Archive for the ‘Sondra Silverston’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: SABA-Tiny Desk Concert #791 (October 1, 2018).

I have been thinking about why I have never heard of many of these new artists. Since I don;t pay active attention to the pop charts, it makes sense that I wouldn’t know many of these artists.  I just assume that anyone riding high on the pop chart will worm his or her way into my consciousness.

So maybe it makes sense that I haven’t heard of Saba as his fame seems to be forthcoming:

Every Tiny Desk is special, but sometimes the stars align and we’re treated to an artist just as he’s coming into his own. Six months after releasing Care For Me — a sophomore studio LP on which Saba transforms his survivor’s guilt into something equal parts traumatic and transcendent — the Chicago native paid a visit to Tiny Desk. His performance at NPR’s Washington, D.C. headquarters came just two days after he announced his first tour of Australia, New Zealand, Japan and Korea, scheduled to begin in November. It’s an incredible achievement for an independent artist who released one of 2018’s best hip-hop albums without the benefit, or creative constraints, that come with major-label backing.

The live band does a great job with this music (although it is a little too lite/lite jazz sounding for me).  But the choice of two keyboards, bass and trumpet is interesting if not inspired.

To help translate Care For Me live, Saba brought along a band consisting of the same musicians who helped bring his album to life in the studio — including Daoud Anthony [keys, with the dreads] and daedaePivot [keys, with the shaved head], who produced the entire LP with him; instrumentalists Cheflee [bass] and Brandon Farmer [drums]; theMIND and Kaina [Castillo], who contributed vocals on the record; and another featured vocalist and special guest that Saba took extra pride in introducing.  [And Tahj Chandler on trumpet].

“You’re not gonna believe me when I say it,” he prepped the crowd, turning to the tall man wearing the Saba tee and Panama hat. “This is Chandlar, my father.” Fans of the album may be familiar with Saba’s references to his dad on the songs “Life” and “Prom / King” — the epic seven-and-a-half minute eulogy to Saba’s cousin and Pivot Gang rap collective founding member, John Walt, whose 2017 murder serves as the impetus for Care For Me. But Chandlar is also an accomplished soul singer, songwriter and producer in his own right, as well as one of Saba’s earliest musical influences.

Saba himself is a really nice guy (it seems).  He’s funny and self depricating and his rap skills are impressive.

I didn’t like “Busy/Sirens” as it started because Saba’s delivery is oddly affected (he has that Chicago-style of rapping which I’m mixed on).  The chorus is very mellow and with that trumpet sounds very smooth jazz.  But there’s something fascinating about his delivery.  And the lyrics are really good–tons of words covering all kinds of personal topics with great rhymes.  theMIND sings a verse and he has a nice voice.  It switches to “Sirens” which is an interesting shift.  I hate the repeating keyboard sound, but again the lyrics are great. I wonder if the album version is different.

Hands behind your head
And they won’t let up out they lead
But if I move thats disrespect
But if they shoot then that’s just that?
And if I run then that look bad?
Drawing they gun right off their hip
I’m probably deservin’
‘Cause I know they serve and protect
But they think I’m servin’
Or they think my cellphone’s a weapon
Heard that the robber wore a black mask
I fit the description, a.k.a. “nigga”
What is the difference? It’s an enigma

After a lengthy and thoughtful introduction of everyone, he says, “I very rarely have to introduce this many people… So I feel like I did okay so make some noise for me for doing it.”

For “Logout” he shifts his delivery a little bot and I really like it.  The first verse has a great rhythm and the second verse has amazing speed.  I love how with the chorus (chorus?) it ends with four beat where every gently sings a different staggered word each time.  It’s very cool, especially that it ends so dramatically as well.

In a live set that proved to be as resonant as Care, Saba and his band showcased the album’s emotional depth and range with stark juxtaposition, like the sound of the bright hook on album closer, “Heaven All Around Me,” set against a particularly haunting version of “Life.” It’s a Tiny Desk testament from an artist whose future feels as promising as his pen.

“Heaven All Around Me,” has a cool middle section breakdown with a trumpet fill that switches into the much darker “Life.”

After some more terrific powerful verses, we get the direct chorus

Life don’t mean shit to a nigga who ain’t never had shit.

I wish him and his father a great trip to Europe and beyond.


[READ: January 2, 2017] “To the Moon and Back”

About the last Keret story I wrote:

Sometimes a very short, very well written story can really make your day.  I read this story this morning (because it was so short–a page and a quarter) and I was immediately hooked.

I feel like all of his stories are very short and compact.  This one wasn’t quite as enjoyable as the previous one, primarily because it was much darker and full of aggressive language (like his other stories, this one was translated from Hebrew by Sondra Silverston).

This is the story of a man who has been divorced from his wife.  He opens the story by telling us that he can only celebrate his son’s birthday n the day before or the day after his actual birth day because of the restraining order. “The botch.”  He asks if he can just come by and give Lidor a kiss on his birthday she says she’ll make his life hell if he does.

So he has to make up by buying expensive presents, like the $89 multi-copter drone he picked up in duty free.  However, he forgot to buy batteries for the thing.  And rather than disappointing his son, he lies and says they are going to the mall first to buy some candy. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: VÄSEN-Tiny Desk Concert #720 (March 23, 2018).

Back in 2012 I had my first exposure to the nyckelharpa at Scanfest.  And now, nearly six years later Väsen (who did not play at Scanfest that year) have brought the nyckelharpa to Tiny Desk (and the blurb’s description is hilarious).

Väsen came to the Tiny Desk with just three instruments, but all together it was a 30-string sonic blast of 12-string guitar, viola and nyckelharpa (a fiddle with keys — think 15th century keytar).  Guitarist Roger Tallroth, violist Mikael Marin and nyckelharpist Olov Johansson have been a touring troupe for more than 25 years with 18 albums filled with adventure, amusement and virtuosity. They span the wide emotional range of Swedish folk music, equally haunting and celebratory. There are some similarities to Irish jigs, reels and waltzes that I’m more familiar with, but this music is more ear-bending, with more surprises than I’m used to in traditional string band folk music.

The band plays three instrumentals (all of their songs are instrumental) from their new album Brewed.

It’s fascinating how much these songs sound like Irish jigs and reels (fiddle and guitar after all).  There’s a looseness to them that makes them fun and enjoyable–perfect for drinking and dancing.  Especially a song called “IPA-Gubben” which means, “The old IPA man.”  On introducsing the song Olov points to Mikael and says “this is the old IPA man, he brought this tune as a birthday present when he turned 50.”

It’s possible that the nyckelharpa is quieter than the viol as it’s not always unique sounding amid the music.  But there are a few times when the nyckelharpa is playing a melody that stands out and you can really watch and hear Johansson shine–I had no idea the instrument could be played that quickly either.

Not to take anything away form the other two.  The viol plays some incredibly fast runs and melodies and the guitar while primarily used for chords, also adds in some fast runs.

“Väsenvalsen” was composed by Mikael.  It is the first ever Väsen waltz.  The song starts slowly and then dramatically takes off with some wonderfully fast (and very Irish-sounding lead lines on both viol and nyckelharpa.  I love in the middle when the nyckelharpa plays a harmony melody over the top of the viol so you can hear both instruments clearly.  It has a lovely ending with the nyckelharpa playing high notes to end the song.

“Sommarpolska” means “summer polka.”  It was written by Roger and has a  lovely melody that grows and subsides as the instruments ebb and flow.  It’s a joyful dance song and a wonderful concluding piece.

[READ: January 31, 2018] “Two Women”

In typical Amos Oz fashion, this was a rather short story.  It was translated by Sondra Silverston.

Osnat wakes before her alarm and passes the apartment occupied by Boaz and Ariella.  She thinks about what happened two months ago as if it had happened to strangers many years ago.

But it was only two months ago Boaz told Osnat he’d been having an affair with Ariella.  So he’s leaving her and moving in with Ariella (who lives in the same building).  Their affair began one day when Boaz came to fix a broken tap.  Boaz prepared for a huge confrontation, but as he started to ramp up his argument, she cut him off: “Go.  Just go.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: PERFUME GENIUS-Tiny Desk Concert #627 (June 12, 2017).

Perfume Genius is a delicate-sounding band.  Singer Mike Hadreas has a gentle voice.  Oon the first song he’s almost drowned out by the (relatively quiet) guitar from Tom Bromley.  The songs are also deeply personal–he wrote most of the new album as a love letter to his boyfriend (the keyboardist Alan Wyffels).

Hadreas’ voice is really affecting, especially when you can hear him clearly.

“Valley” is in waltz-time (with the guitar keeping rhythm for much of the song before the drums and keys come in).  The drums (by Herve Becart) are simple but wonderfully deep and resonant

“Slip Away” reminds me (and I can’t believe how many singers have sounded like this guy to me) of the band Dear Mr. President, a kind of aching falsetto.  The guitar is a little louder, rockier.  But the best part of the song (and the part that does not remind me of DMP) is the gorgeous chorus where everyone sings along to some “ooohooh.”

The final song is an older one called “Normal Song” it is just Hadreas and Wyffels and it is the most tender and delicate song yet.  Hadreas plays some simple, quiet chords (in waltz time again) as he sings:

“Take my hand when you are scared and I will pray,”

“… And no secret, no matter how nasty, can poison your voice or keep you from joy.”

The delicate ringing keys in the middle of the song are really pretty and I like the way they don’t play while he is singing–it’s just him and his guitar.

[READ: December 28, 2011] “Fly Already”

The premise of this story is at once humorous and horrifying.

And on a reader’s note: as an American unless told otherwise, I imagine all stories are set here (I assume that’s not an uncommon reaction to fiction).  So even though I know that Keret is not writing in America, often his stories don’t really need a location (which is awesome).  But then he gives away one detail that makes you realize the story isn’t set here.  That detail will come in a moment.

As the story opens, a man and his son, P.T. are walking to the park.  En route they see a man on top of a building.  The boy (who is 5) says, “he wants to fly!”  But the father knows a more reasonable (and terrible) reason why the man is on the roof of the builidng looking over the edge. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: DANKO JONES-Below the Belt (2010).

I love Danko Jones.  He’s bad, he’s cruel, he’s crass and he rocks.  He’s everything a 15 year-old boy loves in rock.  And yet there’s something about him that even I (far older than 15) think is wonderful (perhaps he’s the thinking man’s Andrew W.K.?). 

I’m sure it’s because his early stuff was short, fast blasts of over the top machismo.  He hasn’t started too far from that template (his songs are now three minutes, but that’s okay).  And I still love him even if every song is a cliché (and that he still thinks a Cadillac is the height of coolness).

“I Think Bad Thoughts” is a stupid balls-out rocker about how bad Danko is.  Best line, “That’s how it is as a knight in Satan’s service.”  A nice nod to Kiss.  And this song is followed by the very early-Kiss sounding “Active Volcanoes.”  “Tonight is Fine” is a heavy rocker (okay they all are, that’s redundant), but “Magic Snake” is surprising because it seems to be addressing impotence (“It’s friday night but your magic snake don’t slither no more”.)–not doing anything about it, just addressing it.  “Had Enough” has a great sing-along chorus (when Danko is not yelling at you, he croons with the best of ’em).

Of course a song title like “I Can’t Handle Moderation” should tell you all you need to know about Danko (he must have his tongue in cheek, at least I hope he does.  I’ve never seen him in anything other than album covers, so I have no idea what his off-stage life is like).  It’s always a surprise when Danko reveals a softer side.  And even though “Full of Regrets” seems like it would show that softer side, it’s actually about how he’s full of regrets about any lonely nights he spent.  Heh.  “The Sore Loser” is a not very nice song about a woman.  But it’s funny.  “Like Dynamite” is all about sex, of course.

I love the aggressive riff of “Apology Accepted,” it’s faster and more furious (even if it is about accepting an apology).  And the final song “I Wanna Break Up with You” cracks me up.  It’s a song about wanting to break up with someone.  Did he imagine it as a breakup anthem?  Something you play in the background when you dump your significant other?  I particularly like the chanting “break up break up everybody break up” at the end.

There are two bonus songs on the disc (an idea as antiquated as his lyrics, but which is strangely charming).  Neither sounds like it shouldn’t be on the record–they continue what he does so well.  They’re both about guest lists, but I particularly enjoy “Rock n Roll Proletariat.” It sounds a lot like AC/DC but who fits the lyric “I pledge allegiance to the Rock n Roll Proletariat” into a chorus?  Genius!

Yup, his album covers are as sexist as his lyrics.  But there is something just cartoonish enough that I can’t help but think hes a really nice guy under it all (maybe it’s because he’s Canadian).

[READ: December 28, 2011] “Creative Writing”

Sometimes a very short, very well written story can really make your day.  I read this story this morning (because it was so short–a page and a quarter) and I was immediately hooked. 

It opens with a woman, Maya, taking a creative writing course (at the suggestion of her mother).  Maya just had a miscarriage and has been just sitting in the house not doing anything, and her mother thought that an activity wold be beneficial.  Maya’s first story was quite interesting.  [In fact, I LOVE the conceits behind each of her stories and while I immediately thought I’d like to read them, I’m not sure how will they would work beyond the simple concept presented here.  But the ideas are so clever that I wanted to read the full things right then!–maybe make this story longer and include Maya’s full works?]

All of her stories have to do with love or marriage or birth, but in wonderfully metaphorical ways.  The first story, about people who split in half to generate offspring has an ending that her teacher calls wonderful but which her husband finds quite dull.  [Incidentally, I’m all for reading stories from other cultures.  It’s fun and interesting.  But man, sometimes it’s so hard to tell the  gender of a person by his or her name is you don’t know the culture.  This story was written in Hebrew (translated by Sondra Silverston) and the secondary character’s name is Avaid.  In addition to not really knowing how to say the name, I had no idea if it was a male or female name.  I suppose it is not really up to the writer to compensate for ignorant audiences, but perhaps sometime earlier in the story an author can subtly hint at the gender of the person?  (We get the “he” in paragraph three).  Shy of a dramatis personae, there’s little that you can do organically for the story, I suppose. ] (more…)

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Many years ago I bought Imogen Heap’s debut album because it was described as being similar to Tori Amos’ work.  I think that it’s really closer to someone like Heather Nova, but regardless, it was enjoyable, with her cool voice that had an unexpected falsetto thing that I rather liked.

I promptly forgot about her, although the single “Come Here Boy” stuck with me.  I was recently turned on to Frou Frou somewhere even though this album came out almost ten years ago.  Since a decade is a long time I can’t recall if 2002 was the time of this sort of music or not (well, Dido came out in 1999, so maybe this was the tail end?)

Anyhow, this album plays nicely into the continuum of slightly more complex than normal pop songs sung by a woman with a cool if not unique voice.  Heap provides the vocals, and I suppose the most notable quality is her breathiness.  She seems to be able to sing in a whisper, which is pretty neat and, again, there’s that falsetto which doesn’t seem to get higher so much as otherwordly.

She’s an excellent match for Guy Siggworth who creates music (at least I assume he did the music, I’m not sure how it was divided exactly) that is interesting and electronic but also soft and welcoming.  Despite the fact that the music is obviously a dude with a keyboard, his choices are not electronic and dancey, they are more enchanting (although they are also very catchy and dancey).

They work wonders as a team, and if you miss this sort of not-pure pop album (circa 2000), this is a great disc to pick up.  Heap’s voice may be one to get used to, but I find it far more engaging than the autotuned voices circa 2010.

A couple of stand out tracks include: “Must Be Dreaming” which has some especially nifty effects that make the song stand out.  The most Björkian song “Psychobabble” also offers cool sound effects which take it well out of the pop realm (her voice is particularly cool on this track).  And “Maddening Shroud” is probably the best poppy song I’ve heard in a long time.

[READ: January 11, 2011] “The King of Norway”

In my mind Amos Oz is a capital-A Author, somehow promising Thoughts.  Maybe it’s because he writes in Hebrew.  Maybe it’s because of the mystical name Oz, but he seems like a Prophet or something.  And in that respect, I suppose I am simply not full of Grace enough to get the Point of this story.

I know that it is utterly unfair to hold this man up to these made up standards, especially since I’ve never actually read him before.  But that’s all moot, because I feel like there’s more to this than meets the eye and I am just not that interested in finding out what.

It’s utterly coincidental that tonight we watched the first half of A Serious Man (which also features Hebrew prominently), but I am suffused with Jewish thought this evening.  (I enjoyed A Serious Man a lot more than this story, by the way). (more…)

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