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Archive for the ‘Hisham Matar’ Category

ny SOUNDTRACK: ROBERT CRAY BAND-Tiny Desk Concert #246 (October 22, 2012).

crayRobert Cray is a well-respected blues singer.  He has a smooth voice and a good bluesy guitar sound.

However, I don’t really like the blues all that much, so this Concert was simply fine to me.  Cray’s band includes bassist Richard Cousins, keyboardist Jim Pugh and drummer Tony Braunagel, “who performs here by tapping a wooden box” (it’s one of those cool box drums).

They play three songs, “Sadder Days,” a sad slow blues with some beautiful guitar soloing.  “(Won’t Be) Coming Home” is a faster, darker song about her leaving him.

“I’m Done Cryin'” is nearly ten minutes long and it is a pretty classic blues song with lengthy solos and much bemoaning that he is still a man.  It’s got some good soling and, I imagine if you like the blues, this is a killer track.

[READ: July 20, 2016] “Naima”

I really didn’t enjoy this short story very much.  It took a really long time before it did anything. I realize part of that is the nature of the story–building up characters and setting up the basis for the relationship–but it felt like half the story was just extraneous.

The crux of the story is that a boy’s mother has died.  (For the first half of the story I was sure the main character was a girl, so I was quite shocked to find out otherwise).  The boy was very close with his mother.  His father was a joyful person while she was alive but in the short period since her death, the father has become very distant.

The only person the boy is close to is Naima, the maid. (more…)

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6616 SOUNDTRACK: PATRICK WATSON-Tiny Desk Concert #221  (May 31, 2012).

pat-watsPatrick Watson is a Montreal-based singer songwriter with whom I was unfamiliar.  But he has received many accolades, including being nominated for the Polaris prize many times (and winning once).  It turns out that Bob Boilen also really likes him a lot. And I can see why.

Watson and his band make sounds that are quite unexpected (but are still melodic and pretty).  The first song “Adventures In Your Own Backyard” itself is amazing the way it unfolds.  The first sounds we hear are the drummer using a violin bow on Boilen’s Emmy statue (which I’m sure Bob was genuinely delighted by).  There’s two acoustic guitars and the violinist’s beautiful ooohs.  About one minute in, there’s a big drum sound as the drummer starts playing snare and bass.  And then the acoustic guitar is is put through some kind of filter to give it a very electric sound.  Once you get used to the acoustic guitar sounding electric and the electric guitar sounding acoustic, the violin comes in (sounding like a violin).  And then there’s backing vocals oohing until Watson comes back with more vocals, but this time through a microphone that is hugely distorted and mechanical-sounding (he and the violinist shared oohing duties and their voices get processed together).  All of this sounds like chaos and yet the melody is catchy and constant (and yes, the song ends with the drummer bowing that Emmy one more time).

Watson explains that for “Words In The Fire” the band was “nine hours north of nowhere” north of Quebec with these kids who invited them to a campfire party.  They had nowhere else to be so they went.   The kids requested a Bob Marley song, but they didn’t know any.  So they wrote this song.  For the start, it’s just Watson singing with the acoustic guitar.  Midway through the song, the percussionist plays a saw, giving it an eerie quality.  Despite the craziness of the first song, this song is delicate and pretty and Watson’s voice is high and sweet as well.

“Into Giants” opens with some lovely guitar intros and lots of harmonies.  This song is especially fun to watch because the five of them are all squeezed in behind the desk and seem more crammed than before.  Watson even has to move out of the way to let the violinist take her solo.  The whole band sings in a big folksy chorus “started as lovers don’t know where it’s gonna end” with appropriately big bass drum sounds.  The song seems like it’s going to end with Watson’s oooohing, but with a minute left, the song picks up again, with Watson playing a cool riff on the keyboard.  He even gets out that distorted mic again to build the song back up.

I love watching a Tiny Desk by someone I don’t know and immediately falling for a band.

[READ: January 12, 2017] “The Book”

The June 6 & 13, 2016 issue of the New Yorker was the Fiction Issue.  It also contained five one page reflections about “Childhood Reading.” 

Matar’s story is quite different from the others.  He says that his earliest memory of books is being read to, not actually reading.  Many of the classics were read to him: One Thousand and One Nights, and the Arabic literary renaissance of the twentieth century.   But there were hardly any books for children in the house.

He says that during his life he has had a passionate affair with books in English and Arabic.  And he makes this wonderfully succinct comment about youthful reading: some books were “undeserving of my youthful fervor, a few … I encountered at the wrong moment, [but there were] plenty of others that still light up rooms inside me.”

But, for him the book that affected him the most if one that he hasn’t read.  He doesn’t even know the title or author. (more…)

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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…)

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