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Archive for the ‘T.C. Boyle’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: JEALOUS OF THE BIRDS-NONCOMM 2019 Free at Noon (May 15, 2019).

I heard the band name Jealous of the Birds and I instantly formed an opinion of what they sounded like.

And this recording couldn’t be much further from what I imagined.

I assumed they would be bird-like and they are not at all.  This set rocks, it switches genres, it covers a lot of grown, but nothing at all bird-like.

Many artists live by the philosophy of creating the music that they want to exist in the world, but few do it in such a striking way as Jealous of the Birds. Northern Irish songwriter Naomi Hamilton has been making music under the moniker for a few years now, but each song we hear from Jealous of the Birds feels like a fresh new discovery — and anyone who was hearing the band for the first time today undoubtedly felt like they were experiencing something special.

Folks who attended last year’s NonCOMM music meeting may remember hearing a glimpse of the arresting single “Plastic Skeletons.” The song, which is not quite like anything else and not immediately accessible, is congruous with Hamilton breaking out of her local music scene in Northern Ireland and carving out an indescribable genre of her own. Since then, Jealous of the Birds has gone on to release two new EPs, The Moths of What I Want Will Eat Me in My Sleep and Wisdom Teeth, which show the depth and range of Hamilton’s songwriting ability.

Driven by her love of language, Hamilton’s lyrics are intricate and poetic; musically, you can detect influences from Irish folk to psychedelic rock.

With her slicked back hair and laid-back demeanor, Hamilton makes it look easy, but her songs aren’t necessarily easy to listen to — hearing them once will only make you want to listen again and again to try to understand what the artist is getting at.

The first four songs are from their 2016 album Parma Violets.

Powder Junkie is a stomping, stop and start kind of song.  It’s bluesy but stops abruptly after just 2 and a half minutes.  It’s a great introduction to the band.  As is “Trouble in Bohemia,” a slower song with a folk feel. It showcases the softer side of the band, and is also quite short.

“Russian Doll” introduces a much more poppy sound to the band.  The chords are simple, but the highlight the clever lyrics

I took your compliments
I just struggled to believe
That I was worth loving
And you weren’t lying through your teeth
In truth, I’m a Russian doll
My egos shut inside
I painted them by hand
And I’ll never let them die

“Parma Violets” is slower and more acoustic-sounding.  It’s a ballad and a sad one a that:

Oh please
Don’t you swallow
Pills like parma violets
Again

I had to look up to discover that Parma Violets are a British violet-flavoured tablet confectionery manufactured by the Derbyshire company Swizzels Matlow.

The next two songs come from 2019’s Wisdom Teeth EP.  I like them both.  “Marrow” is a folk song, but “Blue Eyes” is a wonderfully weird rocking song.  It feels off-kilter with some unexpected lead guitar riffs at the end of each verse and some funky bass parts.

The final song, “Plastic Skeletons” comes from 2018’s The Moths of What I Want Will Eat Me in My Sleep.  It’s got a cool bass with some nifty guitar line to start the track.  The chorus is kind of staccato and lurching and quite a lot of fun.

These last two songs were my favorite of the set, and I’m glad to see they are the most recent songs. I like the direction they’re going.

[READ: May 15, 2019] “Peep Hall” 

I have read many many stories by Boyle and I like him quite a lot.  I like that he writes about so many different topics from so many different perspectives.  He is even unafraid to be sympathetic to people who don’t seem to deserve it.

It was somewhat unfortunate that I read this story and the previous one by him (written about 19 years apart) on the same day because they were both rather creepy and voyeuristic and sympathetic to people who necessarily don’t deserve it.

The narrator of this story, Hart Simpson, likes his privacy.  His phone is unlisted and the gate on his driveway locks behinds him.  When he sits on his porch, the neighbors can’t see him.  He works as a bartender at the local pub and is quite a visible person, but when it’s time off, he wants to be alone.  I mean, sure he hooks up once in a while, but otherwise he’s alone.

One afternoon, a woman came up his driveway.  She had been talking to his next-door neighbor (not his favorite person) in some kind of heated argument.  Then she came over to his porch. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JÚNÍUS MEYVANT-NONCOMM 2019 Free at Noon (May 15, 2019).

Júníus Meyvant is the stage name of Icelandic singer Unnar Gísli Sigurmundsson.  His band is a soulful Iceland six-piece with outstanding musicianship.

The set started off strong with “High Alert.”  A cool bassline and organ propel the song forward with accents from trumpet and Sigurmundsson’s soulful voice.

The second song, “Holidays” is much slower as it starts with a wavering keyboard and groovy bassline.  It’s just as soulful though–possibly more so, with nice horn accompaniments.

“Across the Borders” showcased a psychedelic-jam side of Júníus Meyvant, as well as the pianist’s skills.  After some powerful trumpet, the song settles down into a slow groove.  Midway through, the drummer plays a cool little fill and the band launches into a fast keyboard-filled jamming romp.

“Love Child” is a sweet, smooth love song with gentle horns guiding the melody.

“Ain’t Gonna Let You Drown” had a rich, gospel sound to it, it’s his new single. He slowed down the tempo for their last song “Thoughts of My Religion,” a personal ballad with a catchy chorus.

It’s a lovely set which you can listen to here (for some reasons Night Two’s shows are much much quieter on the player).

[READ: May 15, 2019] “What’s Love Got to Do With It?” 

I have read many many stories by Boyle and I like him quite a lot.  I like that he writes about so many different topics from so many different perspectives.  He is even unafraid to be sympathetic to people who don’t seem to deserve it.

It was somewhat unfortunate that I read this story and the next one by him (written about 19 years apart) by him on the same day because they were both rather creepy and voyeuristic and sympathetic to people who really don’t deserve it.

This story is about a woman who chooses to take a three day train ride rather than a three hour plane ride to Dallas.   It wasn’t long after the school shootings.  The shootings had happened at her daughter’s school although the daughter was unharmed.  This had nothing to do with her choice of taking the train, exactly, but she felt it would afford her some down time.

At morning breakfast she was seated across from a young man–Eric–about her daughter’s age.  They had a pleasant light conversation–first about state capitals and “sexy” cities  and the dangers of Splenda “its made from nuclear waste.”  He soon revealed that he went to the same school as her daughter  And just to complicate things.  He knew the shooter. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KURT VILE-Tiny Desk Concert #822 (February 6, 2019).

I love Kurt Vile.  I love his sense of humor, I love his attitude and I love most of his music–I love the way his songs are often circular with catchy parts.  I wish I liked his music a lot more-but some of his stuff is a little too meandering for me.

Having said that, he was dynamite live.  And this Tiny Desk is a delightful distillation of his live show.

For this show Kurt plays acoustic guitar and he’s joined by guitarist Rob Laakso and a drum machine.

“Bassackwards” is a wonderful song–and really highlights everything I love about Kurt.  It’s a mellow song with chill out lyrics, a beautiful melody and a circular style in which the song never really seems to go anywhere and yet even at over 6 minutes, it never gets dull.

I love that Kurt does most of the musical heavy lifting even on the acoustic, with Lassko providing the rhythm.

He’s very funny between songs.  This son is from my new album as well.  It’s called “A Working Class HEro is Something to Be” but, uh, also “Loading Zone.”

“Loading Zones” is a faster song which feels like it’s going to overtake itself at some point.  The totally relaxed harmonica (I’ll give John Popper a run for his money…as usual)and his laconic delivery of I park for free is a wonderful contrast.

For the final song “Tomboy” his switches guitar and jokes, “this song’s about John Popper.’  I love this song with its beautiful guitar lines and his halting vocal delivery.  Again, a wonderful juxtaposition of styles, which the blurb addresses:

Kurt Vile exudes a casualness at the Tiny Desk in his style and body language that is so unlike most anxious artists who come to play behind my desk. …The way he plays guitar, he seems distracted, yet the complex guitar lines he so nonchalantly plays, along with his musical mate Rob Laakso, are effortlessly beautiful and lyrical.

On the surface, it all can seem just chill. But there’s a lot of rumination in these songs — and even when he’s gazing into the overhead office lights, I think he got his mind on the stars and the world at large.

Imagine how good he is live when he switches between seven or eight guitars (and banjo).

[READ: February 4, 2019] “Asleep at the Wheel”

I really hope this is an excerpt because I want to read a lot more.  Plus there’s a lot going on, not all of which is resolved.

Set in the not too distant future (I fear), technology has taken over more than it has now.  Cindy is driving a self-driving, cognizant vehicle named Carly.  It not only tells her which way will be fastest, it also reminds her about a purse she wanted to pick up (which is now on sale).

In fact, there are no non-automated vehicles anymore–except in race tracks and in the desert.  There are ad-driven free cars called Ridz that take you to your destination after stopping by a few of the stores you like to shop at first.  Some daredevils even try to hop on automated cars –they ride on the roof–despite the dangers–and go as far as they can.

One such daredevil is Cindy’s son.  While he is riding on top of a car he sees his mom in the car next to him.  He is sure he’s busted until he sees that she is napping. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: GIL SHAHAM-“Partitat No. 2 “Gavotte en Rondeau” by J.S. Bach” (Field Recordings, January 12, 2012).

This was the very first Field Recording posted on the NPR site back in 2012 [Gil Shaham: A Violinist’s Day At The Museum].

Shaham plays Bach in the Hirshiorn Museum.

As Gil Shaham wandered through the back offices of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C., he said he felt “like Ben Stiller in Night at the Museum.” For this impromptu Bach mini-recital, the violin superstar momentarily became part of the art, bathed in the modish lighting and projections of a multimedia installation during the performance.

He is introduced with the rather amusing:  “A world famous, world renowned violinist who, by the way, starts every morning with a bowlful of Cap’n Crunch.  He told me that.”

I love that this first Field Recording was, like many of NPR’s best things, a spontaneous idea:

A crowd packed the exhibit room to watch as Shaham launched into Bach’s third partita. After the performance, the violinist greeted fans in the museum, many of whom were headed to his concert at the Kennedy Center that night. He seemed surprised and delighted that the guerrilla concert, announced only on local classical station WETA and Twitter that day, drew so many people willing to hear Bach in the afternoon.

[READ: January 22, 2017] “Are We Not Men”

Boyle’s stories aren’t usually as fanciful as this.  But I loved it just as much as many of his other more down to earth stories.  I particularly enjoyed that it was set in the future, although there was no real statement of that until late in the story.  There were hints, which seem obvious in retrospect, but which at first just seemed like hyperbolic or metaphorical.

Like “the dog was the color of a maraschino cherry” or that the lawn incorporated “a gene from a species of algae that allowed it to glow under the porch light at night.”

The story opens with the cherry-colored dog killing an animal in the narrator  Roy’s front yard (on that grass).  He wanted to chase the dog away because it might ruin his grass.  Then he noticed that what the dog had killed was his neighbor Alison’s pig.  She loved that pig and anthropomorphized it.  To try to salvage the pig, he ran up to the dog waving his arms.  It immediately latched onto his forearm instead.

As Roy fights with the dog, the dog’s owner, well, the daughter of the owner, came running across the street.  She looked like a teenager but was actually 11 or 12.  When the girl says, “You hit my dog,” he replies that she bit him.  The girl says Ruby would never do that–she’s just playing.

Amid this horrorshow of blood and violence and death, and a sprinkling of genetic splicing, Boyle throws in a very funny experiment gone wrong.  Crowparrots were a modified bird which blended crows with the invasive parrot population.  It believed that the experiment would turn the parrots into carrion eaters.  But instead it made their calls loud and more frequent.  And they mimicked, so they “were everywhere, cursing fluidly, (“Bad bird! Fuck, fuck, fuck!“).” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: CÉCILE McLORIN SALVANT-Tiny Desk Concert #790 (September 25, 2018).

The blurb talks about Cécile McLorin Salvant’s punk roots.  This made me thing that their might be some rough elements in these songs.

But these songs sound akin to old-fashioned-sounding jazz standards (even if she wrote them recently) in the vein of Ella Fitzgerald or Sarah Vaughn.

The nod to punk seems to come in the vaguely erratic piano which verges on atonality at times.  And yet:

From listening to McLorin Salvant’s exquisite performance here, I also couldn’t tell that when she was 15, she was listening to Alice in Chains, sported a Mohawk and was into what she calls “radical feminist punk stuff,” as she told NPR after the performance. “Sometimes I still really like Bikini Kill, and I still have my little Pearl Jam grunge moments.”

What can be heard in each song is a seasoned jazz singer with a vast vocal range, meticulous technical execution and a superb classical vocal foundation, which actually began when she was just 8. Her background in classical piano is evident in the inventive harmonic and melodic construction of the first three songs heard here; all are romantically themed McLorin Salvant compositions from her third album, For One to Love, recorded in 2015. The record won her a 2016 Grammy for Best Jazz Vocal Album.

“Fog” opens with some striking minimalist almost atonal piano playing.  The song veers through many different tones and styles throughout its five plus minutes.

About “Look At Me” she says, “This was originally called “‘Friend Zone’ which is a zone I know so well.”  The piano is delicate–twinkling–as she sings about being the friend when she wants more.

She says the next song is called “Monday,” “Lets see if I remember the lyrics.”  After introducing Foster, he comments, “I just learned this on the train here, so bear with me.”  This is notable because there is a lengthy, lovely piano instrumental part in the middle.

After a hog, Foster leaves and McLorin Salvant prepares for the last song.

McLorin Salvant closes with “Omie Wise,” an American folk song that tells the tragic story of murder victim Naomi Wise and her husband and killer, John Lewis:

Then pushed her in deep waters where he knew that she would drown
He jumped on his pony and away he did ride
The screams of little Omie went down by his side.

Feminist themes are common in McLorin Salvant’s music, and while “Omie Wise” addresses gender-based violence, she says she sings difficult songs like this to address an important historical legacy. “We don’t sing to our kids and we don’t know any of our folk music anymore,” McLorin Salvant says. “But like all of the history of race songs, coon songs, minstrel music, music from Vaudeville, all of that is like, ‘No, we’re not going to address that — that’s too ugly.'”

This song is especially powerful sung a capella and even more so when it is heard on the weekend that that piece of excrement Kavanaugh is having his Supreme Court hearings.

[READ: January 19, 2018] “Admiral”

T. Coraghessan Boyle is an incredibly prolific writer.  He writes about a huge variety of topics as well.  Some of his stories are down to earth and realistic while others, like this one, are based in a near-future fantasy.

The premise of this story is simple and not all that far-fetched (especially in 2007).  A rich couple has cloned their beloved dog, an afghan named Admiral, for $250,000.  They want to raise this dog exactly as the first Admiral was raised.  They believe in the cloning to create an identical dog, but they also believe in the nurture aspect which means they need the girl who dog-sat for him to do everything exactly as she did all those years ago.

That girl, now a woman, was recently laid off and needs some cash. So when Mrs Striker called and told her she had an opportunity, Nisha said… why not?

She returned to the house where she hadn’t been in four years but which was such a large part of her childhood. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: CHRIS WALLA AND J. ROBBINS-Create ‘Mercury’ (Project Song: October 12, 2009).

Project Song was a nifty little show that NPR Music created.  The premise was that NPR would give a musician some prompts and a recording studio.  They then had two days to write and record a song.  I don’t know how much of the process was to be filmed, but presumably most of it. Then it would be edited down to a fifteen minute show.  The results are pretty cool and it’s a shame they only made five of them.

The fourth one they did was over a year and a half after the previous one.  This Project was offered to Chris Walla (of Death Cab for Cutie) and a performer he’d admired, J. Robbins (of Jawbox and Burning Airlines).

What made this project especially difficult was that the two had never even met before they stepped into NPR’s performance studio.

I supplied some inspiration for their song: photo collages created by artist Tom Chambers [The picture are really, really cool]. They chose a photograph of a house in a canyon filled with water, tilted and flooded. Not far from the house is a dog on a boat, floating either toward or away from the house. I also supplied a series of words. They selected the word “cerebral” and promised when they wrote the song not to be too cerebral about it.

Unlike the pairing from Georgie James, this pair is instantly excited at the possibilities–changes and ideas.

Robbins says he will not write any lyrics, it takes him a month and a half to hone them,

But it didn’t take long for Robbins to pick up his bass guitar, for Walla to pick up a guitar, and for the two to begin their musical friendship.

They were inspired by JG Ballard and his drowned world series. In these books there are people who know the world is dying but they embrace it as a forward movement into the unknown

J. get a great bass line right away (its sounds very Death Cab, interestingly).  Bob asks about the music and J. says the music sounds like a dog on a boat heading towards a half-submerged house.  And Walla is singing the word “mercury.”

Walla and Robbins were joined by Robbins’ friend, drummer Darren Zentek.

He adds a wonderful beat and the song sounds great.  They get excited filling out the possibilities–end on the bridge!

Walla goes off by himself to write lyrics.  And Robbins works on a piano part.  And then things really come together when Walla picks up the 12 string.

The song they created, “Mercury,” takes its subject matter from that photograph, which is a bit of a cataclysmic scenario turned into a song about the climate crisis.

The result has a definite Death Cab feel, but with Robbins and Walla alternating lead vocals it is a different, wonderful thing.

[READ: July 23, 2018] “I Walk Between the Raindrops”

This story centers around Valentine’s Day.  But it’s a T.C. Boyle story so there’s always something else to look forward to.

I love the way this story opens with Brandon the narrator telling us.

This past Valentine’s Day, I was in Kingman, Arizona, with my wife, Nola, staying in the Motel 6 there, just off the I-40. You might not think of Kingman as a prime location for a romantic getaway (who would?), but Nola and I have been married for fifteen years now, and romance is just part of the continuum….  Were we slumming?  Yes, sure.  We could have stayed anywhere we liked…and if it’s not ideal, at least it’s different.

They were there because Nola’s father lives nearby and they decided to pay a visit and to let Nola search for antiques.  They went to Denny’s (the only place her father will eat), and after eating, Nola went antiquing and Brandon went to a bar to wait for her.

It’s not unfriendly (despite some graffiti like “fuck you, liberal pussies” (which he chooses to take as ironic), but he doesn’t order a Pinot Noir or anything.  (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKTHE WOODEN SKY-Live at Massey Hall (June 23, 2017).

I don’t know this band at all.  I’m fascinated that he lead singer Gavin Gardiner and the keyboardist Simon Walker have the same haircut and glasses but are not related.  The band has a kind of folk-rock vibe.  Nothing really stands out about them to me, but I did enjoy the songs while they were playing them.

For The Wooden Sky, getting to Massey Hall always seemed unreachable.  But they say that getting here you can feel the history and see that the place opened in 1894.  Its pretty surreal.  Just looking out on stage you can feel–holy shit, this is cool.

“Life is Pain, Pain is Beauty” is a six-minute song that opens with a nifty guitar riff.  The keys and violins act as a kind of drone underneath.  The middle has a cool rollicking section with big drums and groovy keyboard solo.  There’s a nice jam element to the song, too with Jason Haberman on bass.

Gardiner has a kind of drawl or something.  His delivery is unique without being especially noteworthy.  On some of the later songs he puts on a strange vibrato that I find a bit unsettling.

“Our Hearts Were Young” has a cool violin part that runs through the song.  The backing vocals during the chorus are amazingly catchy.

It’s weird that they interrupt this song to talk about them making their record.  They miss a verse and a solo of the song to talk about them recording in their own studio.

He introduces “Deadhorse Creek” by saying that his parents are celebrating their 40th anniversary in a couple of days so this if or them.  It’s about living and growing up in Manitoba.

This song is also interrupted so they can talk more about working in the studio, how they recorded this song three different times.

There a wild harmonica solo from Gardiner mid song.

He invites his best friend Andrew Wyatt to the stage to play banjo–you know the passion he brings to the stage.  HE is listed as a member of the band, so this is a weird moment with him on stage.  They play “The Wooden Sky,” a mellows darker song where Gardiner introduces that vibrato singing. There’s a more mellow harmonica solo.

“Swimming in Strange Waters” is the most fun song. It rocks with some wild singing by the end.

“Angelina” ends the show quietly with Gardiner singing solo with acoustic guitar.  He says it is dedicated to his friend Aaron who passed away in 2010.  The rest of the band gathers around behind him as he plays.  Midway through the song Edwin Huzinga introduces a fiddle melody and Andrew Kekewich plays a kick drum as the song builds.   They all gather round to sing backing vocals.

[READ: January 24, 2018] “Question 62”

This short story has two plots running parallel.  It involves two sisters and wild cats.

How’s this for an opening line:

She was out in the flower bed, crushing snails–and more on them later–when she happened to glance up into the burning eyes of an optical illusion.

Until recently Mae had lived with her sister Anita in Waunakee, Wisconsin.  She now lived in Southern California where it never rained, except that it had been raining all week.  The snails loved this rain and were destroying her garden.  Which is why she was destroying them–despite being a vegetarian and wishing no harm to come to animals, really.  She and Anita made a vow to become vegetarian in junior high school.

But it was while she was crushing snails that she looked up and saw…could it be?  A tiger? She was startled, obviously.  She quietly cried for her husband (he was asleep inside). The tiger didn’t seem aggressive, it just seemed inquisitive at the sound of her voice. (more…)

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