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SOUNDTRACK: PINEGROVE-Live at the Newport Folk Festival (July 30, 2017).

Every year, NPR goes to the Newport Folk Festival so we don’t have to.  A little while afterwards, they post some streams of the shows (you used to be able to download them, but now it’s just a stream).  Here’s a link to the Pinegrove set; stream it while it’s still active.

I was pretty excited to hear what Pinegrove did at a big venue like this.  And, true to form, they sound great and are kind and generous to the people helping them out as well as all the fans who are there: “thanks for taking a chance on us.”

What’s particularly fun about Pinegrove is that their songs are mostly pretty short–but they feel fully complete.  But that means you can get 11 songs in a 45 minute set.

The band is in the process of writing and recording new music but this set is all older stuff (1/2 from Cardinal and the rest older).  But this is such a clear recording (with occasionally pops from the bass), that it’s great to be able to hear these songs live and to hear what they do differently with them.

The first song, “Old Friends,” Evan Stephens Hall seems a little less voice-cracking than usual (as if he’s trying to sing pretty for the Festival), but when he gets into the middle of “Aphasia” he sings “But if I don’t have you by me then I’ll go underground” with reckless abandon and the crowd goes nuts.

To me the most notable difference in these songs is the louder harmony vocals of Nandi Rose Plunkett.  And they sound terrific (Plunkett has her own band Half Waif who I’ve been interested in seeing, although i hope it doesn’t distract her from Pinegrove).

They run through several of the songs and they all sound great–the band really transcends when they play live. (and the rabid fans certainly help).

He introduces the band and has a problem getting Plunkett’s name out (I’ve got an avocado in my mouth).  Then he runs through everyone else: Samuel Skinner on guitar, Joshua Fairbanks Marre on the guitar and vocals, Adan Carlo on the bass guitar, Zachary Levine on the drum kit and vocals (he gets a big response).  And then they introduce Lincoln their newly acquired trusty stuffed sloth.

They dedicate “Angelina” to Lincoln, (he ends by saying “just a tiny little song”)

Okay we’re gonna quickly play two more songs.  After a quick “The Metronome” Hall introduces the final song by saying

Most of these songs are about love whether it be romantic, platonic, or familial and when they began they were about how to love the people we knew the best we could, but a more important initiative is loving the people we don’t know as well as we can.  It’s a localized sentiment but also a very public sentiment.

This works as a wonderful introduction to “New Friends” which sounds tremendous with all of the harmony vocals firing on all cylinders.

[READ: June 20, 2017] “Brush Clearing with the Teen-Age Boys in Arkansas”

This issue has a section of essays called “On the Job,” with essays about working written by several different authors.

Richard Ford writes of working in the summer of 1967.  He worked for the Neighborhood Youth Corps in Little Rock.  It was not a job he wanted, just one he could get.  He had always had jobs and wasn’t about to not have one during the summer while living with his mother.

So he enrolled in this program which “summons images of clean cut boys standing at attention, but was really about low income (black) kids getting work experience.”  And he realizes now it was designed to keep them in school and out of the State’s hair. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RAVI COLTRANE QUARTET-Tiny Desk Concert #630 (June 26, 2017).

Ravi Coltrane is the son of John Coltrane–giant shoes to fill.  Indeed there’s quite a legacy in this band:

Yes, Ravi Coltrane is the son of the John Coltrane, one of the most famous and important jazz saxophonists and composers of all time. He’s also the son of multi-instrumentalist, composer and spiritual leader Alice Coltrane Turiyasangitananda. (In fact, all members of the band here are performing artists in their own right and come from artistically rich families; drummer E.J. Strickland is the brother of saxophonist Marcus Strickland; Adam Rogers parents performed on Broadway and Yunior Terry is Yosvany Terri’s brother, both heirs to Cuban music royalty.)

I don’t know anything else about Ravi Coltrane, so I’m going to let the blurb do the detailing:

The first song in the set, “Cobbs Hill,” was written by Coltrane’s good friend and colleague Ralph Alessi. Beginning with Yunior Terry’s funky and deliberate bass line, further enhanced by intentional drum rolls the 2/4 time signature, two beats per measure, captures a march-like proclamation. [Ravi plays the soprano sax on this one.  There’s a lengthy guitar solo in the middle of the song in which Ravi just relaxes, but it is primarily Ravi’s show].

The second song is Coltrane’s own composition, “Three For Thee”, a fan favorite from the 1998 Moving Pictures album; the original recording included Ralph Alessi on trumpet. Only 32 years old when that record was released, it could be taken as a sign of things to come: Ravi Coltrane, an old soul in a young body, mature and capable of creating work so robust and important. Almost 20 years later, hearing that music again here, even better, is affirming and a testament to Coltrane’s ever-evolving artistic journey. And E.J. Strickland’s opening drum intro couldn’t be more spunky; he teases the audience into the groove with effortless, intentional punctuations.  [Ravi is on tenor sax for this song.  There’s another lengthy guitar solo in the middle].

After this song, he thanks everyone and then points out that there is a two drink minimum.

Sadly there is no blurb for “Phrygia,” so it’s up to me.  I really like the main riff of this song.  And the middle has a groovy bass solo, which could be longer, frankly.  I like that the guitar plays some really delicate notes and phrases to accompany the bass solo.  After some good wailing, I like that they return to the main theme and then bring things down with some thumping bass and gentle guitars

[READ: August 20, 2016] “Four in Prose”

Back in 2009 Williams had 7 brief stories published in Harper’s.  My take away was: I would have not finished this work, except the whole thing was only two pages long.

These four pieces are also only 2 pages long.

The first is called “The Perverted Message” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RHEOSTATICS-Ultrasound Showbar [2nd GSMW Night 4] (February 28, 1994).

Second annual Green Sprouts Music Week held at Ultrasound Showbar Feb 25-March 1 1994. Setlists for all shows were fairly similar in content focusing mainly on the 25-30 songs that they would use for consideration on Introducing Happiness which began recording the following week. Rare performances of Symphony, Green Xmas, Floating, Woodstuck, Halloween Eyes and a cover of Blondie’s Heart Of Glass. This is show 4/5.

Sounds like people are sitting and then there s a request for people to stand up to make more room, but what about the people who can’t see…?  Let them fight it out I guess.

Most of this show is pretty clear with the exception of a few moments of wobbly tape.  Also notable is that most of the songs seem to be played a little bit more slowly than usual.  This makes them much easier to hear–and makes most of the lyrics really clear.

The tape is wavery through “In This Town.”  As an introduction to “Introducing Happiness,” Martin says “I think our next record is going to be a happy record…we didn’t have any idea how it was going to sound but…  [someone mentions where they are going to record it]: “how could it not be happy.”  It segues segues into “One More Colour” and Clark says that should dispel all rumors about any antipathy between Rheostatics and Jane Siberry–we are going to cover one of her most excellent songs on our new record.

Once again for “The Woods Are Full of Cuckoos,” they ask “fancy beginning or simple?”  Some people shout fancy!  Then a few for simple!  And then someone shouts “Angular.”  Martin says “This sing is angular.”  It’ sa fast burst of music and then comes a slow and kind of moody “Michael Jackson.”

Starting “Fishtailin'” Martin says, “I remembered to put my capo on this time.”  Bidini says, “the capo is like the condom of the guitar.  I don’t know how or why but it is.”  Someone in the audience shouts, “it prevents you from having another key.”  To laughter and confusion.  Martin then says, “For this one we gotta start by snapping on what they call the one.”  Tim jokes, “If you’re really good we’ll fly you down to Compass Point so you can record the snaps on the album.”  They stop after a verse (everyone likes Tim’s falsetto) and no one seems to know what happened.  Then they start again and all is well

Dave says “Me and Stupid” is a song about “fishing for fun and misadventure.”

Earlier in the night Dave and Dave were “fighting,” and Bidini said he was “Danny Bonaduce” and Clark was “Donny Osmond.”  [I had no idea that this was a real “event” that happened in January 1994].  At one point he says he will have to go through Tim to fight Clark–that must make Tim Susan Dey.  Tim: “At least I still got a career.”  There’s a long version of “Oneilly’s Strange Dream” and Martin repeats the first verse entirely.

“Claire” sounds good–slightly experimental–like many of the other songs this night.  “Floating” has an interesting opening with a cool bass line–this is probably the best recording of the song.  “Full Moon Over Russia” is suitably wacky with some really extra crazy nonsense singing and playing–lines about Colgate and teeth and litter and whatnot.  There’s some really jazzy section and Dave says, “I guess that’s why the kids love the jazz sound.”

“Green Christmas” opens with some whistling–“there should definitely be whistling on our happy pop album.”  There’s an interesting bass throb to open “Alomar” which segues into the opening pretty guitar of “Artenings Made of Gold/Cephallus Worm–they loudly sing the “what did martin pull out of cat’s ass in Italy”many times.  Every part has an extended section including a kind of ska groove during Uncle Henry.”  In the middle they ask for “some of that nifty audience participation stuff”  Tim says, “Get them to do something silly.”  There’s some howling “kind of Halloweenish,” which gets them to sing a verse of   “devils got horns devils got a tail 666 you’re a sitting duck ahoooooo.”  This is from a thing called “Halloween Eyes (666 gonna fuck you up!)” that seems to have been recorded once in 2001.  Martin jokes that the next time they’ll sing: “don’t look at me with those Halloween eyes / don’t tempt me with those pumpkin pies.”

Clark says “Uncle Henry” and “Halloween Eyes” just prove what you can do with a lot of… weed.  Sorry, I mean happiness.   Bidini says, “Someone is spontaneously combusting because we played this not on Halloween.”

Dave tells a story about smoking substances in the back of the van (audience member: “but that’s illegal!” and then says “I told Don Maclean I’d always call it marijuana perfume.”

“It’s the cleanest version of “Symphony” I’ve heard yet.  It is slower than the others.  As is “Jesus.”  “Jesus” is so slow that Martin speaks one of the middle verses.

They give a shout out to Kevin Hearn (and other musicians) who is hanging around and watching–it seemed like they called him up at one point but I don’t think so.

They have a ton of fun with “When Winter Comes”– a really lengthy opening in which they tease each other (what can I do to please you, Tim?).  Unfortunately this is where the tape gets all wobbly and warped so you can’t hear it very clearly.   The whole song is ten minutes long.  It’s wild and crazy sloppy with another song squeezed in by Bidini.  But the crowd is insane for the chorus.

The next few songs are really slow and moody.  They sound very different and interesting.  But that pace seems to mess everyone up a bit.  During “California Dreamline,” Martin misses the fast guitar solo during the “dolphins” line.  And in the really slow “Palomar” it seem like Tim can’t sing the chorus that slowly.

Clark asks if everyone is enjoying themselves and a fan shouts “Green Sprouts always enjoy themselves.”  Bidini notes, “but not too much… they always have just the right amount of fun.”  He says that they’re going to be on Much Music to debut the video for “Shaved Head,” which they also play really slow and really moody.

For the encore they start with their weird sorta half-assed version of “Heart of Glass” that segues into their new wavey “Crescent Moon.”  Martin says “we’re taking requests,” and someone immediately shouts “Woodstuck.”  “Done!”  Someone else shouts “and let’s hear it for the Trans Canada Soul Patrol.”  They throw in the “Mommy’s alright” line from “Surrender” during the song.

Lots of requests for the last song, someone shouts “I Fought the Law,” but they decide to do “The Battle of Wendell Clark” which I haven’t heard in a long time and which they segue into “The Good Old Hockey Game.”  It’s dedicated to the Olympic team who brought home silver.

As they finish, Clark says you can shuffle out to the shuffling sounds of the Shufflestatics.

Shave an a haircut, goodnight.

[READ: January 18, 2017] “Cold Fish”

This is a story of a couple who has gone to Key West.  They are engaged, but this is not a wedding-related trip, just a vacation that Neil wanted to do.  Mara can’t think of a reason not to go to Key West, so she decides that she just wants to get drunk and get a tan.

Mara orders dessert–key lime pie–and Neil who doesn’t like desserts, seems sad when she says it’s not the best pie she’s ever had (as advertised on the door).

Neil is always looking around for someone to take their picture.  In the photos Mara looks put-upon.

She calls her sister from the hotel that evening and tells her about watching a Jane Fonda movie.  Later her sister tells her not to call back unless they’ve eloped. (more…)

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[LISTENED TO: December 2016] The League of Beastly Dreadfuls

beastlyI was looking for an audio book to listen to with the kids and I found this one.  I didn’t know anything about it, but the title was interesting.

I never suspected just what a peculiar story this turned out to be.

It is the tale of Anastasia McCrumpet, an otherwise normal 11-year-old girl who suffers from flatulence and a mum who does little more than yell from her bed all day.  Her father is a loving man, but as of a few years ago he has been quite obsessed with vacuum cleaners.  She also has a guinea pig who is quite ill-tempered; when it feels crossed by someone, it takes revenge by pooping in their slippers.

On this particular morning, they were having a funeral.  A funeral for her father’s plant (they wound up tossing it out the window).  And then her father made them his famous waffles (which her mother screamed for upstairs).

But Anastasia was running late for school that morning because of the funeral and she ran out of the house wearing a most unusual outfit (part of a Halloween costume, which was top on the laundry pile). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: alt-J-Tiny Desk Concert #613 (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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SOUNDTRACK: NONAME-Tiny Desk Concert #608 (April 3, 2017).

Noname (born Fatimah Warner) is a wrapper and crooner.  her voice is pretty and her demeanor is infectiously upbeat.  Although I don’t really love her songs, I find her attitude infectious.

The blurb says

It’s in the way she’s able to muster a smile while performing a heartbreaking tale of abortion. It’s those sometimes bleak, melancholy lyrics over brilliant, colorful production.

“Diddy Bop” is a strange mix of gentle music (delicate guitar lines from Brian Sanborn meld with synthesized flutes) and rather vulgar lines:  There’s a line “you about to get your ass beat” and lots of “my niggas” thrown around.  Phoelix (bass) sings a verse as well.  The song is only two minutes long.

After it she says she has watched many Tiny Desk Concerts and she “Just wants to be as good as T-Pain.”

The second song is actually a medley.  It begins with “Reality Check” and then segues into “Casket Pretty,” and “Bye Bye Baby.”

She says “Reality Check” is her most straightforward song, but “it would be shitty if you were like ‘damn that made no sense either.'”  I normally speak “in like, scramble-think, so hopefully you guys follow it.” “Scramble-think” refers to the clever metaphors she weaves in detailing the many ways she’s dodged destiny.

Akenya Seymour (keys, vox) takes a verse in this song and Phoelix gets some backing vocals.

“Casket Pretty” is quite an evocative expression but she repeats the lyric an awful lot during the song.  The drums by Connor Baker are interesting throughout the set, but especially in this song.

She says that “Yesterday” is her favorite song on the tape.  It’s the first song she made.  It’s vulnerable and honest and she was surprised how much people liked it so she decided she had more sadness and vulnerability for her album.

[READ: January 20, 2017] “Constructed Worlds”

I enjoyed this story very much.  It is the story of a girl who is off to Harvard.  The story is set in the early 1990s–in the time of Discman and the beginning of e-mail.  It even opens with the fascinating line:

I didn’t know what e-mail was until I got to college. I had heard of e-mail, and knew that in some sense I would “have” it. “You’ll be so fancy,” said my mother’s sister, who had married a computer scientist, “sending your e-mails.”

The girl, Selin, has been hearing all about the World Wide Web from her father. He described that he was in the Met and one second later he was in Anitkabir in Ankara. (more…)

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  SOUNDTRACK: SARAH JAROSZ-Tiny Desk Concert #324 (December 7, 2013).

I know Sarah Jarosz’ name from somewhere (anything spelled like tha I’ll remember), but I’m not sure where.  It turns out that Jarosz plays awesome bluegrass.

Perhaps I’d heard of her because of her youth:

The singer and multi-instrumentalist first surfaced as an 18-year-old wunderkind with the release of 2009’s Song Up In Her Head, which generated the first of what will likely be many Grammy nominations; now a grizzled 22, she’s out performing songs from her fine new third album, Build Me Up From Bones.

performed with the aid of fiddler Alex Hargreaves and cellist . All

“Over the Edge” has a great riff.  It starts out with Jarosz’ guitar (which is an 8-string guitar: twinned four string, so almost like a bass and yet strummed).  She’s accompanied by a plucked cello (by Nathaniel Smith).  And then her voice comes in: distinctive, raspy and really lovely.  But it’s after the first verse when the guitar and cello both play that fast 8 note riff that the song really kicks into bluegrass territory. In the middle of the song, it’s fiddler Alex Hargreaves who throws in some great bluegrass fiddling lines.  It’s swinging and rollicking and really fun.

“Build Me Up from Bones” is more folk sounding—her voice is beautiful and the melody of this song (which she plays on that 8 string guitar) is outstanding.  There’s a cool alt-folk tone to the song, especially in the bridge.  The cello is bowed, giving a rich sound before the violin (rather than fiddle) solo comes in.

For “Fuel The Fire” she switches to banjo.  This is a great bluegrass song and that banjo sounds great.  I’d love to see a double bill with her and Punch Brothers.

[READ: November 12, 2016] Gunnerkrigg Court 3 [23-31]

I really enjoyed book 2 of the series and was pretty exited to see that book 3 was already out–in fact books 4 and five have been released, too.  This book collects Siddell’s online series–for frame of reference, this book ends with chapter 31 and as of May 2017 he is up to chapter 62 online.

I loved that Chapter 23 started with a totally different style–looking like a kind of sci-fi epic (and called Terror Castle of the Jupiter Moon Martians). But we quickly learn that this new look is a simulation–a kind of test for the main kids.  But it’s very poorly made and they solve the mystery almost instantly. This plot leads to a couple of interesting revelations.  That Parley has a thing for Smitty (everyone can tell but the two of them), and that Jones is becoming a fascinating and enigmatic important character. Reynard is also even funnier with his comeback “I think you detect a hint of shut your face” which Anni responds to with “Hah, Katerina must be helping you with your comebacks.”

The simulation room also allows for us to learn more about the origins of Reynard and Coyote. (more…)

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