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Archive for the ‘Japan’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: THE NEW PORNOGRAPHERS-Live at Massey Hall (October 1, 2017).

I’ve been a fan of the The New Pornographers for years.  Their first single, “Letter from an Occupant” was one of my favorite songs of 2000.  For nearly twenty years, they’ve been releasing super catchy fun poppy alt rock.

I was really excited to see them last week.  And then almost equally excited to see that they had a show on Live at Massey Hall.

This show did not have Neko Case singing and while she is not the crux of the band, I’m glad she was at my show, because her voice is great and having three women singing was more fun than having just two.

Before the set, singer and songwriter AC Newman says, “I’m nervous because I realize this is what I do … people paid to come see you.”  His niece, keyboardist Kathryn Calder is with him.  She says she loves having the momentum of 7 people on stage.  It’s a very in the moment feeling shared by all of them.

The show starts with an older song “The Jenny Numbers.”  There’s a wild ripping guitar solo from Todd Fancey in the middle of this otherwise poppy song.  Calder and violinist Simi Stone sound great with their backing vocals–so full and complete.  And excellent compliment to the songs.

Up next is “Whiteout Conditions” which starts with a ripping violin melody from Stone.  I happen to know their newer songs a lot better than their middle period songs and I really like this song a lot.

The full setlist for this show is available online.  They played 22 songs at he show, so it’s a shame to truncate it to 35 minutes.  How did they decide what to cut?  They cut “Dancehall Domine.”

Up next is one of the great songs from the Together album, “Moves.”  The opening riff and persistent use of violin is perfect.

Between songs, Newman says to the audience, “you’ve got to promise not to sit down because it’ll be like a dagger in my heart.”

In the interview clip he says he always love the compartmentalized songs of Pixies.  They influenced the way he wrote music.  So did The Beach Boys for harmonies.  He says it’s hard to know what seeps through, but there’s a ton of it.  Sometimes I’ll hear an old song I used to love and realize I totally stole a part from that song and I didn’t know it.

The show skips “Colosseums” and moves on to “The Laws Have Changed.”  I loved seeing this live because of the amazing high notes that AC Newman hits in the end of the song.  This is also a chance for Kathryn to shine a bit.  “High Ticket Attractions” comes next in the show and here.  It’s such an insanely catchy song.  From the call and response vocals to the overall melody.  It’s one of my favorites of theirs.

The show skips three songs, “Champions of Red Wine,” “Adventures in Solitude,” and “All the Old Showstoppers.”  So up next is “This is the World of the Theater.”  I’m glad they chose this because Kathryn Calder sings lead vocals and she sounds fantastic.  The middle section of the song also includes some hocketing where Newman, Calder, Stone and maybe some others sing individual notes alternately to create a lovely melody.

I noticed that drummer Joe Seiders sings quite a bit as well.  And a shout out to bassist John Collins because he gets some great sounds out of that instrument.

Newman tells the audience that Massey Hall is an intimidating venue, but one you get here it feel welcoming and warm.  The crowd applauds and he says, “soooo, I’m not sweating it.”

Up next comes the poppy and wonderful “Sing Me Spanish Techno.”  It has a constant simple harmonica part played by Blaine Thurier who also plays keyboards.   It’s such a wonderfully fun song.

They skip pretty much the rest of the show to play the big encore song, “Brill Bruisers.”  [Skipped: “Backstairs,” “Play Money,” “Testament to Youth in Verse,” “Sweet Talk, Sweet Talk,” “Avalanche Alley,” “Use It,” “Mass Romantic” )that’s a surprise!) and “The Slow Descent Into Alcoholism”].

“Brill Bruisers” is from the then-new album.  The first time I heard it I was blown away.  Those “boh bah boh bah bah bohs” in the beginning are so arresting.  The harmonies that run through the song are sensational and the “ooh” part in the verses just knocks me out.  Its a great great song.

“The Bleeding Heart Show” closed the show and it is played over the closing credits.

This is a terrific example of how good this band is live, but nothing compares to actually seeing them.

[READ: August 1, 2019] Bit Rot

A few years ago I had caught up with Douglas Coupland’s publications.  I guess it’s no surprise to see that he has published more since then.  But I am always surprised when I don’t hear about a book at all.  I just happened to stumble upon this collection of essays.

Coupland’s general outlook hasn’t changed much over the years.  He is still fascinated by “the future,” but he looks at technology and future ideas in a somewhat different way.  He tends to mourn the loss of some things while often embracing what has replaced it.

As my son is now a teenager, I wondered what his take on some of these essays would be–if he would think that Coupland is an old fuddy duddy, or if he was right on.  Or, more likely, that he had never looked at some of these ideas that way at all.  Coupland is quite cognizant that young people are growing up in a very different world than ours.  And that they don’t have any problem with that.  They don’t “miss cursive” because it never meant anything to them in the first place.  They can’t imagine not having Google and hence all of the world’s information at their fingertips.  Of course they assume that technology will continue to get smaller and faster. We older folks may not be prepared for that (or maybe we are), but that’s what younger people expect and can’t wait for

This was a very long, rather thick book that was just full of interesting, funny, thoughtful essays and short stories. I really enjoyed it from start to finish, even if I’d read some of the pieces before. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: Y LA BAMBA-Tiny Desk Concert #892 (September 20, 2019).

It used to be that no one was invited back to play a Tiny Desk Concert.  The rules have been relaxed somewhat as of late (I would have thought that maybe they’d wait until 1000 shows).

The blurb explains why they (she) was invited back though.

Luz Elena Mendoza has such a far-reaching creative spirit that it’s almost impossible to confine her to a single musical identity. Which is why she’s one of just a handful of artists who’ve been invited back to the Tiny Desk to offer a revised musical vision.

Y La Bamba was on back in 2011 and they played a more acoustic style of music–accordion, percussion, guitar and lot of singers.  For this show, lead Bamba, Luz Elena Mendoza looks quite different.  In 2011, her hair was black and long, here it is silver and short–the neck tattoo is the same, though.

When she was here last with the band Y La Bamba, it was a vocal-heavy, folk outfit. The band’s sound has always been about vocals and her music has become even more so over the years.

Back in May, Y La Bamba played Non-Comm and Mendoza was pretty confrontational.  She is less so here, allowing the music to speak for her.

And the music is quite different.  It’s almost all in Spanish this time.  There’s a second guitarist (Ryan Oxford), a bass (Zachary Teran), and a drummer (Miguel Jimenez-Cruz).  She also has two backing singers, Julia Mendiolea who also plays keyboard and Isabeau Waia’u Walker.

I knew that Y La Bamba was the project of Mendoza, but i didn’t realize she did everything herself:

Y La Bamba’s albums are meticulously crafted sonic treats with her vocals layered like a choir made with a single voice. But in our offices, she called on vocalist Isabeau Waia’u Walker to replicate their distinct sound.

There’s a great variety of styles in this Tiny Desk.

“Paloma Negra” (“Black Pigeon”) [also played at Non-Comm] benefits from the voices of the entire band in a high-energy mediation on rhythm and voice.

It’s got a groovy, funky bassline and some cool echoing guitars.  There’s a tension in the verses that is totally relieved in the super catchy chorus.

This song segues into “Rios Sueltos” which is a kind of rap–but sung.  It’s bouncy and catchy but I sense is probably not a happy song, despite the catchy “hey ey ey heys” in the middle.

The song ends with a rumbling from Mendoza’s guitar as she starts up “Bruja de Brujas” [also played at Non-Comm].

There is a bruja energy and spirit to their performance, and not in the negative connotation that is the Spanish word for “witch.” In Luz Elena Mendoza’s hands a brujeria spirit is all about conjuring the kind of magic that took place on this video.

The song opens with a cool bass line and a somewhat menacing feel.  It starts quietly, but when all three vocalists sing together it’s really lovely.

At the end of the song she sinks to the ground to play with her effects as the song fades out with trippy sounds.   She jokes, “And aliens came down.:

Then she realizes, “we forgot to do one more.  Sorry the aliens did come down… and took my brain.”

The final song is the fantastic “Cuatro Crazy” [also played at Non-Comm].  It is sweet and pretty and has echoing guitars and a vocal style not unlike a Cocteau Twins song.  It even ends with a lot of “dah dah dah dahs.”

I really enjoy their music quite a lot and should really look into their stuff more.

[READ: October 6, 2019] “Abandoning a Cat”

This essay is, indeed, about abandoning a cat.  The cat story has a happy ending (although another one might not).  But mostly the essay is about how mundane events trigger memories of our parents.

He says that when he was little, his family had an older cat and they needed to get rid of it.  “Getting rid of cats back then was a common occurrence, not something that anyone would criticize you for.  The idea of neutering cats never crossed anyone’s mind.”

His father took the bike and he sat on the back with the cat in a box.  They rode to the beach about 2 km from their house, put the box down, and headed back.

When they returned home, they opened the door and there was the cat “greeting us with a friendly meow, its tail standing tall.”  His father’s expression of blank amazement “changed to one of admiration and, finally, to an expression of relief.  And the cat went back to being out pet.” (more…)

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[ATTENDED: September 13, 2019] Babymetal

I first heard of BABYMETAL back in 2014 when they were a massive WTF in the music scene.

Here was a band that played heavy heavy music but the singers were teenage Japanese girls who were totally kawaii and who sang in a distinctly pop style.  The 17-year-old metal purist in me would have been infuriated by this abomination to metal.

But my adult self things this is an amazing amalgam of style and one that is designed to shake people out of their comfortable bubbles.   Even if you balk at the singing style (and the dancing), the music is really really heavy.  Like, impressively heavy.

But the juxtaposition doesn’t end there.  Between the heavy music comes occasional moments of synthy pop goodness.  It made my brain explode the first time I watched the video for “Gimme Chocolate.”  By the time I watched it a second time I was hooked and was determined to see them live.

Back in 2016, I somehow missed that they were playing the Electric Factory.  I was seeing Mastodon there two nights before their show but when I asked if there were any tickets left, they had sold out ages ago.  Boo!  [Looking at that setlist I see they played seven different songs last time!]

So, three and a half years later they finally came back into town and I bought a ticket right away.  Actually, I was supposed to be away for the weekend so I bought a ticket for Sunday in New York City.  This would have been so much work because I would have just come back from a camping trip, I would have had to drive into NYC to a place I’ve never been and it was a Sunday night.  So I was glad the trip was cancelled and I could go on Friday night after all!

I arrived and ran past the merch hoping to get a decent spot, but it was pretty packed.  I managed to get behind some short people and all was well for the opening band.  Then, when Avatar left, somehow 200 people pushed their way in front of all of us who felt like we were packed in pretty tight already.  I didn’t step back at all but somehow twice as many people were in front of me.  Woah. (more…)

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[ATTENDED: September 7, 2019] Boris

It was almost exactly two years ago that I first saw Boris.  They had come out with a new record and were actually thinking of calling it quits.  But they were inspired to do a tour, which I was sure was their last one, and it was spectacular.

Yet in the last two years they have signed to Third Man Records and have done a live session there.  They are just about to release a two album set called Love Evol (technically Lφve Evφl) and reissue Feedbacker and Akuma No Uta.  So when they announced that they were coming back–and coming to Jersey City–there was no way I could pass it up, even if it meant three concerts in three days.

Especially since the last time they played pretty much the whole new album, which was great, but I wanted to hear some older stuff too.

After the previous two nights of cutting it very close to the start of the show, I knew I wanted to get their early, in part because I had some merch to buy.  I’ve gotten very frugal about buying merch and I often don’t buy anything.  But Boris is a band that’s hard to find stuff here.  And even though Third Man was reissuing records which would mean they are much easier to get, I wasn’t taking any chances . So I arrived plenty early, bought some vinyl (and now greatly regret not buying the Tears EP, which I somehow didn’t know about and now see that it is impossible to get anywhere else). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: IDLES-Tiny Desk Concert #858 (June 28, 2019).

I had heard of Idles from All Songs Considered.  On the podcast, Bob Boilen raved about seeing them live.  Like this:

My first time seeing IDLES ended with guitarist Mark “Bobo” Bowen frenetically dancing on a bar, his guitar still keeping time, until the swinging neck suddenly shattered some low-hanging, glass lighting fixtures. The band’s set at South by Southwest was fierce and I knew it’d be a challenge trying to figure out how to bring that cathartic rage behind my desk. There was talk for a while of some members of the band strapping on pocket-sized guitar amps and beating on a single drum. But a week before this bunch of British madmen arrived at NPR, the instrument list had grown and what ensued was just about the loudest, most fun and most raucous Tiny Desk Concert in memory.

This is all true, for sure.  But this Tiny Desk, as amazing as it is, doesn’t come close to showing how incredible their live show is.   Idles live is a truly unforgettable experience.

However, seeing all of that energy and fun contained in a small place is awesome and this is one of my favorite Tiny Concerts as well.

The first song “Never Fight A Man With A Perm” opens with a siren sound from keyboardist Jeremy Snyder and the main constant of Idles’ music–steady bass from Adam Devonshire.  Add in the thumping drums from Jon Beavis and you have the ground work for Joe Talbot to start his singing/yelling.

The band also has two guitarists.  Mark “Bobo” Bowen thumps on the floor tom while Lee Kiernan jumps around, slashing at chords.

The title sounds funny and it is, but the song is a serious indictment of male aggression.

What lead singer Joe Talbot and his mates bring to their shows is a mix of love and outrage. Their songs are often bursts of fury, but the message is insightful and not intended to incite. Joe Talbot says their opening Tiny Desk song, “Never Fight A Man With A Perm,” from their album Joy as an Act of Resistance, is an “exploration of the horrid corners of my past.”

The chorus of “concrete and leather” thumps around before the song returns to the verses, with some cockney slang:

Brylcreem
Creatine
And a bag of Charlie Sheen

A heathen from Eton
On a bag of Michael Keaton

Bobo is a ton of fun to watch–shirtless, wearing American flag spandex pants, he climbs on everything: amps, desks, and other unseen things.

“Mercedes Marxist” starts with a thumping single bass note which will remain unchanged for two and a half minutes.  Snyder takes over on the floor tom while Bobo and Lee trade off guitar sections.

The song is almost entirely that one bass note (with all kinds of guitar melodies and riffs swirling around it).  Until a big chorus comes near the end.  Through it all,  Talbot is directing the fun with his scary vocals.

It only took a few seconds for Joe’s face to turn blood-red; as he growled, it stayed that way for the next 13-minutes, even as he curtseyed at the end of the first song and bounced his way into the second.

The one thing that this Tiny Desk misses is Talbot’s love and generosity.

Despite his tone and the roughness of the music, his kindness and consideration is paramount to the band.  Hearing him wish nothing but love on everyone is a pretty wonderful feeling especially after he sings “dirty rotten filthy scum.”

“We are not the Jonas Brothers,” Joe Talbot explained before their final tune. “People get confused.” He said this with his charming smile and began to run in place while singing “I’m Scum,” just to make it clear who they are.

Before the songs, he asks, what song are we doing?  Someone says “Scum.”  He smiles, “I like this song.”  Before it even starts he begins running in place, knees high as he chants “hey! hey!”  The energy of this band is incredible and certainly hard to contain.

 watching the hyperactive movements in this confined space, it’s actually hard to believe that so few things broke.

Mid song Bobo leaves the desk area to grab someone on the crowd.  He gives her percussion instruments to bang. Then Bobo grabs somebody else and he takes over percussion as well.    Then Bono crawls around on his knees, climbs on the desk and is having a great time.  As is everyone else.

I thanks All Songs Considered all the time for the band they’ve introduced me to, but Idles might be the best find ever.

[READ: July 1, 2019] “A Crowded Memory”

The Summer 2019 issue of The West End Phoenix was a special all comics issue with illustrations by Simone Heath.  Each story either has one central illustration or is broken up with many pictures (or even done like a comic strip).

Each story is headed by the year that the story takes place–a story from that particular summer.

1988: This story is written in paragraphs with drawings in between.

It is the story of a 7 year-old girl going to Hong king for the first time.

She was spending a month in Hong Kong without her immediately family.  She would be living with her Nai-nai and Gong-gong.

The place was total culture shock.  She had never heard only Cantonese before. She had never seen so many Chines people.  There were street vendors and apartments and the colors and smells were overwhelming.  Everything feels to loud, too big and too hot. (more…)

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[ATTENDED: May 20,2019] Mono

It seems entirely possible that I could subsist on rock bands from Japan for a couple of months.  Between Acid Mothers Temple, Boris and now Mono, I have an amazing collection of experiences both on record and in person.

I was unfamiliar with Mono when Union Transfer announced that they’d be playing a “big, intense show, like usual.”  But I had to check them out…  (especially since tickets were only $10–a criminally low price for such an amazing show).

Mono has released some ten albums (plus EPs and more) since 2001.   They have been a band since 1999 with only one lineup change.  The original drummer left in 2018 and was replaced by New Yorker Dahm Majuri Cipolla. (more…)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[READ: June 24, 2017] Less

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

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

And soon the humor kicks in.

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

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

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

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

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