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Archive for the ‘Friendship’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: KING GIZZARD AND THE LIZARD WIZARD-Gumboot Soup (2017).

At the beginning of 2017, KGATLW promised that the would release five albums in the year.  They released four and as the year drew to an end it looked like we might not get that promised fifth release.  And then on the last day of the year, Dec 31, they released Gumboot Soup.

Surely this one–squeezed in on the last day of the year–must be a mishmash of the crap that they didn’t put on their other records, right?  Or maybe acoustic versions of existing songs?  Or something equally lame?

Indeed, not.  For KGATLW are nothing if not full of ideas.

Their previous albums were thematic.  This one is certainly more of a collection of songs rather than an album.  And yet, this collection is not crap.  Mackenzie described thee album as a “place for us to put a lot of different ideas that we’re trying to experiment with in the song, rather than within the whole record. And for me, some of my favorite songs of the year are on [Gumboot]. It’s more song-oriented than album-oriented.”

So the album isn’t unified, but that diversity somehow makes it even more compelling.

“Beginner’s Luck” is a beautiful sweet delicate song.  The opening is quiet guitar and the clearest vocals yet from Stu.  It’s a dreamy, gentle song, as if they were influenced by the Mild High Club sessions to write a pretty, retro pop song.  There’s great bass on this song as well and I love that Ambrose adds some lead vocals to the chorus.  There’s some lovely flute and backing vocals.  As the song reaches its end it gets louder and more distorted with a wild wah wah guitar solo and the whole band joining in to rock.  This seems to mock the sweetness of the beginning.

It’s followed by “Greenhouse Heat Death” which reintroduces some microtonal melodies and a rumbling groove.  This song is an environmental song with Stu singing in his darker, distorted voice about the degradation of the Earth (from the Earth’s point of view–“my house has fried, all life has died”).

“Barefoot Desert” comes out of that darkness with a wonderfully bright song–flutes, some terrific bass lines, and Ambrose’s always-chipper vocals.  The riff is dynamite too.  There’s even a very Beatles-esque middle instrumental section before the song lopes off again.

“Muddy Water” is a really catchy fast-paced stomper with some call and response vocals (I love at the end when Ambrose starts singing “I prefer the muddy water” back to Stu).  The riffing is great and it all feels very reckless, like they (or we) can’t stop.  The introduction of (two) saxophones is pretty unusual and a nifty twist on their sound.

“Superposition” is a soft almost robotically smoothed out song.  Everything is high and floaty–the flute, the vocals, the bass.  It’s a pretty different sound for them, although they maintain the vocals-follow-the-musical-melody that they have perfected.  And then of course, they have to upend the pleasantness with some crazy skronking saxophone solos in the middle of the song.  But even those seem almost distant and like they are not exactly part of the song.

“Down the Sink” is a fantastic song that sounds very much unlike anything they’ve done before.  There’s some cool funk and 70s inflections on the riffs and sounds.  The chorus “the street is where people live, the street is where people die” has a fantastic 70s, almost blaxploitation, film soundtrack feel.   I’d love to hear them explore more of this sound.

“The Great Chain of Being” is one of the outright heaviest things they’re recorded, with big heavy riffs and growling vocals.  It’s a bit out of place on this record, but it rocks too wonderfully to complain about.  It clearly seems like it could have been on Murder of the Universe, but maybe they just enjoyed rocking out and wanted to write a new song.

“The Last Oasis” has a delightful cocktail lounge feel, with vibes, languid bass and Ambrose’s gentle vocals.   I love that it gets hazier and sounds more and more like it’s being submerged as the song goes on.  Meanwhile, “All is Known” returns to them microtonal sounds of Banana for the main riff and heft of this pumping song.

One of my favorite tracks is the delicate “I’m Sleeping In.”  I love the interesting and satisfying bass lines that runs through this gentle song about sleeping:

I know within my body
I need rest from muscle ache
I really need a break
So I’m sleepin’ in, in

There’s some quiet harmonica and a really compressed sound.  It seems like sleep will never come because of some random noises that come in to disrupt the chill feeling.  Although by the end, the tape slows down and sleep has finally won.  The disc ends with “The Wheel” a groovy psychedelic track with wavery keys and flute. It’s the least dynamic song on the record but it feels nicely stretched out and trippy.

So the track order definitely makes this feel like an odds and ends assortment.  I’m not sure if they could have made a heavy side and a trippy side, or if it’s just more fun to have this batch of oddments together in the soup of gumboot.

The good thing is there’s not a bad song on it and it really covers every imaginable style.

After five albums in year, the only thing to do was to release no records in 2018 and tour the world.  But 2019 suggests a new disc in on the horizon.  I can’t wait.

[READ: March 3, 2019] “The Arithmetic of Common Ground”

This story had an interesting conceit which I feel it didn’t fully follow through on.  It posits that children have commonalities and looks at what estimated percentage of those commonalities they need to have for friendships to work.  I enjoyed the way it seemed almost like a technical report in the beginning.

At the opening, we see a couple meeting.

Born within six months of one another, within the same medium-sized city, and of comparable socio-economic class, they automatically overlap somewhere between 33 to 35 percent. Make the city Calgary and make them both only children who—as a consequence of their solitudes—have both grown up somewhat unsociable and somewhat bookish. If both dutifully attended music lessons in guitar and piano to complement their school work, their common ground might go as high as 40 to 55 percent.

Despite being different by some 45 to 60 points, they share enough interests (musical) to meet, fall in love, get married and have a child: Benjamin.

But for group dynamics a simple Venn diagram does not suffice because each pairing is its own diagram.  The story proceeds to explore Benjamin and his friends. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: AARON LEE TASJAN-Tiny Desk Concert #817 (January 15, 2019).

Aaron Lee Tasjan and his band play wonderful retro-fueled jangle pop.  There’s terrific gentle harmonies, a chiming 12 string and a dual guitar solo.  He even looks the part

Aaron Lee Tasjan arrived at the Tiny Desk in his fashionable ascot and mustard-colored shirt, sporting reflective, red, rounded sunglasses and mutton chops. As he warmed up, the sound of the middle-and-late 1960s came through his seagreen, Gorsuch 12-string guitar while his voice felt both familiar and fresh.

Aaron Lee Tasjan’s love for this older sound infuses Karma For Cheap, his recent album, with an optimistic THC-veiled sentiment — one that can be heard on “Songbird,” his opening number here at the Tiny Desk. “There’s a songbird singing, I’m laying on the floor. Something feels right that has never felt right before.”

“Songbird” sounds familiar yet new, and wonderfully catchy.

He’s also got a good joke: “My name is Aaron Lee Tasjan. I hope I’m saying that right.”

For the next song he says the band will “boogaloo till they puke.”  It opens with a synth sound. more jangly guitars and even bigger harmonies.  It segues perfectly into the stomp of “Set You Free.”

These are songs of encouragement, and the final tune in this Tiny set, “Set You Free,” invokes that sentiment in plain-spoken language: “You gotta change your mind, you gotta plant the seed and let it set you free.”  All the while, drummer Seth Earnest, guitarist Brian Wright and bassist Tommy Scifres seemingly channeled their love of David Bowie’s 1972 song, “The Jean Genie” (a song mixed in Nashville), in its rhythms and vibes.

You can definitely hear “The Jean Genie” in the song, but never does it sound like he’s stealing from Bowie, just alluding to him–and that free-part harmony makes it all his own.  I love that both guitars its play the solo at the end–atop even more harmonies.

This was such a delightful Tiny Desk that I need to find out more about this guy.

[READ: January 18, 2018] Peter & Ernesto

This is an adorable book, the first in a series, I believe, about Peter & Ernesto.  As the subtitle indicates, they are sloths.

The book opens with the pair sitting in a tree watching the clouds go by and naming the shapes.  When Ernesto sees a bear, Peter responds “Scary!” and then goes back to eating his hibiscus.

It is generally believed that sloths are lazy, but Ernesto points out that they are not lazy, just content.  Until, that is, Peter sings about how “We always see what we always see!  Nothing ever changes for you and me!”  And then Ernesto feels discontented.

Ernesto says he likes their piece of sky, but he wants to see all of the sky.  So he must take a trip.  Peter freaks out–there could be bears out there!  It’s too dangerous!  When Ernesto asks if Peter has ever been out there and Peter says no.  Ernesto points out, how would he know? (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKCŒUR DE PIRATE-Live at Massey Hall (July 8, 2014).

I known of Cœur de Pirate more from reputation than her music.  But everything I’ve heard I’ve enjoyed.  Cœur de Pirate is Beatrice Martin a Francophone singer from Montreal who sings almost entirely in French.  And yet despite that, she sells out to Anglophone audiences because her music is so darn catchy.

In the opening she notes that it’s crazy that she’s a French-speaking artists singing in french selling out a venue like Massey Hall.  She feels special and can’t wait to hear what it sounds like.

The first song is “Le Long du Large.”  She is playing piano with a great band behind her.  The song grooves along smoothly–it has a great catchy chorus with terrific backing vocals.  There’s an acoustic guitar (Renaud Bastien), a lead guitar (Emmanuel Éthier), bass (Alexandre Gauthier) and drums (Julien Blais).

On “Francis” it’s just her on piano.  The song has a very Regina Spektor vibe in her playing style and singing delivery.

“Ensemble” is bouncy and upbeat, just super fun.

Golden Baby” opens with a melody like “Come on Eileen” but as soon as the electric guitar soars over, it is a very different song.   I love that she sounds like she smiling throughout.

It surprised me that she did an encore so soon in the show, but there’s clearly a reason for that.

Before the encore, she plays “Adieu”  our “last song.”  Shes off the piano on this one, only singing.  It’s got a heavy rocking beat and guitar and it’s really great.

When she comes back for the encore she sits at the piano and asks “More songs?”

“Place de la République” starts as solo piano and it sounds lovely.  After a verse or so, they add a bowed bass and strummed acoustic guitar  which builds the songs nicely.  Half way through, drums come in to give it even more power.  It’s a terrific song.

She is quite sweet saying that “it makes no sense that a French Canadian girl could sell out Massey Hall…. just got to hold it together.”

She invites everyone to sing along. If you don’t know French, just pretend.  It works too.  This is the last song.  Make it fun make it magical.  She says that the song, “Comme des enfants” is being taught in French classes.  It was a huge hit and the audience sings part the last verse.  It’s a wonderful moment and always cool to see an artist overwhelmed by her fans base.

[READ: March 28, 2018] Cici’s Journal

The book (there are two books in this volume) opens with Cici talking about her journal.  We meet Cici and her mom.  We learn that Cici hangs out a lot with the neighbor Mrs Flores, a writer.  Her mom doesn’t love that she hangs out with am older lady, but Mrs Flores is pretty cool.

Cici’s two best friends are Lena and Erica  The pair knew each other since they were babies;  Cici moved to the neighborhood when they were all little.  They have been best friends ever since.

I give Carol Klio Burrell a real thumbs up on this translation. I didn’t realize that it was a translation until well into the second book.  But I didn’t love a few aspects of the story.  The problem here I think comes with the friends.  Lena is sweet and has the soul of an artist.  Meanwhile, Erica “complains constantly, but she has a good heart.”  That’s not a very complex or desirably character trait.  And that aspect of her comes out a lot in the second book, which is kind of annoying. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MAX RICHTER-“Dream 3 (In The Midst Of My Life)” from Sleep– NPR’S SOUTH X LULLABY (March 17, 2018).

This piece is remarkable.  And the except provided here (all 8 minutes of it) is but a teeny fraction of the entire 8 hour work.

I had heard about this piece on Echoes a few months ago and was very interested in it, but figured there was no way I’d hear it.  I never imagined anyone would hear it quite like this:

Right at the start of the 2018 SXSW Music Festival, Max Richter’s eight-hour composition Sleep was performed overnight to an audience tucked into 150 beds. They — the audience, not the tireless group of musicians who performed the piece — slept, dreamed and sometimes snored through this trance-inducing experience.

Richter has described this piece: “Really, what I wanted to do is provide a landscape or a musical place where people could fall asleep.”

In the video here, you’ll see Richter himself on keyboards and electronics, along with the ACME string ensemble and soprano vocalist Grace Davidson.

What I loved about the story of this piece is not that it is a piece to sleep to exactly but that it is based around the neuroscience of sleep.  He says, “Sleep is an attempt to see how that space when your conscious mind is on holiday can be a place for music to live.”

It’s wonderful and I would love to sleep to it some night.

[READ: April 13, 2016] “Old Wounds”

I thought that I had read more by Edna O’Brien but it appears that I’ve read hardly anything by her.

This story was an interesting look at Irish stubborness and the way families can hate each other over small things (or even big things).

The narrator explains that her family had a falling out and for several years there was no communication at all between them.  Even when they attended funerals they did not acknowledge each other.

Finally all of the older people had died off and it was just her and her cousin Edward (both past middle age) they met and put aside the hostilities. They even visited the family graveyard together.  The graveyard was on an island a short boat ride from Edward’s house. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: NEIL YOUNG-Harvest (1971).

I like loud rocking songs and I dislike most country.  So really I shouldn’t like Neil Young’s Harvest (at least compared to his more rocking albums).

But Neil is Neil and while I would never say he can do no wrong (he definitely can), I give him the benefit of the doubt.  And on this album he delivers.  Plus, it’s really not a country album at all.

I think what I particularly like about Harvest is the looseness of it, which I see signified primarily by Neil’s harmonica which is never off, but which is never perfect either.  Plus, and I’m sure this has a lot to do with it–I’ve heard these songs a lot and they have really sunk in.

“Out on the Weekend” is the opening track and it was one of the songs I knew least well–which is odd certainly for an opening song.  There’s slide guitar and harmonica.  But it’s followed by “Harvest,” which is so simple and so notable–bass, a gentle acoustic guitar and basically a snare drum play that simple up and down melody as Neil sings “dream up, dream up, let me fill your cup with the promise of a man.”  It’s those steel guitar lines that seems to fade in from nowhere that really rather make the song.

“A Man Needs a Maid” is one of those weird songs that is so odd to me–the song is literally about him getting a maid (but much more): “keep my house clean fix my meals and go away.”  Neil sounds like he is singing from a mile away as he plays the melody on the piano.  And then after the first verse all kind of orchestration fills in–bells and strings and the song gets really really big.  By the time the song comes around again, the chorus is swallowed by the strings and bells.  It feels much longer than its 4 minutes.  I sort of hate it but kind of like its oddness at the same time.

And then comes the wonder that is “Heart of Gold,” another simple melody with soft bass notes and that harmonica.  Incredibly catchy and undeniably great.

Harvest is more of a folk album with slide guitar (and orchestration), but a song like “Ready for the Country” certainly leans toward country (or is it mocking country?).  It’s got a good beat and is kind of fun, with a lighthearted joshing about the country.

“Old Man” is a another slow classic.  When the harmony vocals come in later in the song it’s really wonderful.  I never knew that James Taylor and Linda Ronstadt sang backing vocals on this song and that that’s Taylor on the banjo.  “There’s a World” is a ponderous song from the get go–almost as if it left off from “Maid,” with strings and kettle drums.  After a verse a harp swipes away the song and plays a delicate melody which is just as quickly wiped away as this song which seems so big comes to a rather quick ending–only 3 minutes in total.

“Alabama” introduces a fuzzy electric guitar with what seems like it should be a classic riff but which …isn’t.  It doesn’t quite resolve into anything and the chorus is almost satisfying–it starts really big with a chorus of “Alabama!” but it also doesn’t exactly resolve into anything.  I think I keep thinking it’s other songs, and yet it is distinctly its own.

“Needle and Damage Done” is just great.  A terrific riff and a poignant song simple and brief (2 minutes!) but really powerful.

“Words (Between the Lines of Age)” is nearly 7 minutes it’s the longest by far on the record.  It builds slowly with a big chorus.   There’s a great instrumental section with a nice piano melody.  The song ends with a very Neil Young guitar solo as well.  Pretty great stuff.

I’m not gushing about the album only because it is a classic and all classics have flaws.  But I could listen to this any day, even “Man Needs a Maid.”

[READ: July 1, 2016] Harvest

I have often thought I should read this series.  Of course, the last time I thought about it, there were 50-some books in the series and that seemed like way too many.  Well as of June 2017, there are 120 books in the series, which is an insane series to jump into.  But at work, four of the books came across my desk and if that’s not an invitation to read something, I don’t now what is.  So I’ve decided to read these four and we’ll see if that leads to more.

This story gives a lot of history of Neil himself and a lot of context of the albums surrounding this one.

Inglis starts by talking about how when Harvest Moon came out in 1992, it was a call-back to Harvest and it was highly regarded, even though Harvest itself wasn’t at the time.  Even Neil himself seemed to recoil from the unexpected success of Harvest by playing every kind of music but folk/country for decades.

In fact, Harvest was panned when it came out–described as superficial and without meaning.  It was deemed pleasant rather than passionate.  It also worked to define Neil Young as a melancholy songwriter full of catchy tunes, smiling with prairie straw n his mouth.  Meanwhile other fans dismiss this picture entirely, preferring the gritty songwriter from Tonight’s the Night. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ALICE SMITH-Tiny Desk Concert #700 (January 31, 2018).

I had never heard of Alice Smith before, which I guess isn’t totally unsurprising given the blurb:

For those not familiar, Smith made a big splash among true-school heads in 2006 with the release of her debut album, For Lovers, Dreamers, and Me. That record, whose title is a play on “The Rainbow Connection,” brimmed with an arcane magic, and it created a legion of lifelong fans.

Smith’s live performances usually highlight songs from For Lovers, Dreamers, and Me, her 2013 album, She, and her repertoire of cover songs. But for her Tiny Desk performance, Smith gifted us with three stunning song premieres that left the room entirely in her thrall.

Smith’s voice is great (although I found the voice of her backing singer, Kristin Brooks, to be even prettier.  I don’t think you could hear the other backing singer, Chauncey Matthews, at all).

Since the blurb talks about each song, I’m just adding my comments at the end

The first song, “Mystery,” feels like walking into the home of that friend of yours who is clearly more worldly than you, where there’s always a cool breeze, no matter the season.  [I really liked the low-key nature of this song].

The second song, which is so new that it doesn’t have a title, exudes the liminal uneasiness of being out of tune with yourself. The wisdom of the song draws from the notion that the top of Maslow’s pyramid is found within. [Alice’s voice is really nice in this catchy, rather conventional R&B song].

The closing “Something” is an undulating soul search that attacks and recedes like a cloudy beach morning. Smith was unabashedly in her pocket here, alternating between falsetto, tremolo and touches of jazz. This dash of Broadway at an office cubicle is what makes the Tiny Desk series so special.  [This sounds very Broadway in the beginning. I didn’t care for all of the keening and whooping near the end though].

So I am clearly not a true-school head (nor do I know what that means).  But I did think her voice was quite nice.  She introduced the band at the end, first name only.  The blurb has their last names, but didn’t include guitarist Frank at all: Dennis Hamm keys, Greg Clark drums.

[READ: November 5, 2017] All’s Faire in Middle School

I really enjoyed Jamieson’s Roller Girl.  It was a great story and it featured roller derby!

I was excited to read this story, but I was a little concerned that Jamieson was going to try to shoehorn in a conceit that Middle School is like the Middle Ages or something.  Well, I needn’t have been.  Jamieson does something that might be even cooler than Roller derby–she sets her story at a Ren Faire!

Imogen and her family work at the local Ren Faire and have done so for years.  Her father is a part- time actor (and pool salesman) but his passion is being the bad guy at the Ren Faire.  We meet a whole cast of characters who work the Ren Faire.  Some stay put and only work there, but others travel and work the circuit.

But Middle School is also in the title.  It’s not just that Imogen is going to middle school.  Up until this point she has been home-schooled.  So she is starting middle school and school at the same time! (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JULIEN BAKER-Tiny Desk Concert #690 (January 10, 2018).

Julien Baker joins a handful of artists who have now made a second appearance at a Tiny Desk Concert.  (If they start inviting artists back regularly, they’ll never get ANY work done at the NPR offices).

I was quite enamored with Baker when I watched her first Tiny Desk Concert.  And I was totally smitten with her when I saw her open for The Decemberists.

Julien plays three songs here.  I’m intrigued that in the blurb Bob says “I reached out to ask if she would be willing to do something different this time around.”

It makes it sound as if she’s going to do some kind of dance/electronica show.  But I guess the difference is that last time, she just played electric guitar and this time she mixes up instrumentation and adds a violinist.

The first two songs, “Hurt Less” and “Even,” were accompanied by Camille Faulkner, with Julien on piano for the opening tune and acoustic guitar on the second.

If Julien Baker sounds delicate with just her electric guitar, she’s twice as delicate on piano.  But her voice sounds exquisite–powerful, honest and a little raspy, adding a slight edge.

I love seeing her sticker-covered acoustic guitar as she sings on “Even”:

Putting my fist through the plaster in the bathroom of a Motel 6 / I must have pictured it all a thousand times / I swear to God I think I’m gonna die / I know you were right / I can’t be fixed, so help me

She tends to play her guitar a little louder than the piano, so this one is a bit more dynamic.  The violin adds some aching sounds over the top.

I love that she plays each song in a very different style:

For the final song, Julien put together an arrangement of “Appointments” that begins on electric guitar, which then was looped as a backdrop to her on piano and voice.

It’s always fun watching someone loop guitar melodies.  And I like that she continues to loop long after it seems like the looping is done.  This allows for some of her gorgeous ringing chords.  They continue to ring out as she plays the piano.  It’s even cooler that she can stop parts of the guitar looping while she is completing the song.

All along her voice, which seems so delicate when she starts proves to be really powerful, especially during “Appointments” when she builds to a powerful high.    When I saw her live, she held a really long note that was quite impressive.  Don’t be fooled by the quietness of her music, Julien Baker rocks.

[READ: October 27,2017] Threads of Blue

This is the sequel to Beautiful Blue World, a book I really enjoyed.

In the first book, Mathilde’s country of Sofarende was being attacked by Tyssia.  She was sent to a special location to work on the war effort–they needed precocious children and she was picked for her empathy.  As the book ended, Mathilde followed her empathy and, while their encampment was under siege, released a teenaged prisoner of war because she felt that he was a good person who was just caught up in the war.

This act caused her to leave her group (and her best friend Megs) and to miss the conveyance to safety.

As this book opens, Mathilde wakes up on a boat that is bringing her to the country of Eilean.  She has secret documents and an order to be secretive.

The book picks up right where the previous one left off (I could have used a slight refresher, honestly). (more…)

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