Paid tribute to one of the song’s writers, Adam Schlesinger, who died of COVID-19 last month.
  2. Paid tribute to the original Friday the 13th film, which turned 40 years old this weekend.
  3. Paid tribute to all of the world’s moms in time for Mother’s Day.

Ice Nine Kills’ songs are usually pretty heavy, so this acoustic number is quite a change (The video even shows the drummer using a hand drum rather than a kit).

It’s also an opportunity to hear how well they can sing (and harmonize).

But really, the fun of this song is in the lyrics

Jason, do you remember Camp wasn’t so great?
The counsellors had lots of sex while you drowned in the lake
But one woman stood by you when your life was taken
Yeah, she slaughtered them all and even killed Kevin Bacon
I’m making sure that she’s appreciated
She did it all for you and was decapitated

And of course, the twist on the chorus:

Jason, can’t you see the love behind her killing spree?
Whether her Head’s off or not
I’m in love with Jason’s Mom

Sometimes violence can bring people together with humor.

[READ: May 10, 2020] “I Incriminate Myself So No One Else Can”

This is a weird little story.

The sum total of the action is that a six year old girl is on the top of a slide in a playground. She is crying, getting more and more frightened.

Her mother is standing nearby desperately wanting the girl to get over her fear–to demonstrate internal fortitude.  She is getting angry as the girl screams louder and louder and other parents move in to see what’s wrong.

The story is, of course, the background of the mother. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE TEA PARTY-“Isolation” (2020).

It seems like a number of bands have been covering Joy Divison’s “Isolation” lately. It is appropriate after all.

The Tea Party are a Canadian band known for its sound, which blends classic rock and influences from many countries around the world.  I like that they are referred to as “Moroccan Roll.”

Musically this songs sounds quite a lot like the original. I don’t think of The Tea Party has being especially synthy, but they get the synth sound pretty spot on.  Usually The Tea Party has all kinds of middle eastern instrumentation, but there’s nothing like that here.

Jeff Martin has a deep resonant voice that often sounds like Jim Morrison.  Here he gets the same tone as Ian Curtis, but his voice is much better, much more full than Curtis’.  In fact, the whole song sounds bigger–a sound that befits a band that is often compared to Led Zeppelin rather than an indie British club band.

The original certainly conveys “isolation” better (I mean, it is Ian Curtis after all), but this version sound great too and it really rocks.

[READ: May 11, 2020] “The Resident Poet”

I was surprised to realize that I had never read anything by Katherine Dunn.  Her novel Geek Love is one of those books that I feel is always mentioned as being notable.  I always assumed it was about nerds.  I just found out it is about carnies–circus geeks.  My mind is blown.

If I was wrong about the entire premise of her most famous book, I clearly have no idea what the rest of her output is like.

I didn’t realize she was the author of this story (I saw the author’s name but didn’t connect her to anything).  I doubt that knowing she wrote it would have made me think any differently about the story.  Mostly because I don’t know what to think about the story.

Essentially this story follows a college-aged woman as she deliberately degrades herself for a poet who comes to teach at their school.  But she seems empowered by her degradation, so I’m not sure how to read it. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: LIANNE LA HAVAS-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #18 (May 5, 2020).

This Tiny Desk is wonderful because you can clearly see the interesting chords that Lianne La Havas is playing.

She looks quite comfortable in her cozy space. I love the effect of the close camera placement; her essence penetrates the fourth wall like she’s singing just for me. Lianne performed the tender “Paper Thin” and “Bittersweet,” two recent singles that will be included on her self-titled new album set to drop in July. The intimacy of the performance matches the lyrics of the new songs, personal vignettes about her life and growth over the last five years.

After “Paper Thin” she says “I just felt like playing it first.”

Also included in the set is “Midnight,” a wistful gem from her 2015 album, Blood.

There’s some really wonderful guitar work here too.  She plays a complicated picking melody complete with occasional harmonics.  At one point her vocals take of and get much louder.  So loud that she kind of overloads her mic.

“Bittersweet”  continues with the quite guitar and powerful voice.  I’m curious what these songs will be like when they are fully produced.

[READ: May 3, 2020] “Witness”

This story is set in Berbice, Guayana.

Quammie had gone there to visit cousin Calib and tells the narrator his story.

Noting much happened, he didn’t buy any souvenirs.  Although that night there was to be a rally for President Ramotar.

It was rare that the Guyanese election made international ripples.  Oil had been discovered in the ocean, so Guyana and Venezuela were fighting over whose water the deposits were submerged in.

The polls were predicting a narrow loss for Ramotar who had decreed a state media blackout on all ads and coverage for his rival.

Quammie said they got out before the rally started, but on their way out of the city, they had to pull over for the President’s motorcade.

You saw Ramotar?

No, just his car. (more…)

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