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Archive for the ‘David Sedaris’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: SMIF-N-WESSUN-Tiny Desk Concert #787 (September 17, 2018).

As this Concert opens, you hear Steele or Tek, the duo who make up Smif-n-Wessun say, “Very mysterious as you can see.  I’ve been his partner for 20 plus years, so it’s alright.”   The other replies “I’m not gonna do nothing crazy, I promise.”

And with that yet another old school hip-hop act whom I’ve never heard of gets their 15 minutes of Tiny Desk time.  And once again, they are pretty great.

And the blurb seems to really love them:

Brooklyn-bred hip-hop duo Smif-N-Wessun – consisting of partners in rhyme, Steele and Tek – illuminated the Tiny Desk with their signature, 80-proof poetry: straight, no chaser. Their music, inspired by their gritty and pre-gentrified Bedford-Stuyvesant and Brownsville neighborhoods, offers the vocabulary of veterans who survived the grimy streets. The[y] represent quintessential ’90s true-school hip-hop from the bedrock, when Timberland boots were standard issue.

Backing Steele and Tek is D.C.’s own Black Alley band.  The Black Alley Band played (and were awesome) with Nick Grant some shows ago.  About the band I wrote

I really like the live band, Black Alley.  The percussionist (Walter Clark) is particularly interesting with his congas and an electronic “plate” that plays all kinds of effects.  The bass (Joshua Cameron) is also great and the guitarist (Andrew White) plays a lot of interesting sounds.  I also like how muscular the keyboardist is playing simple chords.  And the drummer is pretty bad ass too.

For this show, they were more subdued and there were only four of them, but their live music was great for the duo and made the whole thing sound great.

Steele says, “It’s always different for us to perform with a live band.  If I look a little sweaty it’s because I’m catching the holy ghost, alright.”

Smif-N-Wessun set things off with their classic debut single “Bucktown,” an ode to their native Brooklyn, which uses their love for lyrical clapbacks as an allegory for overcoming the violence-ridden reality of their wonder years.

Tek says “This was the first single from our first album.  Came out in ’92 that’s probably older than most of you all in the room.”

Throughout the performance, the two emcees dance, share easy banter and express their spiritual connection to the music they’ve created over the years.

Things climax when the two perform “Stand Strong,” another favorite from their debut album Dah Shinin’. Anchored by the mantra, “I never ran / never will,” … the music decries the struggles of late-stage capitalism and the plight of the disenfranchised. It’s a revelation of love, life, and brotherhood in an era when the antiheroes were really just the ones cunning enough to avoid becoming victims.

Steele says this goes out to our street soldiers.  Then says he says Rest in Peace Anthony Bordain, Rest on Peace Todd Banger.  Stay Alive, people!

That survivor’s drive is personified when Steele lets his guard down during the performance and gifts the audience a little boogie, “You can dance to Smif-N-Wessun music too, y’all.

The set concludes with an exclusive premier of their new single, “One Time,” from their forthcoming album, The All, produced by 9th Wonder & The Soul Council.

Steele says “I’m nervous about the next one, this next song has never before been performed.  It’s fresh off our yet to be released (maybe by the time you see this the album will be out).  Hope you enjoy it because we definitely don’t know what we’re gonna do.  I know these guys sound amazing so just listen to them.”

The song is smooth and cool and again the live band (this is the first time they’ve played with Black Alley) sound fantastic.

[READ: January 6, 2017]  “A Modest Proposal”

I don’t always get to read Sedaris’ pieces in order (if they are even published in order).  But this one follows up on a piece he wrote a while back about him picking up trash by the side of the road.

If memory serves he was picking up trash as a way to get extra exercise.  Anyhow, he states that he is still doing this. And while it doesn’t actually impact the story directly, it’s great to see the continuity.

It’s also hilarious to see that while he usually find candy wrappers and the like, on one outing he found a three-inch dildo: “You’d think that if someone wanted a sex toy she’d go for the gold-size-wise.  But this was just the bare minimum, like getting AAA breast implants.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKPLANTS & ANIMALS–Live at Massey Hall (December 1, 2016).

This is the start of the fourth season of Live at Massey Hall.

I didn’t really know any of the six artists, but they have recently begun adding new bands about whom I am pretty excited.

Of course, as with many of these shows, it’s the bands I don’t know which blow me away.

I didn’t know Plants and Animals, but I loved their set.

Drummer Matthew Woodley says that he and Warren Spicer (guitars and vocals) met in Halifax and had a series of bands until they moved to Montreal and met Nick Basque (guitars, keyboards).  They started as an instrumental band and then Warren started to craft words and now we’re a normal singing, dancing and playing band.

“We Were One” opens with feedback and some cool mechanical sounds that come from one of their guitars.

Warren sings kind of quietly and plays acoustic guitar.  Mid way through, the song shifts gears with some big guitar sounds from Nick with a great little autocratic guitar run and riff before a big chord ends it all.

“All of the Time” is a cool moody piece with loud pianos from Nick, rumbling guitars and backing vocals from bassist Josh Toal.

During the break, one of them says, “we like an element of danger… if I go to a show and everything is under control it’s still fun if you like the music, but as an experience if you forget about the music,  the feeling it’s just going to play out…   they’ll get two encores and we’ll go home….  But we’d rather feel, “Oh, but this is cool whats going to happen?” The first band they toured with was Wolf Parade and they had a “wow, anything can happen, they might just stop.”  That’s the kind of show we want to pursue–something that feels a little bit dangerous.

“Flowers” opens with some cool falsetto vocals and then a moody middle section.

“So Many Nights” opens with synths and a cool bass line.  It sounds a bit like Air (French band) with some lengthy guitar solos from the acoustic guitar which sounds very cool.  The slows down and slows further and then builds and build and builds and builds further to a noisy crescendo with them chanting “your feet are heavy, carry on.”

“A L’oree Des Bois” opens with pretty, intertwining guitars while Nick talks about making records in his Québécois accent.

Before the final song they bring out a tiny boy (Aaron Spicer) who sings a quiet song in French–to rapturous applause.

“No Worries Gonna Find Us”  Is a great humping song that repeats the title and “no worries gonna be the boss of my mind.”

They say “you guys are gonna get your faces ripped off by Half Moon Run.”  But it was Plants and Animals that really impressed me so far.

[READ: July 8, 2018]  “Active Shooter”

I always like when David Sedaris talks about visiting with his sister(s).

Sedaris and his sister Lisa were driving “in her toy-size car” to her home in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

She is bemoaning a woman at Starbucks with a tiny monkey on a leash (in a pink dress).  She wanted to yell at woman, “What do you plan on doing with that thing once you lose interest in it?”

I love that this piece is about guns, but he is willing to throw in a bit about pet owners.

Like a lot of pet owner, I know, Lisa is certain that no one can take care of an animal as well as she can.

But as she was saying of  the woman “It’s a monkey, of course she’s going to lose interest in it” they drove past a firing range called ProShots. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ALA.NI-Tiny Desk Concert #643 (August 14, 2017).

ALA.NI is a London-born, Paris-based singer who draws inspiration from her uncle, a British ’20s and ’30s cabaret star by the name of Leslie “Hutch” Hutchinson.  She writes her own songs in the style of the standards he sang.

ALA.NI is sweet and funny and very charming.  She exudes calm and grace as she stretches and waves her long limbs and fingers.  It’s mesmerizing.  And her voice sounds amazing.  The blurb notes:

The singer asked us to record her set using her vintage RCA Ribbon microphone, which she carries around in a small briefcase between shows. It’s a security blanket, a bit of visual branding, a statement of stylistic intent — and, not for nothing, a big reason ALA.NI’s voice carries with such warmth and intimacy.

“Cherry Blossom” sounds terrific.  The guitar is gently echoed and her voice is soft and delicate but incredibly right on.  You could easily imagine hearing the pops and clicks of old vinyl behind her.

Between songs she is chatty and funny.  She raves about the NPR gift shop, “I got some beeswax paper that I can wrap my sandwiches in.”

She says that “Ol Fashioned Kiss” is about kissing.  She plays an acoustic guitar which she uses mostly for percussion in the beginning, but then she adds some gentle strums herself.  It’s a simple, old-fashioned bluesy song.  She does a lot of scatting.  And as the song comes to its natural ending, she says tells her guitarist, “no no keep it going, there’s too many toys here.”  She plays all kinds of things on the desks—a small drum set, some other percussive thing and even the cow mooing can.

“Suddenly” sounds like an old song–it’s so hard to believe these are new.  And then comes

Darkness at Noon is a powerful old-fashioned sounding song that opens. “We agreed to end this love affair.”  It’s chilling and gorgeous.

When the song is over she introduces her guitar player, “this is Marvin Dolly on guitar.  It’s actually Marvin’s birthday today.”  She leads everyone in a version of Happy Birthday she hits some amazing high notes while everyone else sings along  She turns as the song ends, “wow you all can sing as well.”

What a delightful person with such an enchanting voice.

[READ: June 25, 2017]  “Why Aren’t You Laughing”

Sedaris has become a lot more reflective in his later writing.  There’s still humor to be had, but for the most part this is a sad tale about his mother.

He begins by talking about the plainness of the North Carolina house he shares with Hugh (he calls Hugh his boyfriend, although I thought they were married).  He says even the theater manager at the box office he performed at knew what their house look like: “spread out over four levels and paneled in dark wood like something you’d see on a nineteen seventies TV show.”  Hugh liked to point out that the pint of the place was the view.

The title of the piece comes as he says he is signing his name on tip-ins for his books while Hugh reads the final draft of the manuscript.  Depending on Hugh’s reaction or silence David would shout Whats so funny? or Why aren’t you laughing? (more…)

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c28SOUNDTRACK: HISS TRACKS-Shortwave Nights [CST104] (2014).

hissThe Hiss Tracks album begins with a rumbling roiling and yes a kind of hissing sound.  There was a moment of concern that this would be literally 40 minutes of static . But no, there are some interesting electronic blips and phrases amidst he roiling rumble.

Some context about this band from the Constellation site:

Hiss Tracts is an ongoing collaboration between “sound sculptors” David Bryant and Kevin Doria. Both players are known for their work within various strains of drone-inflected and experimental music: Bryant as a member of Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Set Fire To Flames, Doria as a member of Growing and for his solo work as Total Life.

Hiss Tracts opens new collaborative, procedural and narrative pathways for these fine musicians to continue exploring soundscape-based composition and production. Both are guitar players, and the electric guitar figures as both recognizable and unrecognizable source instrument on Shortwave Nights, but the deployment of a wide range of additional analog sources and signals ensures that there is no confusing this for a guitar-based drone, noise or post-rock record.

So there you have it.  Once the rumble of that first song, ‘…shortwave nights,” dissipates there are some ringing guitar sounds quietly repeating amid a low static and other sounds.   The song ends with some dissonant guitar notes.  It’s eight minutes in total and has the feeling of an ambient soundtrack, but not a relaxing one or of background music.

“half-speed addict starts with broken wollensak” does indeed begin slowly, at about half-speed, with more rumbling sounds.  The song speeds up at the end, with muffled sounds keeping a very fast pace and a keyboard note rings out as the song finishes.  “slowed rugs” has a kind of one note drone while some vibrating drones continue over it—it’s a gentle electronic sound manipulation.   The oscillating notes fold in on themselves and mutate into some thing else.  As the song nears its end, a repeated series of unusual notes seems to rise from the din.

“drake motel / “9 gold cadillacs”” is a one minute interstitial that opens and closes with someone playing a harmonica.  The player offers it to someone else and then the rest is a series of statements from an unnamed person:

I would never put my mouth on something that you had put your mouth on.
The more you love people the worse they treat you I am so tired of it.
My daddy spent million of dollars trying to by a friend and he died without one.
You can give a sumbitch a million dollars cash tax-free and tomorrow they wouldn’t give you a cracker if you were starving to death.  That is a bible prophecy.

“windpipe gtrs.” sounds like a bunch of didgeridoos trying to overtake each other.  “halo getters” is an ominous piece, with more of that rumbling static and some portentous chords over the top.  The five-minute song doesn’t change much although about a minute in some guitars ring out sounding very outer spacey.  The song repeats and eventually warbles to and end which somehow feels warmer than the rest, like little explosions of quiet sound which almost sound like car horns.

“for the transient projectionist” opens with ringing bells/gongs.  After a few minutes of this peaceful sound, some music bubbles up—waves of warm keyboards and washes of mild static.  It seems to have a natural progression before ending.

“ahhh-weee dictaphone” is a 41 second interstitial of what sounds like vocal goofing around.  “test recording at trembling city” has mechanical ringing tones coming on in waves.  The song builds in intensity as it sounds almost like a high-speed-something about to crash, or a siren going off.  It is rather unsettling.  “beijing bullhorn / dopplered light” is mostly staticy radio and voices muttering under some gentle washes of chords.   It is a relatively pretty ending to a somewhat unsettling disc.

The instruments included on the disc include: guitar, tape machine, piano, mellotron, portasound, bowls, field recordings, oscillators, sampler, synthesizer

This is a pretty esoteric disc that many people won’t enjoy, but if you like experimental ambient textures, it’s worth a listen.

[READ: March 10, 2016]  “Undecided”

After last night’s debate, in which evidently there are some 36% of the population undecided about whom to vote for, here’s a political piece from the 2008 election.  What I especially loved about this one was just how relevant it all seemed 8 years later.  The “undecided” voters aren’t getting as much airtime yet, but one wonders how poll numbers can shift when the candidates are so radially different.  I recall in the 2008 election how people seemed genuinely undecided about the two candidates and Sedaris (and myself and many others) just ask: HUH?.

Sedaris notes how the undecideds get interviewed about being undecided and they all look “very happy to be on TV.” And oh dear, they just can’t make up their minds.

“I look at these people and can’t quite believe that they exist.  Are they professional actors? I wonder or are they simply laymen who want a lot of attention?”

And then he says to imagine their perspective as if you were on an airplane.  The attendant brings the food cart over and in what may have been the most apt analogy:

Can I interest you in the chicken? she asks.  Or would you prefer the platter of shit with bits of broken glass in it?

To follow through he says that being undecided is to “pause for a moment and then ask how the chicken is cooked.” (more…)

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may5SOUNDTRACK: THE FAMILY CREST-Tiny Desk Concert #379 (August 4, 2014).

familycerstI first heard The Family Crest on this Tiny Desk Concert back in 2014 and I immediately fell in love with them.  I received their album for Christmas, and it’s quite fantastic.

The band plays a wonderful mix of over the top chamber prog rock mixed with healthy doses of jazz.

There are seven people in the band, which is centered around guitarist and (amazing) vocalist Liam McCormick.  Their instruments include violin, cello, upright bass, flute, trombone, drums, and guitar but this band rocks hard (and McCormick can wail like the best of them).

The set begins with the jaw dropping “Beneath The Brine” which opens with a great cello riff and is quickly accompanied by violin and flute.  When the full band kicks in, grace notes are added to the riffs to really fill out he song (from the flute and the drums) and it builds until Liam starts singing.  His voice is powerful and strong with a great sense of melody.  The drums, by the way are playing wonderful jazzy patterns and accents.  But it’s around 2:30 that Liam shows just what he can do with his voice as he hits some amazingly powerful high notes.  As the song romps to an end, you can hear all of the instruments adding to the music before the final quite coda.  It’s fantastic.

“Howl” is inspired by jazz.  Liam was trained in opera (which explains a lot) and the band is full of classical fans, so he was excited to add Charlie the jazz drummer “hey man wanna listen to Miles David and drink whiskey?”  The song opens with a big trombone riff before settling into a snappy jazz song.  This song has a number of loud and quiet moments that work well together.  It’s even got a great “ba ba ba ba ba ba” section that is fun to sing along with.

 They ask “one more?”  And Bob says “or stay all day.”  So they play the final song, “Make Me a Boat.”  If you can forgive the little GoPro ad, it’s neat that this relatively unknown band has been embraced by the camera company.  “Make Me a Boat” doesn’t seem like the most obvious choice for a video since the beginning is kind of slow, bit the middle section is really pretty and has a great flowing feel that would work well with a video.  And in this live version Liam does some great improv singing of powerful high notes that really flesh out the melody which the rest of the is playing (no wonder he’s so sweaty by the end).

The album fleshes out the orchestral sense of the band with a 30 piece orchestra which makes these songs even more grand.  The Family Crest was a great find.

[READ: February 22, 2016] “Letting Go”

Sedaris is one of the funniest writers when the topic is smoking.  He is (or was, I suppose) and inveterate smoker.

And I love that he starts the essay with this paragraph:

When I was in fourth grade, my class took a field trip to the American Tobacco plant in nearby Durham, NC.  There we witnessed the making of cigarettes and were given free packs to take home to our parents. I tell people this and they ask me how old I am, thinking, I guess, that I went to the world’s first elementary school.

He starts this essay talking about how much he hated smoking when he was a kid.  His mother smoked all her life and he just hated it.  Not the smoke so much but the smell–he found it depressing “the scent of neglect.”

Of course then he started smoking himself.  He talks about trying to decide which brand to use–the brand you chose was a statement back then.  He chose Viceroy.  And he started smoking them when he was in Vancouver. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: LES CLAYPOOL-Of Fungi and Foe (2009).

fungiAfter doing the various solo records, Les spent some time making the Elecjan5tric Apricot movie and soundtrack (which I don’t know).  Then he was asked to score music for a video game and a movie.  He did so and then used these templates for the completion of this solo album.  As he explains:

I was commissioned to write soundtrack music for two projects that promised to have quite a bit of very intense and unique imagery. One was for an interactive game about a meteor that hits Earth and brings intelligence to the mushrooms within the crash proximity and the other was about a three thousand pound wild boar that terrorizes the marijuana fields of Northern California. Obviously the makers of the subsequent Mushroom Men game and Pig Hunt film were very aware of my tastes and perspectives because the music oozed from me in such a natural way that I believe it came as much from my pores as it did my mind. This music became the foundation of the songs that fill this collection. With a few added tidbits and a bit of gypsy sauce, I inflict upon you… OF FUNGI AND FOE

As such the album is thematic and consistent. But the musical theme is very dark and very bass heavy (which makes sense given that it is Les).  But it’s quite claustrophobic and hard to listen to all the way through. Some of the later songs are probably pretty good but it’s hard to get to them.

I talked about the album in 2010, and said:

The disc is very percussion heavy, with lots of rather long songs.  And although I love long songs, I love long songs that aren’t the same thing for 6 or so minutes.  I also rather miss Claypool’s voice.  He doesn’t sing a lot of these songs in his typical falsetto.  There’s a lot of very deep voiced, rather processed sounding voices here (it works great on the muh muh muh mushroom men, but not so great elsewhere).  Because when you combine that with the bass and percussion, it’ really hard to hear what he’s on about (and Claypool lyrics are half the fun).

Plus, we know that with Primus’ own brand of weirdness, a little goes a long way.  So, hearing the same bizarro riff for 4 minutes can be trying.

The first 4 tracks are all really solid.  But that 5th track, “What would George Martin Do?” just sucks all the life out of the disc.  The same goofy riff for 6 minutes with completely unintelligible lyrics.  Ouch.   But “You Can’t Tell Errol Anything” picks up the pace somewhat with a wonderful Tom Waits-ian soundtrack.  The addition of Eugene Hutz on insane wailing vocals brings a wonderful new level of dementia to the disc.

Listening again, with context from recent albums I had a similar but more forgiven attitude.  I find the opening song “Mushroom Men” to be fantastic.  It is wonderfully weird—with great use of the whamola to create very strange theme.  It’s one of his best songs.  There is something fun in “Amanitas.”   I love the riff and sentiment of “Red State Girl.”  “Boonville Stomp” is indeed a stomp, although I find it a bit tedious.

Interestingly, I now love “What Would Sir George Martin Do” for the carnivalesque feel to it. But I agree with my old self in that it’s a goofy lark of a song and should be 2 minutes not 6. The disc ender, “Ol’ Roscoe” is a really sad drinking and driving song–one which I don’t like to listen to.

So, it’s a mixed bag of songs, but would be curious to see how they work in the video game and movie (although I don’t think I’ll ever watch the movie).  Huh, turns out you can listen to a number of these songs on YouTube.  Of course I wonder how they were uploaded and how I can get a copy–the instrumentals are really cool.

[READ: January 24, 2014] “Leviathan”

Sedaris begins by explaining how as people get older they become crazy in one of two ways.  Either animal crazy (as in dog crazy: when asked if they have children they are likely to answer :”a black Lab and a sheltie-beagle mix named Tuckahoe…. Then they add–they always add–‘they were rescues.'”

The second way is with their diets.  His brother Paul has all but given up solid food (at 46 he eats much they way he did at 9 months old).

He also teases the people who eat things that supposedly stave off disease which the drug companies don’t want you knowing about.  Hi sister says “Cancer can definitely be cured with a vegan diet…”  His sensible response?  “If a vegan diet truly did cure cancer, don’t you think it would have at least made the front age of the New York Times Science section.”  He says that Paul has been eating apricot seeds for some time (although any more than four can be dangerous since they contain cyanide). (more…)

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30SOUNDTRACK: PLACEBO-B3EP (2012).

b3Placebo went away for a time and now (well, 2012) they’re back with an EP and an album.  This EP has 5 songs and it returns their sound to days of old (although their sound hasn’t changed all that much, honestly, but their last album seemed less…something).  This returns to noisy days of yore.  “B3” has a sleazy kind of synth, big rocking guitars and drums, and of course Brian Molko’s voice (they wouldn’t be Placebo without his voice).

The second track is a cover of a Minux song “I Know You Want to Stop” and it falls right in with the placebo sound.  I actually thought it was one of their own.

“The Extra” slows down the craziness of the EP, but it sounds very much like a Placebo ballad.  Rather than a love ballad it is a creepy ballad.   The theme is summed up”If I am an extra in the film of my own life, will someone please turn off the camera.”  There’s great guitar sound on “I.K.W.Y.L.” with Molko’s keening voice adding tension.

And the final song, “Time is Money” is one of Molko’s aching slow song.  “Time is Money bastard, so like Jesus, give it all away.”  Somehow he turns that sentiment into a love song.  And I love Molko for that.

For an EP, this is a really solid collection of songs–no throwaway tracks here.  Let’s hope the full length is as good.

 [READ: September 18, 2014] “Stepping Out”

In this piece, I can’t decide if Sedaris is messing with us or not.  This essay is all about his love affair with the Fitbit.

In my head, Sedaris is a pampered homebody who only goes out when he has to.  While I would never say he was unfit, I just can’t picture him exercising, even if that exercise is walking. On the other hand, I know that he is rather obsessive, so I can see him taking to something like this and really running (or walking) with it.

Sedaris’ friend Lesley explained the pedometer to him.  “The goal is to take ten thousand steps per day and, once you do, it vibrates.”  He asks, “Hard?”  She says “No, it’s just a tingle.”  So he bought one.  And he quickly learns that 10,000 steps is a little more than 4 miles for him.

He says he can achieve that easily in a day, especially since he has people coming to his door all the time, “wanting you to accept a package or give them directions or just listen patiently as they talk about birds, which happens from time to time when I’m home in West Sussex….” (more…)

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