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Archive for the ‘Feminism’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: BARENAKED LADIES-Barenaked for the Holidays (2004).

Barenaked for the Holidays is one of my favorite Christmas albums of all time.  It is by turns silly, serious, religious (Jewish and Christian) and secular.  It is pro Christmas and anti Christmas and many things in between.  There are cheesy instrumentals, impressive a capella rounds and even a Batman joke.  It’s everything people love (hate) about BNL.

The disc opens with Jingle Bells.  It opens quietly with a somber piano as Steven Page sings the lyrics.  It’s quite lovely.  After a minute and a half, insanity sets in with a wild continuation, as Steven goes bananas.  There’s a drum-only verse and even a verse of Jungle Bells Batman Smells.  It encapsulates all of Christmas in just a few minutes.

“Green Christmas” is a poppy, funny anti-Christmas song that’s super catchy.  It’s sung by Ed Robertson and is one of his latter style concoctions.  I have several versions of this song om various releases.  This is my favorite because when the carolers sing and he shuts the door on them you can hear their voices change.

“I Saw Three Ships” is done on a mandolin and sung first by Kevin Hearn.  Then a rotating cast of the band joins in.

“Hanukkah Blessing” is a wonderful original song by Steven.  It’s incredibly catchy with a nice telling of the Hanukkah story.  It even has a verse in Hebrew.

“O Holy Night” and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” are done in a kind of ice rink keyboard–cheesey but a lot of fun cheesey.

I sort of like “Elf’s Lament” because it’s pretty funny, but it’s really rather dark–maybe too dark?   I don’t think I ever realized that the voice I don’t recognize i Michael Bublé, which is pretty insane.

“Snowman” is an original song about how much of a bummer it is being a snowman.

“Do They Know Its Christmas?” I hate the original of this song but I do like this version which takes some of the schmaltz and cheese out of it.  I also like that they mock “thank god it’s them instead do of you!”

“Hanukkah o Hanukkah”  Accordion and guitar play this wonderfully traditional song.

“God rest Ye Merry Gentlemen/We Three Kings” was recorded in 1996 with Sarah McLachlan.  It’s quite nice but feels out of place–like they should have re-recorded it.

“Carol of the Bells” is a trippy synth version with lots of voice-sounds from Steven.

“Footprints” is a slower Ed song–pretty and kind of somber.

“Deck the Stills” is just a genius version of “Deck the Halls.”   How did they every figure out that you could perfectly fit the words “Crosby Stills Nash and Young” into that musical pattern?  I’d love to hear the process for making this one.

“Christmas Time (Oh Yeah)” This is a Kevin song which means its sweet and kind of quiet, but there’s also some wonderful backing vocals (oooohhh yeah).

“Sleigh Ride” is zany scatting version that lasts less than a minute.

“Christmas Pics” is a Jim song with lots of upright bass.  It’s a typically funny and sweet song by Jim.

“I Have a Little Dreidel” is a little goofy sounding on banjo–it seems more hoe-down than Jewish.  But it’s a hoot.

“Wonderful Christmastime” is an instrumental with drum machine and keys but a very funny wah-wah type of keyboard sound that sort of mocks the original.  It ends with them singing happy birthday to Jesus.

“Auld Lang Syne: ends the disc.  It’s a beautiful version with great harmonies, really showcasing that this is a great band who likes to have fun too.

[READ: December 13, 2018] “Every One of My Answers was a Disappointment”

Once again, I have ordered The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This is my third time reading the Calendar (thanks S.).  I never knew about the first one until it was long out of print (sigh).  Here’s what they say this year

Fourth time’s the charm.

After a restful spring, rowdy summer, and pretty reasonable fall, we are officially back at it again with another deluxe box set of 24 individually bound short stories to get you into the yuletide spirit.

The fourth annual Short Story Advent Calendar might be our most ambitious yet, with a range of stories hailing from eight different countries and three different originating languages (don’t worry, we got the English versions). This year’s edition features a special diecut lid and textured case. We also set a new personal best for material that has never before appeared in print.

Want a copy?  Order one here.

Like last year I’m pairing each story with a holiday disc from our personal collection.

This is the story of an artist, Amelia, who has flown from Vancouver to Toronto to live for a few months.  She was almost forty, recently separated and had just had a major art showing (she sold everything and was basically set for a long time).  She sublets a place from her younger brother’s best friend Sab–neither her brother nor Sab knew about the separation. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: OF MONSTERS AND MEN-“Mountain Sound” (Field Recordings, June 13, 2012).

When this song first came out I was instantly smitten by it.  The combination of male and female vocals, the big chorus and interesting instrumentation were just terrific.  And the song is catchy as anything.

And then the rest of the world thought the same and this song became inescapable.

Around the same time I heard Of Monsters and Men, I also heard The Head and the Heart who had a similar aesthetic.  And I still have a hard time telling them apart (even if OMAM is from Iceland and THATH is from Seattle).

This Field Recording [Of Monsters And Men Brings Out The Sun] was filmed on the first day of the Sasquatch! Music Festival.

We managed to get backstage of the Gorge Amphitheater to capture a live session with one of the hottest new bands to hit the festival circuit, Of Monsters and Men. No strangers to natural beauty, the Icelanders were nevertheless stunned by the picturesque backdrop of the Gorge as they performed “Mountain Sound,” one of the new songs added to the American release of their debut album.

“We sleep until the sun goes down,” they sang repeatedly while the sun instead broke through the clouds as if called out by the song’s radiant optimism. The band will continue to thrill fans in larger and larger venues, but it’s private moments like this when Of Monsters and Men best displays its natural charm.

This is a wonderfully low-key take on the song with just a couple of guitars, and accordion and a trumpet (and a big plastic drum as the percussion).

I’ve heard this song so many times that it’s nice to hear it in such an unadorned fashion.  To actually hear the two lead vocals–how unusual they sound.  And to see how much fun the band is having playing at the Sasquatch Festival (yes, in Seattle).

[READ: November 12, 2018] “Show Recent Some Love”

I love Sam Lipsyte’s stories.  I love the tone and breeziness he showcases, even in stories with serious undertones.

This story ( I assume it is an excerpt) is unofficially set during the #metoo movement.  Mike Maltby was recently fired from his own company: “Only an ogre could defend Mike Maltby.”  Isaac, the protagonist, was not an ogre–maybe a jerk–said Nina his life partner.

But Isaac agreed that Mike’s ouster was for the best–Mike had done all kinds of heinous things in executives suites, “because it wasn’t about sex.  It was about power.  And sex.  And probably a few other things.”

But Isaac felt a twinge of remorse because Maltby had hired him and “had also been, weirdly enough for a brief time, his stepfather.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: CAYUCAS-“High School Lover” (Field Recordings, May 9, 2013).

Five clean-cut California dudes, wearing sunglasses, sitting buy the pool.

This image calls a certain band to mind, but this is not that band.  This is Cayucas (whom I have never heard of).  For this Field Recording [Cayucas: Sunlight In Song Form], the five piece was filmed at the Ace Hotel in Palm Springs.

Rather than super catchy melodies and lovely harmonies, Cayucas sings “laconic pop-rock.”

Sitting poolside on a picnic table, the band performed its bittersweet single “High School Lover” with only an acoustic guitar and light percussion for accompaniment. In any form, the song isn’t all sunshine — its youthful nostalgia gets filtered carefully through the prism of regret — but this performance is plenty bright, as Cayucas’ members locate their best-known song’s laid-back heartbeat. “High School Lover” provides a perfect soundtrack to the shimmery leisure that surrounds the band on all sides here. But it also leaves room on the agenda for hints of sadness and sunburn.

I don’t know what their recordings sound like, but this stripped down version is certainly low-key, bordering on uninspired–particularly the “heys” at the end.  It sounds like a Weezer outtake.

Although the guy dancing is certainly an enjoyable visual component.

[READ: January 4, 2017] “An Honest Woman”

I found this story to be more irritating than anything else.

I think that’s maybe the point?  But I was sort of annoyed by it the whole time.

Simply put, this is the story of an old man hitting on a young woman who has moved in next door to him.  It’s told from the point of view of the old man.  And yet he is shown as pretty much the predator right from the start.  I had no sympathy for him at all.  And again, I assume that’s the point, right?  If there was meant to be any empathy for the guy, it did not come through at all.

Having said that, this story was just frustrating.  Jeb is an old man (he used to be a redhead but is now white-haired).  He lies in a small house with a dirt backyard.

Next door a young woman moves in.  She had a guy living with her, but he hasn’t been around for a while.  So Jeb makes his move. (more…)

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[ATTENDED: October 19, 2018] Overcoats

Overcoats were the first concert I went to this year.  They had opened for a band I’d never heard of, but I was there for them.  I got there early, had a great spot up front and really enjoyed the show.

Now here it is ten months later and they were opening for someone I really wanted to see.  I knew they didn’t have a new album out so I wasn’t sure what they’d be playing.  It turns out that they had taken a bit of a touring break and this was their first gig in a little bit (we’re so out of shape, JJ said).

Well, I arrived later than I wanted to and wound up with a not great but not terrible spot.  I walked in during their first song (boo).

The crowd was (like last time) very responsive, which is always fun.  And it felt like Overcoats were more relaxed than last time (but that’s probably not true). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: CAMP COPE-Tiny Desk Concert #778 (August 22, 2018).

Camp Cope recently played PhilaMOCA, but it sold out so quickly I didn’t even have a chance of going.  Camp Cope plays a deceptively simple poppy punk that really allows the excellent lyrics to shine through.  I love the sound of Kelly-Dawn “Kelso” Hellmrich’s bass lines, which contribute a great melody while singer guitarist Georgia “Maq” McDonald plays a somewhat muted guitar, with a ton of power in here voice.

Camp Cope’s Tiny Desk performance opened — fittingly — with “The Opener,” a song about overcoming the obnoxious, exhausting and all-too-common sexism endemic to the music industry.

Great lyrics:

You worked so hard but we were ‘just lucky’
To ride those coat tails into infinity
And all my success has got nothing to do with me
Yeah, tell me again how there just aren’t that many girls in the music scene

It’s another all-male tour preaching equality
It’s another straight cis man who knows more about this than me
It’s another man telling us we’re missing a frequency, love ya Kelly

[Lyrics genius explains this last line: The bass lines in many Camp Cope songs, contributed by bassist Kelly-Dawn Helmrich, are played primarily in the upper register of that instrument, so there are few low bass frequencies in their music. On the average Camp Cope clip on Youtube, you can usually find a dozen or so dudes helpfully pointing this out in the comments.].

It’s a stunning and deeply gratifying performance; Maq lists off what exes, industry insiders and fellow musicians have said to undermine the band with a measured determination that sometimes tips into a full-throated, impassioned cry. Bands like Camp Cope get told they’re “just lucky,” that they “can’t fill up a room,” that they should “book a smaller venue.” But when Maq roars from behind the Tiny Desk, “See how far we’ve come not listening to you,” she makes it clear which voice deserves the attention.

I love the dismissive final line:

“Yeah, just get a female opener, that’ll fill the quota.”

The second song, “The Face of God” features complex guitar patterns from Maq and (at the start) a simpler bass line).  But once the song takes off, the bass starts throwing in notes all over the instrument.

is a stunning, delicate song about feeling lonely and distraught in the aftermath of sexual violence. It’s a standout from the band’s debut album, How to Socialise & Make Friends, and shows what Camp Cope does so well: using tiny moments of introspection to illuminate life’s bewildering, terrifying, isolating aspects — especially as they apply to women. You can hear equal parts conviction and desperation in Maq’s voice as she sings:

I saw it, the face of god
And he turned himself away from me and said I did something wrong
That somehow what happened to me was my fault.

Camp Cope must usually play more raucously live since after “Face of God” Maq  laughed, “We’ve never done this before — we’ve never been quiet. Not once in our entire lives!” Hellmrich joked that it was perhaps a “good lesson” to “rock out in your mind.”

The band closed its set with “Keep Growing,” an older track about autonomy and heartache.   It opens with Sarah “Thomo” Thompson’s drums, simply and direct and then Hellmrich’s bass is at the fore once again, playing a cool melody.

Elsewhere, it might be too easy to tune into Camp Cope’s powerful message and overlook the strength of the band’s songcraft. But at the Tiny Desk, you can’t miss it: Maq’s gargantuan voice; Hellmrich’s clever, melodic basslines; Thompson’s stoic drumming.

I wish even more that I’d seen them in a small venue while I had the chance.

[READ: August 21, 2017] “Dogs Go Wolf”

This was a peculiar story that felt like it was part of a larger story.  It felt incomplete and yet also that it had accomplished everything it intended.  Which was odd.  In the same way that the title makes sense but only when you think about it.

I enjoyed the way the story worked its way backwards.  Two sisters are on an island.  They are young (four and seven) and they are alone.  Even the dog that was with them has been strangely quiet lately.  The dog was mean and although they missed its companionship they weren’t sad to see it go.

The big sister tells the little sister stories to comfort her.  But they can only go so far when food is scarce, when the generator has run out and when they have little else to do.

(more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: LALAH HATHAWAY-Tiny Desk Concert #769 (July 25, 2018).

I have no idea who Lalah Hathaway is.  The blurb doesn’t really help, giving her familiar lineage but not much more.

Lalah Hathaway comes from royalty: Her late father Donny Hathaway’s … set the bar for inspired, old-school soul singing. But living in that kind of shadow can also be a burden, robbing the offspring of an identity apart from that of the famous parent.

This was by my estimation, the most boring Tiny Desk Concert I’ve seen.  The blurb raves about her once but I found it dull and flat.  Her lyrics were uninspired and the music was spare to the point of nothingness.

I always watch a Tiny Desk twice to see if I miss anything the first time.  This one was painful to watch twice. At least it was only 11 minutes.

The younger Hathaway’s appearance behind the Tiny Desk pulls back the curtain a bit for a close-up encounter with her powerfully expressive voice  [powerfully expressive?]

In “Change Ya Life,” Hathaway’s dusky contralto paints an exciting portrait of blissful cohabitation — but on her terms. “I’m going to teach you how to treat me like I deserve,” she sings, adding, “I’ll give you the world.” She draws on a tradition of romance and sensuality in the best soul music, but with a feminist twist that eschews old-school, male-centric lyrics and attitudes.

I like the feminist twist, but when a song has twinkling keys (Lynnette Williams) and a cheesy bass line (Eric Smith) the line “I can fuck around and change your life” just doesn’t seem to fit.

“Boston,” her ode to her second home (she’s from Chicago), is a meditation on self-discovery and longing. The band perfectly straddles slow-jam R&B and a jazz-ballad sensibility.

She was signed in college and told to move to L.A. because Arsenio is there (did she work with him?).  She wrote this song about Boston .  It’s a slow torch song type of song (tikki tikki drums) that name checks tons of Boston area locations (Charles River, Cambridge, Downtown Crossing)

So much of the most powerful music from the Civil Rights Era wasn’t about literal accounting of injustices; many of those songs enshrouded morality plays in the guise of romantic longing. Hathaway introduces the set-closing title track of her new album Honestly as an explicit reflection “of my country at this time.” If you heard it for the first time without the introduction, it comes across as a lover’s lament. But Hathaway’s soaring vocals infuse it with the passion of resistance to bring her set to a close on a hopeful, joyous note.

I love the premise of this song and how it was written.  But even a cool, angry song like this is so tepid.  She asks the audience to sing along to these great lines:   “I don’t even want you no more.  You can walk out that door.”  And you can barely hear them (and the audience is certainly loud between songs).  She does a little of that R&B vocal gymnastics that I dislike at the end just to cap it off.

Not my thing, I guess.

[READ: January 15, 2018] “Family Means Nothing to Me”

This is an except from a story called “Family Means Nothing to Me and I Dislike Children.” I can’t really imagine what the context of the rest of the piece is, but this is  a funny/honest appraisal of the narrator’s self.

She says she finds her nephews and nieces odious.

She has had pets in the past but when she breaks up with a boyfriend she makes him keep the pet. (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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