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Archive for the ‘Film & TV’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: MAJOR HIT-Robert De Niro at the Tony Awards Remix (2018).

Who is Major Hit?  No idea.

Is this remix very good?  Not really.  It’s only a minute or so.

Is it hilarious?  Yes.

Is it satisfying?  Hell Yes.

Will you listen to it more than once?  Probably not.

But will you feel a little bit better about your taxes after hearing this?  Well, probably not.

Actually, it might make you feel a little better.  And you probably find yourself quoting De Niro, too.

 

[READ: April 4, 2019] The Awakening of My Interest in Advanced Tax

Madras Press publishes limited-edition short stories and novella-length booklets and distributes the proceeds to a growing list of non-profit organizations chosen by our authors. For this particular book, proceeds to benefit Proceeds to benefit Granada House.

Originally appearing at the heart of The Pale King, David Foster Wallace’s posthumous semi-novel, this extended monologue brilliantly rambles its way around the circumstances that brought its narrator out of his ‘wastoid’ childhood and into maturity at the IRS. Along the way, he falls under the spell of a fake Jesuit, considers the true meaning of a soap opera station break, and narrowly escapes a gruesome death on the subway.

This is the final Madras Press book that I had left to read.  Since I has already read The Pale King, I was in no hurry to read this one.  But now it’s nice to say that I’ve finished all of the Madras Press books.  And that I could post this just in time for the massive Republican tax scam in which thanks to trump and his evil puppet mcconnell, my tax return dropped over $3,000.  Bastards.   May they all rot in prison.  And then hell.

Interestingly, back when I read this during Pale Summer (2014), this entire section was one week’s reading.  So my post from that week is still relevant.    It is posted almost in its entirety below:

This book is an excerpt from The Pale King.  In the book, it is almost 100 pages of one person’s testimony.  Without the novel for context, this excerpt stands on its own just fine.  It is basically an unnamed person’s introduction.  This narrator is so detail oriented that everything gets the same amount of importance–snowfall, the way to score drugs, the effects of drugs, Christian roommates, his father’s death, his mother’s lesibianism, oh and taxation.

So much of it is “irrelevant,” that I hate to get bogged down in details.  So this is a basic outline of ideas until the more “important” pieces of information surface.

For the most part, this is all inside one man’s head as he talks about his life in college, after college, and into the Service.  Mostly this is simply a wonderful character study, full of neuroses and problems that many people face at some point (to one degree or another).  The interviewee states that “A good bit of it I don’t remember… from what I understand, I’m supposed to explain how I arrived at this career.”

Initially he was something of a nihilist, whose response to everything was “whatever.”  A common name for this kind of nihilist at the time was wastoid.  He drifted in and out of several colleges over the years, taking abstract psychology classes.  He says that his drifting was typical of family dramas in the 1970s–son is feckless, mother sticks up for son, father squeezes sons shoes, etc. They lived in Chicago, his father was a cost systems supervisor for the City of Chicago. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: GRUFF RHYS–American Interior (2013).

Gruff Rhys was (is?) the singer and composer in Super Furry Animals, a fantastic indie-pop band from Wales.   After several years with SFA and several solo albums, Gruff decided to do something a little different.  Actually, everything he does is a little different, as this quote from The Guardian explains:

“The touring musician can feel like the puppet of consumer forces,” he writes, bemoaning the way that “cities have now been renamed ‘markets’ and entire countries downgraded to ‘territories'”. So, over the last five or so years, he has come up with the idea of “investigative touring”: combining the standard one-show-a‑night ritual with creative fieldwork. In 2009, he went to Patagonia to trace the roots of a disgraced relative called Dafydd Jones, and the Welsh diaspora in South America more generally, and played a series of solo concerts, as well as making a film titled Separado!. Now, Rhys has reprised the same approach to tell another story, and poured the results into four creations: an album, another film, an ambitious app, and this book – all titled American Interior, and based on the brief life of John Evans: another far-flung relative of the singer, who left Wales to travel to North America in the early 1790s.

So yes, there’s a film and a book and this CD.  This album is a delightful blend of acoustic and electronic pop and folk.  Rhys’ voice is wonderfully subdued and with his Welsh accent coming in from time to time, it makes everything he sings somehow feel warm and safe (even when it’s not).   Rhys creates songs that sound like they came from the 1970s (but better), but he also explores all kinds of sonic textures–folk songs, rocking songs, dancing song, even songs in Welsh.

“American Exterior” is a 30 second intro with 8-bit sounds and the repeated “American Interior” until the piano and drum-based (from Kliph Scurlock) “American Interior” begins.  It’s a catchy song with the repeated (and harmonized) titular refrain after each line and it’s a great introduction to the vibe of the record.  It’s followed by the super catchy stomping “100 Unread Messages” which just rocks along with a great chorus.  You can see Gruff “composing” the lyrics to this in the book.

“The Whether (Or Not)” introduces some electronic elements to this song.  It’s basically a great pop song with splashes of keys and some cool stabs of acoustic guitar.  “The Last Conquistador” and “The Lost Tribes” are gentler synthy songs, as many of these are.  “Liberty (Is Where We’ll Be)” returns to the acoustic sound with some really beautiful piano.

“Allweddellau Allweddol” (English translation: Key Keyboards) is the only all-Welsh song on the record and it romps and stomps and is as much fun as that title suggests it would be.  There’s even a children’s choir singing on it (maybe?).

“The Swamp” is a simple electronics and drumming pattern which leaps right into “Iolo” one of the most fun songs on the record.  It’s a nod to the Welsh poet who inspired but backed out of Evans’ expedition at the last-minute but also a rollicking good time with the chanted “yoloyoloyoloyolo” and great tribal drums from Kliph.

The end of the album slows things down with “Walk Into the Wilderness” a slow aching ballad and the final two animal-related songs.  “Year of the Dog” is kind of a mellow opus when it is joined by the instrumental coda “Tiger’s Tale.”  Both songs feature goregous pedal steel guitar from Maggie Bjorklund.

Gruff Rhys is an amazing songwriter.  He could write the history of an obscure Welshman and still get great catchy songs out of it.  And that’s exactly what he’s done here.

[READ: December 2018] American Interior

How to explain this book?

I’ll start by saying that I loved it.  I was delighted by Rhys’ experiences and, by the end, I was genuinely disappointed to read that Evans’ trip didn’t pan out (even though I knew it didn’t).  The only compliant I have about the book is that I wish he had given a pronunciation guide for all of the welsh words in there, because I can’t even imagine how you say things like Ieuan Ab Ifan or Gwredog Uchaf or Dafydd Ddu Eryri (which is helpfully translated as Black David of Snowdonia, but not given a pronunciation guide).  But what about the contents?

The subtitle gives a pretty good explanation but barely covers the half of it.

Here’s a summary from The Guardian to whet one’s appetite for Rhys himself and for what he’s on about here:

[John] Evans was a farmhand and weaver from Waunfawr on the edge of Snowdonia, who was in pursuit of something fantastical: a supposed tribe of Welsh-speaking Native Americans said to live at the top of the Missouri river, who were reckoned to owe their existence to the mythical Prince Madog, a native of Gwynedd who folklore claimed had successfully sailed to the New World in 1170. In 1580, this story was hyped up by Elizabeth I’s court mathematician and occultist John Dee (born of Welsh parents), in an attempt to contest the Spanish claim to American territory. Two centuries later, with the opening of new frontiers, talk of a tribe called the Madogwys and “forts deemed to be of Welsh origin” began to swirl anew around Wales and North America, and became tangled up in the revolutionary fervour of the time, along with a radical Welsh spirit partly founded in nonconformist Christianity.

All this was moulded into a proposal made by a self-styled druid named Iolo Morganwg (“a genius”, but “also a fraud of the highest order”, says Rhys), who “called for the Americans, in the light of Madog’s legacy, to present the Welsh with their own tract of land in the new country of the free, so that the Welsh could leave their condemned royalist homeland”. Morganwg stayed put in Cowbridge, near Cardiff (the site of his “radical grocery” shop is now occupied by a branch of Costa Coffee), but Evans was inspired by his visions, and eventually set sail.

Rhys goes on a “journey of verification”, following Evans’s route from Baltimore, through such cities as Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, and then up the Missouri river to the ancestral home of the Mandan tribe of Native Americans, who had been rumoured to be the Welsh-speakers of myth, and among whom Evans lived, in territory argued over by the British and Spanish. Along the way, he does solo performances built around music and a PowerPoint-assisted talk about Evans’s story, keeps appointments with historians, and also tries to glimpse the America that Evans found through the cracks in a landscape of diners, what some people call “campgrounds”, and Native American reservations.

The Guardian’s review also talks about why the book works: (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RHEOSTATICS-Marine Midland Arena, Buffalo, NY (November 26, 1996).

This is the 13th night of the 24 date Canadian Tour opening for The Tragically Hip on their Trouble At The Henhouse Tour.

It’s also only the second Rheostatics show recorded in the United States on the Rheostatics Live website.  There was an earlier recording of this show which was not a soundboard show.  My complaints about the show were mostly about the audience.  And you can’t hear them on this.  The recording is much clearer too.

They opened the show to “Ding Dong the Witch is Dead” from the Wizard of Oz.   There’s no graceful segue into the music, Martin just starts playing “A Midwinter Night’s Dream.”  It sounds perfect.  Everyone is tight and right with the sounds and Martin hits those high note perfectly.  It’s an amazing and bold introduction to the band if you didn’t know them.

“Fat” is next.  It’s more conventional, but there’s some really amazing guitar work from Martin.  And the band is really into it by the end.  It sounds fantastic.  “All the Same Eyes” is up next and it sounds rocking and fluid.

Tim introduces the band in this way:
We’re the Rheostatics from Toronto, Canada.

Then Dave says:
We’re B.T.O. from Red Deer, Alberta.
We’re The Spoons from Burlington, Ontario.
We are every Canadian band that ever was and some that haven’t even been born yet.

The play “Motorino” which is dedicated to Brad May, the Buffalo Sabres player.  It’s a bit chaotic, and Martin sounds a bit unhinged, but I love that he speak/sings in Italian.

Tamara Williamson joins them for “Sweet Rich Beautiful Mine.”  She and Martin sound great together.  I love that she gets a few solo moments.  And when they both hit those incredibly high notes–she goes even higher than him–goosebumps!  Martin breathes very heavily into the mic after the song–it’s so hard to tell if he’s having fun or is really going mental.

Don says “So far all of these songs have been from our brand new record.  And this next one is too.  And I think the only place it’s available in the States is right here in the lobby.”

They play a great “Bad Time to Be Poor” which Dave dedicates to “Chrissy?” “for playing our record.”  I feel like Tim emphasizes the “don’t give a shit no more” line.  He sings the whole song very clearly, which is nice.  Then they move on to a great “Self-Serve Gas Station” with excellent backing vocals from Tim.

Dave says “To all those people in the cheap seats, we can hear your cheers.  We appreciate them.”

The roaring ending segues into the quiet opening of the final song “Fan Letter to Michael Jackson.”  Instead of shouting “Michael” the first time around, Dave shouts “Triumph!”

During the verse, Dave says, “I see two angels with funny lights on their heads in the 11th row.  It’s like some kind of dream or something.”

Martin plays some fun wild soloing including a bit of “Sweet Child of Mine.”  There’s some wildness by the end with them all singing parts and martin soloing but they tack on a quieter ending, with martin noodling about and Dave whispering “big white buffalo”  Tim and martin end it with several falsetto “It feels good to be alive”.

As they leave, they thank The Tragically Hip, the best guys in the land.

[READ: March 23, 2019] “Childhood”

Mark is bringing his son Reuben to a doctor’s appointment.  They stopped at an Indian restaurant which caps off a pretty amazing trip so far since there was so much usual in their routine.  Riding a bus, strange smells.  A year earlier he wouldn’t have set foot in such a strange restaurant.   He was eight now and seemed to be doing better.

He could now read proficiently in English and French and seemed to remember the lyric to every song he heard.  He even got invited to friend’s houses.

Although group dynamics were still awkward.  There were also fits of temper and absent-mindedness.  And general spaciness.  But was all this normal?  What was the margin of error?

School wasn’t always a help–“report cards were composed in a language that bore only a faint resemblance to English.  Parent-teacher conferences had thepolite, anxious feel of second dates.”

Mark wonders about his only childhood, did he have any really distinct memories before he was turned eight?  Or twelve?  Everything felt like a brown haze.

So he and his wife put off the appointment until “it felt too irresponsible an cowardly not to.  And then they put it off some more” (more…)

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[ATTENDED: March 23, 2019] Guster

Back in January, Guster postponed their Philadelphia concert because they were going to be on Late Night with Seth Myers.  They rescheduled it for mid-March and decided that it would be a 20th Anniversary celebration of their 1999 album Lost and Gone Forever.  So although the date change sucked at the time, the new show promised to be freakin amazing.

And, as it turned out, this was the best and the worst Guster concert that S. and I have seen together (number 7 for both of us).

Why the worst?  The worst because we arrived later than we intended and wound up further back than we wanted to.  Which is not the end of the world.  But, when you’re in the back in the Fillmore, you are near the bar and all the people talking.  A lot.  Even people who claimed to love the band, even people who commented on how good they sounded (they did), even people who would sing along loudly to parts of songs, all of these people also talked through huge swaths of the show.

One woman shouted to her friends during a quiet part and I had to say something.  It was really dreadful.  I though that during the intermission, people would pile out to get drinks and we could move closer, but nope, it was jam packed.

So aside from the worst crowd I’ve ever experienced, the show was great.  The band was in amazing form, they sounded great–and the venue helped them to sound great.  It was definitely one of the best sounding shows I’ve seen from them. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKFRAGILE ROCK-“Smile More” Tiny Desk Family Hour (March 12, 2019).

These next two shows were recorded at NPR’s SXSW Showcase.

The SXSW Music Festival is pleased to announce the first-ever Tiny Desk Family Hour showcase, an evening of music by artists who have played NPR Music’s Tiny Desk Concert, at Central Presbyterian Church on Tuesday, March 12 from 8-11pm.

It’s hard to talk seriously about Fragile Rock since they are a band of puppets.  Literally.

To say that Fragile Rock sent the evening hurtling sideways would be an understatement, as the band unleashed a torrent of faux-grim hilarity and chaos when it wasn’t urging the audience to shout out its prescribed antidepressants or berating fans for grinning along. (“We don’t appreciate your smiles,” seethed Brently Heilbron, in the persona of wounded frontpuppet Milo S. “You wouldn’t do that to Conor Oberst.”

And yet they are a good punk band and their lyrics have become even more pointed.  Especially this one.  They explain:

This is a song that Nick and I wrote reflecting on the #metoo and #timesup movements (that’s right lady in the back snapping your fingers you are correct).

This is a great punk blast and frankly it’s nice to hear a song sung by the female vocalists instead of the Fred Schneider-sounding male lead singer.

For “Smile More,” the spotlight shifted to Emily Cawood (performing as Briex Cocteau) and Megan Thornton (aka Nic Hole), who spent two minutes savaging the patriarchy. “Don’t tell me to smile more, don’t tell me what my mouth is for, from a man who started every war,” Thornton and her puppet shouted in unison. And, see, here’s the secret to Fragile Rock’s raucous, ridiculous charm: Subtract the puppets, the stage antics and the silliness of all, and you’re still left with some pretty damned good songs.

And nice succinct lyrics:

You could have had it all
You blew it didn’t you
I’m gonna watch you fall and
Never ever pity you
You’re purposeless
Your license is expired
Your services are no longer required

Your time has come and gone….time’s up!

All in two minutes.

[READ: March 14, 2019] Florida

When I started reading this book, I instantly remembered reading “Ghosts and Empties” in the New Yorker.  I assumed and was pleased that this was a full novel built out of that story.  Why?  Because nowhere on this book does it say that these are short stories.   Not on the cover, not on the front page, nor the back page.  It’s somewhere on the fly leaf, but since Groff also writes novels, it’s a bit of an oddity to not say “stories” somewhere on it.  I looked at the Table of Contents, obviously, but just assumed those where chapter headings.

I was exited to read the fuller story of the woman who walks at night.  And then I found out that the next “chapter” was a new story.  It turned out to be a fantastic story.  So that’s all good.  I don’t mind reading short stories at all, it was just a surprise.

It also turned out that I have read five of these short stores before (she is often printed in the New Yorker–the other stories were in different journals which I put in brackets after each title).

“Ghosts and Empties” (New Yorker, July 20, 2015)
I see now that I didn’t really enjoy this story the first time I read it (and yet it stayed with me all these years).  But I did enjoy it more this time (I still find it unsatisfying that the opening parental freakout part is never really addressed).  But basically this is a story in which woman walks around her neighborhood every night and observes things changing–for better or worse.  Old nuns dying, new houses being built, neighbors changing.  All in the heat of Florida. (more…)

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 SOUNDTRACK: MOUNTAIN MAN-3 songs from Tiny Desk Family Hour (March 12, 2019).

These next few shows were recorded at NPR’s SXSW Showcase.

Mountain Man have been all over NPR the last couple of months.  And here they are again, showing off their beautiful voices in a church.

When Mountain Man began a decade ago, it consisted of three close friends arraying their voices in a resplendent blend, often without so much as an acoustic guitar for adornment. Today, the configuration remains exactly the same, except that all three members — Alexandra Sauser-Monnig, Molly Sarlé and Amelia Meath — have developed strong solo identities along the way. Sauser-Monnig also records wonderful folk-pop songs under the name Daughter of Swords, Molly Sarlé released a magnificent single under her own name earlier this year, and Meath is the singing, dancing half of the transcendent synth-pop powerhouse Sylvan Esso.  So when Mountain Man showed up for a softly joyful set at NPR Music’s Tiny Desk Family Hour — recorded live at Austin’s Central Presbyterian Church during SXSW on Tuesday night — it was almost like seeing four acts at once: three solo, one collective. Choosing a single excerpt was a fool’s errand, so here are three: the breezy a cappella “AGT,” from 2018’s Magic Ship, as well as Mountain Man arrangements of Sarlé’s “Human” and Daughter of Swords’ “Grasses.”

The opening song is a capella.  It is started by Alexandra with first Molly and then Amelia all joining in to make their gorgeous harmonies.  After the first round through the song, they start singing faster and faster.  To a frankly impressively rapid speed by the end.

The second song is by Molly Sarlé.  She says it’s about how “unfortunately easy it is to talk to god like he’s a man.”  Molly sings the main body while gently strumming her guitar.  Amelia and Alexandra provide the lovely backing vocals.   (I love that Amelia seems to be cracking up a lot through the show, but is always pitch perfect).

Alexandra Sauser-Monnig’s Daughter of Swords song “Grasses” is up next.  The guitar is more picked than strummed, but it is still a very quiet, gentle song.  I really like Molly’s voice as a backing vocalist.

They’ll be performing at Newport Folk Festival and I’m intrigued to see them.

[READ: March 18, 2019] “Color and Light”

I assumed that this story is set in Ireland, although there was nothing explicitly stated about the location–except that it is by the water.

The main character Aidan, has an older brother Declan (could be Ireland or just America).  When we first meet them, they are in Declan’s car and he is driving a woman, Pauline.  Pauline is bold and flirtatious.  She is a screenwriter.  Declan doesn’t say much and Aidan is very shy.  So that leaves Pauline to make all of the comments.  She learns that Aidan works in the hotel.  And at one point she stares at him for a couple of minutes while he puzzles out what she’s after.

A few weeks later Pauline comes to the hotel restaurant with an entourage.  Aidan is surprised at how deferential everyone is to her.  She sort of recognizes him at first and when he explains who he is she seems happy to see him.  When she leaves with her crew she invites him along but he refuses.

A few nights later Declan picks up Aidan from work and a drunk Pauline is in the back seat.  She is feistier than usual and asks Aidan all sots of personal questions–like has he ever slept with a guest at the hotel.  Declan yells that she is flirting with him.  And when Aidan turns around to look at her, sprawled on the backseat, Declan punches him.  By the time Declan drops them off, Aidan can’t tell if Declan is mad at him or at her. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: CAUTIOUS CLAY-“Sidewinder” Tiny Desk Family Hour (March 12, 2019).

These next few shows were recorded at NPR’s SXSW Showcase.

The SXSW Music Festival is pleased to announce the first-ever Tiny Desk Family Hour showcase, an evening of music by artists who have played NPR Music’s Tiny Desk Concert, at Central Presbyterian Church on Tuesday, March 12 from 8-11pm.

Cautious Clay is the “far-reaching and breezily soulful project of singer and multi-instrumentalist Josh Karpeh.”  I love his stage name, but I wasn’t that crazy about his music–it was a little too soft and flat for my liking.

And yet I really enjoyed this song.

The song is remarkably simple–a rubbery bassline (that never changes throughout the song) and simple slightly jazzy drum beat.  Karpeh sings in his gentle voice and strums occasional delicate chords.  The chords, while gentle, bring in some nice sharp high notes to the otherwise bass-filled song.

But the real joy comes when, after a couple of verses, Karpeh puts down his guitar and picks up his…flute.  He plays a wonderful flute solo and it totally makes the song shine.

[READ: March 17, 2019] Toast on Toast

I have never seen the BBC show Toast of London, but I love Matt Berry and assumed this would be a very funny read.  I see that this also came as an audio book and I assume it would 10 times funnier if it was read by Berry instead of by me.

So this book is an autobiography and “helpful guide to acting” from Steven Toast.  Since I haven’t seen the show I genuinely don’t know if Steven Toast is any good at acting or not.  I can tell from the book that he is a pompous ass (which is 3/4 of the humor), but I don’t know if he is justified by behaving that way.

I’m also unfamiliar with BBC practices and with British stage actors in general.  So, while I assume that most of the names are made up (the more outrageous ones, surely), there may be a few who are real which might make the jokes even funnier.

Best of all, the book is fairly short, so while there are plenty of laughs, it doesn’t overstay its welcome. (more…)

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