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6616 SOUNDTRACK: PATRICK WATSON-Tiny Desk Concert #271  (May 31, 2012).

pat-watsPatrick Watson is a Montreal-based singer songwriter with whom I was unfamiliar.  But he has received many accolades, including being nominated for the Polaris prize many times (and winning once).  It turns out that Bob Boilen also really likes him a lot. And I can see why.

Watson and his band make sounds that are quite unexpected (but are still melodic and pretty).  The first song “Adventures In Your Own Backyard” itself is amazing the way it unfolds.  The first sounds we hear are the drummer using a violin bow on Boilen’s Emmy statue (which I’m sure Bob was genuinely delighted by).  There’s two acoustic guitars and the violinist’s beautiful ooohs.  About one minute in, there’s a big drum sound as the drummer starts playing snare and bass.  And then the acoustic guitar is is put through some kind of filter to give it a very electric sound.  Once you get used to the acoustic guitar sounding electric and the electric guitar sounding acoustic, the violin comes in (sounding like a violin).  And then there’s backing vocals oohing until Watson comes back with more vocals, but this time through a microphone that is hugely distorted and mechanical-sounding (he and the violinist shared oohing duties and their voices get processed together).  All of this sounds like chaos and yet the melody is catchy and constant (and yes, the song ends with the drummer bowing that Emmy one more time).

Watson explains that for “Words In The Fire” the band was “nine hours north of nowhere” north of Quebec with these kids who invited them to a campfire party.  They had nowhere else to be so they went.   The kids requested a Bob Marley song, but they didn’t know any.  So they wrote this song.  For the start, it’s just Watson singing with the acoustic guitar.  Midway through the song, the percussionist plays a saw, giving it an eerie quality.  Despite the craziness of the first song, this song is delicate and pretty and Watson’s voice is high and sweet as well.

“Into Giants” opens with some lovely guitar intros and lots of harmonies.  This song is especially fun to watch because the five of them are all squeezed in behind the desk and seem more crammed than before.  Watson even has to move out of the way to let the violinist take her solo.  The whole band sings in a big folksy chorus “started as lovers don’t know where it’s gonna end” with appropriately big bass drum sounds.  The song seems like it’s going to end with Watson’s oooohing, but with a minute left, the song picks up again, with Watson playing a cool riff on the keyboard.  He even gets out that distorted mic again to build the song back up.

I love watching a Tiny Desk by someone I don’t know and immediately falling for a band.

[READ: January 12, 2017] “The Book”

The June 6 & 13, 2016 issue of the New Yorker was the Fiction Issue.  It also contained five one page reflections about “Childhood Reading.” 

Matar’s story is quite different from the others.  He says that his earliest memory of books is being read to, not actually reading.  Many of the classics were read to him: One Thousand and One Nights, and the Arabic literary renaissance of the twentieth century.   But there were hardly any books for children in the house.

He says that during his life he has had a passionate affair with books in English and Arabic.  And he makes this wonderfully succinct comment about youthful reading: some books were “undeserving of my youthful fervor, a few … I encountered at the wrong moment, [but there were] plenty of others that still light up rooms inside me.”

But, for him the book that affected him the most if one that he hasn’t read.  He doesn’t even know the title or author. Continue Reading »

6616 SOUNDTRACK: DANIEL JOHNSTON-Tiny Desk Concert #224 (June 11, 2012).

danDaniel Johnston makes me uncomfortable.  I find his music to be simple and his voice isn’t very good.  And yet he is beloved by so many other people.  The fact that he is schizophrenic makes me worried that there’s some kind of exploitation going on.  But who knows.  He has had rather a lot of (relative) success.

The blurb tells us

Johnston has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, and he’s been institutionalized, but these days he travels and performs. It’s amazing to see and hear a spark of candor in what he does, all while he’s shaking like a scared child. There’s an odd sort of curiosity to watching Johnston perform, but it’s easy to root for him: He’s endearing and sloppy and unmistakably talented.

He and his guitarist Friend McFriendstein (actually Shai Halperin who plays under the name Sweet Lights) play four songs.

“Mean Girls Give Pleasure” is a pretty funny fast romp.  “Sense of Humor” is a slower song.

Between songs, they show off Johnston’s book Space Ducks.  There’s an iPad app and video game which is “Much beter than checking out Starbucks on yelp.”

“American Dream” is a clever song that’s full of monsters as metaphors.  “True Love Will Find You In The End” is a pretty, uplifting song.

His songs are short and unadorned, and surprisingly catchy.  But I don’t think I’d ever listen to him intentionally.

[READ: January 12, 2017] “Uninhabited”

The June 6 & 13, 2016 issue of the New Yorker was the Fiction Issue.  It also contained five one page reflections about “Childhood Reading.” 

Young says that when he was in fifth grade he read Robinson Crusoe (not the abridged version) in one weekend.  But he wasn’t showing off.  He saw an image or cartoon of the book and picked it for a book report not realizing how massive the actual book was.  He delayed until Friday for a report due Monday and thus had to cram in an entire novel.  He did the same thing with Gulliver’s Travels, “Who knew Gulliver met more than just Lilliputians?”

But he says that these masterpieces didn’t seem that different from non-fictional travelogues like Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo, the gory account of the U.S. bombing of Japan.

Crusoe is apt because he says he felt shipwrecked when they moved from New York to Topeka, Kansas.  Continue Reading »

6616 SOUNDTRACK: YANN TIERSEN-Tiny Desk Concert #219 (May 21, 2012).

yannYann Tiersen scored the soundtrack to Amélie.  But he also writes and sings lovely chamber-pop music.

The first song “The Gutter”  opens with Tiersen playing a swirling violin melody accompanied by an acoustic guitar, a ukulele and keys.  Tiersen doesn’t sing, but the lead singer’s voice is yearning and delightfully accented as well.  (No names are given for the rest of the band).  I liked the way the song built in intensity even while his voice retained that quiet style of singing.

For the second song, “Monuments” everyone switches around.  Tiersen plays a lead 12 string acoustic guitar, the ukulele player is on keys and all four sing harmony lead.  You can tell that Tiersen is not American because of the way the word “Monuments” is sung “all monYOUments…” which adds an exotic flavor to the song.  The delicate keyboard sounds float nicely over the acoustic guitars.

They stay with this lineup for “Tribulations.”  The singer from the first song and the acoustic guitarist sing lead.  And everyone else joins on harmony.  “The Trial” opens with the four singing a beautiful “ooh” in harmony.  Then the other three sing a complex backing vocal while Tiersen sings lead.

There’s some really lovely melodies in this concert.

[READ: January 12, 2017] “Where is Luckily”

The June 6 & 13, 2016 issue of the New Yorker was the Fiction Issue.  It also contained five one page reflections about “Childhood Reading.” 

Having a child is like rereading your own childhood.

Galchen has a young daughter and that daughter has a some favorite stories.  One is a Moomin (which I love), another is a Piggy & Gerald.  Galchen says that if you read children’s book enough times, “they start to seem like Shakespeare.”

But she says that her daughter doesn’t read in a linear fashion.  “What happens next” doesn’t seem to cross her mind.  She reads them more like eternal landscapes: “In that sense, nothing is happening, and she reads for that nothing.” Continue Reading »

6616 SOUNDTRACK: CHUCK BROWN-Tiny Desk Concert #217 (May 16, 2012).

chuckI’m puzzled by a few things with this Tiny Desk Concert.  The first is a note that This story originally ran on Sept. 28, 2010.  The second is the note that Chuck Brown, the Godfather of Go-Go music, died Wednesday. In 2010, he brought his full band to the NPR Music office — and put on a party like no one else.

That isn’t confusing in itself, but I have to wonder why it took them two years to air this concert, which is quite a fun rave up.  Are there other shows they didn’t air?

Okay, so I had no idea who Chuck Brown was.  And the blurb anticipated that

The name Chuck Brown might not mean a whole lot to people outside the Washington, D.C., area. … In D.C., Brown is widely known, even revered, as the Godfather of Go-Go, a title he’s held since the late ’70s. Though he started out as a jazz guitarist, Brown invented go-go, a style that incorporates funk, jazz, R&B, hip-hop and dancehall, and has mostly stuck with it ever since.

So, Go-Go, huh?  I never heard of that either.

No one in D.C. can really explain why go-go hasn’t traveled beyond the city’s environs — we love it here, it’s all over our commercial R&B and hip-hop radio stations and, at least when I was in high school, a go-go in a school’s gym was the most packed party of the weekend. Chuck Brown is a local hero. A few days after he played our offices, Brown and his whole band played at the Redskins’ stadium for the halftime show.  So to have Brown play a corner of our office — not a 90,000-capacity football stadium — was like a dream come true for a lot of NPR staffers. Sweat started pouring immediately, between the 11 musicians (that’s congas and a stripped-down kit; saxophone, trumpet and trombone; two backup singers and a rapper) and all the go-go-heads in our building.

Brown played four songs for about 25 minutes.

Go-go is mostly about the groove, though, and Chuck Brown just settles in and leans back. He showed up looking like a million bucks in a vest, Dior shades and his signature hat, and then he did what he does best — get the crowd on his side and hand its members something to dance to.

Go-go is based on a syncopated beat and the use of congas in addition to drums.  So “Senorita” is like a combination of reggae salsa and 50s singing (I can’t help but think he sounds like Frank Zappa when Zappa does his rather funny voice).  The song is slow but smoldering and fun to sing along to.  There’s a Santana guitar vibe too.

“Chuck Baby” is the hip hop element of his music.  His rapper is not very inspiring though.  She seems a little stiff.  And the song is a little flat when he’s doing the call and response–he sounds cool and seductive and they sound more bored than “naughty.”

Before the third song everyone starts chanting “wind me up chuck!” which he lets everyone know www.windmeupchuck.com is his website. “Wind Me Up!” / “Bustin’ Loose” starts with lots of call and response.  “Bustin’ Loose,” is a funky song with very James Brown accents and everyone singing the refrain: “Gimmethebridgenow, gimmethebridgenow.”  The song has been a hit in D.C. since 1979.  The backing vocalist on this song feels a bit looser (apparent as she sings “I feel like bustin’ loose).

The crowd was yelling out requests, too: “Chuck Baby” and “Run Joe,” a go-go cover of the Louis Jordan song.  “Run Joe” / “It Don’t Mean A Thing.”  “Run Joe” has a Jamaican flair “Policeman is on the premises.  What is he doin’ here?”  His guitar playing is really inspired throughout the set, but especially at the end of this song.   He does a lot of playing the same melody as he sings.  The song segues into a version of “It Don’t Mean a Thing” in which he slips in “It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that go-go swing.”

This set was really a party.  And Brown was just full of energy.

[READ: January 12, 2017] “Surrendering”

The June 6 & 13, 2016 issue of the New Yorker was the Fiction Issue.  It also contained five one page reflections about “Childhood Reading.” 

This reflection beings with Vuong explaining that his family moved to the U.S. from Vietnam when he was two.  He was an ESL student from a family of illiterate rice farmers who saw reading as snobby.

When he entered kindergarten, he found himself immersed in a new language.  He quickly became fluent in speech but not in the written word.  In fourth grade his class was given an assignment to write a poem in honor of National Poetry Month.  Normally his poor writing skills would mean that he was excused from such assignments.  He would spend time copying sentences out of books in the classroom.  But this time he decided to be ambitious and write a poem. Continue Reading »

tny 10.27.08 cvr fnl.inddSOUNDTRACK: RDGLDGRN-Tiny Desk Concert (October 14, 2016).

rdgldI’d never heard of RDGLDGRN before this show.  The colors in the band’s name represent the band members: Red (Marcus Parham), Green (Pierre Desrosiers) and Gold (Andrei Busuioceanu), and they wear their respective colors all the time (although I didn’t realize that Andrei’s shirt was gold until after reading this).

The blurb tells us that “if you go to a RDGLDGRN show, you’ll see a traditional stage set-up with a full complement of instruments… you can hear and feel the excitement of a full-blown band and a full drum set.”  However, with “their recent experimentation with Brazilian-style percussion over acoustic versions of their songs, they decided that an all-acoustic set infused with Brazilian vibes would make for the perfect Tiny Desk concert.”

They start with their new single “Karnival” a fun song played on ukulele with lots of percussion.  Green does most of the rapping although everyone sings.   After this they played unplugged versions of some of their best-known songs (although not known by me, obviously).

Before starting “Chop U Down” they say don’t sing along with this one, you’ll mess us up!  Gold plays a scratchy guitar and red plays a simple melody on the high notes while Green raps away.  It has a very catchy chorus especially the way the other singers add parts to the song.

When it’s over Gold tells us that the best part of a RDGRNGLD show is when Green forgets a verse (I don’t think he did, but it seemed like he almost did).  Green says the last time he forgot words, he freestyled a verse and no one noticed the mistake.

“Doing The Most” is more sung than rapped—they have great voices.  I really like the melodies of this song.  This is the song where the audience is meant to sing along (to the insanely catchy buh bah bah bah part).  All the while, Gold was keeping the beat on the guitar body.

They had only prepared three songs, but they were having so much fun, they decided to do a fourth. For this last song they semi-freestyle something.  Green started rapping and they played along.  It’s not very long and for some reason is called “No Pixar” (Freestyle) (I didn’t hear them say the word Pixar at all), but it’s a fun song and his freestyling is quite impressive.

I still don’t know much about RDGLDGRN, but it was a fun show.

[READ: March 10, 2016] “The Boy Who Had Never Seen the Sea”

J.M.G. Le Clézio won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2008.  Which pretty much means I’d better like this story, right?  Well, it turns out that this particular story was written in 1978 (and was translated by Deborah Treisman) so that gives me a pass, I think.

Actually I did enjoy this story, although I found it most unusual.

It didn’t read like a 1970s story, but it certainly had a much less plot-driven feel.  It seemed relaxed and like it wanted to just unfold around the reader.

It begins in the first person.  The unnamed narrator is talking about a boy called Daniel.  Daniel (who had a jaw like a knifeblade–I didn’t like that this specific detail was mentioned twice and then not put to any use) wanted to be called Sinbad.  He had read the Adventure of Sindbad many many times.  It may have been the only book he ever read and he carried it with him everywhere. Continue Reading »

2008_10_13SOUNDTRACK: HALEY BONAR-Tiny Desk Concert #569 (October 11, 2016).

Haley Bonar was born in Canada but raised in the U.S.  She haleyis a folksinger with a country leaning (but without the twang).   For this Tiny Desk, Haley plays acoustic guitar and sings lead.  She had a keyboardist who sings great harmonies.  And behind them there’s a guy playing electric guitar (with great echoed effect), a bassist and a drummer.

“Hometown” has a great catchy chorus (well, and verse too).  It’s upbeat but melancholy at the same time.  There’s a very cool echoed slide guitar solo in the middle of the song.

Bonar doesn’t speak much, expect to joke about the appropriateness of the second song.  “Jealous Girls” is slower and moodier.  (“Jealous girls don’t have no fun unless they’re sure they’re the only one).  The middle section of this song is really cool, the way it changes the mood.  She doesn’t play guitar on this one, but there’s some great lyrics at the end of the song:

And you turn up your guitar
In another shitty bar in another shitty town
And you wonder when you’ll wake up
Yeah you wonder when you’ll wake up
From this long distance daydream of
Playing while girls scream
Alone in a hotel
Like piss in your ice cream

I love that the way this end part is sung and played it seems like it’s going to transition to another part.  But that’s just the end.

“Called You Queen” is a fast folkie song.  I really like her delivery on the verses. The chords for the chorus are fairly obvious but are really catchy anyway.  It’s a really good song.  The abrupt ending (with a hint of echo on the guitar) is spectacular

I didn’t know Bonar before this set, but i really liked it.

[READ: March 9, 2016] “Gold Boy Emerald Girl”

Yiyun Lee had a story in a 2008 May issue of the New Yorker as well.  I have enjoyed pretty much all of her stories. This one was quite different from the others in that the whole story has a feeling of inevitability to it.  And yet it was a kind of gentle inevitability that almost didn’t seem to be there.  Or something.

The story is about two adults, Siyu, 38 and Hanfeng 44.  The opening paragraph tells us that she was raised by her father and he was raised by his mother.

Siyu knew Hanfeng’s mother because she was a Professor and Siyu worked for her a while ago.  But the Professor is now retired and Hanfeng has moved back home after a stint in America to live with her.

And we see now that the Professor has set the two up on a date.

The story is told in a very gentle, unhurried way, as befits the story of these two who have taken their time with thee lives. Continue Reading »

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