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sky  SOUNDTRACK: MITSKI-Tiny Desk Concert #467 (August 31, 2015).

mitskSome recent Tiny Desk Concerts have been running long, but Mitski Miyawaki plays 3 songs in 8 minutes.

Her songs are simple—three chords at most.   And she is unaccompanied here (her recorded versions are much more fleshed out)–just her voice and her electric guitar.  But it’s the intensity of her lyrics and her delivery that really dominate the show.

“Townie” is the most rocking song  The way her voice rises and almost breaks as she sings “I’ve tried sharing and I’ve tried caring and I’ve tried putting out” is really heartbreaking.  And the follow-up “but the boys keep coming on for more, more, more.” It’s all of 2 minute long but it packs a punch.

“Class of 2013”  is almost a capella.  She plays a chord and lets it fade away while she sings.

Mom, am I still young? / Can I dream for a few months more? / Mom is it alright if I stay for a year or two…and I’ll leave once I can figure out how to pay for my own life too.

Interestingly, se plays an open-stringed guitar (it must be a special tuning).  One loud chord that rings and fades.  Even in the most unsettling moment, when she plays a chord and then screams the lyrics into the pick-up of her guitar–giving it a far-away and tinny quality as the chord echoes to a close.

The final song “Last Words Of A Shooting Star” has some simple opens string finger picking (again, must be an alternate tuning).  As she sings quietly she seems to be exposing every ounce of herself.

One would be concerned for her psyche and yet she seems pretty happy and smiling when the show is over.

[READ: October 19, 2016] Understanding the Sky

This book is a long-format version of a short article/essay/something-else-entirely that was published in Afar in 2015.

This book reminds me of the publication of David Foster Wallace’s This is Water in that it is a brief essay/story spread out over hundreds of pages.  Most often with one line per page.  The difference between this and Water is that Water felt like a weird cash grab and this feels like a chance to show off more of Egger’s photos (there are not many in the article).

There is a photo on each page–most often with text–but sometimes without.  And it works rather well.

The narrative is structured as a dialogue–each “person” is on a facing page, so the right page answers the left page.  And it is done in a kind of removed third person.  Thus it begins: “Who is this man?”  “He wants to fly.”  In this opening section the pictures are presented very thin–less than an inch wide in total but stretching from top to bottom of page in the center of the spread. (more…)

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dfwreadSOUNDTRACK: CHRISTIAN SCOTT aTUNDE ADJUAH-Tiny Desk Concert #477 (October 9, 2015).

aacsChristian Scott aTunde Adjuah and his septet play what he calls stretch music: “the particular type of jazz fusion he’s up to: something more seamless than a simple collision of genre signifiers.”

They note that even his appearance stretches traditional jazz: “You may note that he showed up in a Joy Division sleeveless T-shirt and gold chain.” It’s sleek and clearly modern, awash in guitar riffs, but also bold and emotionally naked.

Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah (not sure how to abbreviate that) is a trumpeter and he can hit some loud powerful and long –held notes.   It’s funny that when he bends over the trumpet grows quieter—those ic really are direction-based.

For the first song “TWIN” he does some impressive soloing over a simple and cool beat—piano and delicate guitar riffs (there’s also an upright bass and drummer).   After his lengthy solo there’s a flute solo that also works perfectly (if less dramatically) with the background music.  (Christian plays tambourine during her solo).  He says that this song is about being a twin.  His brother, Kyle Scott is a film director and for whom Christians scores the music.  Christian also explains that he comes from an African-American and Native-American background and that this song has rhythms as a sort of history of his family that touches on Mali, Senegal Gambia and The Ivory Coast and makes its way to the Caribbean, Cuba and into New Orleans.

He’s pleased to play the Tiny Desk Concert for an audience that appreciates “Music that has nutritional value.”

For the second song, “West of the West” he brings on a young alto-saxophonist who plays with his drummer in a different band. The song opens with a rocking electric guitar solo and then the jazzy band kicks in behind it.  The instrumental features a couple of solos by the saxophonist, the pianist and the bassist.

“K.K.P.D.” is a dramatic song for which he gives a lengthy back story.  Many years ago in his home of New Orleans, he was stopped by New Orleans police late at night for no reason other than to harass and intimidate him.  he was coming back from a gig.  He resisted and was in a serious situation and was seriously threatened—the story is long and very affecting, especially given how articulate (I know, terrible word, but true) and calm he is about retelling this horrifying story.  His pride almost made him do something ill-advised, but instead he channeled that pent-up frustration into a piece of music whose long-form title is “Ku Klux Police Department.”

He adds that we see things on TV about inner cities or the ninth ward and we believe them to be true.  Like that the neighborhood is happy that the police are clearing out the youth there.  We begin to think that the narrative is true, although the people who live there can tell you otherwise.  Despite the title and the origin, the is song is designed to reach a consensus to move forward –not to build derision or hate.  He says that we have to start working on that now, because if it doesn’t start now then our children will continue to inherit this situation.

It opens with a noisy guitar wash and fast drums.  It’s quite noisy and chaotic although it resolves very nicely into an almost sweet piano-based song with slow horns.  The middle of the song ramps up with some intense soloing from Christian.  I love how that segues into a very different section with an electronic drum and delicate piano.  Chritsian’s next solo is much more optimistic.  The final section is just wonderfully catchy.

When he introduces the band, he points out just how young some of his newest members are: Drummer Corey Fonville (another new member) used a djembe as a bass drum, and also brought a MIDI pad so he could emulate the sound of a drum machine; Lawrence Fields, piano; Kris Funn, bass; Dominic Minix , guitar (21 years old); Braxton Cook, saxophone (24 years-old) and Elena Pinderhughes, flute: 20 years old!

I don’t listen to a ton of jazz, but I really liked this Tiny Desk Concert a lot.

[READ: July-October 2016] The David Foster Wallace Reader

I’ve had this book since Sarah bought it for me for Christmas in 2014.  I haven’t been in a huge hurry to read it because I have read almost everything in it already.  And some of that I have even read recently.  But this summer I decided to read some of my bigger books, so this was a good time as any.

One of the fascinating things about reading this book is the excerpting in the fiction section.  I have never really read excerpts from DFWs longer books before.  And once you decontextualize the parts, you can really appreciate them for themselves rather than as a means to the end of the story.  This is especially true of the excerpts from Broom of the System and Infinite Jest.  But also just reading some of these sections as a short story makes for an interesting experience.

It was also very interesting to read the non-fiction all together like that.  These pieces come from difference anthologies, but they have thematic similarities  So, placing them together like that allows for really comparing the stories.

And of course, the selling point for most DFW fans is the teaching materials in the center of the book–an opportunity to look into the man’s mind at work shaping younger minds.

I have written about virtually everything in this book already (title links refer back to previous posts), so mostly these are thoughts about the pieces themselves and not a part of a whole. (more…)

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sept2015SOUNDTRACK: RIVER WHYLESS-Tiny Desk Concert #501 (January 19, 2016).

whylessRiver Whyless is an interesting band, at least during this Tiny Desk Concert.  They have several singers, different instruments and a whole bunch of interesting percussion on hand–including a typewriter!

The band has one EP out, from which the first song “Life Crisis” comes.  The female singer (none of the players’ names are given) says that this was their tiny desk submission.

On this song the male singer (actually everyone sings) plays typewriter and presents his typed document at the end of the show–although the audience never gets to see it–I imagine it’s gibberish, but it would be amazing if it wasn’t).  The female singer plays a violin solo in the middle of the song (which was unexpected since she doesn’t have it as the song opens).

Under the typewriter is a pump for a harmonium which has an accidental vibrato on it.  Shes says that one day it started doing that and they love it and hope it never fixes itself.

The other two songs are new–not on their EP from last year.  “Sailing Away” starts with violin and harmonium.  There’s also a guitarist who sings leads and a percussionist (who has all manner of gadgets and drums and mallets around him).  The harmonium player/typist also plays a melody on the toy piano.  All of these items may seem like novelties or goofs, but their songs are quite lovely and these little accents just add to the overall feel.

“Baby Brother” opens with a buzzy acoustic guitar and a whole landscape of percussion.  And this time the harmonium player switches to guitar while he sings lead (everyone sings lovely harmonies by the way).

I love everything about this band…except their songs.  All three songs are quite nice, and while I’m listening to them I certainly enjoy them, but they are really not that memorable.  There’s no hooks in them.  Despite the fact that all of their accouterments are not really gimmicks, those are the things I will remember most about River Whyless.

[READ: January 18, 2016] “Learning to Fly Part 4”

This is the final part of the 4 part essay.  A series like this is bound to be anticlimactic because presumably if his solo didn’t go well, he’d be dead.  And if he didn’t do the solo, there likely wouldn’t be a part 4 (unless he talked about chickening out instead).

But Ferris takes an interesting tact for this end section.

He opens the essay by explaining that he was commissioned by Popular Mechanics to write this essay.  This makes sense but is something  hadn’t thought about–they asked him to do it.

He says that he was full of anxiety the entire time–which we knew he would be.  He was terrified to fly–a wobbly commercial airplane takeoff would totally freak him out.  Plus, being a writer, he had an overactive imagination. (more…)

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popjlu SOUNDTRACK: BENNY SINGS-Tiny Desk Concert #500 (January 15, 2016).

bennyBenny Sings is a Dutch singer songwriter.  I had never heard of him, and no wonder, this was apparently his first performance in the United States.  And “this is also where he performed with background vocalist Jennah Bell for the first time.”

The blurb says that he layers R&B, jazz and pop over hip-hop foundations.  Although the first of two songs, “Love” is just him on the piano.  For the second song “Beach House,” he busts out the drum machine.  But it still comes across as an orchestra pop song (maybe like slower Elton John).

It’s all fine, but nothing special.

According to my records, this was the 500th Tiny Desk Concert.  And if you count all of the concerts on their Tiny Desk Page, it tallies up to 500 today.  But I know that they are planning something big for #500.  So I don’t quite know what to think.

[READ: January 14, 2016] “Learning to Fly Part 3”

Part three of this story (see, I said it wouldn’t be too long before I continued with it) is all about the landing.  Ferris explains that the landing has always been the hardest part for him.  He managed turns and banks and rises and everything else, but frankly, had his teacher not been there he would have died dozens of times with bad landings.

He says that as you slowly (or quickly) sink towards the ground, your instinct is to pull up away from it, which is exactly what you shouldn’t do.

This particular part of the essay doesn’t have a lot of flying details in it, because most of it is taken up with his fears about his poor landings.  Although the way Ferris tells of the time he easily should have died from not slowing down is pretty harrowing and exciting–how is his instructor so calm?

He sums up landing though you need patience when things are most hurried, composure when things are most fraught.  You need focus when your attention is most scattered.  You need a light touch on the controls when the urge to yank hard and pull them off the panel is at it strongest.

Then he describes all of the things that his instructor appears to be doing at once to land the plane:

He was descending, turning the yoke, applying back pressures, lowering the flaps, adjusting the trim, peddling the rudder, adding power, nosing down–all more or less simultaneously.

Ferris swears that he will quit.  He cannot land the damned plane.  His wife will be pleased that he has quit ans she is terrified of him crashing.  But he knows that he will likely not quit–because it’s a challenge and any tough challenge is one you want to quit hundreds of times but which you never do,

But for his final lesson, he was going to go up once more and then quit.  “And that was the day I had my first perfect landing.”

Great cliffhanger

The final part comes next.

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popmechSOUNDTRACK: NATALIE MERCHANT-Tiny Desk Concert #499 (January 12, 2016).

nat merch Natalie Merchant was supposed to appear on a Tiny Desk show in 2014, but she was ill on that day (she even tells the story of going to the hospital).  She had to cancel the entire tour.  Turns out we saw her on that tour a couple of days before she got sick!

When Sarah and I saw her we both remarked on how great her voice still sounded.  And it sounds great here too.  The same instantly recognizable voice from her albums with all of the power and inflection that she’s always had.

Although I still don’t understand where her speaking voice accent comes from (she’s from upstate New York after all).

“Motherland” (a 2001 song) she dedicates to the staff of NPR.  Her accompaniment is an acoustic guitar, upright bass and accordion and it works very well for this slow, rather sad song.

“Texas” is another pretty, slow song from her 2014 album which she was supposed to pay at the Tiny Desk show.  She says he most regretted missing the Tiny Desk show when she had to cancel her tour.  She had no idea the desk was not so tiny and that it could fit 1000 people standing around watching.

Then she plugs her new album, Paradise Is There: The New Tigerlily Recordings.  It is a reworking of her songs from Tigerlily (and there was a documentary that accompanied it (which they were filming when we saw her).  She plays “Cowboy Romance” from that album.  I don’t know the original (or I don’t recognize the song) but it sounds fine in this stripped down format.

Even though her songs are rather serious, she’s quite silly with the band and crew.  She emphasis “CONfiguRAtion of muSICians” before introducing “Cowboy Romance.”

Everyone assumes she will play only three songs (the standard), but she has a special treat planned.  She says that she heard a story on NPR about how office workplaces would benefit from singing together.  And they are all trapped with her.  So she says they are going to sing a Protestant hymn that she recently found in a songbook in the library.

She says that she and the guitarist are Catholic, the accordionist is Jewish (from Israel) and the bassist has no religion.  he says he’s from the West Coast (she jokes that he’s from a cult in Oregon).  Then when she asks the guitarist what key it’s in and he says, “What song? ” to which everyone laughs because she never mentioned the title.

It’s a lovely old song which she teaches to the whole room.  After the first verse, she says she approves of the group sing-along and says it should be a weekly thing.  I love the way they split the screen to show the whole staff singing along. It’s quite lovely and the staff’s accompaniment is really pretty.

This is a delightful show and a very intimate performance by Natalie Merchant.

[READ: January 12, 2016] “Learning to Fly Part 2”

I really enjoyed Part 1 of this essay, but as often happens to me with broken up pieces, I forgot about the next part until long after.  So here it is over six months since I read Part 1 finally getting around to Part 2 (but at least I have Parts 3 and 4 with me so I’ll be finishing them up soon). (more…)

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Popular-MechanicsSOUNDTRACK: THE MOUNTAIN GOATS-Tiny Desk Concert #41 (January 3, 2010).

mgI have talked about Tiny Desk Concerts off an on (more than 100, if I’m counting right), but I never really made a concerted effort to do them all.  So now I’ve decided to make the effort.  My plan is to post two old concerts a week and also mention new ones when they pop up.  Since there are nearly 450 concerts, this will take ages and ages.  But I’ve been really enjoying the bands I like and it’s been fun listening to the bands I didn’t know.  And two a week seems reasonable enough.

I know the Mountain Goats, although I don’t know them all that well–I keep meaning to listen to them more.  So this is a good place to start.  It’s just John Darnielle and his guitar.

These four songs are simple enough and yet they have s much passion and inventiveness.  Darnielle is known primarily for his lyrics, but he throws a good melody over his songs too.

He plays two (then) new songs, the quiet “Hebrews 11:40” and the loud “Pslams 40:2.”  His voice is instantly recognizable in either song–it more or less just sounds like him singing louder, and yet there’s something slightly different in his rollicking singing voice–a bigger intensity, perhaps.

He also plays two old songs.  The slow “Color in Your Cheeks” and the rollicking “Going to Georgia” (which he starts and then interrupts and then starts again).

While his lyrics are serious, his between song banter is charming and funny (“I am permanently a young man, no matter how old I get”).  I just saw that the Mountain Goats were on Seth Meyers’s show, I’ll have to check that out too.

Watch the Tiny Desk Concert here.

[READ: April 21, 2015] “Learning to Fly Part 1”

I was going to let my Popular Mechanics subscription lapse.  I enjoy it a bit, but don’t really read it all that much.  But this issue has some good articles and the start of this four part essay by an author I really like.  Who knew that authors wrote for such unlikely places?

I suspect that Popular Mechanics readers probably aren’t used to long form essays, because this first part, called “Takeoff” is only four pages long–this is not a Harper’s essay we’re looking at, here.  But the writing is still really good.

Ferris talks about the two things that contributed to his decision to take flying lessons.  The first was the death of his father and the second was his absolute fear of flying. (more…)

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tpk1SOUNDTRACK: PALE KING-“An Airing” (2013).

paleNope, I never heard of the musician Pale King until I searched for a song to put here.

This song begins as a piano instrumental (with some keyboards layered over).  It swells and lifts through some simple chord changes.  A martial beat comes in from time to time to give it some urgency.

This might actually work as a the opening credits to the never-to-be made movie of The Pale King, or perhaps a soundtrack to §1 (which is a short prose poem type of thing).

At about 1:45, some guitars burst through (adding some drama), and the drums grow louder.  It builds slowly until it starts to taper off and ends much like it began

I don’t know much or anything about the artist except that he’s from Toronto and he has a bandcamp site where you can hear this track.

[READ: July 14, 2014] Pale Summer Week 1 (§1-§9)

In other Summer Reading Group posts, I have tried to summarize chapters, make connections between characters that I may have missed in earlier readings of the book and, just tried to be more microscopic about my reading.  I don’t usually philosophize too much about the stories, but I do wax poetic from time to time.  Having said all that, The Pale King presents its own unique challenges because the book is unfinished.  So it’s not always clear if any connections can be made from chapters that are elliptical. DFW in particular likes to write scenes without naming characters, giving the reader something to discover later on, perhaps.  So you may have a scene that has no named people in it, but their speech patterns or details are referenced later, allowing you to piece things together.

There is definitely some of that piecing going on here, but as I said, when a book is unfinished, and this one was largely pieced together by editor Michael Pietsch, it’s not clear if you are missing something or if it simply isn’t there.  So there will be some speculation, and some omissions for sure, but we press on.

A further complication is the collection of Notes and Asides at the end of the book.  Some reveal information about characters that is not necessarily evident in the book, some talk about things that might have happened or even might have been removed if DFW had played around with the text more.  In general I am not going to read these now, so as to avoid spoilers.  But I may insert them later (with spoiler warnings) to make it easier to make sense of the book later.

The primary setting for the book is the IRS Regional Examination Center in Peoria, IL set in 1985.  Editor Michael Pietsch (in his thoughtful and helpful Editor’s note which is mandatory reading if you are going to read the novel) says that DFW described the book as “torandic,” with elements coming in and going out over and over.

The other key question is just how unfinished is this?  We have no idea.  It feels like it could go on for a ton longer, and yet it no doubt would have been edited down to a more manageable size afterwards.  There are sections that seem like they could have more and others that seems like they would have been trimmed a lot.  And then of course, there could be other things that never even saw the light of day.  None of that should keep anyone from reading the book though. (more…)

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