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Archive for the ‘T. Coraghessan 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: 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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july7 SOUNDTRACK: NICKEL CREEK-Tiny Desk Concert #385 (August 26, 2014).

nickelI have listened to this Tiny Desk Concert so many times I can’t believe I never posted about it. This was my first exposure to Chris Thile, and in the two years since I watched this I have become a huge fan of his (and of singer Sara Watkins).

“Destination” was probably my favorite song from 2014 and is still amazingly catchy.  Nickel Creek’s harmonies are superb-lead by Sara and accompaniment by the other three, this song speeds along at a great clip with all kinds of fun instrumentation.

In addition to Thile on mandolin and Sara on violin, there’s Sean Watkins on guitar and Mark Schatz on upright bass.

I liked the way the players shifted positions to let Chris sing lead on “Rest of My Life.”  He introduced this song by saying, “this is the first day that I will be singing with my new braces.  I am 12 years old.”  With his new singing impediment he says this song is “Sung not as a its hungover protagonist but by its be-brace-ed protagonist.”   The melody is done on guitar and upright bass with Thile’s mandolin playing most of the higher notes and occasional grace notes from Watkins’ violin.  There’s also a delightful “lullaby” sounding  section in the middle.

“21s of May” is sung by Sean.  He introduces this jaunty song with “Remember when the rapture almost happened three years ago?”  May 21st was supposed to be judgement day so he thought he should write one more song and so he did.  He plays a great lead guitar melody on this song with great harmonies.

At the end of the song Thile bangs the gong and then asks if they want one more short song.  Then he admits that its longer than the other three.  It’s an instrumental song called “Elephant in the Corn.”  When the crowd cheers, Sean says it’s “Huge in Washington DC.”

I love that Chris and Sean get some fast solo and then Sara take as really slow violin leads that leads to a cool bass slide.  The song picks up again with Thile playing some amazingly fast mandolin licks.  And just when you think it’s all over, there’s a coda tacked on as well–and not just a “this is the end coda” either.

Nickel Creek has been around forever, and I’m only bummed that it took me until 2014 to actually hear them.

[READ: February 26, 2016] “Thirteen Hundred Rats”

Somehow I didn’t expect the title of this story to be taken literally.  And yet, it most certainly was.

I really enjoyed the way this story was constructed.  It is told by a man who is somewhat proud of himself.  He talks about the small village that they live in–a small village of 50 or so houses created by industrialist B.P. Newhouse (who hoped it would be a model of utopian living).  The narrator and his wife live there although they tend to travel the world now that they are older.

He tells the story of a village resident named Gerard.  He and Gerard had been friends and had congratulated themselves on not having any children.  Gerard’s wife had recently died and Gerard took it hard.  He wasn’t eating, wasn’t going out.  And people began to worry about him.

Villagers suggested that he should get a pet.  Even the narrator’s wife suggested it.  So the narrator trudged down to Gerard’s house, with his two dogs in tow to talk to Gerard. (more…)

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TNY 4.14.08 cvr.indd SOUNDTRACK: HAMILTON LEITHAUSER-Tiny Desk Concert #375 (July 21, 2014).

hamleitHamilton Leithause was the lead singer of The Walkmen.  When they went on hiatus, the guys in the band made solo records.  For this set, Leithauser is accompanied by The Walkmen’s Paul Maroon on guitar and Hugh McIntosh, who played drums in Leithauser’s old band The Recoys.

Leithauser has a big voice and these songs allow him to really wail (in a restrained and tasteful way).  “11 O’Clock Friday Night” has a very folkie feel to it with a big chorus of “you and me and everybody else.”

“Alexandra” is a bit more uptempo and rocking with a cool rumbling bass line provided by the electric guitar (he really gets to belt out the chorus and the bridge in this song).

“5AM” is a moody ballad which shows he can play mellow as well as big.

Incidentally perhaps it was back in 2014, but Leithauser was doing some kind of concert in Philly and they must have advertised it ten times a day for months.  I was rather tired of hearing his name (I didn’t know who he was at the time). I had to look him up and he was fine.  About the same as I felt during this show.

[READ: February 18, 2016] “The Lie”

I have really been enjoying Boyle’s stories.  He has a way of making his protagonists unlikable and yet somehow sympathetic.  But this time, I felt like his protagonist was just too much of an asshole.  He went too far.

Lonnie is a new dad.  He’s a young guy who has married a woman whose nighttime sleepwear is a Cramps shirt and nothing else.  Her name is Clover, but she hates that her hippie parents named her that and wants to change it to Cloris.  He says that Cloris sounds like a detergent and she hates him for that.

Anyway, he wakes up and doesn’t feel like going to his editing job (I may have been more sympathetic if the job were harder).  He is tired of hearing the same people recite the same dialogue every day.  He says he’s not rally an editor, he’s a logger. (more…)

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S2008_01_21OUNDTRACK: BASIA BULAT-Tiny Desk Concert #106 (January 24, 2011).

basiaFor some sad reason, this video cuts off about half way through the second song, so you need to watch it on YouTube instead.  Basia Bulat is a Canadian singer of Polish descent.  She’s adorable and plays weird instruments.  What’s not to like?

The first song “The Shore” is done entirely on a pianoette–she may be the only singer to play one.  The pianoette is a zither-like instrument with a strummed section and a hammered section.  Her voice is low and breathy.  And when, during the second verse, her backing band’s harmonies come in, it’s quite breathtaking.

The second song is done on guitar. It’s a Polish folks song–she says it was a big hit in the 60s in communist Poland.  She sings it in Polish and says it was a great way to learn her Polish words and pronunciations.  “W Zielonym Zoo” means “In The Green Zoo.”  It’s cute how happy and smiley she is as she explains this song.  It begins with just her on guitar and it’s quite a delight when Holly Coish on ukulele, Allison Stewart on viola and Ben Whiteley on bass join in.

pianoetteHer brother Bobby Bulat joins her on percussion for “Heart Of My Own.”  This song is louder and more dramatic and a lot of fun. The final song  “In The Night” is one she normally plays on the autoharp (see, unusual instruments) but she didn’t have it so she plays a rollicking guitar version with the full band (there’s some great violin solos in it).  Just before it starts she says that if it sucks, don’t use it.  It doesn’t suck at all.

I really like Bulat’s music a lot and this is a great way to witness it up close.  And here’s a picture of a pianoette.

[READ: January 8, 2015] “Ash Monday”

I wasn’t sure how much I would like this story (same old intro from me) because I didn’t like the main character (or one of the two main characters).  Dill is a delinquent.  He’s 13 and with a car (well, he has the car, he just cant drive it).  And hes loves the smell of gasoline.

When his mother tells him to goes outside to light the grill (as he does most nights–his mom doesn’t cook in the house apparently), he puts gasoline in it to light it up.  On this night he discovers a rat in the grill, so he takes the opportunity to dose the rat with the gasoline and set it on fire.  (If you’re squeamish, there is also the death of hundreds of chinchillas although that is from natural causes).

We don’t learn much about Dill’s mother except that her husband is gone and she is looking to date someone new.

The scene cuts to the next door neighbor, Sanjuro Ishiguro (Dill calls him “Itchy-goro” and once called him a motherfucking gook).  Ishiguro is a respectable businessman.  He works long hours often getting to work before everyone else.  And although he gets along with his workmates, he is definitely not one of them.  They like to ask him about sports when they know he knows nothing about it. (more…)

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