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SOUNDTRACK: MILCK-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #19 (May 7, 2020).

I only know of MILCK from NPR. They talked about her “movement-defining anthem ‘Quiet'” which she played in 2017 at the Women’s March.  It was powerful and very moving.

Aside from that song, though, I hadn’t heard anything else from her.

And now, here she is at home singing “her most recent singles, ‘Gold’ and ‘If I Ruled The World.’  She also plays an unreleased song, “Double Sided” which she says is her most personal yet.

Many artists are sincere, but MILCK might be the most sincere performer I’ve ever seen.  That sincerity comes across as she speaks between songs, but also in her lyrics.  I love this couplet from “Gold.”

Don’t mistake my confidence for arrogance / don’t mistake my self-respect for disrespect.

Then she moves on to the brand new song

For this deeply moving Tiny Desk (home) set, recorded at her home in Los Angeles, MILCK performs those two recent singles, along with an unreleased track called “Double Sided,” a gorgeous tearjerker about the necessity of loving one another regardless of our faults and weaknesses. MILCK’s songs of empowerment, unity and understanding have never resonated more.

“Double Sided” is a powerful song and she is definitely moved by the end.

For the final song, “If I Ruled The World” she introduces it by quoting Gloria Steinem.

Gloria Steinem said that dreaming is a form of planning and this song is dreaming and imagining what our world could look like.

The song a capella for the first verses.  This is significant because so far every song of hers that I’ve heard has been about the lyrics.  But it’s here that you fully realize what a great voice she has.

Having said that, the lyrics are pretty great, too.  As I said, they are very sincere.  But it’s wonderful that there are serious ideas coupled with more lighthearted ones

Jenny wouldn’t hate her figure when she’s small, or when she’s bigger
She’d be kissin’ on the mirror, and the WiFi would be quicker
Everybody would recycle, fewer cars, and more bicycles
No more fighting for survival, you would hear this song on vinyl

You’d see a doctor if you’re sick, Mary, don’t you worry ’bout it
‘Cause there’d be no crazy bill, no more thousand dollar pills

All the sexist, racist, bandits would be sent off for rehabbin’
And instead of feeding fear, we’d be feeding half the planet, damn it

If I ruled, it would be less about me, more about you

As the blurb says,

I can always count on MILCK for a good cry. … the Los Angeles-based singer digs into and bares the ugliest sides of human nature, but leaves you feeling nothing but gratitude and awe at just how beautiful life really is.

If you’re not moved by these songs, you’re not really listening.

[READ: May 8, 2020] “Why Birds Matter”

At one point I subscribed to the print edition of National Geographic.  There are so many magazines that I like but which I never have enough time to give attention to.  National Geographic was one of them.  Each issue is packed with amazing pictures and fascinating stories that go along with them.  And every once in a while I would see a dozen or so yellow spines staring at me, accusingly.

I remember when this issue came in and there was a cover story from Jonathan Franzen, which I was excited to read.  I didn’t have the time to read it when it came in.  Later, when I remembered that I wanted to read this cover story I honestly couldn’t remember what magazine it came from.  I was sure it as Harper’s, but searches proved otherwise.

Finally I did a search on his articles and this came up and that was it!

I found an online copy of the magazine through my library (it has since been published in a book) and finally got around to reading it.  So imagine my surprise when it was actually quite short.  There’s an accompanying (amazing) photo essay that makes the entire “article” some twenty pages.  But his text is barely five picture-heavy pages.

Nevertheless, he makes so many point better than I could and better than I could even try to summarize that I’m quoting extensively because I think it’s that important.

(more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: LIANNE LA HAVAS-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #18 (May 5, 2020).

This Tiny Desk is wonderful because you can clearly see the interesting chords that Lianne La Havas is playing.

She looks quite comfortable in her cozy space. I love the effect of the close camera placement; her essence penetrates the fourth wall like she’s singing just for me. Lianne performed the tender “Paper Thin” and “Bittersweet,” two recent singles that will be included on her self-titled new album set to drop in July. The intimacy of the performance matches the lyrics of the new songs, personal vignettes about her life and growth over the last five years.

After “Paper Thin” she says “I just felt like playing it first.”

Also included in the set is “Midnight,” a wistful gem from her 2015 album, Blood.

There’s some really wonderful guitar work here too.  She plays a complicated picking melody complete with occasional harmonics.  At one point her vocals take of and get much louder.  So loud that she kind of overloads her mic.

“Bittersweet”  continues with the quite guitar and powerful voice.  I’m curious what these songs will be like when they are fully produced.

[READ: May 3, 2020] “Witness”

This story is set in Berbice, Guayana.

Quammie had gone there to visit cousin Calib and tells the narrator his story.

Noting much happened, he didn’t buy any souvenirs.  Although that night there was to be a rally for President Ramotar.

It was rare that the Guyanese election made international ripples.  Oil had been discovered in the ocean, so Guyana and Venezuela were fighting over whose water the deposits were submerged in.

The polls were predicting a narrow loss for Ramotar who had decreed a state media blackout on all ads and coverage for his rival.

Quammie said they got out before the rally started, but on their way out of the city, they had to pull over for the President’s motorcade.

You saw Ramotar?

No, just his car. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BUCK CURRAN-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #17 (May 1, 2020).

I’ve never heard of Buck Curran, an American guitarist living in Bergamo, Italy, “the epicenter of the pandemic in Europe.”

Years ago, Curran met Adele Pappalardo while on tour, fell in love and started a family. They have a son about to turn three years old and another child due in August. “We’re trying to survive,” Curran says. “And be positive,” Pappalardo adds. Soon residents in Italy will be allowed to use parks, visit relatives and attend funerals.

This Tiny Desk is blurbed by Lars Gottrich (which explains why I don’t know this guy–Lars travels in the obscure).  He sums up the music of Curran perfectly:

There’s a burning darkness to these songs, as Curran’s rough-hewn voice and droning psych-folk melodies curl like smoke, but there’s also a desperate hope that cracks the surface.

His songs are slow and droney without a lot of change ups.  Adele sings backing ooohs and aahs on the new “Deep in the Lovin’ Arms of My Babe” and “New Moontide” from 2016’s Immortal Light.  I preferred this song because it opened with some lovely guitar harmonics.  Although it’s about six minutes long and most of that six minutes sounds the same.

Adele leaves and he plays “Ghost on the Hill” which is getting its debut live performance.  He ends with an instrumental, “Blue Raga.”  It has some really interesting chord progressions and is my favorite song of the set.

[READ: January 2020] The Soul of an Octopus

S. bought me this book for Christmas because she knows how much I enjoy octopuses (it’s not octopi–you can’t put a Latin ending on a word derived from Greek).

This book was absolutely wonderful.

It opens with Sy explaining that she was heading from her home in New Hampshire to the New England Aquarium.  She had a date with a giant Pacific octopus.

She summarizes some of the reasons why octopuses are so cool

Here is an animal with venom like a snake, a beak like a parrot, and ink like an old-fashioned pen.  It can weigh as much as a man and stretch as long as a car, yet it can pour its baggy, boneless body through an opening the size of an orange.  It can change color and shape.  It can taste with its skin. Most fascinating of all, I had read that octopuses are smart.

This is all so fascinating to me because when I was a kid, I feel like octopus were boring, scary, purple blobs.  Why didn’t we know they were so cool?

Probably because people didn’t know much about octopuses until fairly recently.  In fact, we are still learning a lot about them.  Like that one three-inch sucker can lift 30 pounds–and a giant Pacific octopus has 1,600 suckers. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JERU THE DAMAJA-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #16 (April 30, 2020).

I’ve always liked Jeru the Damaja’s name; I find it very satisfying.  It’s amusing to me that with a name like that he raps about positive things.

He used the concert to share his inspiring philosophy of self-knowledge. Jeru drops lyrics about what it takes to achieve self-actualization in tough conditions for not just himself, but for the culture.

I don’t actually know any of his songs; this is a “medley of his classics.”  Jeru’s got a great, deep voice that adds a lot of strength to his lyrics.

Like Black Thought, Jeru sits in a chair, surrounded by his gear.  Unlike Black Thought, Jeru is in motion pretty consistently bobbing and waving his hand like he does care.

He starts with 50 seconds of “Can’t Stop the Prophet” after which he says “we need a superhero and we forget that the superhero resides within us.”  he encourages everyone to be creative in this time because idle hands do the devil’s work.  This is his lead into the 90 seconds of “Ain’t The Devil Happy.”

His prescient lyrics remain as relevant as ever as he addresses the deepening fissures of socioeconomic inequalities exposed by the coronavirus crisis.

He even updates the lyrics of “Scientifical Madness”

Mind Jah lick you with disease
So I inflict MC’s like Ebola Corona
Or some other man made cancer

He says he doesn’t want to be inside, but he’s grateful that he has a place to be because living outside is “So Raw.”  I really like the slow grooving beat of this song.

After the 90 seconds of “My Mind Spray” he says his mind is always working.  He’s always wondering if this and if that. But the old saying goes “If if’s were fifth, we’d all be drunk.”  In the song “If” he adds “If if was a spliff, we’d all get smoked up.”

He closes his set from his home in Berlin with a new song, “The Power,” and offers up a message we all need: “No matter who you are, the power resides in you…We can overcome anything if you put your mind to it, you just can’t get in your mind too much.” The prophet cannot be stopped.

“The Power” is a full song which was inspired by a things his mother used to say that he didn’t understand until he got older: “nothing matters except for how we treat people.”

[READ: May 6, 2020] “Shelter Seekers”

This story is written as a letter to the “scholarship liaison officer.”

The letter writer received a $4,000 Daniel White Foreign Study Scholarship via the Government of Canada.  The money was to fund three months in Argentina to study how the region is “adapting its approach to housing in the interest of sustainability.”

This letter is the final report which is “unconventional in form, long overdue and in excess of the stipulated two-page limit.”

The writer left her husband for three months to undertake this challenge.

On the flight to Patagonia ($1,297) she read the Award Holder’s Guide.  She imagined building clay houses and hanging out with her fellow researchers, drinking Fernet and Coke.  She even considered the idea of an affair with an attractive researcher.  (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE LUMINEERS-Tiny Desk Concert #966 (April 6, 2020).

When The Lumineers first came on the scene they were the band that sounded like Mumford and Sons.  It now seems likely that The Lumineers are more popular than Mumford.

I’ve known them since “Hey Ho” but I’ve never seen them I guess because sinegr Wesley Schultz doesn’t look anything like I thought he would (I’m not sure what I thought, but that’s not it).

Much of The Lumineers’ Tiny Desk comes from the band’s third LP, III, which tells a story of addiction in three acts.  They began with gut-wrenching renditions of “Gloria” and “Leader Of The Landslide.”

I’ve heard “Gloria” a million times, but it was nice to see it live.  I especially enjoyed  when violinist Lauren Jacobson joined in on the high notes of the piano while Stelth Ulvang played the low parts.  Byron Isaacs plays some interesting bass lines (That I’ve never noticed before) and adds nice backing vocals.

“Leader of the Landslide” has a very sad introductory tale.  Stelth Ulvang switches to accordion.  It is “accompanied by a cassette recording of crickets made on iPhones and dubbed to play on a boombox.”  It’s a quiet song, unlike what I think of them as playing.

The third track is also from III, but was an assignment from director M. Night Shyamalan. He tasked Schultz and his suspender-clad writing partner, Jeremiah Fraites, with composing a song for the end credits of a film. “Jer and I worked really hard on that, and then he didn’t need it,” Schultz confessed. The results are the stark and haunting “April” and “Salt And The Sea,”which strikes a different chord than any other song they’ve written.

“April (instrumental)” is a one-minute instrumental that segues into “Salt And The Sea” Drummer Jeremiah Fraites plays piano while percussionist Brandon Miller switches to drums. but he’s mostly playing cool atmospheric percussion (my new favorite thing of scraping drumsticks on cymbals).

It wouldn’t be a Lumineers show without a foot-stompin’ sing-along to end the set, which came with their crowd-pleasing hit “Stubborn Love”. Stelth Ulvang demonstrated a level of barefoot acrobatics unrivaled at the desk thus far, not an easy feat (or should I say, feet).

I never knew the name of “Stubborn Love” but I’ve certainly wanted to “Hey oh, oh oh oh) along with it.  And yes, Ulvang jumps on Bob’s desk to get everyone to sing along–I hope he didn’t step on anything (and that his feet were clean).

I’ve never thought about seeing them live, but I’ll bet their show would be a lot of fun. However, since they are now playing to 20,000 people, I can probably give that a miss.

[READ: April 25, 2020] “The Bird Angle”

Nell Zink and Jonathan Franzen are intricately linked.  As she writes in this essay

All I wanted when I first wrote to Jonathan Franzen–a birder who moonlights as a journalist–in 2011 was some attention for a bird-obsessed NGO.  With his help I debuted as a novelist five years ago at age fifty.

Her fifth book comes out this year.  She now has some money and wondered what to do with it.  Franzen recommended birding in Peru.

So this is the first non-fiction piece of hers that I have read.  It’s also the first piece about birds (aside from her novel the The Wallcreeper which has a bird prominently in it).

She was going to Cuzco, Peru for thee days.  First she toured churches (seventeenth century Jesuits made Christ look especially gruesome).  The next morning she hiked to Sacsayhuamán, an Incan ruin made of exceptionally large rocks.

She imagined Peru would feel like a hot night in New York when the A/C broke.  But she only got two mosquito bites the whole time she was there (both on her ass from peeing outside). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE POP UPS-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #13 (April 23, 2020).

When my kids were little I tried pretty hard to introduce them to interesting children’s music.  I often wonder if I ruined them by not just letting them enjoy Raffi.  Because they don’t like much of what I listen to these days.

I’m not sure how long The Pop Ups have been making music, but this is sure a fun (and informative) children’s band.

The Pop Ups (Jason Rabinowitz (on the keytar) and Jacob Stein) sing the theme song to the wonderful NPR podcast Wow In The World and perform at Wow in the World live shows. In their Tiny Desk (home) concert, they save the earth from an asteroid, explain sound waves through a sing-a-long and a keytar, and encourage us all to invent and create.

Before the first song Jason introduces the greatest instrument in the world.  The guitarino?  No, the keytar.  Then he talks about the kind of sound waves a synthesizer can produce: a square wave, a sine wave and sawtooth wave.  “Synthesizer” is a song about making these sound waves–and you are encouraged to dance around and make those waves yourself.

Then Jacob wants to see if we can stump Jason with sounds the keytar can’t make: saxophone, whistle, marimba, organ?  Nope, it can do them all.

The next song, “Meteor” introduces a puppet, Doctor Bronc the Brontosaurus.  Dr. Bronc saw a meteor in the sky so he created a laser to shoot at the meteor.  If everyone turned off their lights for one day, it would save enough energy to power the laser.  The moral: “You can save the world when everybody tries!”

The final song “Inventors” introduces us to a woman I have never heard of.  Mary Anderson in Alabama saw that snow was piling up on the street cars.  She figured there was something that could clean off the snow and so she spent much of her time coming up with windshield wipers.  Which we still use today!

Young inventors will help solve the problems that our generation made for you.

It’s sure inspirational, and a useful piece of history.

[READ: April 26, 2020] “Little Donald’s Sneeze”

I love any cartoon that is going to mock trump.  It’s especially excellent if you can use his own words against him (which isn’t hard because he never stops saying stupid things.

I particularly enjoyed this cartoon because of its old-fashioned look.  Since I can’t find the original cartoon this is based on (or maybe it’s just based on the general style of Winsor McCay’s strip), I can’t tell if Kuper did all of the art himself or if he judiciously used the original panels.

I also don’t know what’s at the header originally, but this one pretty succinctly describes the man who is killing people with his deceit.

The header of this cartoon lays it out clearly: He just simply couldn’t stop lying / He never told the truth!

Why is it that cartoonist knows this but news reporters can’t seem to catch on and actually believe him when he says things? (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: LANG LANG-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #11 (April 17, 2020).

Lang Lang is a superstar pianist whom I have never heard of.  But I agree with the blurb that it’s neat to see a fantastic pianist playing at home.  He seems relaxed and loose.  And the camera angle allows us to see his fingers (and his whole swaying body) pretty clearly.

Here’s something unique: a chance to eavesdrop on the superstar pianist Lang Lang at home.

The 37-year-old pianist, who typically plays sold-out shows to thousands, says he’s taking his recent solitary time to learn new repertoire at home in Shanghai, China. And home is where he thinks we should all be.

He opens with Chopin’s calming “Nocturne No. 20 in C-sharp minor.”  I loved watching him slowly and deliberately play that last note.  It seems like he holds his finger above it for minutes, but it fits in perfectly.

Lang Lang’s latest passion is Bach – specifically the Goldberg Variations, a 75-minute-long cycle of immense complexity grounded in the composer’s durable beauty. Lang Lang offers the “18th and 19th variations,” pieces that in turn represent the strength of logic and the joy of the dance. It’s music, Lang Lang says, that “always brings me to play in another level of artistic thinking.”

These pieces are just magical.  Even if I don;t know them well, I can tell pretty immediately that they are Bach.  Lang Lang’s fluidity is wonderful, as is the way his whole body seems to be absorbing the music as he plays.

[READ: April 11, 2020]: Carnet de Voyage

From March 5 thru May 14, 2004 Craig Thompson was on an international book tour celebrating the success of his (fantastic) book Blankets.

This journal was his visual diary (no cameras were used, only his memory) of his trip.  His editors thought it would be interesting for him to document his trip (and it is).

He flies into Paris then a 2 hour plane trip to Lyon.  He draws pictures of where he has been and the people he has met (and some of their fascinating stories).  There’s some wonderful sketches of rooftops from hotel windows.

He does interviews for radio and magazines. He laughs that one of the photos shoots was in the streets of Paris, where he is all dressed up.  But really he’s a county bumpkin from Wisconsin. The drawing of himself as a glamorous guy and his bumpkin alter ego together is pretty hilarious.

On March 15 he left for Marrakesh, Morocco and this exotic location rally sets the stage for most of his artwork and what is sort of the only “plot” in the book.

He had also just broken up with his girlfriend which weighs on his mind quite a lot on the tour. (more…)

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