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SOUNDTRACK: PHOSPHORESCENT-NONCOMM 2019 (May 14, 2019).

A couple of years ago I had a pass to NonComm, but ultimately I decided not to go.  I had never been to World Cafe Live and, while it sounded like a fun time, it was just so many mid-week nights and lots of leaving early, that it sounded more exhausting than fun.

I have now been to World Cafe Live and I can imagine that the (less divaish) bands are hanging around talking to people (and radio personalities) which is probably pretty cool.

I love the idea of these sorta personal concerts, too.  But I have since come to see that they are 20-45 minutes tops.  Hardly worth driving 90 minutes (one-way) for.

But since the shows are streaming you can watch them live.  Or you can listen to the recorded version online.

I’ve been aware of Phosphorescent for a number of years but I seem to have him/them confused with another band (Telekinesis–a one word band name that is actually just one person, who also put out a new album this year).  Phosphorescent is the project of Matthew Houck and in this performance it’s just him on the acoustic guitar.  I’m not sure what he normally plays live, but during this set he said, “this is the first time I’ve played an acoustic guitar for a concert in 20 years, probably.  It feels pretty weird up here at the moment.”

Recently, Phosphorescent has had a big single on WXPN called “New Birth in New England” which I love.

He opened with “C’est La Vie No. 2” off his latest album C’est La Vie.  His delicate strumming paired perfectly with his lyrics, which I especially liked;

C’est La Vie they say but i don’t know what it means
I say love’s easy if you let it be

“My Beautiful Boy” has a wonderful guitar melody (clearly it is about his becoming a father).  Even though his lyrics are thoughtful and somewhat serious, he was a charming frontman, staying “this song is about rocks.  It’s called ‘These Rocks.'”

He told us “New Birth in New England” doesn’t go on an acoustic guitar by itself.  But it will tonight.   It sounds wonderful in this stripped down version, although I prefer the recorded version.

The last song of the set was “Song For Zula,” a track from Phosphorescent’s 2013 album Muchacho.  I didn’t realize this was his song which I really liked back when it came out.  It’s really beautiful and, once again I like the way he plays with existing lyrics to make them his own.

and it showcased the strength of his vocals as he belted it out for the crowd before making his way off stage. The hearty applause was fitting for the wholesomely low-key set. Give C’est La Vie a listen now and check out Phosphorescent on tour this summer.

Some say love is a burning thing
That it makes a fiery ring
Oh but I know love as a fading thing
Just as fickle as a feather in a stream
See, honey, I saw love,
You see it came to me.

Now if I can keep his name straight, I’ll have to listen to him a bit more.

[READ: May 3, 2019] “Upholsetry”

The July/August issue of The Walrus is the Summer Reading issue.  This year’s issue had three short stories and three poems as special features.

I loved this story.

I love the dysfunctional families involved in it and I love the way it is circular while still moving forward. Plus it’s darkly comic.

The narrator, Iris, says that when she told her mother (whom she calls Judy, never mom) that she was going marry Thom, Judy didn’t hesitate to say that he was a car crash waiting to happen.  Judy is a psychologist not a fortune-teller.  But her words proved to be literally true–Thom was in a car accident with Iris in the car.  Iris fractured her skull.  Somehow, Thom still wore the T-shirt he was wearing during the accident–and he assures her that the faded pink spot is not blood.

Thom is extremely smart and was rewarded out of college with many luxury job offers.  He turned them all down to teach at McGill College. The accident left Iris with some brain injury, so going back to her job wasn’t really an option.  (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: NEGATIVLAND-No Other Possibility (1989).

In the year that Helter Stupid came out, Negativland released this one hour video.  It is a visual approximation of a Negativland album.  Lots of cuts, lots of snippets of ads and songs and news broadcasts.  It’s mostly nonsense with some reality and some things that may or may not be reality.  Who knows?

It opens with a critical diatribe that scrolls over a test pattern.  The diatribe by Crosley Bendix criticizes everything that is (correctly) poor about the video and making up other things–the death of a stuntman.

After the opening credits, the video opens with David Willis’ mother watching TV.  On the screen is a clip from Dick Vaughn and his Jack-O-Lantern (more below).  Then she asks David for her cigarettes and the song from A Big Ten 8 Place is acted out hilariously.

After some clips from video games and a commercial for Marlboro, there’s a video for “Nesbitt’s Lime Soda Song.”  When the bee comes into the song, it turns into clips of David filming his family talking about bees and more (like his grandma looking in the fridge for potato chips which makes David laugh).

Change channels until The Dick Vaughn Show comes on and he brings out David Willis to light up a Jack-O-Lantern with 700 volts.

After a commercial from ZOTOS and Nation Hairdressers and Cosmetologists Association that tells women they have to look their best in order to get a job.  “Appearance and good grooming are essential.”

Then it’s time for Trick or Treat with David Willis who is dressed as E.T.

He talks about Halloween safety with 5 hand drawn posters.

  1. no fresh fruit–nails razors
  2. looks for holes or tears in wrappers–inject chemicals
  3. avoid homemade treats
  4. avoid weird, strange-looking people.
  5. if you bob for apples make sure your partners are not sick

Then some explosions with cars flipping.  A small video slowly evolves revealing a live performance of David singing the “Very Stupid” song from 10-8.   It is noisier and rocks pretty hard while David yells the lyrics: “1, 2, stupid ; 3, 4 dumb.”  The version slowly comes into focus as David roams the audience.  he even adds new lyrics: “1,2 urinate ; 3, 4 defecate ; 5, 6 fornicate ; 7, 8  seat be sate!”

After a text: “Earlier that same evening,” a car drives into the building under a scroll from Dick Goodbody raving about this beauty, “her name is Monarch Mercury Monarch.”

Followed by a commercial for the Monarch.

Then there’s a video clip of the fire in the Negativland recording building (which I think is true?).  They interview Mark Hosler who grabbed master tapes and studio equipment.  He tours the burned out building.

Then there’s interstitial questions of what people think about TV.

  • An old man complaining about sex on TV.
  • Teenage girls saying they like soap operas because of the sex.
  • A guy saying TV would be improved if they quit showing so many commercials.

Up next is Crosley Bendix (“Director, Stylistic Premonitions” played by Don Joyce) of the Universal Media Netweb has an insane piece about numerology, at the end of which he cries, “Thanks a million!

  • MTV has fine guys on it

Then comes Negativland “Fire Song” with Mark singing in the burnt house.

A series of ads for canned foods: tomatoes, grapes, yams, dog food over a muzak version of “Age of Aquarius.”

Then comes the religion portion of the show.  Another diatribe by Crosley Bendix complains of people always searching for more intense entertainment.  Since Jesus’s time.  In fact, The Last Supper is the crucial link-up of food and show business.

Then comes more live scenes of some crazy music and kids walking around in costumes who start shouting about ice cream and other food.

  • I don’t watch religious TV because I have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

Clips of preachers and then Pastor Dick comes out,

He tells some dad jokes like asking for coffee without cream and the waitress saying “you’ll have to have coffee without milk because we are out of cream.”

He brings out a racist ventriloquist dummy Enrico Gomez.  Then has everyone sing along with the Christian Youth Fellowship song from the album How Do You Spell Joy?

He has a Stop sign and asks everyone to clap along. Stop! [clap clap] And let me tell you what the Lord has done do me.  When he turns around the sign is a hand written note “fuck you pastor dick.”

Then comes the 5 eyewitness news team featuring Hal Eisner, with the video of the audio used in side one of the album Helter Stupid.  Don Joyce is interviewed.

As the video ends, there’s one more guy that they interview.  He says

TV is gonna make me famous one day.  When the interviewer asks how, the guy says

“you gotta know how to exploit the media.”

Was he a plant?  Who knows.  There is no other possibility, godammit.

Watch the whole video here.

[READ: April 25, 2019] “Attention Geniuses: Cash Only”

Woody Allen doesn’t seem to write much for the New Yorker these days.  I’ve found over the years that I rather like some of his New Yorker jokes and then others are just ho-hum.  Of all of the short “funny” pieces in the New Yorker, Woody tends to be able to pull off three pages better than others.

Although this one drags and often come across as an excuse to throw out pretentious references.

And yet he’s got some great turns of phrase:

Jogging along Fifth Avenue last summer as part of a fitness program designed to reduce my life expectancy to that of a nineteenth century coal miner

(more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: GARY CLARK JR.-Tiny Desk Concert #841 (April 16, 2019).

WXPN has been playing “Pearl Cadillac” by Gary Clark Jr. and I quite liked it.  I knew of Gary as a blues guitarist.  But I didn’t really listen to too much by him–I don’t love blues music, generally.  But Gary adds a rocking and Prince-like atmosphere to his blues which elevates his music for me.

But “Pink Cadillac” is unlike the other two songs because he sings in a delicate falsetto (like Prince) whereas the other songs he sings quite gruffly.

The first song, “What About Us” surprised me.  First because he sang with such a deep voice (with a wonderful falsetto at the end) but also because I knew that Gary was supposed to be a great guitar player, but it was Eric Zapata who was playing all the slide guitar parts. The whole band builds the song nicely for the chorus.  They keys flesh things out nicely.

The middle has a cool funky part with great washes of keys and a funky bass sound from Johnny Bradley.

When the song ends, he says, “It’s a little bit warmer than I thought it would be.  But I feel sexy in this jacket so I’m gonna sweat thought it.  This is my life, people.”

Gary Clark Jr. had good reason to sweat. The blues-rock singer and guitarist opted to play his first-ever Tiny Desk concert — in front of a huge crowd that warmed the room considerably — while clad in a thick knit cap and heavy jacket.

I had heard that this new album, This Land, was quite political but he left the albums

more politically incendiary material for louder live shows.  Clark’s set leaned toward some of This Land‘s softer sentiments — “When I’m Gone” is about missing his family on the road, while “Pearl Cadillac” exudes gratitude for his mother’s sacrifices —

He dedicates “When I’m Gone” to his son.

He’d brought his young son on tour with him and had to contend with a traditional parenting dilemma: How do you bring your kid to the office and still get work done?

He says I’m trying to do the dad thing and brig them out here.  I’m tired, people.

“When I’m Gone” sounds like a traditional love song from the fifties with that simple bass line and stabs of guitar.  And it is a love song, only to his son, not a woman.  Clark’s gruff voice works perfectly.  Zapata plays the guitar licks between the first two verses.

He says “Pearl Cadillac” was written for his mother… who I’m gonna ask to babysit for me next time…  damn…”

Jon Deas starts on keys with simple snare and hi-hat from Johnny Radelat.  Gary gets to show off his guitar chops here.  I love the slightly distorted, slightly retro sound of his guitar as he plays all the licks throughout the song.  This song has a total Prince vibe and it works perfectly.

He sings the whole song in his gorgeous falsetto

I remember when I left home in that pearl Cadillac
I was searching for some kinda way to pay you back
For your love, your love, your love

He even handles a guitar solo flub with the ease of a parent who is overworked–a little grunt and then start again.

[READ: April 11, 2019] “The Wish”

One of the reasons I didn’t want to consider reading a lot of Esquire-published short stories is because I assumed they’d all be something like this one.

Full of death and misery and whatnot.  I mean the story starts “Kamon Gilbert woke up on the morning of the last day of his life at 6:19.”

Now, in fairness, this story isn’t about a manly man shot down in a blaze of glory.  Rather, it is a look at racism and violence and how a man’s life can change in an instant (a couple of times).  And as such it is a powerful and affecting story.  It’s still really dark though.

Kamon Gilbert is a black boy in high school school.  He is very smart and very successful.  He does well in his classes and has been selected as the lead in many of the school plays.

But none of the other kids like him: (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: LA FORCE-Live at Massey Hall (June 15, 2018).

I’d never heard of La Force.  Turns out La Force is Ariel Engle, vocalist and newest member of Broken Social Scene.  In her pre-show interview she says something that concludes with “life’s a bitch and then you die,” which didn’t bode well, but her sound is interesting (if maybe too much saxophone).

The show starts with “Upside Down Wolf.”  I love the weird square guitar she plays (and the cool sound that comes from it).  There’s also an acoustic guitar, sax and drums.  The drums from Evan Tighe are really dynamic with some great unexpected rhythms (and electronics).

The blurb describes “You Amaze Me” as infectious.  It’s a more dancey song with lots of drum-triggered sounds.  The sax from David French works pretty well here because it adds to the swells of music that are triggered by the drums.  And when the sax does add a solo, it;s a nice deep sax, which is a nice change of sound.

“Lucky One” opens slowly with a great guitar sound–a slow intro that is accented wonderfully by the acoustic guitar (there seems to be a cool echo on Warren Spicer’s sliding his hand up and down the strings).

“The Tide” swings faster.  Both guitarists add some cool sounds while the drums shuffle quickly.  Before the next song she explains she got the name La Force from a tarot card.  The La Force card had a picture of a woman opening a lion’s mouth and she loved the idea of the power that represented.

“Can’t Take” is a moody, slow piece, with some cool lead guitar from Spicer while Engle plays a very pretty minor key melody.

“TBT” opens with a simple two note guitar riff (that’s quite infectious) and a cool tribal drum beat.  The end of the song is a wonderful jam of the guitar, sax and drums totally rocking out.  It’s my favorite moment of the show and a great end.

[READ: January 20, 2019] Scarlett Hart: Monster Hunter

I get the feeling that this book may have been initially intended for an older audience and then they brought it down to be more family friendly.  Or maybe it feels more like a pilot episode than a confident story.  It just didn’t feel natural.

I enjoyed a lot of the book, but it felt forced in places.  Especially because Scarlett says all kinds of exclamations that seem odd–Leaping Lizards! or Gaskets! or Piston Heads!  I mean, she’s not a car person, so why would she scream car epithets?

I also didn’t love the darkness of the story.  I realize times are bleak, but the art doesn’t have to be.

The premise is that Scarlett Hart is a monster hunter (duh).  But by law, she is too young to fight monsters (not sure how old she is or what the age of consent is, but she is younger than it).  This seems like a strange law, but many laws are strange.  She has help, though, from her butler Napoleon White and his wife.  They also helped her parents fight monsters.

But her parents were killed several years ago while on the job.  She can’t get revenge against the monsters that killed them but she can become the best monster hunter she can be. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: CLOUD CULT-“That Man Jumped Out the Window” (Field Recordings, September 12, 2012).

I feel like I know the name Cloud Cult, but this song sounded entirely alien to me.  This was an other Field Recording [Cloud Cult: A Moment Of Serenity] set backstage at Sasquatch! Music Festival.

I love the drama that they set up with this blurb

We were about to call it. The band was running late, our phone service wasn’t working well backstage in the remoteness of the Sasquatch Music Festival in rural Washington state, and the next band was about to begin on the main stage nearby — thus making the prospect of a Field Recording impossible. Then, suddenly, a white van rolled up, straight from the main gate, and out popped six musicians with stringed and brass instruments. Within minutes, they’d set up, sound-checked and performed a jaw-dropping rendition of “That Man Jumped Out the Window” (from 2005’s Advice From the Happy Hippopotamus) with no practice whatsoever.

I enjoy the orchestral nature of this song–reminding me of many other bigger bands that I like quite a lot.

It took me a couple of listens to “get” this song–there’s a lot of different vocal parts, almost as responses to the main part.

It opens with an acoustic guitar and is accompanied by strings and a French horn.  But the main verse is all acoustic guitar and cello (with stark backing vocals–the vocals are not really pretty exactly (they’re not un-pretty either), just powerful).

I’m not sure that this song is all that memorable for me, but I love reading this about the band:

More a family than a band, the Minneapolis collective does everything with purpose, talent and conviction, from its environmentally conscious lifestyle — in which it self-produces and releases albums from its geothermal-powered organic farm — to its charitable efforts to its emotive, even cathartic songwriting.

The song is quite pretty–although I wonder if it would be more so in a fuller setting.  But as It ended, I found myself enjoying it and wanting to hear it again.  Someone asks if they should do another take.

Then, just as the song ended and the band members finally had a chance to view the majestic natural scenery around them — and as we prepared to record another take, just in case — the festival roared back to life. But for those few minutes, we were able to stop, breathe and take in the emotional significance of a moment of serenity. At which point Cloud Cult piled back into the van and rode off to its next gig.

[READ: April 7, 2016] “Indianapolis (Highway 74)”

This story was published in the New Yorker just eight weeks after the previous Sam Shepard story.  I had to look him up and it is the same Shepard who has been writing since forever.  But he is not especially known for his noir books.  His style has changed over the years although he does often write about rootless characters and absurdist ideas.

So this story is about a rootless character, “I’ve been crisscrossing the country again, without much reason.”  This character drives all over the place for long stretches of time.  On this particular night with a blizzard heading into town, he pulls into a Holiday Inn (more for its familiar green logo and predictability than anything else).

But when he asks for a room, they are booked.  There is some kind of hot rod convention in town–which he thinks is odd for the winter, but whatever.

The concierge tells him that there is one room that might be available–the people haven’t shown up and are going to call to confirm whether the weather will prevent them from showing up.

So he waits. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: FILASTINE-“Btalla” and “Dance of the Garbagemen.” (Field Recordings, April 4, 2012).

When I first saw the title of this Field Recording, [Filastine And The Cathedral Of Junk], I assumed it was going to be all found sounds.  So I was surpirsed that there was so much electronic music.

“Btalla” starts with some electronic drums and noises and Grey Filastine playing the hand drum–a very nice organic component. Its also surprising that the other musician is a cellist. She is almost lost in the din, but you can hear her slow notes throughout the piece–until he starts manipulating her sounds in very cool ways.

He’d say he was a radical before he’d say he was a musician — a laptop artist with a love of grit and noise. Grey Filastine, once based in Seattle but now a nomad loosely based in Barcelona, is a creative soul. He seems to also love a good party, a beat and a shopping cart wired for sound.

For the second piece, “Dance of the Garbagemen.”, it’s just him manipulating sounds and then using a shopping cart for added percussion.

With that in mind, we asked Filastine to perform at a junkyard in Austin — not just any junkyard, either, but a place called “The Cathedral of Junk.” It’s a home for more than 60 tons of unwanted consumer has-been items, transformed into art installations by Vince Hannemann.

With a song title like that and the location he’s in, it feels like something of a lost opportunity that he doesn’t use a lot more junk.  But it is fun to see him make music from and amid refuse (and art).

[READ: November 15, 2017] “Riddle”

This was yet another story that I felt was just kind of a big, What?  There’s a lot of action, but the story seems to stay in the mind of the protagonist who has other things to think about.

The whole story is told in this haze of confusion: “I must have been renting a place on H Street.”  “I was an architect.”  He talks about the area being slowly abandoned and his upstairs neighbor walking up a rickety outdoor staircase.  But all of these details seem irrelevant to the story.

He says he went drinking and came out of the bar only to see a “crippled old cowboy” walking the street.  He had seen the man before and he thought there weren’t many people like him left in town.  But then he heard a young boy, an urchin call out Hey Jack!  They seemed to experience pure joy talking to each other.  The narrator was quite taken with it. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ANTHONY ROTH COSTANZO-Tiny Desk Concert #789 (September 21, 2018).

The first thing you see when you look at this Tiny Desk Concert is the amazing harpsichord–large and decorated like an old-fashioned leather-bound book.  It is stunning.

But you’re only likely to notice it if you haven’t first heard Costanzo’s voice and then had a look at him.

A word about Costanzo’s voice. He is a countertenor, a man who sings in the range of a female alto. The roots of the tradition date way back to the 1500s, when young male singers, called “castrati,” were castrated in order to preserve their high, flexible voices.

“I’ve managed to do it without castration,” Costanzo joked to the audience of NPR staffers. These days, countertenors sing in falsetto, and while as recently as 30 years ago it was considered something of an androgynous novelty, now countertenors are part and parcel of the opera world.

The music is exceptional and is wonderfully modern with that classical feel that opera naturally seems to add.

Costanzo performs songs from his new album, which pairs music by George Frideric Handel with Philip Glass. Strange bedfellows perhaps, and born more than 250 years apart, but somehow Glass’ repetitive, staccato beats and Handel’s long, flowing melodies manage to shake hands across the centuries.

The first piece is by Philip Glass.  And the music sounds like perfect chamber pop.  The flute plays the Glassian up and down melody while the bassoon plays the wonderful, peculiar bass notes.

One obvious common thread is the arrangements, by Nicholas DeMaison, that Costanzo commissioned expressly for this performance, featuring harpsichordist Bryan Wagorn (playing a beautiful double-manual French-styled instrument built by Thomas and Barbara Wolf), along with flutist Alice Teyssier and bassoonist Rebekah Heller.

Glass’ “Liquid Days,” begins with a recitative introduction, similar to a Handel aria. But the lyrics, by David Byrne, depict love, in all its quotidian splendor.

It is somewhat strange to hear a countertenor (or even if he were a female singing alto) singing lyrics in English.  His voice is truly amazing.

It is even more peculiar to hear the word “television.”  But Byrne’s lyrics are pretty awesome:

We are old friends
I offer love a beer
Love watches television

Love needs a bath
Love could use a shave
Love rolls out of the chair and wiggles on the floor
Jumps up
I’m laughing at love
I’m laughing at love

And all the while Costanzo’s voice sounds operatic, serious, significant.

Costanzo’s agile voice, with its polished tone and patrician phrasing, is a singular reminder that we live in a golden age of countertenors – guys who sing high in music both ancient and modern.

Up next is Handel’s “Pena tiranna” (From ‘Amadigi di Gaula’) which means, I have a tyrannous pain in my heart and I can never hope to find peace.  It opens with harpsichord and bassoon, a wonderful combination.  The flute then enters to play a harmony with his voice.

“Pena tiranna,” from Handel’s undervalued Amadigi di Gaula, is a compelling example of how well the composer can spin a gorgeous melody to evoke the deepest anguish.

The final piece is from Glass: “In the Arc of Your Mallet” (from ‘Monsters of Grace’)” which has a text by the 13th-century Persian poet Rumi.  It speaks of longing in sexy undertones.  He says that in this translation brings out the strange, layered longing–sometimes dirty–meaning under the surface.

Anthony Roth Costanzo is a feisty performer who knows a thing or two about busting down barriers in classical music. After all, opera singers don’t normally belt out arias behind office desks, and they don’t insist on lugging harpsichords with them. They also don’t routinely sing in Bronx middle school classrooms and get students talking about emotions. But Costanzo is fearless. (And after seeing this amazing Tiny Desk performance, watch him melt the hearts of distracted sixth-graders.)

[READ: January 9, 2017] “The Driver”

I never anticipated where this story was going.  And the direction it took to get there was really interesting.

It begins with the story of Mrs Quantrill, a respectable woman who managed to get their house listed on the Nation Register of Historic Places.  She and her husband were philanthropists and they threw legendary parties.

There’s an aside that says when their son Spencer inherited the house, he demolished it and replaced it with storage units.

But at the time of this story Spencer is 9 years old.  And Mrs Quantrill has been called into the principal’s office because Spencer is struggling.  Spencer is nervous and doesn’t know what to do with his, feet, his eyes or his hands. (more…)

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