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Archive for May, 2014

CV1_TNY_03_17_14Liniers.inddSOUNDTRACK: YASMINE HAMDAN-Tiny Desk Concert #359 (May 24, 2014).

Yysamineasmine Hamdan is a Lebanese singer-songwriter.  The three songs she plays here are sung in Lebanese (I assume).  Sung with just the accompaniment of one guitar, Yasmine sings and sways her way through these beautiful songs.  It’s actually fun to just see her move while she sings, she’s so loose and relaxed and yes, sensuous.

The most interesting thing is that Hamdan had only just met guitarist Gabriel Gordon when they traveled down together from New York that morning. They’d never rehearsed together, so the interesting guitar lines he’s playing sound great even though they might not be what she intended.  (I wish there was a little more information about this partnership in the blurb).

“Beirut” is a song form the 1940s and she does some interesting vocal things by using her hands around her mouth.  “Deny” and “Shouei” are beautiful songs that Hamdan has written and the two of them sound just great together.

[READ: May 27, 2014] “Long Story Short”

I have been one of those readers who doesn’t really know what to make of Lydia Davis, so I found this article very interesting and helpful.  It allowed me to appreciate her super short stories a lot more.  For yes I have mused about why “she doesn’t call them poems or fragments.”  The answer: “She prefers the deeper associations of the word ‘story’.”

I was interested that she is considered “one of the most original minds in American fiction today,” and I tend to agree that she is because no one else really writes like her.  Her Collected Stories has “some two hundred pieces” in just over 700 pages.  This is thirty years worth of work.

But I also liked seeing the succinct comment “like many things that Davis writes, [a letter] had started out sincere and then turned weird.”  In this case the letter she wrote to a frozen peas manufacturer was published as the story “Letter to a Frozen Peas Manufacturer.”

I didn’t know much if anything about Davis, so this article acted as a biography as well.  She dated writer Paul Auster and while he write his traditional stories, Davis struggled to do the same.  Her stories never came together or seemed to be about normal things, as her mother commented: “Why don’t you write about your travels or something more cheerful?”  But it was when she started reading very short stories by the poet Russell Edson (of whom I’ve never heard), that she hit upon the idea of writing very short stories and “The Thirteenth Woman” was her first successful attempt. (more…)

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CV1_TNY_03_17_14Liniers.inddSOUNDTRACK: HOZIER-Tiny Desk Concert #360 (May 27, 2014).

hozierI had been cataloging the Tiny Desk Concerts from the beginning, but in recent days they have had so many good bands that I didn’t want to wait until I caught up with them.  So, for the next few posts there will be current Concerts (I have no idea what number they are, but I hope to fix them retroactively).

Hozier is responsible for the insanely catchy song “Take Me to Church.”  WXPN plays this song all the time.  I didn’t like it at first but then when I really listened to it I was hooked.  Of course I had no idea that the guy who was singing this powerful soulful song was a soft-spoken Irishman.  Hozier is Andrew Hozier-Byrne, a 24 year old from County Wicklow.  And while he’s singing this song here he makes it seems so easy to belt out those big notes.

Although it doesn’t quite reach the gravitas of the recorded version in this stripped down live session, he sounds great and the keyboard, cello and drums (and backing vocals) really bring this song to life.

The next two songs Hozier plays by himself.  “To Be Alone” is a very old-sounding blues—the sound of his guitar and the way his plays combined with the way he sings really hearkens back to early blues.  Typically I don’t especially like early blues but I do like this song quite a bit.

The final song is an acoustic ballad.  (So he plays three different guitars in this set).  It has a kind of Richard Thompson guitar feel and is a rather touching ballad.

Hozier has only released two EPs thus far, but with this amount of diversity I am looking forward to lots of other things from him.

[READ: May 29, 2014] “The Relive Box”

This story made me think of what the “Entertainment” in David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest might actually be like.  In Infinite Jest, the “Entertainment” is a video so intoxicating, you watch it–ignoring all other needs–until you die.  In this story, the “relive box” is a machine that plays back any memory that you have in full 3D. And people get so absorbed in their past that they forget about the present.

Specifically, the narrator is so intent on reliving that he ignores his daughter and his job.  As the story opens, the narrator’s daughter Katie says she wants to relive.  They just recently got this new relive box–it cost a fortune–and Katie wants to visit with her mother.  Her mother left them and Katie seems to have lost friends and impetus to do much else, so she would like to relive some good times.  But the narrator was planning on reliving for several hours that night, so he can’t have her hogging the machine.  So he sends her to bed, crying heavily, so he can have the machine to himself.

And what’s so important that the narrator has to relive?  After reliving his best sex moments, he goes back in time to the night he met Lisa, his first girlfriend.  She was a goth girl in a club and the narrator had the nerve to buy her a drink and ask her to dance.  Which ultimately let to sex and eventually to a relationship. And he relieves all of the highlights of their time together–something he has done several times this week already.  In fact, he has been doing this so much that he has been late for work twice and when he’s there he’s bleary-eyed and pretty much out of it.  So he says he’ll only do it once more this week.  And just for a few hours. (more…)

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CV1_TNY_05_05_14Berberian.inddSOUNDTRACK: AUSTRALIAN CHAMBER ORCHESTRA-Tiny Desk Concert #40 (December 21, 2009).

chmaberThis was a very nice classical Tiny Desk Concert.  The Orchestra plays three songs.  The first two are a Ravel String Quartet, and a Kaddish based on Ravel written by one of the members of the Orchestra.

Then comes a surprise.  Composer Joseph Tawadros accompanies them on the Egyptian oud and his brother James plays percussion on Tawadros’ song “Oasis.”  I love the addition of the oud to the orchestra–it brings a wonderfully alien sound to the piece.  You can see the whole show here.

This was the final Tiny Desk Concert of 2009.

[READ: May 29, 2014] “The Naturals”

I have enjoyed just about everything that Sam Lipsyte has written and this story was no exception.  As with many of Lipsyte’s stories, the main character has an unusual name: Caperton.  Caperton works as a consultant for a marketing firm.  He is trying to secure a job for a lakefront property.  The man in charge of the meeting keeps calling the kiosk that they are going to install a “koisk” (this alone made me love the story).

Caperton has recently broken up with his girlfriend because he confirmed to her that he did not want to have children.  He’s a little bummed but not heartbroken.

But the main action of the story is that Caperton’s father is dying and his stepmother has called him to come home.  Evidently Caperton’s father has been on the verge of death many times so Caperton’s not entirely sad about the situation.  But he goes nonetheless.  And we learn that Stell, his stepmother is nice enough but has always had one rule–stay out of her refrigerator.  She is happy to fix anything for anyone as long as they keep out of the fridge.  (This also made me love the story).

(more…)

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CV1_TNY_05_19_14Drooker.inddSOUNDTRACK: FANFARLO-Tiny Desk Concert #39 (December 16, 2009).

fanfarloThis is a Christmas-themed Tiny Desk Concert, with a yule log in the TV and everything.  I’ve liked most of what I’ve heard from Fanfarlo.   I think of the band as synthy, but this version is acoustic guitar and mandolin (and three backing vocalists).  The male singer has a unique voice.  “Drowning Men” sounds great and they make quite a lot of noise for just the two instruments–when the xylophone solo kicks in, it quite a nice touch.

For song two (“Comets”) they bust out a harpist–she is not part of the band, but is a friend from New York.  She plays excellent accompaniment and the melodica is a nice touch as well.   Perhaps most interesting was hearing their biographies.  The band is based in London, and they have members from Sweden, Belgium, someone who lived in Abu Dabi, Scottish/Samoan, half Polish/half English and half English half Icelandic.  Cool.

For the final song it’s a cover of Low’s “Just Like Christmas.” It’s a simple stripped down version with guitar and melodica and it is quite beautiful.  And they don’t stop until everyone sings along.

[READ: May 27, 2014] “The Waitress”

In “The Waitress,” Coover takes a fairy tale premise and brings into the contemporary world.

This is a concept that Coover plays with a lot (with different degrees of success) and I found this one to be very good.  It is only a page long, which may have had something to do with why I liked it–it didn’t overstay its welcome.

It was also not terribly ambitious.  And, as with all stories like this I kind of have to wonder what’s the point.  Nevertheless, I enjoyed it. (more…)

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CV1_TNY_05_26_14Steinberg.inddSOUNDTRACK: LIGHTNING DUST-Tiny Desk Concert #38 (December 7, 2009).

lightingLightning Dust is a side project of heavy psychedelic band Black Mountain.  Lightning Dust is a kind of folk version of the band (with Amber Webber on vocals instead of Joshua Wells).  Her voice is full of vibrato (she almost sounds nervous at times).  The songs are simple, as folk songs tend to be, performed mainly on the acoustic guitar with organ backing tones.

“Antonia Jane” is very pretty, especially the tone of the organ that accompanies the acoustic guitar.  “History” has a nice unexpected chord change when the chorus rolls around.  For the final song, “I Knew”, Wells switches to 12 string guitar instead of keyboard–something he says he never does.  The song is faster and more upbeat, not necessarily because of the extra guitar, but it really broadens the sound a lot and makes it even catchier (even if it does give it a more countryish feeling).  And the backing vocals are quite wonderful.

I prefer Black Mountain to Lightning Dust but the songwriting is quite good.

[READ: May 27, 2014] “Camilo”

I don’t know Zambra’s work. This one was translated from the Spanish by Megan McDowell and I thought it was terrific.

The story is fairly simple, although it is revealed via a lot of layers which is very interesting.  It opens with a young man yelling “I’m Camilo…your daddy’s godson” and the narrator being suspicious of this statement.  But it turns out to be true.   This boy is his father’s godson.

The narrator’s father had been good friends with Camilo’s father Big Camilo.  They were best friends until they had a huge fight and never spoke again.  That was (obviously) after Camilo was born.  But in addition to this fight and lack of talking, Big Camilo later left the country all together and moved to Paris where he started a new family, leaving Camilo and Camilo’s mother back in Chile.

Soon the narrator and Camilo became almost inseparable.  Camilo was a few years older and was something of a protective presence for him.  Even the narrator’s older sister was infatuated with him.  In fact, even the narrator’s father liked him, although he did remind him a bit too much of Big Camilo.  The one difference was that Big Camilo (and the narrator’s family) loved soccer, but Camilo didn’t know a thing about it. (more…)

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44SOUNDTRACK: WNYC SOUNDCHECK GIG ALERTS (2009-).

soundcheck There are so many places to listen to free music.  But i prefer places where you can (legally) download free music.  So here’s a place I’ve just discovered: WNYC Radio’s website which features a section called “Gig Alerts.”  The feature talks about a different interesting band playing that night (in New York).  After a small blurb, there is (almost always) a free downloadable track.   There’s twenty listings per page and 86 pages.  Do the math and that’s a lot of songs.

The feature covers virtually every genre, although there is a preponderance of alt- and indie- rock (mostly lesser known bands).  If you are interested in new (to you) music and in exploring different artists, this is a great resource for a ton of free music.  So, check out Gig Alerts here.

[READ: May 20, 2014] McSweeney’s #44

I was pretty pleased with myself when I got caught up on the McSweeney’s issues.  But I remember wanting to take a break when this one came in.  I now see it has been almost a year since I read the last issue.  So the break was too long and now I have three issues to catch up on again.  Sigh.  But this one proved to be a great issue to return on.

This is a pretty quintessential issue of McSweeney’s.  It’s got letters, some fiction, a special section dedicated to Lawrence Weschler (which includes a lot of art), and a cool, interesting section of plates with full color art.  It’s also got an interestingly designed hardcover with a kind of raw cardboard in the back, a slightly raised colorful section for the spine and then a further raised section for the giant 44 on the front cover.

LETTERS (more…)

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squish1SOUNDTRACK: I’M FROM BARCELONA-“Just Because It’s Different Doesn’t Mean It’s Scary” (2009).

miaI like I’m From Barcelona, although I don’t know too much about them.

This song opens with ukuleles (or small guitars anyhow) and a big farty bass line. It offers a sensible lyric about things being different and offers suggestions of new things you might enjoy, like fruit or a park.

The band has some fun backing vocals (“let’s taste it baby”), (“run run run run”) and have made a fairly complex song out of what is a very simple concept.

For these Yo Gabba Gabba songs I have to wonder if the bands have taken old songs and made them kid friendly or if they have written all new (fairly complex) songs just for the show.

This is a good one.

[READ: May 16, 2014] Squish: Super Amoeba

I thought I had written about all five of the Squish books so far (there’s a sixth one coming soon).  Except, I realized, that I never wrote about the first one.  So, here, three years after I first read it (I received it as a prepub for crying out loud, so I’ve had it for over three years), I’ve read it again for this post.

I hadn’t even read Babymouse when I read this book, although in retrospect it’s easy to see the similarities between the two (especially in the drawing style).  Of course, while Babymouse is colored primarily in pink, Squish is colored primarily in green.  And of course, Babymouse is a girl and Squish is a boy (well, a boy amoeba, but still a boy).  But there are kid friendly hardships and valuable (if not necessarily obvious) lessons to be learned.

All the characters who have been with us for the duration of the other books were introduced here: Pod another amoeba, who is Squish’ best friend and who is super smart, Peggy (a paramecium) who is happy all the time and Principal Planaria, who is a flatworm (and like all flatworms is really crosseyed).  This issue also introduces us to The Adventures of Super Amoeba, the comic book which Squish loves and the guy who acts as a role model for Squish. (more…)

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