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Archive for the ‘Christmas’ Category

SOUNDTRACKNILÜFER YANYA-“In Your Head” (2019).

I only recently started paying attention to Nilüfer Yanya since I found out she’s be opening for Sharon Van Etten in a couple of weeks.  I was intrigued by her, but wasn’t blown away.  Then she released this song which really changes the dynamic of her music.  Although really all she’s done is add some big fat fuzzy chords to her simple poppy music.

But there’s nothing wrong with big fat fuzzy chords.

She doesn’t have a lot of music out–a couple of singles–so this brash rocker may be a change of style or might just be another style she does.

Perhaps the most intriguing thing about her is her singing voice, which is full of British vowels and a kind of staccato delivery.  Unlike overblown pop divas, Nilüfer sings like a young punk over some vintage sounds.

[READ: January 29, 2019] “What Can You Do with a General”

This is a Christmas story of sorts.  John and Linda are married with grown up children.  While Linda is on the phone, John is in the hot tub waiting for her.  But when she arrives she said that Sasha’s flight is delayed.  Which means she’ll land right during the holiday traffic.  Also Andrew (Sasha’s boyfriend who has children and who Linda assumes is still married) won’t be able to make it either.

Sam arrived first.  He drove down in his used car.  He had called his parents far too often to debate whether or not to buy or lease a sedan.  But Linda took the time to go over everything with him.  He was hooking up the iPad–trying to convince his parents, who assumed it was broken because the battery ran out–that they liked would like streaming music better than their cds.

Chloe came next.  She said she had driven a half hour with the gas light on.  When her father chastised her for this, she ignored him and played with the dog instead.

She had to be gentle with the dog because it had recently had a pacemaker installed.  Now John, who didn’t particularly like dogs to begin with, was on routine watch for this poor creature who could no longer run or jump or do much of anything.  This also sounds like the set up for a Christmas sitcom, but it’s not,.

John tried to engage with his kids but “sometimes their rudeness left him breathless.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KASVOT VÄXT-“We Are Come to Outlive Our Brains” (1981/2018).

Back in 1994, Phish started covering a classic album for its Halloween costume. In 2015 they covered the Disney album: Chilling, Thrilling Sounds Of The Haunted House, which pretty much meant all bets were off.  So in 2018, they decided to cover an obscure Scandinavian prog rock band called Kasvot Växt and their sole album, í rokk.  This proved to be a big joke–they were a nonexistent band.  They had so much fun creating this band, that they even enlisted others to expand the joke.  This included impressively thorough reviews from WFMU and from AllMusic.

The joke is even in the name: when translated together Kasvot Växt and í rokk means “Faceplant into rock.”.

Here’s some more details they came up with:

The Scandinavian prog rock band purportedly consists of Jules Haugen of Norway, Cleif Jårvinen of Finland, and Horst and Georg Guomundurson of Iceland.  The album’s label, Elektrisk Tung, supposedly went out of business shortly after the LP’s release and little information about the record appears on the internet. Bassist Mike Gordon made a tape copy of í rokk in the mid-’80s and Phish would play it “over and over in the tour van in the early ’90s.” In the Playbill, guitarist Trey Anastasio insisted, “Every time the Halloween discussion comes up, we talk about Kasvot Växt. We honestly were worried we wouldn’t have the chops to pull it off or do justice to the sound, but when it came down to it, we just couldn’t resist any longer.”

The decision to go with an obscure album few have heard or even heard of appealed to the members of Phish. “We’ve paid tribute to so many legendary bands over the years, it felt right this time to do something that’s iconic to us but that most people won’t have heard of,” Gordon said as per the Phishbill. “And with these translations we’re really performing songs that have never been sung in English before.” Keyboardist Page McConnell added, “I love the mystery surrounding this whole thing. If those guys ever hear we did this I hope they’re excited because we absolutely intend it as a loving tribute.” As for what Phish fans can expect? “A weird, funky Norweigan dance album! Get out there and put your down on it!” exclaimed drummer Jon Fishman.

While the listings for the 10 tracks on the original í rokk were in a Scandinavian language, the titles appear in English in the Playbill. Phish called upon a Nordic linguist to translate the lyrics to English for tonight’s performance.

These songs do not really sound like a Norwegian prog rock band.  They do sound an awful lot like Phish (although with a more synthy vibe overall. The band has this part of their live show streaming on Spotify under the Kasvot Växt name.  And I’m ending the year by talking about each song.

This song starts with a simple high-note bass.  In the live, set the visuals corresponded nicely with nine white cubes floating in the sky (lyrics include: “shapes are hanging over you” and “nine cubes”).  The chorus has a repeated rising singing of the title that is super catchy.  This song also includes the puzzling lyric: “I’m the glue in your magnet” (translation, indeed!).

The last three minutes have a solo that is pure Trey–upbeat and cheerful, with the “glue” line repeated and the switching to the title phrase a few more times.  It’s a nother solid song in this collection.

[READ: December 22, 2018] “A Chicken in Every Pot”

Here is a Christmas tale to help everyone prepare for the holiday.

Morris has curated a collection of 19th and 20th century socialist fairy tales, like this one, which were recently published.

This one is set in the time before man had completely established domination over the animal world.  As it was nearing Christmas, the poultry gathered in a solemn conference with an important issue to consider: “the debate partook of the gravity of he times…and the all-important subject, With what sauce shall we be eaten?”

The hall was crowded and every poultry was heard–even the bantam hens’ cackling was considered. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE EMPTY POCKETS-Snow Day (2018).

The Empty Pockets have sent me two offers to get their CDs for free (plus a nominal shipping charge, of course).  This second one was a Christmas CD.  I hadn’t listened to their first CD yet but I do love a Christmas CD, so I thought why not add it to the pile.

There are five songs on this CD and after listening to this I’m wondering if I don’t really like The Empty Pockets.  It’s hard to bass the sound of a band on their Christmas collection, but I was pretty bummed by this disc.

The first song is called “Snow Day” and it says it was written bu Daniel McCormick although I can’t find out who that is.  It has got a  kind of smooth rock feel which is okay for a Christmas song but doesn’t bode well beyond that.

Next up is a version of “Silent Night.”  And they commit a few atrocities in this song right off the bat.  You can make the song more rocking, but you cannot mess with the vocal melody.  And they do that right off the bat.  The thing that rally bus me though is Erika Brett’s voice which is just super loud and yelling and kind of all over the place.  Never out of tune or anything like that just waay over the top.  This is just too much.  The guys also join in on verses, although I don’t know who is who [Josh Solomon, guitar and lead vocals; Nate Bellon, bass and lead vocals; Danny Rosenthal, drums].  But honestly, no one needs to sing “talking ’bout heavenly host sing alleluia.”  One of the men sounds like Darius Rucker which is just kind of unfortunate.

“One More Kiss” is a big powerful song from Brett with good backing vocals.  She overdoes it a bit, but its poppy and catchy and is not tampering with a classic beautiful so, so that’s okay.

“Eskimo Lady” is a little cheesy (not to mention offensive).  It’s a little discoey and grows cheesier with each listen.

“All Eight Days” has a fun guitar riff–like they are doing a heavy metal solo, but the song is far from heavy metal.  I like that it’s about Hanukkah, and the lyric “Just like a Maccabee, i have to wait and see,” is pretty funny.  But the song just veers too far into pop singing I guess.

“The Tree That Refused to Grow” seems like a retelling of A Charlie Brown Christmas from the point of view of the tree.  Except we see into the Charlie character’s future.  I really want to like it but it just comes off as maudlin.

I’m especially bummed by this disc because they quoted Caddyshack in the note that accompanied it.  Sigh.

[READ: December 8, 2018] “Festive”

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.

I read this short piece and thought it was incredibly sad.

Then I watched a reading of it (on the Stephen Colbert show) and the audience was laughing quite a lot.  Perhaps it’s his delivery?  But I hate the clipped style of writing (probably true for a diary but awful to read or hear). (more…)

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[ATTENDED: December 4, 2018] Brian Wilson

I have never been a huge beach Boys fan.  They’re just not my thing–especially the early stuff.  And yet, at the same time, I know all of their hits and will undoubtedly sing along to every one of them.  So the thought of seeing Brian Wilson (especially at the stage in his life) never really appealed.

And then he announced this short tour in which he and his band and special guests would be doing The Christmas Album, I was on board because I love his Christmas album What I Really Want for Christmas.  It’s probably my favorite Christmas album.  So as soon as I saw the show was in Englewood (the closest place to my house, but not exactly close) I bought S. and I tickets.  She is a bigger Beach Boys fan than I and has seen them live before.

Not being a huge Beach Boys fan, however, meant that I didn’t know that “The Christmas Album” was the name of the Beach Boys Christmas Album from 1964.  So it wasn’t the album that I wanted–boo!  But I guess I should have realized that a showed billed as Brian Wilson presents The Christmas Album Live with special guests Al Jardine and Blondie Chaplin, would not be exactly what I thought it would be anyhow.  I mean I’m still not exactly sure who Al Jardine and Blondie Chaplin are. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE PIERCE BROTHERS-The Records Were Ours, (2017).

The Pierce Brothers was without a doubt the best opening-act-whom-I-hadn’t-heard-of-before.  The two of them (twins!) were an incredibly energetic, exciting and crowd-pleasing act.  They had us clapping, singing along and generally making all kinds of merry.

Jack (drums and more, including guitars) and Patrick (guitars and more) Pierce (and their family, obviously) are from Melbourne.  They have a pretty big following there and yet apparently no Wikipedia page about them!  Go figure.

They have released a number of EPs and this was the first of two in 2017.  They are a bit more subdued on record (especially the couple of mellower songs here).

“Take Me Out” has a terrific, great catchy guitar riff followed by a shout-along chorus of “stand up!” and “take me out.”  This song rocks a lot harder than their other songs (there’s more production as well).  This is a great clap-along and get-up and sing song.

Their other songs are a bit more folkie (live, it’s primarily acoustic guitar and drum kit). But even their folkie songs tend to move fast and have big sing-along choruses.

“The Records Were Ours” has a simple 1,2,3 waltz melody.  It’s incredibly catchy and has a pointed  verse

When you left my house / You took the records and they were ours / You hadn’t broken them up just yet / You got me hooked on these cigarettes

and the best, most understated kiss-off chorus ever:

That’s why / I don’t care much for you / I don’t care much for you anymore

“Rhodes” is a more traditional folk rock song–a simple beat and bouncy guitars.  The big difference is the lengthy guitar solo that ends the song.  It was on this song that I first noticed that Jack (on the left when they play live) sounds more than a bit like Ed from Live.  “Rhodes” is a minor key, darker ballad with a whistling solo that is crazily distorted and more than a little creepy.

“Take a Shot” returns to that big anthemic singalong.  They sing in gruff voices, loudly, and it’s quite catchy.  Later in the EP there’s a live recording from the Syndey Opera House Forecourt in which they introduce the song by saying they wrote it about an [American] fuckwit with a really stupid haircut and we’re all stuck with him for the next four years.

“Keep In Mind” is a slower ballad with interesting percussive sounds.  Jack sings with some falsetto notes that also remind me of Ed from Live.

The final two tracks are live.  The first is that version of “Take a Shot” and the second is a then new song called “Brother” recorded live at Paradiso, Amsterdam.  They tell the audience that “Black Dog” was written for the brother and that “Genevieve” was written for their sister while this song is written for their older brother Justin (“you see my brother his name is Justin Anthony / he was eleven when we were three).  It’s got a big easy chorus that’s basically just a simple melody of whoa whoa oh oh, whoa whoa oh.  Impossible not to sing along to.

They ask, you guys wanna join in?  And do they ever.  The audience is so loud and encouraging that when the song ends, the crowd starts the sing along all over again.  And they guys actually have to start playing the end of the song over again–that’s gotta feel pretty awesome.

And that’s the kind of power they have live.

[READ: December 10, 2017] “The Queen of Zilch”

It is Christmas Eve and the narrator is flaked out in the basement at her dad’s.   She could hear her dad’s new girlfriend Danièle making tons of food for the party.  Danièle had invited “her mother, her million sisters, and god knows who else.”  Her father had only invited a client of his who had just gotten divorced.

Her father didn’t talk to her much.  She had “moved” into the basement.  Her father had taken out the old couch out and replaced it with the one form the den (because the new girlfriend wanted a  new couch).  But he did nothing else to make the place hers–no fridge, no other renovations.  Just a basement.

He came down to give her a warning not to dress crazy or put on make up like a drag queen. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: HANSON FOR THE HOLIDAYS-Tiny Desk Concert #686 (December 18, 2017).

The Hanson Tiny Desk Concert back in October ended with them saying “See you for Christmas everybody.”  And, lo, here they are.

But it turns out that Christmas was in October this year.

During the break, the NPR crew set up the Tiny Desk to look like Christmas.  Two of the three (why not all three?) brothers even wear Christmas sweaters.

They play three Christmas songs.  Two originals and one “traditional” medley.

The two originals are rocking, very piano heavy (the pianist does a LOT of sliding down the keyboard as they rock n toll out).

“Finally, It’s Christmas” is fun and bouncy song that I imagine we’ll hear a lot next year.

“To New Year’s Night” is a very conventional rock n roll song about a North Pole Party.  The guitarist with his gruffer voice (and no sweater) sings this song about needing a toddy for hid body (since I think of Hasnon as being 8-12 years old (although they obviously aren’t), it’s weird to hear them singing about drinking.  It’s a pretty standard rocker, they even quote “da do ron ron.”  After rocking out, they comment “Can anyone saw ‘sweat”ers.”  Since it is obviously not Christmastime.

It has been 20 years since their first Christmas record.  So they decided it was time to do a new one.  While they are talking Bob starts blowing snow all over them.  This leads to them singing “Joy to the Mountain” an a capella mash up of “Joy to the World” and “Go Tell It On the Mountain.”  They sin the melody in a non traditional way.  Their harmonies are really good even if I don’t care for their delivery.

2017 has been a pretty strange (mostly bad) year.  I never would have guessed I’d be watching two Tiny Desk Concerts with Hanson (and more or less enjoying both of them).

[READ: December 25, 2017] “A Chaparral Christmas Gift”

Once again, I have ordered The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This year, there are brief interviews with each author posted on the date of their story.

Hello. Welcome. It’s finally here: Short Story Advent Calendar time.

If you’re reading along at home, now’s the time to start cracking those seals, one by one, and discover some truly brilliant writing inside. Then check back here each morning for an exclusive interview with the author of that day’s story.

(Want to join in? It’s not too late. Order your copy here.)

This year I’m pairing each story with a holiday disc from our personal collection. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: A VERY SPECIAL CHRISTMAS 3 (1997).

Sarah had this album on cassette, so I recently upgraded it to CD for her.  There are some good songs on here, but the end kind of degenerates into unpleasantness.  Looking at the track listing of the rest of the Very Special Christmas releases I can;t imagine ever getting (or even listening to) another one.

STING-“I Saw Three Ships”
Sting is back.  Compared to the previous song, this is a delightfully spare version of this song.  And it’s quite nice (and short).

THE SMASHING PUMPKINS-“Christmastime”
I’ve recently realized how much I dislike Corgan’s voice, but I do like his arranging.  This song is quite pretty and his voice is kind of submerged a bit so that’s good, too.

NATALIE MERCHANT-“Children Go Where I Send Thee”
O good Lord.  Sarah and I both like Natalie, but jeez this song is so repetitive and so freaking long.  One verse would have been fine.  But five? Hold crap.  I do like the “one for the little bitty baby” line, though.

REV RUN & THE CHRISTMAS ALL STARS FEATURING MASE, PUFF DADDY, SNOOP DOGGY DOGG, SALT-N-PEPA, ONYX & KEITH MURRAY-“Santa Baby” [NSFC]
Oh boy is this terrible.  A horrible update to a horrible song.  The original is kind of funny, but this is just excessive greed.  At least it mentions a ’98 benz so it is so dated that no one plays it anymore.

NO DOUBT-“Oi to the World”
Gotta say that I love this song.  It’s funny and fun and I would totally put this on a Christmas playlist.  This is back when I used to like Gwen Steafani.

SHERYL CROW-“Blue Christmas”
I don’t like this song and I’m mixed on Sheryl Crow, but this version works pretty well somehow.

BLUES TRAVELER-“Christmas”
I only know Blues Traveler from that one song with the long harmonica solo (I hate that harmonica sound).  But I love this song.  It actually reminds me a ton of Tenacious D (can t you just hear Jack Black singing this?)  It’s fun and really catchy.  I wonder if I need to listen to other Blues Traveler songs.

ENYA-“Oíche Chiún (Silent Night)”
This song is very pretty and I have the single for it.

HOOTIE & THE BLOWFISH-“The Christmas Song”
Darius Rucker does have a good voice, but what the hell is going on in this cheesy phoned-in version?

CHRIS CORNELL WITH ELEVEN-“Ave Maria”
This is a nice (if not over the top–but is any version not over the top?).  But for heaven’s sake why is it 6 minutes long?

MARY J. BLIGE FEATURING ANGIE MARTINEZ-“Christmas in the City”
This is pretty much everything I hate in one Christmas song.  Cheesy beats, rambling verses, whiny choruses.

JONNY LANG-“Santa Claus Is Back in Town”
This is pretty close to everything else I hate in one Christmas song.  A blues song that feels like it goes on for 6 minutes.  Good grief.

DAVE MATTHEWS & TIM REYNOLDS-“Christmas Song”
This live version sounds better than the studio version I have elsewhere, but it’s still way too slow and mumbly and way way too long.

STEVE WINWOOD-“Christmas Is Now Drawing Near at Hand”
No one knows this “traditional” song, I’m sure.  It’s a slow English ballad, with no real melody.  I thought it was Peter Gabriel.  I kind of like it.

TRACY CHAPMAN-“O Holy Night”
This is an enjoyable version, understated and kind of weary-sounding.

PATTI SMITH-“We Three Kings”
My daughter rightly said that this version was very weird.  Patti is at her most Patti.  There’s  aton of mumbled spoken word competing with the song.  Even the chorus, which is so wonderfully catchy, is played like a dirge.  And like everything else bad on this record, it goes on for nearly 6 minutes.  CDs were bad for allowing people to sing for too long.

[READ: December 24, 2017] “Tripping Sunny Chaudhry”

Once again, I have ordered The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This year, there are brief interviews with each author posted on the date of their story.

Hello. Welcome. It’s finally here: Short Story Advent Calendar time.

If you’re reading along at home, now’s the time to start cracking those seals, one by one, and discover some truly brilliant writing inside. Then check back here each morning for an exclusive interview with the author of that day’s story.

(Want to join in? It’s not too late. Order your copy here.)

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

This story actually takes place on Christmas Eve!

The narrator and her husband head back to New Jersey for the holidays.  Back when she was younger, all the kids would head out to the woods for beers and a bonfire.

(more…)

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