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Archive for the ‘Books about writers’ Category

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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SOUNDTRACK: LINIKER E OS CARAMELOWS-Tiny Desk Concert #800 (October 29, 2018).

I listened to this Tiny Desk Concert for a few minutes before watching it and when I clicked over to it, I was quite surprised to see Liniker, whose voice is quite deep, look so feminine.  It was also confusing because as I clicked over one of the backing singers was singing in quite a high register so I honestly wasn’t sure who was who.

I also love that the NPR doesn’t address this at all.

Watching this performance is to witness a spell being cast, note-by-note. Liniker e os Caramelows (Liniker and the Caramelows) are from Brazil but steeped in the tradition of soul from here in the U.S. They started their turn behind the desk with the ballad “Calmô,” a testament to the power of slow songs dripping with soulful emotion. It was a bold statement of just who they are as a band and what they stand for.

As for Liniker’s look, the second paragraph uses the feminine pronoun (although Liniker’s [Google-translated] Wikipedia page uses a male pronoun, saying Liniker:

began to invest in an androgynous visual identity. As an artist, his vision began to mix turban, skirt, lipstick and mustache in his musical performances that incorporate scenic elements into his voice “sometimes hoarse and grave, sometimes clean and sharp, which forms a Brazilian black music, but stuffed with pop elements “, according to O Tempo.

The Tiny Desk blurb is certainly more current and more reliable:

Lead vocalist Liniker Barros has obviously done her share of listening to soul singers and she effortlessly slides from lower registers to an emotional falsetto.

They play three songs which cover a lot of styles and sounds.  “Calmô” is a  light jazzy number with some gentle guitar pieces and twinkly keys.  The percussion is notable for the shakers and drums, giving it a cool Brazilian feel.

It’s also fun to listen to Liniker speak.  He sings in Portuguese, although his English is excellent, except for some of those fun words like “percoosion” and “fell-ix” (referring to Felix Contreras).

You have to go back to the co-mingling of jazz and Brazilian music in the late 1950s to appreciate the affinity our two countries have had for each other musically.

“Tua” is a great song that  sounds like it could be a Tindersticks song–jazzy and noir, except that Liniker voice ventures high instead of low like the Tindersticks.  The second half of the song adds a great 70s keyboard riff to and some “ohh ah ahs” (and a deep sax solo).  It s a fun example of

Brazilian funk … complete with a mid-song, church-revival breakdown, featuring tenor sax.

It’s hard to pick a favorite song although “Remonta” the final song might be it.  It covers multiple genres in its five minutes and Liniker is smiling throughout.  The band moves:

from ballad to a reggae bridge, eventually exploding into a majestic African-based Candomblé rhythmic finish.

The end is a great with lots of percussion, great 70 keys, and a robust, but not wild, fuzzy guitar solo.  The band’s joy at the end is infectious.

[READ: January 24, 2018] “My Fanon Project”.

This is an excerpt from his Wideman’s novel Fanon.  In this excerpt he is writing to Frantz Fanon, who fought for Algerian independence and then died in 1961.  This project has been on his mind for over forty years, since he read The Wretched of the Earth. [That part is all real].

After reading this book he wanted to be like you, Fanon, a writer committed to telling the truth amid racism and oppression.  He couldn’t live up to that so the project shifted to writing about disappointment with “myself and my country.”  He had published many books over the years hoping to at least never dishonor Fanon.

Then he changed the project, instead of living Fanon’s life maybe he could write it

Okay, so far so good. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: PHILIP GLASS FLASH CHOIR-“The New Rule” (Field Recordings, July 10, 2012).

One of the first Field Recordings I posted about was with Philip Glass.  So I thought it would be fun to complete the Field Recordings (this is the last one)  with Philip Glass as well [A ‘Flash Choir’ Sings Philip Glass In Times Square].

This is one of those super-fun, public Field Recordings.  And it’s more public than most.

To honor Philip Glass’ 75th birthday this year, we here at NPR Music commissioned Glass to create a short work that would be great fun for amateur and professional singers alike.  So Glass took a work he had first written for soprano and instruments as part of his 1997 3-D “digital opera” Monsters of Grace, and arranged it for soloist and eight-part chorus. And were very lucky indeed to team up with the Make Music NY Festival, member station WQXR and the Times Square Alliance to realize this project at one of the world’s most iconic spots, the Crossroads of the World, Times Square.

As with the Red Baraat Make Music NY Festival, this is a wonderful public event where all manner of people came out to sing along.

A big part of what we do is to try to make all kinds of music engaging and accessible — and wouldn’t it be great to invite anyone who wanted to come and sing in a world premiere by one of the most celebrated composers of our time? About 200 singers gathered to sing with the ebullient Kent Tritle, one of America’s most accomplished and beloved choral conductors, and soprano soloist Rachel Rosales. (And a handful of singers were folks who had simply been walking by and were swept up in the moment.)

Before the song begins you can hear someone say, has anyone rehearsed this?  And the response is no, I think that’s the point.  And indeed, 200 voices joined together, even if some are imperfect (and who knows if anyone is) sound fantastic.

On this sweltering day, the singers’ mindful intention to gather in Times Square and its visceral result — all breath and sweat and palpable effort in the middle of glossy Times Square, with stifling heat, noise and a zillion blinking distractions — was just amazing and honestly quite moving.

The chorus sings with typical Glassian aplomb (repeating doo doo notes) while Rachel Rosales sings the lyrics.  I love hearing the bass voices do their part, it’s otherworldly.

For his text, Glass selected words from the medieval Sufi Muslim poet Jalaluddin Rumi, as translated by Coleman Barks. In his poetry, Rumi urges the reader to break free of the constraints of daily life — to upend expectations and jettison traditional thinking in an unending quest to unite with the divine. “Here’s the new rule,” Rumi wrote. “Break the wineglass, and fall towards the glassblower’s breath.” And somehow — beautifully, magically and only briefly — this fleeting chorus became the heartbeat of Times Square

It sounds great and rally captivated everyone.  And that’s why I love the Field Recordings and hope they bring them back.

[READ: February 4, 2018] “In Dreams I Kiss Your Hand, Madam”

This is from a 1947 manuscript published in 2008 in Ninth Letter.  Gaddis used some of this material in his book The Recognitions.

The story is set in a lush apartment.  The host is a man named Alex P_____.  He had recently published a book, an anthology called In Dreams I Kiss Your Hand, Madam, “a collection of imaginative love stories, stories of beauty and devotion, tales of passion and gallantry…from writers of seventeen countries n the past seven centuries.”

It was dedicated to Christine Ludington.  She had just referred to Alex as a pig because of what he said about the wife of young writer he has just published.  Then she changed the subject to say she could not imagine the satisfaction in breeding basset hounds.

Alex muttered that it was because she had never been a basset hound. (more…)

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  SOUNDTRACK: THE RADIO DEPT.-Clinging to a Scheme (2010).

In this final book, Karl Ove mentions buying a record on a whim by The Radio Dept.  Given the timing of the book, I assume it’s this record.  So I’m going to give it a listen too.

I really enjoyed this record which has a feeling of a delicate My Bloody Valentine fronted by The Stone Roses.  The key word in all of this is delicate.  It’s a very soft and gentle record (except for one song).  It hits all the buttons of 90s Britpop and to me is just infectious.

“Domestic Scene” opens the disc with pretty guitars intertwining with an electronic thumping.  After the first listen I was sure the whole record was synthy, but this track has no synths at all, just like five or six guitar lines overdubbing–each opener just as pretty as the others.  The voice sound a lot the guys from The Stone Roses on the more delicate tracks.

“Heaven’s on Fire” opens with bouncy synths and a sampled (from where?) exchange:

People see rock n roll as youth culture.  When youth culture becomes monopolized by big business what are the youth to do.  Do you have any idea?
I think we should destroy the bogus capitalist process that is destroying youth culture.

Then come the jangling guitars and the introduction of synths.

“This Time Around” has a cool high bass line (and what sounds like a second bass line). I love the overlapping instruments on this record.  I couldn’t decide if it was a solo album or a huge group, so I was surprised to find it’s a trio.

“Never Follow Suit” continues this style but in the middle it adds a recorded voice of someone speaking about writing.

“A Token of Gratitude” has some lovely guitars swirling around and a percussion that sounds like a ping-pong ball or a tap dancer.   The last half of the song is a soothing gentle My Bloody Valentine-sque series of washes and melody.

“The Video Dept.” is full of jangly guitars and gentle blurry vocals while “Memory Loss” has some muted guitar notes pizzicatoing along and then what sounds like a muted melodica.

David is the one song that sounds different from the rest.  It has strings and synth stabs and drums that are way too loud.  Most of the songs don’t have drums at all, but these are deliberately recorded too loud and are almost painful.

The final two songs include “Four Months in the Shade” which is an instrumental.  It is just under 2 minutes of pulsing electronics that segues into the delicate album closer “You Stopped Making Sense.”  This song continues with the melody and gentleness of the previous songs and concludes the album perfectly.

I really enjoyed this record a lot.  It’s not groundbreaking at all, but it melds some genres and styles into a remarkably enjoyable collection.

[READ: September and October 2018] My Struggle Book Six

Here is the final book in this massive series.  It was funny to think that it was anticlimactic because it’s not like anything else was climactic in the series either.  But just like the other books, I absolutely could not put this down (possibly because I knew it was due back at the library soon).

I found this book to be very much like the others in that I really loved when he was talking conversationally, but I found his philosophical musings to be a bit slower going–and sometimes quite dull.

But the inexplicable center of this book is a 400 plus page musing on Hitler.  I’ll mention that more later, but I found the whole section absolutely fascinating because he dared to actually read Mein Kampf and to talk about it at length.  I’m sure this is because he named his series the same name in Norwegian.  He tangentially compares Hitler to himself as well–but only in the way that a failed person could do unspeakable things.

But in this essay, he humanizes Hitler without making him any less of an evil man.  His whole point is that in order to fully appreciate/understand Hitler’s evil, you have to realize that he was once an ordinary person.  A teenager who had dreams about becoming an artist, a boy who was afraid of sex and germs.  If you try to make him the inherent embodiment of evil, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that he was a child, a teen, a young man who was not always evil.

Why Karl Ove does this is a bit of a mystery especially contextually, but it was still a fascinating read especially when you see how many things gibe with trump and how he acts and behaves–especially his use of propaganda.  It’s easy to see how people could be swayed by evil ideas (and this was written before trump was even a candidate). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MOUNT EERIE-“Ocean Roar” (Field Recordings, January 3, 2013).

For reasons I’m unclear about, I had been posting about these Field Recordings in reverse order.  So I decided to mix it up for the 2013 releases and do them in proper order–it feels better that way.

This particular one makes you wonder how much work they went to in order to record less than 3 minutes of music.  This Field Recording [Mount Eerie Plays ‘An Absurd Concert To Nobody‘] was taped in the Folger Shakespeare Library’s gorgeous Elizabethan-style theatre in Washington, D.C., just across the way from the Supreme Court.

Mount Eerie is a band I’ve heard of but don’t really know.  I don’t know if this stripped down song is in any way representative.  The band is the brain child of Phil Elverum who sings songs of “life-affirming, death-obsessed mysticism.”

“Ocean Roar” is a smart tangle of words; its alternate stories oddly complement and complicate each other, while telling of lost thoughts and wandering souls. On record, the song chimes with guitars and drums that subdivide the dreaminess, but at the theatre, it’s just Elverum, a nylon-stringed acoustic guitar and touring band members Allyson Foster and Paul Benson singing soft harmonies at his side.

The song starts with them singing some lovely harmonies, they add lovely notes to flesh out the brief song throughout.

“We just played an absurd concert to nobody,” Mount Eerie’s Phil Elverum says, as he faces a sea of empty red seats.

[READ: October 20, 2018] “Flaubert Again”

I have not enjoyed much by Anne Carson–she’s just not my type of writer.

This story also left me flustered.

This is about a writer who seeks to write less and less, not more. Other writers have tried, Barthes, Flaubert, but she hopes to go further.

To be a different kind of novel it would have to abolish things–plot, consequence.  And fully abolish, not just renounce, which is a weak and egoistic attitude.  She felt the pleasure of reading derived from answers withheld. (more…)

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