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Archive for the ‘Ben Lerner’ Category

CHERRY GLAZERR-NonComm 2019 (May 15, 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 loved 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 for.

But now that the sets are available to stream after the show, there’s no need to go.

The year I was going to go there were a bunch of artists I was excited to see.  This year there weren’t as many.

Although Cherry Glazerr is a band I’d like to check out.

Cherry Glazerr is a Los Angeles trio who formed in high school.  The blurb notes:

They’ve been known to keep a social and political message at the forefront of their songs, confronting the misogyny that’s too prevalent in their scene — and in our culture.   At one point, frontwoman Clementine Creevy turned her back to the microphone, leaned back limbo-style, jumped up and down — and didn’t miss a beat. That’s what frustrated feminist punk looks like in 2019 according to Cherry Glazerr.

They totally rock as well, cramming six songs into 20 minutes.

They open with feedback and drums that settles into “Ohio” –a distorted lumbering catchy song with Creevy’s vocals riding along the top.  I love the unusual riff that accompanies the song after the verses.  The solo is simple but very cool.

“Self-Explained” is slower with a cool vocal line in the verses.  It has a tempo that demands a big build up.  And the guitar solo fills that in really well.   “Wasted Nun” has some more great buzzing guitars and thumping drums over a simple but satisfying punk riff.

“Daddi” changes the dynamic of things with whispered creepy-sounding lyrics and a quiet guitar melody for the verses.  The big pounding chorus changes things up dramatically.

Those three songs come from their new album, while the final two come from their previous album, Apocalipstick.  “Apocalipstick” has a big powerful riff and turns out to be a rocking instrumental–it’s as good as the title of the song.

They end with “Told You I’d Be With The Boys,” a song with a cool riff and some nifty guitar licks as well.  I also like the vocal tricks that Creevy uses on this track.  And the way it ends is a total blast.

It’s a great set and makes me want to see them next time they’re playing more than 20 minutes!

[READ: May 27, 2019] “Ross Perot and China”

The title of this story was just so evocative.  I couldn’t imagine where Lerner would go with this.

And so as I started reading it, I had to wonder, is the main character Ross Perot?  Is that a young Ross Perot on a boat, drinking Southern Comfort in a man-made lake?  It sure could be.  Or maybe the young lady he’s with is Ross Perot’s daughter?

So that when the young lady slips off the boat unnoticed and he can’t find her, I wondered–where is this going?

Well, soon enough it is revealed that Ross Perot is not a character in the story, he is more of an abstract idea. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: GRACE VANDERWAAL-Tiny Desk Concert #751 (June 6, 2018). 

I had been listening to the All Songs Considered podcast when Bob Boilen told the below story about how he found Grave VanderWaal.  Since I don’t watch any show with anyone with talent of any kind, I had never heard of her either.

When 14-year-old Grace VanderWaal came to perform at the Tiny Desk I had to confess to her (and her mom) that, until my “accidental concert experience,” I had no idea who she was, nor did I know what America’s Got Talent was.

It all started this past February, when I went to the 9:30 Club, a 1,200 capacity music venue, to see what I thought was a show by rock guitarist Grace Vonderkuhn and her power trio from Delaware.

When I arrived for the unusually early 7:30pm show, I saw a long line of young teens wrapping around the block, mostly girls, and a fair smattering of adults who didn’t look like the regular concert goers who head to the 9:30 Club on a weekday evening. And as you’ve likely guessed by now, the show I was about to witness was not the riff-rock guitar player we’d recently featured on All Songs Considered but a very different sort of wunderkind who won the hearts of millions as the 11th winner of America’s Got Talentand, now, a Columbia recording artist.

Inside the club was a massively enthralled and enthused crowd and it didn’t take long for me, one of the few older guys in the club, to also be completely swept away by her performance. It was a dazzling show that felt fresh, sincere, bold but also simple, with Grace on ukulele singing songs such as “Moonlight,” a song about a friend dealing with mental health issues, which she also performs here at my desk.

“She always has a smile
From morning to the night
The perfect poster child
That was once in my life
A doll made out of glass
All her friends think that she’s great
But I can see through it all
And she’s about to break”

Despite what I feel is my broad love of music, I was reminded how easy it is to get comfortable in the musical confines we devise for ourselves. It’s easy to stereotype artists and perhaps be dismissive of something that falls outside our comfort zone. But Grace’s show and music reminds me to keep my thoughts and judgements open. So, if you’re about to pass on watching this one, figuring you’re not going to connect with a young teen and her music, stop. Take a deep breath, open up your heart and let Grace VanderWaal enchant you with her unique talent.

I was curious about this Grace after his story (and also wanted to make sure I didn’t make the same mistake when I saw that Grace Vonderkuhn was playing nearby in Philly ( I didn’t make that show).

So this Grace has a raspy voice, making her sound much older than 14.  But when you look at her she looks like a fragile child.  I’m not sure how poppy her recorded music is, but the ukulele-driven song “Moonlight” is fun and different, despite the very poppy overall feel.

She’s accompanied by “her beautiful beautiful guitarist” Melissa Dougherty.   Dougherty also sings great backing vocals.  Is she annoyed being the accompaniment for a 14 year old?

She says that “Darkness Keeps Chasing Me” has become her favorite–she was always told the song was too much of a downer.  Her voice is surprisingly deep in the beginning.  Indeed, she has a nice command of her voice–low and high notes.  The guitar melody is quite lovely, too.

“Clearly” is kind of a cover of Johnny Nash’s “I Can See Clearly Now.”  They thought that it was such a bright happy song and her producer thought it would be cool to add darker lyrics leading up to the happy chorus.  I don’t know the original verses I don’t think, but of course I know the song.  And listening to it now, it doesn’t need darker lyrics, but it’s fine that they’re added.

So this isn’t so much a cover as taking a really great idea and building a new song around it.

But don’t like the way the chorus has changed:

I can see clearly now, the rain has gone.
I accept all of the things I cannot change.

What did they put the AA slogan  in the voice of a 14 year old?

Plus I hate that they have modernized the delivery of the “bright bright sunshiney day.”  Part.  It sounds like  contemporary vocal melody and it’s just wrong.

So I’m mixed.  Glad I heard her.  But even more glad that I didn’t make the same mistake that Bob did.

[READ: January 12, 2017] “The Polish Rider”

This was an interesting story about an artist and Uber.

Sonia is a Polish artist–she grew up in Poland.  She is about to have a show at a gallery curated by Elena.  But she wakes in the night realizing that she has made a terrible mistake. She has allowed two of her paintings to be hung on the wall with paint on the edges.  The rest are “blank” or painted white and look clean, but these two–she is full of regrets that she allowed them to be hung as they were.

Her paintings are all variations of the same thing: the famous kiss between Erich Honecker, the leader of the German Democratic republic from 1971 until the fall of the Berlin Wall and Leonid Brezhnev, the head of the U.S.S.R. from 1964 to 1982  The iconic Socialist fraternal kiss took place in Berlin and was photographed by Régis Bossu in 1979.  The photo was ubiquitous in Kraków.

After The Berlin Wall came down, a Soviet artist Dmitri Vrubel painted the image on the East side of the wall with the caption: “God help me survive this deadly love affair.”  In March 2009 the artist spruced up the paining, which Sonia thought cheapened the whole thing.

Sonia’s canvasses all showed this kiss, meticulously done and very clean, But each canvas was done in a different style: cubist, chiaroscuro, etc. (more…)

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harpers-magazine-march-2017-4 SOUNDTRACK: GUCCI MANE-Tiny Desk Concert #586 (December 12, 2016).

gucci

Usually when someone is popular I have heard of him or her.  So I’m always surprised when someone gets a Tiny Desk Concert and I don’t know them (especially given his story).

Gucci Mane sounds kind of familiar, but I don’t think I’d ever heard of him before.  So what does the blurb say:

Gucci Mane’s smile makes you feel like there’s still some good in the world. He’s really earned it, and that thing is infectious. We asked him to come to NPR because we wanted to be a part of the victory tour he’s been on this year: In the past six months or so, Gucci Mane was released early from the federal penitentiary; he proposed to his girlfriend on the kiss cam at a Hawks game, and she said yes; he’s releasing a total of three albums, all over which he celebrates his newly committed sobriety; he and Courtney Love look like they get along; and he remade “Jingle Bells.”

In this Tiny Desk concert, Gucci Mane performed with just his longtime producer and friend, Zaytoven, on piano. Their version of stripped-down is a minimal backing track and plenty of church-groomed trills. They performed with the understanding that everyone in the room knew their songs — one from 2009 and two from this year — and knew that this performance would represent a surreal dip into a parallel universe where ingenuity is rewarded, snobbery is gone and love is real. Gucci Mane agreed to this unlikely set as a gesture to those people — for remembering his work while he was away, and for cheering on his resurgence, his health, his charm and his singular nature.

Gucci does the three songs, “First Day Out,” “Waybach,” and “Last Time,” all accompanied by Zaytoven, easily my favorite stage name and the absolute highlight of this show for me.

Gucci Mane’s flow is a kind of slow drawl.  It’s kind of charming and engaging.  I find it really strange that he’s rapping over himself (I guess).  But it’s so stripped down that it’s weird to hear his backing track so clearly.  But that live piano totally make the show fantastic–Zaytoven has some amazing chops.

[READ: February 21, 2017] “Sinking Ships and Sea Dramas”

The introduction to this story was pretty fascinating.  This piece is an except from a manuscript in progress inspired “in part by lines from the work of Ben Lerner, the poetry editor of Harper’s

This was translated from the German by Isabel Fargo Cole.

I’m not sure what Lerner wrote that inspired this, but this “cycle” consists of 6 ruminations on death and the sea. (more…)

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augSOUNDTRACK: TUTLIE-“The Bison” (Tiny Desk Contest Runner-Up 2016).

tutl;ieLast week, a Tiny Desk Contest winner was announced. This week, All Songs Considered posted ten runners up that they especially liked.  I want to draw attention to a couple of them.

I started out liking this song so much.  It opens with a singer singing beautiful notes.  And as the camera passes we see a harp (!) then keyboards, drums, bass, trumpet and glockenspiel.

There are many different parts to the song and lots of interesting harmonies.  And its starts beautifully.  I was surprised by the shift in tone (and the trippy end of the chorus).  And their harmonies are truly wonderful.

I also liked that they were all filmed under a staircase.

But the song was a little too drifting and slow for me.  It reminds me a lot of a slower song that might appear on a 70s prog rock album.   The song that I would tolerate while I waited for the faster heavier song to come along.  Of course, after many listens I would grow to appreciate it.  And I’m sure I would grow to appreciate this song too.

[READ: February 10, 2016] “Untitled (Triptych)”

The August 2015 Harper’s had a “forum” called How to Be a Parent.  Sometimes these forums are dialogues between unlikely participants and sometimes, like in this case, each author contributes an essay on the topic.  There are ten contributors to this Forum: A. Balkan, Emma Donoghue, Pamela Druckerman, Rivka Galchen, Karl Taro Greenfeld, Ben Lerner, Sarah Manguso, Claire Messud, Ellen Rosenbush and Michelle Tea.  Since I have read pieces from most of these authors I’ll write about each person’s contribution.

I am pretty sure I have read stuff by Ben Lerner but I didn’t expect a poem from him.  Especially such a long one.  And what can a poem teach us about parenting?

I was daunted by this piece, and the poem even helps address why.  It talks about how “poems are great places to make information disappear, dissolve.”

And it also covers pretty much everything that has to do with art. (more…)

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augSOUNDTRACK: LA MISA NEGRA-“Sancocho” (Tiny Desk Contest Runner-Up 2016).

misanegraLast week, a Tiny Desk Contest winner was announced. This week, All Songs Considered posted ten runners-up that they especially liked.  I want to draw attention to a couple of them.

La Misa Negra is a cumbia-loving band from Oakland, Calif.  There are eight members in the band.  There’s a drummer with a small kit but lots of frenetic drumming, and a bongo player who is also frenetic.  The percussion is pretty major in this band.

There’s also a sax, trumpet, clarinet, guitar and upright bass.  The guitar player does super fast ska chords, while the horns plays some insanely fast riffs.  The singer is full of yips and trills.  It’s a non-stop fun rollicking ride.

I have no idea what they’re singing about (it’s all in Spanish) and I just don’t care, (“Sancocho” is named after a hearty stew popular in several Latin American countries).

Their tiny desk is a school seat with the writing top attached to the side.  By the end it can’t contain the singer who has to get up and dance around too.

What a fun song.

[READ: February 10, 2016] “In Praise of Boredom”

The August 2015 Harper’s had a “forum” called How to Be a Parent.  Sometimes these forums are dialogues between unlikely participants and sometimes, like in this case, each author contributes an essay on the topic.  There are ten contributors to this Forum: A. Balkan, Emma Donoghue, Pamela Druckerman, Rivka Galchen, Karl Taro Greenfeld, Ben Lerner, Sarah Manguso, Claire Messud, Ellen Rosenbush and Michelle Tea.  Since I have read pieces from most of these authors I’ll write about each person’s contribution.

I don’t know Claire Messud, but I totally related to this essay,

She is about my age and explains that the world she grew up in no longer exists.  She says her parents, while wanting for nothing, were always frugal–they saved Ziploc bags and repaired things rather than threw them away.

They didn’t aspire to material wealth or popular culture, but rather they traveled a lot and had the children read.  But Claire says that as a child she would rather have her own record player and clothes from the Gap.

So when her mom went to work she grew absorbed in pop culture TV and she felt like she became less serious than her parents.

I agreed with this:

The comparative ease of our upbringing first inspired guilt, then defiance. If, as our parents said, we should be eternally grateful for our comfort, then couldn’t we be grateful without feeling bad about it? Why should we accept that the hard path was always superior? Why shouldn’t we enjoy life’s pleasures? Why believe that reading Beckett or, God forbid, Heidegger, was an innately more worthy activity than watching music videos? Says who?

She knows that reading Beckett is a stimulating hour, but she can spend that hour just as happily watching Scandal. (more…)

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augSOUNDTRACK: GWEN AUSTIN-“Child” (Tiny Desk Contest Runner-Up 2016).

maxresdefaultLast week, a Tiny Desk Contest winner was announced. This week, All Songs Considered posted ten runners up that they especially liked.  I want to draw attention to a couple of them.

The production values of this video belie the quality and intensity of the song they play.

The video is set in a dark room with the only light coming from an open window.  The vocal is a bit staticy and at times too loud for the mic.  But that doesn’t overshadow the fact that this is a beautiful, sad song.  And that Gwen Austin has a powerful, somewhat haunting voice in the vein of Sharon Van Etten.

The music is simple Gwen on acoustic guitar and an accompaniment of a very echoey electric guitar Russell Marshall, but she sings with intense aching in her voice.  The song comes from Austin’s feminist folk opera about the nativity story, which I’d sure like to hear more about.

[READ: February 10, 2016] “Fever”

The August 2015 Harper’s had a “forum” called How to Be a Parent.  Sometimes these forums are dialogues between unlikely participants and sometimes, like in this case, each author contributes an essay on the topic.  There are ten contributors to this Forum: A. Balkan, Emma Donoghue, Pamela Druckerman, Rivka Galchen, Karl Taro Greenfeld, Ben Lerner, Sarah Manguso, Claire Messud, Ellen Rosenbush and Michelle Tea.  Since I have read pieces from most of these authors I’ll write about each person’s contribution.

I believe that everything I know from Taro Greenfeld I know from Harper’s magazines.

The title of this one had me preparing for something very different.  I imagined an article about illnesses and not a basketball team.  His daughter played for a team called Fever and he was called upon to be a coach because no one else would (that sounds familiar).

Unlike my own soccer league with many different teams, this basketball league had but two teams, and Fever played Sky every week for 12 weeks.  Karl was a first time coach and didn’t know much about how to be a coach.  The other coach was pretty good (he had a clipboard) and somehow managed to get all of the tall, talented players compared to Karl’s less experienced ones.

Since the played the same team every week, they lost 12 games in a row.  Which is pretty disheartening.  Especially when the games were pretty much blowouts.  He even lost a few players to disenchantment. (more…)

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augSOUNDTRACK: DECLAN McKENNA-“Brazil” NPR’S SOUTH X LULLABY (March 22, 2016).

mckennaDeclan McKenna is 17 and recently won the Glastonbury Contest with this song.  I’ve never heard the original, although it is described as more rocking than this version.

This is just McKenna and his acoustic guitar.  The melody is great and his guitar playing is good too.  His singing voice reminds me a lot of the guy from the Arctic Monkeys.  Although there’s moments in this version where he really seems to be straining/affecting his voice, which would probably work in a rocking song but which sound kind of rough in this little lullaby version—especially since his normal singing voice is really nice.

I was really surprised when the song switched to the third part (the Brazil part).  It switches the tone of the song quite a bit and he does some nice falsettos too.  “Playing the beautiful game in Brazil” is quite different from “The guy who lives down the river with six cars and a grizzly bear.”

Okay I just listened to the proper song–it’s much poppier with all kinds of harmonies.  The song is much hookier this way.  His vocals  work better, although I’m not sure I’m sold on them entirely.  In fact, when I was watching the video of the song, one of the comments (NEVER READ THE COMMENTS!) says, “Settle down McLovin” and, yes, that’s it, he sounds like Christopher Mintz-Plasse straining, and I don’t think I’ll ever be able to unthink that.  And now, neither will you.

[READ: February 10, 2016] “On Being a Stepparent”

The August 2015 Harper’s had a “forum” called How to Be a Parent.  Sometimes these forums are dialogues between unlikely participants and sometimes, like in this case, each author contributes an essay on the topic.  There are ten contributors to this Forum: A. Balkan, Emma Donoghue, Pamela Druckerman, Rivka Galchen, Karl Taro Greenfeld, Ben Lerner, Sarah Manguso, Claire Messud, Ellen Rosenbush and Michelle Tea.  Since I have read pieces from most of these authors I’ll write about each person’s contribution.

I don’t know Ellen Rosenbush’s work (she is an editor of Harper’s so I don’t know how much else she has “written.”  Rosenbush talks about the pros and cons of being a stepparent. (more…)

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