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shoppingSOUNDTRACK: MATT MAYS-Live at Massey Hall (May 4, 2018).

I had never heard of Matt Mays.  He was once a part of the Canadian country band The Guthries (who I also don’t know).  Perhaps the most surprising (and disappointing) thing to me about this show is when I saw an ad for this concert and saw that Kathleen Edwards was opening for him (!).  And that so far they haven’t released the Kathleen Edwards show.

Before the show he says he wants all feelings present–happy, sad–he praises the expression “all the feels” because that’s what he wants to happen tonight.  He wants the night to be “like a Nova Scotia kitchen party.”  You laugh you cry you dance and you fight all in one kitchen.

He starts with “Indio.”  Like most of these songs, it is a rocking guitar song with a definite country-rock feel.  It’s also interesting that a Nova Scotia guy is singing about “old fashioned California sin.”  There’s a ton of lead guitar work from Adam Baldwin.  Mays also plays guitar and there’s an acoustic guitar as well from Aaron Goldstein  The song breaks midway through to a piano melody from Leith Fleming-Smith.  Mays asks “You feel like singing Toronto? It’s real easy.”  And it is: “Run run run you are free now.  run run run you are free.”

For “Station Out of Range,” he invites his dear friend Kate Dyke from St Johns, Newfoundland.  She sings backing vocals.  It opens with some big crushing drums from Loel Campbell.  It has a slower tempo, but it grows really big with some really massive drum fills.

“Building a Boat” opens with a repeating keyboard pattern before a real rocking riff kicks in.  Ryan Stanley also plays guitars.  The song rocks on with a lot of little guitar solos.  Mays takes one and then Baldwin follows.  They jam this pretty long.

“Take It on Faith” starts with a simple piano before the guitars come roaring in with two searing solos.  The melody is really catchy, too.

“Terminal Romance” is a slower number.  Mays puts his guitar down and its mostly piano and bass
(Serge Samson).  Eventually a guitar with a slide is added.  It builds as more guitars come in.  They jam this song for about 8 minutes.

He ends the show with “Cocaine Cowgirl,” an oldie that still means a lot to him.   He says he’s been playing Toronto since he was 19 years-old in font of tow people.  He’s thrilled to be at Massey Hall.  His band is his best buds from Nova Scotia.   It’s an absolutely wailing set ender with Mays throwing in some wicked solos.  The song seems like its over but Mays plays some really fast guitar chords and aftee a few bars everyone joins in and rips the place part with intensity.  It runs to nearly ten minutes and it’s a  really satisfying ending.

[READ: August 3, 2019] “Shopping in Jail”

When an author releases a lot of books and essays in various formats, it’s pretty inevitable that you’ll wind up re-reading one or two.  Especially if some of those essays are reprinted in other books.

So it turns out that I read this small book five years ago (it’s understandable that I didn’t remember that after five years).  Here’s what I said about it five years ago:

Just when I thought I had caught up with everything that Douglas Coupland had published, I came across this book, a collection of his recent essays.  I enjoy the very unartistic cover that Sternberg Press has put on this.  It looks extremely slapdash–look at the size of the print and that the contents are on the inside front cover.  But the essays contained within are pure Coupland and are really enjoyable.

I have read a number of his older essays in recent years.  And here’s the thing: reading old Coupland essays just makes you think, ho hum, he knew some things.  But you don’t really think that he was on the forefront of whatever he was thinking.  So to read these essays almost concurrently is really fascinating.

His thoughts are science fiction, but just on the cusp of being very possible, even probable.  He also looks at things in ways that the average person does not–he notices that on 9/11 people didn’t have picture phones–imagine how more highly documented it would have been.  These essays are largely about technology, but they’re also about the maturation and development of people and how they relate to things.  Coupland can often seem very ponderous, and yet with these essays he seems prescient without actually trying to predict anything.  I enjoyed this collection very much.

I’m going to include what I said last time (in italics), but I felt the need to add some five-years later thoughts on each essay. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: PHONY PPL-Tony Desk Concert #829 (March 4, 2019).

This is another case where a band I’ve never heard of gets four songs and twenty minutes.  It’s petty to be bugged by that, but when band I like sometimes play 9 minutes, it’s a bummer.  However, by the end of the 20 minutes this jazzy, rocking r&b band won me over.

Phony Ppl is from Brooklyn.  They are fronted by an incredibly happy and smiling guy named Elbee Thrie.  In fact everyone seems really happy and full of energy

Phony Ppl is a group that emits a vigorous energy on and off stage. In this case, the spirit was exchanged between the band and the NPR staff from the moment they gathered behind the desk and gave a zesty greeting.

I thought they seemed very confident for a new band and it turns out they’re not new at all.

The Brooklynites formed in high school and stand out as one of a handful of R&B bands in the industry that makes eclectic choices in fashion and lyrical narratives. Their fifth full-length, 2015’s Yesterday’s Tomorrow, was praised for the way the band seamlessly melds jazz, R&B and hip-hop.

The songs are certainly jazzy (with a near-continuous sax from guest Braxton Cook).  If he’s a guest I wonder if I would enjoy them more without the sax.

They opened with “Compromise,” a highlight from Yesterday’s Tomorrow, and locked into an up-tempo pocket as if it was a second skin.  Midway through, during a quiet part where he claps along, Thrice says that the song’s “about meeting somebody at the wrong time” he says midsong.  There’s some awesome fuzzed out guitar solos from Elijah Rawk.  And I like when Rawk and bassist Bari Bass star swinging back and forth in sync, just enjoying themselves.

From there, they wove in three more songs, including two from their latest project, mō’zā-ik.

Thrice says that “One Man Band” is very special to him.  Hopefully you can feel it and I don’t have to explain why.  The middle sees a shift to reggae chords with some grooving bass and some delightfully gentle piano from Aja Grant.

“Cookie Crumble” features a kazoo solo that sounds a bit like a muted trumpet.   And by the final song, (uno mas, uno mas) “Why iii Love the Moon” they have totally won me over.  I love the way he interacts withe everyone on hand–“oh wait, she’d not ready.”  “You ready yet?”  “Oh she;s ready, we can play now.”

Maybe it was the nice backing vocals from drummer Maffyuu or the amazing moment when Cook and Rawk played the same solo on guitar and sax at the same time.  It was a great moment of synergy–they sounded amazing together.  And they totally won me over.

[READ: March 4, 2019] “The Starlet Apartments”

This is the story of a couple of young men fresh out of Yale.  The narrator was working for F.S.G. in New York City. Then he got invited by an old classmate, Todbaum, to move out to Hollywood to work on scripts–for projects that were already vetted!

The narrator, Sandy was delighted with the arrangement.  They lived in the Starlet Apartments a classic thirties two-story complex with a swimming pool. They drank a lot and tried to pick up women,  They fancied themselves great writers.  They wrote a ton and sold none.

After a few month, Sandy heard from his younger sister.  She had just graduated and wanted to come out to L.A. (anywhere but home).  He imagined having an attractive woman with them would only help their chances. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: WHITEHORSE-Live at Massey Hall (December 8, 2017).

I saw Whitehorse open for Barenaked Ladies a few years ago and they blew me away.  I really want to see them again.

When I saw them it was just the two of them and the magic of their interplay was what really impressed me the most.  For this special Massey Hall show, they have a full band.  But as Melissa McClelland explains:

This is the first time playing the Massey stage with a full band.  We wanted to … finally invite some friends on stage with us and play music.

Those friends include John Obereian on drums, Ryan Gavel on bass, guitar and backing vocals and on keys and bongos and guitar, the second best singer in this band Gregory MacDonald.  He replies, “Thanks to the second best guitar player in the band.”  I have seen MacDonald on tour with Sloan a bunch of times and he is awesome.

As to why they are a duo, she says

we knew that Whitehorse was always going to be just the two of us and that everyone would know that we are equal partners in the band.  But we didn’t want it to be a folk duo so we started brainstorming and bought looping pedals and a kick drum and a stomp box and we  found new arrangements and once we got it we were like Yeah!

The show opens with hand clapping from the band and the audience and then Melissa’s slinky bass intro to “Baby Whats Wrong.  Then comes Luke Doucet’s echoing Western guitar. Their voices are wonderful together and I love when Doucet sings in that weird telephone microphone.  He also plays a ripping guitar solo.

Luke introduces “Tame as the Wild Ones” by saying they needed to write a sexy song so “Melissa kicked me out and said she’d do it alone.  I go to the bar to get drunk and when I come home, she plays me this song.  And nine months later our son Jimmy was born.”  I love the way the bridge (or is it a chorus) builds and settles–that melody is just gorgeous.

“Pink Kimono” has a simple rocking riff and the two singers singing at the same time.   Doucet’s soloing is on fire in this song.

“Die Alone” is a showstopper.  A slow moody piece in which Melissa sings over a wash of synths.  The music so much build as just unfold as first Luke sings with her and then the band kicks in.  Wow can Melissa belt out a song.

“Downtown” is a celebration of how you can put hundreds of thousands of people in a city and for the most part everyone gets along.  It s got a great throbbing bass and some cool guitar scratching and riffs from Doucet.  It’s a bummer that they interrupt the awesome middle solo section with an interview, even if it is quite interesting.

After Melissa lays out how they wanted the band to sound, Luke says that when people ask him about what it’s like to do Whitehorse, he says

we were solo artists first but we had been involved with each others albums as singer or producer  or touring musician.

So in order to be successful

you have to hang out together for five or six years and play in each others bands and make eight albums together and then you have to go on tour as freelance/hired gun musicians working for Blue Rodeo or Sarah McLachlan and then you have to live together for five or six years and listen to music together and fight and then you have to get married and once you’ve done all these things and listened to 10,000 hours of music and dissected Tom Waits entire catalog and argued about which is the best Beatles record and had fights on stage about who is speeding up or slowing down and once you’ve done all those things together then start a band.

It certainly worked for them.  The only bad thing about this show is that it’s only 30 minutes.

[READ: January 24, 2019] Hits & Misses

It has been a while since Simon Rich published a collection of his stories.  This one was pretty enjoyable.  Overall, not as much fun as some of his previous collections, but still a lot to laugh at.  Rich tends to write what he knows, which is often a very good sign.  However, sometimes what he knows is limited to writing and filming, which tends to miss the everyman silliness of his earlier pieces.

Having said that there are still some hilarious pieces that anyone can enjoy and some pieces about writers that are very funny.

A few of these pieces appeared in the New Yorker, and I indicate as much, with a link to my longer review.

“The Baby.”  This was a highlight.  A sonogram reveals that their baby is holding a pen–he is going to be a writer!  But when word gets out that the baby is already getting a reputation AND representation, well, that baby’s writer father is pretty damned jealous.  Wonderful absurdity based on reality taken to its extremes. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: CAROLINA EYCK AND CLARICE JENSEN-Tiny Desk Concert #816 (January 11, 2019).

There have been a lot of bands I have first heard of on Tiny Desk and whom I hope to see live one day.  Carolina Eyck and Clarice Jensen are two women I would love to see live–together or separately.

The concert opens with a looping voice (Carolina’s) and what appears to be her using a theremin to play looped samples.  And then soon enough, she starts showing off how awesome she is at the futuristic 100-year-old instrument.

Carolina Eyck is the first to bring a theremin to the Tiny Desk. The early electronic instrument with the slithery sound was invented almost 100 years ago by Leon Theremin, a Soviet scientist with a penchant for espionage. It looks like a simple black metal box with a couple of protruding antennae, but to play the theremin like Eyck does, with her lyrical phrasing and precisely “fingered” articulation, takes a special kind of virtuosity.

After playing a remarkably sophisticated melody on the theremin (with suitable trippy effects here and there), for about three minutes, she explains how the instrument works.  She even shows a very precise scale.

The position of the hands influences electromagnetic fields to produce pitch and volume. Recognized as one of today’s preeminent theremin specialists, Eyck writes her own compositions, such as the pulsating “Delphic” which opens the set, and she’s got big shot composers writing theremin concertos for her.

Up next is Clarice Jensen with “her wonderful cello.”

Joining Eyck for this two-musician-in-one Tiny Desk is cellist Clarice Jensen. When she’s not making gorgeous, drone-infused albums like last year’s For This From That Will be Filled, Jensen directs one of today’s leading new music outfits, ACME, the American Contemporary Music Ensemble.

Jensen doesn’t explain what’s going on, but she makes some amazing sounds out of that instrument–she’s clearly got pedals and she modifies and loops the sounds she’s making.

“Three Leos,” composed by Jensen, offers her masterful art of looping the cello into symphonic layers of swirling, submerged choirs with a wistful tune soaring above.

Vak Eyck comes back for the final song, a wonderfully odd duet of cello and theremin.

The two musicians close with “Frequencies,” a piece jointly composed specifically for this Tiny Desk performance. Amid roiling figures in cello and melodies hovering in the theremin, listen closely for a wink at the NPR Morning Edition theme music.

Van Eyck make soaring sounds, while Jensen scratches and squeals the cello.  Within a minute Jensen is playing beautiful cello and Van Eyck is flicking melodies out of thin air.

[READ: June 24, 2017] Less

It wasn’t until several chapters into this book that I realized I had read an excerpt from it (and that’s probably why I grabbed it in the first place).  I also had no idea it won the Pulitzer (PULL-It-ser, not PEW-lit-ser) until when I looked for some details about it just now.

It opens with a narrator talking about Arthur Less.  He describes him somewhat unflatteringly but more in a realistic-he’s-turning-fifty way, than a displeased way.

And soon the humor kicks in.

The driver who arrives to take Less to an interview assumes he is a woman because she found his previous novel’s female protagonist so compelling and persuasive that she was sure the book was written by a woman (and there was no author photo).  So she has been calling out for “Miss Arthur,” which he has ignored because he is not a woman.  This makes him late and, strangely, apologetic.

He is in New York to interview a famous author H. H. H. Mandern who has, at the last moment, come down with food poisoning.

It takes only ten pages to get the main plot out of the way:

Less is a failed novelist about to turn fifty. A wedding invitation arrived in the mail: his boyfriend of the past nine years is about to be married to someone else. He can’t say yes–it would be too awkward–and he can’t say no–it would look like defeat. The solution might just be on his desk –a series of invitations to half-baked literary events around the world.  Can he simply get out of town, and go around the world, as a way to avoid looking foolish? (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KATE CARR-“The Ladder Is Always There” (2018).

At the end of every year publications and sites post year end lists.  I like to look at them to see if I missed any albums of significance.  But my favorite year end list comes from Lars Gottrich at NPR.  For the past ten years, Viking’s Choice has posted a list of obscure and often overlooked bands.  Gottrich also has one of the broadest tastes of anyone I know (myself included–he likes a lot of genres I don’t).  

Since I’m behind on my posts at the beginning of this year, I’m taking this opportunity to highlight the bands that he mentions on this year’s list.  I’m only listening to the one song unless I’m inspired to listen to more.

Messa is an Italian band (although they seem to sing in English).

The song opens with some feedback and a heavy guitar (and a single cymbal bell, which I quite like).  After playing the riff a few times, everything pulls back to reveal some delicate Fender Rhodes notes and Sara’s softer, muted voice.  Then things take off.  But it’s not fast or super heavy, it’s just spot on.

They have a great stoner rock sound but with a seriously metal edge to the riffs.  What really sets them apart is vocalist.  Their singer Sara has a great soaring 70’s classic rock voice.  It goes really well with the low end of the songs.

The end of the (eight-minute) song has a great guitar solo and then harmonizing vocals.  It’s an awesome song and I will definitely be checking out the rest of the disc on bandcamp.

[READ: January 3, 3018] “Living Animals”

This begins the 13th year of this blog.  So why not start it with a criticism of online content.  This essay was originally written in 1999 (Gass died in 2017), and I’m sure his concerns multiplied on the decade plus since.  This is also an excerpt from the essay.

Gass talks about the permanence of the printed word whereas

words on a screen have visual qualities…but they have no materiality, they are only shadows and when the light shifts they’ll be gone.  Off the screen they do not exist as words.  I cannot carry them beneath a tree or onto a side porch [well, now you can, but you couldn’t in 1999], I cannot argue in their margins [now you can, sort of].

But then he gets more specific of what you cannot do. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KASVOT VÄXT-“Stray Dog” (1981/2018).

Back in 1994, Phish started covering a classic album for its Halloween costume. In 2015 they covered the Disney album: Chilling, Thrilling Sounds Of The Haunted House, which pretty much meant all bets were off.  So in 2018, they decided to cover an obscure Scandinavian prog rock band called Kasvot Växt and their sole album, í rokk.  This proved to be a big joke–they were a nonexistent band.  They had so much fun creating this band, that they even enlisted others to expand the joke.  This included impressively thorough reviews from WFMU and from AllMusic.

The joke is even in the name: when translated together Kasvot Växt and í rokk means “Faceplant into rock.”.

Here’s some more details they came up with:

The Scandinavian prog rock band purportedly consists of Jules Haugen of Norway, Cleif Jårvinen of Finland, and Horst and Georg Guomundurson of Iceland.  The album’s label, Elektrisk Tung, supposedly went out of business shortly after the LP’s release and little information about the record appears on the internet. Bassist Mike Gordon made a tape copy of í rokk in the mid-’80s and Phish would play it “over and over in the tour van in the early ’90s.” In the Playbill, guitarist Trey Anastasio insisted, “Every time the Halloween discussion comes up, we talk about Kasvot Växt. We honestly were worried we wouldn’t have the chops to pull it off or do justice to the sound, but when it came down to it, we just couldn’t resist any longer.”

The decision to go with an obscure album few have heard or even heard of appealed to the members of Phish. “We’ve paid tribute to so many legendary bands over the years, it felt right this time to do something that’s iconic to us but that most people won’t have heard of,” Gordon said as per the Phishbill. “And with these translations we’re really performing songs that have never been sung in English before.” Keyboardist Page McConnell added, “I love the mystery surrounding this whole thing. If those guys ever hear we did this I hope they’re excited because we absolutely intend it as a loving tribute.” As for what Phish fans can expect? “A weird, funky Norweigan dance album! Get out there and put your down on it!” exclaimed drummer Jon Fishman.

While the listings for the 10 tracks on the original í rokk were in a Scandinavian language, the titles appear in English in the Playbill. Phish called upon a Nordic linguist to translate the lyrics to English for tonight’s performance.

These songs do not really sound like a Norwegian prog rock band.  They do sound an awful lot like Phish (although with a more synthy vibe overall. The band has this part of their live show streaming on Spotify under the Kasvot Växt name.  And I’m ending the year by talking about each song.

This song seems to eschew the whole Scandinavian prog-rock joke entirely.  It’s a pretty conventional bluesy song and it’s the shortest one.  There’s really nothing un-Phishy about this song excpet for possibly some of the synth sounds.

This might be the least interesting song of the set, but it sets up for some good upbeat jamming.

[READ: December 2, 2018] “Literary Customs”

I enjoy Zambra’s works, both fiction and non-fiction.  This, like many of his pieces, was translated by Megan McDowell and it is a treat to read.

Zambra talks about how he always takes books with him when he travels. He takes two or three books that he feels safer having around: “I can forget my medicine or the cloth for cleaning my glasses, but i never forget these novels.”  He also brings a book he hasn’t read–a large tome that he thinks will captivate him, but which usually never does.

We shouldn’t travel with books because they take up some much space–better to bring a second pair of shoes–you’re more likely to need a second pair of shoes.  Plus, since books are more expensive in Chile, every trip Chileans take is an opportunity for shopping–an anxious tour of bookstores.  And yet oftentimes no purchases are made, because there is so much to buy it feels not like you are getting something but that you are now more aware of what you don’t have.

And then there is the guilt that you won’t even read them.  But that doesn’t stop him.

On this trip to Mexico he started off well, reading what he bought, but he soon began “collecting” again.

Then there’s always the trip home–the suitcase is a mini library and the only way to make room is to leave pounds worth of clothes at the airport–sometimes you must walk around terribly dressed but draped in the very best literature.

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SOUNDTRACK: HALF WAIF-Tiny Desk Concert #803 (November 9, 2018).

Nandi Rose Plunkett is a member of Pinegrove. She released albums as Half Waif, and when Pinegrove retreated for a time, she toured as Half Waif.  I wanted to see her but didn’t have the opportunity.

I was under the impression that her shows were very spare and I wasn’t sure if I would enjoy a full live set by her.  This five piece version (see more below) has a wonderful full sound though and these songs sound terrific.

The band [is] more often a trio, with Nandi singing her songs and playing keyboards, Zack Levine on drums and Adan Carlo bass synth and guitar.

But for this show she has a five piece band, which she has a great introduction for:

Midway through Half Waif’s Tiny Desk, singer Nandi Rose Plunkett stops to let us all know that this particular Half Waif show is extra special. “So today we’re actually ‘Full Waif,’ because I am joined by my dear friends,” she says. “These are all musicians who have played with the band Half Waif over the past five years, but we’ve never all played together until now! So thanks for the opportunity to get ‘Full Waif’ together.”

The other two guys are Zubin Hensler keys and Robin electronic drums.

It’s clear that she doesn’t need all five of them–the music isn’t all that complicated but it ensures a really full sound.  What’s most notable is the two drummers–each doing his own thing but combining into a wonderful rhythm session.

The session opens with “Lavender Burning.”  It sounds like she is playing a harmonium, but I don’t think she is.  The layers of synth are added to by Adan and Zubin.  It’s not until about half way into the song that the drums come in and it adds a lot of texture to an already wonderful song.

“Lavender Burning,” with its opening line, “Staring out into the shifting darkness / Tryin’ to give a name to the place where my heart is,” reinforces my love for their peaceful, almost backwoods calm.

The more I listen to the song the more powerful it becomes.  And Nandi’s voice is just lovely.

“Silt” opens with electronic drums and Nandi’s simple synth washes.  I love the thoughtful and clear lyrics

Nobody deserves me.  I get lonely. I get angry.
My love is like an island.  You can’t find it if you’re not trying
And if you want my love I will guide you. I will be your anchor.  If I only have a minute to myself. T hen i would let you in without poison.  I would eat my anger if you only gave me what I wanted.

Adan offers some nice backing vocals and Nandi does double duty on synth and piano.  There’s so many interesting sounds I’m not sure who is doing what (like that synth solo at the end).

The final song is “Salt Candy” which is the a more acoustic track–Nandi on piano only to start.  Adan is making the tiniest sounds on guitar and the drumming is spare and minimal.

When they closed with “Salt Candy,” the line “I wanted to be carried in my mother’s arms / I wanted to be buried in my mother’s arms,” in this setting and with the spare punctuation of electronic drums and textures, sitting alongside Nandi’s voice, was particularly chilling.

It’s a beautiful set and makes me like them a lot more.  I’ll definitely have to see them when they tour again.

[READ: January 7, 2017] “Pardon Edward Snowden”

Many people feel that stories about writers are not very interesting.  I disagree typically, but that’s probably because I aspire[d] to write something someday.

This story is about a poet and I really liked it a lot.  I enjoyed the political and the literary nature of the story.

Mark McCain received an email sent to many American poets inviting him to sign a “poetition” requesting that president Obama pardon Edward Snowden.

The request also took the form of a poem and the narrator talks about some of the rhymes: “pardon and rose garden.”  “nation and Eden” “Putin and boot in.”

Mark forwarded the email to his friend, the poet E.W. West.  They were enraged by the “poetition.” (more…)

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