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Archive for the ‘The Devil’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: PHIL PULEO-Phil Puleo’s poly”WOG” 1996​-​2003 (2003/2020).

Phil Puleo has been the drummer for Swans for a number of years.  He has also been in Cop Shoot Cop and a number of other bands.  He also lived in New Jersey and was a good friend of a good friend of mine.  So I’ve hung out with him a few times and was pretty excited for him to get the gig with Swans.  I was really looking forward to seeing them this past winter, but theirs was one of the first shows to get postponed until next year.

So Phil has reissued (and remastered) some of his solo projects.

This one is described as

Highly effected samples of me playing various instruments. Guitar, Piano, Bass, Percussion, Electronic percussion, hammered dulcimer, harmonica, found audio recordings, weird answering machine messages etc.  Many of these tracks were recorded around the Swans are Dead tour in 1997 in my home in NJ.

So you get fourteen tracks of warped instrumental songs.  They sound like a soundtrack to a world that is slightly out of phase with ours.

“Italianato” is basically the music for “La Vie en Rose” performed on a a pipe organ that’s underwater.  But its ten minutes are filled with all kinds of samples that break through the surface.  By about four minutes the main melody has been stripped away to pulses of keyboards and samples of a woman saying “Are you too young to remember that?  You are.”  Along with a slowed voice saying “I’m a depressing motherfucker.” And that same earlier voice repeating “You are.”

“Can Somebody” opens with a somber piano that’s accompanied by swirling waves of high notes.  An answering machine plays through as if from another world. I’m really enamored of the simple melody that starts after the message, like a mechanical bird singing a robotic song.

“I” is a minute and a half of a slow echoing piano melody while “Ahoy” soars with a violin-like instrument fluttering around.  Until a more sinister noise comes from under the depths, surfacing again and again.

“Mother’s Plot” is based around percussive sounds.  There’s also distant voices processed to sound almost like chanting.  “Vio” messes around with some loosely tuned guitars and a harmonica, a kind of under the sea Western.  Although half way through the song grows a bit brighter with clean guitars strumming a pretty melody.  “Message” has a deep pulsing sound and delicate sprinkling of chimes and piano as a man leaves a message about burning the whole place to the ground and needing an alibi.  Yikes!

“Slow By” has some plucked almost Spanish guitar enveloped by more of that pulsing sound.  Once the percussion comes in the melody establishes itself to create a really interesting soundtrack.  “Overgrown” has a melody based around what sounds like a dulcimer.  There’s some interesting guitar sounds that come and go and a noise that sounds like a cow (but isn’t).  The rubbery sound quality in this song is really terrific.

“Hill 503” is an exploration of what constitutes percussion.  A steady drumbeat is accompanied by other sounds (including a violin bow banging strings) that grow and recede. By the end, an echoing guitar line re-introduces a kind of Western feel to the piece.

“Tumble” has some wooden percussion underpinning the sounds of children playing in the distance  It sets for a potentially bucolic scene.  Especially when combined with “Wog Maia,” a pretty guitar song with gently echoed piano and processed children’s voices.

“Indian Guy” has some gentle dulcimer in what sounds like an urban landscape. The “solo” sounds like it was manipulated by some proto-Auto-tune.  “All New Baby” has some more lovely hammered dulcimer playing over the top of some sinister backing chords.  The second half cycles through rising seven note patterns that provide some excellent tension.

“Everything” is the reissue’s bonus track.  It does sound like he’s crammed everything that’s gone before into 90 seconds.  Waves and waves of noises that resolve in a tidy little guitar piece.

This is not easy listening, but it is very evocative and visual.  I’d watch whatever movie this was a soundtrack to.

[READ: August 20, 2020] “Digestions”

I was surprised to learn that I had not read anything by Jim Crace before–his name sounded so familiar.

This piece is several very short stories about food.

“Mussels on the House” is the best one.  In it, the chef of The Yellow Basket likes to take revenge on unsatisfied customers by giving them less than good mussels.  The locals enjoy hearing the stories of the politician or the couple planing a divorce or the state executive whose evening did not end how they planned.

“George’s Magic Cookies” may have been given to a man on death row.  It certainly would have made the moments after his last meal happy ones.  George thinks that he might still be flying. (more…)

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CV1_TNY_11_18_13Tomine.inddSOUNDTRACK: GoGo PENGUIN-Tiny Desk Concert #786 (September 14, 2018).

I’d never heard of GoGo Penguin before, but I was blown away by this Tiny Desk Concert.

The band is a trio: piano, upright bass, and drums.  They play jazz, I suppose.  But there are elements that are prog-rockish and avant garde (none of which makes it not jazz, I realize) such that their music, while instrumental, is genre defying.

GoGo Penguin models closely the leaderless jazz power trio set in motion by forbearers in The Bad Plus, but you can also hear the drippings of electronica groups like Bonobo, and drum-and-bass foundations akin to Roni Size with a bit more acoustic rattle (Turner even fashions his own prepared drum accessories from rope, duct tape, and metal rings, which you can see resting atop his ride cymbal and snare. He tells me he usually has more, but he hasn’t made new ones in a while).

This trio found a way to wedge themselves in the middle of the Venn diagram that overlaps musicians and music heads. Among my colleagues at NPR, I witnessed expressions ranging from studious squints to closed-eye meditation, those in the room experiencing GoGo Penguin’s tunes like they would a collage: the fine details as valuable as the larger shape.

It’s true that Nick Blacka’s fretless bass maintains a very jazz sound and Chris Illingworth has the fluidity of a jazz master on piano.  But it’s pointless to try to define it when you could just enjoy it.

“Raven” was inspired by a dream Chris had of playing chess with a raven.  It opens with ringing piano notes and a bowed double bass.  Then Blacka switches to plucked high notes while Turner plays the cymbals. After about a minute the song kicks into high gear.  The piano hasn’t change, but the bass is pulsing quickly and the drums are playing a fast but quiet rhythm on primarily the snare, but with flourishes left and right.  And it’s all really catchy too.  The rhythm section anchors Chris’ melodic piano lead as the song careens to a close that hearkens back to the opening.

The next one is called “Bardo.”

During his setup, GoGo Penguin’s pianist Chris Illingworth asked if he could remove our piano cover to “access the inside” and, after a few rotations of a screwdriver, he soon handed me a long plank of black painted maple, which has no convenient place to rest in the NPR Music office. If you look closely at the piano innards during “Bardo,” you can see a strip of black tape stretched over a few strings, opposite Illingworth’s bobbing head. It mutes a group of strings, turning them into percussive jabs and dividing the instrument into more explicit rhythmic and melodic sections. What you can’t see: GoGo Penguin’s audio engineer a few feet to the left of frame, dialing-in reverb effects on the piano, which we heard in the room. These two elements, in tandem with bassist Nick Blacka’s precise canvasing and drummer Rob Turner’s charged and delicate pulse, have heavily contributed to the sonic identity of this trio – a signal to jazz jukebox listeners that, “Ah yes, that’s a GoGo Penguin tune.”

It is so neat watching him the piano but making distinctly not piano sounds.  I would have argued that it was a synth making those sounds (which I guess it sort of is).  But the fact that he can do that while also playing a pretty piano melody is great.  I love the way Blacka repeats a simple high note–sliding up the neck of the bass before returning to that incredibly low note that really grounds the song.  All the way through this, Turner is playing some great drum parts–great off kilter rhythms that marry the snare with the toms in complex patterns. And then ending the song by sliding his stick across the top of the cymbals to create a high-pitched squeak.

The final song “Window” opens with a kind of contemporary classical piano melody.  The drums and bass starts playing a great counterpoint and the song just takes off from there.  There’s a false ending where everything stops, just briefly before resuming once more. It’s never clear who to pay attention to during any of these songs, there’s all so fun to watch.

[READ: January 4, 2017] “The Book of Simon”

Simon Rich continues to write very funny, rather blasphemous stories.

This one begins with the story of Job, the righteous Hebrew in the land of Uz.  He had more faith in God than anyone.  Satan made a wager with God that Job would not be so faithful if his life was hard.  And so Satan made Job’s life miserable but still Job praised God.

Four thousand years later however, the Hebrews had become less religious.  Oh there were still bar mitzvahs, but the themes were about Broadway or sports and the parents would hire dancers to come and teach the children dances, may of which were sexually suggestive.

So Satan started gloating.

And by the 21st century he would lean in and say “What’s yup now?  Or even more aggressively, ‘Sup now?” And this put God’s self-esteem at an all time low. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: GUSTER-Parachute Live from Brooklyn Bowl (2013).

In 2014, Guster released three CDs of them playing their early CDs live in their entirety (excluding for some reason their second disc Goldfly).  So this is a recording of their first album ‘Parachute’ performed and recorded live in concert at Brooklyn Bowl on December 1, 2013.

This album sounds quite different from the other Guster albums.  I don’t really understand what the difference is.  It sounds like Guster, but not exactly.  Is it that they both sing in harmony through most of the songs?  Is it that Ryan sings “better?”  Are the songs just more folkie?

Whatever the case, even after several albums that don’t sound like this album and nearly twenty years, the band jumps right back into it (the harmonies on “Window” are perfect, for example).

They aren’t the same three-piece they were back in 1994 (they have drums now for instance), but it all works very well.  They also aren’t terribly funny between songs.  Usually Ryan is pretty silly in a show, but they seemed to take it more or less seriously.

After “Dissolve” Ryan says, “we’re playing in a bowling alley I just realized.  Cool.”  You can hear someone in the crowd shout “steeerike.”

I know the guys have made jokes about their song “Happy Frappy” a few times when I’ve seen them, so it’s no surprise that before the song, Ryan shouts, “Alright its ‘Happy Frappy’ time, stoners.”  Although I have no idea what the song is actually about.

When the disc is over Ryan shouts, “Parachute the album–19 and a half years old!”

I think it sounds even better than the original.

[READ: June 2, 2018] “Orange World”

I love when a title gives you an idea but it is totally not the idea of what  the story means–and the new idea is even better than what you had imagined.

“Orange World” conjured up many things to me, but not the devil, not a woman nursing the devil and not a woman nursing the devil every night because the evil saved her baby’s life.

When Rae was pregnant she was worried about a lot of things: ABNORMAL RESULT, HIGH RISK, CLINICAL OUTCOME UNKNOWN.  When the third test came back, she started begging for anything to save her baby from the unknown.

Between 4 and 5 A.M. one night something answered and it promised the baby would be okay.

So what does this have to do worth orange world?  Well, “Orange World is where most of us live.”  It is a nest of tangled electric cords and open drawers filled with steak knives.  It’s a used crib  It’s compromises that could hurt the safety of your baby.  You take a shower with your baby and suddenly….

“Green World” is a fantasy realm of soft corners and infinite attention. The Educator say that Green World is ideal but Orange World is the reality.  Next week’s class is “Red World” and Rae doesn’t want to think about it.

Rae takes the baby doll.  Its head falls off and she steps on the blanket.  Sneaker bacteria: Orange World; decapitation: Red World.  The educator encourages her to go to new moms group. (more…)

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