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Archive for the ‘Sarah Shun-lein Bynum’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: ST. VINCENT-4AD Sessions (2011).

When I was looking up something about St. Vincent I happened upon this 4AD Sessions recording.  Eviddently the audio was included on reissue of Strange Mercy, but there was also this video available.

She plays four songs from Mercy in an interestingly configured and lit studio (the visuals are so very 4AD).

Shot at Shangri-La Studios in the heart of the Brooklyn film and photography district in Greenpoint, the session was recorded with Annie’s new band, Daniel Mintseris (keys), Toko Yasuda (moog) and Matthew Johnson (drums). Given St Vincent’s transgression from the underground to the pop spotlight over the course of three studio albums, it’s somewhat fitting that Shangri-La host the session having initially earned its name as a secret spot known only through word of mouth.

The first song is “Chloe in the Afternoon” which opens with synths and Annie’s voice.  It’s interesting that her latest album seems so un-guitar heavy, when in fact, the guitar never really dominates her songs.  Except when it bursts forth at choice moments.  Like on this one, when it is fuzzed almost beyond recognition.  The drums are sharp raps as Annie sings her vocals.  Then comes the almost angelic chorus “Chloe in the Afternoon.”  I love watching (and hearing) her smile as she sings it and the delicate guitar (almost inaudible) that accompanies it.  The song end with a rocking guitar solo (this is before she had her signature guitar made.

“Surgeon” opens wt synths and what sounds very unlike a guitar (the video confirms that a guitar is at least playing along with the synths).  It’s a quieter song.  When the guitar formally comes in it’s my favorite St. Vincent guitar part–up and down sliding chords followed by a nifty little riff.  It all comes and goes so fast and it’s awesome.  I love seeing her play it “live.”  After a couple of instrumental breaks and a repeat of the chorus, Annie takes a wild echoing guitar solo–she totally wails and the keys create a wavery bass line.

“Strange Mercy” is slower with a pretty, sympathetic melody.  The middle section features a neat guitar solo (oddly processed but cool-sounding).  The middle section with the great sounding guitars and verses about “dirty policemen” just confirms the greatness of this song.

“Year of the Tiger” is a smoother song which also ends the album.  It’s got terrific buzzy guitars throughout.  I this love the way she sings the “Oh America, can I owe you one” with particular venom.

St. Vincent’s music often sounds like a studio concoction, so I love seeing her duplicate it live.  And I’m really looking forward to the upcoming Austin City Limits show she recorded.

[READ: October 10, 2017] “Likes”

This is the story of a man trying to communicate with his 12-year-old daughter.

She has an Instagram account and he is trying to learn more about her by following it–since she’s not very talkative.

But her account is a puzzle–an ice cream cone, a shop window, the dog, an earlobe.

He had been spending a bit more time with her lately because she had been going to physical therapy.  He felt responsible for her inheriting his bad joints–runner’s knees, Achilles Tendonitis.  The therapist was very friendly and Ivy seemed to be open with her although he could never quite hear what they were talking about. (more…)

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41116 SOUNDTRACK: SERATONES-Tiny Desk Concert #522 (April 15, 2016).

seraThis Seratones show totally rocked!  And it was a nice change of pace from the slower bands who have been on the Tiny Desk lately.

The lead singer and guitarist is A.J. Haynes.  She plays guitar with a pick on her thumb and has a very clean guitar sound.  Her voice is really lovely—powerful and strong and covering multiple styles from Grace Slick to PJ Harvey.  The blurb says

Haynes grew up singing in the Brownsville Baptist Church, learning to sing out to and hit that back wall without a microphone.

And that’s apparent from the ease she has at singing.  The rest of her band is really great too.  Continuing the blurb:

bassist Adam Davis heard a lot of American rock’s greatest guitarist, Jimi Hendrix, as well as the amazing voice of Janis Joplin. The rest of the band is rounded out by the drumming of Jesse Gabriel, who is spare but there with a sharp backbeat, while guitarist Connor Davis rocks with lyrical grit.

Although I had to laugh because Haynes seems to be having so much fun while her bandmates are rather stonefaced.

They play three songs and they are all great.  “Don’t Need It” rocks out like nobody’s business.  Haynes is a charismatic (and adorable) lead singer with a big afro and a great smile.  “Get Gone” has a much more bluesy sound.  I like the way she delivers the line: “Suns coming out like you knew it would.”  After each verse she gives a big high-pitched “ooh oooh.” And then comes back with a growly low voice.  I love that she’s alternately belting out notes and then singing falsetto.

“Chandelier” has a great funky groove.  When the song sorta stops and just the drums kick in she gives a delightful giggle.

I was really delighted with this band whom I’d never heard of before and I definitely want to check out their recently released debut album.

[READ: April 11, 2016] “The Burglar”

I enjoyed the way that this story was structured.  One paragraph at a time with a dot in between them.  This allowed for a strange juxtaposition of time, with some things happening simultaneously and others possibly out of sequence.

There are several characters in the story.  There is a the burglar (known primarily as “he”); there is the wife who is waiting for exterminators to come to the house–she’s out and hopes to get home before they do).  There is the husband, who is off at work.  His job is fascinating, he’s writing his first script for a TV pilot.  The producers of the show want it to be edgy and different.  The character he is working on (the only person named in the story) is Emmet Byron Diggs, who is falsely accused of killing his wife.  Emmet is black, but the producers don’t want him to think about that as he develops the character.

The story rotates through these characters.  We see the scriptwriter and the producers talking about the show: a time travel show in which Emmet is going to start killing people.

The burglar encounters a dog in the house and tries to figure out how to deal with it.

The wife is racing to get home.

And Emmett is also walking down a street checking out the twenty-first century world he’s in.

Okay so the burglar is in the woman’s house.  But she hears him upstairs and assumes he is the exterminator.

And then the burglar hears her and tries to figure out what he’s going to do.  He calls out, “Just the cleaning crew.”  he berates himself for saying such a weird thing and she thinks its weird that the exterminator would call himself the cleaning crew.

And that’s when the phone rings and it’s the exterminators calling to say they’ll be late.

How does this real-life scenario play out at home while her husband is trying to create a similarly fictionalized setting on the page?

The stories even began to overlap somewhat with action in both stories taking place in a kitchen.  By the end of the story it’s not entirely clear what’s even happening, at least to me.  And yet despite or because of this confusion, I really loved the story.  It was intense and strangely funny at the same time.

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krausSOUNDTRACK: THE FLAMING LIPS-The Terror (2013).

terror After the distortion heavy and heaviness of At War with the Mystics and Embryonic (to say nothing of their other experimental releases), I wasn’t sure what to expect from an album called The Terror.  Yet with a title like that the album is far more invested in psychological terror than in pummeling you with scary noises and music.  The album is more unsettling and spooky with existential dread.

Wayne Coyne has always been a pretty optimistic guy–weird, sure, dealing with feelings of dread, sure, but never so dark and insular.  But I learned that before recording this album and most likely as an impetus to record it,  Coyne separated from his partner of 25 years, Michelle, and Lips multi-instrumentalist Steven Drozd temporarily relapsed into addiction.

In an interview, Drozd says the album is like a crisis of life confidence.  He also says that the uniformity in sonic style was intentional: “Instead of writing songs and then figuring out sounds, we’d write the other way around: create sounds then make songs out of those sounds.”

So the vocals are quite low in the mix, and there is not a lot of “music” in the album.  Rather there are layers of sounds–swishing synths, spiraling noises, percussion effects that seems to almost cover up the vocals, giving it a very claustrophobic effect.  “Look… The Sun Rising” opens the disc.  It is primarily percussion with some noisy sounds and really sharp piercing guitars (that play noisy counterpoint to the soothing chorus of Oh Oh Ohs).  And yet after all of that noise and chaos, the very lovely “Be Free, A Way” surfaces as a quiet introspective song.  There are gentle keyboard notes (not unlike on Yoshimi) that propel this song along.  “Try to Explain” is a pretty song with some unusual sound effects swirling around it (The Lips can’t so straight up pretty, right?).  And yet lyrically, this song, along with the rest, is very dark indeed.

“You Lust” is a 13 minute (!) invocation about various forms of lust.  It opens with the couplet: “You’ve got a lot of nerve/A lot of nerve to fuck with me.”  The middle of the song is a kind of Pink Floydian keyboard workout.  It’s a  lengthy jam that’s kind of samey, but I’ll bet if you can really sit (with headphones) and close your eyes and focus it’s pretty intense.  After about ten minutes of that repetitive claustrophobia, some lightening occurs with sprinkled keyboard notes.

“The Terror” is primarily in Coyne’s falsetto, and it seems gentle until the mechanized noises come bursting forth.  “You Are Alone” is the shortest thing here, under 4 minutes of squeaking noises.  And again, a lovely melody despite the title.  I feel like this song summarizes the album pretty well.  In it, Coyne sings “I’m not alone” while a deeper voice replies, “you are alone.”  Whose voice will ultimately win?

  “Butterfly, How Long It Takes to Die” returns to that abrasive guitar of the earlier tracks, but the main body of this 7 minute song is just bass, keening keyboards and Coyne’s whispered voice.  There’s a recurring synth line that is magical and/or creepy depending on your frame of mind.  It, along with many of the other songs, have a kind of coda that links the songs.  This one is mostly just choral voices, but it twists the ends of the songs in a different direction. “Turning Violent” is a quiet track, in which Coyne sounds nearly defeated until the second half of the song grows louder and more animated with layers of vocals.  The disc ends with “Always There…In Our Hearts” which seems to offer some hope…maybe.  There’s signs of uplift in the melody, and when the drums kick in at the end, it seems to propel the song into a more intense frame of mind.

And lyrically, despite all of the darkness that is always there in our hearts, there is a light peeking out: “always therein our hearts a joy of life that overwhelms.”

Although most reviewers find this album unremittingly bleak, I find the music to be beautiful in an aching sort of way–a beautiful way to deal with pain (better than getting the same tattoo as Miley Cyrus, anyway).

[READ: October 31, 2014] The Kraus Project

The title page of this book read: The Kraus Project: Essays by Karl Kraus translated and annotated by Jonathan Franzen with assistance and additional notes from Paul Reitter and Daniel Kehlmann.

So just what is this thing anyhow?  Well Karl Kraus was a German writer (1874-1936) whose main contributions to letters were some essays and a newsletter Die Fackel (The Torch).  The authors compare the newspaper (favorably) to a blog (while also complaining about what blogs have done to letters).  He started Die Fackel in 1899 and he continued to direct, publish, and write it until his death.  He used the paper to launch attacks on hypocrisy, psychoanalysis, corruption of the Habsburg empire, nationalism of the pan-German movement, laissez-faire economic policies, and numerous other subjects.  For the first ten or so years, Kraus was the editor, accepting contributions from around the German speaking word.  But in 1911, he became the sole contributor to the newsletter.

He also wrote many essays (he did not care much for fiction), including the two main ones that compression this book: “Heine and the Consequences” (1910) and “Nestroy and Posterity” (1912).  The book also includes two follow up essays: “Afterword to Heine and the Consequences” and “Between Two Strains of Life: Final Word to Heine and the Consequences” (1917) and a poem: “Let No One Ask…” (1934).

The essays themselves are quite brief.  Despite the first coming in at 135 pages, note that the left pages are all in German (so reduce 135 by half), nearly all of the English pages are filled with footnotes (reduce by half again) and some of the footnotes run for several pages.  So the essay could be said to be about 25-30 pages.

The same is true for all of the pages in the book.  The left sides are in German (except the footnotes) and most pages are split in half because of the footnotes.  Which means that Franzen and friends write far more than Kraus did.  Ultimately, this book is actually three things: It is a collection of Kraus’ essays with Franzen’s fine translation; it is an explication of Kraus’ attitude and about life in Germany during Kraus’ life and finally it is an insight into Franzen as a young man living in Germany and why Kraus was so appealing to him.

The first part: Kraus’ essays. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: PAULA SELING & OVI-“Playing with Fire” (2010).

Now this is what I think of as a Eurovision song.  It’s Romania’s entry and it came in third!  The video is a live version (I assume).  And it is deliciously over the top right from the start.  Paula & Ovi face each other while the backing singers punctuate all of the lyrics.

Even the opening beat feels very Euro to me (whatever that means).  But when they start singing at each other, “Girl Girl Girl…” “Boy boy boy…” and they get to the chorus about burning the place down, the theatricality hits its peak.  I really don’t like this song, and yet after listening to it three times for this review, I find it maddeningly infectious.  Just like Eurovision.

And I would be remiss for not acknowledging the outrageous high not she hits in the middle.  I don’t think it’s particularly effective in the song, but it is impressive.

[READ: July 17, 2010] “The Erlking”

This was a fascinating story that went in two very different directions (and which feels like it’s part of a longer story).

There are two characters in the story Ondine–a young girl who only answers to “Ruthie”– and Kate, her mom. As the story opens, Ruthie’s mom is dragging her to the Elves’ Faire at the local Waldorf school.  Her mom feels bad that she never even considered sending Ruthie to the school (they had tried with the Jewish Montessori school, but were not accepted).  SHe had heard a story about a nine year old who knew the entire Mongol empire but still sucked his fingers.  She gets the awesome line: “Everybody has to go into a 7-Eleven at some point in life, operate in the ordinary universe.”

She figures that she can introduce Ruthie to some fun and imaginative things by bringing her here.  As the story continues, we learn a lot about Ruthie’s mother’s concerns and fears of inadequacy (some are common and relatable, some are over the top, and others are pretty unusual).

(more…)

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This week’s New Yorker contains a list of the 20 authors under age 40 that they predict we’ll be talking about for years to come.  Their criteria:

did we want to choose the writers who had already proved themselves or those whom we expected to excel in years to come? A good list, we came to think, should include both.

They have published eight of these authors in the current issue and are publishing the remaining 12 over the next 12 weeks.  I’m particularly excited that they chose to do this now.  Since I’m currently involved in two big book projects, it’s convenient to be able to read a whole bunch of short stories to intersperse between big posts.

I’ve read half of the authors already (likely in The New Yorker and McSweeney‘s).  And have heard of many of the others.   The list is below: (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KING’S X: Dogman (1994).

Dogman follows up King’s X with, to my mind, a much more satisfying collection.  It starts of with the fantastic “Dogman,” a great chance for Doug to show off his vocal range.  “Shoes” has some great gospelish harmonies that lead to a wonderfully chunky riff.  And “Pretend” sounds about as close to early King’s X as this newish King’s X gets: soaring harmonies and a great guitar line.  “Black the Sky” brings back some of those dissonant chords that Ty does so well and it all wraps up in a gorgeous, heavy chorus.  And a song like “Sunshine Rain” has the effect of sounding like the older King’s X harmonies with a difference: it’s more of a minor key harmony.  It’s really beautiful.

The rest of the album is a diverse selection of heavy, heavy rockers (“Complain” and “Human Behavior” which is just heavy and brutal and yet still catchy) and complex, more mellow tunes “Flies and Blue Skies” and “Cigarettes”).  The seriously heavy “Go to Hell” is possibly the most psycho (as opposed to psychedelic)  thing the band has done, but it only lasts for 51 seconds.

This is a fantastic album, and it may be why I like King’s X a little bit less.

[READ: September 8, 2008] “Yurt”

Every time I see this author’s name I think to myself, her name gets harder to say as you go along.  That’s not really relevant but it makes me smile.

Anyhow, this story intrigued me because it was about middle school teachers. (more…)

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