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Archive for the ‘Zadie Smith’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: JENNIFER CASTLE-Live at Massey Hall (November 23, 2017).

I didn’t think I knew Jennifer Castle, but I see that she has appeared as a guest singer on a whole bunch of records by artists that I know: Eric Chenaux, Bry Webb, Constantines and Fucked Up.

She has an unusual voice–soaring, delicate and whispery with a slight warble and yet you know she could belt out if she wanted to.

She starts the show saying Toronto has incredible beautiful old buildings and its rare these days to go inside one.  Inside Massey Hall it’s lit up to be another member of the band and to be part of the show.

I found the music to be incredibly spare–too spare in fact.  It is primarily piano and her vocals (with backing singers), but the piano (Jonathan Adjemian) is not a primary instrument, it is simply playing chords for her to sing over.  The sparseness was a little disconcerting.  But the backing vocalists (Victoria Cheeong and Isla Craig) are stellar–they really add a lot to the music and their voices soar in their own right.

But I think that sparseness allows her lyrics to really come through.  “Like a Gun” has the lyric “he was lik e gun [hah, from lovely backing vocalists] he was always going off.”

“Nature” has even better lyrics

Despite all my feelings of life parallel
Nature is happening without my goodwill
I called my friend up and she said it still
Happens to you even when you are ill

and ends with this interesting conceit

I lift my skirt for the economy

“Texas” is played on guitar with a very catchy “hoo hoo hoo hoo” clap-along.

I go down to Texas
To kiss my grandmother goodbye
She forgets things
But when I look her in the eye
I see my father
And he’s been gone so very long
In the name of time travel
Help him to hear to my little song

Jennifer plays electric guitar on “Truth is the Freshest Fruit” which changes the whole dynamic of her songs.  She plays guitar with piano accompaniment on “Sailing Away.”

She is the first person to mention the renovations Massey Hall is currently undergoing:

I know that Massey is going to go through a great big change but it feels good to play while the history is still on the paint.

The final song is absolutely wonderful.  She says she wrote “Please Take Me (I’m Broken)” because she knew they were coming to Massey and it celebrates the school of Greek mythology

The backing vocalists sing a verse by themselves and they sound great.  I love the chorus

Please take me cause something don’t seem right; something don’t compute.  I don’t belong here.
Please take me I’m broken;  I’ve woken up and I should be dreaming.
Please take me back to those other realms they seem much kinder on a dreamer like me.
I’ve always looked up to those ancient Greek stories.
I love the thrill of the scale; I like the the roll of the chorus.

A thoughtful and unique performer.

[READ: July 17, 2018] “Now More Than Ever”

I  feel like Zadie Smith’s recent stories have been exploring a new style for her, a more “in the present” kind of vibe.  This story has meta-elements and is very much an of the moment piece.  It seems to address current hot button issues and her own inability to fully wrap her head around them.

It begins: “There is an urge to be good. To be seen to be good. To be seen.  Also to be.”

This is what she told Mary.  She also told Mary that no one is called Marty these days.  “Could you get the hell out of here?”  So Mary left.  Then Scout came by–a great improvement.

Scout is active and alert on all platforms. She;s usually no later than the 300th person to see something.  The narrator was “the ten million two hundred and sixth person to see that thing.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: GOLDEN DAWN ARKESTRA-Tiny Desk Concert #761 (June 29, 2018).

They came marching in from off stage in robes and masks, with instruments and face paint, in more colors than have ever been in one place.

And they began the first song with a cacophony of keyboards and percussion before playing the discofied funk of “Children of the Sun.”

There’s horns from “Malika” (Sarah Malika Boudissa–Baritone Sax, Vocals), and “Zumbi” (Chris Richards–Trombone, Vocals) who set the melody going while the percussion from “Lost In Face” (Rob Kidd–Drums–who does indeed have a mask covering his face) and “Oso the Great” (Alex Marrero-Percussion) keeps things moving.

There’s a slowdown in the middle with just bass “Shabuki” (Greg Rhoades-Bass), and keys from the leader himself “Zapot Mgawi” (Topaz McGarrigle-Vocals, Organ, Synth).

Throughout the songs you can hear some wah wah guitar from “Yeshua Villon” (Josh Perdue-Guitar) and vibes–a persistent instrument which sounds otherworldly and perfect.  They come from “Isis of Devices” (Laura Scarborough-Vocals, Vibraphone).  Behind her, dancing throughout the song is “Rosietoes” (Christinah Rose Barnett-Vocals, Tambourine).

So what do we know about this band?

The blurb says:

It was a late night at an unfamiliar club in Austin, Texas when the spirit, sound, lights and costumes of the Golden Dawn Arkestra put a huge, dreamy smile on my face. It took more than three years to get ten of the players and performers in this band (there are often even more) to my desk. I tried to transform the bright daylight of the NPR office with some of my handy, previously used holiday laser lights. But honestly, it wasn’t until their psychedelic jazz kicked in that the office transformation felt real. Band leader, Topaz squawked through his megaphone to join them on their journey, while singing “Children of the Sun.”

Topaz told me that the band’s inspiration for both the name and the spirit of the musicians is loosely based on the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. The organization, devoted to the study of the occult and paranormal activities, has been around since the 19th century.

Both of Topaz’s parents were heavily into spiritual movements and what happens here falls somewhere between high art and a circus, with music that feels connected to Sun Ra’s jazz, the extended musical adventures of The Doors and the surprise elements of Parliament-Funkadelic. You can dance and/or trance, or sit back and enjoy the spectacle.

Before “The Wolf” he apologizes for an outbreak of cold on their planet.  But he wants to remind us that we are all human beings from the same planet and that we are all from stardust and vibrations. Together we can change the planet.

We would like there to be more light and love in the universe.  We must all stand together.  This is our fight song for that.

It moves quickly with the horns playing away and t he percussion flying.

The final song “Masakayli” opens with bongos from “Oso the Great” and clapping from everyone (including the audience).  The horn melody sounds a lot the theme from S.W.A.T. (there’s nothing wrong with that).  I feel like the guitar was kind of quiet through the other songs, but you can really hear “Yeshua Villon” on this one, especially the guitar solo.

This song ends with the jamming circus atmosphere that really takes off with a trippy keyboard solo from Topaz as “Rosietoes” plays with a light up hula hoop and “Zumbi” parades through the audience trying to get everyone hyped up.

It’s a tremendous spectacle and should bring a smile to your face.  Next time these guys are in town, I’m there.

[READ: February 2, 2018] “Always Another Word”

These are the same remarks that were included in Five Dials Issue Number 10.

But since it has been some time since I posted them and since I am being a completist here, and since it has been nine years since Infinite Summer, I’ll cover these four in somewhat more details

Michael Pietsch
speaks about being DFW’s editor. He says that Dave loved to communicate through letters and “the phone messages left on the office answering machine hours after everyone had departed.”  He says he loved Dave’s letters and tore into them hungrily.  He gives examples of some communiques about cuts and edits of Infinite Jest.

I cut this and have now come back an hour later and put it back

Michael, have mercy.  Pending and almost Horacianly persuasive rationale on your part, my canines are bared on this one.

He continues that David’s love affair with English was a great romance of our time.  How he was so excited to be selected to the American Heritage Dictionary‘s Usage panel. But that was surpassed by his own mother’s excitement about it,

Michael thinks he may have tried to use every word in the dictionary at least once.  When he, Michael, suggested a book that opened with the word “picric,” David’s instant response was “I already used that!.”

Zadie Smith
addresses the critics of BIWHM who thought the book was an ironic look at misogyny. She felt it was more like a gift.  And the result of two gifts.  A MacArthur Genius grant and a talent so great it confused people.  His literary preoccupation was the moment the ego disappears and you’re able offer your love as a gift without expectation of reward.

She says that she taught students to read BIWHM alongside Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling.

The most impassioned recommendation he gave her was Brain Moore’s Catholics, a novella about a priest who is no longer capable of prayer. Don’t think of David as a God-botherer–think of it as ultimate value.

You get to decide what you worship, but nine time out of ten it turns out to be ourselves.

For David, Love was the ultimate value, the absurd, the impossible thing worth praying for.

George Saunders
speaks of reading BIWHM and finding that it did strange things to his mind and body.  He says it was like if you were standing outdoors and all of your clothes were stripped away and you had super-sensitive skin and you were susceptible to the weather whatever it might be–on a sunny day you would feel hotter; a blizzard would sting.

The reading woke him up, made him feel more vulnerable, more alive.  And yet the writer of these works was one of the sweetest, most generous dearest people he’d ever known.

He met Dave at the home of mutual friend in Syracuse.  While he feared that Dave would be engaged in a conversation about Camus, and he would feel humiliated, Dave was wearing a Mighty Mouse T-shirt and talked about George and his family, asking all about them.

Saunders says that in time the grief of his passing will be replaced by a deepening awareness of what a treasure we have in the existing work.  The disaster of his loss will fade and be replaced by the realization of what a miracle it was that he ever existed in the first place.   But for now there is just grief.

For now, keep alive the lesson of his work:

Mostly we’re asleep but we can wake up. And waking up is not only possible, it is our birthright and our nature and, as Dave showed us, we can help one another do it.

Don DeLillo
says that Dave’s works tends to reconcile what is difficult and consequential with what is youthful, unstudied and often funny.  There are sentences that shoot rays of energy in seven directions.

It’s hard to believe that in September, he will be dead ten years.

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SOUNDTRACK: CRASH TEST DUMMIES-Oooh La La! (2010).

Crash Test Dummies were once huge, then mocked and then silent.  They are still a band, although the band is really only singer Brad Roberts anymore.

In fat they were more or less broken up but then in 2010 Roberts began experimenting with toy instruments, the Optigan and Omnichord.

Those instruments were the inspiration for this music and yet the songs don’t sound like novelty or “toy” creations.  Both of the instruments were proto-samplers and they allowed Roberts to generates sounds on styles he didn’t normally play.  And so we get this interesting and fun release which features many contributions from fellow Dummy Ellen Ried, who still sounds amazing.

Roberts’ voice is still deep, but he really has his songwriting chops down well.  “Songbird” is a pretty folk song with a lovely chorus.

“You Said You’d Meet Me (In California)” was recorded as a Dummies song, although this version is more fun, with the way he sings it and the way he uses the instruments’ effects.

“And Its Beautiful” really is beautiful–it’s a very catchy song with pretty instrumentation and great backing vocals from Ellen Reid.  “Paralyzed” is a slow piano ballad while “In between Places” has some cool effects sprinkled on the song.

“Not Today Baby” is a goofy song.  Dummies have always been seen as a novelty band, and it’s songs like this that are why. But honestly, what’s wrong with having a sense of humor in your music.  This song isn’t ha ha funny but it should raise a smile.

“Heart of Stone” is the kind of sad song that Brad does so well.  Ellen Reid’s doo doo doo doo” are a lovely touch.

“Lake Bras d’Or” is a pretty ballad with minimal instrumentation, while “What I’m Famous For” is over the top.  This one has a kind of Western feel–a banjo-picking, fast-talking monstrosity.  And yet it’s a fun country ditty with some pretty funny lyrics.

Roberts talked about the big band sound of “Now You See Her” as something of an inspiration for the album–that this toy could make this kind of music and he wanted to see if he could wrote a song in that style   is a kind of big band.  It’s again, kind of a novelty, but I think he pulls it off really well.

The final song “Put a Face” is played with accordion and violin and is sung entirely by Ellen Reid.  It’s a beautiful song and a lovely ending to this unexpected disc.

[READ: January 20, 2017] “Two Men Arrive in a Village”

I usually love Zadie Smith stories–even when she writes things that are quite different from her usual style  But this one is simply odd.

The title is sort of a parable and the story reads like one as well.  It even starts as if the title is the first half of the sentence:

Sometimes on horseback, sometimes by foot, in a car or astride motorbikes, occasionally in a tank—having strayed far from the main phalanx—and every now and then from above, in helicopters. But if we look at the largest possible picture, the longest view, we must admit that it is by foot that they have mostly come…. Two men arrive in a village by foot, and always a village, never a town. If two men arrive in a town they will obviously arrive with more men, and far more in the way of supplies—that’s simple common sense.

After a fairly long setup of the things two men might carry, we find that these two men arrived in the narrator’s village at sunset. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BORIS-Attention Please (2011).

Attention Please marks a departure from the Heavy Rocks sound, returning to the dream pop sound explored on New Album, but this time, it has elements of noise pop and alternative rock. It features Wata’s vocals on every track.

Attention Please shares the songs “Hope,” “Party Boy” and “Spoon” with New Album
Attention Please shares the tracks “Aileron” with Heavy Rocks, although it is radially different.
New Album shares the tracks “Jackson Head” and “Tu, La La” with Heavy Rocks.

“Attention Please” 5:12 has a pulsing bass and gentle drums that lie under Wata’s whispered sensuous vocals.

“Hope” 3:26 Sounds a lot like the version on New Album, although the synths have been replaced by strings and the sound effects are removed.  This song feels more organic but still slick and catchy.

“Party Boy” 3:50 The thumping bass drum and a really buzzy bass give this version a very different sound.  There’s almost no synth although the vocals sound pretty much the same.  There’s a lot of strange effects that reward headphone listening–when Wata whispers in your ear it might even make you turn your head.  Although the song is basically the same, the New Album version is definitely catchier.

“See You Next Week” 3:56 has warping synth sounds that push the song forward as Wata’s whispered vocals come in.  The speed of the “percussion” is contrary to the gentle echoing vocals.  “Tokyo Wonder Land” 5:42 opens with repeated, high-pitched Huh huh huh and super distorted wild guitar riffs.

On “You” 6:13, it sounds like she’s singing “anatomy” quietly at a whisper (which she obviously isn’t).  It’s a slow, smooth song that meanders beautifully.

“Aileron” at 2:01, this is a much abbreviated version from the one on Heavy Rocks.  This one is all acoustic with some pretty guitar soloing going underneath the lovely melody.  The melody is the same but the whole song is very different.

“Les Paul Custom ‘86” 2:09 has whispered vocals from Wata and the men.  There’s guitar washes and a sense of menace but mostly it’s kind of tinny and effects-filled.  Its one of the few songs where understanding the words might actually help.

“Spoon” 4:16 For this version, there;s no keyboard notes, just heavy guitar.  But that whole shoegaze vibe from Wata’s vocals remains. The only real nod to the other version is the sound of breaking glass at the end of select verses.

“Hand in Hand” 4:30 is quiet and pretty with the tinny guitar and Wata’s gentle soaring vocals.

Between these three discs you get a pretty complete picture of the music of Boris–largely heavy,but always guitar based.  They really show off their diversity with this trio.

[READ: July 22, 2015] “Escape from New York”

This was the 2015 New Yorker fiction issue.  It featured several stories and several one-page essays from writers I like.

In addition to those essays on Time-Travel it also included this short piece from Zadie Smith.

This story is quite the peculiar one from Smith.  It eschews just about everything I think she writes about and focuses on a very unexpected subject.

There is a catastrophe in New York (presumably 9/11 although it could be a fictional disaster).  Lead character Michael is trying to coordinate an escape for his friends Elizabeth and Marlon.  Now, the accompanying photo was a clue, and anyone with any familiarity with celebrities should recognize those names.  I wasn’t sure if it was a coincidence; I assumed it must be. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: alt-J-Tiny Desk Concert #614 (April 24, 2017).

Alt-J have been reduced to a trio.  And their sound has gotten even more delicate and almost pastoral.

Bob Boilen loves Alt-J, and that’s why they’ve been invited back for a second time.  He explains:

As the primary booker of the Tiny Desk Concerts, I have this self-imposed rule: No artist can come back for a second visit unless there’s something wholly different about what they’re doing. The first time alt-J played the Tiny Desk, in 2012, they came as a four-piece; electric guitar, bass, keyboards and drums. They were a pretty new band, their album had been out a few months and they were playing in clubs for a couple hundred people, not much more.

In the five years since the band visited it has found quite a few new fans. When I heard cuts from the newest album Relaxer a few months ago I flipped and tried to think of a way to bring them back. So I wrote them, saying I’d love to have them again but that it would have to be wholly, out-of-the-box different. I told them I’d hire a brass band, an African kora player if need be, a string section… They took up the challenge. They told me to find a cellist and two violinists.

I wrote to my friend Carol Anne Bosco, a cellist, who turned out to be a huge fan of the band and helped find two violinists for the performance. About four days before the performance the band sent the string parts, written by their friend Will Gardner.

On Monday morning, the English band met the American string players and they all gathered behind my desk. As they worked their way through a first pass at “Three Worn Words,” I noticed them and relieved — alt-J had actually never heard the string arrangements, this was the first time. They sounded beautiful. By noon, NPR employees and friends gathered around my desk to witness this astonishing concert from alt-J, including two new songs and two old favorites. Magic.

“3WW” is the first single and it sounds very different.  The song opens with a lengthy instrumental, and then the keyboardist Gus Unger-Hamilton sings lead.  It sounds quite a lot like an old English balladeer song.  Then standard lead singer Joe Newman takes over.  His unusual voice is especially recognizable but the song still stays quite mellow until the moment where the strings burst forth …but just for a bit until they sing the practically whispered, “I just want t love you in my own language.”

“In Cold Blood” sounds a bit more like their old style with a very interesting drums pattern from Thom Green: lots of fast snares and toms.  The synths feel almost Ren-Faire like.  There’s also a fun section of “la la las.”  I only wish I knew what they were singing about.

“Warm Foothills” is primarily piano and strings.  There’s a very delicate falsetto vocals (and even a whistle).  All three of these songs are new.  It’s interesting to realize that these songs won’t sound like this anywhere else or on record because they have the strings only for this show.

They then say they’re going to play something from their first album, to mutters of pleasure and when he says “taro” there’s a whoop or two and Joe jokingly goes “Yes!!”  This is a quiet guitar-base song and the strings really bring out elements of it.

alt-J are certainly a weird band but they have slowly won me over.

I happened to check Wikipedia about the band and found this interesting tidbit (veracity in question of course): “The band’s unusual sound stems from the fact that due to living in student halls, where noise had to be kept to a minimum, they were unable to use bass guitars or bass drums. Thom Sonny Green suffers from Alport syndrome, a rare genetic disease which causes hearing and kidney failure. As a result, he is about 80 percent deaf.”

[READ: March 8, 2017] “Crazy They Call Me”

I usually love everything that Zadie Smith does.  But this story didn’t do very much for me.

It is a kind of inner monologue of Billie Holiday.  I’ve always liked Holiday’s voice but I don’t know much about her life.  Like I didn’t know that Billie Holiday wasn’t her real name–which was Eleanora Fagan.  But I don’t think that that’s what made me not love the story much.

I assume this story takes place near the end of her life “you certainly don’t go out anyplace less than dressed, not these days.”  She is saying goodbye both to Elenora Fagan and even to Billie: “There is only Lady Day.”

Lady Day is mostly thinking to herself about her life. How she doesn’t really like other women, is mostly a man’s lady. (more…)

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5dials31SOUNDTRACK: BEACH SLANG-Tiny Desk Concert #431 (April 10, 2015)

beachslangI had never heard of Beach Slang before watching this Tiny Desk Concert.  Evidently they are a new band with only a couple EPs out.  The write up says they are a punk band.  But in this Tiny Desk show, it’s just lead dude James Snyder and his guitar.

He plays four songs.  They are all sort of jaunty acoustic songs.  They are almost anthemic, but not quite.  The strangest thing is Snyder’s super-raspy singing voice, especially since his speaking voice is gentle and his laugh is kind of high-pitched. He is very funny and nervous when he talks, which I enjoyed quite a bit.

Exploring a little their bandcamp site, I see that they do a cover of the Psychedelic Furs’ Love My Way, and that sound is pretty apt.

Their recorded versions are heavier and actually sound a bit like the Goo Goo Dolls.

This is a brief but enjoyable set.  I find him so charming that I like it more than I might normally.

[READ: April 1, 2015] Five Dials 31

It has been quite a while since I’ve read a Five Dials.  And that’s no fault of the magazine–its all on me.  I always think, I’ll just put it off till I have time, and then I realize that I can always find something to read…so I just need to actually make time for Five Dials because it is totally worth it.

So this issue came out about a year ago.  Maybe that’s not too bad?

It begins with the contributors page and is followed by the Unable to Contribute page which lists five journalists who are currently in prison (find out more at the Committee to Protect Journalists).  Page 5 is a Table of Contents which I feel they haven’t done before.  It has a cool drawing on the bottom.  All drawings from this issue came from The Public Domain Collection of the British Library.

Then there’s a Frequently Asked Questions page.  Many pertain to corresponding with Five Dials, but others, well: (more…)

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CV1_TNY_02_10_14Hanuka.inddSOUNDTRACK: AGES AND AGES-“Divisionary (Do the Right Thing)” (2014).

agesagesI’ve enjoyed this song in a couple of formats so far–studio version and Tiny Desk version.  Now here’s another one. Here’s how it was set up according to front man Tim Perry:

“We surrounded ourselves with friends, family (my mom is one of the violinists), and all of our favorite musicians from all of our favorite Portland bands,” says Perry. “We reached out to people who’d inspired us over the years: other artists, activists, organizers. We reached out to Northwest Children’s Choir. We reached out to PHAME, a choir of adults with disabilities. We reached out to a lot of other people we didn’t know but wish we did. It was all over and done in four short hours. And it was one of the best days of my life.”

If the song was inspirational before, it’s crazy emotion-inducing now.

[READ: June 10, 2014] “Moonlit Landscape with Bridge”

This title is surprisingly calm and pretty for what the story is really about.  The previous story of hers that I read was set in a kind of dystopian land.  And this one is set in an unnamed country after a life-altering storm.  Either she is writing a post apocalyptic type of novel, or she is exploring very dark themes indeed.

As this story opens we see the Minister of the Interior packing his things.  Slowly it is revealed that the country has been decimated.  He thinks to himself that he was prepared for crippling winds, but not for the water that came with the winds.  Consequently, most of the country is apparently underwater (the details of the storm and the details of the aftermath are incredibly vague).

There is no more Ministry, so his title is superfluous, but because of his title he is given an opportunity to flee the country in a government jet (all other airplanes have been grounded).  On his way to the airport, he sees people struggling, crying, looking for… anything.  They crowd his car and he longs to help them.  His driver, Ari, tells him to ignore them, there’s nothing that he can do for all of them.  But the Minister insists that they pull over so he can dole out the bottles of water he has in the trunk. (more…)

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