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Archive for the ‘Surreal’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: GIVĒON–Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #166 (January 28, 2021).

GIVĒON is a pretty classic R&B crooner.  He seems pretty grateful to have gotten where he is.

“Just bear with me while I just enjoy this and soak in it,” GIVĒON admits with a laugh.

He plays three songs.

“The Beach” opens with gentle guitar chords from James Murray and a slow bass line from Ivan Chatman.  Then GIVĒON and RaVaughn Brown sing together.

After the song, he says he’s pretty excited to play in February.

“Any moment to do this would be special,” he says between songs, “but I think Black History Month … just celebrating Black culture for this month, I’m really excited to get to do this on this platform.”

He also notes that he is a Pisces.  “Pisces are emotional, maybe that’s why I make songs like this.”  “Like I Want You” opens with a simple drum intro from Andre Montgomery and a slow bass line.  Deondre Ellis plays a keyboard melody that matches the vocal melody at the beginning each line–it’s a nice touch.  Murray plays a pretty ripping guitar solo, too.

Before the final song, “Stuck on You,” he says, “I can’t wait to watch this with my mom and see what she thinks because she likes to nitpick sometimes.”  It’s a bit of a faster song and when there’s about a minute left, GIVĒON walks off to let the band jam out the set.  The mark of an old school singer already.

[READ: February 20, 2021] Goliath

The final book of this trilogy was as exciting as the rest of the series.

Everyone is back aboard the Leviathan and they are heading toward the Arctic.  They have an exciting and dangerous mission up ahead–they are going to lower Leviathan as low as she can go so that they can retrieve some cargo from the back of a polar bear beastie.

Deryn and Newkirk are on a small platform swinging madly through the air as they try to secure this very large parcel from the back of a moving bear.  It’s something that’s been done before, but never with something this large (usually just mail bags).  This is a massive time saver, but if they miss, it means a several hours before they can turn around an try again.

The package is a huge amount of supplies both for the Leviathan and for the special guest who they are going to meet in the Wilderness. Things don’t go as smoothly as promised because the package weighs more than was promised–the danger is pretty great and the scene is very exciting.

When they open up the packages in the ships hold, they discover that in addition to the various supplies there is a massive Clanker gadget that needs assembling.  It is good that Alek and his men are on board to help assemble the Clanker contraption.  He’s also happy to have gainful employ for a time–it’s the happiest he’s been in a while.

The device proves to be a portable metal detector–a powerful one designed to be used almost like a giant magnet. But there’s no explanation for why it’s here.

The ship continues on its mission further up towards Greenland.  Then the watchman sends a message: Trees All Down Ahead.  It doesn’t make sense until they see a clearing up ahead and indeed all of the trees are destroyed–knocked over as of by the world’s largest hurricane. Worse yet, there are gigantic bones littering the place–as if a whale beastie was eaten. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKFUTURE ISLANDS-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #158 (January 25, 2021).

I’m not a huge fan of Future Islands.  I like some of their songs, and I think singer Sam Herring’s voice is really interesting.  The biggest thing I remember about them is NPR’s fascination with singer Sam herring’s dancing.  Herring does some dancing here, but saves most of it until the final song.

Future Islands’ four members are gathered not too far from their Baltimore base in Carroll Baldwin Memorial Hall, sans desk. “We lost the desk,” singer Sam Herring tells us with a smile. With drummer Michael Lowry on the tiny stage, the rest of the band — including bassist William Cashion and Gerrit Welmers on electronics — took to the floor, allowing Sam Herring to make his moves and sing his heart out. This music is clearly for the head and the feet.

The first three songs are from

their sixth and very recent album, As Long As You Are. 

“Hit the Coast” is an upbeat song musically.  The notable thing about Future Islands is that their music is primarily keyboard based, but there’s something about having a bassist that brings an organic element to the music.

Along with themes of loneliness and love, we also hear songs about race, which is most evident in “The Painter,” a song about how we can all look at the same thing and see it so differently.

He continues, “Art is subjective but they way we think about people and the way we treat human lives shouldn’t be.”

My favorite part of this very precise song comes mid-song when Cashion scratches up the strings a bit to add some chaotic distortion.

“Thrill” is set in Greenville NC on the banks of the great greasy Tar River.  It’s about feeling isolated in your society, about self-isolating through substance abuse and about continuing to push forward as all the seething bubbles up inside of you like the great river.  It is a slow and moody song and yo can tell that its very personal to Herring.

We end with a song that came out shortly after visiting NPR in 2011 [Oh man, I miss my hair] called “Balance.” It’s one of those tunes that feels repurposed for the 2020s: “This is a song for anybody who’s struggling through their lives,” Sam Herring says, “and I know there are a lot of you all out there, just trying to get by, but it’s going to take a little bit more time.”

This is a fun dance song–the kind of earlier, faster song that I like from them.  Herring lets his dance shoes lose, with some impressive and wild moves.

[READ: March 1, 2021] Behemoth

Book two of this series was longer and more dangerous–as a sequel should be.

As this book opens, everyone is on board the Leviathan having just sailed to safety.   Alek is showing Deryn how to fence.  She is impatient and has no technical skill.  But it’s nice for her to be with Alek (who Deryn has admitted to herself that she fancies) and it’s nicer that he is saying things like “we” when he talks about the Leviathan.

But soon they see some enemy ships.  The ships look in bad shape and the Leviathan looks poised to destroy them.  Until one of them fires up what they learn is a Tesla tower–a generator that can shoot lightning across great distances.  No one has ever seen one before.  But Alek’s men piece together what it is.  Since they are the only ones who know how to fly Clanker engines, they are in charge of propulsion.  And they disobey orders by bringing the ship to a halt.  The Leviathan, being sentient, also senses what’s going on and starts to concur with the decision.

But disobeying orders is mutiny (except that Alek’s men aren’t technically part of the crew so they can’t be punished).

The Tesla cannon fires and grazes the Leviathan.  It doesn’t puncture the ship (it could literally blow it up if it got to any of the hydrogen), but it does mess with everything electrical.  It also leaves one of the men stranded on a Huxley–essentially electrocuted.

Deryn takes it into her hands to save her mate in an exciting an daring rescue. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKNORA BROWN-GlobalFEST Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #136/148 (January 14, 2021).

Nora BrownGlobalFEST 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 artist of the fourth and final night is fifteen year old banjo player Nora Brown.  Nora was born and bred in Brooklyn, but she has a huge affinity for Appalachian banjo music.

30 feet below the surface in Brooklyn, 10th grader Nora Brown brings incredible, surprising depth to the Appalachian music she plays. Over the course of her Tiny Desk Meets globalFEST concert, surrounded by innumerable globes and instruments, she infuses new life and energy into the traditional songs of Addie Graham, Virgil Anderson and Fred Cockerham. Nora weaves together songs and storytelling, speaking of the great history of the music that came before her and at which she excels.

Nor plays three songs. “The Very Day I’m Gone” is an Addie Graham song.  Graham was a singer from eastern Kentucky.  It is a slow piece that is primarily a bass riff with some high notes and very soft singing.

Her dad made the banjo she is playing.  As the song ends you can hear the shuttle train that runs back and forth about every seven minutes.

Nora has her school stuff on her tiny desk, since she’s been doing remote school learning.  And she’s a high school student which means she ends her sentences with, “So yeah”

“Miner’s Dream” is a Virgil Anderson tune.  He is from the Kentucky/Tennessee border and brought a bluesy touch to his banjo playing.  This one is a faster instrumental played on a snake head Gibson banjo, the bowl of which is over 100 years old.

“Little Satchel” is by Fred Cockerham.  The banjo she is playing is from John Cohen’s of the New Lost City Ramblers.   Roscoe Halcomb would use it when touring with John.  John recently passed away and the banjo is on its way to the Library of Congress.   The song has fast playing with a cool lyrical melody.  It’s my favorite of the three.

[READ: February 10, 2021] 5 Worlds Book 4

I had actually forgotten about this series, and was quite happy to see this book at the library.  This is book 4 of 5 (5 due out in May).

The book does a nice job of bringing us back up to speed in the first few pages–reintroducing everyone and reminding us what is going on.

Of all the books, this one was the most straightforward.  There’s not a lot of travels and we understand most of what’s going on by now.

Oona, Jax, An Tzu and Ram Sam Sam land on planet Ambrine in the town of Salassanra (where Ram Sam Sam is from).  They receive a mixed welcome.  Since they have lit 3 beacons things have not been great on all the worlds.  (The task is not completed, and the process is a little rocky).  Oona is met with some hostility although the planet people love her (she brought water to them after all).

But this task (to light the fourth (amber) beacon) seems pretty easy. The beacon is in a pyramid.  It’s right in front of them and they meet little resistance.  As Oona begins to dance she realizes this beacon is encrusted in indestructible amber.  She can’t break it, but old runes pop up and most likely lead to a clue. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RHEOSTATICS-3rd Annual Green Sprouts Music Week Night 1 (Ultrasound Showbar, Toronto Ontario September 18 1995).

It has been a while since I’ve listened to a live Rheostatics show.  Darrin at Rheostatics Live has added a number of new shows in the last eight months.  Like this full week of shows from the Third Green Sprouts Music Week.

He writes:

Rheos had just come off of the 2nd Another Roadside Attraction tour with The Tragically Hip in July. The band would perform their Group Of 7 commission in Ottawa a month later and during this run were working on material for what would become The Blue Hysteria album. Some of the working titles are listed (Crescent II, Two Flights) as well as Drumheller which would end up as “Desert Island Poem” on Dave’s first Bidiniband album The Land Is Wild.

I don’t regret missing many shows that I’ve missed, but I do very much wish that i had been able to go to a few nights of a Green Sprouts Music Week.  Seeing them in a small club with them chatting away and experimenting seems like it would have been a wonderful experience.

As the tape starts on this first night, someone asks

“Are we going to play that song tonight?”
“What song?”
“The $1.79 song.”
“Of course it wouldn’t be a Green Sprouts…”

Never find out what that is.  But then Dave tells the audience

The plan is over the next 7 days to pay every song we know and even songs don’t know.  He says that it’s Roger the sound man’s first Green Sprouts week and he hasn’t caught Green Sprouts fever yet.  This is also Don Kerr’s first green sprouts, too.

We’ll lay a couple old ones to start.  Someone shouts “YAY!”  Dave: “Hey you haven’t even heard the new ones yet.”

They start with “Me & Stupid” which features the spoken part of the poem “Wilderness Gothic” by Al Purdy:  “Something is about to happen two shores away a man hammering the sky”

Dave: “The great thing about green sprouts is you forget different stuff each night.”

Up next is “another Southern Ontario song” “Fish Tailin’.”

Then Martin unveils his new (as yet unpainted double neck) guitar: “overcompensating for the lack of headstock for the last 6 years.  Now he’s got a guitar with two big ones.”

Tim gets the first new song with “All the Same Eyes,” a song that doesn’t change much between now and the record.

In what will be a theme for the week, they have a really hard time coordinating the opening countdown for “Four Little Songs.”  They have to start it three times.  And they mess up the 4321 at the end.  Martin’s verse seems different.

Kevin Hearn joins them for the next song.  Dave says they stole some part of “Four Little Songs” from [Kev’s “on patrol?  Cabs On patrol?   No idea].

Kevin plays on “Fan Letter” and in they chant “Farm Fresh” instead of Michael.

Over the course of the week we’ll get more details about the creation of “Sweet Rich Beautiful Mine.”  Onm this first night, Martin forgets the second verse.

Dave says that Neil Peart said that he preferred playing smaller places (meaning arenas) because he could hear himself (he preferred arenas to open air venues).  But in arenas there’s big speakers but it sounds small.  But it’s snugsville in here, boy.

It’s been a long time since we did this song (“Palomar”), which gets a good response.  After which “it’s the fall but we can still play summer music” (“Introducing Happiness”).

Dave says he saw Asleep at the Wheel and the last song everyone did a solo.  Then the lead singer had a guitar shaped like Texas, but instead of his solo, he picked up three balls by his feet and did some juggling. The last one he threw up in the air and it landed on the brim of his cowboy hat.  They’re working on that for later in the week.

They start the new “Connecting Flights” but can’t find a capo.  They do an improv “capo shortage,” a goofy bit a fun.  Up next is the new “Desert Island Poem,” which sounds great.

Then comes the popular section.  A rocking “California Dreamline” which segues into a lovely “Song of Flight” and right into “Fat.”

They haven’t played “Queer” in a while (which is a surprise).  As they start Dave says, “now there’s a little matter of the words.”  Someone recites them for him.

Dave is going to play “My First Rock Concert” every night this week and the and are kind of learning it on the fly.  In the middle of the song, some words are different.

Dave: “I sense something funky coming on (start of “Soul Glue”).

The last song before “our first encore” is a rocking version of Jane Siberry’s “One More Colour.”  I love their version.

Heading into the encore break Don says, “We just played 18 songs without a pee break.”

That reminds him of a gig they played in Pennsylvania: drinks were free until the first person has to pee.  It was a real classy establishment.  The most boring place on earth–Harrisburg, PA.  It’s a great place if you have a huge bladder.

Martin says “My assessment of tonight is that it started out very vague and hazy, like we haven’t played in six months or like we’re getting back together after a year breakup.  But it gelled together in the last three or four songs.”

Martin tries to remember the new song “A Midwinter Night’s Dream.”  He doesn’t go for the high note in the middle of the song–choosing a lower growl instead.  It works pretty well, but I love the high note.

Dave jokes: You don’t know what it was like touring in Platinum Blonde town after town having to play the hits with the drummer under the stage playing the parts for the fake drummer on the stage.

A delicate “Take Me in Your Hand” is followed by Don Kerr’s first time playing “Northern Wish.”  Martin gets the first line but missed the rest of the verse and starts the song again.

The first night ends with a ripping “Dope Fiends and Boozehounds.”  There’s a drum solo for Don and then martin ends the song with interesting guitar effects.

It’s a good start to a great week.

[READ: February 20, 2021] Leviathan

I signed C. up for a YA program at the library.  His subject was steampunk and they chose this book for him.  S. had read this series and loved it, so I decided to give it a read while it was still in the house.  I found it to be a fast and fun read.

The story is set in 1914, the dawn of World War I. But it’s an alternate reality–one where zeppelins and other hydrogen-based flying machines dominate the air  It also has a very cool component of animal/machine hybrids that are really quite impossible to explain except to say that the Leviathan is a living airship that is made out of whale–they are in side of a whale–but it’s also a machine.  Or something.  Best not to think too much about that.

It’s here that I should mention the drawings by Keith Thompson. They are wonderful pencil-looking drawings–dark but detailed.  They really help to get the visuals down of thes extradoridfanly machiens tah Westerfeld has createa.  I’m not always certain that I could picture the without the drawings.

The book opens on teenaged Prince Aleksander, the heir to the Austrian throne.  While he is playing with toy soldiers, imagining a war, two of his servants enter the room and tell him they are off to do some training in the dark–his father’s orders.

The machine that Aleks is being taken to is a Cyklop Stormwalker.  This is a giant machine that walks on two legs (Star Wars, yes). Alek has never piloted something this large before, but they tell him it’s important for his training. But Alek senses something is wrong and that’s when they tell him this is not a drill.  His parents, the King and Queen of Austria, were killed that very night. He is probably another target and they are trying to keep him safe. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: WALKING ON CARS-Colours (2019).

Walking on Cars drummer Evan Hadnett cited some pretty heavy bands as influences in the Irish Drummers book.  But also noted how important Irish trad music was to Irish drummers.  None of the songs on this album are as heavy or fast as anyone he talked about, but you can hear the anthemic power of those bands.

I hadn’t heard of Walking on Cars and I’m kind of surprised by that because they seems like they could have been really big.  They just called it quits after releasing the 2020 EP Clouds.

But Colours pushes every button for anthemic angst pop.  I’m hearing Imagine Dragons, The Head and the Heart, Of Monsters and Men.  and that’s just in the first song, “Monster.”  A huge chorus and dramatic vocal chops are only the beginning.  “Waiting on the Corner” has some processed “oohs” that could be an immediate hook.

Most of the songs are filled with intense angst–Patrick Sheehy’s voice is gravelly and passionate–“she’s in love with somebody else–someone who won’t let her down” (“Somebody else”) and “I was looking for a friend / And it all came to an end / But I survived, yeah I survived” (“Coldest Water”).  His voice is also prominent in the mix “yeah it as better when we were kids” (“When We Were Kids”), where he also throws in some angsty falsetto.

“Two Straight Lines” plays simple guitar lines off of electronic washes and “Too Emotional” is even poppier than the other songs.  “One Last Dance” features co-lead vocals with pianist Sorcha Durham (I’m surprised there weren’t more prominent female vocals on other songs).  Paul Flannery rounds out the band on bass and vocals.  The final song “Pieces of You” ends the album with a big piano ballad.

The big surprise to me about thee songs is that they’re all pretty short.  The longest tracks on the record are just over three and a half minutes and the whole album is just over half an hour.  It seems like an album full of over the top anthemic bangers might stretch out and maybe overstay its welcome.  But this record is efficient.

It seems like the band is ending their career on a high note. They’d been together for ten years and played around the world (although never the U.S. it seems).  I imagine if they’d gotten this album in the right hands they could have definitely opened for one of those earlier mentioned bands here.

[READ: February 15, 2021] Rickety Stitch and the Gelatinous Goo

I saw this series at the library and thought it looked promising–I rather liked the cover art work.

So I was quite surprised to open it and find it in black and white.

A skeleton seems to have come to life and is walking with a mass of other skeletons through the woods.  They all seem to know their destination but our skeleton does not.  Then a song begins and sings of his plight.  It tells of the Road to Epoli.

Then the book switches to color and Rickety Stitch is seen sleeping on a rack. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKHIT LA ROSA-GlobalFEST Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #134/144 (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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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: JONATHAN BISS-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #126 (December 14, 2020).

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

Biss is uniquely qualified for the task at hand. The 40-year-old pianist has recorded all 32 of Beethoven’s freewheeling sonatas, performed them worldwide and has taught an online course in the music.hat’s impressive. Still, what’s more astounding is the personal story behind Biss’ obsession with Beethoven. The recording project alone took nearly 10 years and the things Biss says he gave up – relationships, even his sense of self – in order to live the dream is heartbreaking. The pandemic has shut down the life and livelihoods of many musicians, and for Biss the down time offered space to confront his relationship to Beethoven and his own demons. He tells his story in a raw and insightful audio memoir called Unquiet: My Life with Beethoven.

You can hear some of Beethoven’s own struggle in these perceptive performances. The bittersweetness of the Bagatelle Op. 126, No. 1, the moments of fragility in the Sonata, Op. 90, and the interior perspective that reaches outward from the Sonata Op. 109, all prove that Beethoven’s music is as meaningful today as ever.

Jonathan Biss is a chatty pianist.  After playing the lovely if brief “Bagatelle in G, Op. 126, No. 1” (it’s under 3 minutes), he explains that the six bagatelles were the last thing Beethoven ever wrote for the piano. 

He also jokes that he had the overwhelming urge to introduce himself via the “invent your NPR name” by inserting your middle initial somewhere in your first name and your last name is the most exotic place you’ve ever traveled.

He says that didn’t expect to be drawn back to Beethoven during the pandemic because hos music is so intense and so much.  He thought he’d rather be drawn to comfort food.  But he can’t get away from Beethoven.

The pandemic has sidelined many big Beethoven birthday plans. Jonathan Biss was slated to play concerts around the globe in celebration of the 250th anniversary of the composer’s birth. Instead, he’s home in Philadelphia. So it’s no surprise that for this all-Beethoven Tiny Desk concert, Biss chose music that explores the composer’s own isolation, brought on by deafness and an uncompromising personality.

He talks about cancelling his tour in March.  He came home  and decided to read more–do he randomly picked out How to Be Alone as if the fates were telling him something.  Biss feels that beethoven provided a guide to being alone.  He was alone for most of his life–his personality was rather off putting, but he was also functionally deaf–the most profound form of isolation.  He retreated into his imagination to create these songs.

“Piano Sonata in E minor, Op. 90: I. Mit Lebhaftigkeit und durchaus mit Empfindung und Ausdruck” is a piece that shows his vulnerability–a rare things for Beethoven.

He plays the first two movements of “Piano Sonata in E, Op. 109: I. Vivace, ma non troppo — Adagio espressivo, II. Prestissimo.”  You can hear him humming an grunting along.

He signs off with his “NPR name” which I can’t quite make out.  Then he concludes with the final bagatelle, “Bagatelle in E-flat, Op. 126, No. 3” which ends by drifting into the ether.

[READ: January 1, 2021] The Linden Tree

I’ve had a few César Aira books sitting around that I wanted to finish and the beginning of a new year seemed like a great opportunity.

It’s not always clear if his stories are fiction, non-fiction or some combination of the two.  The back of this book calls it a “fictional memoir,” as if that clears things up.  Chris Andrews translated this fictional memoir.

The book opens with the narrator explaining that his father used to go into the town square to take leaves and flowers from the linden trees (in particularly one unusually large tree) and make a tea out of them.  This had some kind of regenerative properties for him–they cured his insomnia at any rate.

From there, as happens with Aira stories–it goes everywhere.

About a different Aira story Patti Smith once wrote:

I get so absorbed that upon finishing I don’t remember anything, like a complex cinematic dream that dissipates upon awakening.

And THAT is exactly the way Aira books work for me too.  I have to go back through them just to try to remember the details.

So, in this story the narrator’s father is black (mixed race marriages were unusual in Pringles at the time of their marriage).  His mother, who he praised for marrying a black man, was also flawed in many ways, including being very short and very bossy.

But the main thing about this story is the rise and fall of Peronism. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MAC AYERS-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #118 (November 30, 2020).

I’ve never heard of Mac Ayers and while I respect the fact that he plays everything in this Tiny Desk Home Concert (and syncs things up nicely) and even wears different clothes for each instrument, this 15 minute set was pretty torturous for me.

If you were to ask what kind of singing do I hate the most, my answer would now be Mac Ayers.  I hate the tone of his voice, I hate the way he does those whiny ooooooh at the end of his lines (note in the first song the first verse the way he says “you” and then the way he ends the rhyming word do (he even makes a face like it hurts him as much as it hurts me.

Obviously my opinion is not the popular one, because Ayers is apparently a big star.  But not in my house.

The 23-year-old Long Island native shot this in his basement back in September (hence the ‘register to vote’ comment). Mac’s modus operandi lends itself to the Tiny Desk naturally. No over-produced beats, lots of live instruments and a stunning vocal range — and he handles all duties: guitar, bass, keyboard and background harmonies for three songs from previous albums and the premiere of a new song, “Sometimes.”

He plays “She Won’t Stay Long” and then fiddles on the keyboard as he introduces “Walking Home.”  This song is a little bit more enjoyable for me.  There are fewer grace notes.  Although I do dislike the chorus.

He talks to us from his guitar to introduce the third song (I like that he’s mixing things up).

“Sometimes” is a new song.  It reminds me a lot of Billy Joel (not his voice, but the melody–must be a Long Island thing).

“Easy” has some terrific harmonies, although I hate the lead vocals.  I give him a lot of credit for being an exceptional musician, I just hate the music he makes.

We were well on the way to hosting Mac Ayres at our D.C. offices until we had to shut down and pivot.

I hope this Home Tiny Desk means he doesn’t have to do one in the office.

[READ: December 13, 2020] Modern Times

I saw this book at work and, given some of the blurbs, I thought it might be, if not fun then at least unusual to read flash fiction from an Irish writer.  I also prefer this Australian cover (right).

The book starts out with a bang.  “A Love Story” is bizarre and memorable.  In a page and a half, Sweeney talks about a woman who “loved her husband’s cock so much that she began taking it to work in her lunchbox.”  The story is bittersweet and outrageous at the same time.  It was a great opening.

But I feel like the rest of the book lost some steam.  Possibly because I assumed all of the stories would be this short.  It felt like the longer stories dragged on a bit (which is strange for stories about 4 pages long).

Interestingly, “The Woman With Too Many Mouths” even addresses this (to me anyway) as the narrator says, “I could expend many pages recounting my time…. but you would become bored, and worse, you would forget all about the woman with two many mouths.”  The woman with too many mouths had moths (among other things) fly out of these mouths.

“A New Story Told Out of an Old Story” is, as the title suggests, a story within a story.  It feels like a fairy tale with a Woodcutter and a Miller’s Daughter.  There’s even a Grandmother and a Wolf.   In the internal story, the wolf attacks the grandmother.  She survives, but the scar from the wolf makes her husband not want to look at her and the villagers treat her badly.  When you get to the Grandmother’s story, she has a different take on things.

This book is very current and I am reading “The Palace” as being about the pandemic.  Specifically, the outrageous bungling of the response by the current (and soon to be ex!) administration in the U.S.  

The palace was sick  no one believed it, but it was true.  

In the story the palace physically deteriorates.  The king patches it up but doesn’t actually do anything about the problem.

Soon reports of the sickness were breaking in the news on a daily basis. The king gave a rousing speech about battling the forces of evil that had created the sickness and people screamed ‘Long live the King’ until they were hoarse.’

(more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KURSTIN x GROHL-“Fuck the Pain Away” (The Hanukkah Sessions: Night Four” December 13, 2020).

   Producer Greg Kurstin (who I have not heard of) and Dave Grohl (who I have) decided that, rather than releasing a Christmas song this year, they would record eight covers of songs by Jewish artists and release them one each night for Hanukkah.

“With all the mishegas of 2020, @GregKurstin and I were kibbitzing about how we could make Hannukah extra-special this year. Festival of Lights?! How about a festival of tasty LICKS! So hold on to your tuchuses… We’ve got something special coming for your shayna punims. L’chaim!!”

The fourth night is very family un-friendly, because it’s a song by Peaches.

Drake’s not the only musical Jew from Canada…tonight we feature a Canadian rock G-Dess…who coincidentally grew up around the corner from a Canadian Jewish rock G-D (G-ddy Lee). Straight out the mikvah, here’s Peaches!

I don’t know Peaches all that well, but I do know this song.

Kurstin plays the minimalist synth line, including the hand claps.

Grohl plays drums and sings.  There’s not much in the way of drums in this song (nor much in the way of lyrics either, actually).  There’s an inherent smile as Grohl sings “sucking on my titties.”

For such a hedonistic song, the pro-school verse is pretty surprising: IUD SIS, stay in school cause it’s the best.

The surprise in this one comes half way through the song when Peaches herself makes a remote appearance.  She sings the chorus with Dave (although they don’t acknowledge each other).

[READ: December 14, 2020] “The Professor”

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

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

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

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

It’s December 14. Sabrina Orah Mark, author of Wild Milk, regrets that she will be unable to attend office hours this week. [Click the link to the H&O extras for the story].

This is the second story in a row that I found very confusing and not very enjoyable.  I really used to enjoy weird stories like this, but my tolerance for this style has thinned as I get older I guess.

It starts plainly enough.  A student, Penny, is waiting for her professor.  Although when the professor calls, “we step over five students I’ve never seen before.” (more…)

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