Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Colum McCann’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: COLDPLAY-Tiny Desk Concert #956 (March 9, 2020).

Once, long ago, a Tiny Desk Concert was for a quiet, presumably up and coming band to play a short show for an internet audience.

Then there was Lizzo and Taylor Swift and now Coldplay (I’m actually not sure if Coldplay or Taylor Swift is actually bigger).  But what makes it fun when a huge band does this is that they have an opportunity to do something very different.

For this Tiny Concert, Coldplay was reduced to just singer (and keyboardist) Chris Martin and guitarist Jonny Buckland (bassist Guy Berryman and drummer Will Champion were “hiding under the desk” because it was so tiny.  But Coldplay was also expanded with the addition of the For Love Choir: Denise Green; Shaneka Hamilton; Dorian Holley; Stephen Mackey; Lamarcus Eldridge; Lawrence Young; Surrenity Xyz; Tiffany Smith and Mabvuto Carpenter.

Watching Martin at the keys, with the For Love Choir behind him and Coldplay guitarist Jonny Buckland at his side, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was the happiest day of his life. Laughing, bouncing to the music and playing off the crowd, Martin and company gave one of the most jubilant, uplifting and memorable performances we’ve ever had at the Tiny Desk.

I’m not sure it’s the most memorable, but it is certainly fun watching Chris Martin (who the rest of the time seems very serious) laugh and smile and joke his way through the set (while being musically spot on).

It’s a bit unfortunate, to me, that Coldplay did this show after their newest album, Everyday Life, from which I haven’t heard a thing (which is crazy since most of their other stuff is so overplayed).

The first song, “Cry Cry Cry” features the choir, but to me the “Cry Cry” of the chorus sounds so much like Janis Joplin “Cry Baby” I can’t get past it.

I also had to laugh that the crowd was responsive to this song (and the other two songs from the new album), but they went berserk for “Viva La Vida.”  And as as he plays those notes and starts singing it becomes really clear that this is Coldplay.  I didn’t really notice Buckland on the first song, but he adds some nice guitar moments to this one.  Everyone lives the choir for these songs, but I feel like their backing lines are not right for the verses.  Their oohs and ahhs are nice though and the end “woah oh ohs” are really splendid with all of those voices.

Martin jokes that he was happy to step inside the internet to be on the Tiny Desk and to see that Bob is a real person.  Then he shouts out everyone in the choir without looking (I didn’t realize they’d been playing together for a while, otherwise I was really impressed that he could remember that many names so easily).

The choir is prominent on “Broken” and Martin joked that, “In a very real way, they’ve Photoshopped our songs to be much better than they actually are.”

As the song fades out he starts playing the opening to Prince’s “1999.”  How unexpected.  Each of the singers in the choir takes a line or two and everyone is really into it.  It sounds great.

They end with “Champion Of The World.”  Martin says that after releasing the new album, they stayed in semi-hibernation.  But this Tiny Desk is pure and wonderful and makes us remember that this is why we do what we do,

Even if they only played one song I would have wanted them to play, it’s still a very positive and joy-filled show.

[READ: March 29, 2020] “Here and There”

McCann has written a novel called Apeirogon which is a fictionalized account of the lives of Bassam Aramin, a Palestinian and Rami Elhanan, an Israeli.  Aramin’s ten-year-old daughter, Abir, was killed by an Israeli soldier.  Elhana’s 13-year old daughter, Smadar, was killed by a Palestinian suicide bomber.

This excerpt only looks at Rami’s story.

Smadar had her grandfather’s watch on her wrist when she was killed.  It was still running.  She made sure to wind that watch every night lest it signal that her other grandfather Yitzak had died during the night too.

Smadar and her grandfather were buried side by side under a grove of knotted carob trees. (more…)

Read Full Post »

SOUNDTRACK: THE MOUNTAIN GOATS-“Drug Life” from Score! 20 Years of Merge Records: The Covers (2009).

 I could tell this was a Mountain Goats song right from the start–it’s lo fi and yet it sounds clear (especially the vocals). Normally with The Mountain Goats you talk about the lyrics, but since he didn’t write the song, there’s not much to say about them (in this paragraph anyhow).

The original, by East River Pipe is also very lo-fi.  It’s a very catchy song and it’s all about drugs: (“If it comes down to the drugs or you…baby we’re through.”).  The original is guitar and keyboards and Cornog’s straightforward singing.  The cover is simply acoustic guitar.  It’s a little faster (and a little shorter) and because I like The Mountain Goats, I prefer the cover.

Although really, they’re not very different.

[READ: April 16, 2012] “Transatlantic”

This story was out of my comfort zone–it’s about army men and airplanes, that’s not my scene, man.  And after reading the first few paragraphs, I wondered if I should keep reading it.  But McCann wrote a compelling story and I’m really glad I finished it.

The story is basically an account of two men, Teddy Brown and Jack Alcock, as they attempt the first transatlantic flight in their modified bomber called The Vickers Vimy.  Anyone with a working knowledge of the flight, or post WWI history knows that these are two real historical people.  I do not have such a working knowledge, so I had no idea that this was based on a true story.  If you know anything about them (and I swear, Google either of them and you will find all the details that you need) then you know how the story turns out.

I didn’t know how the story turned out and I found it thrilling. In part that’s because it’s an exceptionally exciting moment in history–two former army men modify a bomber and try to fly from Newfoundland, Canada to Ireland.  And really, there’s no way it should work–bombers don’t have enough fuel, they have no radar.  It could take days.   Hell the planes don’t even have a windshield that covers them.  But the excitement is also because of the way that McCann tells the story. (more…)

Read Full Post »

SOUNDTRACK: EXPLOSIONS IN THE SKY-Take Care, Take Care, Take Care (2011).

I found out about Explosions in the Sky because of the events of 9/11.  Back when everyone was looking for albums to point fingers at in some kind of hysteria (that’s also how I found out about I am the World Trade Center who are not as exciting as Explosions…).

EITS make beautiful epic instrumental music (as well as the soundtrack for Friday Night Lights).  They play music in a similar vein to Mogwai, but they take their epic instrumentals in a different direction.  And this album is perhaps their most commercial to date (as commercial as you can be when you write 10 minute instrumentals).  And while “commercial” is not usually an adjective that I give as praise, for this album it is indeed.

Take Care, Take Care Take Care is a terrific album.  It ‘s not as visceral as past releases; rather, it seems like a more experienced band playing with their sound and tweaking it in subtle ways to make it less obviously dramatic but somehow more powerful.

On “Last Known Surroundings,” there are soaring guitars that give way to simple, pretty guitar riffs.  Martial drums propel the songs forward, even if they lead to unexpected places.  It’s soundtrack music that’s not background music.

Perhaps the biggest difference with this album and previous ones is that this album doesn’t quite live up to the band’s name.  There’s no major explosive crescendos.  There are noisy bits but they’re not climactic per se.   “Human Qualities” slows to a quiet drum beat and while you’d expect to come out of that with a cacophonous explosion, it doesn’t.  The explosion does come later, but only after it has worked up to it again.

“Trembling Hands” features “voices.”  Or maybe just one voice.  It’s on a loop that becomes more of a sound than a voice.  The song is only 3 minutes long, but it’s an intense 3 minutes–more great drum work on this one.

“Be Comfortable, Creature” has a beautiful delicate guitar opening that drifts into a kind of solo.  After 3 minutes it settles into the main riff, a winding guitar line that send you on a journey.  “Postcard from 1952” is a great song. It begins as quiet intertwining guitars and slowly builds and builds into a gorgeous rocking conclusion.  7 minutes of steady growth with a nice epilogue at the end.

The final song, “Let Me Back In” also has kind of spooky voices that appears throughout the song (distorted and repeated).  But you know this song is a winner from the get go (even if the opening chord structure is a bit like Duran Duran’s “Come Undone.”)  It’s a slow builder, a cool, moody ten minute piece.  When you get to the beautiful descending guitar riff that shoots out after about 2 minutes, it’s an ecstatic moment–air guitars are mandatory.

And let’s talk packaging.  The album comes in a gate-fold type of cardboard.  If you open it up all the way it can be folded into a little house (with windows and a door and a chimney).  That’s pretty cool, guys.

If I have one compliant about the album it’s that the quiets are really quiet and he louds are really loud.  That makes this a very difficult album to listen to say, at work, or basically anywhere where other people will be blown away by your speakers.  The middle of “Human Qualities” for instance, is really quiet, you feel like you need to turn it up to hear the drum beat–there’s too much volume fiddling (listening in the car by yourself negates any reason for this complaint, of course).

Keep it up, guys.

More “controversy” from the band

[READ: September 10, 2011] New Yorker essays

Ten years ago, The New Yorker published several short essays by famous and (to me anyway) not so famous writers.  They were all written directly in the aftermath of the attacks and they were moving and powerful.  I was going to wait until today to re-read them and post about them, but for various reasons, I decided to do it on May 12.

Now, ten years later, The New Yorker has published several more essays by famous and (to me anyway) not so famous writers.  I note that none of the authors are the same (that might have been interesting) although Zadie Smith does quote from John Updike’s piece of ten years ago.

The strange thing to me about these pieces is that ten years seems to have hindered the writers’ ability to focus on the incident and to talk about What It Means.  In this collection of essays, we have a few that talk about an individual and how his life has changed since 9/11.  These are pretty powerful, although it’s odd that they would talk about another person and not themselves. We have a couple of essays that talk about the writer him or herself, but these seem kind of unfocused.  And then we have ones that talk about the state oft he world; honestly, what can you say about that.

It’s possible that I’m jaded or in a bad mood and that’s why I didn’t appreciate these essays.  Or perhaps I’m just facing the futility of things.

This is not to say that I think that writing about 9/11 is easy (you’ll notice I’m not doing it).  Indeed, I think talking about it in any kind of meaningful, non-strident, non-cliched way is nigh impossible.

But these writers do give it a try.  And I am grateful for that. (more…)

Read Full Post »