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Archive for the ‘Ireland’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: BALÚN-Tiny Desk Concert #926 (December 20, 2019).

When I first listened to this Tiny Desk, I was delighted by the gentle way it started–pretty acoustic melodies on slightly unfamiliar instruments.  Although I usually enjoy noise and chaos, I really hoped that this whole set would stay like this.  And (for the most part) it did.

The set opens with sampled birdsong as “Vaivén” begins with a beautiful melody from Noraliz Ruiz on the Puerto Rican cuatro.  She’s joined by Enrique Bayoán Ríos-Escribano on the charango.  It’s a beautiful short piece that segues into “La Nueva Ciudad” and that’s when things changed a bit with the addition of electronics.

Their mix of traditional instruments with electronics creates not just a sonic treat but also a visual feast, as our eyes dart from one instrument to the other, drawn in by a Puerto Rican cuatro and a makeshift drum set.

Indeed

It’s impossible to not be drawn in by the visual specter of Balún. The band has refined their electronic roots with their turn toward self-discovery on beautifully crafted studio albums, and this set behind the Tiny Desk shows how expertly they deliver the same meticulous, artful music live.

“La Nueva Ciudad” opens with electronic-sounding percussion as Ríos-Escribano and drummer Shayna Dunkelman both scratch percussion instruments.  Then Ríos-Escribano plays a hand drum and José A. Olivares plays a little synth device as the melody unfolds.

Then we finally hear singer Angélica Negrón (with the purple hair).  She has a soft, high voice as gentle as the instruments around it.  Her voice is warm and inviting even if you don’t speak Spanish (it might make you want to learn).

For verse two Darian Thomas kicks in the violin with the charango adding its chords.  It’s a wonderful song, complex and fun.

Balún is from Puerto Rico and they dedicated the third song “El Espanto” to their island home.  Negrón says “El Espanto” is about cleaning up the bad energy and starting from scratch.    It opens with a fascinating percussive intro

I didn’t expect to be greeted by a mysterious, eighth member who made an appearance at the start of “El Espanto” in the form of programmed solenoids that struck the bottoms of pots and pans to create a rhythmic intro to one of their brilliantly crafted songs, mixing the folkloric with the modern.

The song starts with a weird synth sound (like an electronic folk instrument) which, along with the violin, pokes out the melody.  Electronic percussion fleshes out the staccato notes.  Midway through the song it gets huge with guitars, synths, who knows what else.  It brings a great alt rock sound and a hugely catchy melody (and Negrón’s voice is perfect for it).  Then the cuatro takes over the melody again.  The middle of the song has a ripping guitar solo from Raúl Reymund with Darian Thomas playing some wild violin.

I love that everyone sings along gently until the end of the song, when it’s a total freak out with loud electronic drums, noisy guitar, wild violin and all kinds of shaken percussion.  It’s the chaos I wanted after all!

Balún is part of a vanguard of bands that is expanding the musical landscape of Puerto Rico and it is a treat to watch them up close as they create an actual bridge between the ancient and the modern, set against a rich tapestry of vocals that extoll the virtues and challenges facing their beloved island these days.

“Punto De Encuentro” ends the set. It’s a new song.   Noraliz Ruiz picks up the bass (the first time a bass is used).  It opens with all kinds of electronics starting the song which turns onto a quiet, pretty ballad.  Thomas plucks the melody on the violin along with the synths.  Then the churango comes back with the bowed violin and all the while the complex percussion keeps the song moving along.

I had never heard of this band before this set and they totally won me over.  I’m looking forward to checking out their albums.

[READ: March 2, 2020] “Night Swim”

This story is set in Ireland.  I only find this surprising because in the story the narrator goes more or less skinny dipping which was something I didn’t think you could do in Ireland (do the lakes ever get warm enough at night?)–at least I’ve never heard of anyone doing that before.

But although that is the title and a crux of the story, it is not the entire story.

The story opens with the narrator, Michelle, driving her son Ben to a friend’s house.  Ben doesn’t talk much in general, but he seemed to open up in the car (I found that to be true about my own kids).

Michelle had not been to this friend’s house and was following the GPS map.  She was familiar with the area but not the route itself.

While she was driving, Ben began asking her “would you rather” questions: Would you rather drink a cup of lava or be drowned in a lava lake.  She doesn’t enjoy the game, but he is quite insistent.

When she answers she would rather neither of those things, he just repeats the question.

When he asks if she would rather drown in a lake or be strangled in the dark, she flashes back to the titular night swim. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SHERYL CROW-Tiny Desk Concert #918/Tiny Desk Fest October 29, 2019 (December 2, 2019).

This Tiny Desk concert was part of Tiny Desk Fest, a four-night series of extended concerts performed in front of a live audience and streamed live on YouTube, Twitter and Facebook.

Back in October, NPR allowed fans to come watch some Tiny Desk Concerts live.  October 29th was pop rock night featuring Sheryl Crow.

I had tried to get tickets to the Tiny Desk Fest.  Possibly on this night, although really I wanted the indie rock night.  If I had gotten tickets to this night I would have been a little bummed to find out it was Sheryl Crow.  I did like her many years ago, but I basically grew disinterred in her after her first couple of albums.

However, this set proves to be a lot of fun.  Her old songs sound great, the new songs are fun and her voice sounds fantastic.

“I heard a big thing on NPR about the shrinking of the attention span and how now, with pop songs, everything has like six seconds before you gotta change it, because the kids swipe over,” Sheryl Crow tells the crowd early in her Tiny Desk Fest concert. “I’m just gonna tell you right now: We’re dinosaurs. … And while the kids are all writing fast food — which is super-cool ’cause it tastes great, super-filling — we’re sort of still writing salmon. We’re the songwriters that are here to tax your attention span.”

She opens with “All I Wanna Do”

Twenty-five years ago this fall, Crow was in the midst of a massive career breakthrough: Her inescapable hit “All I Wanna Do” was entrenched in the Top 5 — it would later win the Grammy for Record of the Year — and her 1993 debut album, Tuesday Night Music Club, was well on its way to selling more than 7 million copies in the U.S. alone.

Gosh it seems way more than 25 years ago to me.

I get a kick that she starts the song by saying “This ain’t no country club.  This ain’t no disco. This is Tiny Desk.”  The songs sounds terrific.  It holds up well and feels rejuvenated with some amazing pedal steel from Joshua Grange.  Surprisingly, the song doesn’t finished, it just jumps right into “A Change Would Do You Good.”  This song is one of several that feature nice keyboards sounds from Jen Gunderman (who also provides backing vocals).  Sheryl hits some nice high notes and there’s a great slide guitar solo from Peter Stroud.

She played some songs from her new album.  Introducing “Prove You Wrong,” she says this song features Stevie Nicks and Maren Morris.  They’re not here but were gonna play it anyway.  This song is remarkably country-sounding with some bouncy country bass from Robert Kearns.  There’s also a honky tonkin’ guitar solo form Audley Freed and a more rocking guitar solo from Stroud.

She wrote some songs with Chris Stapleton, like “Tell Me When It’s Over.”  This opens with a little drum fill from Frederick Eltringham.  It’s got a surprisingly disco feel in the middle of the song with some real old-fashioned keyboard sounds.

Fifteen years ago she moved to Nashville to quite out the noise–you know the noise of the world.  She says NPR is calming.  There are tiny desks everywhere with good people sitting behind them telling the truth at their tiny desks.  This is an introduction to “Cross Creek Road” an Americana song with solos from first Stroud and then Freed.

She continues saying that things are crazy these days and its hard to raise kids telling them you’re not allowed to lie, truth matters, be nice to one another, be empathetic and then having to turn off the TV if the news comes on.  Her nine year old asked her if the apocalypse was real, which freaked her out until she realized he was watching a zombie movie.  This

“Out Of Our Heads” proves to be a good old-fashioned campfire sing along.

The set ends with “If It Makes You Happy.”  She starts it slowly in an improv way, but when everyone kicks in it sounds pretty darn nice (although maybe a little slow).  I really like the keys that sound like flutes in the middle.

The blurb says she performed two unexpected encores.  I assume we heard them but they just cut out the intervening clapping?  Either way, it’s a really great set and shows that Crow still has it.

[READ: December 2019] Moone Boy: The Fish Detective

This second book has an introduction from the imaginary Friend just like the first one.  It invites you to put your feet up (but not on the book unless you enjoy reading through your toes) and to have a snack (the red bits on the cover taste like strawberries).

The book opens with the explanation that Martin Moone doesn’t handle the calendar very well–he doesn’t like long stretches of time on between holidays, so he divides the calendar into “yections:”

  • Boxing for Love: St.Stephen’s Day to Valentine’s Day
  • Lovefool: Valentine’s Day  to April Fools Day
  • Fools’s Gold: April Fools Day to 20th May (my birthday when I always ask for gold gifts)
  • Golden Days: 20th May to end of term
  • Days of Wonder: summer holidays!
  • Wonder What Happened to the New School: start of term to 5th November
  • Why Won’t It End: 5th November to Christmas Day

We were in the last yection–it was 50 sleeps til Christmas and Martin wondered if his parents had thought of a good present for him. They said they were torn “between getting you new school trousers or fixing the sink in the bathroom. You love that sink, don’t you?”

Then Martin gives the crux of this book: For Christmas he wants a Game Boy.

That seems unlikely to happen so maybe Martin could get a job.  He thinks he’d like to a be a bin man.  But the actual bin man says you’re not exactly a man are you?  It’s in the job title after all. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE SULTANS OF PING FC-“Wheres Me Jumper?” (1992).

The Sultans of Ping were, of course, named after the Dire Straits song.  They were named when “it was sacrilege to say anything whatsoever funny or nasty about Dire Straits.”

This song (or 30 seconds of it) was used as the opening  to the TV show Moone Boy.

The song was an unexpected, presumably novelty, hit in 1992.  It’s stupidly catchy and amusingly nonsensical and your appreciation for it is pretty much entirely dependent on your appreciation for Niall O’Flaherty’s voice which is comical and rather shrill in this song.  The other songs on the record are somewhat less so, but are still delivered in his speak-singing style.

I get a sense of them being like Ireland’s answer to The Dead Milkmen with a sprinkle of John Lydon on vocals–a fun punk band that flaunted a silly side.  Of course, I wasn’t in Ireland at the time, so perhaps they’re more akin to the Ramones in punk legacy.

The Sultans of Ping (later named The Sultans) were (a subconscious at least) predecessor to bands like Fontaines D.C.

But whereas Fontaines D.C. tackles existential life in Dublin, this song tackles a more urgent and pressing concern:

Dancing in the disco, bumper to bumper
Wait a minute:
“Where’s me jumper?

It’s all right to say things can only get better
If you haven’t just lost your brand new sweater
I know I had it on when I had my tea
And I’m sure I had it on in the lavatory
Dancing in the disco, go go go
Dancing in the disco, oh no, oh no
Dancing in the disco, bumper to bumper
Wait a minute:
Where’s me jumper?…

[READ: Summer 2019] Moone Boy

Chris O’Dowd is an Irish actor (we love him from the IT Crowd, and he has since been all over the place).  In 2012, he created Moone Boy as a sitcom based on his own childhood growing up in Boyle, County Roscommon, Ireland.

The show was a hit and they made three six-episode seasons.  This book came out around the time of the second season.

The story focuses on Martin Moone, a 12 year-old boy growing up in Boyle.  His friend Pádraic has an imaginary friend and Pádraic encourages him to get an imaginary friend (IF) of his own.  The rest of the book follows the exploits of Martin and his first (and second) imaginary friend.

But the book begins with some absurdist comedy.  Turns out he book is written from the point of view of the imaginary friend (we don’t really learn that until later) and he starts off with this:

Before we begin, I need to carry out a quick survey,

Are you reading this book because:

A. You have a scientific interest in the moon.
B. You have a scientific interest in the misspelling of the word “moon.”
C. You want to find out how quick and easy it is to obtain an imaginary friend that you’ll cherish for life.
D. You’ll read anything  You’re just like that.

If your answer is A or B, then I’m afraid you’re going to be disappointed.  There’s very little moon action in this story, apart from the brief appearance of a wrestler’s wrinkly bum.

If your answer is C, then you’ll be equally disappointed.  I suggest you pick up a copy of Imaginary Friends – The Quick and Easy Guide to Forever Friendship by a former colleague of mine, Customer Service Representative 263748.

If your answer is D, the good for you!  You’re my kind of reader.  I’m glad we got rid of that other bunch of idiots who picked A, B and C.

(more…)

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