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Archive for the ‘Catherine Lacey’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: THE CALIDORE STRING QUARTET-Tiny Desk Concert #843 (April 22, 2019).

Whenever I hear a wonderful string quartet, I yell at myself for not listening to more classical music.  I’m not sure why I don’t–I just like my rock too much I guess.  But these 18 minutes of strings are really fantastic.  And I’m adding The Calidore String Quartet [Jeffrey Myers, violin; Ryan Meehan, violin; Jeremy Berry, viola; Estelle Choi, cello] to the list of quartets I particularly admire.

The blurb is great for unpacking what’s going on, so I’ll let it do just that.

The [string quartet] genre was born some 250 years ago and pioneered by Joseph Haydn, but composers today are still tinkering with its possibilities. Consider Caroline Shaw. The young, Pulitzer-winning composer wrote the opening work in this set, First Essay: Nimrod, especially for the Calidore String Quartet [back in 2016].

Over a span of eight minutes, the supple theme that opens this extraordinary work takes a circuitous adventure. It unfolds into a song for the cello, is sliced into melodic shards, gets bathed in soft light, becomes gritty and aggressive and disguises itself in accents of the old master composers. Midway through, the piece erupts in spasms that slowly dissolve back into the theme.

I love the pizzicato on the cello–there’s so much of it, from deep bass notes to very high notes.  Including the final note.

Their new album explores composers in conflict.  In the case of of the next song, loveless marriage.

The Calidore players also chose music by the quirky Czech composer, Leoš Janáček who, in 1913, set one of his operas on the moon. He wrote only two string quartets but they are dazzling. The opening Adagio, from “String Quartet No. 1, ‘Adagio'”, is typical Janáček, with hairpin turns that veer from passionate romance to prickly anxiety.

This piece is much more dramatic with powerful aching chords ringing out.

Reaching back farther, the ensemble closes the set with an early quartet by Beethoven, who took what Haydn threw down and ran with it. The final movement from Beethoven’s “String Quartet Op. 18, No. 4, Allegro – Prestissimo” both looks back at Haydn’s elegance and implies the rambunctious, even violent, risks his music would soon take.

2020 is the 250th anniversary of his birth.  They are celebrating by playing all of his string quartets in various cities.  He says that this piece is the most exiting part.

I love the trills that each instrument runs through in the middle of the song.

All of these pieces sound amazing.

[READ: April 22, 2019] “Cut”

This story started out is such an amusing way:

There’s no good way to say it–Peggy woke up most mornings oddly sore, sore in the general region of her asshole.

But it’s not an amusing scene at all.  It burns when she uses the toilet and she finds blood in her pajamas.

She could see a cut but only when using a hand mirror while she was crouched at the right angle.  But even so, her groin “was that of a middle-aged woman and not as strictly delineated as it once had been.”  Nevertheless, whenever she looked for it she always “paused to appreciate the inert drapery of her labia.”

The cut was there, but it seemed to migrate.   She tried to look it up online, but only found porn.  Adding Web MD brought back porn in doctor’s offices.  And adding Mayo Clinic introduced her to people with a fetish for mayonnaise. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ALEX CLARE: Tiny Desk Concert #715 (March 7, 2018).

Alex Clare’s band is clearly having a beard-growing contest.  The drummer (Christopher Prendergasp) isn’t playing but everyone else suggests the stakes are high.  The bassist (Christopher Hargreaves) is winning.

Vocalist and songwriter Alex Clare is yet another soul disciple from the UK, and his visit to Bob Boilen’s desk is the perfect setting to bask in the power of his voice.

The first song, “Three Hearts,” is a love song dedicated to the moment he heard the heartbeat of his first child coming from his wife’s sonogram. Backed by a tight four-piece band, Clare’s tale of his family’s road to domestic tranquility captures the joy as well as the uncertainty of impending parenthood.

Lyrically it’s okay and sweet, it just sounds fairly typical.  Especially musically.  I thought we;d be getting 20 minutes of straight ahead soul with a little less charisma than The Commitments.

Next is “A song called ‘Love Can Heal.’  True story.”  The guitar (Jordan Peters) is far more interesting on this song.  In fact I found myself enjoying the guitar more than Clare’s voice.  I love the cool guitar licks at the end and the nifty harmonic note that ends the song.  Although, having said that, his voice is quite powerful.  And he shows it off even more on the next song.

In “Caroline,” he inhabits the words with passion and heartfelt pleading, bringing to mind some of the best soul shouters, completely lost in the sentiment of the lyric.

That is very true, he is completely swept up in this song (even he says it’s not about anyone in particular).

I really like the guitar on the final song “Open My Eyes.”   I like the whole vibe of this song–the way the song unfolds and the backing vocals as well.  Indeed I feel like each song has gotten a better as the show progressed.

While I found his music to be fine–nothing I’d go out of my way to listen to but I wouldn’t turn it off either. I found his backstory far more interesting:

The British singer-songwriter released his debut album, The Lateness of the Hour, on Island Records last summer. But the label soon discovered how serious Clare was about his faith [he is an Orthodox Jew, which I didn’t know when I made the beard contest joke] — especially when it came to the sabbath and high holy days, on which Orthodox Jews are forbidden to perform.

“When I signed to Island — you know, obviously a shomer Shabbos Jewish person — I don’t think they quite realized what that means,” Clare says. “I got offered a tour at Pesach, at Passover, and couldn’t perform.”

The offer Clare turned down was a slot opening for Adele. About four months later, he was dropped from Island’s roster, having failed to generate significant album sales or radio play. As Clare was figuring out his next move, he received a call from Microsoft, which was interested in using his song “Too Close” in a commercial. It was a deal that would make the song a hit and restart his career.

He doesn’t play that song here, which is too bad.  And the poor percussionist’s name is never given.

[READ: February 28, 2018] “Violations”

This is a story about writing stories and how autobiographical they are or are not.

It is written in close third person.  And the first sentence is really, really, really long.

It begins, “He had wanted to make sure she wouldn’t write about him…” and then it goes on in his mind about why he didn’t want to be written about and narcissism and all that kind of thing.  The short of it is that he never asked her not to write about him, but he never stopped craving assurance that she wouldn’t (and there’s a long entangled reason why not).

The “she” is his now ex-wife.  She moved out but he still gets her mail.  And she has not written about him.  He tries to get her mail to stop coming but he doesn’t cancel her magazines–especially the one that she always wanted to be published in but had never been. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ALBIN LEE MELDAU-Tiny Desk Concert #638 (July 20, 2017).

I’d never heard of Albin Lee Meldau.  His style reminds me of a number of gruff powerful-voiced singers.

So who is he?

Meldau grew up in Gothenburg, Sweden the son of musical parents. His mother is a music teacher and jazz singer, while Meldau says his father is a “punk rocker.” (Both write and record their own songs.) As a kid, Meldau originally played trumpet but mostly dreamed of being a professional soccer player.

The blurb notes:

When I [Robin] first saw him perform, at a church in Austin … it felt like the entire audience was on the edge of its seat, hanging on every twisted word. His voice is breathtaking, soulful, thunderous and impossible to ignore.

Watching Meldau in this Tiny Desk set, the first thing you’ll notice, apart from that voice, is how possessed he is by the music. The words and melodies seem to take hold of him while at the same time offering a release, if only for a moment, from the knot of emotions he’s carrying inside. It’s in no small part because Meldau’s music is so personal, centered on desperate souls in deeply troubled times.

He sings for songs and his voice is powerful, loud, aggressive and emotive.  He is hard to ignore, for sure.  His band consists of Simon Andermo (bass) and Simon Söfelde (guitar).  For the first two songs Kalle Stenbäcken plays piano, but on the third song he switches to drums.

“Lou Lou,” the track he opens with and his most popular song, is a story of drug addiction and mental illness, inspired by a girl he knew while growing up in Sweden. It’s short and powerful, you can feel the anguish in his voice–he seems really transformed by it.

His other two songs, “Mayfly” and “Persistence,” are more about hanging on when it seems there’s nothing left to live for.

He says the “Mayfly,” she only lives for one day.  Like the first song, it’s barely 2 minutes long.

Before “Persistence” he says “give it up for My Beautiful Sweets (the backing band).  They don’t come cheap, do they?”  He’s going to play one more song with them and then he seems to jokingly say (but who can tell) “I wouldn’t dance with no other, baby.”  It starts slow, but the addition of he drums is a great kick in the pants.  The guitar and melody are pure Dire Straits, and the chorus is outstanding.

Before the final song he jokes, “It’s a deep honor to be here,” Meldau told the NPR audience. “I’ve been to the BBC and now I’ve been here, so now I can die.”   But he’s so deadpan it’s hard to know how much he’s joking.

He calls “Bloodshot,” the track he closes with, “dark and horrible,” about the wreckage of a tortured relationship and the crazed paranoia of jealousy.  He says “Let’s see if I can remember the chords.”  He does and he sounds great.  When his voice grows powerful and strained it’s really emotional.

If he can capture the same wave of love that people gave Hozier (with whom he has stylistic traits in common) I could see him going far.

[READ: July 20, 2017] “Because You Have To”

This is a rambling story inside a woman’s head.  There are many thoughts, but none are especially compelling. Things like:

If you stop answering the phone, eventually it stops ringing.

Essentially she misses someone.  When she hears her dog barking, she almost called out “your name.”  But it was actually Wayne who had found a loose dog and wondered if it was hers.  Which it obviously wasn’t, since her dog was right there.

I love the line that her grandmother was “the most beloved fascist in the family.”  She used to say “You have to count your blessings, and when the narrator dared to ask why, “she gave me a great smack to the ear: “Because you have to.” (more…)

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43SOUNDTRACK: IRON MAIDEN-Killers (1981).

killersKillers picks up right where Iron Maiden left off–indeed many of these songs were written at the same time as the first album.  The difference is new guitarist Adrian Smith.

It opens with the great (but simple) instrumental “Ides of March” which segues into the blistering “Wrathchild.”  And it’s on this song that you can tell some of the rawness has been removed from the recording.  The guitars sound a wee bit more polished.

And you can tell the band are getting a bit more symphonic with the bass harmonics that intro the wonderful “Murders in the Rue Morgue” a song that feels long but actually isn’t.  It has several parts that all seem to signal the end until Clive Burrs drums come pounding in to restart the song.  Very cool.  “Another Life” is another fast punky song, and while I like it, it is probably one of the weaker songs on the album.  But that’s okay because it is followed by one of Maidens greatest instrumentals–“Genghis Khan” which has beautiful symphonic soaring solos over a cool propulsive beat.

“Innocent Exile” opens with another great noisy slappy bass riff that only Harris was doing at the time.  “Killers” is a classic track: fast and yet complex, with a very cool riff.   “Twilight Zone” sees Di’Anno reaching for higher more operatic notes.  He makes it, but you can just tell that the band needs more from their vocalist.  “Prodigal Son” opens with a pretty acoustic guitar intro.  I used to like this song quite a bit (whatever Lamia is), but I can see that it’s actually quite long and meandering (maybe this one is more like “War Pigs”).  It’s pretty but could probably be a bit shorter.  “Purgatory” sounds like track off the first album–fast raw and punky with screaming riffs.  “Drifter” ends the disc with a cool bass line and some more thrashing.  It’s a solid ending for an album that overall works pretty well, but which kind of shows that the band had to either do something big on the next album or get stuck in a rut.

[READ: June 1, 2013] McSweeney’s #43

And with this issue I am almost all caught up with my McSweeney’s.  More impressively, I read this one only a few days after receiving it!

This issues comes with two small books.  And each book has a very cool fold-out/die cut cover (which is rather hard to close and which I was sure would get caught and therefore ripped on something but which hasn’t yet).  The first is a standard collection of letters and stories and the second is a collection of fiction from South Sudan.  Jointly they are a great collection of fiction and nonfiction, another solid effort from McSweeney’s.

Letters (more…)

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