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Archive for the ‘Yiyun Li’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: KING GIZZARD AND THE LIZARD WIZARD-Polygondwannaland (2017).

KGATLW continued to amaze in 2017 with their fourth record of the year.  This record was given away for free in November–it was released under an open source licence—meaning the band did not sell copies of the album, but uploaded the master tapes online, encouraging fans to make their own copies and bootlegs of the album. They wrote:

Make tapes, make CD’s, make records.  Ever wanted to start your own record label? GO for it! Employ your mates, press wax, pack boxes. We do not own this record. You do. Go forth, share, enjoy.  P.S. If u wanna make cassettes I don’t really know what you would do.  Be creative. We did it once but it sounded really shit.

As of 2019, Louder tells us

They put the master tapes and artwork online, and indie labels all over the world filled their boots. According to Discogs there are currently 246 different versions of the album, coming in all sorts of shapes and sizes. There’s the label who released a triple vinyl 8″ lathe-cut edition of 101 copies. Australian label Rhubarb Recordings released an edition of 500 housed in a reflective silver foil laminated gatefold sleeve with psychedelic UV printing. Pocket Cat Records released a run of 20 with the grooves cut into blank laserdiscs. Aural Pleasure Records used a Kickstarter campaign to fund their edition of five “Glitter Lizard” LPs, with transparent blue and yellow vinyl featuring embedded glitter and “lizards.” It all got a bit crazy out there.

Conventional wisdom would say that obviously if they’re giving it away, it must not be very good.  But that’s the surprise (or not, given the quality out put of these guys)–this album is just as good as their others, and in many places better.  They really seem to have unified their sound for the bulk of this album, incorporating so many aspects of previous albums, but successfully merging them into a coherent whole.  There’s an epic song, a whole bunch of songs that segue into other songs, songs that refer to other songs, loud vocals, quiet vocals, flutes, harmonica, and it’s all wrapped up in an early Pink Floyd-era synth sound. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: STEVE COLEMAN-“Ritual” (Field Recordings, April 27, 2012).

This Field Recording was filmed at the Newport Jazz Festival [Steve Coleman And The Invention Of New Languages] is one of the few where the artist speaks over the music.

Coleman talks about the tradition of making vocal sounds with music.  He says that Jen Shyu was a classical singer before she started singing with them.  She is Taiwanese-American and after working with them making sounds (not necessarily words), sometimes she sings snippets of any of the languages she speaks, and sometimes not.

The Asian-American singer Jen Shyu speaks several languages, among them English, Spanish, Portuguese and various East Asian tongues from China, Taiwan and East Timor. But then she started performing with saxophonist Steve Coleman. None of her native tongues would serve for his knotty tunes; “doo-bop-a-da” scat singing wasn’t going to cut it, either. So she had to devise her own sound and fury — perhaps signifying nothing formally, but full of intense personal feeling.

This short piece is trumpet and sax and Jen’s voice and they all seem to be doing their own thing, but it all melds nicely.

Steve Coleman has long been known as an inventor of language — a composer who draws equally from rigorous examination of music theory, esoteric natural science and myth, and Charlie Parker. But you don’t have to speak his language to be entranced by it. There’s flow, and pulse, and delightful chord changes. And, yes, it’s a little disorienting, which seems like part of the point.

Coleman’s vision was on display when his band Five Elements played the Newport Jazz Festival last year. But we wanted to know more. So we brought him, Shyu and trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson into the ruins of Fort Adams for a more intimate, stripped-down look at his music. We also asked him for a translation into the English language: “If anything, that’s what this music is…  It’s a lot of different influences, coming from different places — plus, whatever’s coming from inside you, which is the main thing.”

It’s pretty cool to hear what you know is nonsense but still feel it embued with meaning.

[READ: April 10, 2016] “Alone”

I have read a lot of stories by Yiyun Li and I have consistently enjoyed them all.  What I especially like about them is that while none of them are ever “exciting,” (since they are all about small human dramas), none off them are ever boring and none are ever quite the same)..

Most of the stories are an encounter between one to four people and they have something in common (or not) which brings them together.  It’s the commonalities that vary so greatly in each story–and those commonalities are virtually never the “interesting” or “dramatic” part of the story.

This story begins with Suchen, a young woman, sitting in a cafe.  The waitress has just asked her how she is dealing with the smoke.  There is no smoke so she just nods.  The man sitting next to her leans over and fills in that there have been wildfires in the north.

There is an older couple sitting at the table next to her as well.  She imagines what it would be like to be with someone you trusted until you were that age.  For the time being anyhow, that won’t be her as she and her husband Lei have recently separated–on pretty much mutual terms although Lei is the one who started the proceedings. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JULIA JACKLIN-Live at the Newport Folk Festival (2017).

I saw Julia Jacklin open for First Aid Kit and while I was looking for music by her I found this, her first show at Newport Folk Festival.

This show is a good representation of her live show, except that with when I saw her, she threw in a couple more upbeat songs–this set is a bit monotonous.  Or maybe that’s what an 11M crowd needs.

It’s often a sparse crowd that turns up to see an 11 a.m. set at a music festival — but not so at the Newport Folk Festival. When Julia Jacklin took the stage on Saturday morning, she seemed shocked to be faced with a tent full of attentive onlookers. (If it were any other festival, she pointed out, she’d probably be playing to an audience of four — and four hung-over people, at that.)

She played nine songs, several of which she played when I saw her.

“Hay Plain” is a slow meandering song  it takes almost 4 minutes before the full band kicks in, but when they do it really elevates the song.  ““Lead Light” she played when I saw her.  It has a kind of old school swing to it, almost 50s rock and roll.  The song build and stops several times.

“Cold Caller” is another slow-mover.  Midway through there’s a really cool–and to my mind, much needed–wicked guitar solo.  The backing vocals on “Motherland” mid way through the song perk things up.  She lets her vocals linger more on this one which shows of the power more.

“LA Dream” it is indeed dreamy and sweet and is mostly just her guitar.  “Eastwick” is a cool song that grows faster and louder in a rather slow and deliberate manner. “Coming Of Age” and “Pool Party” are slow brooding song.  “Pool Party” sounds familiar but defies what’s expected from a song with a title like that.

For the last song, “Don’t Let The Kids Win” the band left and it was just her on stage with her guitar.  The lyrics are so good and so well-delivered, it’s a real high point.

So, overall I find her songs to be pretty but a little flat.  She just not quite my thing.  But every time the rest of the band stepped up, the songs were much more fun for me (even when they werent “fun” songs).

To read some lyrics and what it was like to see her in person, check out this post.  That plaid skirt must be a trademark.

[READ: October 1, 2018] “When We Were Happy We Had Other Names”

This story is about death.

It opens in a funeral home, as the director is meeting with the protagonists Jiayu and her husband Chris.  The story is set in the States–Jiayu thinks about how much stranger living in the States would have been for her if it were fifty years earlier–but that’s doesn’t directly impact the story, exactly.

The gut punch of the story comes as we realize–it is mostly alluded to–that their son Evan has killed himself.  Their daughter Naomi is off at college and while she does come home for the funeral, she also cuts off a lot of access to her.

Jiayu and Chris spent a lot of time with grief–they asked if they had done something wrong–Evan had seemed so happy.  But things did have to move along.  Would they buy pumpkins for the holiday?  Christmas trees?  Would anyone notice or care if they didn’t?

But thinking about death was an all-consuming act for Jaiyu.  She wound up creating a spreadsheet of all of the people she knew or had met who have died.  She entered birth and death year as well as cause of death.  She wanted to test her memory, so she didn’t look up anything.  By remembering each person it would prevent them from become generically dead. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: O.C.-Tiny Desk Concert #732 (April 18, 2018).

This is where I get to complain again that The Breeders had three songs when O.C. [Omar “O.C.” Credle], whom I have never heard of (although he is apparently a classic) gets five songs in nearly 19 minutes.  Bogus.

As a member of Brooklyn rap collective Diggin’ In The Crates, Omar Credle, aka O.C., helped shape what was known as the golden age of 1990s rap. Marked by loops sourced from jazz recordings and lyrics rooted in one-upmanship, O.C’s two ’90s albums made him a rapper’s rapper, an underground star.

I’ve never heard of him but he is sure confident in his crew’s impact (which seems about right I guess.  It’s interesting that they were known for sampling, but they have a live band.  The band sounds fantastic by the way.

O.C. was joined at his Tiny Desk by Soul’D U Out, a jazz ensemble led by Grammy-winning trumpeter Maurice “Mobetta” Brown. The live instrumentation replicated the sample-heavy original recordings perfectly.

They mostly play old songs, but they start with a new one: “New Day,” from O.C.’s 2017 album which features young R&B singer Tay Bell on the hook.  Bell’s vocals are quite high-pitched.  I thought he was a woman at first (just hearing him, not seeing him).  But his voice adds a great fullness to the song.  That live trumpet is amazing, as is the quiet fuzzy guitar from Marcus Machado that runs throughout the song.

He says he wants to get into the old stuff.  He asks, “How many over 45?”  A woman replied, “Oh, that’s wrong.”  He laughs and says, “I’m only 23.”

The rest of the set was vintage cuts from O.C.’s heyday. “Day One,” a D.I.T.C. posse cut, featured emcee and producer Lord Finesse.

Robert “Lord Finesse” Hall gets a verse, which he delivers with a great style I actually like his more than O.C.).  I also love the vibes even if they are only on keys (by Chris Robs).,  He says that the song is about “20 years of history.”  Referring to other rappers, he says, “we birthed a lot of them, they might not say it, but I will. without D.I.T.C, there’d be no digging n the record crates. ”  I seriously doubt that statement, but whatever.

Then O.C. treated the crowd to a version of “Return of the Crooklyn Dodgers” (the one and only song by him, Jeru The Damaja and Chubb Rock).

I was more impressed by the trumpet than anything else.  The sounds he gets at the end are amazing.

He had to fit in his seminal banger and arguably most popular song, “Time’s Up,” from Word…Life.

He says “I hated this record when I made it but people convinced me to do it.”  Huh.  I like the cool bass from Parker McAllister that runs through the song.

The finale got personal when O.C. relayed the importance of the song “Born 2 Live.” “This is dedicated to a friend of mine who got killed down in Baltimore,” he said. “Every time I do this record, it’s somber. … But it’s a celebration at the same time. So I’m a just party it out and have a good time with it.” With a little help from Soul’D U Out, we did, too.

I’m only a little disappointed that the drummer (Camau “Klutch” Bernstine, whose hair is awesome) didn’t get to show off a bit more. He was really solid but there was nothing fancy.

I’m not bummed that he got 20 minutes, because I enjoyed his set, but let some other folks go over time too!

[READ: April 17, 2018] “A Flawless Silence”

Yiyun Li is perhaps the most consistently enjoyable New Yorker author for me.  I love the pacing of her stories and I love the way she tackles large and small personal issues sometimes at the same time.

This story is about a woman, Min.  She grew up in China but moved to America when her now husband proposed to her. As the story begins, she is with her twin daughters in the car.  They are fighting , of course, until one of them says that Kevin, a boy in their class is a Republican.

How do they know?  Because the teacher instructed them to write to either presidential candidate and while everyone class wrote to Hilary Clinton, he chose to write a supportive letter to the male candidate (Yiyun Li uses his name but I don’t feel compelled to). (more…)

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CV1_TNY_06_08_15_09.inddSOUNDTRACK: SOUNDTRACKSTELLA DONNELLY-“Talking” NPR’S SOUTH X LULLABY (March 19, 2018).

The South X Lullaby is a really fun way to get to know a new (or familiar, but mostly new) artist in an intimate live setting.  I had heard one of Stella Donnelly’s songs before, but this Lullaby presented her by herself (with a very cool backdrop) with an amazingly clear recording of her voice and guitar.

Stella Donnelly has only one EP to her name, but that’s been enough to make her sharp wit come through in sweet, quiet songs that rage loudly. The Australian singer-songwriter’s Thrush Metal EP was recently reissued in the U.S. with a bonus track, “Talking,” which she performs here surrounded by video of wires, a weaving machine and woolen yarns.

Her voice is clear with big open vowels (you can kind of hear the Australian accent, but it’s somewhat indeterminate).  Despite it being just her electric guitar, she plays a in a couple of slightly different styles throughout the song which adds a lot of texture to the piece.

For the end of the song she really unleashes her voice even as the guitar doesn’t alter all that much.  It’s pretty intense.

I wish you could see the art installation a bit more (I realize this is a video for her, but the installation is pretty neat).  At least they hold the pull-back screen at the end a little long so you can see what’s going on.

Donnelly played “Talking” in Conductors and Resistance, an art installation by the Israeli artist Ronen Sharabani that’s on display as part of the SXSW Art Program. Like Donnelly’s direct and feminist folk songs, Sharabani confronts the viewer to increase action in areas of high resistance, the only way to ensure a strong reaction.

[READ: April 13, 2016] “A Soldier Home”

Back in June of 2009, The New Yorker had their annual summer fiction issue.  Included in that issue were three short essays under the heading of “Summer Reading.”  I knew all three authors, so I decided to include them here.

This essay was about Yiyun Li’s growing up in China.

And I was astonished by the first line: “The summer after my year of involuntary service in the Chinese army….”  I didn’t know that women were made to be in it.  She says that after that summer, she read Hemingway compulsively. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: VIOLENTS & MONICA MARTIN-Tiny Desk Concert #626 (June 5, 2017).

I don’t really understand why Jeremy Larson chose the name Violents.  His music is anything but–pretty piano melodies with (in this show) really nice string arrangements.  I love the way the strings really dramatize the pop song elements.

About the strings, (who go by the Rootstock Republic),he says “they saved our lives this week–because even though a solo vocal performance with her would be amazing…,”

“Equal Powers” has such beautiful melodies.   I really like the way Martin’s voice plays off of the piano.  The chorus melody line is perfect and the high notes “I know I know” are like a perfect icing topper.  I like this lyrical construct:

lean in, let me feel your breath on my skin/I know, I know
lean in, liquor on your breath/ I’m tasting, I know, I know

Her voice has a lovely delicate straining to it that is really pretty.

So who is Martin?  The last time we saw singer Monica Martin at the Tiny Desk she was singing with Phox, her folky, poppy band based in Madison, Wisconsin. But, while that band is on hiatus, Martin took time to walk into the world of Violents, the project of pianist, string arranger and songwriter Jeremy Larson. Larson and Martin make a lovely pair and have created a subtle, soulful record — Awake And Pretty Much Sober — that benefits greatly from Larson’s classical training.  It’s the first full-length Jeremy Larson has released as Violents, a project that, generally, sees him joined by a different singer each outing, resulting in an EP.

“Unraveling” has a pretty, slow piano melody.  It’s more of a ballad.  Once again the chorus is gorgeous–especially the way Martin hits some of those notes in the ooooh section.

and again her voice hits some lovely notes and her ooohs are delightful against the strings.

Before introducing “Spark” he says playing the Tiny Desk is “a bucket list kind of thing.”  He says they’re gonna do one more song.  We were supposed to do a different one but this one’s a bit more appropriate for a smaller setting its called “Spark.”  It has a simpler melody and is certainly a ballad.  It is not as powerful but it’s still quite lovely.

The Rootstock Republic is Juliette Jones (violin); Jessica McJunkins (violin); Kristine Kruta (cello); Jarvis Benson (viola).

 [READ: May 3, 2017] “On the Street Where You Live”

I have really enjoyed Yiyun Li’s stories of late, although i didn’t fully enjoy this one.  I found the location of it a little hard to follow and then it seemed to be about something but was then about something else.

It begins in China, with Bella and Peter walking down the street.  Bella and Peter are friends and have been for 25 years.  They met in Boston.

Bella is Chinese by birth but moved to the USA to study.  They are in China because Bella and Peter always talked of going there.  And it turns out that Peter’s boyfriend Adrian is doing research on his ancestors from China.  So they decided to use it as a chance to travel together.

This was kind of mistake.  (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: NINET-Tiny Desk Concert #602 (March 3, 2017).

One of the things I’d hoped to do this year was to finish posting about all of the Tiny Desk Concerts.  I didn’t know how I’d do it, but at some point I just decided to plow through them all.  And as of today, I have posted about all of the Concerts from the first one through March of this year.  There’s about 25 newer ones left.  It’s a pretty good feeling to accomplish arbitrary goals.

Ninet is the first of the newest Concerts.  Ninet Tayeb is an Israeli singer but she doesn’t sing any kind of “ethnic” or “world” music.  Rather, she and her band simply rock out.

As the first song, “Child” opens, the band sings in great harmony.  I love that the drummer (Yotam Weiss) is using a box drum but also a small hand drum (tapping with his fingers) and a cymbal (playing with his hands perfectly).  Ninet herself plays acoustic guitar and I love that you can hear her strumming and scratching on the guitar even with everyone else playing.  After a few verses, the whole band starts to rock out.  The great guitar sounds come from the electric guitarist (and main backing vocalist)–Joseph E-Shine Mizrahi.  I loved watching his guitar solo and the way he was occasionally hitting all of the strings to make them ring them out as he soloed.

I love the melody of Elinor–the way the guitars and bass (Matt McJunkins) play the same thing but in different tones.   The song takes off and runs nonstop with some great riffing in the middle and Ninet’s angry, snarling but catchy voice rising over it all.  I also love the great use of snyths (Doron Kochli) to play divergent and dark swells underneath the main riffs.

The song rocks to an end and they laugh as the guitarist picks some things up off the floor and says sorry Bob.  To which he says “what did you break now?”  That remains unresolved–I’m not even sure when it happened.

“Superstar,” the final song has the same snarling coolness as the previous two.  But it adds an interesting middle Eastern vibe from the keys as well as during the vocal lines near the end.  It sounds amazing.

The blurb has this to say:

“[Ninet is] one of the most famous entertainers in Israel today.”  She has recently settled in the States.  She has released five albums, “and their most recent, Paper Parachute, is the home of the songs she brought to us. It’s filled with a her husky-toned voice and guitar lines straight out of stateside ’70s rock, with a Middle Eastern lean. It’s a winning sound, performed by an unrestrained talent.”

I really enjoyed this set–her voice is really captivating and the riffs are wonderful.  As the song ends, Bob says “and that was the stripped down version,”  I’d like to hear the full on rocking version too!

[READ: January 12, 2017] “On the Street Where You Live”

Just the other day I learned that Yiyun Li would be joining Princeton University’s Creative Writing team.  That’s pretty exciting. If I was a groupie it would be even more exciting.  It would certainly be awkward to go to her office and thank her for all of the great fiction she’s written.  But how cool would it be to walk down the hall and see her and Jeffrey Eugenides, A.M. Homes, Jhumpa Lahiri, and Joyce Carol Oates chatting by the literary water cooler?

This is the story of Becky.  Becky’s son, Jude has autism and is being seen by two specialists.

She is in the remodeled San Francisco museum, talking to a man who says he hates museums–he hates sharing art with others.  The man is wearing a red tie that reminds her of Spongebob Squarepants.  She will write about him in her journal (mentioning only the red tie).  Her journal is comprised solely of descriptions of people.  She imagines that one day Jude will read it and be appreciative for all of her words. (more…)

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