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SOUNDTRACK: NICK HAKIM-“The Want” NPR’S SOUTH X LULLABY (March 24, 2017).

It’s always interesting to hear someone with a big hairy beard sing in high falsetto, and that’s just what Hakim does here.

This song is very simple with twinkling synths and programmed beasts all underneath Hakim’s delicate voice.  The blurb introduces Hakim to those of us who don’t know him:

Nick Hakim begins with a bit of a fake-out — languorous strings like something out of a Stars Of The Lid record rumble from a sampler, somber and hesitant. But as he begins to sing in a heartbroken falsetto, surrounded by optical fibers hanging from the ceiling of SXSW’s Optic Obscura installation by Raum Industries, the ambient intro morphs into a quiet, psychedelic croon.

“The Want” will appear on Hakim’s full-length debut, Green Twins, but for now, this solo version is only backed by Mellotron and the reverb’d rhythms of what sounds like a Casio preset. It’s soul music for outer-space, performed in a room that looks like outer-space.

This blurb makes this song sound a lot more trippy than it actually is.  To me, the only psychedelic bit is one harp line.  Otherwise it sounds like a very spare, echoing, simple song.  The end does add some interesting layers of sound, but maybe the recorded version is more trippy.

[READ: June 1, 2016] The Good Neighbors: Kith

I didn’t really love book one in this series.  I enjoyed the premise, but found the execution flawed–both in the “script” and to an extent in the drawings–there a bunch of characters who all look vaguely similar.  But I did like it enough to want to read Book 2.

There’s a handy recap that catches us up.

Then we see Rue sad because of her sullen boyfriend who might be breaking up with her.  But he’s a dick anyhow as are most of the characters, frankly.

About 30 pages in something interesting happens when they discover a knife in a tree. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK:  NINA DIAZ & Y LA BAMBA’s LUZ ELENA MENDOZA-“January 9th” & “Living Room” NPR’S SOUTH X LULLABY (March 20, 2017).

I was intrigued by this pairing because Luz Elena Mendoza has a shirt buttoned up to her neck and, from the angle of the first song, it appears that she has her long sleeves down, while Nina Diaz (originally from Girlfriend in a Coma) is wearing a sleeveless T-shirt with tattoos showing up and down her arms.  They seem somewhat mismatched.  Until they sing.  (And also during the second song when it becomes obvious that Luz Elena’s arms are covered in tattoos as well).

The two have never played together, but after NPR Music paired them in the courtyard of St. David’s Episcopal Church for a late evening performance, we’re beginning to wonder why not. They’ve both played the Tiny Desk (Diaz twice, once with Girl In A Coma) and both navigate complex emotions and notions of identity in their music. Also, they just sing beautifully together, Mendoza’s yodel swirling in Diaz’s gritty croon.

Luz Elena’s song “Living Room” is first.  She plays guitar and sings. It’s a short song with Nina’s nice high harmonies over Luz Elena’s deeper voice.  The blurb also notes: Mendoza shares a brand-new song here, “Living Room.” When the two harmonize its confession — “I feel like I’ve been undressing all my thoughts in front of you” — it is, in tandem, starkly intimate and separate.

Nina Diaz’ song “January 9th” is a bit more fun (partially because I know it from her Tiny Desk Concert, but also because it’s a bit more upbeat).  I like Diaz’ singing quite a bit.  Mendoza’s backing vocals add nicely to the “bad one/sad one” part of the chorus.  The blurb adds: “It’s a bluesy ballad with a through line of ’60s pop, a tribute to her late grandmother, cooed and howled into a warm Austin evening.”

Future collaborations should be called for.

[READ: June 27, 2016] Explorer: The Lost Islands

This is the second in series of graphic novel short stories edited by Kazu Kibuishi, the creator of Amulet.

The three books are not related to each other (aside from thematic) so it doesn’t matter what order you read them in.

This first one is all about “lost islands.”  What was neat about this book was that since the premise of an island is so broad, the stories were all very different. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: L.A. SALAMI-“Day To Day (For 6 Days A Week)” NPR’S SOUTH X LULLABY (March 17, 2017).

L.A. Salami’s full name is Lookman Adekunle Salami.  I really enjoyed Salami’s song “Going Mad As The Street Bins.”  His delivery is great and there were some rather unexpected chords.

For this performance of “Day to Day,” he is standing on the balcony of the Hilton Austin hotel overlooking the downtown skyline.

I usually try to pair kid-friendly songs with books, but there’s some curses in this song).

The music is basically the same for 7 minutes (although it does build by the end), which means you must focus on the lyrics. And they are pretty dark.  It talks about boredom on public transportation as well as gruesome deaths on the news.  There’s talk of mental health, like this section:

Went to work for the NHS –
Mental health, people depressed.
Met Joanne – Scared of living,
Afraid of dying, terrified of being.
Then met Paul, a schizophrenic,
Shaking limbs, paranoid fanatic –
Unwashed 10 days in a row –
So afraid almost paralytic.
I tell them that I do the same –
In certain moods, on certain days…
But despite the sane ways I can think
I could not do much to convince them…

But mostly I enjoy his delivery which has his slightly accented voice and charming mannerisms.  The first time I heard this I wasn’t as drawn to it as I was his other song, but each listen unveils something more to like about it.

[READ: June 1, 2016] Explorer: The Mystery Boxes

This is the first in a series of short graphic novel short stories edited by Kazu Kibuishi the creator of Amulet.

Sarah brought these home for the kids to read and they were sitting around our house for a while so I picked one up.  When I flipped through it and saw all the great authors in it I knew I had to read them.

The three books are not related to each other (aside from thematic) so it doesn’t matter what order you read them in.

This first one is all about “mystery boxes.” (more…)

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marchSOUNDTRACK: JOHN PAUL WHITE-Tiny Desk Concert #578 (November 14, 2016).

jpwThe name John Paul White always sounds familiar to me, but I have a hard time remembering just who he is.  He was, among other things, one half of The Civil Wars, a great folk duo (who I didn’t realize had broken up, oops).  He has also released a previous solo album and a new one last year.

He begins the set with “Black Leaf.”  It’s just his acoustic guitar and voice.  He plays some interesting chords and makes some great folk music.  He hits some nice falsetto notes in the verses. And I love the way the song changes direction in the middle–a dark little turn but one that is musically great.

Joining him for the next two songs are Kelli Jones-Savoy on violin and harmony vocals and Adam Morrow second guitar.  Before “Hate The Way You Love Me” he says I’m gonna switch guitars one every song so it makes me look like an accomplished guitarist.  He switches to a hollow bodied electric while Adam plays acoustic.

This song sounds very different, especially when the backing vocals come in (Kelli adds a very country inflected voice..and that violin too).  But the melody in the verse sounds so much like another song I just can’t figure out what.  It’s a great song though and that chorus takes it in a  very different direction.

Before “What’s So” he grabs another guitar and says “three songs, three guitars that’s not pretentious, is it?”  Before beginning the song he thanks everyone in public radio.

[paraphrasing] I’ll do anything for Bob.  He knows that.  I hope he doesn’t exploit that.  NPR is a big deal for a kid on the Alabama/ Tennessee line. You grow up around mainstream pop and country radio and you feel like a square peg.  Thank god for public radio.  Thank you for the work you do for people like me.

Now, I’ll leave you with one last one and then you have to go back to work.

For this song he grabs another acoustic guitar.  This one has a pretty raw sound, and he plays a great bluesy riff.   It sounds quite different from the other two and when they sing the chorus together, it’s got a great yearning quality.

When he finished, Bob walks up and thanks him and then says, “Did you say you were going to stay here and serenade us all day?”

[READ: March 1, 2017] “Thin Crust”

I enjoyed this story so much.  It is my favorite story in The Walrus in a long time.

And I also loved the play in the title.  When I think of thin crust I go to pizza.  But there’s also the crust of the earth.  And that’s what this story is about–that the crust is thinning.  Maybe?

And it starts out so strangely, I honestly didn’t think I knew what was happening.  A fisherman off of Los Cabos watches the horizon line as it wavers.  And then forms a “frozen indigo wall stretching the length of his vision.”  A cormorant dives into the water, misses its catch and the flies towards the void where “it slipped silently into nothing.”

What the hell is going on? (more…)

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febSOUNDTRACK: D.R.A.M.-Tiny Desk Concert #595 (February 1, 2017).

dramI had never heard of D.R.A.M. before (even though apparently his song b”Broccoli” has sold 4 million records).  So I was quite surprised to see the start of this blurb:

We all love a good redemption story: We’re front and center to watch our heroes get knocked down, and then we cheer for them to triumphantly rebound. What we’re witnessing with Shelly Massenburg-Smith — a.k.a. D.R.A.M. — is the culmination of a story marked by resilience and stubborn strength.

Making a hit record in the music industry is extremely difficult, and in 2015, D.R.A.M.’s debut single “Cha Cha” was on the brink of exploding. It was getting played in clubs across the country and bubbling on the charts…. Then Drake’s “Hotline Bling” happened. The reports are conflicting as to the inspiration for the record, but there are glaring similarities in the sound of each. “Hotline Bling” was even originally billed as the “Cha Cha” remix by Beats 1, where the song made its debut. Needless to say, “Hotline Bling” practically swallowed “Cha Cha,” but D.R.A.M. didn’t whine about it. He went back to the drawing board, crafting another smash. “Broccoli” became one of 2016’s biggest hits while setting up the release of his debut album, Big Baby D.R.A.M.

We recently invited D.R.A.M. to NPR to lend us his jovial spirit and brighten our workday; after all, his primary aim is to spread love through music. He was jarred by the Tiny Desk setting for a moment before the cameras started rolling. He’s accustomed to touching every corner of the stage, but like a pro, he walked to the desk, activated his signature smile and bounced through various highlights from his catalog. D.R.A.M., whose name stands for Does Real Ass Music, wrote his first selection, “Cash Machine,” right after he’d received his first big music check.

The crowd beamed more with each performance, leading up to a climactic rendition of “Broccoli.” The energy is all fun and games, but his talent is no joke:”Broccoli” is nominated for a Grammy this year, right alongside “Hotline Bling.” A victory would provide a fitting end to this chapter of D.R.A.M.’s career, but regardless of the outcome, he’s already victorious: Far removed from the “Hotline Bling” shadow, he’s already creating bigger songs and more memorable moments, like this one at the Tiny Desk.

His band consists of D.R.A.M. (vocals); Rogét Chahayed (keys); Taylor Dexter (drums); Wesley Singerman (guitar).  And the video begins with him walking through the crowd toward the Tiny Desk.  Unlike most artists, he plays a whopping five songs!  And while he is, indeed, full of smiles and joy, i couldn’t help but think that he was almost a goof.  He practically seemed like a Saturday Night Live spoof of a rapper.

“Cash Machine” has lyrics like “I love it when you talk to me / my cash machine” and it is seriously all about how happy he was to get a lot of money.  It’s almost naive (except for all of the cursing).  He says that he hopes all the ladies like his second song because it was written for them.  And once again, the lyrics are so strangely innocent and almost naive.  The lyrics of “Cute” are “I saw you on your Instagram and I think you’re cute….  Girl we need to go out on a date / We can really do a little something / If it’s cool I’ll pick you up at 8.”  And the music is sweet and dreamy too.

He says that he’s from Hampton, Virginia, which explains “Sweet VA Breeze.”  He says it’s a song about when things were “a little more simpler.”  He raps about “sitting in the treehouse” with the rather puzzling bridge of “Real love, feel love, taste love, smoke love.”

The next song actually appears on Chane the Rapper’s record Coloring Book.  He introduces “Special” by saying that it’s “nice to put a little motivational message out there in the world.  There’s a lot of fucked up shit going on… if we’re gonna be frank.”  He’s got a nice singing voice on this one.  It’s a rather sweet ballad, with the nice sentiment: “Everyone is special / This I know is true.”

And finally we get to the big hit that I’d never heard. It is such a strange song and the delivery here is even stranger.  He sings the opening lines in an over-the-top delicate almost operatic falsetto.

In the middle of the party, bitch get off me
In the cut I’m rollin’ up my broccoli
Ya I know your baby mama fond of me
All she want to do is smoke that broccoli
Whispered in my ear she trying to leave with me
Said that I can get that pussy easily
Said that I can hit that shit so greasily
I’m a dirty dog, I did it sleazily

The room is cracking up by this time.

And more lyrics:

Couple summers later I got paper
I acquired taste for salmon on a bagel
With the capers on a square plate
At the restaurant with the why you got to stare face
To know I either ball or I record over the snare and bass
Rapper face, dread headed
Golden diamond teeth wearin’
They just mad cause I got that cheese, bitch, I keep dairy

The original song (I had to check it out) has this keyboard that sounds like a penny whistle–so childish and goofy. But I love the big throbbing bass line that comes after every line–almost unexpectedly late.

He’s surprisingly vulgar, but he’s so goofy that it’s hard not to like him.

[READ: January 14, 2017] “JB & FD”

When Wideman wrote this story I’m sure he had no idea that Frederick Douglass would be exhumed into public consciousness because Trump is an idiot.

“Frederick Douglass is an example of someone who’s done an amazing job and is being recognized more and more, I noticed,” he said.  “Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks and millions more black Americans who made America what it is today,” he continued. “Big impact.”

I miss Barack Obama for dozens of reasons, but this guy’s mangling of English is certainly a big reason.

Wideman does not mangle English, of course.  And yet I haven’t really enjoyed the stories I’ve read by him.  And this one proved to be even more challenging for me than his others.

The JB is John Brown.  The FD is Frederick Douglass.  And the problem is that I don’t know enough about either one.  Heck, I wasn’t even sure if they lived at the same time (I have since looked it up–they lived at the same time and admired each other).  But even with that background, this piece is just confusing.

It is broken down into several short numbered sections.

(1) is all about Douglass finding his glasses and having dread.
(2) begins as a letter to Douglass, with the comment that Douglass remembers no beard, not wearing one himself nor a beard on Brown’s gaunt face (but every picture of Douglas has him with a beard).
(3) sees Douglas watch himself step to a podium to discuss “The Woman Question” and then goes home and drops dead [this is historically accurate].
(4) is written from the I point of view, apparently written about John Brown and his upbringing.
(5) is in the first person from John Brown’s POV (I had to look up who had the sons with which names).  I believe it is a letter to Douglass.
(6) contains a letter written by Mahala Doyle and given to John Brown as she awaited execution.
(7) is of Brown’s trip to Kansas and his time in prison.
(8) has three parts. In 1856, a note from Mrs Thomas Russell.  In 1858 John Brown molts (“His feathers shed. A change of color”). In 1859, a letter to Brown (presumably from Douglass).
(9) My name is John Brown and I want my son to hear the story of my name.  In this section someone is dictating to “this good white lady” who is writing every word down to send to his son in Detroit.  And the entire thing is written in dialect.

Beyond that, I’m not sure if this was meant to be a historically accurate portrayal, an imagination of these two minds meeting or something else entirely.  I read it twice and never really “got it.”

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april-5SOUNDTRACK: THE ZOMBIES-Tiny Desk #236 (August 12, 2012).

zombiesWhen I saw that The Zombies were playing Tiny Desk I was really puzzled.  I love “Time of the Season,” but beyond that I’ve never really thought about them.  I didn’t know if they were a one-hit wonder or if they’d struggled for years or what.  I certainly never imagined they were togetehr in 2012.  And the blurb addresses that:

Predicting music that will survive the ages just isn’t possible. And the very existence of The Zombies in 2012 is even more baffling.  Its best known song, “Time of the Season,” came out after the band had already broken up.

I also had no idea that Rod Argent, of the band Argent, was involved with The Zombies (or that he was still making music).  But there he is, talking about the reunited band and playing keyboards.  He tells us, e don’t normally play in such a stripped down version.”  For the Tiny Desk it’s just keys and vocals.  Colin Blunstone, the original singer was 67-years-old when he did this show.  And man, both of them sound great.

The open with another song that I didn’t know was by them: “She’s Not There,” another classic.  It’s unmistakable and sounds great. Blunstone is clearly pushing his voice hard (and it’s all the more noticeable in such a stripped down version).

The blurb notes: “We caught Blunstone early in the morning for this Tiny Desk Concert, a time of the day when his range was self-admittedly a bit strained. However, the essence is still all there and so is the chemistry between Colin and Rod, a chemistry that began 51 years ago.”

They have a new album (!) out.  Argent says they tried to figure out what would sound good stripped down and they “Any Other Way.”  It’s quite good but not as memorable as the other two.

“Time of the Season: sounds a little different—very slow and with out the “Ckh aaah” and backing vocals.  But Blunstone sounds great and Argent plays some great piano solos.

For the final song, they play “a big solo hit that Colin had” called “I Don’t Believe in Miracles.”  I didn’t know the song.  It was written by the guitarist Russ Ballard who was the guitarist for Argent.  It’s a good song, I can see it being a hit with his soaring voice.  At the end, he comments, “I missed the really high bit at the end—I thought my eyes might pop out if I did that.”

It was great to hear these songs live, and maybe I’ll have to see if they made any other songs that I’ve always liked.

[READ: July 11, 2016] “Gavin Highly”

I haven’t really liked the stories from Janet Frame.  And I found this one to be somewhat unsatisfying as well.

There’s an element of fairy tale about this story that I did like–with the narrator unsure if her memory is doing any good.

The narrator (age unspecified, but the story is a recollection from childhood) is talking about the man Gavin Highly.  Highly was a strange guy.  He lived alone and always had done so.  But there were stories about him–that he lived in a rabbit burrow and invited ferrets in for afternoon tea.  “But of course that sort of story couldn’t be believed by realists.”

For all of his eccentric living–never actually living in a proper house that anyone knew of–he did collect books.  People said there were books everywhere.   They were probably worth thousands of pounds and if he had a mind to, he could sell them and buy a nice place.  But he never would. (more…)

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oct28SOUNDTRACK: JASON LYTLE-Tiny Desk Concert #249 (November 5, 2012).

sonJason Lytle was Grandaddy.  Sure there were other people in the band, but it was pretty much all him.  And then he dissolved Grandaddy and started recording discs under his own name.

I loved Granddaddy, but didn’t listen to any of his solo stuff.  So I don’t really know how different it sounds.  For this Tiny Desk Concert, he plays two songs from his 2012 solo album Dept. of Disappearance and one Grandaddy track.

“Willow Wand Willow Wand” is a catchy song with just him and a drum machine playing a backing beat.  He sounds like the guy from Grandaddy but slightly different….

Introducing “Get Up and Go,” he explains that he’s been really enjoying playing his songs in this stripped down format.  He really likes making records that are big and produced.  And now he likes not feeling pressure to do them in concert that way.  He’s happy to not try to pull off all of the bells and whistles in a live environment.  “Get Up and Go” is a “happy and peppy song and this isn’t a happy and peppy version of it.”

This song is quite slow.  Again its him on guitar but at the appropriate moments in the chorus he hits a key on the keyboard and a little melody (very Granddaddy) plays briefly.

After this song you can hear Stephen Thompson ask “Robin, you like this?” to much laughter.

He says he finished an hour long session at Sirius XM.  He was completely by himself and he was really comfortable.  But playing music in front of people makes him nervous—you’d think he had it down by now.  But he tells us “if you’ve never done it before as weird as you imagine it being… it’s that weird.”

The final song is a request for Grandaddy’s “Jed the Humanoid” and that’s when I realized why he sounds different.  He sings slightly more falsetto in Granddaddy than on the solo songs.  It’s very subtle, but I can hear it.  The original of this song is very synthy, so hearing it on acoustic guitar (with the lyrics very clear) really changes the feel of the song.

After a verse, he turns a knob on the keyboard and this weird frog-like sound bubbles under the song (similar to the one on the record, which is neat).

And as he leaves the Desk, you can hear Robin say “the saddest song in the world.”

[READ: July 20, 2016] “Samsa in Love”

Basing a story on another story can be risky, especially when the story you base yours on is incredibly famous with a first line that many people can quote without looking.

But Murakami does something very interesting with Gregor Samsa in this story.  “He woke to discover that he had undergone a metamorphosis and become Gregor Samsa.”  We don’t know who or what “he” was before this and neither does he.  He’s not even sure exactly what he is–but he knows his name.

The first few paragraphs are all about him getting used to even being human–scoffing at his body, wondering why he was so cold and what that gnawing pain was in his stomach–hunger, it turns out.  He spends several paragraphs just trying to learn how to walk on two legs.  It’s all somewhat comical although not exactly funny.

Finally he gets downstairs–the table has been set for a meal but no one is there. Everything is still warm and yet the house appears empty. No matter, he tucks into the food wand eats everything.  Then he sets about trying to cover himself.  He looks out the window and sees everyone dressed, but he’s not willing to even attempt to put clothes on so he grabs a dressing gown and slips into that. (more…)

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