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Archive for the ‘Louise Erdrich’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: LAURA MARLING-NonCOMM (May 18, 2017).

I enjoyed listening to the sets from NonCOMM back in May, so I dug into the archives and found out that a lot of sets are still available.  I was especially happy to see this one from Laura Marling.  The end of the blurb says:

You’ll have another chance to witness this fixating performance when Laura Marling comes to the TLA tomorrow night.

And that’s the show I saw.

After a hearty introduction from Bob Boilen, Laura Marling and crew swan-dived right into debut single, “Soothing,” off of her latest album, Semper Femina.

“Wild Fire” is an amazing example of her incredible voice as she speak-sings, whispers, coos and soars all over the verses which come together in the beautiful harmony of “meeeeeee” in the chorus.  This song has a bunch of curses in it, but she kept it clean for this performance.

With a piercing yet still somehow soft gaze cutting through the crowd (I don’t know how she does the thing, but it’s true), Marling unleashed her otherworldly vocals — flawlessly ebbing and flowing with the track’s funkier rhythm.

“Always This Way” is a beautiful song off of Semper Femina.  The guitar melody is delightful and, of course, her voice is outstanding.

“Next Time” has a simple, quiet, guitar melody which allows her voice to just wend all over this song.  When the backing vocals come it it’s quiet angelic.

“Nothing, Not Nearly” has some wonderfully fast vocals that are as fun to try to figure out as they are to sing along to.  It ends Semper Femina and is my favoirte song on the record.  From the main melody to her wonderfully high notes this song is amazing.

She ended the set with “Once” from Once I Was an Eagle, the album that introduced me to her.

This song is very different from the others, but it still sounded great.  When I saw her I wished she’d played ten songs from each album.  Maybe some day I’ll see her do everything.

[READ: September 7, 2019] “The Stone”

This was an otherworldly story about an earthly object.

As a young girl, the main character’s family drove to an island in Lake Superior every summer.  She was wandering in the brush one day when she felt sure someone was looking at her.  There was no one there, but then she saw the stone.

It was smooth and black, half the size of a human skull and rain had carved what looked like two eye holes in it.

She was spooked at first but then was drawn to it.  She brought it back to the vacation home and put it where she slept.  But then she was sure one of her siblings would try to take it, so she hid it in her sleeping bag.

She brought home after the summer and put it in her room. Her mother saw it as she was getting them ready for school in September. Her mom asked if she’d found the rock the summer.  She nodded and, after dinner, hid it in her room. (more…)

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 SOUNDTRACK: STRAND OF OAKS-NonCOMM (May 15, 2019).

I’ve seen Strand of Oaks three times, although only once as a full band. Usually I see Tim Showalter’s Winter Spectacles–intimate shows with just him and a partner.  I forget how big the can sound with a full band.

“Weird Ways” opens the set.  I love the moment about two minutes in when the second guitar kicks in.  It seems like the song is going to be one thing but that second guitar changes the texture of the song up until the end.  The end is a catchy coda–synth waves, a big crescendo drums and a sing along “That’s a weird way to say goodbye.”
As Showalter introduced the band’s biggest hit, “Goshen ’97,” he recalled one of his favorite moments from the last decade. “I guess this is the first song of mine I ever heard on the radio, and it was one of the best experiences of my life. I’ll never forget it. So if you know it, help us sing it.” The song describes Showalter’s memories of beginning to make music as a teenager in his hometown of Goshen, Indiana. “I was lonely but I was having fun!” he cried out during every pre-chorus.
I like mid-song when he says “gimme some shred!” and whoever is on guitar totally rocks out.
Up next is the new single “Ruby.”  I love the way he exaggeratedly slows down the chorus–it’s very effective.
Strand of Oaks stretched out many of their selections to make room for jamming and imagining, even though they were only scheduled to play a thirty-minute set. As usual, they made sure to enjoy every moment on stage to the fullest — they never rush. “If you know anything about this band, a half an hour is pretty tough for us to do,” Showalter admitted after fading out the end of “Ruby.” “That’s usually about one song,” he chuckled.
He dedicated “Keys,” to his wife, Sue.  “It’s easy to let your life slip away,” he sang.  The song featured slide guitar at its most melancholy and Showalter’s voice at its most wistful.
He dedicated “Radio Kids” to everyone who stayed up late listening for that song on the radio…pressing record and hoping to hear the name of the band.
They geared up for a set-ending “Hyperspace Blues” which I thought would be a lot longer.  But he was expecting his time to be over, so he kept it brief.  Then there was a surprise.
My favorite moment came after midnight, after Strand of Oaks were already supposed have finished their set. “So, the good folks at NonCOMM said that we can play a little bit longer,” Showalter announced with a grin. “We did this one a few days ago and dedicated this to a very dear friend of mine. Someone who’s changed my life for the better and I’m so happy and I’m so proud of him, and it’s just so good to see him …” He trailed off but then continued, almost broken up, “We’re gonna do this one for my dear friend Bruce Warren — let’s give Bruce Warren a big round of applause. The world’s a better place ’cause you’re here, Bruce, and we love you, so we’re gonna do this one for you. And we’ll burn it a little extra long for NonCOMM.”
“Forever Chords,” burns for twelve minutes.  It starts out slow, with a great tone and Showalter’s aching vocals.  There’s lengthy guitar solos, and pianos solos.  “The problem with living…. is one day you won’t” is not the happiest not to leave on, but the repeated chorus of “you hope it never ends” leaves us with an optimistic jamming moment.
[READ: May 30, 2019] “Revival Road”

Louise Erdrich writes unusual stories that I find very gripping.

This one is about a couple of families who live on Revival Road in rural new Hampshire.

The narrator is a middle aged woman who lives at home with her mother.  There is this wonderful passage:

It is difficult for a woman to admit that she gets along wit her own mother.  Somehow, it seem a form of betrayal.

The narrator is the lover of Kurt Heissman, a local artist.  His wife had died in a car accident many years earlier and he only had his daughter left.  She went to Sarah Lawrence.  She did not like the narrator.

Heissman’s work involved massive pieces of native slate or granite.  Pieces he couldn’t possibly move by himself so he always had a young man living in the guest house as his employee.  He had him stay nearby to be ready the moment that inspiration struck. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: NEGATIVLAND-A Big 10-8 Place (1983).

After the cut-and-paste craziness of the first two Negativland albums, this third one was a bit more thought through as a whole.  It’s still a bizarre pastiche of samples and sounds, but there’s a more unifying theme.  And a lot of cursing.

There are six tracks on the disc.  It opens with “Theme from a Big 10-8 Place.”   Many of the sounds that you’ll hear throughout the disc are sampled here, but the main point of this song is a simple drum beat and David speak/singing “very stupid, very stupid” as well as some other thematically appropriate lines.

One two stupid
Three four dumb
Five six idiotic
Seven eight seat bee sate
Very stupid very stupid very stupid very stupid!
I like Concord
And 180-G
I like Pleasant Hill
No other possibility

The track ends with fascinating instructions like, “I want you to put parakeet feathers into your television set if you’re watching MTV” and “I want you to trip over your grocery cart if you’re shoplifting from Safe Muffins.”

The bulk of side one is “A Big 10-8 Place –Part One”: 13 and a half minutes of samples placed back to back.  These include: A woman screaming “Tommy?”; a clip from what sounds like a butchering video (“the second thing that happens is that the butcher loses control”) ; car commercials (“then the door closes behind you in safe and secure comfort”) ; house shopping commercials and the piano from “Clowns and Ballerinas.”  After about 6 minutes the bad language comes in–insults from what sounds like a CB radio.

“Clowns and Ballerinas” is 90 seconds of a little girl singing the song “Clowns and Ballerinas” to a simple piano accompaniment.

“Introduction” brings David out as he prepares us for him to talk about 180 and the Letter G.  “In a few moments we’re going to be 10-8.”

“Four Fingers” is a surprisingly catchy song played on an acoustic guitar with a whistling solo.  The vocals are smooth and clean and the lyrics are almost creepy but are actually funny:

I am a man, a man with two fingers
A man with two fingers on my hand
I am a man, a man with two fingers
But that doesn’t count my middle finger, my index finger, or my thumb.

Then comes “180-G: A Big 10-8 Place –Part Two” a 16 minute pastiche of David telling us how to get to 180 and the Letter G.  There’s cut up music behind them with choice lines like this:

Okay people we are 10-8 and the number is 180 and the letter is G.  There is no other possibility.

But before you get onto the bridge, around one big turn, you’ll come up to the place where the sex chemicals burned up.

First of all it’s very important that you turn on your AM radio. Set it to 1010 on your dial, and let the radio frequency energy from K-101 overload your little tuner until it distorts very highly [crazy extreme distortion] . And right at the point of that extreme distortion, there’s the big chairs. I’m not exactly sure, but I think that’s where all the sewer water from Oakland goes.

my favorite ham radio repeater station — that’s WR6 Automatic Bowel Movement.  And any of you who are into jamming, keep talking, keep jamming, because I’ll be listening on my scanner radio, and just maybe…you’ll be on the next album.

And just before you get to the top of the hill, you’ll notice the green slime oozing out from under the house at 180 and the letter G.

I repeat, you’re gonna have to shoplift the HR Steam Cleaning System from Safe Muffins.

About half way through it turns more jazzy (with guitars and bongos)

The door opens automatically, and the first thing you see is the orange carpet inside 180…and you’ll see the dog juice, the horrible dog juice all over the orange carpet at 180 and the letter G.

And then comes another well-known section from Negativland, a lengthy argument between David and his mother about where he put her cigarettes.

“I think I’d like to have a cigarette now. Where are my cigarettes, David?”
“They’re on top of the refrigerator.”
“I looked on top of the refrigerator. They aren’t there. will you please tell me what you did with my cigarettes?”
“Maybe you left them in the car.”
“I haven’t been in the car all day. You must have put them somewhere and I can’t find them. You better tell me now or I’m going to really get mad.”
“Oh yeah, I think I know where they are. They’re in back of the TV set, where all the parakeet feathers are.”

It’s all crazy and bizarre, but it’s kind of fun as a fractured narrative.

[READ: April 19, 2019] “Le Mooz”

This story is set in Ojibweg land.  Margaret has survived three husbands.  Nanapush has survived six wives.  They got together, “they were old by the time they shacked up out in the deep bush.”

They were both heated and passionate–both in love and in anger, “they made love with an amazed greed and purity that astounded them.  At the same time it was apt to burn out of control.”

To survive their passions, they rarely collaborated on any task, finding solitary work was more productive for both of them.  One day Margaret came swiftly home.  She beached the boat and was running up shouting “Le Mooz!”

Nanapush was sleeping and was irritated to be awoken by the yelling.  But if there was a Mooz, a moose, that would be meat for them for a long time. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKAMANDA PALMER-“The Ride” Tiny Desk Family Hour (March 12, 2019).

These next few shows were recorded at NPR’s SXSW Showcase.

The SXSW Music Festival is pleased to announce the first-ever Tiny Desk Family Hour showcase, an evening of music by artists who have played NPR Music’s Tiny Desk Concert, at Central Presbyterian Church on Tuesday, March 12 from 8-11pm.

This show is the most interesting visually because Palmer is sitting at her piano and the camera is at all angles–so you can see the crowd and how close they are to the performers.

The blurb is also interesting because I had no idea the performers only played for about 15 minutes.

When Amanda Palmer heard she’d have around 15 minutes for her Tiny Desk Family Hour performance, she assumed there wouldn’t be time for most of the songs on her new album, There Will Be No Intermission, a sprawling masterwork with epic tracks clocking in at 10 minutes or more. So, she showed up with just her ukulele in hand, prepared for a stripped-down, abbreviated set. But when we wheeled out a grand piano just for her – and after I gushed to the crowd about Palmer’s brilliant new opus on the nature of humanity called “The Ride” – she decided she had to play it.

Like many of the tracks on There Will Be No Intermission, “The Ride” is a deep, existential dive into fear, death, loneliness and grief, with the tiniest glimmer of hope or comfort at the end. This is Palmer’s first album in seven years and it documents all she’s been through in that time. It’s also an album she says wouldn’t have been possible if she hadn’t decided to make it on her own, with crowdfunding support from fans. “It’s a very intense record. It’s been a very intense seven years of my life since I put out my last one,” she told the crowd at Austin’s Central Presbyterian Church. And without having a label to answer to, she said she was able to “write an entire album with songs that are really long and about miscarriage and abortion and about the kind of stuff I don’t want to take up to ‘Steve’ in marketing to try to explain why this record should exist.”

It’s a powerful song–simple and mostly unchanging–where the focus is on the words.  But those few times when the vocal melody changes or she adds that circus melody it’s a jarring change from the story she’s presenting.

Though she’s played abbreviated versions of “The Ride” in past shows, this is one of her earliest performances of the full, album-length song. Two days after her Tiny Desk Family Hour set, Palmer returned to the Central Presbyterian Church for an epic, two-and-a-half hour concert with just her ukulele and piano.

[READ: February 2019] Future Home of the Living God

I’m not sure what drew me to this book. I have read (and enjoyed) many short stories by Erdrich, so I assume her name stood out.  The title is also pretty cool.

But I really had no idea what was coming.  I also didn’t know that Erdrich is Turtle Mountain Chippewa, which obviously lends weight to her Native American depictions.

This story is about Cedar Hawk Songmaker, an adult woman who was adopted by “Minnesota liberals” as a baby.  When she went to find her Ojibwe parents, she learned that she was born Mary Potts.

The book is written as Cedar’s diary.  It begins August 7 (year unstated).  The book is set in the future.  A cataclysmic event has happened and I absolutely love that since this book is written from Cedar’s point of view, she doesn’t know what happened.  She will never learn what happened, and neither will we.  It is just understood that evolution as we know it has stopped.  People seem to be devolving. Or more specifically babies are being born in a state of devolution.  Again, no more details are given. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: FROM THE TOP-Tiny Desk Concert #758 (June 22, 2018).

From the Top is a radio show (and podcast) which showcases young, talented classical musicians.

For over 20 years, From the Top (distributed by NPR) has built an impressive platform to celebrate the music, lives and stories of youngsters playing classical music. That’s right. Young people in this country love classical music.  We invited three talented From the Top musicians to the Tiny Desk. No squeaky violins here. These kids are terrific players.

From the Top alum Derek Wang is our good-natured emcee, in addition to serving as a sensitive accompanist for two of the pieces.

The first piece is played by 12-year-old violinist Kaia Selden–sparks fly (and bow hairs, too) when  she tears into

  • Henryk Wieniawski: “Scherzo-Tarantelle, Op. 16”

A bouncy piano opens up this amazingly fast violin piece.  Selden plays with fire and passion as her fingers fly over the fretboard for these incredibly fast notes and runs.  It’s stunning how composed and confident she is.

She explains that the song is a tarantel, a kind of dance, named after when you are bitten by a tarantula–you have to dance really fast and crazy to get the venom out of your system.

Up next is cellist Noah Lee who uncovers fascinating new sounds on his instrument

  • Mark Summer: “Julie-O”

The piece opens with plucked notes and strummed chords.  He pays what sounds like rock riffs and then after a minute or so he picks up the bow and begins playing the instrument conventionally–with some quick runs and cool sounds.  Then he adds new sounds–slapping the strings with just his left hand and then using his right percussively.  There’s some more plucking notes and full chords before ending with more bowed music.  It’s a mesmerizing solo piece.

The third musician is Javier Morales-Martinez who makes his velvety clarinet sing in elegant music:

  • Francis Poulenc: “Clarinet Sonata, II. Romanza”  The

The juxtaposition of piano and clarinet is quite lovely and Javier greats some amazing sounds out of the instrument,.

Javier says that when he was 7 or 8 he used to play music with his dad from Mexico.  He was later introduced to classical music and has been playing it ever since.

It’s an inspirational set from amazing young musicians.

[READ: February 9, 2016] “The Flower”

Erdrich had a short piece in the previous issue of the New Yorker, and here she gets a full short story.

I was really surprised to find this story set in 1839 in Ojibwe country (although I see that Erdrich has written extensively about Okibwe country, so that’s my bad, clearly).

The story is a fairly simple one.  There is an older Ojibwe woman, Mink, who is wailing and carrying on, demanding the trader’s milk –a mixture of raw distilled spirits, rum, red pepper and tobacco–from Mackinnon.  It was driving Mackinnon crazy, but Mink was from a family of healers and could not be denied.

The other man in the tent was Mackinnon’s clerk, Wolfred Roverts who was trying his best to get the sound out of his ears. Wolfred aged 17 was from Portsmouth New Hampshire.  He missed his home terribly but there was no life for him back there. (more…)

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815SOUNDTRACK: NAP EYES-Thought Rock Fish Scale (2016).

Nap Eyes’ second full album doesn’t deviate too much from their first, although the songwriting has gotten stronger and the band branches out in small ways.

I love the simple but effective bass throb that runs though “Mixer.”  The lead guitar isn’t quite as noisy as on the previous, but the song doesn’t suffer from the lack.  Overall the song, and the album, feels more immediate, which is a good thing.

“Stargazer” is catchy right from the get go–a simple but cool guitar riff and some nice rumbling bass.  And after the first verse, the second guitar plays a nice harmony of that immediately catchy riff.  Plus, the lyrics feel even more pointed:

I have seen people go by me with such
Determination that it’s sick
I’d like to go the places they don’t know how to get to
But I can’t remember the trick
So I wait around and venomously crown myself
Serpent king of my sins
But if I go down I’m not taking you with me
It’s only myself in the end

“Lion in Chains” has a very Velvet Underground feel, in the best way–Nigel’s voice is closer and clearer and the it’s great the way deadpan chorus soars as he tries to keep it tethered.  I also love the interesting/mundane way he songs about things: “here at the arcade I spent about 45,000 dimes.”

“Don’t Be Right” changes the tone quite a bit–a loud plucked guitar and smooth bass push the song along quite briskly until the chorus slows things down with the wry observation: “Don’t be right – it isn’t good for you / You may not realize it, but it’s not / When you’re right, you barely know what to do / Just sit around thinking and cry a lot.”

“Click Clack” has a smooth opening which shifts after two verses into a loud jangling chord with a Lou Reed via Morrissey delivery:

Sometimes drinking I feel so happy / but then I can’t remember why / I feel sad all over again // sometimes drinking I don’t know my best friend for my best friend

and then it resumes with the most Lou Reed delivery yet

The longest song on the album is “Alaskan Shake.”  It has an almost country feel–a one-two bass line and a lead guitar played with a slide.  Around four minutes the song shifts directions briefly with some loud chords but then it shifts back with that loud slide guitar.

“Roll It” is a faster song, although the tempo slow down half way through is really striking.  It’s even more so when it seems to double down on that tempo change after another verse.  You almost don’t want the song to resume the fats tempo, but I like that way it wraps back up on itself to end.

The album (shorter than the first) ends with the two and a half-minute “Trust.”  Even though this album is shorter, it explores a lot more terrain and is a wonderful step from the first.

The band has a new album coming out next month.  I’m really curious to see what direction they go in especially since the new album cover looks very different from these first two.

[READ: July 21, 2015] “The Course of Happiness”

This was the 2015 New Yorker fiction issue.  It featured several stories and several one-page essays from writers I like.  The subject this time was “Time Travel.”

Erdrich takes time travel in an entirely unexpected way.  She says that being from the midwest she should probably  imagine all the good she could do if she could time travel–vaccinating people against old-world diseases or killing a young Hitler, but she says that all of that is too much to consider. (more…)

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1282008SOUNDTRACK: MARIACHI FLOR DE TOLOACHE-Tiny Desk Concert #499 (January 8, 2016).

florI enjoyed Mariachi El Bronx not too long ago.  I guess I didn’t expect much more from Mariachi Flor De Toloache.  But wow, they blew me away.

I compared them to Mariachi El Bronx because they also wear the traditional Mariachi outfit and they use the somewhat comically over sized guitarron (played by Lisa Maree Dowling).

But about a minute through the first song, “Let Down” when the three women sing harmony (a wonderful three-part harmony)–it’s already amazing.  And it just gets better.

“Let Down” is a slow song sung (in English and Spanish) by Shae Fiol who also plays vihuela (which has a great sound for a tiny four-stringed guitar).  The trumpet solo (by Anna Garcia) is great and interesting and the pizzicato violin notes really add character.  But when the song suddenly picks up tempo half way through it gets really fun.  And then Shae sings the first of several beautiful and amazingly long notes.

The second song is a cumbia called “Dicen.”  This one is sung by the violinist Mireya Ramos who says “dont be shy, shake you shoulders “.  There’s group harmony and then she gets the audience to sing the chorus “Ay Ay Ay.”  The song merges into a verse of “Blue Skies” which makes the song even more fun.  Shae sings this part and once again shows off her vocal skills with some more amazingly powerful high notes.  And then Mireya really shows off her fiddling skills with a great solo and some dexterous bow work.  And then she shows off her own amazing vocal notes–holding an incredibly long note through several octaves with great control.

After those first two songs (16 minutes worth), they do yet another one.  This one straight from Mexico (the roots of mariachi) called “Guadalajara.”  It opens with great harmony vocals and a cool vihuela strumming until the trumpet announces a good old mariachi song.  Shae once again amazes with her high shrieks and calls.  And by this time the entire audience (even those of us listening at home) are totally into it.

How do they hold these notes for so long?  (Some are around fifteen seconds). It is truly a wonder to behold.

This was only a fraction of the band and apparently when they are all together live they are really something to see.

[READ: January 9, 2015] “The Reptile Garden”

With a name like “The Reptile Garden,” this story did not do anything that I thought it was going to. In fact, when I finished I had to rethink the story to remember why it was even called that.  That’s pretty cool (since it works).

The story is set in the fall of 1972.  The narrator is a half Native American woman who is going to study at the University of North Dakota.  She is very smart but she knows she doesn’t fit in.  She chose to study French because she dreamed of going to Paris some day.

She says the white girls listen to Joni Mitchel and grow their hair long, while other girls–Dakota, Chippewa or mixed blood like her were less obvious on campus.  Aside from a few who swaggered and had American Indian Movement boyfriends.  (more…)

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