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Archive for the ‘Essays’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: TOMBERLIN-Tiny Desk Concert #855 (June 6, 2019).

I rather like when we see a glimpse at the workings of things.  Like how a Tiny Desk Concert typically happens:

Before I bring an artist to the Tiny Desk, I try to see them perform live. It helps me get a handle on what they’ll be capable of doing at my desk, minus all the artful tinkering of a studio. But I never saw Tomberlin before she came to my desk. My desire to see Mitski and Overcoats when Tomberlin was last in town had me at another venue and another opportunity failed to happen. But I was simply in love with Tomberlin’s ethereal debut album At Weddings and took a chance.

I didn’t know how her fragile songs would translate; all I knew was that Tomberlin was coming to the Tiny Desk to play acoustic guitar and sing, along with her musical partner Andrew Boylan. The eerie production that felt like the backbone to the fragile songs on At Weddings would be gone.

I haven’t heard this album, so I don’t know about the eerie production.  I wonder if that would set her apart from other similar women-with-acoustic-guitars.   This is not dismissive of Tomberlin–it is genuinely hard to distinguish yourself when all you have is a guitar and your voice.

On the first song, “Any Other Way” she sounds like a couple of other recent quiet(er) female singers.  The addition of Boylan helps a bit because he able to add some delightful harmonies and some simple guitar riffs to accompany her strums.

I think her perspective also sets her apart a bit

Tomberlin is the daughter of a Baptist pastor, grew up singing in the church and, since her teens, has questioned her own beliefs in God and faith. And as you listen to her sing these delicate, vulnerable songs, you may find your way to a new songwriter, capable of distilling doubt and isolation while forming a community around her music and expressing assurance.

So lyrics like this are quite unusual

Feeling bad for saying
Oh my god
No I’m not kidding

They say that even the most seasoned performers get nervous at the Tiny Desk.  Those nerves are apparent a bit between songs as she asks, “How’s work going today?  Anything happening? I don’t keep up with the things when I’m doing this thing.”  She continues, “I tried to mute trump’s name on Twitter but it doesn’t work.”  After trying to banter some more she says, “I’m going to stop talking and we’ll play another song.”

The combined guitars and harmony vocals on “Self-Help” are really wonderful. And this verse is terrific

I used the self-help book
To kill a fly
I think it worked mom
I think I’m fine

The final song, “Untitled-1” plays nicely with the harmony guitars.

When Tomberlin began to sing at her Tiny Desk Concert, wearing a bit of Tiny Desk nervousness on her sleeve while singing “I know I’m not eternal, I’m just a young girl,” these songs questioning her religious beliefs, felt deep and personal.

This song was the most interesting of the three for the guitars and for the way she really puts some power in her voice as the song progresses.

[READ: June 4, 2019] “Poorly Mapped”

The June 10th issue of the New Yorker features five essays by authors whom I have enjoyed.  They were gathered under the headline “Another Country.”

Dinaw Mengestu was born in Ethiopia but had not been back for many years.  His family left when he was two years old, in 1978.  When he returned, twenty-five years later (the only one in his immediate family to do so during that time) his aunt Aster asked him not to leave the house while she was out.

She had told him that nothing had changed in those years” even your mother’s shoes are still there.”  Further, everything he would need was available in their house–satellite television, internet and American food.  So he should stay put.

He assumed her concern as because of the protests and mass arrests dating back to 2005, but she shrugged all of that off saying that Western news made it seem worse than it was, “We’re fine, we go to work we live our lives.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JAMBINAI-Différance (2012).

I am fairly stunned that I never posted about Jambinai at the Olympics in Korea in 2018.  Their performance of “Time of Extinction” blew me away and before the song was even over I was looking them up to find out more about them.

Jambinai blend traditional Korean instruments with rock instruments.  But not in a “we rock and want to bring in a flute” way.   The three main members met at Korea’s National University of Arts while studying traditioanl Korean music.  They wanted to play traditional music in an innovative way but in a way  that was very different from K-pop.  So their band consists of
Kim Bo-mi– haegeum;
Lee Il-woo – electric guitar, piri, taepyeongso, vocals
Sim Eun-yong – geomungo.

I had to look up what some of these instruments were, and here’s what I’ve got:

Geomungo (also spelled komungo or kŏmun’go) or hyeongeum (literally “black zither”) is a traditional Korean stringed musical instrument of the zither family of instruments with both bridges and frets.   It is generally played while seated on the floor. The strings are plucked with a short bamboo stick called suldae, which is held between the index and middle fingers of the right hand, while the left-hand presses on the strings. The most typical tuning of the open strings for the traditional Korean music is D#/Eb, G#/Ab, C, A#/Bb, A#/Bb, and A#/Bb an octave lower than the central tone.

In the video from the Olympics, the band is surrounded by dozens of geomungo players.

Haegeum (Hangul: 해금) is a traditional Korean string instrument, resembling a fiddle. It has a rodlike neck, a hollow wooden soundbox, and two silk strings, and is held vertically on the knee of the performer and played with a bow. It is one of the most widely used instruments in Korean music. Its range of expression is various despite having only two strings, with sounds ranging from sorrowful and sad to humorous.

Taepyeongso (lit. “big peace wind instrument”; also called hojokhojeok 호적 號笛/胡笛, nallari, or saenap, 嗩吶) is a Korean double reed wind instrument in the shawm or oboe family, probably descended from the Persian zurna and closely related to the Chinese suona. It has a conical wooden body with a metal mouthpiece and cup-shaped metal bell. It originated during the Goryeo period (918 – 1392).   The loud and piercing sound it produces has kept it confined mostly to Korean folk music (especially “farmer’s band music”) and to marching bands, the latter performed for royalty in the genre known as daechwita. It is, however, also used sparingly in other genres, including Confucian, Buddhist and Shamanist ritual musics and neo-traditional/fusion music.

Piri is a Korean double reed instrument, used in both the folk and classical (court) music of Korea. It is made of bamboo. Its large reed and cylindrical bore gives it a sound mellower than that of many other types of oboe.

Jambinai released this album in 2012 but reissued it in 2016 when they released their second album a Hermitage.

This nine-song (mostly) instrumental post-rock album is just astounding with the sounds they produce.

1. Time Of Extinction (2:56) opens with some quick riffage on the Geomungo.  After 20 second the roaring guitars and drums crash in.  Before a minute is up, the guitar falls back and a wondrous haegeum solo takes over amid the background rumbling.  It’s followed by some staccato thumps and full-on blasts of noise.  The taepyeongso mixes with feedback to create a wall of discord before it all crashes to a close.

2. Grace Kelly (3:20) opens with some fast acoustic sounding guitars before the whole song barrels forth with crashing noises and a taepyeongso solo.  That’s all in the first minute.  After which a quiet guitar and a vocal melody takes over.  I love that the vocal is buried under some effects so you can’t even really tell what language she’s singing in.  After a minute or so of this “rest,” the song just takes off again–forcing its way to the end with vocals moans that sound a bit like Robert Plant.  The ending crashing chords are pretty spectacular.
3. Glow Upon Closed Eyes (6:26) A quieter song, it starts with fading in and out noises and what may be reversed guitar sounds.  After a minute or so the geomungo comes in with some big notes that give the noises some context.  It stays relatively quiet for 5 minutes and then the end of the song bursts firth with martial drums and big guitars.
4. Paramita Pt. 1 (4:15)  The first part opens with rumbling noises and a slow riff on the geomungo.  Nearly the whole song works at this sort of tension building exercise with a brief moment of splashing cymbals and faster notes that slow once again.
5. Paramita Pt. 2 (4:21)  Part 2 slows things down a lot–just a geomungo thump and some sporadic notes on the haegeum.  It feels menacing and suspenseful–punctuated by deep bass notes that resound and linger.   The song unexpectedly explodes about two minutes in with a wall of noise punctuated by cymbals.
6. Hand Of Redemption (4:34) is a sonic blast of hardcore.  Screamed vocals are buried amid a wall of fast thumping drums and guitars.  After two minutes the taepyeongso and piri start adding noise and the thumping grows more mechanical.  The final minute takes away the industriaial sound but leaves all the high squealing notes punctuated by walls of bass and drums.   The end of the song thumps and feedback in to the next track.
7. Empty Pupil Pt. 1 (5:10) Continues with that feedback.  The feedback goes through several iterations as quiet chords are played and then allowed to feedback some more.  The rest of the song is full of other mechanical sounds–who even knows what–that fill in to a kind of noise drone.  The song ends with quiet guitar lines (I wonder if the song endings deliberate segue or if they were just stopped at the wrong time)
8. Empty Pupil Pt. 2 (4:39)  Part 2 further explores the quiet guitar with some cool creaking sounds from the geomungo before it starts playing a riff that ends with a big crash each time.   It picks up the tempo as the haegeum is introduced along with some acoustic guitar strumming but there is no climax to this song it just ends and fades.
9. Connection (9:37)  The final song is the one epic track on the disc.  It opens with a haegeum playing a quiet two note melody before some deep slow bass notes accompany it.  There’s also I think a vocal line (it’s hard to tell).  About four minutes in the haegeum starts playing a riff that is reminiscent of Sigur Rós.  It builds in beauty an intensity until the final notes fade out.
It’s a great way to end a great album.

Stream it on their bandcamp site.

[READ: June 4, 2019] “Stonehenge”

The June 10th issue of the New Yorker features five essays by authors whom I have enjoyed.  They were gathered under the headline “Another Country.”

I enjoyed Min jin Lee’s Free Food for Millionaires quite a lot.  I had no idea that she was not born in America.  She came to New York from Seoul when she was seven, and her essay is fascinating for a couple of reasons.

First, she says that every day in the 1970s and 1980s it took her two hours to get from her home in Queens to the Bronx High School of Science.  She spent most of that commuter time reading Sinclair Lewis novels about America: Main Street, Babbitt, Dodsworth, Arrowsmith.

On weekends she worked with her family in their father’s store in Manhattan’ Koreatown.  The store was burgled several times and everyone in their family had been mugged at some point.

She notes that Sinclair Lewis wrote about white Midwesterners who struggled against materialism, corporate greed, fascism and narrow thinking.  She found it calming to read about these big ideas since her family life was so hectic.   The books also made her feel like she’d traveled even though she never did. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: PITCH BLACK PROCESS feat. HAYKO CEPKIN-“Zahid Bizi Tan Eyleme” (2019).

Pitch Black Process is a Turkish heavy metal band.   All of the members played in a band called Affliction in the 90s and 2000s.  As PBP they have released an EP and two albums and have a new EP on the way from which this song comes.  And I found it because of the Hayko Cepkin connection.  Interestingly, some of the songs on their albums are in English, but this song is in Turkish.

Metal Shock Finland says of the song

In “Zahid Bizi Tan Eyleme”, Pitch Black Process interpret a poem from the 16th century, of which melody is anonymous. With this significant work by “Muhyî”, their aim is to contribute to bring the culture of this land to the world scene, via building a bridge between east and west. It is a modern but also a folkloric song which blends traditional and authentic instruments with rock/metal elements; it is emotional, touching and sombre, but at the same time it’s moving, encourages individuality and gives a sense of fight and battle.

This song opens with traditional instrument–drums, flute and oud (I believe).

After 45 second the band kicks in with heavy guitars sludging through a traditional-sounding melody.    I really love the way the heavy guitars produce the djent sound along with traditional riffs.  Midway though an instrumental break highlights the zurna, I believe.

The end of the song features Cepkin and PBP singer Emrah Demirel singing in harmony over a quiet musical interlude that builds to a crushing end.  It’s a short song but it’s a terrific mix of the traditional and the modern.

The video is pretty outstanding.

[READ: June 4, 2019] “Hard Seat”

The June 10th issue of the New Yorker features five essays by authors whom I have enjoyed.  They were gathered under the headline “Another Country.”

Jennifer Egan is the only writer born in America writing in this series of essays and her perspective is as an America in another country.

In 1986 she turned twenty-four while travelling with a friend in China.  Her friend wasn’t quite as excited by this journey as the night before in Hong Kong rats had gnawed through her satchel at the youth hostel.

But they took a ferry to China (Guangzhou), a city full of tea shops and sunny gardens.  They stayed in a dormitory style hotel designed for travelers. (“this was practically a job description for most of our bunkmates, who’d been travelling in Asia for months.”  She felt silly around them–she was a grad student studying in England.  Hong King was still under British rule at the time and felt barely exotic). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: HAYKO CEPKIN-“Kabul Olur” (“Accepted”) (2018).

Hayko Cepkin is a Turkish singer of Armenian descent.  He was born on March 11, 1978 in Istanbul.

It’s hard to find out anything about him that’s not in Turkish.  So I’m including what I find interesting

In June 2005, he released his first album “a collection of compositions he recorded at home and all lyrics, music and arrangements of his own.”

He left Istanbul in 2014 and moved to Selçuk, İzmir.  He bought 9 acres of land from Şirince, and created a place where the lovers of Varil / Barrel Camping will enjoy and relax. The artist continues his music studies here.

He even had a festival there some years ago.

This song is from his latest album which is a great example of Anatolian rock–a fusion of Turkish folk and rock music.  He has taken it to some heavier levels than other bands with heavy electronics.

“Kabul Olur” starts with some electronic sounds and a flute before Cepkin starts singing in his rather lovely, powerful voice.

A minute it the drums kick in and the song starts to rock.  And then comes the power chorus at 1:20 (the second time through is even more powerful).  The post-chorus–the repeated title–is like a decompression after the intensity of the chorus.

The pounding middle section is a great combination of his growls and a traditional flute.

The denoument is him repeating “tamam” which means okay.  Its an ntense ending to a song that totally rocks.   Here’s the translated and original lyrics and the video below.

“Accepted”

My path is long, slow
Yolum uzun, ağır ağır geçer 
Life is tired I lean a little, see me
Ömür yoruldum eğilin biraz, beni görün 
The road is not this life desperation
Yol değil bu ömür biçaresizlik 
Stop, this is the final final way to death.
Durdurun, kesin final bu yol ölüm. 
Hear my voice, my voice is a little choked.
Duy duy sesim sesim biraz biraz kısık kısık buruk. 
He sees the end, walks, crazy heart.
Sonunu görür, yürür, deli gönül. Why isn’t my day in the season. 
Neden mevsim olupta günüm geçmiyor. 
Why is it born in my hands and dying? 
Ellerime doğupta neden ölüyor 
Even after all life goes by 
Bile bile sonuçta ömür geçiyor 
Heavy heavy heavy heavy heavy …
Ağır ağır ağır ağır ağır…Acceptance?
Kabul mu olur? 
Yeah, okay.
Evet, tamam.
Why isn’t my day in the season. 
Neden mevsim olupta günüm geçmiyor. 
Why is it born in my hands and dying? 
Ellerime doğupta neden ölüyor 
Even after all life goes by 
Bile bile sonuçta ömür geçiyor 
Heavy heavy heavy heavy heavy … 
Ağır ağır ağır ağır ağır… It’s okay.
Kabul olur. 
Yeah, okay.
Evet, tamam.

 

[READ: June 4, 2019] “Geneva, 1959”

The June 10th issue of the New Yorker features five essays by authors whom I have enjoyed.  They were gathered under the headline “Another Country.”

I do love a story which features lots of diacritics, and this one sure does.  Orhan talks about his brother Şevket and their mother Şekure and how they left Turkey because their father had gotten an good job with IBM in Switzerland.  The boys were seven and nine and their mother wanted them to learn French.  She had learned French in Istanbul and believed she could teach them at home.

But the boys were willful and she gave up, assuming the children would learn the language on the shore of Lake Geneva, in the parks, on the streets, or even at school.

But Orhan resisted the French language.  All of school was in French and Orhan seized up.  Mostly he hated being separated from his brother and he felt at sea. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: YIM YAMES-Tribute To (2009).

I really like My Morning Jacket, but I find that Jim James’ solo work is a little too slow for me.  This album is a collection of six coves of George Harrison songs.  I’m not a particularly big fan of George Harrison’s solo work, so really this just doesn’t work for me all that way.

This record is incredibly languid.  Although after several listens I finally found a way in and have begun to enjoy the melodies.  Also, reading this quote makes me like the album more

James recorded the album in December 2001 on a relative’s eight-track reel-to-reel tape recorder, just days after Harrison’s passing. Of the recording, James told Billboard magazine that “I felt like I was in the weirdest head space when I did that EP … I felt really confused a lot of the time. I wanted to just do it and let it come out even if I messed stuff up. It’s definitely not the tightest or most professional recording you’re ever going to hear in your life but I like that. I think it lends it a more childish atmosphere.”

“Long, Long, Long” has a nice melody in the chorus.  While “Behind the Locked Door” has a nice melody in the verse.

“Love to You” introduces a banjo, which adds a nice texture to the EP.  “If Not for You” is the most uptempo song on the record and is quite lovely.

The first time I listened through this album the only song I knew was “My Sweet Lord,” which was never a particular favorite.  Although I like the way Yames multitracks himself.

“Ballad of Sir Frankie Crisp” has piano in it and it is also fairly upbeat, although boy does it go one for a long time.
the final song is “All Things Must Pass.”  This track is also quite pretty but also slow and long.

The whole EP definitely sets a mood, and if you are in the mood for pretty, slow acoustic songs, this is the place to be.

[READ: June 4, 2019] “Hereafter, Faraway”

The June 10th issue of the New Yorker features five essays by authors whom I have enjoyed.  They were gathered under the headline “Another Country.”

This essay is about the author’s mother’s death and the author’s subsequent return to Vietnam.

Her mother believed that another world awaited her and was not concerned.  The author imagines this other world was was like those found in Hirokazu Kore-eda’s film After Life.  In the film the newly dead pass through a halfway house run by angels.  The travelers must pick one even from their life that the angels will make into a movie, starring the travelers themselves. Heaven is this short film played on an endless loop. (more…)

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 SOUNDTRACKLONELY LEARY-“Flaneur” (2018).

At the end of every year publications and sites post year end lists.  I like to look at them to see if I missed any albums of significance.  But my favorite year end list comes from Lars Gottrich at NPR.  For the past ten years, Viking’s Choice has posted a list of obscure and often overlooked bands.  Gottrich also has one of the broadest tastes of anyone I know (myself included–he likes a lot of genres I don’t).  

Since I’m behind on my posts at the beginning of this year, I’m taking this opportunity to highlight the bands that he mentions on this year’s list.  I’m only listening to the one song unless I’m inspired to listen to more.

One of the things that I love about Lars, and this list is a great example, is how effortlessly multicultural he is.  He doesn’t listen to music because it’s from somewhere, he listens to music wherever it;s from because he likes it.  So this band, with the decidedly English-sounding name Lonely Leary is actually from China.  Lars says that the

The excellent label Maybe Mars documents the current Chinese underground music scene, from the psych-rock of Chui Wan and surfy shoegaze of Dear Eloise to P.K. 14, Beijing’s experimental rock pioneers.

Lonely Leary is a post-punk band which sounds like they would fit right in with Protomartyr or even The Fall, Sonic Youth or Joy Division.  The fact that they are from China and sing in Chinese doesn’t affect the tone and overall feel of the music, it somehow makes it more intense (to my ears).

Lars describes their debut album as one “where noise needles into perversely kitschy surf riffs and hoarsely barked punctuation marks.”  Although I hear less kitschy and more Dead Kennedy’s guitar and feedback noise.

The sounds they achieve throughout the album are great.  “Flaneur” opens the disc with a screaming feedback followed by a rumbling bass.  There’s some great guitar lines from Song Ang (which remind me of Savages) and then Qiu Chi barks his dissatisfaction through to a satisfyingly Dead Kennedys-ish chorus.  There’s even some Savages-esque chanting as the song squeals to and end.

This is great stuff.

[READ: January 4, 2019]  “Father”

Here is a new year and a new essay from Sedaris that perfectly mixes emotional sadness and hilarious light-heartedness.

The night before his fathers 95th birthday, his father turned in the kitchen and fell.  David’s sister and brother-in-law discovered him the next day and brought him to the hospital.  They felt the most disturbing thing was his disorientation, including getting mad at the doctor: “you’re sure asking a lot of questions.”  He was lucid the following day, but he was quite weak.

David was in Princeton on the night his father fell [at a show that I could have been at–we opted not to go this year].   He called his father and said that he needed him to be alive long enough to see trump impeached.

A few months later, his father moved into a retirement home.  David and Hugh visited and at first he seemed out of it, but hr recognized both of them instantly.  The thing was that he was no injured.  He had tried to move his grandfather clock (one of the prized possessions he brought to the home) and it fell on him (for real).  Many family members called the clock Father Time, so David said to Hugh “When you’re 95 and Father Time literally knocks you to the ground, don’t you think he’s maybe trying to tell you something?” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KATE CARR-“The Ladder Is Always There” (2018).

At the end of every year publications and sites post year end lists.  I like to look at them to see if I missed any albums of significance.  But my favorite year end list comes from Lars Gottrich at NPR.  For the past ten years, Viking’s Choice has posted a list of obscure and often overlooked bands.  Gottrich also has one of the broadest tastes of anyone I know (myself included–he likes a lot of genres I don’t).  

Since I’m behind on my posts at the beginning of this year, I’m taking this opportunity to highlight the bands that he mentions on this year’s list.  I’m only listening to the one song unless I’m inspired to listen to more.

Messa is an Italian band (although they seem to sing in English).

The song opens with some feedback and a heavy guitar (and a single cymbal bell, which I quite like).  After playing the riff a few times, everything pulls back to reveal some delicate Fender Rhodes notes and Sara’s softer, muted voice.  Then things take off.  But it’s not fast or super heavy, it’s just spot on.

They have a great stoner rock sound but with a seriously metal edge to the riffs.  What really sets them apart is vocalist.  Their singer Sara has a great soaring 70’s classic rock voice.  It goes really well with the low end of the songs.

The end of the (eight-minute) song has a great guitar solo and then harmonizing vocals.  It’s an awesome song and I will definitely be checking out the rest of the disc on bandcamp.

[READ: January 3, 3018] “Living Animals”

This begins the 13th year of this blog.  So why not start it with a criticism of online content.  This essay was originally written in 1999 (Gass died in 2017), and I’m sure his concerns multiplied on the decade plus since.  This is also an excerpt from the essay.

Gass talks about the permanence of the printed word whereas

words on a screen have visual qualities…but they have no materiality, they are only shadows and when the light shifts they’ll be gone.  Off the screen they do not exist as words.  I cannot carry them beneath a tree or onto a side porch [well, now you can, but you couldn’t in 1999], I cannot argue in their margins [now you can, sort of].

But then he gets more specific of what you cannot do. (more…)

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