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Archive for the ‘Hotels’ Category

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: CLOUD CULT-“That Man Jumped Out the Window” (Field Recordings, September 12, 2012).

I feel like I know the name Cloud Cult, but this song sounded entirely alien to me.  This was an other Field Recording [Cloud Cult: A Moment Of Serenity] set backstage at Sasquatch! Music Festival.

I love the drama that they set up with this blurb

We were about to call it. The band was running late, our phone service wasn’t working well backstage in the remoteness of the Sasquatch Music Festival in rural Washington state, and the next band was about to begin on the main stage nearby — thus making the prospect of a Field Recording impossible. Then, suddenly, a white van rolled up, straight from the main gate, and out popped six musicians with stringed and brass instruments. Within minutes, they’d set up, sound-checked and performed a jaw-dropping rendition of “That Man Jumped Out the Window” (from 2005’s Advice From the Happy Hippopotamus) with no practice whatsoever.

I enjoy the orchestral nature of this song–reminding me of many other bigger bands that I like quite a lot.

It took me a couple of listens to “get” this song–there’s a lot of different vocal parts, almost as responses to the main part.

It opens with an acoustic guitar and is accompanied by strings and a French horn.  But the main verse is all acoustic guitar and cello (with stark backing vocals–the vocals are not really pretty exactly (they’re not un-pretty either), just powerful).

I’m not sure that this song is all that memorable for me, but I love reading this about the band:

More a family than a band, the Minneapolis collective does everything with purpose, talent and conviction, from its environmentally conscious lifestyle — in which it self-produces and releases albums from its geothermal-powered organic farm — to its charitable efforts to its emotive, even cathartic songwriting.

The song is quite pretty–although I wonder if it would be more so in a fuller setting.  But as It ended, I found myself enjoying it and wanting to hear it again.  Someone asks if they should do another take.

Then, just as the song ended and the band members finally had a chance to view the majestic natural scenery around them — and as we prepared to record another take, just in case — the festival roared back to life. But for those few minutes, we were able to stop, breathe and take in the emotional significance of a moment of serenity. At which point Cloud Cult piled back into the van and rode off to its next gig.

[READ: April 7, 2016] “Indianapolis (Highway 74)”

This story was published in the New Yorker just eight weeks after the previous Sam Shepard story.  I had to look him up and it is the same Shepard who has been writing since forever.  But he is not especially known for his noir books.  His style has changed over the years although he does often write about rootless characters and absurdist ideas.

So this story is about a rootless character, “I’ve been crisscrossing the country again, without much reason.”  This character drives all over the place for long stretches of time.  On this particular night with a blizzard heading into town, he pulls into a Holiday Inn (more for its familiar green logo and predictability than anything else).

But when he asks for a room, they are booked.  There is some kind of hot rod convention in town–which he thinks is odd for the winter, but whatever.

The concierge tells him that there is one room that might be available–the people haven’t shown up and are going to call to confirm whether the weather will prevent them from showing up.

So he waits. (more…)

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(Field Recordings, January 12, 2012). 

This is a lengthy Field Recording [Mantra: Post-Minimalist Percussion In Aisle 12].  It has some interruptions by one of the guys.  Then he talks about how they have set up the board–suspending it on pegs.

There’s something primeval about guys banging on wood. But the New York percussion group Mantra takes such primitive pounding to a surprisingly refined level. For composer Michael Gordon’s mesmerizing new work — Timber, written for six two-by-fours — Mantra set up a public performance of the piece in the lumber department of a big-box hardware store in Alexandria, Va. Who knew 60 inches of processed pine could sound so good?

It’s unclear how long the piece is since there are constant interruptions.   Although it does run for about 2 and a half minutes uninterrupted.

For the most part the six players play a constant rhythm that creates overtones and resonances.  It’s a little monotonous until one of the starts to play a slightly different rhythm.  And by the end, there’s a couple of different rhythms that make it sound even better.

It’s a neat piece and would be fun to walk unto a hardware store and see that.

[READ: January 22, 2018] “Elf-Cio”

This is from a children’s book called Elves for Dignity.  It was published by a worker’s cooperative in Buenos Aires–one of 170 worker-run businesses in Argentina. The piece was translated by Burke Butler.

Once upon a time there was a greedy and merciless King.  One morning he awoke with the idea of converting one of his palaces into a hotel.  He hired a legion of elves whom he considered selfless and docile. They all abandoned their markets and farms to serve the King.

They worked night and day to ensure the splendor of the hotel. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JOHN CARPENTER-“Halloween-Main Title” (1979).

This song is so wonderfully creepy.  Even some 40 years after it was made, it still can give you shivers.

It opens with that piano melody in 10/8 time.  It adds minor key synth chords.  And it keeps going–morphing, changing slowly but never straying far from the original.  It adds intense strings as it progresses.  And all along it has this ticking metronome that is going very fast–much faster than anything else in the song, like a ticking time bomb.

Somewhere in the middle of the song a drum beat is added.  But it’s not so much a drum beat as it is a footstep.  It’s subtle at first–you kind of feel it in there.  You don’t really notice it.  But when the music all drops away at 2:30 to just the piano and the ticking, that footstep is there with you.

Don’t settle for covers or samples.  Don’t accept the version that has the thumping drum right from the start.

Take that late-1970s recording, that old quality, the weird drum footstep sound, it’s all perfect.

It’s the original or nothing.

[READ: October 31, 2018] “The Pale Man”

Just in time for Halloween, from the people who brought me The Short Story Advent Calendar and The Ghost Box. comes Ghost Box II.

This is once again a nifty little box (with a magnetic opening and a ribbon) which contains 11 stories for Halloween.  It is lovingly described thusly:

The Ghost Box returns, like a mummy or a batman, to once again make your pupils dilate and the hair on your arms stand straight up—it’s another collection of individually bound scary stories, edited and introduced by comedian and spooky specialist Patton Oswalt.

There is no explicit “order” to these books; however, Patton Oswalt will be reviewing a book a day on his Facebook page.

Much respect to Oswalt, but I will not be following his order.  So there. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SIOUXSIE AND THE BANSHEES-“Halloween” (1981).

For all of the Halloween songs that are not really about Halloween (even songs that are called Halloween), this one is about Halloween (and more).

Siouxsie and the Banshees created some really catchy songs that they swathed in layers of creepiness.  The chorus of this song is “trick or treat trick or treat the bitter and the sweet.”  It’s catchy, but not treacly.

The night is still

And the frost it bites my face
I wear my silence like a mask
And murmur like a ghost
“Trick or Treat”
“Trick or Treat”
The bitter and the sweet

Just listen to that jagged guitar that introduces the the verses.  Then during the verses, it’s pretty in a minor key way.  About midway through the song the bass takes a few fast runs up and down the fret board to create a tense moment that is followed by a tribal drum section.

And just so you know that this is more bitter than sweet, the next part:

I wander though your sadness
Gazing at you with scorpion eyes
Halloween……Halloween

Seals the deal that this is a goth/post-punk song after all.

[READ: October 26, 2018] “Witches”

Just in time for Halloween, from the people who brought me The Short Story Advent Calendar and The Ghost Box. comes Ghost Box II.

This is once again a nifty little box (with a magnetic opening and a ribbon) which contains 11 stories for Halloween.  It is lovingly described thusly:

The Ghost Box returns, like a mummy or a batman, to once again make your pupils dilate and the hair on your arms stand straight up—it’s another collection of individually bound scary stories, edited and introduced by comedian and spooky specialist Patton Oswalt.

There is no explicit “order” to these books; however, Patton Oswalt will be reviewing a book a day on his Facebook page.

Much respect to Oswalt, but I will not be following his order.  So there. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: “This is Halloween” (The Nightmare Before Christmas) (1993).

Danny Elfman is pretty awesome at creating catchy and spooky songs.

This song, the theme from The Nightmare Before Christmas, is remarkably catchy.  I mean you hear it once and you’re singing “This is Halloween, This is Halloween!” and it leaves you feeling pretty good and excited for the holiday.

Somehow while you’re watching the movie, the creepiness is in the visuals more than the lyrics.  But divorced from the movie, the lyrics (and vocals are really creepy).

I am the one hiding under your stairs fingers like snakes and spiders in my hair.

or better yet

I am the clown with the tear-away face
Here in a flash and gone without a trace
I am the “who” when you call, “Who’s there?”
I am the wind blowing through your hair
I am the shadow on the moon at night
Filling your dreams to the brim with fright
You can do some pretty amazingly scary music when you market it as a children’s song (and maybe throw in this caveat):
That’s our job, but we’re not mean
In our town of Halloween

[READ: October 20, 2018] “How He Left the Hotel”

Just in time for Halloween, from the people who brought me The Short Story Advent Calendar and The Ghost Box. comes Ghost Box II.

This is once again a nifty little box (with a magnetic opening and a ribbon) which contains 11 stories for Halloween.  It is lovingly described thusly:

The Ghost Box returns, like a mummy or a batman, to once again make your pupils dilate and the hair on your arms stand straight up—it’s another collection of individually bound scary stories, edited and introduced by comedian and spooky specialist Patton Oswalt.

There is no explicit “order” to these books; however, Patton Oswalt will be reviewing a book a day on his Facebook page.

Much respect to Oswalt, but I will not be following his order.  So there. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: NELLIE McKAY-Reveals ‘Cavendish’ (Project Song: April 2, 2008).

Project Song was a nifty little show that NPR Music created.  The premise was that NPR would give a musician some prompts and a recording studio.  They then had two days to write and record a song.  I don’t know how much of the process was to be filmed, but presumably most of it. Then it would be edited down to a fifteen minute show.  The results are pretty cool and it’s a shame they only made five of them.

The third one they did was five months after the previous one.  As with the Stephin Merritt project, McKay was solo, but she had a lot of problems and recriminations.

When I invited Nellie McKay to participate in Project Song, I figured she’d write some witty words and hammer something out on the piano. I don’t mean to make it sound so simple, but listen to the music of Nellie McKay, and she’s the one who makes it seem so easy.

McKay came into our studio looking as if she’d just walked off a movie set. In fact, at times in conversation, a young Judy Garland came to mind. She took great care with her curly blonde hair and her beautiful pinstriped suit.

I laid some photographs [all from the Library of Congress] and some words on our makeshift bar for her to consider as jumping-off points for the song she would write over the next few days.

It didn’t take long for McKay to settle on a black-and-white photograph of some men dancing the Charleston out in front of a movie theater. To go with the picture, she chose the word “Bravado.” Those two things would inspire and inform her song.

And then, despite a bit of hemming and hawing, McKay proceeded to sit behind the grand piano and begin drawing musical staff lines on some note paper. She began composing her song.

Although perhaps the consternation and questioning was more of her conscious mind, because it sounds like she was much more confident than she appeared.  “Why couldn’t I have written a song in secret and brought it in and pretended to be confused?”

Here’s what I now know that I didn’t know at the time: In just a few hours of playing at the piano, Nellie McKay wrote her song. I know that now, because I can look at the zoom lens of our video camera and see all the scribbles in her notebook. The words are mostly there, and so is the music.

She pokes out notes on the piano and scribbles in her book.  Then she plays the ukulele (with wah wah).  She hems and haws quite a bit, playing with Bob’s computer to make three distinct drum parts.  She talks with Bob.

“Its hard enough to do a bad pastiche which is what I’m aiming at now.  This is the worst thing, I wrote a complicated bad song.”

She finally asks Bob, the constant cheerleader, “where’s your cynicism, you work for NPR?”

From my perspective in the control room of our studio, what I heard for the better part of our first day was some tinkering, some scribbling, and more tinkering. She’d pick up the ukulele and play more piano, but I couldn’t hear a song emerging.

Then she plays some cello on top.  Then it’s on to some haunting backing vocals.

Bob’s mind is boggled: “to put down the uke part first after what I’ve heard, why not play the piano first?  Her answer: “I’m sick of the piano!”

She says she’s big on secrecy and doesn’t understand how other people did it.  Before revealing that she decides to put down “the thunderclap, perhaps the loon, a little bit of backing vocals, and then I’ll freak out a bit more and then I’ll try to do the main vocals.”

The lyrics, however — and even the title — were a closely kept secret until the final hours of the final day.

Then she reveals the dramatic, multi-faceted, three-part song.  It is stunning that she came up with this.  There’s sound effects, spoken word, Latin rhythms and then a torch song part with horns and falsetto.

And this is it, a song about a London hotel called the Cavendish. A song about some of its guests, like D.H. Lawrence and The Beatles, and of better, simpler times. A wonderful theatrical journey from Nellie McKay — someone who seems connected with the past and unsure of her present.

The Cavendish was a real hotel.  They went through a lot of change.  The hotel has been through two wold wars.  The Latin part is exotic–lovely and yet unsettling.

[READ: January 24, 2018] “The Gulch”

The centerpiece of this story is vile and horrible even to think about.  The story begins with it, it focuses on it but then it also kind of dismisses it at the end.

The story is basically about three juvenile delinquents who have crucified a boy in their class (he did not survive).  It begins with a description of the cross they created with pressure-treated wood and rope from a neighborhood laundry line.

It is written in a kind of casual style from Detective Collard’s point of view.  There’s lots of parenthetical asides “The one who dreamed up the scheme (for lack of a better word).”

One of the boys admitted to digging the hole but then said he wasn’t there in sport or heart. (more…)

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