Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Huh?’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: GURR-“Christmas One and Only” (2018).

I really enjoyed Gurr when I saw them live this year.  I wanted to see what their studio music sounded like and I found this release called the Christmas Business EP.  Two songs that feature Eddie Argos from Art Brut.

This second song has a poppier riff (More guitar than bass) and a happier vocals style with the Gurr women singing “Christmas coming into town all the kids are frantically screaming / Christmas coming into town its all about love, oh this is the season.”

Even the hard-hearted Eddie Argos finds his Grinch heart melting this year.

It begins with him saying “Sat around the Christmas tree sorry about my misery” and this rather amusing line: “My favorite thing about Christmas time used to be finishing everybody’s glasses of wine.”

But after some cheerful lines from Gurr, he has a change of heart:

“I never liked Christmas, but since I met you I want to grab it with both fists and give it a big kiss.”

There’s also this very nice ending sentiment

“good or bad this year is nobody’s business / I hope you have a wonderful Christmas.”

Thank you Eddie.

This short song (also less than 3 minutes) ends with this amusing comment:

Die hard is a Christmas film and so is Die Hard 2 / I want to drink some Glühwein and watch them both with you.

Cheers!

Check it out here.

[READ: December 1, 2019] “Torre Del Mirador”

This year, S. ordered me The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This is my fourth time reading the Calendar.  I didn’t know about the first one until it was long out of print (sigh), but each year since has been very enjoyable.  Here’s what they say this year

The Short Story Advent Calendar is back! And to celebrate its fifth anniversary, we’ve decided to make the festivities even more festive, with five different coloured editions to help you ring in the holiday season.

No matter which colour you choose, the insides are the same: it’s another collection of expertly curated, individually bound short stories from some of the best writers in North America and beyond.

(This is a collection of literary, non-religious short stories for adults. For more information, visit our Frequently Asked Questions page.)

As always, each story is a surprise, so you won’t know what you’re getting until you crack the seal every morning starting December 1. Once you’ve read that day’s story, check back here to read an exclusive interview with the author.

Want a copy?  Order one here.

I’m pairing music this year with some Christmas songs that I have come across this year.

This story (translated by Margaret Jull Costa) seemed very familiar and I have to wonder if I’ve read it anywhere before.  I loved it for how weird and engaging it was.

One morning, the narrator is awoken by a phone call.  The caller tells him that he was close to having a nervous breakdown and he needed to talk to someone.  The narrator is annoyed at being woken up and assumes it is a prank from one of his friends.  But the caller tries to clarify.  He says that his wife was making his life miserable–always telling him how ugly he was.  She said she hated his face.  He got so fed up that he left her. He rented the apartment across from their villa and has been spying on her ever since.  He tells the narrator that he picked his number at random. (more…)

Read Full Post »

SOUNDTRACK: JOVINO SANTOS NETO-Tiny Desk Concert #903 (October 21, 2019).

Jovino Santos Neto plays piano–and then surprises by playing a lot more.

I have a come and go relationship with jazz.  I like some of it.  I like it sometimes.

But the blurb might explain why I liked this music right away:

Something happens for me when I hear jazz mixing it up with Brazilian rhythms. In the right hands it falls into the realm of magic.  Pianist, multi-instrumentalist and composer Jovino Santos Neto certainly cast a spell over those who gathered for this joyful turn behind the Tiny Desk.

I loved everything about this performance.

The trio rushed right out of the gate with the samba-influenced “Pantopé” that introduces the concept of the trio: seamless interaction between the musicians that make the band sound like one big, melodic rhythm machine.

“Pontapé” opens with slow piano and woodblocks from drummer Jeff Busch.  Then after about thirty seconds, the song takes off with some amazing piano playing and some great five-string bass from Tim Carey.

There’s a really impressive bass solo–Carey has got some really fast fingers.  Then, midway through the song–and a huge surprise if you’re not watching–Santos Neto pulls out a very solid-looking melodica and plays a really impressively fast solo on it.

It’s a solo that’s interspersed with some fun drum fills–cowbell, snare, wooblocks and a little whistle at the end.  It’s a wild and fun track for sure.

He explains that the name”Pontapé” means kick.  People who can play soccer can do amazing things with their feet.  But we do it with the notes instead.

Up next is “Sempre Sim.”  The song

starts with percussionist Jeff Busch riffing on the traditional percussion instrument called berimbau. 

It looks like a giant fishing rod.  Santos Neto says, “don’t be afraid it isn’t a weapon… I mean in the right hands.”  One plays the berimbau by hitting the instrument with a tiny drum stick (and also hits the cymbals with tiny stick).

its ethereal sound creating the perfect intro to the dreamy melody and solo from Santos Neto on piano, while bassist Tim Carey echoes the double beat on the bass drum that drives Brazilian music.

There’s some great piano and amazing bass.  The middle solo is an astonishing amelodic feast.  By then Busch has switched back to sticks and is playing drums.

They finish and Santos Neto seems to think they are done.  There’s a long pause with everyone looking off at someone.  Then he says Okay!  We’re going to play one more to much chuckling.

The final song is “Festa de Erê.”  He says that

Erê represents the spirits of children in the Brazilian Umbanda tradition, which makes “festa de Erê” an appropriate title for the intensely whimsical tune that weaves in and out of the different traditional rhythms performed by all three musicians.

The song starts bouncy and lively.  But they settle down so Santos Neto can play the main piano melodies.

Then midway through the song he surprises once again by playing a lengthy, pretty flute solo–the end of which consists of him playing the flute one-handed while he plays the piano with his right hand.

All the while Carey is tapping out the notes with both hands, but that impressive feat is overshadowed by the incredible stuff going on behind the piano.

Like the sometimes frenetic energy of the music they play, Jovino Santos Neto and his trio are perfect examples of musicians who have so much music coming from within, sometimes one instrument is just not enough.

Perhaps I like jazz best when it’s mixed with Brazilian rhythms too.

[READ: November 16, 2018] “The Trip”

I’ve only read one other story by Weike–a story of a difficult romance.

This story is also of a difficult romance, but in a very different way.

The story begins

In Beijing, he boiled the water.  It was August, so the hottest month of the year.  He put the water into a thermos and carried the thermos on a sling.  He called himself a cowboy because he thought he looked dumb. Other people in the group carried a thermos too, though he wife did not.

The opening is certainly confusing.  It continues to be so.  He and his wife go to the Great Wall.  She sprints along it to show him a particular spot hat her cousin showed her as a teenager.  Her cousin taught her the Chinese word for cool–imagine not knowing that word– shuang–until you were 13.  Can you imagine how that felt?  He says that she knew the word in English, though right?  She made a face and then sprinted on.

The trip had been a gift from her parents who wanted “her first husband to see China and have good memories from there and sample its regional foods and see the warmth of its people and not hate us civilians should our two great nations ever partake in nuclear war.”  At least that’s how she translated it. (more…)

Read Full Post »

SOUNDTRACK: SHARON VAN ETTEN-Tiny Desk Concert #898 (October 7, 2019).

It was Sharon Van Etten’s 2010 Tiny Desk Concert that introduced me to her.  I was blown away by the songs from Epic.

When Sharon Van Etten made her Tiny Desk debut back in the fall of 2010 [with about fifteen people in the audience], her voice exuded fragile, gentle grace. Performing songs from that year’s Epic, she huddled around a single acoustic guitar with backup singer Cat Martino to perform a set of tender and evocative folk-pop songs.

Sharon released a couple more albums and then took some time away from music.  She returned this year with the appropriately named comeback single “Comeback Kid.”  The big difference was that now there were synths!

Cut to nearly a decade later. One of only a handful of artists to get a repeat headlining engagement at the Tiny Desk [that handful is getting bigger and bigger it seems]. Van Etten has spent the last few years purging her bucket list: She’s become an actress (appearing as a guest star on The OA), released a string of increasingly aggressive albums (the latest of which is this year’s synth-driven Remind Me Tomorrow), toured the world, performed on Twin Peaks, written music for films, become a mom, gone back to school and popped up in collaborations with everyone from Land of Talk to Jeff Goldblum.

I had no idea that these things happened.  So good for her, I guess.

It’s only natural that this Tiny Desk concert feels different; you can hear it before Van Etten and her band even show up onscreen. Its pace set by the ticking beat of a drum machine, “Comeback Kid” is in full bloom here, with a swaying arrangement that fills the room before Van Etten opens her mouth.

“Comeback Kid” is super catchy.  It sounds similar to the recorded version although a little smaller, perhaps.  There’s also a few extra keyboard flourishes from Heather Woods Broderick (who played the Tiny Desk as a member of Horse Feathers way back in 2009).  Charley Damski plays the synth washes that fill the room.  Sharon plays acoustic guitar and sings with serious intensity.

“You Shadow” starts with bass (Devin Hoff) and a drum machine (Jorge Balbi).  There’s no guitar on this track, but Sharon’s voice sounds great:

 the singer performs with considerable intensity here, seething through “You Shadow.”

She quietly thanks everyone and introduces the band.  This moment of thanks and appreciation in no way prepares you for the intensity in which she sings the set-closing “Seventeen.”

The song also starts with synth and bass.  Sharon sings but doesn’t start playing acoustic guitar until after the first verse.  Everyone adds gorgeous backing vocals for the chorus.  Then Sharon starts getting intense while singing.  Normally “la la las” are kind of upbeat, but she comes out of them with a fire as she sings “with a scream that slashes through the office air.”

Her voice almost breaks and she seems to be quite moved by the performance.  It’s really tremendous.

I admit that I like her earlier stuff better–the way she sang, the way her backing singers complimented her and the intensity of her music.  But after seeing her live this summer and now watching this, her intensity is still there–it’s just used more sparingly and appropriately.

The only downside to this Tiny Desk is that Heather Woods Broderick–who is an amazing backing vocalist–is pretty subdued here.  It’s appropriately subdued in this setting, but it’s a shame to not hear her in full.

Here (left) is a picture from Sharon’s first Tiny Desk Concert.

[READ: November 7, 2019] “The Flier”

This story was very cool.

I really loved the way the entire story totally downplayed “one of the most wondrous occurrences in the history of humankind.”

It begins with the narrator explaining that his wife Viki had invited their friends Pam and Becky over: “short notice–but there’s something we’d like to talk over with you.”

As he describes the meal he’s made, in quite a lot of detail, Pam and Becky arrive.  The narrator hears them talk about him and he acknowledges that his illness has made him small and light.

After the pleasantries are over, Viki says matter-of-factly that the narrator “has developed the ability to fly.” (more…)

Read Full Post »

SOUNDTRACK: ROBERT SCHNEIDER-“Reverie in Prime Time Signatures” (2009).

Robert Schneider is the lead singer, songwriter, guitarist and producer of The Apples in Stereo.  He also received a PhD in mathematics from Emory University in 2018.

So he seems like the perfect person to write this complex score (even if he wrote it before he got his PhD).

In the back of the book, Schneider explains in pretty great detail how he chose to write what he did.

He also says that the music was written and and first performed at an experiemntal reading of the original script at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton on Dec 12 2009. Schneider played synth along with cellist Heather McIntosh and clarinet Alex Kontorovich.  The musical score is included in the book and you can hear it here

The piece is two minutes with harpsichord and a lead cello and flute with a synthesizer underneath.

It is mournful and quite pretty.

For a song that is all about odd time signatures, it somehow doesn’t feel awkward or choppy.  I don’t know enough about time signatures to even tell where the different parts are–I can’t hear it at all.  But I find the piece to be quite nice.  And it is reasonable to think that the victims could have the melody stuck in their heads.

 

[READ: June 19, 2019] Prime Suspects

Raise your hand if you want a graphic novel (illustrated by Robert J. Lewis) that is a CSI-styled investigation but is actually a pretty thorough look into higher mathematics.

I have a hard time summing up what this book is all about because I didn’t get all the math that’s going on here.  But the story itself is pretty fun and easy to follow.

The book opens with two cops finding a dead body in a tunnel  There’s also a documentary crew filming everything for the show MSI: Mathematical Science investigation.

A man in a hat and trench coat welcomes us to his world–a world where you don’t have to understand everything to know something.  Where a legendary mathematics professor became the subject of a documentary.

That professor is Professor Gauss. His assistant Mr Langer is in the precinct with Gauss to talk about what hey have found.

Langer is a formally educated student.  A bit uptight and stuffy.  One day in Professor Gauss’ class a young woman with a ring in her nose and unique fashion sense came in.   Her name is Emmy Germain and she proves to be incredibly smart.  But she is self-educated–an abomination to Langer.  But she turns out to be a delightful surprise to the documentary crew that is inexplicably filming Guass’ class. (more…)

Read Full Post »

SOUNDTRACK: MOLLY SARLÉ-Tiny Desk Concert #897 (October 4, 2019).

Molly Sarlé was recently on a Tiny Desk Concert with Mountain Man (who I heard but didn’t really see at Newport Folk Festival).

During the Mounatin Man songs, Molly tends to have the high harmonies.  In this session, she doesn’t sing especially high–although her voice is quite delicate.  It’s hard to believe she was a back up vocalist for Feist, not because her voice isn’t lovely–it is!–but because she doesn’t seem to be a very powerful singer.

The first Mountain Man album came out in 2010.  The second Mountain man album came out in 2018.  This is Molly’s first solo album.  During the intervening years, she did a number of things (like sing backup for Feist), but was apparently never sure if music was her calling.  And yet her songs are personal and powerful.

The songs Molly Sarlé performed at the Tiny Desk are all from her debut solo album, Karaoke Angel. These songs aren’t frivolous–at the heart of Molly Sarlé’s songs are stories. Sometimes they feel like dreamy inner thoughts loosely connected.

She opens with “Human,” a song I knew from a different Mountain Man show on NPR (Tiny Desk Family Hour).

 It may simply be a breakup song; but its wisdom is in recognizing our individual flaws, being OK with them and even finding pleasure in being imperfect beings.

Although interestingly at the Family Hour, she said it’s about how “unfortunately easy it is to talk to god like he’s a man.”

The song is fairly simple–a pretty melody and a steady one-two snare/hi-hat (Austin Vaughn).  In the Family Hour, the song was just her and her gently strummed guitar with backing harmonies.  It’s really lovely.  This version has an absolutely wonderful bass line (from Brian Betancourt) that runs through it.  It doesn’t detract form the beautiful simplicity of the song, it adds a nice counterbalance and I can’t really tell which version I like better.

Bob also says, “She’s a captivating performer who sings as much with her eyes as she does her voice.”  That is so very true.  She looks out at the audience throughout the song, with a possibly inquisitive look.  He blue eyes piercing through the lovely melody.

It’s weird just how funny Molly is–she seems fairly serious, and her delivery is quite slow, and yet she has a  great (or wicked) sense of humor.

Before “Karaoke Angel” she starts looking at the tchotchkes on the shelves.  She

began her fascination with the multitude of objects shelved behind the Tiny Desk back when she sang with Mountain Man earlier this year. This time, with her own band, those objects left by others inspired a tale of a sweaty towel, an old lover and more.

The item, labeled “Betty’s Boob Sweat” leads to a funny story of dating a ember of Feist’s band and the sad aftermath when she could feel somewhat jealous of a sweat rag.

After telling this story she ends with this amusing non-sequitur:  “No one should have to see their ex-boyfriend’s sweat rag on an other woman’s clutch.  Life is painful and this song is called Karaoke Angel.”

Molly plays the main guitar chords (so gently) while Adam Brisbin plays a quiet wavery slide guitar part.  The song sways gently and Molly’s voice is just beautiful–unadorned and clear and very pure sounding.

For all the quietness of the song, the lyrics are pretty amusing too:

I walked into a bar and gave my heart away to the first stranger I met who could remember my name.
I got up on the stage and sang at the top of my lungs Its so easy so easy to fall in love.

Each subsequent verse is about a man in the bar

Mike walked over / he was picking up what I was putting down / he said honey I am only gonna disappoint you somehow / oh Mike quit talking to me like you’re saying something I didn’t already know / I can tell by the beauty / of the furrow in your brow / you’ve been anointed by disappointment / and it might even be something you like.

Before the final song “Almost Free,” Molly tells the shockingly sad origin of the song, but has to laugh, because what else can you do

Molly cleared her throat and said this song is “about my dad wanting to talk to me about committing suicide — and it turns out writing a song about your dad talking to you about wanting to commit suicide is a great way to shift the conversation, because now we just talk about this song.” Molly Sarlé laughed a bit about the absurdity and truth of it all and, with what I sense as holding back a tear, sang a powerful, personal song in an awkward, open office space.

It starts out with just Molly strumming her guitar and singing.  It seems so stark and exposed, that when the rest of the band comes in and the song almost rocks a bit (sounding like a jam band song) that it’s comes as a relief.

This is a quietly powerful Tiny Desk and really shows off how beautiful Molly’s voice is.

[READ: Summer 2019 and October 29, 2019] The Helios Disaster

This is a weird book, to be sure.  It was written by the then wife (now ex-wife) of Karl Ove Knausgaard.  But it is absolutely nothing like his books.  Linda has her own style and perspective that makes these authors miles apart.  This book was translated from the Norwegian by Rachel Willson-Broyles.

It opens like this:

I am born of a father.  I split his head.  … You are my father, I tell him with my eyes.  My father.  The person in front of me, standing in the blood on the floor, is my father. …The blood sinks into the worn wooden floor and I think, his eyes are green like mine.

How at my birth, do I know that?  That my eyes are green like the sea.

He looks at me.  At my shining armour.  He lifts his hand.  Touches my cheek with it.  And I lift my hand and close it around his.  I want nothing but to stand like this with my father and feel his warmth, listen to the beating of his heart.  I have a father.  I am my father’s daughter.  These words ring through me like bells in that instant.

Then he screams.

His scream tears everything apart.  I will never again be close to him.

She removes her armor, puts down her lance and flees the building.  The neighbor, Greta, says she will help the girl, while the police come and investigate the commotion.  When Greta asks the girl what she wants, the girl says she wants to go to her father.  But Greta says that Conrad doesn’t have any children.

What is going on? (more…)

Read Full Post »

SOUNDTRACK: KATE BUSH-“Get Out of My House” (1982).

A lot of the music I listen to is weird and probably creepy to other people, but I don’t necessarily think of songs as appropriate for Halloween or not.  So for this year’s Ghost Box stories, I consulted an “expert”: The Esquire list of Halloween songs you’ll play all year long.  The list has 45 songs–most of which I do not like.  So I picked 11 of them to post about.

Most people who know Kate Bush know her songs that have broken the Top Ten.  But if you dig deeper into her catalog, Kate has some really intense and really creepy songs.

I was pretty delighted to see this on Esquire’s list because it’s a pretty deep cut, it seems like a surprising choice and because it gives me chills.

It starts with thumping drums, a plucked string melody (dulcimer?) and a guy making a kind of hee-hawing sound in the distance.

And then the lyrics.  Good old gothic horror:

When you left, the door was
(slamming)
You paused in the doorway
(slamming)
As though a thought stole you away
(slamming)
I watched the world pull you away
(Lock it)
So I run into the hall
(Lock it)
Into the corridor
(Lock it)
There’s a door in the house
(slamming)
I hear the lift descending
(slamming)
I hear it hit the landing
(slamming)
See the hackles on the cat
(standing)
With my key I
(lock it)
With my key I
(lock it up)

The next part has Kate speaking in a funny voice (and in French) in your left ear before the “chorus” (such as it is) features Kate singing the main lyrics quietly and slowly while the recurring refrain is her shrieking and gasping at he top of her lungs (but recorded so it sounds far away) “Get Out of My House!”

The middle of the song gets more frantic.

This house is full of m-m-my mess
(Slamming)
This house is full of m-m-mistakes
(Slamming)
This house is full of m-m-madness
(Slamming)
This house is full of, full of, full of fight
(Slam it)

Midway through the song, while repeating “Get Out of my House!” the dulcimer returns playing a bouncy melody while a man’s voice whispers creepily in your right ear:

“Woman let me in!
Let me bring in the memories!
Woman let me in!
Let me bring in the Devil Dreams!”

Kate replies:

I will not let you in!
Don’t you bring back the reveries
I turn into a bird
Carry further than the word is heard

The man counters:

“Woman let me in!
I turn into the wind.
I blow you a cold kiss,
Stronger than the song’s hit.”

Kate concludes:

I will not let you in
I face towards the wind
I change into the Mule
“I change into the Mule.”

She turns into the Mule and starts braying and hee-hawing, which then transforms into the man who did it at the beginning of the song.

That’s not quite the end, but I’m not even sure what’s going on as the song ends–voices keep muttering something over and over.

It’s five and a half minutes of confusion and creepiness.  Perfect Kate Bush.

[READ: October 23, 2019] “It Feels Better Biting Down”

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

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:

Oh god, it’s right behind me, isn’t it? There’s no use trying to run from Ghost Box III, the terrifying conclusion to our series of limited-edition horror box sets edited and introduced by Patton Oswalt.

There is no explicit “order” to these books; however, I’m going to read in the order they were stacked.

I don’t know Livia Llewellyn, but if her other stories are anything like this, she must have a wonderfully bizarre body of writing.

This story starts off fairly conventionally.  Twin sisters wake up to the sound of a lawnmower. (more…)

Read Full Post »

SOUNDTRACK: RAMONES-“Pet Sematary” (1977).

A lot of the music I listen to is weird and probably creepy to other people, but I don’t necessarily think of songs as appropriate for Halloween or not.  So for this year’s Ghost Box stories, I consulted an “expert”: The Esquire list of Halloween songs you’ll play all year long.  The list has 45 songs–most of which I do not like.  So I picked 11 of them to post about.

Ramones are the least punk punk band ever.  Sure they are essential to the history of American punk, but they were basically playing fast rock n roll songs. They were awesome sure, but compared to the viciousness of British punk, Ramones were just guys in leather jackets singing harmonies.

By the time they released “Pet Sematary” in 1989 they were more of a pop metal band.  This song is stupidly catchy.

It’s got a complex (for them) opening guitar riff and quickly moves into power chords.

The chorus (with all kinds of backing vocals) is one of the poppiest things around.  If it weren’t for the lyrics

I don’t want to be buried in a pet cemetery
I don’t want to live my life again

it could easily be a radio friendly pop hit (and I think it was anyhow).

This song actually works very well for Halloween, even if it isn’t particularly scary, because of the lyrics.

Under the arc of a weather stain boards
Ancient goblins, and warlords
Come out the ground, not making a sound
The smell of death is all around

The moon is full, the air is still
All of the sudden I feel a chill.

I never realized that the song was literally about the book/movie.  I knew it was for the movie but the lyrics reference Victor the main character, which I never knew).

I suppose if you were a fan of the first four Ramones album and then never heard another song until this one, you might find it frightening how far they’d traveled from their origins.

[READ: October 22, 2019] “A Defense of Werewolves”

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

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:

Oh god, it’s right behind me, isn’t it? There’s no use trying to run from Ghost Box III, the terrifying conclusion to our series of limited-edition horror box sets edited and introduced by Patton Oswalt.

There is no explicit “order” to these books; however, I’m going to read in the order they were stacked.

This story was first published in 1948 and wow, did I dislike this.   The first time I read it.

It’s pretty short so I read it twice.  This story is written like a treatise.  It is high language and rousing, I guess.  But honestly it really has nothing to do with werewolves and is actually more about the fantasy genre and keeping it safe from “the querulous, muttering voices of the plain.” (more…)

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »