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Archive for June, 2017

SOUNDTRACK: HOLLY MACVE-Tiny Desk Concert #629 (June 23, 2017).

If you were to ask me to pick all of the things I dislike about country music and put them into one artist it would be Holly Macve.

Her songs are slow, really slow (her three songs last sixteen minutes and she’s not chatty between them).  She sings with a thick country accent (which is especially strange since she is from England (!).  She’s got a yodeling quality to her singing which I also don’t care for.

I don’t like to bring appearance into a music criticism, but in this video, I can also say that it bugs me that he hair never moves and her mouth barely opens, which I find very disconcerting.

So she sings three songs.  On “No One Has The Answers,” and “The Corner Of My Mind” she plays guitar and sings.  “Corner” also features a slide guitar. For “Golden Eagle” she plays on piano which gives it a slightly different tone–more gospel than country, but good lord it was endless. I thought it was over and saw there were three more minutes left in the song.

She sang a South X Lullaby for NPR a few years back and I was on the fence but favorable.  But I said she might be too country for me.  And I was right.

The band: Holly Macve (vocals, guitar, piano); Tommy Ashby (guitar); Michael Blackwell (bass); David Dyson (drums)

[READ: June 26, 2017] “The Size of Things”

I really enjoyed this story although I found it surprisingly sad.

This is translated from the Spanish by one of my favorite translators Megan McDowell, but I’m not exactly sure where it is set.

The story is from the point of view of a toy shop owner.  He says that he knew Enrique Duvel had inherited a lot of money but also that he still lived with his mother.  He would often drive around in his convertible looking self-absorbed.  But then one night the narrator caught Duvel peeking into the toy store.

Eventually Duvel did come in the store and he bought a model plane kit.  Then he proceeded to come back every few days to buy another kit.  After some more time, Duvel appeared at the door as the narrator was closing up and, looking at he narrator, he said, “It’s best if I stay here.”  Duvel said his mother doesn’t want to see him again and repeated “I’d best stay here.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: TIGERS JAW-Tiny Desk Concert #628 (June 19, 2017).

I was in a sub shop the other day and saw a poster for Tigers Jaw playing (somewhat) locally.  That was pretty neat as I had just seen that they played a Tiny Desk Concert.  I hadn’t heard of them, but I was pretty excited to think that bands are willing to put up fliers around here.

The blurb says that the band “at one point, made yelping and earnest pop-punk before finding its way to intricate, and melancholy, pop.”

After the lineup shake-up three years ago, Ben Walsh and Brianna Collins both step into larger roles as the primary songwriters and singers, here playing songs from spin [their debut] stripped down to an acoustic guitar and keyboard.

They play three songs.

On “Guardian” the melodies are fantastic.  I love the simple but powerful keys that occasionally play over Ben’s strummed guitars.  And his chord choices are really interesting and unconventional.  He has a really good voice and when she sings her harmonies during the chorus it’s really very lovely.

On “June,” Brianna takes over lead vocals and there’s some more prominent piano in the verse as swell.  Her lead vocal voice sounds like a whole bunch of 1990’s female singers that I love and this song feels like it could easily have come from that era–Ben’s deeper harmonies are a nice addition.

“Window” has as simple but pretty piano.  They sing a duet and sound great together.

There’s nothing new or outrageous about this band.  They just play pretty music and sound great doing it.

[READ: December 15, 2010] “The Yellow”

I really enjoy a character who is judgmental and insecure.  And that’s what we get here.

The story begins with coyotes and babies, but it’s really about a woman, a recent mother, who is concerned about her marriage.  And a whole lot more.

She states:

Every real thing started life as an idea.  I’ve imagined objects and moments into existence. I’ve made humans.  I tip taxi-drivers ten, twenty dollars every time they don’t rape me.

But what has been keeping her up at night is that it has been 8 months since she and her husband had sex.  She quips, “I had great hopes that the threat of Lyme disease would revitalize our sex life: will you check me for ticks.”  But sadly for her, Lyme disease never really took off in California as it did on the West Coast. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: PENGUIN CAFE-Tiny Desk Concert #627 (June 16, 2017).

I recently found out about Penguin Cafe from a piece on All Songs Considered.  I learned that Penguin Cafe Orchestra was responsible for some cool/unusual classical/pop recordings back in he 1970s and 1980s.  And it’s likely that if you listened to NPR back then, you heard some of their music.:

The music of Penguin Cafe is like no other. Its origins date back to the early ’70s, within fever dreams Simon Jeffes had that were brought on by food poisoning. In those dreams he imagined a dispassionate world “where everyone lived in big concrete blocks and spent their lives looking into screens. In one room, there was a couple making love lovelessly. In another there was a musician sat at a vast array of equipment, but with headphones on, so there was no actual music in the room.” Eerily accurate.

But he also imagined a place, the Penguin Cafe, where folks could gather, for pleasure, cheer and music. He wanted to hear what that music would sound like, and so created the Penguin Cafe Orchestra. I was always a huge fan of that original music; listeners of NPR may have heard it often in-between news stories during the many years I directed All Things Considered.

But Penguin Cafe Orchestra is no more.

While Simon Jeffes died in 1997, his son Arthur has been creating new music infused with his father’s original inspiration. He calls his group, simply, Penguin Cafe. You can hear Brazilian sounds in the rhythms, classical and minimalism in the strings, Asia in its harmonium, African sounds in the kalimbas. But honestly, it’s none of these; it’s a universal dream state.

If you’re looking to explore further be sure the listen to Penguin Cafe’s recent album The Imperfect Sea, which nods to Kraftwerk, Simian Mobile Disco and Franz Schubert. It’s none of these.

The band has a lot of strings: Oli Langford (violin) Clementine Brown (violin) Vincent Greene (viola) Andy Waterworth (double bass).  There’s also a ukulele (Des Murphy) which you can’t hear too often, but it is notable on the final song.

“Wheels Within Wheels” is cover of a song by Simian Mobile Disco.  It is nearly five minutes long with slow, building strings and a simple melody that seems to be never ending as it remains the same while the backing chords change.  In addition to the strings, there’s a guy (Neil Codling) playing a dulcitone on top of the real piano (he’s holding his hand up by the end).  And the percussionist (Darren Berry) seems to have a wooden plank to play on.  He uses mallets on the wood to get quite a deep sound.  It’s a really fun piece.

“Protection” has a catchy piano motif (played by Arthur with outstretched arm on the dulcitone) in 7/8 time.  But everyone else plays in 4/4, so the motif changes every time.  After a few bars, it switches to the real piano and the strings are really lovely while that’s going on.  The ducitone player has switched to a large ukulele and the percussion consists of drums sticks on the piece of wood–fast clicking sounds.

“Ricercar” is an old renaissance Italian term.  At the beginning of a fugue you embed a theme that is expounded on later.  This song opens the album and few themes come back later in the album.  Jeffes plays a quiet melody on the dulcitone.  About half way through the song he opens the piano and seems to be dampening the strings with his hand while playing the notes.  The percussion includes a shaker and the mallets on the wood once again.  It’s upbeat and catchy and a lot of fun.

This is a really enjoyable show–classical music for people who like to have fun as well.  As far as the original band goes, if you’ve heard anything by Penguin Cafe Orchestra, it’s probably this piece: “Music for a Found Harmonium.”

[READ: June 24, 2016] Amulet: The Stonekeeper

I have really enjoyed Kibuishi’s Explorer collections, so it seemed sensible to try out his Amulet as well.  And what a great, interesting and unusual story it is.

Although I must admit I was pretty shocked by the fact that the main characters Emily and Navin are in a car accident in the prologue and their father is killed.  What a way to start!

After the death of their father, the family (Emily, Navin and their mom) move out to an old country estate to get some perspective on things.  As they begin to clean up the old house, they go into a room of inventions by their ancestor Silas Charnon.  The story is that Charnon went missing one day and was never heard from again. While Emily is looking over some books, a creepy ghost creatures hovers behind her.

Navin and Emily look around (they don’t see the ghost) and soon, Emily puts her hand on a hand-shaped plate and a necklace–an amulet–is revealed.  Emily puts it on and when Navin complains, she says he can wear it tomorrow.  But that night the amulet speaks to her.  It tells her to stay with her family and keep the safe–they are in danger. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: PERFUME GENIUS-Tiny Desk Concert #626 (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: VIOLENTS & MONICA MARTIN-Tiny Desk Concert #625 (June 5, 2017).

I don’t really understand why Jeremy Larson chose the name Violents.  His music is anything but–pretty piano melodies with (in this show) really nice string arrangements.  I love the way the strings really dramatize the pop song elements.

About the strings, (who go by the Rootstock Republic),he says “they saved our lives this week–because even though a solo vocal performance with her would be amazing…,”

“Equal Powers” has such beautiful melodies.   I really like the way Martin’s voice plays off of the piano.  The chorus melody line is perfect and the high notes “I know I know” are like a perfect icing topper.  I like this lyrical construct:

lean in, let me feel your breath on my skin/I know, I know
lean in, liquor on your breath/ I’m tasting, I know, I know

Her voice has a lovely delicate straining to it that is really pretty.

So who is Martin?  The last time we saw singer Monica Martin at the Tiny Desk she was singing with Phox, her folky, poppy band based in Madison, Wisconsin. But, while that band is on hiatus, Martin took time to walk into the world of Violents, the project of pianist, string arranger and songwriter Jeremy Larson. Larson and Martin make a lovely pair and have created a subtle, soulful record — Awake And Pretty Much Sober — that benefits greatly from Larson’s classical training.  It’s the first full-length Jeremy Larson has released as Violents, a project that, generally, sees him joined by a different singer each outing, resulting in an EP.

“Unraveling” has a pretty, slow piano melody.  It’s more of a ballad.  Once again the chorus is gorgeous–especially the way Martin hits some of those notes in the ooooh section.

and again her voice hits some lovely notes and her ooohs are delightful against the strings.

Before introducing “Spark” he says playing the Tiny Desk is “a bucket list kind of thing.”  He says they’re gonna do one more song.  We were supposed to do a different one but this one’s a bit more appropriate for a smaller setting its called “Spark.”  It has a simpler melody and is certainly a ballad.  It is not as powerful but it’s still quite lovely.

The Rootstock Republic is Juliette Jones (violin); Jessica McJunkins (violin); Kristine Kruta (cello); Jarvis Benson (viola).

 [READ: May 3, 2017] “On the Street Where You Live”

I have really enjoyed Yiyun Li’s stories of late, although i didn’t fully enjoy this one.  I found the location of it a little hard to follow and then it seemed to be about something but was then about something else.

It begins in China, with Bella and Peter walking down the street.  Bella and Peter are friends and have been for 25 years.  They met in Boston.

Bella is Chinese by birth but moved to the USA to study.  They are in China because Bella and Peter always talked of going there.  And it turns out that Peter’s boyfriend Adrian is doing research on his ancestors from China.  So they decided to use it as a chance to travel together.

This was kind of mistake.  (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ROYAL THUNDER-Tiny Desk Concert #623 (May 30, 2017).

Royal Thunder is a loud rock band that is stripped down in this Tiny Desk Concert to just two acoustic guitars and a snare drum.  But that’s fine because the real power of this band is in singer Mlny Parsonz’s voice.

Mlny Parsonz’s bluesy belt has been the grounding force of Royal Thunder’s stirring hard-rock for almost a decade now, and on the band’s third album, Wick, the songs all knot and unravel with psychedelic power. True to its name, volume and a small army of effects pedals play a large role in Royal Thunder. But what happens when we ask the Atlanta band to unplug that… thunder?

From the first note, you could hear Parsonz’s sandpaper soul blasting down the hallways of NPR. Both “Anchor” and “April Showers” are slow-burners, built up from the complex guitar interplay of Josh Weaver and Will Fiore; the acoustic treatments here turn them into proggy blues hollers. The band closes with the emotionally wracked “Plans,” featuring just Fiore and Parsonz. The performance is absolutely raw — Parsonz screams and beats her chest as her voice cracks, drawing power from a desperate vulnerability.

Interestingly, I listened to these songs on the album and I prefer this stripped down version–there’s too much production and things going on during the album.  But here it’s just her voice and their guitars.  And it is far more powerful.

As “Anchor” starts, you can hear how engaging Mlny Parzonz powerful strained-sounding voice is.  It sounds honest and pained and really emotional.  The song is surprisingly catchy, especially when the “round ad round” section kicks in–wow, it really grabs you.  Josh Weaver plays the lead guitar solo on this song, and there’s some interesting little guitar notes in the middle of the song as well.  After belting that out, she quietly says “Thanks y’all, thank you” with the Southern charm of the Indigo Girls or even Ben Folds.

“April Showers” opens with a cool separate guitar and bass lines (played on acoustic guitar).  Fiore plays the “lead” intro notes whereas Weaver plays the bass notes I’m not really sure what’s going on in this song, but it’s pretty dark: “you were never really innocent but you were given the gun.”  And later: “then my father found suicide.”  Again, though her voice is so powerful and engaging that you feel the pain in her lyrics.

Before the final song, “Plans,” Weaver and drummer Evan Diprima say “we’re checking out.”  She jokes, “You quit?”   Then she looks at Fiore and says, you have any “Plans” boom-chi.  This song is much slower (interestingly on the record the drums are really loud, so it’s especially surprising that they ‘re not here).  And you can really hear the power and ache in her voice as she sings, “I thought I did the right thing / coming back for you / it was the right thing at the wrong time / I really loved you.”  The way her voice strains as she sings “You ripped out my heart / It’s really emotional.  And after all of that she shrugs and admits, “sorta forgot the words on that one…sorry.”

I’ll give their album another listen , but I really much prefer this rawer iteration.

[READ: April 24, 2017] “Two Ruminations on a Homeless Brother”

I have read a few things by Means and never been all that impressed by them.  Add this to that list.

The word “ruminations” is quite apt in this title as this story is really just a series of thoughts about two men.

The first one is titled Sviatoslav Richter, but is actually about a homeless man wandering the streets of whichever city this is set.  The man walks the same pattern every day searching through garbage.  But rather than delving into this man, this story delves into the people who see the man.  And it covers all possible reactions–most of which you have probably guessed already–from guilt to anger.   This is followed of course by the inevitable fear that we may one day become like this poor soul. (more…)

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[ATTENDED: June 24, 2017] Palm

I saw Palm open for Dilly Dally last year and I enjoyed their set a lot.  I instantly found their bandcamp site and downloaded Trading Basics (Ostrich Vacation is a bit more out there).  This show at PhilaMOCA was ostensibly an album release party for their new EP, Shadow Expert.  But when I asked the bassist if that meant the were going to throw confetti he just laughed.  Later Eve Alpert said she was really blown away that so many people came (it was sold out).  So it was cool to be at that show.

I was really excited to see them in such a small place and I planted myself right up front to watch what they were doing (those chords!).  After about four songs someone came thundering in from who knows where and started slam dancing (she was the only one), and I wound up pretty far back after that, which sucked.  It was also really really stupid hot in there, but Palm transcended the scene and played an awesome set.

They played most (but I don’t think all) of the new EP.  It even sounded like they may have thrown in some brand new songs too, but I’m not sure.  They started with “Walkie Talkie” and the opening strange chords and notes of the EP–it’s so interesting to watch them play this stuff.  And the fact that they are perfectly in sync and never miss a beat is just outstanding. (more…)

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