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Archive for the ‘Matthew Klam’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: LAURA STEVENSON-Tiny Desk Concert #946 (February 14, 2020).

maxresdefault (1)I don’t know Laura Stevenson, but she has a very pretty voice.

She is a singer-songwriter who I gather plays fairly stripped down songs.  But Bob Boilen wanted to spruce things up–I’ve never heard of him directly interfering in a Tiny Desk before–I wonder how often he does,

It was supposed to be so simple. Laura Stevenson, a singer-songwriter whose new material radiates warm intensity, would come in and knock us out with an intimate acoustic solo set … So I came to Bob with the idea … but Bob is nothing if not a pesky dreamer — a man who lives his life in pursuit of beauty and the creation of hard work for other people — so he suggested a wrinkle. What if we commissioned string arrangements for three songs from Stevenson’s newest album, The Big Freeze?

And there they are.

So arranger Amy Domingues, who doubles as a marvelous D.C.-area cellist, dreamed up some charts and gathered a small ensemble (herself and violinists Shelley Matthews and Winston Yu) for accompaniment so gorgeous, Stevenson couldn’t stop remarking on it between songs.

After the first song, “Lay Back, Arms Out” she says “.”  Then she talks about being six months pregnant and how she wasn’t pregnant when she booked this show.  She says she has to move her guitar a bit but it looks cool.

“Living Room, NY” is really lovely–Stevenson’s voice is clear and pure and makes the lyrics even more poignant.

The final song is called “Dermatillomania” (which she doesn’t even define, but which is chronic skin-picking).  She says it’s the saddest one but it is the happiest-sounding.

And that’s true, at least the happy-sounding part–it’s super catchy.

But apparently the most exciting part happened after the set was over

we also got to witness what’s almost definitely the first-ever Tiny Desk marriage proposal. Shortly after Stevenson’s set had ended, Jonathan Zember got down on one knee as unobtrusively as possible and proposed to his girlfriend, Dena Rapoport; the two were attending the show as guests of an NPR staffer, and he figured it’d be a memorable spot for their big moment.

Dena said yes.  No word if Laura will write a song about it.

[READ: March 13, 2020] “The Liver”

I enjoyed Klam’s novel Who is Rich, which I found funny and fun.  So I was looking forward to this story which has a title I wasn’t sure how to emphasize.

Boy, was I surprised to read that this is a story about a premature baby.

In fact, the majority of the story is about the narrator’s stresses about this premature baby.

The story begins with Kathy in the hospital after having given birth–two month before her due date. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BABY ROSE-Tiny Desk Concert #944 (February 10, 2020).

I had not heard of Baby Rose, which I suppose makes sense since she put out her debut album last year.

The blurb makes it sound like she has been through a lot more than her 25 years might suggest.

But when the voice behind those words is as seasoned and vintage as Baby Rose’s, everything it utters reverberates like the gospel truth. The D.C. native — who came of age in Fayetteville, N.C. before coming into her own as an artist in Atlanta — returned to her birthplace.

She even speaks like a much older person:

“I would not be able to write with such emotion about these things without my fair share of regrets.”

It sounds like a sincere statement until you realize it’s a bit, an introduction to the song strangely spelled “Ragrets.”

But that is my favorite song here.  It’s got a great opening guitar riff from John Scherer that is duplicated on the bass (with some great high notes) by Craig Shephard.  Backing vocalist Erika JaNaé is there with her throughout–matching her with lovely backing ooohs.

Baby Rose has a voice that sounds a bit like Antony from Antony & the Johnsons–wavery and operatic.  Especially as the Concert opens with “Sold Out” which features strings from Jasminfire on viola, Yuli on violin and Noah Johnson on cello.

It’s also evident in the third song “Over.”  In the middle of the song she sings low and it sounds very Antony, although I suppose another comparison would be “the bluesy melisma of Nina Simone and the deep register of Sarah Vaughan–two of her idols.”  This song is, surprisingly, less than two minutes long.  It has a simple piano melody from Timothy Maxey.  In addition to Erika JaNaé, Jasminfire and Yuli sing backing vocals.  I like the bass slide at the end, which seems like it’s a transition to another part of the song, not the end.

The next song is “Mortal” which opens with a loud drum hit from Tauseef Anam and quiet shimmering guitars.  There’s a lot of backing singing on this song and they all sing very nicely.

As this song is ending she introduces the band and says

“This is what real love sounds like.  This is what it feels like.”

The blurb says

From any other new artist, a Tiny Desk declaration like that might sound a tad bit presumptuous if not altogether premature.

I actually thought pretentious was the word.

She asks if she can do one more (because of course an artist I’ve never heard of gets an 18 minute set).  And in introducing “All To Myself,” she says she is

Dedicating the song to herself — and “to anyone here that’s ever wanted to call or text somebody that you know you should not call or text” —  congratulating those of us who’ve refrained from squandering our emotions on the undeserved.

Her voice is really impressive on this song and I like that the blurb acknowledges that she’s not using autotune

In an era when the over-reliance on Autotune has nearly everybody in radio R&B land sounding like automatons, her unadulterated voice is almost otherworldly. It’s confounding how a vocal tone so weathered and wise emerges from her so effortlessly.

I was a bit cynical about her at first, but Baby Rose really brings the goods.

[READ: July 10, 2019] Who is Rich?

Rich Fischer is a cartoonist.  As the book opens, Rich is beginning his annual week-long teaching assignment at a New England beachside Arts Conference.  Rich was once sort of famous for his first (and only) published book and that’s why he was initially invited to instruct.  In the intervening six years, he has not really produced anything except drawings for magazines, but the head of the council still likes him, so Rich has that annual work to look forward to.

Although he doesn’t really look forward to it.  At this point, he knows what he is and how he fits along with the rest of the teaching staff:

unknown nobodies and one-hit has-beens, midlist somebodies and legitimate stars.

His was a four day intensive workshop that cost $1500.  He details his students–a former high school art teacher (who tried to take over the class), a med student who didn’t want to start med school, a trans kid, a Vietnam War veteran, a grandmother and a teenager skulking in the back.

He talks about his precocious success–at first it seems like a mistake, but you get used to it quickly. You assume it will always be there.  Until it isn’t.

(more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ORVILLE PECK-NonCOMM (May 16, 2019).

I have been intrigued by Orville Peck what with his masked face and all.  But then I heard this set and was disappointed.

What was even more disappointing was this blurb

Yeehaw is having a moment … country’s future has never seemed brighter.

My only hope is that the moment is brief and goes away soon.

Toronto-based Country crooner, Orville Peck, treated NonCOMM attendees to a taste of that future.

It’s interesting when you read a review of something and you wonder if you are listening to the same thing.

With his bulletproof voice, punk-inspired playing, and masked face, Peck put on a rousing and fringe-filled set.

His “bulletproof” voice sounds like a preposterous Elvis impersonation for most of “Dead of Night.”  I’d heard this song on the radio, but his voice is even more insane here. I mean, if someone came out and started singing like that I’d be on the floor laughing, assuming we were both in on the joke.

Although reading this, I’m inclined to like him more:

His backing vocalist joined only for the line “see the boys as they walk on by,” perhaps to highlight the novelty of a country song being about a gay relationship.

And, yes, I do like that part of the torch song because his falsetto is much better than his Elvis.

Punk-inspired? Well, “Turn to Hate” has some fast guitars for sure, although it slows down in a way I don’t like by the end.

“Big Sky” just sounds so absurd to me, like he is trying so hard to hit those notes that it is comic.  Again I feel like I listened to a different song that the blurb:

The somber “Big Sky” started slow, and dripping with melancholy. By the time Peck reached the second verse, it exploded.

In this case, exploded means it got slightly louder.  Weird.

I do agree with the “thunderous stampede of ‘Buffalo Run’” which would have been great aside from the “head on by” croon.

The final song, “‘Take You Back’ was played like a straight-up country jam, complete with a whistled intro and outro.”

I obviosuly don’t like country music, but I do enjoy a good stomping track like this.  Once again, it would be so much better if he didn’t try to croon like Elvis.

I guess people like him for this voice, but I don’t and, even worse, I found his voice mixed too loud throughout the show–it always seemed to be louder than the music.

His masks are cool, though.

[READ: June 1, 2019] “European Wedding”

I’ve enjoyed most of what I’ve read by Klam, but I found this story to be a little offputting.

It’s the story of, yes, a wedding in Europe.  I enjoyed many of the details of it, but the characters all sucked.

Nobody wants to get married in France except for the bride’s mother who has family there.  Gynnie the bride doesn’t want to get married there.  No one in the groom’s family wants to even go to France.

The groom, Rich, is terrible. (It’s also odd that I recently read his 2017 novel Who is Rich about a man named Rich.  It’s not the same Rich, but it is weird to have recycled the name).

Anyhow, as the story opens Rich is having sex with Nora, a client of his.  He wanted to have a little makeout session as a kind of last fling before his wedding.  But as soon as he kissed her, Nora took it really far. As she stripped, he found himself revolted by her.  And as she was sitting on his face and he was gasping for breath, he was revolted by himself. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MOGWAI: GovernmentCommissions: BBC Sessions 1996-2003 (2005).

It’s unlikely that Mogwai will ever release a greatest hits (well, someone probably will, but the band themselves don’t seem likely to do so).  As such, this compilation of BBC Recordings will certainly work well as one.

As I’ve mentioned many times, the BBC recordings are universally superb.  The quality of the recordings is unmatched.  And, typically the band takes the sessions very seriously.  The major different between these sessions and the official studio release is that the band is playing these songs live.  They are mixed well and sound great but they are live, so you can catch occasional subtle differences.

Mogwai, despite their seemingly improvised sound (all those noises and such) can recreate everything they do perfectly, and their live shows are tight and deliberate (except for the occasional moments where they really let loose).

The ten songs here span their career and are not played in chronological order.  This allows all of these wonderful songs to play off the tensions of each other.  And it shows that their later songs, which are less intense than their earlier ones, are still quite awesome and in a live setting don’t really lack for intensity after all.

The highlight of this disc is the scorching eighteen minute version of “Like Herod.”  The original is intense and amazing, and this live version allows them to play with the original in small ways, including allowing the quietness to really stretch out before they blow the speakers off the wall with the noise section of the track.

Even though I’m a fan of Mogwai, I don’t hear a radical difference between these versions and the originals.  Or should I say, it’s obvious which song they are playing.  There are some obvious subtleties and differences as befitting a live album, but unlike some live discs you don’t immediately notice that this version is “live.”

And that works well for both fans of the band (because as you listen and you hear the subtleties) and for newcomers–(because you’re not listening to weird, poorly recorded versions or versions that are for fans only).  And so, you get ten great Mogwai tracks.  Just enough to make you want to get some more.

[READ: June 11, 2011] The Burned Children of America

I found this book when I was looking for other publications by Zadie Smith.  This book kept cropping up in searches, but I could never really narrow down exactly what it was.  As best as I can tell, it is a British version of a collection of American authors that was originally published in Italy (!).  Editors Marco Cassini and Martina Testa work for minimum fax, an Italian independent publisher.  In 2001, they somehow managed to collect stories from these young, fresh American authors into an Italian anthology (I can’t tell if the stories were translated into Italian or not).

Then, Hamish Hamilton (publisher of Five Dials) decided to release a British version of the book.  They got Zadie Smith to write the introduction (and apparently appended a story by Jonathan Safran Foer (which was not in the original, but which is in the Italian re-publication).  This led to the new rather unwieldy title.  It was not published in America, (all of the stories have appeared in some form–magazine or anthology–in America), but it’s cool to have them all in one place.

The title must come from the David Foster Wallace story contained within: “Incarnations of Burned Children,” which is one of his most horrific stories, but it sets a kind of tone for the work that’s included within (something which Zadie addresses in her introduction): why are these young successful American writers so sad?  So be prepared, this is not a feel good anthology (although the stories are very good).
Oh, and if you care about this kind of thing, the male to female ratio is actually quite good (for an anthology like this): 11 men and 8 women.

ZADIE SMITH-Introduction
Zadie Smith was a fan of David Foster Wallace (she wrote a  lengthy review of the ten-year anniversary of Brief Interviews with Hideous Men which is republished in her book Changing My Mind), so she is an ideal choice to introduce this book.  Especially when she provides a quote from DFW’s interview in 1995 about how living in America in the late 90s has a kind of “lostness” to it.  With this in mind, she sets out the concerns of this collection of great stories: fear of death and advertising.

Zadie gives some wonderful insight into each of these stories. The introduction was designed to be read after the book, and I’m glad I waited because while she doesn’t exactly spoil anything, she provides a wonderful perspective on each piece and also offers some ideas about the stories that I hadn’t considered.  And it’s funny, too. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: TRICKY-“Kingston Logic” (2010).

I really liked Tricky’s debut album Maxinquaye.  Although I felt he had somewhat diminishing returns after that.  Then he got into acting so I assumed his musical career was over.

Now he’s back with this album (although I see on allmusic that he has actually been releasing for quite some time, and had a “comeback” album in 2008).  This song, which you can hear on NPR, while still kind of angry, is less claustrophobic than his early stuff (which I liked, but it’s nice to see him coming out from under that).

The female vocalist that he employs on the song is fine–she raps more than sings, which is kind of a shame since Tricky usually picks women with great and interesting voices.  But since this “rap” seems more like another instrument than actual singing/lyrics, it works quite well as a sound collage.

The selling point of the song is the infectiously simple guitar line that repeats throughout.  There’s a lot of other things going on that keep the song very busy, including a spoken section by Tricky himself.  The whole song is not even 3 minutes long;  it comes in, does what it intends and then takes off.

The more I listen to the song that more I really like it and I’m going to have to check out the whole disc to see what else he does.  I miss the gorgeous vocals, but I’ll happily take more of this, too.

[READ: October, 20, 2010] “Issues I Dealt with in Therapy”

Matthew Klam is another of the 1999 New Yorker 20 Under 40 authors.  I enjoyed the excerpt of this story in the main issue, but I have to say I was rather surprised at how differently the  story turned out than I expected.

The protagonist of this story and his girlfriend are invited to a wedding on a fancy exclusive island (think Nantucket, although it is never stated).  He is a pretty average guy, but the guest list includes the Al Gore family as well as Madeline Albright and many other VIPs.  The island has been pretty much taken over for this wedding and it is clearly going to be a big deal.

The bulk of the story is a flashback which answers the question, “What was I doing here?”

The narrator and Bob (the soon-to-be husband) were in college together.  They were even roommates for a year.  Their friendship was kind of silly and superficial, but they formed a bond that lasted over the years.  Even though the narrator isn’t a VIP, he was still asked to be an usher (and to give a speech) at the wedding. (more…)

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While I was looking around for Jonathan Franzen pieces in the New Yorker, I stumbled upon the first 20 Under 40 collection from 1999.  Since I had received so much enjoyment from the 2010 version, I decided to read all of the 1999 stories as well.  It was interesting to see how many of the authors I knew (and knew well), how many I had heard of but hadn’t read, and how many were completely off my radar.

I initially thought that they had published all 20 authors in this one issue, but there are five stories (including Franzen’s) that were just excerpted rather than published in full.  And I will track down and read those five in their entirety.  But otherwise, that’s a lot of fiction in one magazine (a few of the stories were quite short).  And it features a cover by Chris Ware!

So here’s the list from 1999.

**George Saunders-“I Can Speak™”
**David Foster Wallace-“Asset”
*Sherman Alexie-“The Toughest Indian in the World”
*Rick Moody-
“Hawaiian Night”
*A.M. Homes-
“Raft in Water, Floating”
Allegra Goodman-
“The Local Production of Cinderella”
*William T. Vollmann-
“The Saviors”
Antonya Nelson
-“Party of One”
Chang-rae Lee-
“The Volunteers”
*Michael Chabon-
“The Hofzinser Club” [excerpt]
Ethan Canin-
“Vins Fins” [excerpt]
*Donald Antrim-
“An Actor Prepares”
Tony Earley-
“The Wide Sea”
*Jeffrey Eugenides-
“The Oracular Vulva”
*Junot Diaz-
“Otra Vida, Otra Vez”
*Jonathan Franzen-
“The Failure” [excerpt]
***Edwidge Danticat-
“The Book of the Dead”
*Jhumpa Lahiri-
“The Third and Final Continent”
*Nathan Englander-
“Peep Show” [excerpt]
Matthew Klam-
“Issues I Dealt with in Therapy” [excerpt] (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: DO MAKE SAY THINK-Other Truths [CST062] (2009).

I’ve always enjoyed Do Make Say Think’s CDs.  They play instrumentals that are always intriguing and which never get dull.

But this CD far exceeds anything they have done so far (and  they’ve done some great work).   There are only four tracks, and they range from 8 to 12 minutes long.  Each track is named for a word in the band’s name: Do, Make, Say, Think.  And each one is a fully realized mini epic.

“Do” sounds like a gorgeous Mogwai track.  While “Make” has wonderfully diverse elements: a cool percussion midsection and a horn-fueled end section that works perfectly with the maniacal drumming.  “Say” is another Mogwai-like exploration, although it is nicely complemented by horns.  It also ends with a slow jazzy section that works in context but is somewhat unexpected. Finally, “Think” closes the disc with a delightful denouement.  It’s the slowest (and shortest) track, and it shows that even slowing down their instrumentals doesn’t make them dull.

It’s a fantastic record from start to finish.  This is hands down my favorite Constellation release in quite some time.

[READ: December 2009 – January 13, 2010] McSweeney’s #33.

The ever-evolving McSweeney’s has set out to do the unlikely: they printed Issue #33 as a Sunday Newspaper.  It is called The San Francisco Panorama and, indeed, it is just like a huge Sunday newspaper. It has real news in (it is meant to be current as of December 7, 2009).  As well as a Sports section, a magazine section and even comics!

[DIGRESSION] I stopped reading newspapers quite some time ago.  I worked for one in college and have long been aware that the news is just something to fill the space between ads.  I do like newspapers in theory, and certainly hope they don’t all go away but print issues are a dying breed.  When I think about the waste that accompanies a newspaper, I’m horrified.  Sarah and I even did a Sunday New York Times subscription for a while, but there were half a dozen sections that we would simply discard unopened.  And, realistically that’s understandable.  Given how long it took me  to read all of the Panorama, if you actually tried to read the whole Sunday paper, you’d be finished the following Sunday (or even two Sundays later).

Their lofty goal here was to show what print journalism can still do. And with that I concur heartily.  Even if I don’t read the newspaper, the newspapers as entities are worth saving.  Because it is pretty much only print journalism that finds real, honest to God, worthy news stories.  TV news is a joke.  There is virtually nothing of value on network TV.  Fox News is beyond a joke.  CNBC is sad (although Rachel Maddow is awesome!) and even CNN, the originator of all of this 24 hour news nonsense still can’t fill their airtime with non-sensationalized news.

Obviously, there are some decent internet sites, but for the most part they don’t have the budget to support real news investigation.  You either get sensationalized crap like Drudge or rebroadcasts of real news.

So, print is the last bastion of news.  And you can see that in journalistic pieces in The New Yorker, Harper’s, The Walrus, Prospect and, yes, in newspapers.

But enough.  What about THIS newspaper?  Oh and unlike other McSweeney’s reviews I’ve done, there is NO WAY that I am writing a thorough comment on everything in here.  There’s just way too much.  Plus, there are many sections that are just news blurbs.  Larger articles and familiar authors will be addressed, however.  [UPDATE: January 18]: If, however, like Alia Malek below, you bring it to my attention that I’ve left you out (or gotten something wrong!) drop me a line, and I’ll correct things.

There is in fact a Panorama Information Pamphlet which answers a lot of basic questions, like why, how and how often (just this once, they promise!). There’s also a Numbers section which details the size, scope and cost of making this (it shows that with an initial start up, anyone could make a newspaper if they talked enough about what the readers were interested in). (more…)

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