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Archive for the ‘David Means’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: DANIEL HOPE-three pieces (Field Recordings, August 21, 2013).

The only thing I like more than a Field Recording set outside, is one set in an unlikely building, like the way this Field Recording [Daniel Hope’s Earth And Sky Expedition] is set in the American Museum of Natural History.

When Daniel Hope was a boy, the only thing he loved as much as his violin was his telescope. Gazing into the night sky, he pondered the vastness of space. Now a grown man, Hope still has a penchant for wonder and discovery — especially when it comes to music.

In his latest album, Spheres, Hope returns to the spirit of those early astronomical adventures. His idea, he says, is “to bring together music and time, including works by composers from different centuries who might perhaps not always be found in the same galaxy.” The unifying factor is the big question: Is there anything out there?

What better place to play with that ancient query than the Rose Center for Earth and Space at New York’s American Museum of Natural History. We invited Hope and jazz bassist-composer Ben Allison into the “performance crater” in the Hall of Planet Earth.

As if the Hall isn’t interactive enough — with its glowing orbs and 4.3 billion-year-old zircon crystal — we wrangled afternoon museum-goers to participate in our own Earth and sky expedition. Equipped with small flashlights, they became the twinkling stars surrounding Hope and Allison in the darkened room.

The music seems to live and breathe in the space, as each of the three pieces (spanning four centuries) reverberates a unique voice. “Imitation of the Bells,” with its rippling arpeggios and tolling bass line, comes from the long forgotten Johann Paul von Westhoff, a German violin master who crisscrossed Europe a generation before J.S. Bach. In “Berlin by Overnight,” from contemporary Max Richter, Hope’s violin asteroids whiz past while Allison’s bass propels through outer space. And finally, the otherworldly beauty that is Bach’s “Air on a G String” floats in a safe, gentle stasis.

It’s neat watching the little kids swing their flashlights around while the older kids watch on, bored, from the balcony during “Imitation of the Bells.”  Hope’s violin is flying in a flurry of activity while the bass keeps things grounded.

I’m not sure that I have heard many violin pieces performed with a bass accompaniment.  The bass doesn’t add a lit of melody to the violin work, but it adds a very cool feeling of grounding and rhythm especially in “Berlin by Overnight.”  The piece feels very contemporary with a cool, fast, Glassian kind of repetitiveness.  And the bass adds occasional notes (that feel like rock bass notes, he plucks so hard) to keep the pace going.

The bass is much more pronounced on the familiar J.S. Bach: Air on a G String.  I feel an imperceptible sitting up straight once the first notes ring out of the violin.  But I keep coming back to the bass.  The violin melody is so pretty and so familiar that it’s interesting to listen to the way the bass plays off those notes.

[READ: February 9, 2018] “The Botch”

I have not enjoyed Means’ stories in the past.  They’re usually pretty violent and just not my thing.

This one was a bit more enjoyable until the end.  The only problem with it per se was that it was about a bank robbery and I feel like there’s not much you can say about a bank robbery that hasn’t been said in films and stories already.

But there’s some interesting tweaks.  It is set around the Great Depression–tommy guns and wise guys.  And the mastermind behind the scheme has thought out everything ahead of time.  There is a repeated refrain of “the idea is” which I kind of liked.  Although for some reason it bugged me when it was switched to just “idea being,” which I know is how it would be said, but it bristled. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: NELLIE McKAY-Reveals ‘Cavendish’ (Project Song: April 2, 2008).

Project Song was a nifty little show that NPR Music created.  The premise was that NPR would give a musician some prompts and a recording studio.  They then had two days to write and record a song.  I don’t know how much of the process was to be filmed, but presumably most of it. Then it would be edited down to a fifteen minute show.  The results are pretty cool and it’s a shame they only made five of them.

The third one they did was five months after the previous one.  As with the Stephin Merritt project, McKay was solo, but she had a lot of problems and recriminations.

When I invited Nellie McKay to participate in Project Song, I figured she’d write some witty words and hammer something out on the piano. I don’t mean to make it sound so simple, but listen to the music of Nellie McKay, and she’s the one who makes it seem so easy.

McKay came into our studio looking as if she’d just walked off a movie set. In fact, at times in conversation, a young Judy Garland came to mind. She took great care with her curly blonde hair and her beautiful pinstriped suit.

I laid some photographs [all from the Library of Congress] and some words on our makeshift bar for her to consider as jumping-off points for the song she would write over the next few days.

It didn’t take long for McKay to settle on a black-and-white photograph of some men dancing the Charleston out in front of a movie theater. To go with the picture, she chose the word “Bravado.” Those two things would inspire and inform her song.

And then, despite a bit of hemming and hawing, McKay proceeded to sit behind the grand piano and begin drawing musical staff lines on some note paper. She began composing her song.

Although perhaps the consternation and questioning was more of her conscious mind, because it sounds like she was much more confident than she appeared.  “Why couldn’t I have written a song in secret and brought it in and pretended to be confused?”

Here’s what I now know that I didn’t know at the time: In just a few hours of playing at the piano, Nellie McKay wrote her song. I know that now, because I can look at the zoom lens of our video camera and see all the scribbles in her notebook. The words are mostly there, and so is the music.

She pokes out notes on the piano and scribbles in her book.  Then she plays the ukulele (with wah wah).  She hems and haws quite a bit, playing with Bob’s computer to make three distinct drum parts.  She talks with Bob.

“Its hard enough to do a bad pastiche which is what I’m aiming at now.  This is the worst thing, I wrote a complicated bad song.”

She finally asks Bob, the constant cheerleader, “where’s your cynicism, you work for NPR?”

From my perspective in the control room of our studio, what I heard for the better part of our first day was some tinkering, some scribbling, and more tinkering. She’d pick up the ukulele and play more piano, but I couldn’t hear a song emerging.

Then she plays some cello on top.  Then it’s on to some haunting backing vocals.

Bob’s mind is boggled: “to put down the uke part first after what I’ve heard, why not play the piano first?  Her answer: “I’m sick of the piano!”

She says she’s big on secrecy and doesn’t understand how other people did it.  Before revealing that she decides to put down “the thunderclap, perhaps the loon, a little bit of backing vocals, and then I’ll freak out a bit more and then I’ll try to do the main vocals.”

The lyrics, however — and even the title — were a closely kept secret until the final hours of the final day.

Then she reveals the dramatic, multi-faceted, three-part song.  It is stunning that she came up with this.  There’s sound effects, spoken word, Latin rhythms and then a torch song part with horns and falsetto.

And this is it, a song about a London hotel called the Cavendish. A song about some of its guests, like D.H. Lawrence and The Beatles, and of better, simpler times. A wonderful theatrical journey from Nellie McKay — someone who seems connected with the past and unsure of her present.

The Cavendish was a real hotel.  They went through a lot of change.  The hotel has been through two wold wars.  The Latin part is exotic–lovely and yet unsettling.

[READ: January 24, 2018] “The Gulch”

The centerpiece of this story is vile and horrible even to think about.  The story begins with it, it focuses on it but then it also kind of dismisses it at the end.

The story is basically about three juvenile delinquents who have crucified a boy in their class (he did not survive).  It begins with a description of the cross they created with pressure-treated wood and rope from a neighborhood laundry line.

It is written in a kind of casual style from Detective Collard’s point of view.  There’s lots of parenthetical asides “The one who dreamed up the scheme (for lack of a better word).”

One of the boys admitted to digging the hole but then said he wasn’t there in sport or heart. (more…)

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 SOUNDTRACK: PHISH Live Bait 14 (2018).

Phish has just released its 14th compilation of free downloads.  This one is a little over two hours with seven long songs.

Harry Hood (8/2/97 Gorge Amphitheatre – George, WA) 18:11
After a slow intro–it’s about two and a half minutes before the vocals come in–then there’s jazzy bass and funky keys.  The jam is pretty mellow, he even asks to have them kill the lights “so I can have the outdoor vibe here.”  A relaxed piano comes in around 12 and it’s not until 17 minutes that they sing the end of the song.

McGrupp And The Watchful Hosemasters (10/29/98 Greek Theatre – Los Angeles, CA) 11:45
This is a fun treat as they don;t play this song much anymore.  The piano opening is very quiet, but the middle is cool with a piano and splash cymbals.  The ending is twinkling piano that segues perfectly (despite being nearly a year later) into the next song.

Wolfman’s Brother (9/24/99 South Park Meadows – Austin, TX) 18:55
opens with a quiet piano but it quickly grows upbeat with a hot jam. Although the final section is dark for a bout a minute before it ends.

Gotta Jibboo > Saw It Again > Magilla (7/4/00 E Centre – Camden, NJ) 39:28
Gotta Jibboo brings back the lightness again. It’s got a happy solo with a pulsing high keyboard note that runs for almost ten minutes while Trey solos.  It turns funky/groovy around fifteen minutes in and then around 17 minutes in it shifts gears and grows slowly noisy and chaotic before sequing to Saw It Again.  Around 34 minutes, it slows down and segues into Magilla with really cool drums.

What’s The Use? (6/25/00 Alltel Pavilion at Walnut Creek – Raleigh, NC) 9:52
This is an instrumental that starts out sounding quite raw–the guitar is sharp with feedback moments.  After  couple of minutes the guitar fades and it gets quiet and pretty before the guitar returns and grows noisy again.

Runaway Jim (7/9/99 Merriweather Post Pavilion – Columbia, MD) 12:21
As always this song rocks.   Although the jam is pretty mellow and pleasant sounding.

Tweezer > Prince Caspian (8/22/15 Magnaball, Watkins Glen International – Watkins Glen, NY) 34:17
Most of the songs on this compilation are from the turn of the century, but this one is from just a couple years ago and it’s a big old “Tweezer” exploration.  This version sounds pretty loose–Trey even modifies the open chord riff somewhat.  Even the “Uncle Ebeneezer” noise is somewhat subdued.  It grows fairly calm before a funky guitar solo.  By 11 minutes, there’s a lot of piano added and then through 17 minutes “Prince Caspian” begins.  It’s a typically fun version of the song.  And by 31 minutes it feels like the song is circling back around to “Tweezer,” but it never actually gets there.  It just kind of ends.

Hard to complain about a free compilation, and there’s not much to complain about here.  Good selection of songs and great performances.

[READ: January 19, 2018] “The Blade”

This is story of tramps.  Hoboes.

There is a young kid who reminded Ronnie of himself from way back.  But it generally assumed the kid will be tossed off the train car before two long.

After some silence Vanboss and Stark begin talking.  Vanboss tells of a head on collision between two cars going 100 mph and how the cars were melded into a small cube but somehow a baby escaped unharmed.  No one believes that, so they talk of other deaths, brutal and extraordinary. (more…)

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 SOUNDTRACK: THE CROSSRHODES-Tiny Desk Concert #704 (February 9, 2018).

Who knew there was explicitly Christian rap?  I mean, obviously there must be. But I never expected to hear it, especially not Christian songs that used the n-word and the f-word.

I’d never heard of The Crossrhodes, so here’s what the blurb says

Witnessing The Crossrhodes perform at the Tiny Desk instantly snapped me back to their early beginnings, just a few miles away from NPR headquarters. In 2001… the Crossrhodes stepped on stage. Week after week, the band passionately performed original material that jumped between society’s woes and their own love lives. Word eventually spread outside of the D.C. area and one-half of the group, Raheem DeVaughn, landed a record deal.

DeVaughn went on to achieve R&B superstardom, earning two Grammy nominations, while the other half of the group, Wes Felton, has remained a pillar of D.C. culture, excelling as both a musician and actor. They reunited and released their first album in over a decade last year. Footprints on the Moon recapitulates and magnifies the ideals they conveyed in the early 2000s with a hyper-focused sense of urgency.

Poet, Raquel Ra Brown opened the show with a poem.  After her introduction, and they were the band is dressed, I expected to hear more of a gospel sound, not for him to start out by going “yo, unh.”

“Footprints on the Moon” seems to be inspirational, but what’s with this lyric:

They lyin’ bout them there two white feet
That landed on the moon a year after they killed King

And again, the songs are fairly pious and you get this couplet:

The only topic of discussion is who they touchin’
Or who they buyin’ or who they fu**in’

Sure there’s politic on the song, but where is this music going?

“How You Gon’ Fall” has a pretty great chorus but the verses are again, pretty rough

cops shot 30 rounds in 15 seconds
4 month old baby in the rear section
another mother gotta call the reverend
a dead daughter, sister, veteran
now the media posing all the questions
slandering the victim pointing out aggression
somehow the angel of god kept the baby protected
coz grandma prayed beyond the pictures and necklace

The tautology of “Praying Prayers” is surprisingly catchy .  It’s probably my favorite song of the bunch

“America” has some well thought out complaints about the country, and it ends with the last few bars of the National Anthem.  I like that they took a knee during that part.

As the show ends, he gets everyone to chant, “I got the power, you got the power, we got the power; that’s power to the people.”

Overall, there was some good stuff in this set. Not my thing but I can certainly appreciate most of it.

[READ: September 21, 2017] “Fistfight, Sacramento, August 1950”

So the crux of this story is that a fist fight between two men brings a man and a woman together.

How delightful.

The story is written in a thoughtful manner, but it is still just about two dumb drunks fighting.

Inexplicably, James Sutter, in a bar, leans over and says–as if to no one–I hate Okies. Frannie Begara challenges him to a fight outside.

So they go out in the dark (the streetlight frames their ring).  Each man has his fan base ringing behind him. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ROYAL THUNDER-Tiny Desk Concert #624 (May 30, 2017).

Royal Thunder is a loud rock band that is stripped down in this Tiny Desk Concert to just two acoustic guitars and a snare drum.  But that’s fine because the real power of this band is in singer Mlny Parsonz’s voice.

Mlny Parsonz’s bluesy belt has been the grounding force of Royal Thunder’s stirring hard-rock for almost a decade now, and on the band’s third album, Wick, the songs all knot and unravel with psychedelic power. True to its name, volume and a small army of effects pedals play a large role in Royal Thunder. But what happens when we ask the Atlanta band to unplug that… thunder?

From the first note, you could hear Parsonz’s sandpaper soul blasting down the hallways of NPR. Both “Anchor” and “April Showers” are slow-burners, built up from the complex guitar interplay of Josh Weaver and Will Fiore; the acoustic treatments here turn them into proggy blues hollers. The band closes with the emotionally wracked “Plans,” featuring just Fiore and Parsonz. The performance is absolutely raw — Parsonz screams and beats her chest as her voice cracks, drawing power from a desperate vulnerability.

Interestingly, I listened to these songs on the album and I prefer this stripped down version–there’s too much production and things going on during the album.  But here it’s just her voice and their guitars.  And it is far more powerful.

As “Anchor” starts, you can hear how engaging Mlny Parzonz powerful strained-sounding voice is.  It sounds honest and pained and really emotional.  The song is surprisingly catchy, especially when the “round ad round” section kicks in–wow, it really grabs you.  Josh Weaver plays the lead guitar solo on this song, and there’s some interesting little guitar notes in the middle of the song as well.  After belting that out, she quietly says “Thanks y’all, thank you” with the Southern charm of the Indigo Girls or even Ben Folds.

“April Showers” opens with a cool separate guitar and bass lines (played on acoustic guitar).  Fiore plays the “lead” intro notes whereas Weaver plays the bass notes I’m not really sure what’s going on in this song, but it’s pretty dark: “you were never really innocent but you were given the gun.”  And later: “then my father found suicide.”  Again, though her voice is so powerful and engaging that you feel the pain in her lyrics.

Before the final song, “Plans,” Weaver and drummer Evan Diprima say “we’re checking out.”  She jokes, “You quit?”   Then she looks at Fiore and says, you have any “Plans” boom-chi.  This song is much slower (interestingly on the record the drums are really loud, so it’s especially surprising that they ‘re not here).  And you can really hear the power and ache in her voice as she sings, “I thought I did the right thing / coming back for you / it was the right thing at the wrong time / I really loved you.”  The way her voice strains as she sings “You ripped out my heart / It’s really emotional.  And after all of that she shrugs and admits, “sorta forgot the words on that one…sorry.”

I’ll give their album another listen , but I really much prefer this rawer iteration.

[READ: April 24, 2017] “Two Ruminations on a Homeless Brother”

I have read a few things by Means and never been all that impressed by them.  Add this to that list.

The word “ruminations” is quite apt in this title as this story is really just a series of thoughts about two men.

The first one is titled Sviatoslav Richter, but is actually about a homeless man wandering the streets of whichever city this is set.  The man walks the same pattern every day searching through garbage.  But rather than delving into this man, this story delves into the people who see the man.  And it covers all possible reactions–most of which you have probably guessed already–from guilt to anger.   This is followed of course by the inevitable fear that we may one day become like this poor soul. (more…)

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harperSOUNDTRACK: BECK/RECORD CLUB-YANNI: Live from the Acropolis (2010).

yanniAlthough there was no official notice terminating the club, this release has proven to be the final installment of Beck’s Record Club (for now).  And what a weird place to end.  Cheesy new ager Yanni’s live blockbuster album.  My buddy Joe (a major metalhead) got me into this album when it came out (really).  And I have to admit it’s pretty awesome–the musicianship is nothing short of spectacular.

So I was very intrigued at the premise of these guys covering the album.

According to the Beck/Record Club website:

This installment of the Record Club takes on ‘Yanni Live At The Acropolis’. The original album featured Yanni with a full orchestra at the Athenian Acropolis. A TV special of the concert was played repeatedly on PBS through the mid 90′s. To flesh out the complex arrangements, several studio musicians were brought in to read a heavily doctored score with interpolations of everything from Stravinsky to Bobby Brown (and others). Beck and Thurston Moore from Sonic Youth provided auxiliary music and noise, with Thurston improvising lyrics over the previously instrumental track ‘Santorini.’ Tortoise show up later on a few other tracks. Look for the complete rerecording of this musical monolith, originally captured at the bedrock of Western Culture, done here at Sunset Sound Studios on June 13th, 2010.

The big names for this release are Thurston Moore and Tortoise–who get to work together on two songs.  Thurston seems to be on most of them–playing noise and occasionally singing (I don’t think there are any words on the original).  I haven’t listened to the original album in ten years so I don’t really remember it very well.  I am quite certain it sounds nothing like this cover version. I’m actually looking forward to playing it again now that I’ve listened to this, mostly to see if there is any similarity at all between the songs.  But also to see if I still like it.  I’m also very interested in the unreadable score (for track 8)

Santorini (2:53) Thurston makes up lyrics.  The session musicians play a beautiful rendition.
Keys To Imagination (4:22).  Tortoise & Thurston play together and the noise and samples run wild.
Until The Last Moment (5:50).  This song is kind of muddy sounding with lots of cymbals and feedback.
The Rain Must Fall (2:55).  More vocals on this one.  With samples that sound like kids singing “rain must fall.”
Acroyali/Standing In Motion (5:46). This one has a cheesy synth tone.  I think the vocals are by Beck on this one.
One Man’s Dream (4:26).  Gentle piano and quiet feedback notes in this one.
Within Attraction (5:39)  Tortoise is back with more samples and sounds.  It also sounds like there are samples from the original Yanni disc.
Nostalgia (4:07) “Thurston and Beck team up again with a crew of heavyweight studio musicians to tackle an apparently unreadable score for another song from Yanni’s Live At The Acropolis, with Thurston adding lyrics.”  I don’t know what they’re playing then, but it sounds good.
Swept Away (4:11).  Gentle keys and “funk” interspersed with noise and effects.
Reflections Of Passion (8:21).  This song opens in a very Sonic Youth style (the slower version of SY).  It’s fairly delicate with vocals until about 3 minutes in when the big drums carry it through to the end.

I haven’t watched all of the videos in the Record Club because some of the earlier ones are “artsy” and just hard to watch.  But this one is great for seeing just what they did to make these sounds (and who is singing).  The INXS one was also good for this.

[READ: March 15, 2014] “The Mighty Shannon”

The mighty Shannon is of course the river in Dublin, even though it is barely mentioned in the story.  The story opens with a man in pain–a migratory pain that has moved from his lower back to his shoulders to his neck.  The doctors can’t find anything wrong with him and suspect it may have something to so with his personal life more than actual pain.  He is reluctant to admit that, but when we learn what is happening in his personal life, it is quite plausible.

The narrator is married, but he has been having an affair with his son’s Spanish teacher (shame on them both). They first met at a parent teacher conference (where his wife seemed unimpressed by her) and then they encountered each other at the park when they were each going for a run.  He offers her running advice for her upcoming marathon and the really seem to hit it off.  Soon they start sleeping together.  He feels badly about it but also believes that his wife, Sharon, (not Shannon) was having an affair first–based on a pocket dialed phone call. (more…)

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[WATCHED: December 16, 2012] McSweeney’s #11

11

THE DVD that came with Issue #11 was listed as a “Deleted Scenes” bonus feature for this issue.  The colophon of the book explains in great detail what they wanted to do and how they went about doing it all.  And that’s all quite amusing in itself.

Now, of course, there are no “deleted scenes” up front.  The DVD is, at first glance, authors reading from the works in the book.  But as you scroll down the menu, there are some deleted scenes, as well as behind the scenes features and audio commentary.  All in all there’s about two hours worth of stuff crammed in here and some of it is quite interesting.

DELETED SCENES

This is where the authors read from their works.  They each read between 3 and 6 minutes, with some of them reading different sections (Samantha Hunt), but most of them reading a chunk.   (more…)

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