Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘John Updike’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: CHROMEO-Tiny Desk Concert #797 (October 19, 2018).

I’m not sure if I’ve heard of Chromeo, but the name is pretty great.

The band consists of David Macklovitch (Dave 1–Vocals/Guitar) and Patrick Gemayel (P-Thugg–Bass/Talk Box).  They have a pretty classic Prince/funk sound.  But how can they be so funky if they don’t have a live band?

Self-proclaimed “Funklordz” Chromeo played with a live band for the first time at the Tiny Desk. The duo usually performs their live shows over backing tracks with shimmering chrome guitars and keyboards mounted on mannequin lady legs.

I need to see that.  But for this show, there is a live band, which may change their desire to be just a duo, because they sound great.

For “Count Me Out” Dave 1 sings and plays guitar.  P-Thugg plays a great slap bass and, the biggest surprise–a keyboard-operated talk box.

Mid song they shift gears to a major funk storm in “Jealous (I Ain’t With It).”   I love hearing P-Thugg robot singing “I Ain’t With It” and then talk-boxing a synth solo.

But the story of Chromeo is pretty fun as well.

David Macklovitch (Dave 1) and Patrick Gemayel (P-Thugg) met when they were 15 while growing up in Montreal and have been cranking out the electro-funk jams ever since. At first glance, their Jewish and Arab partnership might seem unlikely. But their signature sounds are undeniably infectious, epitomized by P-Thugg’s Talk Box – an instrument that transforms his vocals into robotic sounds.  On being Canadian, P-Thugg announced in his robot voice “it’s very, very cold” to which Dave 1 quipped, “it’s cold… free healthcare.”

The backing band mostly adds synths and drums.  I assume that these could all be electronic, but it feels so much more real with everyone else there.  In the middle of “Jealous,” P-Thugg takes off his bass and Eric “E-Watt” Whatley starts playing a great funky bass of his own.  But the band looks like a cohesive unit (it’s amazing that this is the first time they’ve played together).

The band was outfitted in go-go-style matching uniforms custom embroidered with the words “Funk Lordz.”  The Philadelphia based line-up included keyboardist Eugene “Man-Man” Roberts and legendary percussionists Rashid Williams and Aaron Draper.

“Don’t Sleep” has a very 70’s sound–with some great synthy work from Man-Man.  I don’t know if the song always has this middle section, but Dave 1 shouts, “we’re in DC right?”

With a nod to DC’s own funky go-go music scene of the ’70s, their …. breakdown at the end of the song “Don’t Sleep” was a fitting tribute to NPR’s hometown, Washington, D.C.

Even though their songs seems to be kind of negative (Jealous, Don’t Sleep on Me), the music is fun and dancy.  The final song “Must’ve Been” continues that fun, talk-box hook-filled tunage.

 Listening to Chromeo is a joyous affair. Watching them get funky with a stellar band behind The Desk for the very first time, it’s impossible to sit still.

Chromeo completely won me over.  Also, how do they not have French accents?

[READ: November 28, 2018] “Snowing in Greenwich Village”

The December 3, 2018 issue of the New Yorker was an archival issue, meaning that every story was taken from an earlier issue.  The range is something like 1975-2006, which is odd since the New Yorker dates back so much longer.  Although the fiction pieces are at least from the 1940s and 1950s.

This story felt a lot more timeless than the Stafford story.  It is about a young married couple and the first visitor to their new place.

The Maples had just moved in and their friend Rebecca Cune had come over for a drink.

Rebecca tells them about her previous living arrangement with a woman and that woman’s boyfriend.  The Maples had lived in a log cabin in a YMCA camp for the first three months of their marriage.

Drinks were passed around and Richard was playing the good ghost. (more…)

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

SOUNDTRACK: PHOEBE BRIDGERS-Live at Newport Folk Festival (July 28, 2018).

I saw Phoebe Bridgers three days after this set at Newport Folk Festival (I had no idea).  She plays five more songs at my show than here (yay, me).

The size of the crowd does’t seem to intimate her in any way and she sounds just as great (and intimate) as she did in the small club where I saw her.

A few songs into her sun-drenched Saturday Newport Folk set, Phoebe Bridgers paused and proclaimed, “I am a puddle of sweat.” It was a one-liner that primed those huddled at the Harbor Stage for the 2018 Slingshot artist’s catalog: details delivered with specificity and a subtle sense of humor.

I will say the one thing about this recording is that I don;t think you can hear all of the percussion as clearly as I could at Asbury Lanes.

The show started much the same as mine did with a beautiful languid version of “Smoke Signals” and a try-to-hold-back-the-tears reading of “Funeral.”

For the next song, “Georgia,” she brought out songwriter Christian Lee Hutson who is “going to help me sing harmonies.”  Whether it was the song itself of Hutson’s addition, but Bridgers’ voice really soars on this song.

Even Bridgers’ stage banter reflected her striking style, mixing straightforward address and astute observation. “This song is about how every time I smoke weed, I remember why I don’t smoke weed,” she said of the plainspoken plea “Demi Moore.”

She continued: “I face plant and my brain is erased for many hours and I think I’m thinking too loud.”

There’s some gorgeous harmonies on the darkly sweet song, “Killer.”  Then she played “Steamroller” solo on the acoustic guitar.

Later, she called “Steamroller,” a devastatingly candid cut from her 2015 EP, Killer, “another dark love song, thanks.”

Introducing Gillian Welch’s song “Everything Is Free” she said. “This is my friend Marshall.  We’re going to sing my favorite song about music streaming ever written.”  I loved hearing this live and it sounds just as solid here.

Up next was a song she did not play at my show.  She welcomed Christian Lee Hutson (playing guitar with Jenny Lewis) and Sharon Silva (from The Wild Reeds) played bass with me for exactly one week and I waited for a really bassist…Emily.  Chris wrote this song for me.”  The chorus goes “”lets get the old band back together again, and there’s even a line, “with Emily on bass, it doesn’t feel the same.”

The crowd reacts strongly, as they should to her awesome song “Motion Sickness.”

Despite its venom, it’s a song that unspools with a sonic ease that feel refreshing, even for an overheated festival audience.

The songs sounds great live and she holds a 17-second note just for kicks.  The sets ends (as did ours) with “Scott Street.”  She says “This is about L.A. where we live;  where it’s hot all the time.”  It’s a quiet song, sounds and represents her music pretty perfectly–quiet, sad, with clever lyrics.

At our show, we got two encores after this, so again, yay for us.  But this is a great example of her live show.

[READ: April 22, 2016] “Playing with Dynamite”

Back in February of 2017, I posted about an essay by George Saunders from 2009 in which he remembers John Updike “Remembering Updike“.  He says that back in 1992:

 It was going to be in Tina Brown’s first issue and they marked this occasion by running two stories contrasting the new writers (Saunders) with the established.  Of course the establishment writer was going to be Updike.  Saunders said he was chagrined because he knew the contrast would go something like this:

Wonderful, established, powerful representative of the Old Guard kicks the butt of the flaky, superficial, crass poseurish New Guy.  Saunders’ story was “Offloading for Mrs. Schwartz.”

I can see why they paired the George Saunders story with this particular Updike story.  Both stories deal with grief and memory loss, although Updike’s does so in a very different way.  On the other hand, their writing styles are so very different that it’s nearly impossible to compare the two stories.

The story begins with an interesting image from childhood: “one aspect of childhood Fanshawe had not expected to return in old age was the mutability of things–the willingness of a chair, say, to become a leggy animal in the corner of his vision.”  But living now “in death’s immediate neighborhood” he allowed that things like that might happen and it wouldn’t be the end of the world.

There is then an episode in Fanshawe’s day when his wife, who was younger and more spry than he, passed him going down the stairs.  She caught her heel on her dress and fell down the stairs.  It was only after all the guests had left that she said to him, “Wasn’t I good, not to tell everybody how you pushed me me?” (more…)

Read Full Post »

SOUNDTRACK: LOCAL NATIVES-“Fountain of Youth” (Field Recordings, October 5, 2016). 

I know and like Local Natives, although I didn’t know this song.

In 2010, Local Natives came clattering into the indie firmament with the U.S. release of Gorilla Manor, an irresistible blend of in-vogue sonic signifiers like Afropop guitars, rich harmonies and the hint of a folk sensibility. In 2016, the band’s run has continued with the synth-heavy Sunlit Youth.

For their Field Recording, Local Natives played one of the singles off that album, “Fountain of Youth.” Though the recorded version is lush and electronic, Local Natives stripped the song to a driving core. The band played, and then it was off again — guitars in hand, headed for the evening’s show elsewhere in Brooklyn.

They sound great stripped to just two guitars and a tambourine standing on the water’s edge. [Local Natives Strips Down Its Sound For A Riverside Show].  I love this introduction:

The East River Ferry is a very fast boat. Local Natives came hurtling toward our crew up the river one overcast evening this summer, shouting three-part harmonies over roaring engines for a surprised clutch of fans. When the ferry docked, three of the band’s members hurried over to our pier off WNYC Transmitter Park to play this Field Recording.

I’m not sure which of the five Natives these are, but they harmonize wonderfully. And I really like that the main singer is playing his guitar while the second guitar is silent until later in the song when his higher notes are used as an excellent accent.

[READ: January 15, 2018] “Kinderscenen”

This was a fascinating story because of how much detail was given and how little plot there was.

This is the story of a boy, Toby.  It is written in a kind of childish third person, almost by a benevolent guardian.

Sentences like:

What he does know is how Daddy’s cigarette looks in the evening when sitting on a wicker chair with the other grown-ups softly talking in a row, he flips it away its red star tracing lopsided loops before shattering into sparks on the bricks.

In his heart he knows that this is the best town in the world.

In the story, Toby helps his mother garden (by lifting the prickery bushes “holding up the bushes’ skirts” which has a naughty sound that nevertheless doesn’t make it fun. (more…)

Read Full Post »

SOUNDTRACK: KUINKA-Tiny Desk Concert #716 (March 9, 2018).

Kuinka are a happy band.  Smiles are on all four members’ faces as they play their three songs.

Miranda Zickler says that they spend all of their time in the van listening to NPR, so this is pretty exciting for them.

The blurb says:

Last year I came across Kuinka (coo-WINK-uh), a band from Seattle… Kuinka’s live performance knocked me out even more than the creative video they’d submitted for the contest.

Since then, Brothers Zach (guitar) and Nathan (mandolin) Hamer, along with Miranda Zickler (keys) and Jillian Walker (cello), have come to D.C. for an official performance at the Tiny Desk, bringing with them their great harmonies and unique blend of energetic, string-band music with a dose of synth.

I’m not sure what the band sounds like normally–if they typically play electronic drums or what, but as the blurb notes

The songs are performed here on relatively tiny instruments, including a ukulele, a drum pad, a small synth, a mandolin and a banjo, along with an electric guitar. But the performance is fleshed out beautifully with rousing vocal harmonies.

All three tracks performed here are from Kuinka’s 2017 EP Stay Up Late, and each one has its own charm.

“Curious Hands” has lead vocals by Miranda.  There’s a cello, keys and Nathan playing a small acoustic six string guitar (or ukulele?).  He gets a pretty big (largely percussive) sound out of that little thing.  But it’s the harmonies that are really spectacular.  I feel like the electronic drums are a little too electronic for this largely folk band but whatever.

For “Spaces,” Zach switches from electronic drums to electric guitar.  He also sings lead with an unexpected twang.  Nathan has switched to mandolin which gives the whole song a kind of Americana vibe.  The electronic drums sound they chose is awful, but there’s a really cool synth sound between verses that prevents this from being overtly in one genre.

Miranda “explains” the name of the band: Kuinka is like kuinka-dink but it doesn’t have anything to do with that, it’s just a coincidence [that’s our ‘bit’].

The blurb’s recommendation to stay until “Mistakenly Brave” is a good one as it is the most rousing song.  They revert back to previous instruments, although Miranda plays banjo.  The harmonies are terrific (much better than the solo vocals, honestly).  It’s got that whole The Head and the Heart vibe going on.  Big soaring vocals and a cool break that leads to a rollicking coda.  Mid way through, Zach switches back to electric guitar to add some oomph.

[READ: April 20, 2016] Endpoint

John Updike died in January 2009 after decades of writing for the New Yorker and elsewhere.  As the news settled in the magazine ran this tribute to him in the March 16 issue.

Rather than running a story, they published a ten-poem sequence called “Endpoint,” (I didn’t even know he wrote poetry).  Most of these poems were written in 2008, while presumably, he knew he was dying from lung cancer.

Endpoint (more…)

Read Full Post »

manner SOUNDTRACK: BEN GIBBARD-Tiny Desk Concert #251 (November 19, 2012).

benBen Gibbard is the voice of Death Cab for Cutie.  His voice is instantly recognizable and his melodies are surprisingly catchy.

This Tiny Desk Concert (they say it’s number 250, but I count 251) is just him and his acoustic guitar.  I didn’t know he did solo work, but apparently he does (in addition to being in The Postal Service and All-Time Quarterback).

Gibbard just released a solo album, Former Lives, which he’s said is a repository for material that didn’t work as Death Cab for Cutie songs; from that record, only “Teardrop Windows” pops up in his Tiny Desk Concert. For the rest, he draws from Death Cab’s most recent album (“St. Peter’s Cathedral,” from Codes and Keys) and, of all places, last year’s Arthur soundtrack (“When the Sun Goes Down on Your Street”).

As mentioned he plays three songs and his voice is so warm and familiar I felt like I knew these songs even if I didn’t.

I knew “St. Peter’s Cathedral.” It is a lovely song with very little in the way of chord changes.  But the melody is gentle and pretty.  And the song appears to be entirely about this church.  Which is interesting because the second song is also about a building in Seattle.  “Teardrop Windows” is a surprisingly sad song about an inanimate object.  It’s written from the building’s point of view as he mourns that no one uses him anymore.  And such beautiful lyrics too:

Once built in boast as the tallest on the coast he was once the city’s only toast / In old postcards was positioned as the star, he was looked up to with fond regard / But in 1962 the Needle made its big debut and everybody forgot what it outgrew

The final song “When the Sun Goes Down on Your Street” was indeed for the Russel Brand movie Arthur.  Somehow I can’t picture those two together.  It’s a lovely song, too.

I prefer Gibbard’s more upbeat and fleshed out music, but it’s great to hear him stripped down as well.

[READ: January 2017] “My Writing Education: A Time Line,” “The Bravery of E.L. Doctorow,” “Remembering Updike,” and “Offloading for Mrs. Schwartz” 

I had been planning to have my entire month of February dedicated to children’s books.  I have a whole bunch that I read last year and never had an opportunity to post them.  So I thought why not make February all about children’s books.  But there is just too much bullshit going on in our country right now–so much hatred and ugliness–that I felt like I had to get this post full of good vibes out there before I fall completely into bad feelings myself. It;s important to show that adults can be kind and loving, despite what our leaders demonstrate.  Fortunately most children’s books are all about that too, so the them holds for February.

George Saunders is a wonderful writer, but he is also a very kind human being.  Despite his oftentimes funny, sarcastic humor, he is a great humanitarian and is always very generous with praise where it is warranted.

The other day I mentioned an interview with Saunders at the New York Times.  Amid a lot of talk with and about Saunders, there is this gem:

Junot Díaz described the Saunders’s effect to me this way: “There’s no one who has a better eye for the absurd and dehumanizing parameters of our current culture of capital. But then the other side is how the cool rigor of his fiction is counterbalanced by this enormous compassion. Just how capacious his moral vision is sometimes gets lost, because few people cut as hard or deep as Saunders does.”

These first three pieces are all examples of his love and respect for other writers–both for their skill and for their generosity.

“My Writing Education: A Time Line”

“My Writing Education” comes from a book called A Manner of Being: Writers on Their Mentors.  Saunders’ mentor was Tobias Wolff.  And for this essay, his admiration takes the form of a diary.  (more…)

Read Full Post »

tny 5.26.08 cvr.inddSOUNDTRACK: PACIFICA QUARTET-Tiny Desk Concert #383 (August 18, 2014).

pacificaIn this Tiny Desk Concert, the Pacifica Quartet explore the world of a single composer, Dmitri Shostakovich.  They will play three movements from different Shostakovich quartets

The quartet consists of Simin Ganatra and Sibbi Bernhardsson on violins, Masumi Per Rostad on viola and Brandon Vamos on cello.

I’m going to quote a ton from the NPR blurb because they know from what they speak.  But I’m going to chime in that these pieces are really cool.  I like Shostakovich, but haven’t really devoted a lot of time to him. His music seems at times playful and at other times very dark.

In the first piece I love how that three note motif recurs in different places and then the piece turns into a delicate pizzicato section.

The second piece is so light-hearted as it starts–pastoral and lovely.  But there hangs a slightly menacing version of that pastoral riff.  I especially enjoyed watching the cellist bow aggressively.  It goes a little crazy towards the end but somehow remains upbeat.

The final piece plays off of the notes of Shostakovich’s initials (they explain all about this in the intro and what the S and H are in terms of musical notes).  It’s amazing to think that these different parts play with those four notes in a different way.  It’s an intense piece and reminds me a bit of Psycho.

From the blurb [with my comments in brackets]:

With the arguable exception of Béla Bartók’s six string quartets, it’s generally accepted that the 15 by Dmitri Shostakovich are the strongest body of quartets since Beethoven….  The Shostakovich quartets are intense, like page-turning thrillers, as they pull you into his world. They are dark and introspective, witty and sarcastic, and stained with the Soviet-era violence and hardship the composer lived through.

Quartet No. 7 in F-sharp minor, Op. 108 (1960) Allegretto
Eerie pizzicato and piercing stabs in the violins help color the twitchy, even sinister, opening movement of the Seventh Quartet. Stalin might have been dead since 1953, but hard-line Soviet politics (including the violent suppression of the 1956 Hungarian uprising) were still in place. The music’s lightness and transparency create a crepuscular feel.

Quartet No. 3 in F major, Op. 73 (1946) Allegretto
The Third Quartet’s first movement looks back to a slightly more pleasant time before World War II. At one point Shostakovich considered a subtitle: “Calm unawareness of the future cataclysm.” The jaunty opening theme, like Haydn after a few beers [now that is a hilarious line], is among the most lighthearted in the 15 quartets. But the mood sobers with an intense double fugue before returning to the opening music and a flashy final page.

Quartet No. 8 in C minor, Op. 110 (1960) Allegro molto
The Eighth Quartet is Shostakovich’s most popular — and one of his most hair-raising. He dedicated it to victims of fascism and war while at the same time creating his own epitaph. The entire quartet is built on a foundation of four notes that spell out his first initial and the first three letters of his last name [watch in the beginning of the piece as they demonstrate these notes]. The second movement juxtaposes violent energy with a tweaked version of a Jewish folk theme from an earlier work.

[READ: February 27, 2016] “The Full Glass”

I never understand how the New Yorker selects what it will publish each week.  Sometimes authors can go for years without a piece and sometimes they can go just a couple of months.  Such is the case with 2008 where there have been many duplicate authors in the span of a few months.  Updike’s last story in the magazine was in January of 2008–that’s barely five months.

Anyway, this story is written from the point of view of a man turning eighty.

He talks about retiring from his job as a wood floor re finisher in Connecticut.  He’s admitting he is his age and is taking a ton of pills every day and what not.

And he reflects on a many things in his life.  Like the bliss of a cold glass of water.  He hates the thought of drinking 8 glasses a day, but a cold glass at night is wonderful [I concur]. (more…)

Read Full Post »

17208SOUNDTRACK: RAPSODY-Tiny Desk Concert #498 (January 5, 2016).

rapsAs part of my New Year’s resolution, I’m going to try to keep up with the Tiny Desk shows as they happen.

This is the first Tiny Desk Concert of 2016, and I’m afraid it was pretty disappointing.

Rapsody is a rapper, but I feel like she doesn’t have a lot of flow.  Or if she does, it’s kind of slow and meandering.  There was nothing really captivating about her style.  And her rhymes weren’t all that exciting either.

“Godzilla” is a very pro-God song (the twist on God and Zilla is interesting), but the song isn’t that inspired.  She spends most of the song asking people to clap (the room is full of students from Howard University).  Her rhymes are just not that interesting in this song.

Her second song (with a horrific cheesy sax solo throughout) has a great premise–a song about the boys who have grown up too fast because they lack strong black fathers.  The problem with it is that a song like this, which could be powerful as a message, has a chorus of “I been the motherfuckin ….”  Which ain’t going garner much airplay.

“Hard to Choose” is about being a black female in hip hop.  She wanted to be a good role model for young girls.  Once again, her flow isn’t that exciting and her rhymes don’t really  do much for me.  Of course, she disses hipsters who don’t understand, and I guess that’s me.

Rapsody has some great messages.  I wish her a lot of success and I hope that her positive messages are heard by millions.  I just wont be listening.

[READ: January 5, 2015] “Outage”

As part of my new year’s resolution, I’m going to read all of the old New Yorker stories from 2008-2015 to fill in any gaps (I’ve missed about 50 stories in seven years).  In a few months I should have all of the stories from 2008-2016 (or close to the current story as possible) read and posted.  How exciting!

This was something of a perfect short story and a great way to start the back issues.

I don’t read a lot of Updike, for no particular reason.  So I don’t really know if this is the kind of thing he typically writes.   But the way it was constructed and the details he put in made this story seem so effortless and very true.

Set in the suburbs of Boston, Brad Morris is working from home when a storm comes through the area.  The weatherpersons had made a huge deal out of it since they are “always eager for ratings-boosting disasters.”  But the actual weather seemed to be on and off heavy rain.

And then just as the storm seemed to be over, the power went our.  The description, “the house seemed to sigh, as all its lights and little engines, its computerized timers and indicators, simultaneously shut down.”  That is exactly right. (more…)

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »