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Archive for the ‘Decadence’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: OK GO-Tiny Desk Concert #278 (June 3, 2013).

I love OK Go’s music videos.  They are stupendous. I have watched all of them several times.  And yet I can’t remember a single song.  But that doesn’t diminish my appreciation for them.

When NPR was moving offices, they made a “Tiny Desk Concert” of the band proceeding from their old location to the new one.  And in OK Go fashion, they made a great video to go with it.  The music is live (I believe), even though they must have shot the footage hundreds of times.  It’s sort of a stop motion video, except that it’s not single frames but short 2 second clips spliced together.

You can watch as the old office is dismantled, as they walk through the halls to the moving truck.   As they play on the truck in the streets of D.C. and then as they enter the new building.  There are cameos from NPR colleagues: Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, David Greene, Guy Raz, Scott Simon, Alix Spiegel, Susan Stamberg and more.  There’s a hilarious moment with Karl Kassel who gives them a dirty look.  And then they march through the offices, the news room and into the new Tiny Desk location where they finish the song.

The song is fun and catchy and even has new lyrics that reference the NPR move.  It has to be seen to be appreciated.

And if you like figures here are some details from the shoot:

  • Number of video takes: 223
  • Number of seconds Carl Kasell spent in the elevator with OK Go: 98
  • Number of times Ari Shapiro played the tubular bells: 15
  • Number of days it took to shoot: 2
  • Number of cameras: 1

Incidentally, NPR and I are out of sync with our counting of Tiny Desk Concerts.  I can’t figure out what happened.  The reason mine is correct is because I have written down every concert and numbered them.  So I feel that for them one doesn’t count?  They say this was number 277.  Someday they’ll read this and we’ll get to the  bottom of everything.

[READ: April 1, 2016] No Mercy Vol. 1

Because of the way books are being handled at my work now, I don’t get to see as many books as I used to. So i was pretty delighted to get this graphic novel on my desk.  Even if I didn’t quite know what it was about, I wanted to read it.  And boy did I enjoy it.

I had no idea that the cast was a group of aspiring Princeton University students on a per-freshman trip to an underprivileged county (I like the t-shirts that say Building Bridges Helping Hands with a kinda Princeton P on the front.

We meet the cast in a cool way–each one steeping forward a bit in the crowd and giving a bit of information about themselves…mostly through text messages. Oh and I loved the way the opening colophon pages looked just like Facebook (or whatever) with a timeline photo and then on the right side–sponsored images with drawings of the author and the illustrators and an ad for an other Image comic by Alex de Campi called Valentine–genius layout idea.

There’s also a comment under the photo which says “OMG how sad, they were also young.”  So you know something bad is going to happen these poor kids. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: LAURA MVULA-Tiny Desk Concert #284 (July 1, 2013).

I don’t know Mvula’s music (I know her because her name is unmistakable and I feel surprised that her debut came out only 4 years ago).  The blurb talks about her big powerhouse soulful pop.  But that is not in evidence here at all.  As they say:

with the help of a small string section, she forgoes some of her flashier songs (“Like the Morning Dew,” “Green Garden”) in favor of Sing to the Moon‘s most brooding ballads.

“Father, Father” is almost entirely her singing and playing a very spare keyboard–with just a few seconds of string help near the end.  Her voice is quite lovely in what is practically an a cappella setting.

She introduces the second song by saying: “If we had the bigger band we’d do the more upbeat things.  I usually write in six-part harmony.  But it’s just the three of us so I’m going to do another more intimate one called ‘Diamonds.'”  There’s more strings on this song, which add to the song (the keyboard is quite thin, I fear).

The set ends with “She,” a song with a bit more complex keyboard parts which I rather like.  This song is my favorite, probably because it sounds the fullest.

The whole set is a little too mellow for my tastes, but I am curious to hear what her big poppy six-part-harmony songs sound like!

[READ: April 21, 2016] The Right Here Right Now Thing

I found this graphic novel at work. What was so funny about it is that the title is in English but the publisher is German.  I flipped through the book and saw the English dialogue so I decided to read it.  Imagine my surprise then that the first few and the last few pages are in German!

Google Translate is a good thing. Unfortunately, it doesn’t do as well with idiom and vulgar phrases, and there are a few in this book.  But I got the gist.

Plus, quite a lot of it is wordless, too.

The story begins with hands putting drugs (I assume cocaine and pot from later sections) into a condom.  And then we see our heroine on the toilet…doing something.  Her plane ticket says Frankfurt-Krakau.  She says goodbye to the guy lying in bed and she heads to the airport. (more…)

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odddicksSOUNDTRACK: CARLA BOZULICH-Boy [CST102] (2014).

carlaI listened to this disc casually a few times and never really got into it.  But when I listened with headphones and focused on it, there was a lot of good stuff about it.  The music is really spare and it’s kind of hard to grab onto anything on a casual listen.  As with much of what Bozulich does, she’s very free form—there’s usually a melody but it’s not up front.  But careful listening pulls out what the songs are designed to do.  It’s not always rewarding listening as her stuff is certainly abrasive, but I was pleased to hear some really cool sounds on the disc.

“Ain’t No Grave” is an impressionist song made up of a few bass notes and a  lot of voices.  There’s Bozulich singing and peaking and a male singing low notes with her during the chorus.  About half way through, the song adds complicated drumming and a sprinkling of keys—all impressionistic stabs at rhythm and melody.  It’s a difficult track and certainly a difficult opening track, but the catchy parts are intriguing the way they emerge from the chaos. “One Hard Man” opens with percussive drumming and Bozulich’s repeated refrain of “one hard man.”  Noisy guitars are added between verses and the thumping is strangely catchy.   “Drowned to the Light” is mellower with quiet instruments and delicate singing.  It’s the first “pleasant song” on the disc despite the menacing tone.  The chorus introduces a pretty melody both in vocals and violin.  It follows a murder ballad style.

“Don’t Follow Me” is mostly spoken word with percussion and accents of keyboards although the chorus does add a melody to the voices.  It’s amazing how simple chords and a backing voice can really add something to what is such a spare song.  The song ends with a  cool refrain of “spinning dreams spinning dreams” that builds nicely.  “Gonna Stop Killing” opens with sound effects and backwards rolling tapes.  But the vocal melody is the catchiest so far with a great chorus of rising notes and Bozulich’s aching voice and hammered dulcimer.  The middle section even has a fairly conventional melody line.  It’s unexpectedly pretty given the lyrics.

The second half of the disc seems to coalesce into a more melodic and song-structured  half. “Deeper Than the Well” has scratching guitars and deep slow  bass with the lyrics “I wish that I could fuck up the whole world.”  It’s menacing but catchy and seems to lurch along with only Bozulich’s voice keeping the song going.  “Danceland” opens as a slow bluesy song with quiet verses and a simple three note bass line.  But it’s joined by a really surprisingly catchy chorus “if we could spin under the light in  dance….land.  It was always night in dance….land.”  The middle section is a little weird until it resolves to that familiar chorus again.  The song really seems to slowly unfold with quieter moments leading to if not louder ones, then certainly fuller moments.   “Lazy Crossbones” adds some keyboards to the main melody.  It has one of the stranger catchy melodies that I can think of—quietly and slowly sung “hey hey it’s a parade.” But the organ sound is so unlike anything else it really stands out.  “What Is It, Baby” begins as a kind of slow, almost bluesy type of song until the big chords kick in for the chorus (which I imagined someone like Elvis singing).  The middle of the song has a soaring “ooooh” section which sounds quite unusual for her.  The ringing chords sound so vivid.

The disc ends with “Number X” an almost entirely instrumental 4 and a half-minute track.  The song starts slowly with meandering guitar notes and an interesting yet menacing melody underneath.  A nearly four-minute build up leads to Bozulich reciting a kind of poem that ends with the disc.

Bozulich consistently explores unusual territory and while this will never get played on any radio, it is more friendly than some of her other releases.

[READ: April 1, 2016] Odd Ducks

Odd Ducks is a play commissioned by the Nova Scotia playhouse.  It is set in Tartan Cross, Nova Scotia.

There are four characters, all in their 40s. Ambrose Archibald, he is unemployed but charming and a total narcissist; Mandy Menzies was the high school beauty queen but she is in a bad marriage now, a naive sweet woman. Estelle Carmichael is Mandy’s friend and housekeeper–she had a crush on Mandy in school and has sworn off men forever.  Freddy Durdle is Ambrose’s only friend but even he is fed up with Ambrose’ behavior.

The play opens with Ambrose out in the woods trying to find himself.  And after a few minutes of soul searching and a minor fright he has succeeded.  He is pontificating about himself when Estelle comments that she can’t listen to this crap anymore.  She tells him he is full of it.  To which Ambrose says, I forgive you. (more…)

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2008_04_21-400SOUNDTRACK: HIGHASAKITE-Tiny Desk Concert #376 (July 25, 2014).

 highkiteFor some reason, some bands play a Tiny Desk Concert that is very short.  It’s especially disappointing when the band is unusual and interesting like Highasakite.

They play only two songs (for a total of 8 minutes), but they cram a lot of interesting sounds into these songs, including a flugabone.  Kristoffer Lo plays that mournful horn and Ingrid Helene Håvik compliments the yearning with words that are mysterious and somewhat dark.

For “The Man on the Ferry” the song opens with the horn playing mournful notes while the percussionist plays a tiny steel drum and Håvik plays a kind of autoharp.  There’s the fascinating lyric: “It made the Indian in me cry.”  (It’s especially interesting since the band is from Norway).

Håvik has an inflection something like Björk’s (although her singing style is very different) and there are some delightful harmonies.

The melody of the second song “Since Last Wednesday” is familiar to me.  Or the combination of steel drum and horn is just really compelling. It’s fascinating to watch the guitarist wield his horn in one hand while holding the guitar with the other and singing harmonies.  The song is also kind of mysterious (that horn again) with the lyrics:

He would never do graffiti or vandalize that house. And he would never be caught spray painting on those people’s walls. But no one has seen or heard from him since last Wednesday.

As the song progresses some really dark lyrics crop up, all under that beguiling melody.

The blurb lists some of their other titles: “Leaving No Traces,” “I, The Hand Grenade,” “The Man on the Ferry,” “Science & Blood Tests” which really says quite a lot about this interesting band.  I definitely want to hear more than eight minutes from them.

[READ: February 20, 2016] “The Repatriates”

I was fascinated by this story because I hadn’t really heard of the phenomenon of Russian emigres returning to Russia because they felt the conditions were better there than in America

The story starts by telling us that Grisha and Lera’s marriage has dissolved.  In 1994 Grisha’s visa had been processed and he was brought to America by Hewlett-Packard.  He found it demeaning and like servitude ans as soon as it was up her quit and got a new job with Morgan Stanley–building market models for mortgage traders (for those of us who doesn’t know what that is, it’s not rally that important).

But Grisha felt empty.  He said there as no spirituality in America (even though he himself was not spiritual)

Eventually Grisha started travelling back to Moscow (they had not been able to sell their apartment there, so he had a place to stay). He would visit old friends and make news ones.  He started going more frequently.  And then one of his trips lasted for two months. (more…)

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barbariabnsSOUNDTRACK: ULTRA LOUNGE: CHRISTMAS COCKTAILS Part Three: Yule Tide Cheer Through the Year (2005).

xmastails3The final part of the Ultra Lounge Christmas set certainly sees them running out of steam.  There’s far fewer songs and the total running time is nearly 20 minutes shorter.  But that doesn’t mean there aren’t some great tracks here.

CARMEN McRAE-“Baby It’s Cold Outside” a fun opening with some talking before the song between Carmen and Sammy Davis Jr.  Davis is really silly through the song (and she seems to be laughing him).  BING CROSBY-“Frosty The Snowman” wonderful.  LENA HORNE-“Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town” a trippy opening in which Horne was “in the milky way.” Then the song kicks in—a fun version overall. Strangely she switches “bad or good” into “good or bad.”  JOHNNY MERCER-“Jingle Bells” a fun hopping version with plenty of swing.  There’s even extra lines (“there’s nothing new about jingle bells”).

WAYNE NEWTON-“Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!” Female vocalists again (I thought Newton was a singer?), but nevertheless, it’s a fun version.  NANCY WILSON-“That’s What I Want For Christmas” a pretty song, that I didn’t know before.  I really dig Nancy Wilson.  DEAN MARTIN-“Winter Wonderland” delightful, I do love the Deano.  BILLY MAY-“Do You Believe In Santa Claus?” – Billy May’s deep dark rather scary voice presents this weird song.  It’s funny and a little spooky what  with the crazy way it ends.

PEGGY LEE-“White Christmas” this version is too for me.  AL MARTINO-“Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer” this is a nice version, though.  RAY ANTHONY-“A Marshmallow World” a lovely version of this fun song.  LOU RAWLS-“Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” Rawls has finally won me over.  I like this song by him.  JULIE LONDON-“I’ve Got My Love To Keep Me Warm” slow and jazzy but too slow for me.  NAT KING COLE-“Buon Natale (Means Merry Christmas To You)” a fun song quaint and cute and one you don’t hear very often.  JUNE CHRISTY-“Sorry To See You Go” I don’t know this song, it’s more of a New Year’s song. Swet and bouncy. Although not my favorite ending to the discs.

So that’s the Ultra Lounge mixes, easily my favorite way to spend a holly day.

[READ: December 24, 2014] The Barbarians

This was the final Baricco book I planned to read this year and it’s a good way to end the year–reflecting on the past but planning to move forward.

It’s nonfiction so I didn’t really know what to expect.  But I certainly didn’t expect the story in the beginning of the book.  Baricco explains that he really wanted this book to be translated into English (especially for the American market where he felt it would be particularly on target) but he couldn’t find anyone to publish it.  And he didn’t want to go self publishing.  He ultimately found a friend in New York, owner of Eataly who agreed to foot the cost.  They did the work and then Random House distributed it.

So Stephen Sartarelli translated it.  The book is a fun and interesting look at the barbarians who are ruining our culture and destroying our soul.  But Baricco is very careful to point out that just because they are ruining things, it doesn’t mean that they are making things worse or doing it maliciously.  He uses several specific instances in which the barbarians have changed something held sacred and made it, if not better, then different and often more enjoyable.

This book was originally written as a series of newspaper articles in 2006 (not sure exactly when).  He says it was fun to see feedback as he was writing each installment (each “chapter” is about four pages). (more…)

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freedomSOUNDTRACK: CRASH TEST DUMMIES-Jingle all the way… (2002).

ctdEven though the Crash Test Dummies are often seen as a joke band or a one hit wonder (which I guess they are), I’ve liked them for a while (their earlier stuff a lot more than their later stuff, admittedly).  But it seemed like they’d have a fun take on Christmas music.

And it starts out in a comical sort of way with Brad Robert’s deeper-than-ever voice reciting about his life in Los Angeles, where it is warm and sunny at Christmas time.  I like that he rhymes 24th with up north.  The spoken section is quite loud in the mix (it sounds like he is right in your ear).  Unfortunately, that is the case when he starts singing too–he is uncomfortably loud in the mix and it sounds like he is holding back because of it–he doesn’t sound great and his voice sounds more comical than interesting.  Which is a shame because the music (with cheesey keyboards) is great.

Roberts sings lead on about half of the songs.  Ellen Reid sings lead on the other half except for a couple where they split lead duties.

The rest of Robert’s songs include: “Jingle Bells” (which is certainly comical–it sounds like a chain gang song with the “Hey!s” sounding almost like a prison chant).  It’s weird and cool though (even if his voice is once again too loud in the mix).  “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” has his voice mixed much better–he seems to be really singing.  And this version–a loungey/jazzy rendition is much great fun.  “God King Wenceslas” sounds proper (with Reid’s close backing vocals).  It has a pretty penny whistle keeping the song going.

Ellen Reid has a great voice and I love hearing her sing.  But in the first two songs she sings lead on in this disc she sounds like she is singing too slowly.  “O Little Town of Bethlehem” especially sounds like the music is going to pass her up at any minute.  I also don’t like the country vibe of the song.  “In the Bleak Midwinter” is also (intentionally) slow, which I don’t like.  Perhaps I just don’t like this song (although I do think the melody is lovely).  “The Little Drummer Boy” is beautiful and Robert’s bass backing vocals are perfect.  “Silent Night” is done in a countryish style, but I like this version.  Although normally this song can make me cry, this version absolutely does not–too honky tonkish.

The final song, “The Huron Carol” is quite formal and proper–just Reid and a piano opening the song.  It sounds very holy, very pretty.  When Robert’s bass backing vocals come in, it adds more depth to the song.  And it’s a lovely way to end.

[READ: October 30, 2014] Freedom

I read this a couple months ago and then got so caught up in reading other things that I never got around to posting about it.  And that’s a bummer because I really liked the book a lot and I fear that I won’t remember everything I wanted to say about it.

I had read a couple of excerpts from the book in the New Yorker (quite some time ago).  They were helpful in grounding the story for me, but they didn’t prepare me for the breadth of the story.  It follows one family, the Berglunds, through several decades, focusing on each of them in great detail as they navigate through the Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush and a smidge of the Obama years.

The Berglunds are a liberal family.  They were among the first white families to move onto their urban street in St. Paul, Minnesota (after white flight to the burbs).  Patty is a charming (some say smug) homemaker and Walter is a lawyer (public defendant, naturally).  They have two kids, Jessica and Joey.  Patty dotes on Joey to an embarrassing degree (Joey is embarrassed by it, Jessica is infuriated by it and even Patty is kind of embarrassed when she really thinks about it).  At the same time she is rather neglectful of Jessica.  Naturally, Jessica becomes quite the success (loves reading, committed to the environment), while Joey rebels and finds all kinds of ways to disappoint them and make money.  (This isn’t a bad thing, but the family has plenty of money and Joey doesn’t need to (especially not the way he goes about it).  Not to mention Walter and Patty are not into the money for money’s sake thing.

The book opens that there was some “news” about Walter. He and Patty had moved to Washington DC two years earlier.  He clearly did something bad (we won’t find out until much later).  But that serves as an introduction to the Berglunds.  And then we go back to see them, years earlier, settling into St Paul. (more…)

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[LISTENED TO: August 2014] Horton Halfpott

hortonLast summer we listened to Angleberger’s book Fake Mustache, which was one of my favorite audio books ever (until the League of Princes series).  In fact we just re-listened to fake Mustache and enjoyed it even more the second time! I was pretty excited to listen to Horton Halfpott as well because it has two subtitles.  Since we had a long drive ahead of us, it seemed the ideal time to bust out Horton.

And while I did enjoy the book by the end (quite a lot in fact), I found it a little slow going in the beginning.  This book was narrated by Ron Keith, who is British.  There is nothing weird about that because the book is set in Britain.  It is just such a stark change from Fake Mustache (which was so very American) that I think it took a while for us to adjust to the rather stiff and formal (but funny) reading that this book had (compared to the wild and crazy reading of Mustache).  Since the book is a kind of spoof on Dickensian class stories, the narration makes perfect sense.

This entire adventure begins on the day that M’Lady Luggertuck loosens her corset (the narrator apologizes for even talking about an old lady’s underwear, but it is crucial to the story):

There are so many exciting things in this book — a Stolen Diamond, snooping stable boys, a famous detective, the disappearance of a Valuable Wig, love, pickle éclairs, unbridled Evil, and the Black Deeds of the Shipless Pirates — that it really does seem a shame to begin with ladies’ underwear.

M’Lady Luggertuck usually wears her corset very very tight, and she acts like she has on a very very tight corset–there is no happiness to be found in Smugwick manor. But on the day that she asks her maid to loosen the corset a little bit, a kind of shock wave floods through the castle, which seems to encourage everyone to loosen up just a bit.

Everyone, that is except for Horton’s superior, Miss Neversly.  Miss Neversly is a mean mean woman, always ready to hit someone (especially Horton) over the head with a wooden spoon (ouch), always ready to doubt someone, always looking for and never receiving praise from M’Lady Luggertuck.

Horton, by the way is a kitchen boy.  He is not a bad boy at all, just an unlucky boy in a bad situation (see, the set up is very Dickensian, and Angleberger thanks Dickens in his acknowledgments).  Horton’s best friend is a stable boy named Bump. They are also friends with the other stable boys Blight and Blemish.  And the story is certainly sympathetic to these poor lower class individuals. (more…)

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