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Archive for the ‘Dementia’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: ALBIN LEE MELDAU-Tiny Desk Concert #637 (July 20, 2017).

I’d never heard of Albin Lee Meldau.  His style reminds me of a number of gruff powerful-voiced singers.

So who is he?

Meldau grew up in Gothenburg, Sweden the son of musical parents. His mother is a music teacher and jazz singer, while Meldau says his father is a “punk rocker.” (Both write and record their own songs.) As a kid, Meldau originally played trumpet but mostly dreamed of being a professional soccer player.

The blurb notes:

When I [Robin] first saw him perform, at a church in Austin … it felt like the entire audience was on the edge of its seat, hanging on every twisted word. His voice is breathtaking, soulful, thunderous and impossible to ignore.

Watching Meldau in this Tiny Desk set, the first thing you’ll notice, apart from that voice, is how possessed he is by the music. The words and melodies seem to take hold of him while at the same time offering a release, if only for a moment, from the knot of emotions he’s carrying inside. It’s in no small part because Meldau’s music is so personal, centered on desperate souls in deeply troubled times.

He sings for songs and his voice is powerful, loud, aggressive and emotive.  He is hard to ignore, for sure.  His band consists of Simon Andermo (bass) and Simon Söfelde (guitar).  For the first two songs Kalle Stenbäcken plays piano, but on the third song he switches to drums.

“Lou Lou,” the track he opens with and his most popular song, is a story of drug addiction and mental illness, inspired by a girl he knew while growing up in Sweden. It’s short and powerful, you can feel the anguish in his voice–he seems really transformed by it.

His other two songs, “Mayfly” and “Persistence,” are more about hanging on when it seems there’s nothing left to live for.

He says the “Mayfly,” she only lives for one day.  Like the first song, it’s barely 2 minutes long.

Before “Persistence” he says “give it up for My Beautiful Sweets (the backing band).  They don’t come cheap, do they?”  He’s going to play one more song with them and then he seems to jokingly say (but who can tell) “I wouldn’t dance with no other, baby.”  It starts slow, but the addition of he drums is a great kick in the pants.  The guitar and melody are pure Dire Straits, and the chorus is outstanding.

Before the final song he jokes, “It’s a deep honor to be here,” Meldau told the NPR audience. “I’ve been to the BBC and now I’ve been here, so now I can die.”   But he’s so deadpan it’s hard to know how much he’s joking.

He calls “Bloodshot,” the track he closes with, “dark and horrible,” about the wreckage of a tortured relationship and the crazed paranoia of jealousy.  He says “Let’s see if I can remember the chords.”  He does and he sounds great.  When his voice grows powerful and strained it’s really emotional.

If he can capture the same wave of love that people gave Hozier (with whom he has stylistic traits in common) I could see him going far.

[READ: July 20, 2017] “Because You Have To”

This is a rambling story inside a woman’s head.  There are many thoughts, but none are especially compelling. Things like:

If you stop answering the phone, eventually it stops ringing.

Essentially she misses someone.  When she hears her dog barking, she almost called out “your name.”  But it was actually Wayne who had found a loose dog and wondered if it was hers.  Which it obviously wasn’t, since her dog was right there.

I love the line that her grandmother was “the most beloved fascist in the family.”  She used to say “You have to count your blessings, and when the narrator dared to ask why, “she gave me a great smack to the ear: “Because you have to.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SAN FERMIN-Tiny Desk Concert #315 (October 28, 2013).

When I first heard San Fermin I was immediately grabbed by the female lead voice (the song was “Sonsick”).  It was so powerful and gripping. I didn’t realize then that the female leads were the lead singers of Lucius (who I also didn’t know at the time).  San Fermin is the creation of Ellis Ludwig-Leone.

Since then I have enjoyed other songs by them as well, although I find that the songs sung by Allen Tate to be somewhat less exciting to me– I feel like his voice could one day hit me as amazing but it’s almost a little to understated for me.  And yet musically I love the orchestration and chamber poppiness.  As Bob writes:

San Fermin’s music bursts with ambition, talent and extreme joy. Its self-titled debut is charged with great storytelling and amazing vocals by both Allen Tate and Lucius singers Holly Laessig and Jess Wolfe. Then there are the arrangements: little gems that turn these songs into cinematic vignettes using trumpet, sax, keyboard, violin, guitar and drums.

San Fermin is the musical vision of Ellis Ludwig-Leone, who wrote these songs with Tate’s dark, rich voice in mind. Here at the Tiny Desk, Rae Cassidy makes the album’s female vocal parts her own.

So it’s interesting that the songs were meant for Tate.  I want just some more oomph from him.  especially here in this set.  And that’s because Rae Cassidy absolutely rules this set.

“Oh Darling” begins with a gentle piano and Cassidy’s pretty, delicate voice.  After a verse from her, Tate’s voice comes in and it’s almost comically low and formal (and actually perhaps a bit too quiet).  But when they all come in and sing it is just beautiful–the women in particular.

For “Sonsick” Cassidy sings lead with just drums.  As the song builds there’s a great chorus where the backing vocals (including Tate) sing in falsetto.  This version is quite stripped down compared to the recorded version and it really allows Cassidy’s voice to shine.  When she hits those incredibly high notes with such power, it gives me chills.

In the final song, “Renaissance!” Tate sings lead over a slow piano and violin.  The women sing backing vocals.  I like the way that the song builds in intensity with more instruments, but his voice is a little too flat for me–although he does kick in extra at the end.

There’s a really stunning version of the first two songs with the band singing live in a street and cafe and France.

Incidentally, Cassidy has since left the band and gone solo, and I wish her much success.

[READ: December 28, 2016] Humans of New York Stories

Sarah got me this book for Christmas.  I knew of Humans of New York, of course, but I wasn’t a follower of it.  So while I knew of it I didn’t really know that much about it.

There’s a brief introduction to this book (which is his second HONY book) in which he explains that HONY grew from five years of experimenting.  It evolved from a photography blog to a storytelling blog.  His original inspiration was to photograph 10,000 New Yorkers.  But then he decided to start including quotes from some of them.

He started interviewing people and found their stories became the real heart of the blog.  Of course, he thanks the community of readers and participants, because without them, he has nothing.

The rest of the book–425 pages–collects the photos and the stories. (more…)

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pfilSOUNDTRACK: MACKLEMORE & RYAN LEWIS-Tiny Desk Concert #254 (December 3, 3012).

mackI missed the whole Macklemore & Ryan Lewis thing when it happened in 2012.  I was vaguely aware of “Thrift Shop,” but really didn’t know much about him until the hype blew up all over the place.

And now four years later, I’m catching up on him and finding it all pretty great.

This Tiny Desk Concert is interesting for a number of reasons.  All of the backing females vocals are prerecorded, but the trumpet is live (I gather that’s Lewis on the mixing board).  And he and the audience really get into it–I’m not sure when he was in his rise at the time of this show.

I gather that all three of these songs were well-known at the time.  But I’d never heard “Same Love” at all before. It is a surprisingly powerful and moving song about gay rights and human rights.  It seems to start out with a different tone altogether—he is scared that he is gay.  But it quickly turns into something much sweeter and loving. It’s actually quite a tear-jerker.  Then he changes the mood entirely.

“Thrift Shop” has an amazingly catchy melody for the chorus.  The vocal line is a sample as well.  And while I have heard the song before I never noticed the “this is fucking awesome” final line, which has been stuck in my head for weeks now.  This song is really funny.  The R Kelly line is hilarious [Probably should’ve washed this, smells like R. Kelly sheets (Pissssss…) But shit, it was 99 cents! ] and the whole bit about paying $50 for a T-shirt is spot on.  He hops around and is full of infectious energy.  There’s a live trumpet solo at the end.  Lewis plays with a set of sleigh bells and then knocks them off to much laughter.

As the song ends he grabs the Emmy and says, “Thank you, we’re outta here.  Peace.”

The final song is “Can’t Hold Us.”   The chorus of that song sounds so familiar.  I’m sure I’ve heard it before but I can’t imagine where (maybe roller skating?).  But man, is it catchy.  For this version, Ray Dalton sings with them.  I guess maybe he’s the guy who sang the original?  It sounds like there’s also a recording going with it, though, so who knows, and who cares.  The live trumpet is a nice touch.

As Bob notes: “The live, sweet, soulful sounds of singer Ray Dalton belting, ‘Like the ceiling can’t hold us’ had Macklemore standing on my desk and shaking the dust off the ceiling tiles.”  It is fun an exhilarating.  And as the show fades, you can hear him ask, “You guys have a shower?”

[READ: February 8, 2016] The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil

Saunders wrote this novella during the Bush administration. But it feels shockingly more relevant now.  This is the story of an unqualified buffoon who takes charge and attempts to force his will on a country.

But in typical Saunders fashion it is over the top and somewhat absurd, except that it is all quite real.

The story is about a small country called Inner Horner.  Inner Horner is so small that only one citizen can stand in it at a time.  The other five citizens must stand in The Short-Term Residency Zone.  Outer Horner is huge with lots of empty space.  The Outer Hornerites don’t really mind the Inner Hornerites being in the Zone, but they didn’t want to offer any of their own land to Inner Horner because, well, what if other countries wanted land too.

Then one day, a seismic shift makes Inner Horner even smaller.  Now only 1/4 of a citizen can fit in Inner Horner at a time.  Leon, an Outer Horner Border Guard noticed that this citizen (whose name was Elmer) was mostly in Outer Horn and he sounded the alarm that meant Invasion in Progress.

The Outer Horner Militia (Freeda, Melvin and Larry) came over and glared at Elmer.  They don’t believe in the shrinking–decent countries don’t shrink.  But the militia doesn’t know what to do.  And then Phil, a guy standing nearby, says why not tax them?

Phil was in love with Carol, a citizen of Inner Horner. But she had married Cal (another Inner Horner citizen) and they had a child, Little Andy.  This made Phil very bitter.  (more…)

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62SOUNDTRACK: THE JAYHAWKS-Tiny Desk Concert #555 (August 8, 2016).

jayhawksWhen The Jayhawks first had a hit back in 1992 (“Waiting for the Sun”), I actively disliked it.  I’m not sure why but at the time something about it really rubbed me wrong.  Now, I happen to really like the song. But more interestingly, I think that their newest album, especially “Quiet Corners & Empty Spaces” is fantastic.  It’s one of my favorite songs of 2016.

The verses are simple and catchy, the chorus is mesmerizingly fun to sing.  And the way the band fills in around Gary Louris’ voice is just perfect (and those harmonies, wow).  The version here is perfect–feeling a little more  “live” than it does on record (as it should)

“Lovers of the Sun” mixes the verses of an unwritten Sloan song with a 1960s folk California chorus.  The e-bow (which they’re worried didn’t get picked up) sounds cool and eerie at the same time.

“Leaving the Monsters Behind” has a bouncy bassline that propels this song and everyone sings delightful harmonies.  There’s close harmonies with Louris and higher ones from the drummer.  The middle section (ostensibly the solo) is really interesting for the way it shifts dramatically and the bass plays something very different from the bouncy main part.  The parts work very well together.

“Comeback Kids” opens with a high riff on the guitar and a slow bass keeping the pace.  I love that keyboardist Karen Grotberg switches back and forth between piano and this little synth pad thing that plays cool theremin-like sounds.  The riff that leads to chorus is really dramatic as well.  The ending, in which everyone sings some “oohs” and the riffs build and build, is right on.

I’m delighted at how much I’ve changed my mind about The Jayhawks.  And it only took 24 years (and many many breakups, re-formations and personnel changes) for me to change my mind.

[READ: February 26, 2016] “A Night at the Opera”

I found this story to be rather unsatisfying.  And it may have just been that when I printed it out, the first section was on one page and the second section–the start of page two–seemed so different that I wondered if I had somehow printed the wrong second page.

The story opens with the narrator reflecting on watching the Marx Brothers movie A Night at the Opera and how they laughed and laughed.

Then the second part jumps to a hospital known as Park House.  It is a place for people who need assistance all the time.  There are varying degrees of mental deficiencies in the hospital: the violent, the uncontrollably deluded, those who had murdered or who would murder, and the speechless. (more…)

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may2016SOUNDTRACK: GROUPLOVE-Tiny Desk Concert #166 (October 11, 2011).

grouploveWith a name like Grouplove, I expected a certain sound–I imagined a dancey, funky, R-rated kinda of band.

  But when I listened to this set, I realized that I knew the first song, “Tongue-Tied” and I loved it–it’s incredibly catchy and poppy and with a title that belies the common refrain “take me to your best friend’s house….” I love the two vocalist and that lead singer Zucconi’s voice strains bit still sounds good.  There’s a middle section that reminds me a bit of Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros’ “Home” with the two lead singers having a call and response section.  I only wish she was a little louder (he’s very loud).  But the rest of the song sounds nothing like that and is definitely is his own thing.  Special attention should be paid to the bassist who throws in some great lines.  I also like that the xylophone is used for percussion in this song.

speaking of the bassist, his cowboy hat bumps into something on the wall and the drummer mocks: “I’m from England I’m going to come back and get revenge.”  Bob asks for more about ths development, but the drummer continues, “He’s just bitter about the War of Independence.”  The bassist mutters, “It still hurts.”

When they released this song/album they’d only been together for a year and a half.  Hannah Hooper and songwriter, singer and guitarist Christian Zucconi met the other members of Grouplove — Sean Gadd, Ryan Rabin (son of Trevor Rabin) and Andrew Wessen on the island of Crete at an artists’ retreat.

Turns out I also knew “Itchin’ on a Photograph” (most notable for the way he sings (with a aching falsetto) “itchin on a photograaaaaph.”  Some more great bass lines here too.  Zucconi’s voice has got to hurt at the end of this song

Their final song is “Colours.”  Hooper’s harmony vocals are great on this song, and I really like the echoing electric guitar.

It’s hard for me to believe that “Tongue-Tied” is five years old, as  feel like I’ve been hearing it on the radio still.  The band has only put out once album since this one but they’ve been writing songs for all kinds of movies and TV shows.   I’d like to hear if they kept up their success of writing super catchy pop songs.

[READ: April 22, 2016] “A Shrinking World, An Opening Sky”

This story is a look a dementia (see, I said the two stories in this month’s issue were dark).  What I found most interesting about the way it was written was that it was from a close third person.  It got inside the demented man’s head but it wasn’t a first person account, so the confusion was presented objectively–a delicate balance, for sure.

It begins from the old man’s wife’s perspective.  She feels that her husband has lived long enough (she won’t say this to her family members, of course).  A while back he’d had some bad days.  There were some good days sprinkled in, but it has been steadily bad ever since.

This story is not set on his last day, but the narrator recounts his last few days which have been much the same. (more…)

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