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Archive for the ‘Anachronisms’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: BLACK PUMAS-NONCOMM 2019 (May 14, 2019).

A couple of years ago I had a pass to NonComm, but ultimately I decided not to go.  I had never been to World Cafe Live and, while it sounded like a fun time, it was just so many mid-week nights and lots of leaving early, that it sounded more exhausting than fun.

I have now been to World Cafe Live and I can imagine that the (less divaish) bands are hanging around talking to people (and radio personalities) which is probably pretty cool.

I love the idea of these sorta personal concerts, too.  But I have since come to see that they are 20-45 minutes tops.  Hardly worth driving 90 minutes (one-way) for.

But since the shows are streaming you can watch them live.  Or you can listen to the recorded version online.

Black Pumas was the opening band on the opening night.  They play and exciting and fun psychedelic soul.

It is hard not to be moved by Eric Burton’s powerful voice. Joining Burton onstage was production partner and guitarist Adrian Quesada, as well as a bassist, keyboardist, and two backing vocalists. The whole band moved as a unit, but each member added their own unique talents, making Black Pumas’ sound undeniably theirs.

The set mostly comprised of songs from the band’s upcoming self titled debut, due June 21st.

“Next 2U” had some great keyboards and Burton’s impassioned vocals.  “Colors” showcased their ability to slow things down a bit and to lean into improvisation.  There was a grooving guitar solo and a cool keyboard solo.  There was even more grooving on “Black Moon Rising.”  I enjoyed Burton giving us the occasional falsetto “AH!” at the end of the verses.

I really couldn’t believe how young these guys turned out to be because their sound is really old-school, but with enough of a modern twist to keep it from being retro.

“Fire” opened with a cool guitar riff before backing away from the rock a bit to allow the big harmony vocals to really soar.

The final song “Etta James” was surprising because it was more like a Rock n’ Roll shuffle–a fast bass line running through the quick verses.   It’s when the soulful chorus comes in that Etta James surfaces both in the lyrics and in the soul of the song.   Although the scorching guitar solo brings the song back around to its rocking sensibility.

Black Pumas sound like a great live band that would be even more fun to see than to hear.

[READ: May 2, 2019] “Tax Niʔ Pik̓ak (A Long Time Ago)”

The July/August issue of The Walrus is the Summer Reading issue.  This year’s issue had three short stories and three poems as special features.

This story was written by Troy Sebastian / Nupqu ʔa·kǂ am̓, a Ktunaxa writer living in Lekwungen territory based in Victoria.  It’s not often that I read a story with a glossary, but it was very helpful, because this story uses a number of Ktunaxa words.

  • tax niʔ pik̓ak—a long time ago
  • Ka titi—grandmother
  • suyupi—white people
  • ka·pi—coffee
  • Kupi—owl
  • Ktunaxa ʔamak̓is—Ktunaxa lands

The story starts fairly simply, a long time ago.  Uncle Pat says that the suyupi have built a statue of David Thompson.

(more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: OF MONSTERS AND MEN-“Mountain Sound” (Field Recordings, June 13, 2012).

When this song first came out I was instantly smitten by it.  The combination of male and female vocals, the big chorus and interesting instrumentation were just terrific.  And the song is catchy as anything.

And then the rest of the world thought the same and this song became inescapable.

Around the same time I heard Of Monsters and Men, I also heard The Head and the Heart who had a similar aesthetic.  And I still have a hard time telling them apart (even if OMAM is from Iceland and THATH is from Seattle).

This Field Recording [Of Monsters And Men Brings Out The Sun] was filmed on the first day of the Sasquatch! Music Festival.

We managed to get backstage of the Gorge Amphitheater to capture a live session with one of the hottest new bands to hit the festival circuit, Of Monsters and Men. No strangers to natural beauty, the Icelanders were nevertheless stunned by the picturesque backdrop of the Gorge as they performed “Mountain Sound,” one of the new songs added to the American release of their debut album.

“We sleep until the sun goes down,” they sang repeatedly while the sun instead broke through the clouds as if called out by the song’s radiant optimism. The band will continue to thrill fans in larger and larger venues, but it’s private moments like this when Of Monsters and Men best displays its natural charm.

This is a wonderfully low-key take on the song with just a couple of guitars, and accordion and a trumpet (and a big plastic drum as the percussion).

I’ve heard this song so many times that it’s nice to hear it in such an unadorned fashion.  To actually hear the two lead vocals–how unusual they sound.  And to see how much fun the band is having playing at the Sasquatch Festival (yes, in Seattle).

[READ: November 12, 2018] “Show Recent Some Love”

I love Sam Lipsyte’s stories.  I love the tone and breeziness he showcases, even in stories with serious undertones.

This story ( I assume it is an excerpt) is unofficially set during the #metoo movement.  Mike Maltby was recently fired from his own company: “Only an ogre could defend Mike Maltby.”  Isaac, the protagonist, was not an ogre–maybe a jerk–said Nina his life partner.

But Isaac agreed that Mike’s ouster was for the best–Mike had done all kinds of heinous things in executives suites, “because it wasn’t about sex.  It was about power.  And sex.  And probably a few other things.”

But Isaac felt a twinge of remorse because Maltby had hired him and “had also been, weirdly enough for a brief time, his stepfather.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BENJAMIN BOOKER-“Have You Seen My Son” (Field Recordings, September 3, 2014).

This Field Recording [Benjamin Booker: Newport Folk Gets The Summertime Blues] opens with Benjamin Booker taking his tuner off of his guitar and dropping it down a rain grate, never to be seen again.

Like many of the Field Recordings, this one also takes place at the Newport Folk Festival. NPR has a great relationship with the Newport Folk Festival, but they don’t have as much footage that’s available at any time as they used to.

There’s some kind of archway that they seem to use a lot for these Recordings.  Although in this instance, he is not in the archway, but just outside of it.

In 2014, Booker released his debut album.  As of now in 2018, he has quite a following. I know I hear his name on the radio a lot.  Booker has a distinctive voice, raspy and old, even though he himself is young (much younger than I realized).  And, as I thought last time, his speaking voice is so very different from his singing voice.

Even before releasing his debut album last month, Booker’s gravelly voice and bluesy swagger had guitar fans buzzing with anticipation. It didn’t hurt that he’d nabbed a gig touring as the opening act for Jack White, one of his idols.

With a borrowed acoustic guitar, Booker joined us outside one of the secluded secret tunnels in the heart of Fort Adams State Park after his set at this year’s Newport Folk Festival. While we were setting up for this Field Recording, Booker offhandedly mentioned that a few years prior, he’d applied to become an NPR Music intern. He didn’t get that gig, but he told us that missing out spurred his desire to explore another side of his passion for music.

“Have You Seen My Son?” is a quiet shuffle of a song.  Frankly it’s not that impressive as a song, at least you wouldn’t think much of him from just this song.  Except for that voice of course.

[READ: October 7, 2017] I Know What You Read Last Summer

This essay opens with an epigram by Ruth Franklin from Slate, May 8, 2017.

Michael Chabon has spent considerable energy trying to drag the decaying corpse of genre fiction out of the shallow grave where writers of serious literature abandoned it.

LeGuin has a lot of fun with this premise.  She begins with a scary opening about something crawly, squelching, stomping–an unknown force smelling of broken rotting flesh: Goddamn that Chabon, dragging it out of the grave where she and the other serious writers had buried it.

Could he not see that Cormac McCarthy–although everything in his book (except the wonderfully blatant use of an egregiously obscure vocabulary) was remarkably similar to a great many earlier works of science fiction about men crossing the country after the holocaust–could never under any circumstances be said to be a sci-fi writer, because Cormac McCarthy was a serious writer and so by definition incapable of lowering himself to commit genre. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: CHILLY GONZALES & KAISER QUARTETT-Live at Massey Hall (February 5, 2016).

Years earlier, Chilly Gonzales had signed a record deal in Toronto but it didn’t go well “because I wasn’t prepared for what the job of being a true musician was.  I didn’t really have a narrative.  I couldn’t draw people in and guide them.  I thought the music would be enough.”

He went to Europe–Berlin–taking the name Chilly Gonzales and creating this persona.  He wanted reassuring satisfying elements and surprising, uncomfortable elements.  He wanted to  take a page out of the rappers playbook–embodying superficiality and depth ant the same time ridiculousness and seriousness at the same time.

Toronto was like the place where lighting hit the lab and turned him into a supervillain.  The failure of the label is his origin story.

They play primarily instrumental compositions, but ones that are very different and unlike anything else I’ve heard.

“Green’s Leaves” is a staccato piece with great melodies from the Quartett and lovey piano sprinkled throughout.  It’s a short piece with a lot of beauty.

He tells the audience he thinks of the Kaiser Quartett (Adam Zolynski-violin; Jansen Folkers-violin; Ingmar Süberkrüb-viola; Martin Bentz cello) as the world’s most expensive sampler.  He tries to use them in ways that string quartets might not be used.

“Sample This” is a simple request to rappers or producers to feel free to sample this piece of music (and of course call my lawyer beforehand).   He says you don’t have to have a rapper to make rap music–it is an attitude.  He says, “see if you can rap along in your mind.  Imagine what a rapper might say over this.”

This song moves along prettily at a rapid pace.  As it reaches the middle it slows down to a gentle piano with pulsing low notes from the strings and just as it feels like it has hit the end, Joe Elory (I wish it was filmed better) gets up and thuds the drums for one loud beat as the song resumes and picks up the pace.

The fact that he ends the song with quiet piano melody and a rapper pose and says “bitch” is really quite funny.

He says that a sampler can contain the history of all recorded music.  The Quartet plays  a bar of “Eleanor Rigby” which he introduces as “Elizabeth Ridley by the Rolling Stones.” Then they play Joseph Haydn–the song we all know– but says he wants the gansta version–put it into a minor key.  Then they play the opening of Schoenberg’s “The Rites of Spring.”  When Schoenberg played it, it caused a riot.  The dissonance is something.  He jokes that that was the verse now here comes the catchy part (it’s the same).  Is this offensive to you?  Or is this offensive that I’m wasting so much time playing this terrible music “hashtag fuckscheonberg.”

He mashed all the above together to make “Advantage Points.”  The loud and quiet parts balance nicely and its really quite catchy.

“Supervillain” has lots of high notes on the piano before the strings kick in.  And then its a rap (!).  The lyrics are good but the flow is only okay.  It’s funny but not comic.  When it’s over he affirms: “So you like rap music when it is over a waltz beat.”

“Knight moves” is a fast piano piece that builds to some really fun rollicking piano and even adds (minimal) drums by the end.  As it moves along he starts playing very very fast and heavy, including more or less pounding on the low notes for a low rumble.

“Smothered Mate” has a kind of action movie vibe.  There’s also percussion for the whole piece.  Unfortunately, he speaks over it for the end:

In the pre-Drake era there were not a lot of reasons to think that Toronto was on the musical map.  But Charlie Parker and Neil Young  showed this hall had glamour you dint get in a lot Canadian venues.

[READ: June 19, 2018] “Edison Labs, 1891”

This story goes in a direction I never expected and the anachronism of the humor is terrific.

Thomas Edison is working in his lab when his assistant, Jed, confesses that he screwed up again–he used centiliters instead of milliliters.  Which leads to a beaker exploding.

Edison believes that this boy is an idiot–useful only as a subject for medical experimentation.

Except for one other possibility.

He asked Jed to stand there in one spot.

Then he pulled over his new contraption, an apparatus made of metal and glass. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK BELA FLECK & ABIGAIL WASHBURN-Tiny Desk Concert #741 (May 11, 2018).

I know and like Bela Fleck.  I know and like Abigail Washburn.  I had no idea they were married.

A very pregnant Abigail Washburn points to Bela Fleck at the Tiny Desk and says “and just so you know, this is his fault.” I won’t spoil the video by telling you his response.

Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn are two American musical treasures. This husband-and-wife banjo duo write original tunes steeped in the roots of folk music. Their playing is sweetly paced with melodies interweaving through their intricate, percussive picking all while Abigail soars above it all with her discerning, yearning voice.

I also had no idea how political they are.

Their first tune, “Over the Divide,” was written at the height of the Syrian Refugee Crisis. They’d read a story about a Jewish, yodeling, Austrian sheep herder who helped Syrians out of Hungary, through the backroads that likely only sheep herders know.

Lyrical content aside, the music is just stunning.  The banjo is oft-mocked for its twang, but these two play such beautiful intertwining lines, it is just magical.   The opening melody is just jaw-droppingly lovely.

They each switch banjos to rather different-looking ones–deeper more resonating sounds

The second tune, “Bloomin’ Rose,” is a response to Standing Rock and the Dakota pipeline that is seen as a threat to water and ancient burial grounds. The intensity and thoughtfulness in Bela Fleck’s and Abigail Washburn’s music is why it will shine for a good long while, the way great folk tunes stay relevant over the ages.

But Abigail isn’t just banjo and vocals,

For the third tune, Abigail waddled over to a clogging board. And before she began her rhythmic patter, told us all that “my doctor said that what I’m about to do is ok! I have compression belts and tights on that you can’t see.” [Bela: so do I].  They then launched into “Take Me To Harlan,” another one of their songs from their 2017 album Echo In The Valley.

She says that they met at a square dance in Nashville, and she loves dancing and movement.  Bela plays and Abigail sings and taps for this jazzy number.  The middle of the song features a call and response with Bela on banjo and Abigail tapping [“Eight month?  No problem.”].

For the final song, “My Home’s Across the Blue Ridge Mountains,” Abigail says it’s usually done in a perky bluegrass country style but they listened to the lyrics and decided it was not perky at all.  So they turned it into a different thing.  It’s a somber song with Bela on a relatively slow banjo (with a slide that he sneaks on near the end) and Abigail singing mournfully (she can really belt out a tune).

Although as Steve Martin pointed out, with a banjo almost everything is upbeat.

The parties at their house must be a hoot.

[READ: January 21, 2018] “Active Metaphors” and “Death By Icicle”

“Active Metaphors” is one of Saunders’ funniest pieces that I’ve read.  And whats strange about that is that it was an essay published in the Guardian newspaper.

There are two headings: “Realistic Fiction” and “Experimental Fiction”

“Realistic Fiction” begins with the narrator in a biker bar.  He overheard two bikers, Duke and StudAss discussing these two types of fiction. –they’d purchased their “hogs” with royalties from their co-written book Feminine Desire in Jane Austen.  There was some verbal sparring during which they threw Saunders out a window “while asking questions about F. Scott Fitzgerald’s fallen American utopia.”

The narrator explained his theory of realism to them–everything happens the way it actually would and then suggests that maybe a central metaphor would help define things.  There’s an impotent farmer and every time he walks past the field, the corn droops.  An active metaphor like this helps the reader sense the deeper meaning of the story.

As they ride off with him on their hog, the bikers use some great professorial language–the end is hilarious. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SUPERORGANISM-Tiny Desk Concert #735 (April 25, 2018).

Superorganism came out of nowhere with the weird song “Something for Your M.I.N.D.” a weird hybrid of pretty much every genre.  Is was catchy and irritating at the same time.

I didn’t really think too much of them until I started hearing a but more about them.  And that their show at a small club in Philly sold out really quickly.  Then I learned more about the band and saw a live video performance and they seemed really interesting.

Are they a novelty band?  Sure.  But they are having a lot of fun, and that goes a long way with me.  Especially if the songs are catchy.

Why does it take 7 people to make simple, catchy pop songs?  I have no idea.  But they all seem to be important in their own way.

The multinational band of theatrically fun and talented musicians in Superorganism mix melody and mischievous with almost Seussian folly. In addition to the 20-plus inflatable whales they provided, the band requested via email that we provide “7 x Crunchy apples, 7 x cans of Coca Cola (or similar, as long as they are 330mls/12oz cans it doesn’t matter).” They added, “PLEASE NOTE THIS IS NOT A RIDER BUT PART OF THE PERFORMANCE.”

When the seven members of the band arrived and huddled behind my desk, they blew into straws, making percussive noises, used toy cars and radios for sound effects and added lots of handclaps. And in the midst of it all was Orono Noguchi, a small-framed, self-described “average 17-year old Japanese girl living in Maine.” (That’s from an email she wrote me last year). The band set up a couple of belt pack guitar amps for their Moog and electric guitar, along with a big Anvil road case to beat on for percussion – and then they sang about prawns.

The first song “The Prawn Song” really shows everything you need to know about the band (and whether they are for you or not).  Noguchi sits, sing/speaking deadpan lyrics.  The other six splash in buckets of water, blow bubbles in glasses, honk horns and clap a lot.  There’s also a lot of backing vocals.  And a guitar.  And the word?

“Oh, have you ever seen the prawn cause a world war?
Have you ever kissed a prawn; got a cold sore?
Have you ever seen a prawn kick off?
Have you ever seen a prawn in a pair of handcuffs, oh

You people make the same mistakes
Over and over, it’s really kinda dumb, oh
Slow learning is kinda your thing

You do you, I’ll do me / Chillin’ at the bottom of the sea and I say…

[Chorus]  I’m happy just being a prawn.

“Night Time” has a bit more “music” and fewer  effects (relatively), but still a lot of handclaps.  It’s catchy and quieter than their usual frenetic songs (being about nigh time).  But there’s still some fun quirk in it (especially the end).

Then they play “Something for Your M.I.N.D.” (and not their new single “Everybody Wants to Be Famous,” which surprised me).  There’s a Beck’s “Loser” aspect to the lyrics of this song.  Once again for a seven piece band, their music is surprisingly minimal.

And they do actually use the apples in this song.

There is much fun to be had with all the songs and I can’t decide if Noguchi’s deadpan makes things even more fun or if I just want to assure her that it’s all okay.

I bought tickets to an upcoming show of theirs because who even knows if they’ll be around in a year, so enjoy them while I can.

[READ: April 25, 2018] “Treatments”

I often feel like Robert Coover’s writing consists of him getting an idea, writing it down as it comes to him, editing it for spelling and then releasing it.

This is actually three short pieces here and each one is a “treatment” for a terrible/absurdist take on a clichéd movie.

“Dark Spirit” is a surrealist twist on the Beauty and the Beast Tale.  I love when Coover puts in a nugget that makes you go, woah!, like “The industry is obsessed with this hackneyed tale, once inflicted upon young virgins to prepare them for marriage to feeble old buzzards with money.”  Woah, that blew my mind.  It seems so obviously true, and yet I never heard it put that way before. (more…)

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[LISTENED TO: September 2017] The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy complete radio series

The history of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is almost as convoluted as the story itself.

Douglas Adams (with help from John Lloyd) wrote the radio story in 1977.  It aired in 1978.  A second season aired in 1980.

Adams wrote the novel based on the radio series in 1979.  And then the second book The Restaurant at the End of the Universe in 1980.

Then they made the TV show.

Apparently Adams considered writing a third radio series to be based on Life, the Universe and Everything in 1993, but the project did not begin until after his death in 2001.  The third, fourth and fifth radio series were based on Life, So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish and Mostly Harmless which were transmitted in 2004 and 2005.

It’s interesting and a little disconcerting how different the radio play is from the story of the book. There are a lot of similarities of course, but some very large differences.

The first series obviously leaves a lot out from the book, since the book wasn’t written yet. (more…)

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