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Archive for the ‘Curtis Sittenfeld’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: DERMOT KENNEDY-Tiny Desk Concert #779 (August 24, 2018).

NPR likes Dermot Kennedy (they made him one of their Slingshot artists for 2018).  The thing that they seem to like about him is what I didn’t.

He has a powerful raspy voice–he could sing for miles.  A voice that works wonderfully with a style of music (folk or rock, primarily).  But the songs I’d heard from him were tinged with hip-hop.  And, frankly, it’s hard to work a powerful singing voice and hip-hop into the same verse.  So to me, it didn’t work, it was like the worst of both worlds.

But at the Tiny Desk, he removes all of that with a live band and, as the blurb says, a gospel choir.

Kennedy took this assignment seriously. The Dublin singer-songwriter wasn’t content with merely re-creating his songs as they sound in the studio, or stripping lavish productions down to simple acoustic arrangements. So he got himself a gospel choir.

More specifically, Kennedy and his band flew in from Ireland a day ahead of time to meet and rehearse with members of Washington, D.C.’s Howard Gospel Choir (Keila Mumphord, Taylor Nevels, Chamille Boyd, Jazmine Thomas). Every arrangement was painstakingly plotted ahead of time, so that every note would be perfect.

Two of the songs Kennedy performs here (“Moments Passed” and “An Evening I Will Not Forget”) pop up on an EP he released this year with hip-hop producer Mike Dean, and both sound radically different in this performance. They’re still forceful — and still centered on the singer’s elastic, bombastic voice — but also looser, warmer, more open.

And I suspect that’s why I like them much more.   Without all of that trapping, he sounds, yes, like Hozier or Glen Hansard.  And of course he was a busker.

They open with “Moments Passed.”  It was weird that the song and concert opens the way it does with the choir and Kennedy singing at the same time.  His voice is the centerpiece of the music and it was obscured not only by four other voices but also but a disconcerting echo effect (from Kieran Jones on keys).  But as soon as that ends, his voice works very well with the piano (Jonny Coote) and drums (Micheál Quinn).

And so when the chorus comes in and he songs his only lines while the choir sings, it works very well.  You can also hear his accent a lot more than other Irish singers, it seems.

“An Evening I Will Not Forget” has more of a hip hop delivery style, at least the way he sings, but he doesn’t try to cram it all in, he lets his voice and melody flow over the dense lyrics.  The song is one of regret and it works perfectly as just piano and his powerful voice.

After the song he jokingly asks for a towel and he laughs when he gets one (and gives it to Jones, “you;re a sweaty guy”).

For the final song, “Glory” he plays guitar on this it’s a pretty melody.  The drums are weirdly electronic and big and I like the big boom but not the ticky ticky electronics.  However, the high female voice in the chorus more than makes up for it.  The way all of the music swells together on this track is really terrific.

Sometimes you need to hear a musician live to really appreciate him.

[READ: January 3, 2017] “Gender Studies”

Sarah loves Curtis Sittenfeld, although I had never read her work before this.

I really enjoyed this short story both for its story and for its politics.

The plot is quite simple.  Nell is an almost divorced woman (she was with Henry for years with the intention of getting married, then he up and left her for a younger woman).  I really enjoyed this self-description of her and Henry “because of the kind of people they were (insufferable people, Nell thinks now).”  She is a professor of gender studies and is going to a convention in Kansas City.  Though she lives in Wisconsin, she has never been to Kansas City or even to Missouri.

The shuttle driver starts talking to her about donald trump.  He says “He’s not afraid to speak his mind, huh?”  And I love this description of her reply:

Nell makes a nonverbal sound to acknowledge that, in the most literal sense, she heard the comment.

Despite her obvious discomfort talking to him (when he calls Hillary “Shrillary” you know she is fuming), she can’t be bothered to say anything more than “There’s no way that donald trump will be the Republican nominee for President” (this was written after he was, of course). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RHEOSTATICS-Another Roadside Attraction: Cayuga Speedway – Hagersville, ON (July 20, 1995).

The band sounds kind of different for a festival like this, they downplay some of their weirder elements, to be sure, although maybe it’s just practical to play your more popular work to a wider audience.  This looks like a pretty good festival, check out the line up –>

The beginning of the set is kind of muddy–mostly because you can hear audience chatter, but it clears up okay.

After a warm introduction (You’re gonna love these guys), they play a nice “Self Serve Gas Station”

For the next song Martin says, “This is a song about a kid writing a letter to Michael Jackson.”

After a nice “Soul Glue” Martin says “Dave, I’m the CN Tower.  You be the Bank of Montreal.”

Before “California Dreamline,” Dave says, “That last song was about a lake, this next song is about an ocean.”  During the song, Martin sings “spooning” instead of “fucking” in the dry sand–is that a festival decision?

There’s a lengthy, trippy, swirling opening to “Claire” with a Dave announcing: “Tim Vesely has gone electric, stop the presses.”  Martin does a really wondrous guitar solo.

The most notable concession to “normalcy” is their cover of “One More Colour” which lessens some of its heaviest noises.  The ending. which can go pretty far afield, is also pretty straightforward.  “Dope Fiends and Boozehounds” sounds a little prettier than usual.  The middle section has a kind of instrumental section with a drum solo and waves of sound.  (This is the first show on this site with Don Kerr on drums, although no mention is made of him).

The end segues into RDA which is fast and cool but leaves off the final “Americas!”

This is a very unchatty show for the band, although at the end Dave says they’re playing at Woolsock (Woolstock?) on August 12 in beautiful Welling.  Welling is in Alberta, but I find a Woolsock Music Festival listed in Nova Scotia, so I’m at a loss.

[READ: June 27, 2017] “Show Don’t Tell”

I can’t get over that Curtis Sittenfeld has had three stories published in the New Yorker in the span of about a year.  This one is set in a graduate school writing program.

The narrator explains that the most prestigious fellowship one could earn at their school was the Peaslee–$8,800 with no work requirements. It was the gold standard.  Other ones paid less and required a fairly heavy work load.  Ruth is in her first year and, like everyone else, hopes desperately to win this fellowship.

No one knew exactly when the acceptance letters went out, but there was also a rumor, so Ruth waited in front of her mailbox to wait for the mailman.

When her neighbor heard the door shut, she assumed Ruth had left so she came out with her cigarette–something that she and Ruth had had words about several times. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK:  CHICANO BATMAN-Tiny Desk Concert #613(April 17, 2017).

In the blurb for this show, Felix says that he was sol by their name.  And I am too.  It’s a great name.  And yet it is not entirely useful in terms of musical style.  But he summarizes pretty nicely:

a sound that perfectly captures dark lounges, quinceañera dances, car shows and backyard parties.

That lounge sound is completely evident with the keyboard tone–old fashioned and bachelor pad-like.  But this is no bachelor pad music, because behind the keys are some groovy and at time funky bass (from Eduardo Arenas) and some cool guitar wah wahs (from Carlos Arevalo) and more.

Holding it all together is Gabriel Villa on drums and then on keys and guitar and vocals is Bardo Martinez.  Martinez sings in such a cool, laid-back manner.  It’s often a gentle falsetto but it always feel like he is just chillin’ and singing these groovy songs.

And they also wears suits with bow ties.

“Freedom is Free” is a delicate and groovy song with lots of wah wah guitar and a cool echoing guitar solo.  It’s also got a great bass line.  The song is sweet and catchy with a great wah wah build up at the sudden ending.

“Friendship (Is A Small Boat In A Storm)” has been quite popular on the radio here and man is it catchy.  The loungey organ and vocals are a great start, but the way the chorus just burst forth after the first verse–the backing singers (Nya Parker Brown and Piya Malik) hit the marks perfectly and then the staccato guitar riffs after that.  Its irresistible. (Parker Brown and Malik are from the band 79.5 and have been touring with them).

The ladies leave for the final song, “Jealousy.”  There’s a great funky bass line and fun drums before the song turns rather mellow.  I love the between chorus riffs.  Although I find the main song a little too slow, it probably works well between faster songs.

And they are all so polite and charming, I’m sure I’d enjoy seeing them live.

[READ: February 20, 2017] “The Prairie Wife”

I recently read another story by Sittenfeld in the New Yorker and really enjoyed it.  And this one was not only great and wonderfully written, it was full of surprises.

It’s hard to write about without giving away some of the surprises because they were so good.

But here’s a spoiler free attempt.

Kirsten is married with two kids.  The family has a routine and it involves Kirsten waking up and getting the boys up in time for school.  But lately she has been using her morning time to look at Lucy Headrick’s Twitter feed. (more…)

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