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Archive for the ‘Culture Shock’ Category

516ZKjM2CqL._SX351_BO1,204,203,200_ (1) SOUNDTRACK: ELISAPIE-Tiny Desk Concert #947 (February 20, 2020).

downloadElisapie (I have no idea how to pronounce that) is a First Nations singer from Salluit, on the Northern tip of Quebec.

She sings in Inuktitut (as well as in English and French).  And her voice is absolutely intense.

Her songs are very personal–she sings of

her life as an adopted child and of meeting her biological mother. Now, as a mother herself, she sings about what it must have meant to her own mother to give up her child.

Elisapie left her birth-village, Salluit, as a teenager and headed to Montreal, leaving her community and her sick mom. The songs she sings, here all come from her album, The Ballad of the Runaway Girl and deal with the consequences of her leaving.

These songs are definitely rock, but with a different overall sound.  Jason Sharp’s bass saxophone is fantastic–creating deep low rumbles and otherworldly squawks.

“Arnaq” opens with some chugging guitar riffs (I can’t tell if the guitar is acoustic or electric) from Joe Grass and after a verse or so, some great noisy electric guitars from Josh Toal, who punctuates the song with little solos.  There’s no bass guitar because the bass saxophone covers all of the low ends.

The song, even though it is in Inuktitut is rally catchy with a chorus of “ahhhhhh, I, yi, I” (or something).

The middle section is full of great noises as both guitars and the sax all play some wild solos.

All of this is held together by “the tasteful drumming of Evan Tighe.”

She says the second song, “Una” is the most painful yet the most freeing song.  It is  written to her biological mother.  In Inuktitut the word for mother means “our little bag” because they carried us.

It opens with slow staccato guitar chords and a near a capella vocal before the quiet electric guitar from Josh Toal joins in.  The spareness of the beginning of this song is a great counterpoint to the end of the song when everyone joins in–vocals, guitars, sax and some complex drumming.

Before the final song, she looks around and smiles and says Lizzo was here!  My daughter is very excited.

The final song “Darkness Bring The Light” opens with some great weird sounds from everyone.  Tighe makes scraping metallic sounds as he slides his drum sticks around the cymbals.  Toal plays a synth intro as Grass bows his guitar and Sharp makes waves of gentle sounds to underpin the melody

This one is in English.  She sings a melody that rides over the sounds.  After 2 minutes the drums kick in and after a run through of the chorus, the guitarists join in

Bob Boilen concludes

This is an extraordinary Tiny Desk from an artist with something meaningful to say.

He is absolutely correct.  This set is fantastic.

[READ: March 10, 2020] Gunnerkrigg Court 4 [32-41]

I really enjoyed the first three books of this series and then promptly forgot about it.  I happened to see this book at the library and was excited to see that I hadn’t read it.  Can it really have been three years since I last read about these characters?

Being away for so long made some of this a little confusing.  I will have to read the whole story again some time.

Chapter 32 shows Antimony returning from the forest and there is a warm welcome with Renard. But Katarina’s welcome is cool–“you kinda make it hard to be your friend.” Antimony tries very hard to make Kat like her again…too hard.  She creates scary situations in which she can “save” Kat,  It doesn’t exactly work, although Kat isn’t really mad anymore, just annoyed.  But then a gigantic creepy monster thing comes out of the water.  Kat is impressed by Annie’s conjuring until Annie says she didn’t do it.  They run out.

Only to learn that this is Lindsey–the creature who helped design most of everything at the court–a giant crablike creature.

All this time Kat has been working on the idea of growing a robot.  Well, not exactly, but kind of.  She imagines using a muscular frame to build a robot body around.  Or something.  She is able to use the smarts of one of the existing robots to give her a hand.  The code they provide is actually a small white cube with no writing on it.  Amazingly Kat is able to read parts of it. (more…)

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81HkprYowjLSOUNDTRACK: SNOH AALEGRA-Tiny Desk Concert #946 (February 18, 2020).

maxresdefault (2)In what seems to be a new trend at the Tiny Desk, here’s another artist whom I’ve never heard of somehow and who manages to cram five songs into 16 minutes.  (I won’t complain about the length of this show because it’s not that long, but everyone knows you get three songs).

The most fascinating things about Snoh is that she is Iranian-Swedish.  And that her band is enormous.  And that they all have great names like: O’Neil “Doctor O” Palmer on keys, George “Spanky” McCurdy on drums and Thaddaeus Tribbett on bass.  There’s also Jef Villaluna on guitar whose name isn’t that crazy,

Unfortunately her songs and albums have terrible names.

Her new album is called Ugh, those feels again and her previous album is called Feels. (and she’s not even millennial).  And then the third song is called “Whoa.”  Good grief,

“Whoa” is a sweet love song that is detailed but not explicit.  Except the chorus which is “you make me feel like, whoa.”

The rest of her songs have a very delicate soft-rock vibe.  Especially with the string section of Ashley Parham on violin, Johnny Walker, Jr. on cello, Asali McIntyre on violin and Brandon Lewis on viola.

But apparently that’s not what her music typically sounds like.

On this day in particular, Aalegra’s tracks were stripped of their punchier, album-version kick drums and trap echoes. In their absence, it’s Aalegra’s delicate vocal runs and chemistry with her supporting singers that resonated most. “I Want You Around” and “Whoa,” which usually rest on a bed of glitchy, spiraling production, felt lighter thanks to the dreamy string section.

All of the songs featured her backing vocalists Ron Poindexter and Porsha Clay,  but they were especially prominent on “Fool For You” which ran all of two minutes.

Snoh seemed a little too cool up there, which did not endear me to her.  Her voice is certainly pretty though, even if I didn’t like her songs.

[READ: March 15, 2020] Best Friends

This book is a sequel of sorts to Real Friends.

It continues the story of young Shannon in sixth grade and how she deals with the minefields that middle school can present.

The same cast is back–the good and bad friends, the girls and boys and all of the insecurities that are practically a character in themselves.

As the book opens, Shannon realizes that she and her friends are not really in sync. She can’t keep up with the pop songs that they like–how do they always know the newest cool song (her family doesn’t listen to pop music so she is way out of the loop).

But aside form that, things seem good.  Shannon is best friends with Jen, the most popular girl in their class.  And since they are the oldest grade in school, Jen is therefore the most popular girl in school.

But the girls are always sniping at each other or trying to get Shannon so say nasty things about one of the other girls behind her back (while the girl was listening).  Shannon never did, though, because she is really a good person.  Something the other girls could use some help with, (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RYLEY WALKER-“Love is Everywhere (Beware)” (from WILCOvered, UNCUT Magazine November 2019).

The November 2019 issue of UNCUT magazine had a cover story about Wilco.  It included a 17 track CD of bands covering Wilco (called WILcovered or WILCOvered).  I really enjoyed this collection and knew most of the artists on it already, so I’m going through the songs one at a time.

It’s interesting that Walker chose the band’s brand new (at the time) single to cover.  I don’t think the album was even out yet when they released this issue.

I saw Walker live last month and his set was a forty-five minute wild improv guitar session.  So I’m even more surprised at how beautiful and tender this cover is.

There are some great percussive effects from Ryan Jewell which I wouldn’t have really noticed if I hadn’t seen him do similar things live.  Walker didn’t sing at all when I saw him, and his voice here is soft and whispery.  It works perfectly with the muted tone of the song–guitar harmonics, a shuffling beat and gentle bass from Calexico’s Scott Colberg.

The song grows gradually louder, mostly from Jewell’s drums until with about a minute left, Walker goes absolutely berserk with a wild electric guitar solo–largely noise and chaos, while the rest of the song continues as before.  Very Wilco.

[READ: February 15, 2020] Snippets of Serbia

This book came across my desk at work.  The book is entirely in English and yet the cataloging information (the CIP page) is in Russian, primarily. It was published in Beograd by Komshe Publishing.

That’s all fascinating because Emma Fick is an American artist.  She is of Serbian descent and went there to teach English.  She brought her sketch book because she always does.  While there she drew pictures and then earned a grant to travel to Serbia to draw more.

The introduction to the book gives a good summary of Serbia and its inability to be pigeonholed.

Serbia is fascinating and baffling, captivating and frustrating, vibrant and confounding.  There is no singularity to Serbian culture, and its historical, religious, cultural, culinary, and philosophical narratives are knots that must be carefully detangled.

Illustration was her way of absorbing Serbia.

She knows the book is flawed and incomplete.  She knows there are mistakes in it and she knows that her experience of Serbia is not what Serbia is,  But boy did it ever make me want to go there–a country I have never given a second thought to.

The book is roughly 200 pages of watercolor sketches of people, places, customs, and especially the food of Serbia: Belgrade, North, South, East and West. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MOUNTAIN MAN-“You and I” (from WILCOvered, UNCUT Magazine November 2019).

The November 2019 issue of UNCUT magazine had a cover story about Wilco.  It included a 17 track CD of bands covering Wilco (called WILcovered or WILCOvered).  I really enjoyed this collection and knew most of the artists on it already, so I’m going through the songs one at a time.

Mountain Man is a trio of three women with beautiful voices.  They often sing a capella or with one guitar accompaniment.  There music is quiet, designed for you to lean in to hear better.

The original song is a gentle folk song (with some gently rocking moments).  Mountain Man make it even more gentle.  The original has a vocal harmony from Feist.  Having a two harmony voices makes this version even more special.

Alexandra Sauser-Moning plays guitar (and maybe sings lead?) while Amelia Meath and Molly Sarle sing gorgeous harmonies.

As with everything Mountain Man does, it’s delicate and lovely.

[READ: February 11, 2020] The Time Museum: Vol. 2

Volume 2 opens up with very little explanation about what happened before.  In fact, it jumps right in the middle of a chase.  A purple creature with four tentacles is running away from Delia in an amusement park.  The purple creature is a kid and he doesn’t know why he’s being chased.  Delia communicates through her wrist watch that the kid has the Icono de Prestigo.

The rest of the beginning of the book has Delia’s Epoch Team chasing this (very fast) kid as he flees with the Icono.  The kid finally settles in the middle of an exhibit for Monstro the Terrible.  They freak out and don’t want to see the kid hurt, but he says his dad works there and the exhibit has been empty for years.  Which proves to be false as immediately Monstro (who looks a lot like the monsters in Stranger Things) awakens and swallows the kid.

Through some brave and disgusting techniques the kid and the icono are rescued.

After all of that, the kid hands over the icono and says its probably all melted anyway.  What?  Then they see him walk by with another one–the icono is actually a container for an ice cream sundae.  The Team was hundreds of years too late to save the actual relic.  When they return they are given a reprimand. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: beabadoobee-Loveworm (Bedroom Sessions) (2019).

beabadoobee is Beatrice Kristi Laus, a 19 year-old singer-songwriter who was born in the Phillipines and lives in London.  She has released some six EPs since 2018 and has been played on the radio on WXPN.  I see she’s also headlining a small tour over here in the Spring.

This EP is an acoustic version of her Loveworm EP.  I actually don’t know the other EP (that’s for tomorrow), but I wanted to start with this bedroom version because it promised to be stark.

It is just her on acoustic guitar and vocals.  Her voice is soft and delicate and quite pretty, with the “innocence” of early Juliana Hatfield.  That innocence makes her sharp lyrics all the more effective.

Even though this is a bedroom recording, it is in no way lo-fi.  The recording quality is excellent.  You can hear her hands move up and down the strings and there’s no hiss or fuzz.  You can hear her voice very clearly too.

“Disappear” has a simple melody.  I assume the guitar is looped at some point.  “1999” is not a Prince cover.  It continues in this quiet vein with some pretty guitar and vocals.  It seems kind of daring to name a song the same as one of the most popular songs in pop history.  But her understated take on 1999 is a quite different from Prince’s

You said I fucked up and ruined your life
But little did you know you ruined
Mine

“Apple Cider” is a bit more uptempo. with a cool delivery of this opening verse

We both like apple cider
But your hair be smelling like fruit punch
And I don’t even like you that much
Wait
I do
Fuck

“Ceilings” has a very pretty picked melody” while “Angel” is a darker song that sounds like it could be a Nirvana cover (it isn’t).  “You Lie All the Time” is a straightforward song and “Soren” features some interesting chords high on the neck of the guitar.  This final song is a sweet love letter

The green in your eyes
Are like the leaves in the summer
And it changes with the weather
The pink in your cheeks
When you slightly lose your temper
Makes me love you even more

There’s a lot of sameness on this EP, but that’s not surprising since it is an EP of acoustic versions of the he original album.  As an introduction to her music and her songwriting, though, it’s a great place to see just what she’s got vocally and musically.  I’m curious how she will flesh these songs out on the actual EP.

[READ: January 12, 2020] “Found Wanting”

This is a story of Scottish young adult trying to find his sexuality in a land that demonizes homosexuality: “living on a Glaswegian housing scheme and being gay was a death sentence.”  The narrator was more or less alone.  He lived in a rented bedsit.  His mother was recently dead and his brother, who had been looking after him, could no longer afford to.

The advent of a lonely hearts section in the paper allowed for people with similar interests to contact each other.  For the narrator, the day he mailed in his ad (which cost him much of his salary that week), opened up new avenues–avenues that were not always savory. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SHARON VAN ETTEN-“Silent Night” (2009).

There’s been quite a lot of songs coming out for Amazon Soundtracks lately.  This Christmas song comes from Eric Paschal Johnson’s short film The Letter.

There have been probably hundreds of recordings of “Silent Night,” one of the few Christmas songs that I feel should not be tampered with. It’s a beautiful song and if done right can be incredibly moving.

Sharon’s version is really fascinating to me.  It’s not especially traditional.  Indeed, it feels very contemporary.  The music is a kind of throbbing bass note, almost like a slow, dance song.  It pulses and changes pitch, but all quite slowly.

And yet, the song doesn’t feel like a dance song.  Sharon doesn’t sing it like a pop song at all.  Rather, she sings gently in a deep register–very earnestly.  After a verse, a second vocalist comes in and adds some dreamy backing vocals.

For the third verse, a simple drum rhythm is added.  The song is now much fuller than when it started and yet it’s not all that different.

It’s really quite a lovely update to the song and an all around excellent version.

[READ: December 14, 2019] “Natural Light”

This year, S. ordered me The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This is my fourth time reading the Calendar.  I didn’t know about the first one until it was long out of print (sigh), but each year since has been very enjoyable.  Here’s what they say this year

The Short Story Advent Calendar is back! And to celebrate its fifth anniversary, we’ve decided to make the festivities even more festive, with five different coloured editions to help you ring in the holiday season.

No matter which colour you choose, the insides are the same: it’s another collection of expertly curated, individually bound short stories from some of the best writers in North America and beyond.

(This is a collection of literary, non-religious short stories for adults. For more information, visit our Frequently Asked Questions page.)

As always, each story is a surprise, so you won’t know what you’re getting until you crack the seal every morning starting December 1. Once you’ve read that day’s story, check back here to read an exclusive interview with the author.

Want a copy?  Order one here.

I’m pairing music this year with some Christmas songs that I have come across this year.

This story played around with linear reality in a number of ways.

It opens with the narrator telling us her mother is dead, but that she keeps getting emails from her.

She wanted me to know that a small penis size was not an indictment against my future happiness….  She needed some money for an emergency that had unfolded, totally beyond her control, somewhere at an airport in Nigeria.

The narrator could not bring herself to flag the spam.

She also continued to wear her wedding ring even though they had been divorced for a year.  Her husband had said more than once “I can’t imagine t he man who would have an easy time living with you.”  There are a few instances where the ex-husband comes up in the story which really flesh out what’s happening.  The ring wasn’t a hope for reconciliation.  Rather, it was a reminder that her unhappiness was not only a chemical dysfunction. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SNARKY PUPPY-Tiny Desk Concert #912 (November 20, 2019).

I feel like I’ve been hearing a lot about Snarky Puppy lately.  So much so that I assumed they were a new band.  Wrong:

Snarky Puppy has been a force for a while now, earning the ears of millions for more than a decade.  The band started as college friends in the jazz program at the University of North Texas back in 2003. But the formative era came a few years later, after Michael League [bassist and bandleader] became a part of the gospel scene in Dallas and eventually brought the jazz students to church, where music plays a different role than it does in the classroom. In the pulpit, it’s a channel for spiritual healing, a communal experience between players and congregation. As an experiment, League pulled his jazz friends and his gospel bandmates into one ensemble, where the two groups bonded together and established ground-zero for building the sonic identity of Snarky Puppy

I also had an idea that (because the name sounds similar to Skinny Puppy) that they might be a, what, young bratty dark punk band?  Wrong again.

Their secret sauce? A long-simmered recipe of jazz, funk and gospel.  Thirteen albums later, you can still hear these gospel and jazz orbits crashing into each other.

Oh, and one more thing.  They only play instrumentals.

They’re a band whose lyric-less melodies are still yelled (sung back) to them at their concerts around the world, as a shared catharsis for everyone in the room.

I really couldn’t have gotten that more wrong.

The band plays two songs in this lengthy set.

The first is called “Tarova.”  It opens with a wonderful sequence of keyboards.  Shaun Martin plays the keyboards with that talk box thing (made famous by Peter Frampton).  He seems to be having a kind of call and response solo with Bobby Sparks.  Sparks has the most fascinating thing on his keyboard.  A very large whammy bar/lever that he is able to push really far down to bend notes far more than any keyboard I’ve ever heard.  It was so much fun watching him do this, I was very glad he was up front.

During all of this, “JT” Thomas is keeping time on drums.  The song proper jumps in with a fun funky riff with lots of trumpets.  Everybody gets to do something impressive in this song and there’s a bunch of solos as well.

I really like the middle funky section that’s mostly bass and keys.

The song builds to a moment when everyone stops–after a two second pause which makes everyone clap, they resume with a great percussion solo from Nate Werth.

When the song ends, League introduces everyone and says who soloed.  He jokes, “That’s what you;re supposed to do in jazz, right, say who soloed n case anyone was confused that there were solos going on.”

Then he addresses the crowd.  He says that most people there are employees and family and an abundance of interns.  He wants to turn the cameras around for a minute (only one or two turn around) and force you into a musical rhythmic experiment.  Turns out that

Seconds before we hit record, Snarky Puppy’s bandleader, Michael League leaned in to ask if he could “do a little crowd work.” I suspect he waited until the last second on purpose, but it’s been easy to trust this band when they have an idea, judging by the three Grammy Awards they get to dust off at home after every tour run.

What resulted was a Tiny Desk first: League divided the audience into two sections, one side clapping out a 3/4 beat and the other half a 4/4 beat, creating a polyrhythm that I’m sure a handful of coworkers didn’t feel so confident trying to pull off. But this band pulls you in with simple instruction and a little faith.

League says, “we’re going to a polyrhythm because things have to get nerdy and unenjoyable.”  The crowd does admirably well with the two rhythms going on.  They are aided by Nate Werth on percussion who is really amazing (not necessarily here, but in the two songs).  I believe that they are creating 7/4.

The audience is warned that this polyrhythm will be used in the second song “Xavi,” dedicated to their friends in Morocco.

The song opens a funky bass and a lovely flute melody from Chris Bullock.  Then after a short guitar lick by Chris McQueen the whole band jumps in with a really funky melody.  The riff is taken over by two trumpets Justin Stanton (whose trumpet has a mute) and Jay Jennings (no mute) and Chris Bullock who is now on sax.

I was going to say you really don’t hear much of the violin in this set as it gets kind of melded with everything else.  Then mid way through the song, Zach Brock takes a wild and, often, effects-riddled solo in the middle of the song.  It might be my favorite part of a set that has many highlights.

The clapping part is used twice.  In the first one, the band is kind of quiet and the clapping is aided with great percussion from Werth and another lovely flute.

The guitar and bass in this song are fantastic even if they are never entirely prominent.  There’s also a very cool keyboard solo from trumpeter Justin Stanton.

Then the clapping comes around a second time.  During this one, there’s a guitar and keyboard making all kinds of sounds while the drums keep hitting everything, there;s more percussion and a little more flute.

The whole set is tremendous fun.  Totally not what I was expecting and so much better.

[READ: August 15, 2019] The Idiot

I grabbed this book because I had written down the author’s name as someone I wanted to read.  I also got a kick out of the title (and the obvious allusion to Dostoevsky).

I started the book and enjoyed it and then realized that I had read an excerpt from this story already.  And that is why I had written the author’s name down.

This book was written as a kind of response to her first book.  In an essay in The Guardian, she explained that:

In her first book, The Possessed, New Yorker journalist Elif Batuman complained that as an incipient novelist she was always being told to eschew books and focus on life. Literature since Don Quixote had been seen as false and sterile; disconnected from lived experience. After years as a graduate student of Russian literature, she decided to challenge this by writing an account of her own haphazard attempt to live with and through books.

Of the excerpt I wrote quite a lot (and quite a lot that almost gets left behind after the excerpt): (more…)

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