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Archive for November, 2016

fakeSOUNDTRACK: MATANA ROBERTS-Coin Coin: Chapter 3 Mississippi Moonchile [CST110] (2015).

cst110cover_258x242I felt like the first Coin Coin disc was way too long, so imagine my surprise to discover that the whole Coin Coin series is planned as a 12 chapter collection!

Unlike the previous 2 chapters, this album was created entirely by Roberts.  She is credited with playing saxophone, Korg Monotron and a 1900s upright piano.  But like the others, the tracks bleed into each other and seem to end indiscriminately.

This disc also quotes from The Star Spangled Banner, Beautiful Dreamer, The Pledge of Allegiance, My Country ‘Tis of Thee, Lift Every Voice and Sing and All the Pretty Horses.  As well as samples from Malcolm X and a field recording of a travel through Mississippi, Louisiana Tennessee and NYC.

The first song, “All is Written” is 10 minutes long.  She sings quietly and starkly (voice breaking) while spoken words overlap behind her voice (and the saxophone and drones).  Her singing is at times pained and strained—aching with the truth of her words.  As “The Good Book” begins, the spoken word continues but the main sound is an industrial throbbing.  Near the end, a new metallic sound comes screeching in and then resolves into a kind of drone while angelic voices takes over for song three, “Clothed to the Land, Worn by the Sea” which is more pleasant.

“Dreamer of Dreams” resumes some spoken word and synth noises while two overlapping tracks of sax solos play.  “Always Say Your Name” has some more drones and a wild sax solo.  “Nema Nema Nema” experiments with analog synth noises while she sings a pretty melody with other voices circulating behind her.  “A Single Man o’War” has a high pitched drone. which is accompanied by several three note chants.

“As Years Roll By” is spoken words, with drone and church bells.   And lots of “Amens.”  “This Land is Yours” has lots of voices speaking and overlapping.  It ends with someone singing “come away with me come away,” which segues into “Come Away” with a noisy background and spoken voices talking about Zanzibar.  Then there is a keening, pained voice singing the middle. “JP” is a speech about he slave trade.

Although this album is difficult, it is more manageable than her other releases in this series.  But manageability clearly isn’t her plan, she is making a statement and it is exciting and frightening to listen to.

[READ: August 10, 2016] Original Fake

You should never judge a book by its cover.  But I really liked the cover of this book a lot.  And the title was intriguing, so I grabbed it off the new book shelf.

And what a great, fun story it was.

The book opens with Frankie sneaking into his school at 6:30 AM.  No one else is there except maybe the janitor.  He is sneaking into the school to do a small amount of vandalism. But the vandalism is not your typical vandalism.  On the school hallway is a mural that is currently being painted.  Frankie is an artist but he was not asked to paint the mural (no one really knows he does art).  The mural is a of a lake and farm fields and all that.  And he has decided to tag the mural.  He has painted a water-skiing abominable snowman giving the hang loose sign in the corner of the lake.  “He’s maybe six inches tall, and I kind of put him close to a rock so he’d blend in, but if you get close, its pretty obvious he doesn’t belong. He’s completely amazing.”

Amid the telling of the scene is a drawing of Frankie painting the snowman–this book is full of illustrations by Johnson.  Most of the illustrations complement the story but a couple actually tell the story, too. (more…)

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sempleSOUNDTRACK: SISKIYOU-Nervous [CST109] (2015).

cst109covera_258x242This album begins with “Deserter,” in which a choir of children singing over a kind of spooky tone.  And then a loud rumbling bass and scratching on a guitar.  It’s quite different from the previous Siskiyou releases and outpaces the others by several steps.

Once Colin Huebert’s voice kicks in, that familiar Siskiyou sound returns—acoustic guitar and Huebert’s voice which is a mix between a whisper and Win Butler from Arcade Fire.  But “Deserter” features backing vocals and, perhaps most surprisingly, a wild baritone sax solo by Colin Stetson.  But it stays grounded with that cool rumbling bass line.

The second song “Bank Accounts and Dollar Bills (Give Peace a Chance)” opens with an echoed guitar likes some classic 1990s shoegaze music.  The vocals are a cool, intense whisper.  The verses are great and then the chorus adds a piano and his vocals rise into an impassioned wail.  The third song “Wasted Genius” adds a kind of steel drum sound that includes a great melody to the simple and slightly ominous verses.   The middle of the song switches to pummeling drums and a buzzy guitar solo before returning to the mellow verse.

“Violent Motion Pictures” has another cool whispered vocals and quiet guitars that get accented with a low bass and percussion.  There’s a neat section of falsetto vocals that remind me of Pink Floyd over a bouncy melody–before it returns to the verses.  It’s a wonderfully catchy, if brief, segment.  “Jesus in the 70s” has slow guitar lines and atmospheric keys.  “Oval Window” is a bouncy folk song (with a slightly creepy vocal over the top), but its even got a folksy kind of guitar line on it.

“Nervous” is a slow ballad.  “Imbecile Thoughts” is a fun song with stomping drums.  It has a cool ending that leads to the slow building, strings-included nearly 7 minute “Babylonian Proclivities.”  The disc ends with the 1 minute “Falling Down the Stairs.”

This album is really fantastic–an overlooked gem from 2015.

[READ: November 8, 2016] Today Will Be Different

I’ve really enjoyed Maria Semple’s books.  And this one was no exception.

She really conveys the hectic, overstimulated, over scheduled life of middle age parenting.  It helps that her stories are typically set around Seattle and that there’s a lot of excitement, tech and pop culture to throw around, too.

This is the story of a day in the life of Eleanor Flood.  Sarah pointed out, as I didn’t quite realize it, that the story takes place in one day (hence the title) although there are flashbacks that flesh out the story too.

Eleanor is, or perhaps “was” is the better verb, an artist.  She was lead animator (or something–it’s a little confusing) on the successful show Looper Wash.  When the show ended she received an advance to write a book/memoir.  That was eight years ago.

Things have been sprialling out of control for Eleanor for a while, but she vows that today will be different.  She will make a difference. (more…)

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odddicksSOUNDTRACK: CARLA BOZULICH-Boy [CST102] (2014).

carlaI listened to this disc casually a few times and never really got into it.  But when I listened with headphones and focused on it, there was a lot of good stuff about it.  The music is really spare and it’s kind of hard to grab onto anything on a casual listen.  As with much of what Bozulich does, she’s very free form—there’s usually a melody but it’s not up front.  But careful listening pulls out what the songs are designed to do.  It’s not always rewarding listening as her stuff is certainly abrasive, but I was pleased to hear some really cool sounds on the disc.

“Ain’t No Grave” is an impressionist song made up of a few bass notes and a  lot of voices.  There’s Bozulich singing and peaking and a male singing low notes with her during the chorus.  About half way through, the song adds complicated drumming and a sprinkling of keys—all impressionistic stabs at rhythm and melody.  It’s a difficult track and certainly a difficult opening track, but the catchy parts are intriguing the way they emerge from the chaos. “One Hard Man” opens with percussive drumming and Bozulich’s repeated refrain of “one hard man.”  Noisy guitars are added between verses and the thumping is strangely catchy.   “Drowned to the Light” is mellower with quiet instruments and delicate singing.  It’s the first “pleasant song” on the disc despite the menacing tone.  The chorus introduces a pretty melody both in vocals and violin.  It follows a murder ballad style.

“Don’t Follow Me” is mostly spoken word with percussion and accents of keyboards although the chorus does add a melody to the voices.  It’s amazing how simple chords and a backing voice can really add something to what is such a spare song.  The song ends with a  cool refrain of “spinning dreams spinning dreams” that builds nicely.  “Gonna Stop Killing” opens with sound effects and backwards rolling tapes.  But the vocal melody is the catchiest so far with a great chorus of rising notes and Bozulich’s aching voice and hammered dulcimer.  The middle section even has a fairly conventional melody line.  It’s unexpectedly pretty given the lyrics.

The second half of the disc seems to coalesce into a more melodic and song-structured  half. “Deeper Than the Well” has scratching guitars and deep slow  bass with the lyrics “I wish that I could fuck up the whole world.”  It’s menacing but catchy and seems to lurch along with only Bozulich’s voice keeping the song going.  “Danceland” opens as a slow bluesy song with quiet verses and a simple three note bass line.  But it’s joined by a really surprisingly catchy chorus “if we could spin under the light in  dance….land.  It was always night in dance….land.”  The middle section is a little weird until it resolves to that familiar chorus again.  The song really seems to slowly unfold with quieter moments leading to if not louder ones, then certainly fuller moments.   “Lazy Crossbones” adds some keyboards to the main melody.  It has one of the stranger catchy melodies that I can think of—quietly and slowly sung “hey hey it’s a parade.” But the organ sound is so unlike anything else it really stands out.  “What Is It, Baby” begins as a kind of slow, almost bluesy type of song until the big chords kick in for the chorus (which I imagined someone like Elvis singing).  The middle of the song has a soaring “ooooh” section which sounds quite unusual for her.  The ringing chords sound so vivid.

The disc ends with “Number X” an almost entirely instrumental 4 and a half-minute track.  The song starts slowly with meandering guitar notes and an interesting yet menacing melody underneath.  A nearly four-minute build up leads to Bozulich reciting a kind of poem that ends with the disc.

Bozulich consistently explores unusual territory and while this will never get played on any radio, it is more friendly than some of her other releases.

[READ: April 1, 2016] Odd Ducks

Odd Ducks is a play commissioned by the Nova Scotia playhouse.  It is set in Tartan Cross, Nova Scotia.

There are four characters, all in their 40s. Ambrose Archibald, he is unemployed but charming and a total narcissist; Mandy Menzies was the high school beauty queen but she is in a bad marriage now, a naive sweet woman. Estelle Carmichael is Mandy’s friend and housekeeper–she had a crush on Mandy in school and has sworn off men forever.  Freddy Durdle is Ambrose’s only friend but even he is fed up with Ambrose’ behavior.

The play opens with Ambrose out in the woods trying to find himself.  And after a few minutes of soul searching and a minor fright he has succeeded.  He is pontificating about himself when Estelle comments that she can’t listen to this crap anymore.  She tells him he is full of it.  To which Ambrose says, I forgive you. (more…)

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[ATTENDED: November 28, 2016] Mike Gordon

mgfall_insta-768x567I saw Phish for the first time this summer.  But I’ve been a fan of the band (especially their live stuff) for years. And while Trey Anastasio is the defacto leader of the band, I’ve always loved Mike–his bass playing is funky, his songs are a catchy and he seems like  a generally fun guy.

2016-11-28-23-38-12So when I saw that he was playing a small club tour, I grabbed tickets right away.  With Phish I could never get anywhere near the stage, but here at Union Transfer I could have been literally up against the stage.  I was frankly surprised at how uncrowded the show was–where were all the Phish-heads?

I really like Mike’s album Overstep (from 2014), and was happy to see he’d be playing songs from that album as well as covers and new songs.

But aside from that I didn’t really know exactly what to expect.  I wasn’t sure if the point of this band was to be different from Phish–short structured songs–or just a chance to play with different people or what. (more…)

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oddduck1SOUNDTRACK: SAM LEE-Tiny Desk Concert #470 (September 11, 2015).

samlee Sam Lee has a fascinating voice, it reminds me of Nick Drake, but more… powerful.  He has Drake’s timbre and somewhat unusual delivery–sort of a stage-ready musical delivery.  But aside from his voice, what makes Lee so interesting is that for these three songs, possibly for all of his songs, he “has dedicated himself to preserving centuries-old folk songs of the U.K. and Ireland, particularly from “outsider” communities like the Roma (Gypsies) and the Scottish and Irish Travelers.   He and his bandmates–ukulele player and vocalist Jon Whitten, violinist and vocalist Flora Curzon, and percussionist and vocalist Josh Green–put these ancient songs in thoroughly 21st-century arrangements that feel creative, fresh and surprising, but also deeply human.”

“Over Yonders Hill” opens with that ukulele and Lee’s voice–I was quite surprised when I first heard it all together, but it works quite well.  And then the fiddle kicks in, playing some lovely swirling solos.  Then Lee adds a tiny harmonium, and that wheezy tone adds perfectly to the feeling that you might be out by a campfire   The song keeps building with backing vocals from the drummer.  As the song nears its end the violinist adds her haunting backing voice to the proceedings.

He explains that he goes around the country recording old singers—the keepers of these old traditional songs.  So the second song, “Lovely Molly” he learned from an old Scots traveler—a song of an old plow boy going to war.  They do this one a cappella and their harmonies are beautiful.

He learned the final song, “Goodbye My Darling” from a horse dealer in Kent–an old gypsy man.  It is about men being sent off to penal servitude in the United States and Australia and the injustice done to those incarcerated.  It is also played on that tiny harmonium which looks like a laptop.  As the harmonium fades away the violin plays a sweet pizzicato melody.  After about three minutes the song kicks into high gear, sounding very much like a traditional song—fast violin and quick rhythm.   And yet as the music grows more alive, the lyrics get darker.  As the song ends he does a kind of whistling hum, which I simply don’t understand, but which adds a delightfully strange texture to the music.

I don’t know that I would seek out Lee’s music, but it’s nice knowing he’s out there.

[READ: March 26, 2016] Odd Duck

I love the First Second Childrens’ books.  They are a little bit odd, but ever so fun.   And Sara Varon is a great illustrator so putting her art on anything makes it enjoyable.

I’ve read a number of Castellucci’s other books, and the two seem like good pair for this story about not quite fitting in.

Theodora is a duck.  She likes things to be regular and consistent.  She goes for a swim at the same time every day, with a tea cup on her head–making sure not to spill a drop.  She always has exact change at the store and looks at the stars every night.

But she is also a little different from the other ducks.  She buys mango salsa (which no one else does), she buys fabric squares and reads books that haven’t been checked out in years. (more…)

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[ATTENDED: November 26, 2016] Dinosaur Jr.

2016-11-26-22-33-27I saw Dinosaur Jr. open up for Jane’s Addiction this summer.  I enjoyed their set (in fact, I was really going mostly to see them although I did like Jane’s as well).  But after it was over, I realized that I didn’t want to see them as an opening act. I needed a full show.

So even though it had been just a few months, when I saw that they were doing a headlining tour, I decided to check them out again.  And I’m really glad I did.  They played twice as many songs and were on more than twice as long.

The guys were able to stretch their songs out more and to pick from a really diverse set of songs.  2016-11-26-23-15-04Of course, being the headliners didn’t mean anything fancy–their stage set up (amps and more amps) was exactly the same as this summer.  And it’s possible that J. Mascis talked even less.  They were there simply to rock.

2016-11-26-22-59-14The only time that bassist Lou Barlow spoke was to berate people for complaining that they couldn’t hear the vocals.  The same thing happened at the summer show as well.  Barlow seemed pretty angry as he told us that we were standing in front of the guitar amps and that the vocals were coming through the house speakers.  So if we wanted to hear the vocals we needed to move to the back of the club.  “It’s Fucking Physics!”  I didn’t move back (the show was pretty crowded and I had a good spot), but I was able to hear the vocals much better than at the Summer Stage show.  I had planned that I would stand nearer the back to see if it was true, but I had a hard time passing up the chance to be so close. (more…)

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[ATTENDED: November 26, 2016] Easy Action

2016-11-26-20-44-16I had never heard of Easy Action when I saw that they were opening for Dinosaur Jr.  When I looked them up online I was taken to a Swedish glam metal band.  I was fairly surprised.

Then somehow I figured out it wasn’t that Easy Action.  Rather, this Easy Action is the creation of singer John Brannon.  Brannon is apparently notorious (or at least well-known), although I had never heard of him. He was in the punk band Negative Approach who I had heard of but didn’t know (they only released an Ep and an album).  And then later Laughing Hyenas who I also don’t know.  He formed Easy Action in 2001 and they released a second album in 2005.  And not much since then.

During the show, Brannon said it had been a couple of years since they’d played together and he thanked J. for getting them all back on stage.

About the only thing that Easy Action had in common with Dinosaur Jr. was that they were loud.  I arrived a few minutes into their set and I could hear them outside the building.  When I walked in the room, it was so loud that I had to stuff the earplugs in my ears as I ran to the bathroom. (more…)

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