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Archive for the ‘Gay/Lesbian’ Category

SOUNDTRACKALEJANDRA RIBERA-Live at Massey Hall (February 5, 2016).

I had never heard of Alejandra Ribera before. She has a beautiful deep voice that can really soar.

I love that she sings in English and Spanish (in the same song) and sometimes, because of her delivery it’s hard to tell which language she is singing.

The show begins with her talking about Massey Hall and how the trajectory from the [working in? a] bar to this moment is unexpectedly fast and natural (because when you’re in it, you’re in it) but it has been overwhelming with ‘pinch me’ moments.

She says, “I used to have a poster on my wall with all of these goals… to get played on the CBC and to play at Massey Hall.”

The band is minimal and they create terrific sounds with just (primarily) an acoustic guitar from Jean-Sebastien Williams and upright bass from Cedric Dind-Lavoie)

The first song “La Boca” has the acoustic guitar and upright bass moving briskly with her voice soaring (but low) on top of it–really mesmerizing.  She sings parts in Spanish.

“Goodnight Persephone” has a muted picked guitar and bowed upright bass (it opens in vaguely Velvet Underground “Heroin” way until the bowing becomes bigger and deeper).  Alejandra sings to Persephone in a wonderful wounded, pleading voice.  The ending build with the refrain “keep this light burning bright for me.”

Before starting the next song, “No Mi Sigas” she tells us (not the audience) that when she was a young girl, she had crushes on girls and at the time she knew it wasn’t okay so she started writing poetry that was metaphorical and laden in imagery so no one would know what she was writing about.  And now she’s older and it doesn’t matter who she is writing about but she has still taken this approach and it’s why all of her love songs are in Spanish because she lives in Canada.

It’s only a shame that they cut off part of this beautiful song so much while she is talking.  She plays guitar as well in this sultry love song while Jean-Sebastien plays some wonderful leads.

“I Want” is an award-winning song and her voice really reaches deep to sing it.  She sounds great in this moody piece.  And the lyrics are very cool too: “There’s so much labor just in breathing lately.”

“Carry Me” is a bit more uptempo and she sings with that great style of hers–I’d never guess she was Canadian, even with the line “all the snow in Montreal couldn’t bury this.”

Turns out she is of Argentine and Scottish descent but was born and raised in Toronto, Ontario, and has been professionally based in Montreal, Quebec.

The bridge of this song is quite compelling with the three of them singing just notes the rise through a scale–strangely compelling.  And then Ribera gives a great whistling solo–which people want to applaud for (and should) but no one does.

In the last segment, she says that before playing music publicly she had gone through a nasty depression.  She had seen that Ron Sexsmith was playing at Massey Hall and she wanted to go see him.  But the depression was too powerful and she checked into St Mike’s across the street.  She had checked in for a time and then one night went to the stairs to smoke and saw the Ron was playing at Massey Hall that night.  That was the pivotal moment–she was so close–and she decided to get on the other side of that door.

Once again, it’s a shame she talks over so much of her song “Led Me To You” which starts quietly but builds to a great powerful ending (with her on guitar again).

This series has been excellent in introducing me to new artists, and Ribera is a great one I hope to explore more.

[READ: January 9, 2017] “Fifty-Seven”

If you were paying attention, you’ll notice that I have been posting these old New Yorker stories on the date that they were published (no matter what the year).  There have been some exceptions (like when there was more than one story in an issue), but I thought it would be a fun thing to keep up).  I am making an exception for this because when I read this story and the one after it I felt like they were connected in some way.  So I’m moving this to July  because there’s a ton of stories to go in November.

I feel like this story was trying to make a point.  And I didn’t like it because of that.  Although I will say that it seems like Kushner really did a lot of work (unless she happens to know this much about the penal system).

This is the story of a murderer.  It is third person but from his point of view. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKPEACHES-Live at Massey Hall (August 4, 2016).

Peaches is afraid of no one.  She bears it all, lyrically, visually, sexually (sample lyric: “Can’t talk right now this chick’s dick is in my mouth”).

She stands center stage, all by herself atop a small pyramid.  She programs some beats at the back of the pyramid and then begins singing the lyrics to “Rub.”  She demonstrates quite exaggeratedly where the rubbing out to take place

Tell on my pussy
Whistle blow my clit
Watch it open up
Cause it can’t keep a secret

What’s great about Peaches is that she was 49 at the time of this performance and she held nothing back–doing a very impressive split at the top of “Operate.”

She began the show with an oversized cape and what looks like a catcher’s chest protector with the outline of abs on it.  When she takes those off she reveals a body suit with hands all over it–grabbing her.

Next up is “Vaginoplasty.”  She introduces the song that it “is not about a big dick or big tits it’s about my big fucking vagina.”  Its at this point that her two dancers (Jess Daly and Agent Cleave) come out wearing gigantic vagina body suits.

In addition to being about her vagina though, she also addresses transgender issues

If you’re born as a man
But know you’re a woman
I understand
Gotta get it, get it girl

About this song she later said:

I think “Vaginoplasty” is about an important subject, but I also think it’s hilarious. The song is about a big vag, but then you have to think, Why does that gross me out?

Her voice is terrific on this song as well, she hits some really powerful notes.

“Mean Something” features a duet with “Feist.”  Feist sings the eerily compelling chorus.  It’s a great song without being explicit.

During an interview she talks about going to Berlin where she was appreciated before returning home to make her album.

After an onstage costume change, Peaches wears a fabulous outfit that’s a giant vagina and she walks out into the audience, walking across the backs of the chairs until she stops and says, “These are my parents!” (their reaction is..amusing).

“How You Like My Cut” is more of a rap–incredibly sparse with lyrics that are not terribly eloquent

How you like my cut
How you like my cut what
How you like my cut

But it seems more about the mood than the words.  Words are suitably important for “Fuck the Pain Away” (now that is something you did think you’d be singing at Massey Hall).  Both songs feature her dancers in minimal bondage gear.

The chorus that gets the crowd chanting is

S I S I U D, stay in school cause it’s the best

With repetition, the lines eventually sound like “SIS, stay in school cause it’s the best IUD.” Peaches thus ties the education of women directly to birth control and reproductive autonomy.

For the final two songs, she has one more outfit change (which leaves her topless, but with pasties on).  “Dumb Fuck” has an incredibly catchy chorus of “dumb fuck, you dumb fuck, you dumb fuck” which is certainly cathartic.

The final song is “Close Up” and is a duet with Joel Gibb from The Hidden Cameras.  They have a lot of fun with the song.

[READ: January 9, 2017] “The Bog Girl” 

Some stories are so weird that you have to keep reading.  And when they get even weirder and even more compelling, you sort of marvel at the way it unfolds.

This story was one of those.

Cillian is a fifteen year old boy working in the peatlands in an island off of Ireland on the archipelago known as the Four Horsemen.  He is working illegally, but his boss hired him because his house abutted the peatlands.

The story gives a brief history of peat–how it is created and used for fuel and explains that the lack of oxygen allows things to decompose there–so there are all kinds of dead animals in the peat.  But no one notices because it is now industrially harvested.

Then one day, as he is digging up the peat, Cillian sees a hand.  It proves to be the hand of a girl.  When she is exhumed, her body comes out intact.  She is cute with a sweet smile.  The police determine that she is not a recent murder, that she is probably 2,000 years old.  Well, Cillian is lucky that he lives on a remote island. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: DANIEL CAESAR-Tiny Desk Concert #750 (June 4, 2018).

Boy I did not like this Tiny Desk Concert at all.  I don;t like Caesar’s voice, I don’t like his lyrics and I don’t care for the backing singers.

This would be why his three most-streamed songs have a combined 249,000,000 plays on Spotify alone.  I just do not like this kind of music.

And of course it went on for nearly 17 minutes. So I’ll let the blurb say nice things

Daniel Caesar [real name Ashton Simmonds] and his band had a clear vision for their Tiny Desk performance. While already confined to a small space, they opted to congregate at the piano, where producer and music director Matthew Burnett sat to create what feels like a fly-on-the-wall moment. We’re presented a purity that’s nearly impossible to capture on an album.

The years of training in church, fused with natural talent, is on full display. Supporting vocalists Camille Harrison, Danah Martin and Nevon Sinclair are in tow for the whole ride, providing some of the richest harmonies we’ve heard at the Tiny Desk. I found myself fixated on the playful manner in which the band members interacted with each other.

I will agree with the intimate nature of the show.  He’s leaning on the piano, largely unaware of the surroundings.  And the piano sounds good. I also won’t leave out Adrian Bent on drums.

They play three songs.

“Japanese Denim”  I hate the opening lyrics: “I don’t stand in line / I don’t pay for clothes; fuck that yeas.  But I would for you.”  Good grief.

“Get You” I like the acoustic bass by Saya Gray on this track.

“Best Part (feat. H.E.R.)” H.E.R. (Gabriella Wilson) has a nice voice and they sing well together: “You’re my water when I’m, stuck in the desert / You’re the Tylenol I take when my head hurts.”

[READ: January 12, 2017] “Seven People Dancing”

Langston Hughes died in 1967.  This story was written in 1961.  It’s fascinating how a word can change in 50 years.

The story begins by telling us that “It was Marcel’s apartment and he was a fairy.”  Given my daughter’s age and the prevalence of magic-related stories out there, and the fact that no one uses that word anymore, I certainly never thought he meant that Marcel was gay.

Also telling about the fairy: “Nobody esle was unusual in that regard.”  Also, that he had inserted a “de la” in his named Marcel de la Smith as an indication of French Creole origin.  Although he had never be to new Orleans.

So it was Marcel’s apartment and seven people were dancing–three couples and Marcel.  Six of these people were colored and one was white.  “Marcel was colored, a muddy brown and not good-looking…. His dancing was too fanciful to be masculine and too grotesque to be feminine.  But everything he did was like that, so it was very easy to tell that he was a fairy.”

Marcel gave parties to mixed couples which many places would not do.  And why?  He was an old fairy who had lost interest in uniforms.  In fact, his interest now was money. That was why he gave parties primarily for people who did not touch his heart.

A few paragraphs in and a narrator enters the story who comments “the reason I say ‘perhaps’ about the white girls is that I do not know the ultimate why of anything.”  Her name was Joan and Claude had brought her.  He had introduced her to Harlem in the first place.

Hughes has a fascinating way with words.

The other couples laughed and the laughter bounced, like very hard rubber balls, around the room, not like tennis balls but like solid hard rubber balls, and Marcel laughed, too. Marcel’s laughter was like a painter’s ground cloth that protects the furniture and anything else under a ceiling being painted.

One of the men was a very dark, very handsome hard-rubber-ball man of indefinite age, maybe young, maybe fifty, but too dark to tell. (I know that he was thirty-eight). The woman with whom he was dancing was the color of green tea in an off-white cup.

But he also repeats information a lot:

Seven people were dancing, three couples and Marcel. Midnight.

It was Marcel’s apartment, and seven people were dancing. Six were colored and one was white. Marcel himself was colored, a muddy brown and not good-looking. It was he who danced alone.

Marcel’s laughter somehow cleared the air of evil and left only the music and the seven people dancing, including himself.

Otherwise, why did the laughter ring out again, louder than the music, and bounce, like a dozen hard rubber balls, around the room after 2 a.m.,

And why did Marcel’s laughter stop being a ground cloth and start bouncing like a rubber ball, too, and a very hard one at that?

The “Oh, but” identified her as having been around at least a little in Harlem, and therefore the laughter bounced like rubber balls.

This story nears its end with the dark man saying how much he wanted to dance with the white woman.  And then there’s this paragraph which I don’t understand at all.

It was a Dizzy Gillespie record, and what it said without words summed up the situation pretty well. It was not that room but the world in that room that was in the record. The music was uranium, and those seven people, had they been super-duper spies, could not have known more about atomic energy—that is, its reason for being a mighty way of dying, “Oh, but I do” being a component.

Being fifty years old and startlingly out of date, this story was hard for me to parse.  Surely the mixture of dark and white people and a gay man must speak to something–I love how progressive it is.  But why the repeated rubber balls and why keep telling us it was seven people?  This was a short piece and there was so much was repeated.

The ending was comical but serious and again, it seemed really spare.

I’m not really familiar with Hughes, so I can’t even say anything by comparison to his other work.

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SOUNDTRACK: BASIA BULAT-Live at Massey Hall (July 10, 2014).

Baia Bulat is an adorable singer.  She plays autoharp and ukulele and seems incredibly upbeat.  She also has a soaring, delightful voice.

About Massey Hall she says, “It’s not a stadium or a club, it feels huge and intimate ta the same time.”

She opens with “Run” in which she plays the autoharp (and you can actually hear it amid the other instruments).

Next up is a new song “Five, Four” with Basia on guitar with a cool almost sinister bass line.

For “Wires,” she stays on guitar.  This song is almost aggressively upbeat and is much more upbeat.  It also has a fun middle section in which she sings an Ooooh melody  (like a solo) into a microphone with a distortion that makes it sound a bit like a kazoo. Its super catchy.  She even takes that microphone and walks around, ultimately hopping of the stage and sitting in the front row (and the guy next to her of course pulls out his phone) to continue with the oohs.

“Tall Tall Shadow” is a slow moodier song with a great big chorus. They leave the stage and come back (I’m surprised they left in the whole encore scene).

When they comeback she says, “We’re on a curfew so we’re going to try to not get in trouble.”  For an encore it’s her and two other women.  One is playing a small 8-string ukulele as they sing “Before I Knew.”

When it’s over she asks, Am I allowed to sneak one more in?  Try not to get kicked out of Massey Hall!  She gets out the ukulele and plays that wonderful melody of “It Can’t Be You.”  Then she walks away from the mic and sings her heart out.  You can’t always hear her that clearly, but you can hear her hitting the soaring notes.

It’s funny that she worries about curfew and then sings a rather long song.

But it’s a great collection of songs and a beautiful set.

[READ: March 15, 2018] Beautiful Music for Ugly Children

I really enjoyed Kristin Cronn-Mills’ book Ugly Fake which was kind of novel/graphic novel hybrid.  This is one of her earlier stories and it is all novel.  It is about music and teen angst and high school.

And it’s about a girl named Elizabeth who is in fact a boy and wants to be known as Gabe.  He has recently revealed this to his parents and his best friend, Paige.  Paige has been nothing but supportive.  His parents are a little more mixed about it.  And of course he hasn’t told anyone at school.  But since he dresses gender-neutral he has always been made fun of a school–where they know that he is Elizabeth.  He is somewhat surprised that the boys make fun of him more than the girls–calling him he-she-it.  Undoubtedly they are threatened by his looks.

But he is a senior, and school is almost over.  He can certainly cope until it’s time to move away to the city.

In the mean time, he has a DJ gig that is the best thing ever. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KING CRIMSON-The Elements Of King Crimson – 2016 Tour Box (2016).

This was the third Tour Box containing material that is similar in spirit, but different in fact to the previous two.

As always, it starts with the Wind extract, the sound of Fripp’s mellotron warming up and a voice saying “I prefer the early ones.”  It segues into a beautiful instrumental of “Moonchild.”  Once again, the lyrics are interesting in the song, but it sounds great without them.

The music stays in somewhat chronological order of release, but often with contemporary versions.  Like the 2015 recording of 1970’s “Peace” (which is okay) and “Pictures Of A City” (which is great).

“Prince Rupert’s Lament” is a two and half-minute guitar solo which has the Toronto crowd from the previous track overlaid, making this recording sound like a live one, when it is in fact an except from the recording session of Lizard.  There’s a rehearsal of the full 10 minute “Islands” from 1971 or so.

Then a “new” song, the two and a half-minute 2014 “Threshold Soundscape” which segues into the 2014 live version of “Larks’ Tongues in Aspic Part I” which is quite bass heavy.  Up next is a recording session of “Easy Money” without all the bells and whistles.

Then comes two live recordings from 1974.  “Improv I” which is full of gongs and guitars and chaos and segues into “Doctor Diamond.”  This is a song I had never heard before.  It never had an official release and this version seems like they’re just trying it out, like they weren’t really sure about the words, especially.  It’s heavy and  more than a little odd.

After a 30 second clip “From the Drummer’s Stool” which is the a drummer playing the intense “21st Century Schizoid Man” drums, the full song is played from 1974, sounding quite old in the mix.

The second disc continues with all manner of things in no particular order.

There’s more extracts from Lizard, this time a very pretty solo piano version of “Prince Rupert Awakes.”

And them it’s on to a non-Crimson album.  “The Other Man” is an alternate early version of the song from the Jakszyk, Fripp, Collins album A Scarcity of Miracles which I don’t know at all.

Next comes “Making Of Discipline,” it’s clips from bulk of the album spliced together into one song.  It’s very nifty.  There’s a demo instrumental of “Walking on Air” and then a three-minute live track called “Radical Action (to Unseat The Hold of Monkey Mind).”

There’s a demo of “Meltdown” (with guide vocals) and then a 40 second clip “From the Drummers’ Stools I” and a 20 second clip “From The Guitarist’s Stool I” which is part of the 21CSM solo.

Then comes some heavy stuff.  “The ConstruKction Of Light” live from 2014 with no vocal tag at the end followed by the bizarre Beatles mashup “Tomorrow Never Knew/Thela” live from 2000.

There another sample “From the Drummers’ Stools II” this one from “Larks’ Tongues In Aspic I” which is followed by “Nuages” (which I read as Nu-ages.  It’s trippy with bouncy bass

There’s a 2014 recording of the slow, jazzy “The Light Of Day” also originally from Scarcity of Miracles. It’s followed by a Lizard excerpt “From The Guitarist’s Stool II” and then a fast complicated 40 second 2014 soundcheck for “Larks’ Tongues In Aspic I.”

Moving away from that classic business, we jump to a new mix of “Dinosaur” from THRAK.  It’s followed by a final 45 second “From The Drummers’ Stools III” and then concluding with a cover of David Bowie’s “Heroes.”  This version is from 2000 and I find it kind of weak, especially compared to the powerhouse versions they would unleash later.

Overall there’s some cool stuff on this box, but I feel like there’s a bunch of stuff that’s not quite my Crimson taste.

[READ: January 12, 2018] The Nix

The Nix received some pretty positive reviews and I was quite interested to read it–even though I had no idea what it was really about.  It’s not until nearly page 100 that we find out what the title even means.

The Nix (in the story, not the novel itself) is a ghost story from Norway.  The protagonists’s mother heard about The Nix from her Norwegian father.  The Nix was a horse.  It encouraged you to ride it.  When you did, it never stopped running until it ran off a cliff with you on it.  In modern terms, The Nix is a person–usually someone you think you love. Someone who will leave you.

Summarizing the book is either really easy or something of a challenge depending on how many aspects you want to include.

The book more or less follows one man–starting with his failing writing career and then flashing back to how he got where he is.  That sounds pretty dull, but the book is set on the backdrop of contemporary America–from the rebellions of hippie parents to the rebellions of the 99%ers.

There’s also these wonderful subplots that prop up the main story. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KING CRIMSON-The Elements Of King Crimson – 2014 Tour Box (2014).

When King Crimson reunited in 2013, they prepared to tour as a seven piece behemoth the following year.  There would be three drummers, two guitarists, bass and horns.

And they were totally reinvigorated.

To celebrate this tour, Fripp and his minions created this Elements Tour Box, a 2 -disc set dedicated to displaying the elements that made up the band from the beginning until now.  It was made up of alternate takes, excerpt (lots of excerpts), live recordings and rehearsals from the entirety of the Crimson canon, including some of the 2014 shows.

It is a treasure trove for Crimson fanatics.  But it is also an excellent resource for anyone looking to explore the Crimson underworld without buying $150 boxsets.

The discs follow a vaguely chronological overview, starting in 1969 and moving on through 2008.  But there are 2014 takes of old songs thrown in as well–some sound better than others, but overall the quality is quite good.

The first disc covers 1969-1974.  It opens with
“Wind Extract,” which is the sound of Fripp’s mellotron being turned on back in 1969.
“I Talk To The Wind” is an instrumental version of the second song on ITCOTCK.  Purists will be able to tell how many things are different between this version and the actually-released product, but in a nutshell, this is the album version with no vocals.  It’s really interesting to focus just on the music and not the words for a change.  The song is quite pretty, with lots of flute.

“Cadence and Cascade” is from In the Wake of Poseidon and no one involved in the recording remembered Greg Lake singing a version of it.  Guest vocalist Gordon Haskell sang the album version.  Then someone recently found this “guide vocal” version of Lake singing it for apparently the first and only time.

The boxes often contain brief excerpts like this one–fifteen seconds of Fripp’s classical sounding guitars from “Cirkus.”  This is kind of an acoustic bridge before we hear the full song recorded in 1971 on the Lizard tour.  This song in particular sounds very dated live and the middle “circus sounds” sections are 70s crazy.
“Hoodoo (extract)” is a 2014 rehearsal that’s all of 20 seconds which segues into a raucous recording of Fripp playing a wild guitar solo for “Sailor’s Tale.”  It’s wild and really shows Fripp throwing everything he can at the song.
“The Talking Drum” is an early alternate mix which sounds great to me.  It gets really crazy by the end.

The “Lark’s Tongues in Aspect I” excerpt is from 2014 and is just Mel’s flute for 2 minutes.  It’s followed by a 1972 extract that’s just violin and dulcimer and harp.

This turns into a great new mix of the 11 minute “Fracture.”
After a minute of gorgeous harmonics by Fripp from “Fallen Angel,” we get a full, gorgeous 6-minute instrumental version of the song.  Because Crimson songs are so complicated and so carefully constructed, they are one of the few bands whose songs can have lyrics removed without them falling flat.
There’s a weird-sounding version of “21st Century Schizoid Man” from 1974, which sounds so very mid-70s in the recording style.  It seems somewhat slapdash compared to the utter tightness of the 2014 band.  The disc ends with Mark Charig’s cornet recording for the end of “Starless.”  On the proper release they use Mel Collin’s saxophone, but the cornet sounds delightful.

Disc two covers 1981-2008.

  This is pretty much the Adrian Belew era.  Belew was not invited back for the new incarnation, so that’s a little awkward.

It begins with an alternate take of the instrumental “Discipline.”  After a 45 second drum intermission, there’s a track called “Manhattan (Neurotica)” which is an instrumental version of “Neurotica.”  I love that the opening guitar sounds like sirens and car horns.
A minute and a half of the middle of “Neal and Jack and Me” is followed by the Steven Wilson mix of “Sleepless (Bearsville)” with an incredibly 80’s sounding slap bass from Tony Levin.

Then there’s a recording session of “Sex, Sleep, Eat, Drink, Dream.”  We hear lots of stops and starts, bass only, guitar parts and someone repeating “this is tough, tough shit.”
There’s a live version of “THRAK” followed by a minute of Fripp soloing around “Larks Tongue” called “Venturing Into Joy.”

This is followed by two tracks from Fripp’s side ProjeKcts,  “The Deception of the Thrush” is performed live by ProjeKct Four in 1998 with big thumping almost splatting-sounding drums.  Then there’s a trippy and ambient early version of “Heaven & Earth” by ProjeKct X.

After a scorching “Level Five” from 2008, there’s a minute long drum solo which would ultimately morph more fully into “The Hell-Hounds of Krim” and then two tracks from A Scarcity of Miracles.  “Separation” is an edited version of the bonus track (the disc label calls it something else).  And there’s an alternate take of “A Scarcity Of Miracles”–still long and a little too jazz-lite for me.

This is a really solid collection of all eras and styles of Crimson.  And it also showcases the various parts coming together.  A great production all along.

[READ: January 19, 2018] Monsters of the Ivy League

This book collects a series of Ivy League graduates and puts them in context with a they have a lot of support for all of their declarations.  Each entry gives a brief (biased) biography that highlights their flaws, outrages and downright unforgivable behavior.

So, rather than rewrite summaries of these assholes, I’ll present a grid with the shortcut (and some choice tidbits).  You can find the book and read the details for why our Ivy leagues have bred so many shitheads, including current miscreants:

Samuel Alito, Ben Carson, Ann Coulter, Ted Cruz, Laura Ingraham, Henry Kissinger, Dr. Oz, trump, and many more.

The introduction says that the term Ivy League refers to a bunch of football teams. (That’s why it says “league”).  The League was formed in 1954 to formalize the sporting relationship between eight teams: Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Univ of Penn, Princeton and Yale.

Of course, no one goes to these schools for sports, they go to find the best future contacts for your budding careers.

But read this book and remember:

An ivy education doesn’t force you to become a hideous person, but it doesn’t necessarily prevent it, either.

What follows is a smart-shopper warning to those applying, a count-your-blessings consolation to those who have been rejected and a watch-your-back caution to those already attending.

(more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ANNA MEREDITH-Tiny Desk Concert #713 (March 2, 2018).

I have never heard anything like this.  From sound to melody, to intensity, to instrumentation, this whole thing just rocked my world.

The melody for “Nautilus” is just so unexpected.  It opens with an echoed horn sound repeating.  And then the melody progresses up a scale, but not a scale, a kind of modified scale that seems off kilter just as it seems familiar.  The cello plays it, the guitar plays it, the sousaphone (!) plays it.  And it continues on in like fashion until only the high notes remain and then a menacing low riff on sousaphone cello and guitar breaks through–a great villain soundtrack if ever there was.  While everyone plays this riff, Anna returns to the keys to play the modified scale.

Meanwhile, the drummer has looked like he’s asleep behind his small kit.  And then 3 anda half minutes in he wakes up and starts playing a loud but slow rhythm.  The guitar begins soloing and as it fades out that main riff begins, now with a simple drum beat–not matching what anyone else is playing, mind you.  The sousaphone (which must have an echo on it or something and the cello pick up the low menace and it seems like everybody is doing his and her own thing.  But it all works amazingly.

So just who is Anna Meredith?

Anna Meredith was a former BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra Composer in Residence. Two of the three songs performed here come from her 2016 release called Varmints.

Bob Boilen was also impressed when he first saw Anna Meredith live:

I first saw this British composer a year ago, in a stunning performance at the SXSW musical festival. It was one of the best concerts of my life. The music I heard sent me into a state of reverie. If music could levitate my body, this is how it would sound. It carried me away and thrilled my soul. I was giddy for days.

Now, I know this isn’t music for everyone. … But if you know and love the music of Philip Glass, King Crimson or Steve Reich — music that’s electrifying, challenging and sonically soars and ripples through your body — then crank this up.

Lest you worry that she couldn’t translate it to the Tiny Desk (she says they normally have 23 suitcases full of crap so this has been an exciting challenge to squeeze in here)

Out of nearly 700 performances at the Tiny Desk, this is simply the most exhilarating one I’ve experienced. The instrumentation is unusual, with pulsing bass sounds produced by a wonderful combination of cello, tuba and electronics. It’s all rhythmically propelled by an astonishing drummer and Meredith pounding a pair of floor toms. And much of the repetitive melody is keyboard-and-guitar-driven that morphs and erupt with earth-shaking fervor.

The second song, “Ribbons” is quieter.  It’s and new song and it has vocals.  Her vocals aren’t great (“hard when you’ve got the voice of a five-year old boy”) but the melody she builds around it shows that her  voice is just one more instrument (albeit saying interesting words).  Actually, that’s not fair, they are just so different from the noise of the other two songs that it feels very faint in comparison.

It opens with a quiet guitar and electronic drum.  And slowly everyone else joins in.  A nice string accompaniment from the cello (Maddie Cutter), bass notes on the sousaphone (Tom Kelly) and even backing vocals from everyone.  By the third go around the drummer (Sam Wilson) is playing the glockenspiel.  By that time the song has built into a beautiful round and the quietness of her voice makes complete sense.  As the song nears its end, Sam has switches to a very fast but quiet rhythm on the floor tom.

She introduces the band and wishes a happy birthday to guitarist Jack Ross.  She says this is a great present as “so far all we’ve gotten him is an apple corer, the gifts have been a bit low grade.”

They make some gear switches, “we have a bit of a logistics problem with all our gear we can’t quite afford to bring enough glockenspiels, we pass the pure crap glockenspiel  around ans everyone gets to go ‘my turn!'”

“The Vapours” opens with a wonderfully wild guitar riff–fast and high-pitched and repeated over and over.  Anna Meredith adds waves of synths and then in comes the sousaphone and plucked cello.  Then fast thumping on the floor tom propels the song along.  The song slows a bit a Anna plays the clarinet (!).  The song dramatically shifts to some complicated time signature while Anna plays glockenspiel.  After a few rounds, while this complex guitar riff continues the drum and sousaphone start playing a pretty standard beat the contradicts everything else that’s going on and then Anna just starts pounding the crap out of some more toms.

All through this there are electronic sounds adding to the chaos and I have no idea who is triggering them, but it’s really cool.

The end is almost circusy with the big sousaphone notes and yet it’s like no circus anyone has every heard.  When the camera pulls back and you can see everyone working so hard and yet smiling ear to ear (especially Maddie), you know this is some great stuff.

The end of the song winds up with a hugely complicated tapping melody on the guitar and everyone else working up a huge sweat.

I couldn’t get over how much I loved this.  I immediately ordered Varmints and checked her touring schedule.

How disappointed was I to see that Anna Meredith had played Philly just last month and has now gone back to Europe!  I do hope she comes back soon.

[READ: August 30, 2017] McSweeney’s 48

For some reason, I find the prospect of reading McSweeney’s daunting.  I think it’s because I like to post about every story in them, so I know I’m in for a lot of work when I undertake it.

And yet I pretty much always enjoy every piece in each issue.  Well, that explains why it took me some three years to read this issue (although I did read Boots Riley’s screenplay in under a year).

This issue promised: “dazzling new work; a screenplay from Boots Riley with a septet of stories from Croatia.”

LETTERS

GARY RUDOREN writes about using the Giellete Fusion Platinum Razor every day for 18 days and how things were good but have gotten a little ugly.  On day 24 he had a four-inch gash under his nose.  Later on Day 38 it was even worse–a face full of bloody tissue squares.  By day 67 he is writing to thank McSweeney’s for whatever they did perhaps it was the medical marijuana but now his face is baby butt smooth even without shaving.  He wants to change the slogan to Gilette Fusion the shave that lasts forever. (more…)

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