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Archive for the ‘Fairy Tales’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: SUFJAN STEVENS, BRYCE DESSNER, NICO MUHLY-“Mercury” (Field Recordings, June 8, 2017).

I love Sufjan’s Steven’s voice.  And this song, from the Planetarium project is just beautiful.  [Watch Sufjan Stevens, Nico Muhly And Bryce Dessner Play ‘Planetarium’ Track ‘Mercury’]  It opens with just the simple repeating piano melody and Stevens’ singing.  Eventually a guitar is added, playing complimentary melody.

Steven’s voice remains pure and powerful in this live recording. The viola from Nadia Sirota adds a lovely counterpoint to this song and leads it into the middle part which is minor keys and stings.

“Mercury” is the closing track off Planetarium, a song cycle about the planets by Stevens, Dessner, Muhly and James McAlister. The work was originally composed on commission for the Dutch concert hall Muziekgebouw Eindhoven, and first performed there in 2012. Five turns around the sun later, Planetarium will arrive in recorded form on June 9 via 4AD. “Mercury” is one of the most intimate songs on the record, a quality that’s emphasized by its spot just after the 15-minute, ambient, electronic epic, “Earth.” Where the record’s other songs foreground synthesizers and spastic electric drum samples reminiscent of 2010’s The Age of Adz, “Mercury” largely rests on Muhly’s gentle piano work and Stevens’ beautiful vocal. Where once, in the original live performances, the song swelled to a cinematic rush on the order of Illinois, it’s now spare and elegant. Its warm intimacy is all the more apparent in the group’s live performance, which features Dessner of The National lightly doubling on guitar Stevens’ wordless refrain at the song’s close. Like many of the pieces on the record, its lyrics are a constellation of the cosmic, the personal and the mythological. The song, named for the messenger god, is a perfect musical setting for the feeling of having something dear carried away from you. “All that I’ve known to be of life / and I am gentle,” Stevens sings. “

I love hearing his voice live, because it’s so perfect on record and while this is in no way imperfect, it lets us see a bit of humanity.  Even if this recording isn’t in a field or even an unconventional space, it’s still quite lovely.

[READ: January 3, 2015] “Little Man”

I feel like it takes a lot if chutzpah to recreate a story that is familiar to everyone.  This is the story of Rumpelstiltskin as told from the point of view of the little man himself.

But the twist on it is that Rumpelstiltskin isn’t a strange psycho bent on stealing children.  Rather, he is a lonely man, with no hope of finding love or having a child of his own.  Indeed, the first section is taken up with the man’s desire to have a child and his belief that having a child is not like ordering a pizza, which is how many couples seems to take it.

The story is written in second person (you), so it is meant to be even more intimate. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: TROUBLE FUNK-Tiny Desk Concert #748 (May 30, 2018).

If Tiny Desk was set anywhere other than Washington D.C. I would never have heard of go-go.  It is a regional funk style that seems to have never left the area and of which the DC crowd is very proud.

Go-go — Washington D.C.’s regional twist on funk — reigned in the DMV during the 1980s, and one of the scene’s signature acts was Trouble Funk. More than 30 years later, the collective — led by Big Tony Fisher — still fills sold-out venues with heavyweight percussion and call-and-response lyrics. Trouble Funk concerts are bona fide jam sessions, so I was determined to squeeze their unrelenting rhythms behind the Tiny Desk. While the late Chuck Brown is often acknowledged as the godfather of go-go, Trouble Funk was a key part of the sound’s second wave.

And considering that the band is decked out in matching Trouble Funk baseball uniforms, it seems like they have no intention of going anywhere (clearly not all of the members are original).

How do you fit 12 members behind a Tiny Desk?  Put the horns: (Dean Harris (trumpet), Eric Silvan (saxophone), Paul Phifer (trombone)) on the right.  Put the drummer (Tony Edwards) on the left and the hugely important percussionists (Chris Allen and Larry Blake) back and center, anchoring everything.

Then you have the keyboardists (Allyson Johnson and James Avery) and the guitarist/vocalist David Gussom (only one guitar in the whole band of 12 people!).

Right up front you have the two singers Derrick Ward and Keith White and orchestrating the whole thing is Big Tony Fisher (bass/vocals).

They begin with the 1982 banger, “Pump Me Up”, which has a great watery funky bass sound (from the keys) and tremendous percussion.  All of the verses are rapped in a 35-year-old-style–rhythmic more than rapping (with lyrics about Calvin Klein and other jeans, Superman, Studio 54 and Fat Albert).  Four of them take a verse, but the show is all about Big Tony Fisher, who has got this great deep voice.

Incidentally, this song was

sampled in Public Enemy’s protest anthem “Fight the Power” and M/A/R/R/S’s dance classic “Pump Up The Volume.”

I need to hear the original to figure out what was sampled.

The drums breaks here are definitive go-go and it was hard to discern who was having more fun: the band or the audience.

As they shift to “Grip It,” you can hear the change of style but not intensity as the song shifts and “buoyant and staccato horn melodies propelled the song forward.”

It segues to “Let’s Get Small” through a funky bass line.  It features Trouble Funk’s classic call-and-response chants of “I like it!”

The music stops but the rhythm continues as they segue into “Drop the Bomb,” “another notable gem from their lengthy discography which keeps the energy level high.”

“Don’t Touch That Stereo” was the first song where I couldn’t hear much of a difference between it and the preceding song.  And I realized that they’d been playing nonstop for nearly 14 minutes–all in a similar funky style.  It’s a great fun party even if the individual songs are kind of beside the point.

They did take a short break as Tony introduced their first hit from 1979 “E Flat Boogie.”

I’m rather surprised that go-go never took off anywhere else, since, as the blurb says, the music “inspires a spirit of dance, rhythm and sheer joy.”

[READ: July 7, 2016] “Fable”

This was another story that I found strangely unsatisfying.

I feel like this story was almost perfect but that there were elements that prevented it from being so.

Since it is called “Fable,” it begins with “once upon a time.”  But we know that it is not a real fable exactly because the next part is “there was a man whose therapist thought it would be a good idea for the man to work though some stuff by telling a story about that stuff.”

His first attempt is short and dull: “one day the man woke up and realized that this was pretty much it for him.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SUPERORGANISM-Tiny Desk Concert #735 (April 25, 2018).

Superorganism came out of nowhere with the weird song “Something for Your M.I.N.D.” a weird hybrid of pretty much every genre.  Is was catchy and irritating at the same time.

I didn’t really think too much of them until I started hearing a but more about them.  And that their show at a small club in Philly sold out really quickly.  Then I learned more about the band and saw a live video performance and they seemed really interesting.

Are they a novelty band?  Sure.  But they are having a lot of fun, and that goes a long way with me.  Especially if the songs are catchy.

Why does it take 7 people to make simple, catchy pop songs?  I have no idea.  But they all seem to be important in their own way.

The multinational band of theatrically fun and talented musicians in Superorganism mix melody and mischievous with almost Seussian folly. In addition to the 20-plus inflatable whales they provided, the band requested via email that we provide “7 x Crunchy apples, 7 x cans of Coca Cola (or similar, as long as they are 330mls/12oz cans it doesn’t matter).” They added, “PLEASE NOTE THIS IS NOT A RIDER BUT PART OF THE PERFORMANCE.”

When the seven members of the band arrived and huddled behind my desk, they blew into straws, making percussive noises, used toy cars and radios for sound effects and added lots of handclaps. And in the midst of it all was Orono Noguchi, a small-framed, self-described “average 17-year old Japanese girl living in Maine.” (That’s from an email she wrote me last year). The band set up a couple of belt pack guitar amps for their Moog and electric guitar, along with a big Anvil road case to beat on for percussion – and then they sang about prawns.

The first song “The Prawn Song” really shows everything you need to know about the band (and whether they are for you or not).  Noguchi sits, sing/speaking deadpan lyrics.  The other six splash in buckets of water, blow bubbles in glasses, honk horns and clap a lot.  There’s also a lot of backing vocals.  And a guitar.  And the word?

“Oh, have you ever seen the prawn cause a world war?
Have you ever kissed a prawn; got a cold sore?
Have you ever seen a prawn kick off?
Have you ever seen a prawn in a pair of handcuffs, oh

You people make the same mistakes
Over and over, it’s really kinda dumb, oh
Slow learning is kinda your thing

You do you, I’ll do me / Chillin’ at the bottom of the sea and I say…

[Chorus]  I’m happy just being a prawn.

“Night Time” has a bit more “music” and fewer  effects (relatively), but still a lot of handclaps.  It’s catchy and quieter than their usual frenetic songs (being about nigh time).  But there’s still some fun quirk in it (especially the end).

Then they play “Something for Your M.I.N.D.” (and not their new single “Everybody Wants to Be Famous,” which surprised me).  There’s a Beck’s “Loser” aspect to the lyrics of this song.  Once again for a seven piece band, their music is surprisingly minimal.

And they do actually use the apples in this song.

There is much fun to be had with all the songs and I can’t decide if Noguchi’s deadpan makes things even more fun or if I just want to assure her that it’s all okay.

I bought tickets to an upcoming show of theirs because who even knows if they’ll be around in a year, so enjoy them while I can.

[READ: April 25, 2018] “Treatments”

I often feel like Robert Coover’s writing consists of him getting an idea, writing it down as it comes to him, editing it for spelling and then releasing it.

This is actually three short pieces here and each one is a “treatment” for a terrible/absurdist take on a clichéd movie.

“Dark Spirit” is a surrealist twist on the Beauty and the Beast Tale.  I love when Coover puts in a nugget that makes you go, woah!, like “The industry is obsessed with this hackneyed tale, once inflicted upon young virgins to prepare them for marriage to feeble old buzzards with money.”  Woah, that blew my mind.  It seems so obviously true, and yet I never heard it put that way before. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE GLENN MILLER ORCHESTRA-In The Nutcracker Mood (2012).

Glenn Miller disappeared just before Christmas on December 15, 1944. His Orchestra, in the too-short run under his personal leadership, had officially recorded only one Christmas song (“Jingle Bells”, October 20, 1941).

Year later, the orchestra has recorded three Christmas albums.

A list of desirable players was compiled. There were a few requisites — musicians had to be working currently; only alumni of the Glenn Miller Orchestra would be recruited; each individual had to have recognized and outstanding talent; each veteran had to be able to take a leave-of-absence from his current “gig”; and, of course, be available to come to New York City to record.  The average age of this band is about 50. The length of time each player performed with the Glenn Miller Orchestra ranges from as little as 6 months to well over 10 years. The cumulative experience of this band recreating the authentic Miller “sound” is well over 100 years!

The first recording, “In The Christmas Mood”, was released in 1991. It was so successful that a second recording, “In The Christmas Mood II,” was produced and later released in 1993.

Almost all of the musicians performing on all three of these recordings, are the same. The only differences are the pianist for the first recording, and trombonist, Larry O’Brien, the then leader of the Glenn Miller Orchestra, was unable to make the second recording due to being on tour. Larry is noticeably back on this recording as evidenced by his beautiful trombone solo on Toyland.

My parents loved Glenn Miller and I grew up listening to him.  So when I saw this, I knew I had to get it–combining Glenn and the Nutcracker!

“Miniature Overture” a fun overture that puts the swing in things.
“March” I don’t know if Brian Setzer put the swing into this song before they did, but it has Glenn all over it.
“Dance of the Fairy Dragee” doesn’t differ too much for the original at least until the middle when the jazzy drums kick in.  The end totally swings.
“Russian Dance”  fast and peppy and wonderful with a big band flourish at the end.
“Arabian Dance” I love that the more Arabian sound comes from a muted trumpet.
“Chinese Dance” There’s some extra big band solos thrown into this one–cheating a bit I think.
“Dance of the Mirlitons” Some nice swinging in this dance too of course.
“Waltz of the Flowers”  This song is usually pretty sedate, but they big up the band.   The main part is still a pretty waltz, though.

“Jolly Old St. Nicholas”  The band’s singers enter on this song.  I have to admit I never really liked the Miller songs with words.  But this sounds pretty accurate to me.
“Toyland” A slow romantic ballad that I don;t recognize from elsewhere.  I could see Lawrence Welk and his bubbles doing this song.
“Ode to Joy”  You don’t hear jazzy versions of this too often, but they have the Glenn Miller sound perfectly for this swinging Classic.

“A String of Carols; Here We Come a-Caroling, Up On the House Top, a Child Is Born in Bethlehem, Deck the Halls”  The swingers are back with this nice medley of carols.

“Parade of the Wooden Soldiers” I love that they threw in a few bars of In the Mood into this song.
“Old Fashioned Christmas Tree” and “March of the Toys” I’m not sure if they are from something or just goo old swinging fun.
“What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?” returns the vocals to the end of the disc.  I fitting end for the Christmas holiday.

The Glenn Miller Orchestra:
Saxes: Ralph Olson Lead Clarinet, Alto Saxophone & Flute; Lee Lachman Clarinet, Alto Saxophone & Piccolo; Mark Vinci Clarinet & Tenor Saxophone; Frank Perowsky Clarinet & Tenor Saxophone; Richy Barz Bass Clarinet, Alto Saxophone, Baritone Saxophone
Trumpets: Tom Snelson; Ken Brader; John Hoffman; Dale Thompson
Trombones: Larry O’Brien; Eric Culver; Randy Purcell; Dennis Good
Piano: Tony Monte
Bass: Lanny Fields
Guitar: Jay Patten
Drums: Danny D’Imperio
The Moonlight Serenaders: Annette Sanders, Arlene Martell, Al Dana, Paul Evans, Kevin DiSimone

[READ: April 25, 2017] The Art of Wordless Storytelling

This book is a companion to an exhibition of Wiesner’s art at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art.

Wiesner has created some of the most beautiful children’s pictures books ever.  And most of them have no words at all.  His books include Free Fall (1988), Hurricane (1992), Tuesday (1991), June 29, 1999 (1992), Sector 7 (1999), The Three Pigs (2001), Flotsam (2006), Art & Max (2010), Mr Wuffles! (2013) and Fish Girl (2016).

This book taught me that all of his art is done in watercolor and done in such a way that he adds layer upon layer of color to create intense depth of color and shade–I’d always known his art was great but had no idea why.  But then I read that when most books are created they print all of the colors at the same time, effectively muting his work.  So all of the subtlety in his work is lost when it comes out in book form.  His original drawings and paintings sound breathtaking.

In addition to seventy some plates of paintings, this book contains a few essays and Q&A with Wiesner. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE ENFIELD TENNIS ACADEMY-The Dark (2017).

The Enfield Tennis Academy is one of the major locations in David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest.  So, of course, a band that names itself after it must be listened to.

This is the second release by the band (which states “The Enfield Tennis Academy is TR.”

The Dark is described as

This EP is a collection of remixes and covers of Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark”, from the 1984 album “Born in the U.S.A.” It is not ironic. “Dancing in the Dark” is © Bruce Springsteen and Columbia.

And that is literally what this is. Five tracks that rethink “Dancing in the Dark” each one called “Dancing in the Dark.”

Track 1 opens with someone doing a kind of Elvis impersonation (or is it actually Bruce?) of the first line of the song: I get up in the evening…”  It then gets echoed and looped on itself until it is inaudible.  After a minute a guitar comes in strumming music backwards, I believe.  The big takeaway is the rolling “I” repeated over and over.  After 1:30 there’s a rather pretty sax solo. which may be from the song, I don’t know it that well.

Track 2 is an ambient piece with electronic claps and a kind of slow almost pixelated pipe organ version of the main melody of the song.  There’s some of those 80s processed “ahhhhs” added to the end.  It would eerily make you think of the song without knowing exactly why.

Track 3 is a noisy track.  Electronic drums played very rapidly and then some glitchy guitars playing the melody in triple time.  It is the least recognizable of the five pieces.

Track 4 is a fingers-on-chalkboard electronic screech with what I assume is the song played in reverse.  It’s a tough minute before the noise clicks away and we’re left with the backwards vocals.  If you didn’t know it was “Dancer in the Dark” you might not recognize the melody but if you do, you can kind of hear it.

Track 5 plays the original song in the middle ear. But in the left ear is another song (as if the radio was staticky and in the right ear is another even louder song.  But Bruce is squarely in the middle.  It’s pretty disconcerting.  Ultimately, the left ear gives way to people talking and the right ear reveals itself to be “You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman.”  It fades and for about ten seconds during which you can hear pretty much only the Bruce song, but then it all falls apart into glitchy noise.

The longest track is 2:15; the rest are about 2 minutes.  No one will say this disc is enjoyable, but it is kind of ugly fun.

[READ: January 30, 2017] Liō ‘s Astonishing Tales from the Haunted Crypt of Unknown Horrors

I have observed before about the maddening publication life of Liō books.  It’s going on four years since a new collection has been published.

But at the same time there are a number of books that cover the same territory.  Like this one.

This book collects “Liō” (which I take to mean Happiness is a Warm Cephalopod) and Silent But Deadly.  But what puts this book head and shoulders above the others (and just about any other collection of any series) is that it is almost completely annotated.

I didn’t compare the two books to see if all of the strips were indeed included.  But I’ll assume that claim is true.

Tatulli doesn’t comment on every strip but he does on a lot of them.  Like the very first one (in which he criticizes his–admittedly horrible-looking–spider.

He has at least three comments about what a genius Charles Schulz was.  Including the first time he tried to draw Lucy and Charlie: “I wanted to use the retro 1950s Peanuts look, but it was a bitch to reproduce…Schulz just make it look so simple.”

He’s also very critical of his drawing style of Mary Worth: “I won’t even tell you how embarrassingly long it took to make this lousy copy.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE ENFIELD TENNIS ACADEMY-“My Missing Eye” (2017).

The Enfield Tennis Academy is one of the major locations in David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest.  So, of course, a band that names itself after it must be listened to.

This is the first release by the band (which states “The Enfield Tennis Academy is TR.”

The bandcamp site describes this song as

“Garbage thrown together on a free trial of Reason. Song’s about missing a fucking eye. Real music soon.”

This is two minutes of noisy instrumental metal math rock.  There’s a lot of different sounds in this two minute song.

It opens with some staccato pummeling sounds–the guitars are interesting in that they sound like they are chords yet ringing out at the same time.  The middle is a really fast pummeling section that reminds me of Ministry.  Those opens stringed chords come back late in the song, and they sound really cool.

I’m curious to see what TETA’s “real music” is going to sound like.

[READ: July 20, 2017] Reheated Liō

I have really enjoyed the Liō books (going forward, I’m leaving off that line over the o, because it’s a real pain).

The strip has been going on for some 12 years now, which is pretty amazing.  And yet, there don’t seem to be any new or recent collections out.

So Lio is strip about a boy named Lio.  Lio is a dark, dark kid.  He has a pet squid, he loves monsters and he’s delighted by chaos.  Over the years his character hasn’t changed much but Tatulli has given him some surprising tenderness, which is a nice trait. (more…)

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   SOUNDTRACK: WAXAHATCHEE-Tiny Desk Concert #321 (November 23, 2013).

Waxahatchee is pretty much Katie Crutchfield.  The band recently played a show near me and I wondered if it was a band or just her.

This might be as intimate as hearing Katie Crutchfield sing in her basement. That’s where she and her sister would play guitar, write and sing songs 10 years ago, when she was 14. Katie and Allison Crutchfield had a band back in Birmingham together, The Ackleys; these days, Katie performs as Waxahatchee, while Allison’s band is called Swearin’.

The songs Waxahatchee brought to the NPR Music offices aren’t just stripped down for this Tiny Desk Concert, this is Katie Crutchfield as Waxahatchee, spare and exposed; this is what she does. Sometimes there’s a drummer (her sister’s boyfriend Kyle Gilbride) and at other times another guitarist, her boyfriend Keith Spencer (both play in Swearin’), but even on Waxahatchee’s second album, Cerulean Salt, there are plenty of bare-boned songs. This is intimate music for an intimate setting, as we got to stand in careful silence, listening intently and capturing this frail and powerful performance.

And all of that is true.   These are pretty, quiet folk songs.  They are so quiet it almost seems like she doesn’t have her amp on—you can hear her pick striking against the strings.

To me the power of these songs is in the lyrics, and yet the music isn’t boring or simple either.  Her chords are always, if not interesting, then certainly spot on.  But I keep coming back to the lyrics.  Like the end of “I Think I Love You”

I want you so bad it’s devouring me / and I think I love you but you’ll never find out.

Her speaking voice is quiet too, and after the first song she admits, “This is one of the coolest things I have ever gotten to do.”

“Bathtub” has this wonderfully intense line:

And I tell you not to love me
But I still kiss you when I want to
And I lament, you’re innocent
But somehow the object of my discontent
And it’s fucked up, I let you in
Even though I’ve seen what can happen

The entire Tiny Desk Concert is only 9 minutes–which is simply too short.  I know that the Tiny Desk Concerts usually have bands play 3 songs, but when they are mostly short ones like “Tangled Envisioning” (not even 3 minutes), they could tack on an extra one or two.

[READ: August 30, 2016] Science: Ruining Everything Since 1543

Zach Weinersmith writes the daily webcomic Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal.  I supported the Kickstarter project for this book because it looked frankly hilarious.  The one thing I have to say off the bat is that I don’t love his drawing style.  There’s something about it that I simply can’t get into.  Even after two full books of these drawings, it just never gels for me.  But that’s fine. because I’m here for the jokes.  And they are awesome.

The book is comprised of the best religion-themes comic from the 13 years that SMBC has been around.  There’s also a whole slew of comics that are exclusive to this book.

We are greeted with this: “For these drawings, the part of God is played by a giant yellow disc.” (more…)

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