Archive for the ‘Yiyun Li’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: VIOLENTS & MONICA MARTIN-Tiny Desk Concert #625 (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 #601 (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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2008_10_13SOUNDTRACK: HALEY BONAR-Tiny Desk Concert #569 (October 11, 2016).

Haley Bonar was born in Canada but raised in the U.S.  She haleyis a folksinger with a country leaning (but without the twang).   For this Tiny Desk, Haley plays acoustic guitar and sings lead.  She had a keyboardist who sings great harmonies.  And behind them there’s a guy playing electric guitar (with great echoed effect), a bassist and a drummer.

“Hometown” has a great catchy chorus (well, and verse too).  It’s upbeat but melancholy at the same time.  There’s a very cool echoed slide guitar solo in the middle of the song.

Bonar doesn’t speak much, expect to joke about the appropriateness of the second song.  “Jealous Girls” is slower and moodier.  (“Jealous girls don’t have no fun unless they’re sure they’re the only one).  The middle section of this song is really cool, the way it changes the mood.  She doesn’t play guitar on this one, but there’s some great lyrics at the end of the song:

And you turn up your guitar
In another shitty bar in another shitty town
And you wonder when you’ll wake up
Yeah you wonder when you’ll wake up
From this long distance daydream of
Playing while girls scream
Alone in a hotel
Like piss in your ice cream

I love that the way this end part is sung and played it seems like it’s going to transition to another part.  But that’s just the end.

“Called You Queen” is a fast folkie song.  I really like her delivery on the verses. The chords for the chorus are fairly obvious but are really catchy anyway.  It’s a really good song.  The abrupt ending (with a hint of echo on the guitar) is spectacular

I didn’t know Bonar before this set, but i really liked it.

[READ: March 9, 2016] “Gold Boy Emerald Girl”

Yiyun Lee had a story in a 2008 May issue of the New Yorker as well.  I have enjoyed pretty much all of her stories. This one was quite different from the others in that the whole story has a feeling of inevitability to it.  And yet it was a kind of gentle inevitability that almost didn’t seem to be there.  Or something.

The story is about two adults, Siyu, 38 and Hanfeng 44.  The opening paragraph tells us that she was raised by her father and he was raised by his mother.

Siyu knew Hanfeng’s mother because she was a Professor and Siyu worked for her a while ago.  But the Professor is now retired and Hanfeng has moved back home after a stint in America to live with her.

And we see now that the Professor has set the two up on a date.

The story is told in a very gentle, unhurried way, as befits the story of these two who have taken their time with thee lives. (more…)

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2008_05_12SOUNDTRACK: QUETZAL-Tiny Desk Concert #378 (August 2, 2014).

tzalQuetzal are a band from Southern California who have been performing in the Chicano scene for about 20 years.

Guitarist Quetzal Flores plays the Mexican jarana for both rhythm and melody, violinist Rocio Marron adds blues licks into Mexican folk runs and bassist Juan Perez provides a nimble and melodic bottom end.  And then there’s lead singer Martha Gonzalez who has a great voice and is quite the activist.

The first song, “Palomo Vagabundo” is pretty and sad.  The song means vagabond Pigeon and is a story about a beaten up pigeon who still tries to find love.  Quetzal says the whole album is about life of urban animals and how we relate to them.

They introduce the second song “Tragafuegor” which is about a fire breather they saw in Mexico.  He was putting himself in harm’s way to make some change but also shining light on reality.  This is a faster, livelier song with Gonzalez dancing on a box–like Saintseneca.  The dancing rhythms, the great violin and the cool robust bass really make this song stand out.  About the stomp box, this is a tarica from Veracruz, Mexico.  Quetzal explains that Martha is a percussionist by trade as well as a professor as Scripps College in Pomona.

The final song, “Todo Lo Que Tengo” is a beautiful ballad.  Again Martha’s voice soars above the music.

It’s always fascinating to “discover” a band who has been around for 20 years.

[READ: February 23, 2016] “A Man Like Him”

This is in unusual story in that the main character is a man who is obsessed with a story in a magazine.  Teacher Fei is an older man, unmarried and now living with his elderly mother.  She needs his care and he doesn’t mind giving it to her.

The story that he has become fixated on is about a nineteen year old girl who is set out to publicly humiliate her father.  The girl’s mother and father divorced three years ago.  And once the girl turned eighteen she sued her father, suspecting that another woman had seduced hm away from her mother.  She said that he should be punished for abandoning his family and for the immoral act of taking a mistress.

She had also created a website to humiliate the man.  She wanted him to lose his job, his freedom and his mistress. And this angered Teacher Fei (who didn’t know any of them) to distraction. (more…)

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CV1_TNY_03_10_14Steininger.inddSOUNDTRACK: FEDERICO AUBELE-Tiny Desk Concert #350 (April 21, 2014).

faFederico Aubele is an Argentinian singer-songwriter.  He sings in both Spanish and English. And in this Tiny Desk Concert, he plays pretty guitar solos between songs which makes the three songs all seem like one long piece.

His guitar playing is clean and beautiful on the nylon string guitar.  He plays in the quintessential “South American”/”classical” style [some might even call this Flamenco, Paul].  And his voice is low and deep but also expressive.

The three songs here are “Laberinto Del Ayer,” “This Song,” and “Somewhere Else.”  They are each quite pretty and melancholy.  And when he starts speaking in Spanish at the end of the third song, his voice is definitely enticing.

[READ: June 10, 2014] “A Sheltered Woman”

In this story, the second or third I’ve read by Yiyun Li, the main character is an older women who goes by the name of Auntie Mei.  Auntie Mei is a first month nanny–she stays for only the first month, to make sure that the mother is breastfeeding correctly and that everyone is prepared to move on–her skills are very specific to the first month.  And she is in very high demand among Chinese immigrants.

She has worked for 126 families in the last eleven years.  And she never gets attached to any of the families–calling each mother Ma and each child The Baby.

With this new mother who, like all the other mothers is Chinese (but who wants to be called Chanel), Auntie Mei is having a bit of a hard time.  The mother is disinterested in her baby, claims to have postpartum depression (Auntie Mei says “Don’t speak nonsense”) and even had a dream that she drowned her baby in the toilet.  Mostly, Chanel is angry that her husband is not around–he has been away on business since the baby was born.  We later learn about the strange details of their marriage.

Auntie Mei tries not to get involved.  She keeps telling Chanel (and others in the story not to tell her details).  She feeds Chanel a thick soup (designed for breastfeeding) and massages her breasts when she does not produce milk.  But after a few days Chanel says she quits and leaves the baby entirely in Auntie Mei’s charge.  Auntie Mei protests but she can’t allow the baby to die so she takes over.  Chanel simply watches TV and complains–she won’t even go buy groceries. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: cuppa joe-“Better in Your Head” (2012).

After an eternity (okay, 18 years), Cuppa Joe is back with another release on Dromedary Records.  Things have changed over the years in cuppa joe’s world.  Their previous release, nurture was a delightful twee pop confection.  This track (you can see the video here) adds an unexpected depth to their catalog.

The first change comes from the minor chord guitar strums; the second comes from the bass, which is following its own cool riff–although it melds nicely with the verse, it’s unexpected from cuppa joe.  The pace of the song is much slower than the frantic songs on nurture.  Even the vocals, while noticably cuppa joe, seem less so–call it a more mature version of the vocals. Indeed, the whole sounds seems to have relinquished their more childlike qualities  and embraced a more mature outlook.

This could be a death knell for a band, but not in this case.  All of their songwriting sensibilities remain intact.  Indeed, they have added a wonderful new component: terrific harmonies in the chorus (which may have been there before, but which really stand out here).

It would almost seem like an entirely new band (18 years will do that to you).  But rather than a new band it’s like an old band coming out of a coocoon like a butterfly.  (That’s too treacly, sorry guys–maybe we’ll just stick with them being older and wiser.  Welcome back guys.

The new cuppa joe album Tunnel Trees is available here.

[READ: September 8, 2010] “The Science of Flight”

I read this story in September of 2010.  I liked it but I wasn’t that impressed by it.  Well, it turns out I either skipped or missed an important section of the story.  So I’m trying again.  here’s the start of my original post

Yiyun Li’s is one of the 20 Under 40 from the New Yorker.  This story (which I assume is not an excerpt) is about Zichen.  Zichen (whose name is unpronounceable to Westerners) emigrated from China to live in America with her then new husband.

As the story opens, we see Zichen at work at an animal-care center.  She is talking with her coworkers about her upcoming visit to England (this will be her first-ever vacation that is not to China).  The men are teasing her about the trip (why would she want to go to the ocean in the winter, she doesn’t know anyone there, etc).  The teasing is friendly, because they are friendly, although Zichen is very reserved around them.  Of course, of all the people she has known, she has opened up to them the most–which still isn’t very much.

That much is accurate.  However, the rest of my post about this story is completely (and rather ineptly, I must admit) incorrect.  Recently, Carol Schoen commented on my original post and informed me that I was a bonehead (although she said it much more politely than that).  I had completely missed the point of this story the first time around.  And indeed, re-reading it this time, I can’t help but wonder what happened last time.

Zichen is a bastard, literally.  She was born our of wedlock to a man who ran away.  In China, this was like compounding one sin atop another one.  Her grandmother agreed to raise her (after a failed adoption) more or less to spite Zichen’s mother, provided Zichen’s mother had nothing to so with her.  And so, Zichen’s grandmother worked in her shop extra long hours to care for a child who was a visible symbol of the family’s disgrace.  (I seem to have gotten the point about her grandmother raising her, but seem to have missed the important part about her parents not being in her life at all). (more…)

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I’ve been aware of Friends, Romans, Countrymen for a number of years, but I’d never heard them.  The bio on the Dromedary site suggests that they broke up some time around 2003.  So, I’m not entirely sure if this CD was released back then or if this is the first time it’s seeing the light of day.

I’ve been streaming the disc all day (and yes, I will buy it as soon as can find my wallet, which, no is not in El Segundo–ooh, old school!)).  I don’t know if it’s my crappy work headphones but the recording sounds distorted in a way that makes me think it was recorded too loud.  Of course as I say it could be the headphones.

Getting beyond that, the band reminds me a lot of middle era Hüsker Dü.  They don’t sound like them necessarily, but the feel: noisy guitars, kind of sloppy (but cool) solos, smooth vocals (at times there is definitely a resemblance to Bob Mould) and harmonies, and fast, rocking beats.

The Dromedary site calls them “burly pop-core” and that’s a really apt description.  The opening song is a tribute to a fellow New Jersey band: “The Day Footstone Died.”  (Footstone’s releases have been covered here).  It’s got some great catchy guitars and a great bridge.  (And the live version that’s on the site sounds like the band never broke up).

There’s some really interesting guitar sounds on “Lee1Blu” (as well as some cool harmonies).  The rest of the disc is equally infectious, all the way down to the two closing instrumentals, “Warm” and, um, “Instrumental.”

So you get about 40 minutes of pretty fine, pretty loud alt-rock.  You can stream the disc (and buy it) here.

[READ: September 8, 2010] “The Science of Flight”

So this post really missed the point of the story.  If you read the comments below you’ll get more details.  Because of the comment, I have re-posted about the story.  You can read it here.


Yiyun Li’s is one of the 20 Under 40 from the New Yorker.  This story (which I assume is not an excerpt) is about Zichen.  Zichen (whose name is unpronounceable to Westerners) emigrated from China to live in America with her then new husband.

As the story opens, we see Zichen at work at an animal-care center.  She is talking with her coworkers about her upcoming visit to England (this will be her first-ever vacation that is not to China).  The men are teasing her about the trip (why would she want to go to the ocean in the winter, she doesn’t know anyone there, etc).  The teasing is friendly, because they are friendly, although Zichen is very reserved around them.  Of course, of all the people she has known, she has opened up to them the most–which still isn’t very much. (more…)

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