I’d never heard of Ben Sollee before this Tiny Desk and I’m a little surprised by that–he seems like the kind of musician I’d have run into somewhere. For this set (I have no idea what his sets are usually like), they are a trio.
Sollee plays cello and sings (!), Phoebe Hunt plays violin and sings backing vocals and Jordan Ellis plays drums (in this case one of cool those snare drum boxes).
But despite the strings-dominated sound, the songs feel very rock-oriented. Although as the blurb says, they are kind of genre defying. Each song has a very different feel.
On “Hurting” Sollee opens with some great big plucked bass notes from the cello. Then Sollee switches between plucking and bowing the cello. And that transition really impacts the overall sound, making it sound like more than a trio. The violin plays some accented notes and then some big long notes (like the cello). But it’s the drums (brushes on the box) that add a lot of character to this song. Sollee has a good strong voice and it fits the song well.
“Captivity” is about being in prison (he wrote it after watching a documentary about a maximum security prison) both physical and metaphorical. For this song he strums (in an interesting, folky way) the cello. He plays some bass notes while strumming the rest of the instrument–it’s a great sound. And I love how different this sounds from the first song. Once again the percussive sounds add so much.
“The Globe” about the Globe Theatre and how it was burnt down twice. So he wrote a story about a frustrated loverboy burning it down. The song names checks some of Shakespeare’s characters and while not comical is kind of funny too. Musically the song is great with builds and sudden stops. It’s also quite funky at times, with all kinds of different rhythms from the cello and violin as well as the percussion (which in this case is hand claps). He says that they’ve been having fun playing it live and that really comes through. I really like the sounds that Sollee makes from the cello at the end of the song.
“Inclusions” is an a capella song. He says they’d been working on it in the van on the way down. I expected a simple song, but they have wonderful harmonies as well. For percussion, Phoebe is rattling a can of cacao nibs. (There was recently a very funny cacao nibs joke on Brooklyn 99, otherwise I’d never have heard of them–I like that Sollee beat Brooklyn by five years though).
This was a wonderful find and I definitely want to hear more from Sollee–I’m curious to see what he gets up to in the studio.
[READ: January 10, 2016] “The Hanged Man”
November was a dark month for stories in Harper’s. This story along with the one I posted a while back from John Edgar Wideman both deal with suicide. This is an excerpt from War, So Much, War, and it opens with a man cutting down a sack which was hanging in a tree.
The sack contains a body–“his face was white, his tongue black, his lips purple.” When he cuts down the sack, the body’s head hits a rock and the protagonist is worried because the body is actually alive and he’s afraid it is now damaged.
The body doesn’t speak for a long time. But when it does it is angry that the man has cut him down.
He says his tongue is swollen and he cannot speak or drink or eat but he wants company. So the protagonist stays with him He explains that he made the sack out of four other sacks.
And then he explains his reasons for wanting to die.
Of course, it all comes down to the love of a woman, Ernestine, who promised she would leave her husband but never did. And then the husband came to him and begged him to leave Ernestine alone. So he had told Ernestine’s husband that he had actually given up on her anyway, because her really liked Faustina.
Well, of course the husband told Ernestina and she knew Faustina, so all hell broke loose.
I’m not even clear what is happening at the end of the excerpt–it’s pretty dark though.
For ease of searching, I include: Merce Rodoreda