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Archive for the ‘David Sedaris’ Category

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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CV1_TNY_06_03_13Hall.inddSOUNDTRACK: DEAFHEAVEN-“Dream House” (2013).

deafheavenNPR’s Lars Gotrich always picks songs that I like–even if I would never have found them any other way.

His favorite album of the year so far is by this band Deafheaven whom I have never heard of.  The song is 9 minutes long and it combines big loud guitars, super fast crashing drums, and cookie monster vocals (mixed so low in the mix that they almost sound just like noise–a neat trick).  The waves and layers of sound give it a kind of My Bloody Valentine feel.

For the first half of the song, the drums are absolutely speed metal fast–pounding and pounding with wild cymbals.  But they too are mixed low in the mix–setting a beat but not dominating the song.  For really this song seems to be all about the guitar–which is not exactly playing along with them.  Sure, there are fast  moments, and the guitar is largely distorted and noisy.  But the tone of the guitar is very bright–especially when he starts playing some simple but pretty riffs (amid the noise).

And then about half way through, the noise drops away and the music become quiet and pretty.  Two guitars interweave slow melodies.  Until the music crashes back in, but with a different tempo and a feeling like Explosions in the Sky or Mogwai.

I know many will be turned off by the vocals (I think I might even like it more if it were purely instrumental), but the way they are mixed, shows that the music is the dominant sound, and I can get behind that.

[READ: June 12, 2013] “Company Man”

I always enjoying reading a David Sedaris Personal History (interestingly I haven’t read all of his books—I seem to stick to the articles instead).  This one is about having a  guest room.  He considers it a true sign of aging gracefully that his new house has a guest room (with its own bathroom).

Their previous house in Normandy had nothing of the sort and he gives typically humorous anecdotes about being embarrassed for the guests who don’t have any privacy in the bathroom (“we’ll be going out for about twenty minutes if you need anything.”)  But now they have this new space.

Which means of course that they have guests.  I enjoyed the part when Hugh’s friends come to visit–based on his father’s behaviors, David is allowed to leave in the middle of a conversation because he is not the one entertaining the guests).  But the bulk of the second half concerns David’s family.  (more…)

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CV1_TNY_04_01_13Gutierez.inddSOUNDTRACK: THE KNIFE-“Old Dreams Waiting to be Realized” (2013).

theknife With the release of The Knife’s new album, the New Yorker review that I mentioned yesterday pointed out just how radically different this new disc is from the synth pop of yore.  Sasha Frere-Jones talked about the weird instrumentation that they use (and made themselves) and the processed vocals that often defy gender.  But he mostly focused on this, a 19 minute song.

What’s so radically different for The Knife is that the song isn’t really a song so much as a series of slow washes of keyboards which rise and fall.  There’s no melody at all and no singing either.  It’s basically an uneasy ambient song–quite a departure from the three-minute pop of “Heartbeats.”  There’s also a bunch of percussion, also seemingly random.  It sounds like a bleak landscape–the moon perhaps.

At around 10 minutes, the washes of sound (which have been pretty constant and low volume) are eclipsed by a processed steel drum sound which play a little melody and just as quickly goes away.  Helicopter-ish sounds come to the fore around 13 minutes.  And that louder noise stays with us for a couple of minutes until it is replaced by a very mechanical-sounding moaning.

After 19 minutes of this, it simply vanishes leaving a minute or so of silence at the end of the track.  You’re not going to get too many fans playing music like that.

 [READ: April 28, 2013] “Long Way Home”

In this piece, Sedaris revisits a moment that has got to be a major fear for a lot of people—the theft of a passport.  Sedaris has a British passport with an Indefinite Leave to Remain sticker on it.  This basically allows him (and partner Hugh) freedom to come and go as they please in the UK—a handy thing for a traveling author.  When the passport is stolen, it means that rather than waltzing back home, he has to go through the same old scrutiny (a writer, eh?) and very real threats that they could simply not allow him back in.

Evidently receiving this sticker is a laborious process not for the faint of heart (and not for those whose grasp of English is not perfect).  Which is why David let Hugh do all the prep work for it (although David did ace the test).  There’s a very funny sequence in which he wonders how non Westerners might deal with the question, “How might you stop young people playing tricks on you at Halloween?”  Needless to say, not having that sticker was a major hassle, but reapplying for it meant surrendering the new passport for several months while bureaucracy got its sticker together.  Which is what he eventually had to do. (more…)

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[ATTENDED: December 9, 2012] A John Waters Christmas

watersSarah and I were pretty excited to go see John Waters: gay icon, movie provocateur and all around oddball.  We had no idea what to expect from this show (his Christmas shows have apparently been around a long time although I have no idea how much it changes per year), but we knew it would be peculiar (and damned funny).

What we got was John Waters in a beautiful sparkly suit talking about seemingly whatever came into his mind (although I know from others that  the routine has the same elements in every show, so I it is not extemporaneous).  He had a podium and a bottle of water, but he used neither.  Instead, he walked around the stage, telling stories, telling jokes and being as filthy as he could.

Since this is a Christmas show, he talks a lot about the holiday (he really likes it, mostly because people give him presents), he talks a lot about sex (the more deviant the better), and he talks about himself.

We were surprised by the age range in the audience   Aside from a few young people (in punk garb), we were the youngest by far.  And while that certainly makes it seem like the older folks of the Branchburg area are much hipper (and dirtier) than I realized, it also makes some sense.  Waters definitely reached his most prolific peak quite some time ago.  And those earlier film were much raunchier than his more recently releases.  By now, Waters has settled in as kind of an outre celebrity but one who is more than happy taking part in pop culture (The Simpsons for instance–quite a long way from Divine eating poop).  We wondered if half of them knew what they were in for–but I didn’t hear any gasps, so I guess they did.  The older attendees could no doubt also appreciate a number of cultural references that were just too old for me. (more…)

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David Rakoff (1964-2012)

David Rakoff died Thursday from a resurgence of cancer.  For those unfamiliar with his work, think of darker, more cynical David Sedaris (did you think that was possible?).  The biggest difference between Rakoff and Sedaris is that Rakoff is Canadian.  And he is more of a world traveler.  I say this not really knowing anything about how much they actually traveled.  I mean, sure, Sedaris travels the world for book tours and such, but Rakoff actually lived in foreign lands.  Wait, you say, Sedaris lives in France.  Yes, but Rakoff lived in Tokyo (which automatically makes him more exotic).  And he actually knew Japanese (kind of) whereas Sedaris seems to have not learned any French in the years he has lived there–if his essays are to be believed.

All of this is by way of introduction to using Rakoff’s description of himself as a “New York writer” who also happened to be a “Canadian writer”, a “Jewish writer”, a “gay writer'” and an “East Asian Studies major who has forgotten most of his Japanese” writer.

I’ve only read one of Rakoff’s three books, Fraud.  And about that I said: (more…)

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