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Archive for the ‘Culture Shock’ Category

after-room SOUNDTRACK: NICOLA BENEDETTI-Tiny Desk Concert #274 (May 6, 2013).

nicolaNicola Benedetti is a Scottish violinist who has had a storied career already.

Benedetti was mentored by Yehudi Menuhin starting at age 10, and won the BBC Young Musician of the Year Award a decade ago.  She plays a 1717 Gariel Strad. (It’s worth some $10 million.)

The first piece she plays was instantly recognizable–where had I heard it before?  Ah yes, the mournful and harrowing music from Schindler’s List.  [Williams: Theme from ‘Schindler’s List’].  She plays it perfectly, of course.  It’s evocative and instantly brings back scenes from the film.  And then apologizes for it being a bit of  sombre start.

 Then she plays a piece by Bach–he wrote six sonata and partitas trying to emulate many instruments at once.  This one is Bach: “Chaconne from the Partita for Solo Violin in D Minor.”  She says she’s not playing the whole thing because it’s 16 minutes long.  But she plays the first third which is also recognizable.  Once again, it sounds beautiful.  The blurb speaks of “the way she makes room for silence in Bach’s Chaconne before tearing deep into its dense warp and weft.”  And it is indeed enchanting.

[READ: May 30, 2016] The After-Room

This is the final book in a trilogy (what is it about trilogies that are so popular?) that began with The Apothecary.

This book is set in 1955.  (Sarah and I were commenting on how this era of history is an unusual one for stories to be set and how that’s a nice change).  Janie and Benjamin are safely back in Michigan after the deadly exploits of the previous book.

Benjamin’s father was killed at the end of the previous book and Janie’s parents have agreed to take care of him–so he is living with them.  Janie’s father is quite suspicious of a romance between the two of them and he has every right to be.  Janie is certainly in love and Benjamin probably is too, but he has other things on his mind right now.

I had planned to read this book when it came out, but I was involved with a very big book when it came out.  But I was at the library with nothing to do so I grabbed this and started reading it and I was hooked immediately.  In fact, I found this book so good, so fast paced and exciting that I put down my other reading and just flew through this. (more…)

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wildrobot efterklangSOUNDTRACK: EFTERKLANG-Tiny Desk Concert #270 (April 8, 2013).

Efterklang is a Danish group whose recent album Piramida took its members to an abandoned mining town between the North Pole and Norway. There, they recorded sounds of empty oil tanks, old pianos and pretty much anything they could strike or record.

That blurb made me think this would be a noisy chaotic Concert.  And yet despite the found sounds, their music is really peaceful and lovely.

“Dreams Today” builds on a series of echoing keys and guitar notes.  After nearly two minutes the singer sings a series of high “ahhs and oohs” until the vocals officially kick in.  And then the whole band starts playing a series of fast looping notes while the percussionist plays some water bottles and mugs.  The songs builds and builds, with a steady bass keeping the melody strong and then just as it seems it should turn the corner into a new section, it abruptly ends, leaving you wanting much more.

Before the second song, “Danish Design” they explain that they “never went public” with this song. They played it once before in a huge power plant in Copenhagen.  It was a big room–very reverby (if you can say that).  The office is a very different place and they want to compare how it sounds.   They also sampled the worlds northernmost grand piano for this song.  They were in Piramida, a ghost town in the arctic.  The song begins with slow notes from the sampled piano while the keys play pinked notes. The singer sings in a baritone that is quite lovely.  When the loud drums kick in it’s quite a shock to the mellow music.  The song is only a bout 2 and a half minutes and, once again, it ends just as it seems like it might soar into something new.

“Alike” is from their previous album.  It opens with keys and percussion (all kinds of things like a fork on a mug).  They sing in harmony for much of the song.  It doesn’t use much in the way of guitar or bass (the bassist is keeping time with a pair of scissors and then a beer bottle on a step stool) until the end of the song when the guitar chords kick in fast (but not too loud).  It’s the longest song but the way it builds slowly it feels like it could go on for much longer.

This Tiny Desk really made me want to learn more about this interesting group and to hear more from them.

[READ: April 20, 2016] The Wild Robot

I love Peter Brown’s picture books.  I think Chowder is absolutely genius and The Secret Garden brings me to tears each time I read it.  So I was pretty excited to read this novel–his first.

It’s quite a fast read (with about 70 chapters all about 3 pages long) and lots of pictures.  The blurb on the book said that a robot woke up on a remote island. She has to learn to survive from the animals. And once she starts to feel comfortable, her past comes back to haunt her.

And that is a fair summary of the book.  The plot is very simple, but Brown adds a lot of details and a lot of characters to make the plot interesting. (more…)

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nySOUNDTRACK: THE SECRET SISTERS-Tiny Desk Concert #563 (September 12, 2016).

secretsisThe Secret Sisters are, in fact, Lydia and Laura Rogers, two sisters from Alabama.  They sing pretty folk/country or even traditional songs and have wonderful harmonies.

“Tennessee River Runs Low” is from the point of view of the river (and is really quite delightful).  It comes complete with an “oh de oh de oh de oh” section.  The music is pretty simple (just a little strummed guitar) and their wonderful voices.

After the first song she says that she has seen lots of Tiny Desk Concerts and they’re thrilled to be there.  It’s more spacious than you might think.  They could square dance there–except they can’t square dance.  She says that it feels kind of like being a zoo animal.

The second song is “a super duper sad song.”  Since their previous record came out they have both gotten married–to different men, she clarifies.  (Well, they are from Alabama, they joke).  They don’t know what to write about anymore–who wants to hear happy songs?

“You’ve Got It Wrong” is indeed a sad ballad–a very pretty, very traditional sounding country song.  Their voices really sell it.

Before the final song, she says that “if you want to be happy and in a good mood don’t ever come to one of our shows.”  They only play downer music. She explains that  they grew up singing gospel in a church that had no musical instruments.  It was only their voices and no solos or choirs.   She didn’t realize they were learning how to sing at church–that’s where their harmonies come from.

So they are doing an old gospel number, “Flee as a Bird.”  The melody of the verses its wonderful–the kind I’ve never heard in a church song before.

I would never see these guys in concert, but fora Tiny Desk, their songs were quite lovely.

[READ: March 7, 2016] “A Spoiled Man”

This was a lengthy story that seemed to speak to the futility of life.

There were a lot of details which made the story really interesting, but as I think about summarizing it, I realize that the story is bombastically a man lives, succeeds, fails and dies.

Fortunately Mueenuddin tells a lovely winding story that shows just how much a man’s life can change.

The story is set in Islamabad and the main character is Rezak, “a small, bowlegged man with a lopsided, battered face.”  He is outside of the mansion of a local man who has recently married an American woman.   The woman proves to be a nice person who genuinely seems to enjoy her new life.  In Pakistan.  And people liked her as well.

Rezak tried to make himself useful around the mansion. Despite his appearance, he is a strong man and he does wind up helping the workers.  At the end of the day they invite him for dinner, but his pride makes him refuse. (more…)

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2016-12-05-21-06-09SOUNDTRACK: LUCIUS-Tiny Desk Concert #261 (January 7, 2013).

I’d published these posts without Soundtracks while I was reading the calendars.  But I decided to add Tiny Desk Concerts to them when I realized that I’d love to post about all of the remaining 100 or shows and this was a good way to knock out 25 of them.

luciusThis Tiny Desk Concert has a wonderful blurb:

We brought Lucius to the Tiny Desk because I fell in love with one joyous, catchy song: “Don’t Just Sit There.” That’s all I had to go on — I’d never seen the group live — and though I expected fun, we also got fabulous. Not only are Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig a winning singing duo, but their charisma and charm helps turn good pop songwriting into an endearing performance.

The two singers are dressed identically–although they don’t really look much alike, they appear almost identical up there (and I’m not sure who is who).  The three men in the band: Danny Molad, Peter Lalish and Andrew Burri fill out the group with guitars and drums and are also dressed identically–in crisp white shirts and suspenders.

“Go Home” starts out slow with a rattling slide guitar and simple percussion.  The two women sing slowly over the bassline.  It’s a pretty, nice song.  And then the chorus kicks in and while the song doesn’t really get all that much bigger, their voices soar incredibly, in close harmony. It is a remarkable change in texture in the song and they instantly won me over.

It segues into “Don’t Just Sit There” which is a beautiful song with a slightly faster quiet section.  But again, the chorus “did you find love” just soars with their great harmonies.  I can see why Bob fell for them.

“Turn It Around” starts out with an “aha ha” and claps and a more poppy singing style.  And I find that while I like Lucius overall there are parts that I really don’t.  Like the beginning to this.  And yet, once again, when they get to that chorus “looking through the wrong end,” the song is super catchy and wonderful and I find myself singing that part a lot.  Even with the minimal backing guitar and drums, it sounds great.

After the third song, they get high-fives and Bob asks if they want to do another.  Usually, they edit out this type of thing, but it’s really fun to watch the band discuss what song they should play as they sort their percussion parts out.  I loved watching them go through Bob’s box of interesting percussion instruments until they found good ones.

When they finally get around to the song, “Genevieve,” it is a bouncy percussion-filled fun song.  Of the four, it’s my least favorite but that’s because it doesn’t really soar like the other ones do.  But it’s still fun.

[READ: December 21, 2016] “Circumstances Of Hatred”

Near the end of November, I found out about The Short Story Advent Calendar.  Which is what exactly?  Well…

The Short Story Advent Calendar returns, not a moment too soon, to spice up your holidays with another collection of 24 stories that readers open one by one on the mornings leading up to Christmas.  This year’s stories once again come from some of your favourite writers across the continent—plus a couple of new crushes you haven’t met yet. Most of the stories have never appeared in a book before. Some have never been published, period.

I already had plans for what to post about in December, but since this arrived I’ve decided to post about every story on each day.

There’s a fantastic plot point in this story that I don’t want to spoil.  And that makes it really hard to talk about the story.

But I really enjoyed it a lot.  And I can reveal the basic setup.

It had been 17 years since Nicholas was in his grandfather’s house.  And now that his grandfather was dead, Nicholas was willed the man’s property.  So he and his new wife Ann leave their current place in Victoria and head out to Halifax to make a new life in their new house.

Ann hated Halifax–the cold, the gray, the wilted produce.  And she hated the house. (more…)

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pittanecSOUNDTRACK: VALLEY QUEEN-Tiny Desk Concert #546 (July 8, 2016).

valley-queenTypically, but not always, bands that play the Tiny Desk Concert are fairly established.  Valley Queen had only released a couple of singles on bandcamp when they performed theirs.

Bob Boilen had seen them at SXSW and was impressed enough to bring them in.

They play three sings that are bright and sunny all centered around Natalie Carol’s soaring voice.  Sometimes it feels like her voice gets away from her (could be the setting), but for the most part she sings wonderfully with a distinctiveness that I rather like.  At times, her voice sounds like an old English folk singer–dare I say unencumbered by precision.

The band plays a kind of light and breezy folk (the main guitar is a hollow bodied electric).  “In My Place” is a pretty song that really comes to life when the rest of the band adds their harmonies for the chorus. It’s really catchy with a lot of delightful guitar lines.  The way the song ends on a high note (literally) is pretty cool.

I also really like the way the bass is largely unobtrusive but occasionally plays some interesting lines that add some nice lines while the other instruments are jangling along.

I don’t quite understand what her accent is.  In the second song, Hold on You” there are moments where she enunciates in such a strange way.   This song is pleasant although somewhat unremarkable.

After the second song she says that they would have been jazzed just to take a tour of the place, so they’re really excited to be playing there.

The final song is more dramatic and instantly grabbing.  I love the chord progression of the chorus.  The way the chords bounce along as she sings that one word “Ride” and holds it for a long time.  I love the vibrato guitar sound which gives it a strangely 4AD quality.

My first listen through I wasn’t all that taken with these songs, but by a third listen I was really hooked.

[READ: November 18, 2016] A Mere Pittance

Back in 2014, I ordered all 16 books from Madras Press. Unfortunately, after publishing the 16 books they seem to have gone out of business (actually they are switching to non-fiction, it seems). They still have a web presence where you can buy remaining copies of books.  But what a great business idea this is/was

Madras Press publishes limited-edition short stories and novella-length booklets and distributes the proceeds to a growing list of non-profit organizations chosen by our authors.  The format of our books provides readers with the opportunity to experience stories on their own, with no advertisements or miscellaneous stuff surrounding them.

The format is a 5″ x 5″ square books that easily fit into a pocket.

Proceeds from Prabhaker’s book go to Helping Hands Monkey Helpers.

This story is constructed entirely in dialogue.  We never learn the names of our speakers and the location of one of them is a closely guarded secret.  The story is mildly challenging to read.  In part because its’ dialogue (it’s mostly easy to follow, but you always get parts where there’s silence or a number of Yeses in a row that tends to confuse the speakers–that’s quickly resolved, though), but also because one of the speakers is deliberately trying to obfuscate things. (more…)

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clarkSOUNDTRACK: JOHN CONGLETON AND THE NIGHTY NITE-Tiny Desk Concert #550 (July 22, 2016).

congleton John Congleton is a music producer (and a really good one at that–he’s had his hands on great albums both obscure and really poplar). But he is also a musician.  And a pretty weird one at that.  Here, as the blurb says, “he creates haunting tension with just acoustic guitar, brilliant electronics from Jordan Geiger, and words passionately sung.”

These songs are interesting because Congleton plays a very traditional sounding acoustic guitar.  His songs are typical folk chords.  But the lyrics are pretty dark and confrontational and those keyboards are often really creepy or disturbing (appropriate for the lyrics)

The first song, “Just Lay Still” is a rollicking  track with the guitar playing quickly and the keyboards playing off-kilter and deliberately creepy chords.   Lyrically, the song is about the subject that Congleton seems to be exploring on all of these songs–what it is like to be human.  “I love you like a lion loves its kill / I will touch you like a doctor, just lay still.  Let the implements molest you in your sleep / You belong to me…  We’ve got you surrounded (creepy chord).  We’ve got you surrounded.”

Congleton says “Your Temporary Custodian” is a devotional song about indifference.” It opens with crazy siren-like sounds over Congleton’s acoustic guitar. The blurb notes that the song addresses “what it means to face the fact that we are flesh-and-blood ‘temporary custodians’ in vessels that will inevitably return to the earth and decay.”  It’s got lyrics like:  “You phenomenal nominal nominal nominal nothing” and “we will not be saved / we went looking for the sublime / we found only the inane”  and “what an extraordinary thing it is to be this ordinary thing.”

Before the final song he thanks everyone (he’s very polite given his lyrics) and then jokes, as taxpayers we expect a full tour [of the NPR building].  “Animal Rites” is also a fast song with more great lyrics: “I’d love to hold you but I need to hold my own.”   Or “Biology kicks virtues’ ass every time” or my favorite: “When you’re crazy at 20 you’re sex to be had / when you’re crazy at 50 you’re not sexy, you’re sad.”  And then the crux of the matter: “You’re with an animal / you’re with a warm body, carbon contents, atoms and proteins.”  This song is much longer than the other two.  It has two parts separated by a solo is a bunch of noise and mayhem from the keyboards.  The second half slows down but eventually comes back to the main thrust of the song.

These songs were definitely unusual, and strangely catchy.  I’m curious to hear what this album sounds like (assuming he produced it himself–I expect impeccable work.

[READ: November 30, 2016] Clark

One of the things that I admire about Brendan Connell as an author is the astonishing depth and detail work he puts into his books.  Connell is an amazing polymath, with books that fully bring to life such diverse topics as food, religion, philosophy, violence, sex and now, Italian cinema.

Clark is the story of Eric Clark a devoted actor who rarely refused a role.  We watch his introduction to the world of film, his embrace of said world (and its embrace of him) and his subsequent decline.  This book also shows an amazing amount of detail about the Italian film industry–a topic I know nothing about.  Now I realize that Clark and his films are made up, but I have to assume that everything else that Connell says about the industry, its ability to make movies quickly and for 10% of the price of American films is all correct.  And if it isn’t, then he’s done an even more remarkable job of making it all up. (more…)

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bibSOUNDTRACK: THE BEATLES-Live at the Hollywood Bowl (2016).

beatlesThis disc was released this year.  It is technically the soundtrack to the film Eight Days a Week: The Touring Years.  But regardless of the film, these are newly mastered recordings from two Beatles concerts at the Hollywood Bowl in 1964 and 1965 (which were released in 1977).  This disc has 7 songs from 1965 and 6 from 1964 (not including the four bonus songs).

The concerts were legendary for the shrill screams that the audience made during these shows–so loud that the recordings were practically inaudible and, apparently, even the band members had a hard time hearing each other.  Sounds like a nightmare, frankly.

Well, George Martin’s son has used some technology to make these recordings listenable.  They have reduced the shrill screams to a kind of low-level, high-pitched sound and, even better, they have fleshed out the band so they don’t sound like they are playing in a tin can.

Here’s some fascinating things about that Hollywood Bowl Concerts. Tickets cost $5.50 in 1964 and $3 in 1965.  WHAT?  In 1965, the band played for 33 minutes.  That’s it–not sure how long they played in 1964.

The band had no monitors on stage–those things that musician are always pointing at and asking the mixer to turn up.  So on many shows they couldn’t even hear themselves.  The fact that their harmonies are so good is really impressive.  The notes suggest that the open roof of this show meant that the shrill crowd noise was somewhat dissipated allowing them to hear each other a little better for these shows.

Evidently the track listing for this disc consists of the best original recordings from the two shows.  I’m not sure why they’re not played in sequential order, but whatever.  Perhaps the energy of the opening “Twist and Shout” (all 90 seconds of it) is a pretty great way to start.  While the band is spot on in their playing (sometimes it’s easy to forget that they are laying instruments as well as singing, since the voices are the big thing) you can hear Paul’s voice straining on “Can’t Buy Me Love” (which is cool).  Or John saying he thinks the next song “Things She Said Today” is on the new album over here.  This song–quieter and less dancey sounds pretty great and you can kind of hear the audience paying attention to it, so that when the band gets to the loud part the crowd really erupts.

I’m surprised at how many covers the band plays.  I realize these songs are picked from two set lists, but there are dozens of serious hits that they could have played instead of say “Roll Over Beethoven” or, and this is the most surprising thing to me, ending their 1964 set with “Long Tall Sally” rather than one of their huge hits.

It’s funny how crazy the crowd goes for Ringo when he sings lead on “Boys.”

I enjoy hearing them talk about their films–one we made in black and white, the other in color.  “Hard Days Night” sounds great but even more impressive is “Help!”.  John intros the song by saying, “we’d like to do another film song from a different film–coz we’ve made two.”  “Help!” is really impressive the way the band launches right into their harmonies on that first note–it sounds incredible all the way through the song.  Even when John strains hard at the end.

There’s not a lot of stage banter, but I did enjoy this one from 1964: “This next song is an oldie, some of you older people might remember it.  It’s from last year.  It’s called “She Loves you.”  I like hearing the rocking guitar line more prominently and the fact that they don’t go “ooooh” during the first time it’s supposed to appear, but when they do the next time, the crowd goes nuts.

As the disc ends, Paul asks, “We all hope you enjoyed the show.  Have you enjoyed the show?”  Apparently they have.

I’m not sure why the final four songs are listed as “bonus tracks.”  The inclusion of “I Want to Hold Your Hand” can’t be a bonus!  But the four songs (two from 1964 and two from 1965) also sound great.  The harmonies on “Baby’s in Black” are fantastic.

John Lennon said the fans didn’t come to listen, they came to love.  Regardless, the band played wonderfully and gave a great performance.  It’s nice to be able to hear it.

[READ: March 10, 2016] Baby’s in Black

This story is about The Beatles before they became THE BEATLES.

I didn’t know all that much about the early Beatles.  I knew that they were in Germany (although I don’t really know why, and I still don’t). But I didn’t know about all of the trials and excitements that happened to them there.

What I loved about this story is that while it is about The Beatles, it’s actually about Stuart Sutcliffe and his girlfriend Astrid Kirchherr and their impact on the nascent Beatles.

The story begins with Astrid’s ex boyfriend Klaus Voormann running to Astrid to tell her about this band that he just heard down at the Reeperbahn.  He said they all dressed the same and they really rocked (or whatever they would have called it back then).

The Reeperbahn was sketchy place at the best of times, so it was unlikely that anyone other than sailors and thugs would have seen this band iinitially.  But Klaus was so insistent that Astrid agreed to go.  And she was mesmerized by them.  She was especially taken with bassist Stuart Sutcliffe (although none of the fans knows their names at this point).  The band consisted of John, Paul, George, Pete Best on guitar and Stuart on bass. (more…)

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