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Archive for the ‘Huh?’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: JORDAN RAKEI-Tiny Desk Concert #935 (January 13. 2020).

I’ve never heard of Jordan Rakei.  I didn’t enjoy the first song of this Tint Desk, but that probably because I don’t really like “soulful R&B artists.”  But the other songs are a bit more jazzy and fluid and I enjoyed them more.

It also seems like Tiny Desk sets that I don’t enjoy are longer than the ones I like.  This one is four songs in 17 minutes–how do artists I’ve never heard of get more screen time than artists that Bob and Robin love?

The blurb is really glowing about the band and musically they are really tight.

The band opened with “Say Something,” from the group’s 2019 album, Origin. It’s a song that encourages people to take action and speak up for themselves.

It’s got a simple riff on the bass (Jonathan Harvey) and the guitar (Imraan Paleker).  The main feature of this song seems to be the backing vocalists: Linda Diaz, Sam Wills and Opal Hoyt who dominate the song.  I think this song just overstays its welcome since the “say something” refrain is sung about a hundred times.

They followed with “Mind’s Eye,” a commentary on technology that questions whether advancements are always a good idea.

I enjoyed the opening looping synth riffage (presumably from Jordan).  Then it kicks in with a vaguely Latin rhythm with percussion from Ernesto Marichales and a cool drum pattern of rim shots from Jim Macrae.  I liked this song a lot more.  bothe because of the really interesting middle section with cool bass lines and swirling synths and guitar as Rakei switches to piano.

This song is jazzy and it segues into the even jazzier “Talk To Me,” from the group’s 2016 debut album, Cloak.  I guess I prefer the clean piano sound and more sparing backing vocals on these two middle songs.   The end is fun with just about everyone playing some kind of percussion instrument.  Jordan sings something although i don’t know if it’s in another language or is just interesting sounds.

The final song “Speak,” was inspired by the TV show The Handmaid’s Tale, it imagines a world where nuclear war has left half the women infertile, as technology runs amok.

For this track it’s just him on piano.  I thought i would enjoy him solo a bit more than with the band, but I don’t find this song all that interesting, so bring the percussion back!

[READ: January 18, 2020] “Protocol”

This was a strange story and I didn’t really understand what was happening for the most part.

The coolest part of the story is that it was a translation and translator David Short managed to write passages with a heavy British accent even though it was originally written in Czech.  I can’t imagine what was happening in the original that would give a sentence like

An’ on top o’ that being a purveyor of love, ‘aving everyone ‘ang on till his death…

Of course, I have no idea why the character would have a heavy accent–it was never alluded to.  In fact, I don’t know why any of this story was the way it was. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BEST COAST-“Everything Has Changed” (2020).

I’ve enjoyed most of the Best Coast songs I’ve heard–simple power pop songs from Bethany Cosentino and Bobb Bruno that can be surprisingly dark.

Although Best Coast is a duo, this song is multi tracked with all kinds of overdubs–lots of backing vocals and guitar solos.  It sounds bigger than anything they’ve done before with loud crunchy guitars and a really simple riff.  And it is catchy as anything.

I like this couple of lines

I used to cry myself to sleep/ Reading all the names they called me,
….
Did they think? No, of course they didn’t.

After the big chorus she talks about what has changed

Now I’m walking a little dog on a leash
Now I live in a big pink house
I escape to witch mountain every day

I honestly don’t know if that’s a positive or sarcastic change.  But the chorus “everything has changed and I like it this way” certainly sounds positive.

One thing I particularly like about this song is that while it is all pretty simple verse/chorus, there is a third part that changes the tone and sound of the song, if only briefly, before returning to the catchy riffage.

I have plans to see them this spring and I’m looking forward to hearing this new record live.

[READ: January 15, 2019] “Who is She?”

In this brief story a woman has an existential crisis and her public reaction to it causes others to suggest ways to help her.

She says a long time ago someone told her that it was important to “locate and deploy” your own story.  This theory is put into question when she starts seeing graffiti around that says in white paint WHO IS SHE?

She saw it in a number of places and couldn’t get the idea out of her mind.   As she was crossing a boulevard, she decided to lie down on the grass in the median strip.

It was early on a Sunday and therefore very quiet but soon enough cars began passing.  Across the street from her was a gym and there were people working out with ruthless, glistening intensity,  And then (I rather enjoyed this), (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: WEYES BLOOD–Tiny Desk Concert #926 (December 11, 2019).

The new Weyes Blood album has been on many people’s best of the of year lists. I hadn’t heard any of it but I’d read that it was lovely.

When I first listened to this Tiny Desk Concert, I really didn’t think much of it–couldn’t imagine what made this simple folk music so special.

But on a second (and third and fourth) listen, I heard a lot of the components that made it quite a beautiful set.

Nataile Mering sings and plays acoustic guitar.  Her voice reminds me a lot of Aimee Mann.

The blurb says that this set is

simple and restrained — a strummed guitar, two-part harmonies, a brushed beat — but still managed to re-create the majesty and wonder of the band’s latest release, Titanic Rising, one of 2019’s loftiest and most layered albums.

The music here is simple and straightforward–“rooted in ’70s folk-pop traditions, with mystical themes of rambling on to find meaning and purpose.”

“Andromeda,” an astral ode to love, set the tone with the acoustic guitar.  After a minute and a half there is a really cool otherworldly-sounding guitar solo from Stephen Heath.  It is just a slide on an electric guitar but it sounds very cool amid the folky quiet.  There is a very traditional organ sound from Walt McClements  filling in the spaces, but I think what really makes the song transcend folk are the fantastic backing vocals from bassist Eliana Athayde.  Whether it’s oohs and ahhs or harmonies, her contributions are monumental.

“Wild Time” is next and Athayde’s oohs are there supporting Mering’s gentle leads.  Like the previous song the acoustic guitar sets the pace with the keys filling in the gas and Andres Renteria’s drums keeping pace.  This time the standout sound from Heath’s guitar is a buzzing e-bow–an otherworldly insect buzzing around the song.  Near the end, Heath turns that buzz into a proper guitar solo and there’s a brief moment where I think Althayde and Mering are singing different lines at the same time.  The end of the song rings of early Pink Floyd with the piano sound and Heaths now noisy scratchy e-bow filed soloing.

The final song, “Picture Me Better,” is “a heartbreaking remembrance of a friend who died by suicide while Mering was working on the album.”  It’s the quietest song of the bunch.  Renteria leaves and it’s just acoustic guitar and keys with gentle electric guitar notes and Mering’s voice.  This time Athayde’s backing vocals add an otherworldly quality as we get lost in this song of loss and yearning.

It’s quite a lovely set, and if this is stripped down, I do wonder what a full-on, layered album must sound like.

[READ: December 16, 2019] “Sevastopol”

This was a story about writing stories.

The narrator, Nadia, receives a postcard from Klaus.  The postcard is of Sevastopol, although Klaus has never been there–he probably got it from a site like easterneuropeanjunk.com.

Klaus had rented a theater space in São Paulo (the story was written in Portuguese and translated by Zoë Perry) and called Nadia to insist that she come and help him fix it up.

They had met at the museum where she works.  He led a drama workshop and since staff could take classes for free she decided to check it out.  Klaus had directed a play which ran in a local theater.  Nadia hadn’t seen it, but her friend said it was awful.  Nevertheless, Nadia liked Klaus. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KISHI BASHI-“All I Want for Christmas is You” (2019).

The 2018 JNR Holiday Party, Vol. 2 compilation also featured a Christmas song by Kishi Bashi.

It begins with him muttering.  “It’s Christmas.  It’s never Christmas when you’re recording Christmas songs.”

What follows is the remarkably conventional song I’ve heard Kishi Bashi record.  Aside form the obviously hugely conventional nature of one of Christmas’ biggest songs, the style of his singing along with the backing vocals and the general feel makes me surprised this version isn’t played more.

Thor Harris who appeared on yesterday’s bizarre Christmas song, makes an appearance here (although I don’t know what he does).  The gorgeous backing vocals come from OHMME (just like yesterday as well).

K. sings this in his lower register–giving him a very croony sounds (one that is rather unlike his normal singing voice).  The only real nod to it being Kishi Bashi is a the cool violin solo (so much better than a sax solo!).

I would listen to this version over any other, hands down.

[READ: December 17, 2019] “The Science Fair Protest”

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 was another confusing story that seemed like it might have been based on something … except the whole premise is crazy.

Even the beginning is hard to parse: “When the new gangsters got elected and took control, atoms could no longer be said to be the smallest form of matter.”  What?

This begat the Science Fair Protest, an ongoing violent disruption.  The narrator says he is no science teacher, but his neighbor, Ram, was an eighth grade biology teacher.  Ram said that the gangsters insisted that instead of him having lab hours once a week, he was to take the students to a field to play a game called Stick & Ball.  You have a stick and, not a ball, but a big rock.  You throw the rock in the air and hit it with the stick as hard as you can. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THOR HARRIS, DUMB NUMBERS-“Carol of the Tubular Bells” (2019).

I really like Joyful Noise Records.  They release some really beautiful music as well as some really out there stuff.  They are the home of Kishi Bashi and Ohmme as well as a number of other terrific bands. But they also release lots of noisy chaotic bands (call it joyful noise perhaps).

For 2018 they released JNR Holiday Party, Vol. 2 and eclectic bunch of holiday songs.

This song was recorded by Thor Harris & Dumb Numbers with David Yow, Ohmme, and CJ Boyd.

Thor Harris is, well, his Wikpedia page says he is “an artist, sculptor, musician, painter, carpenter and handyman.”  Musically he is a composer and percussionist who plays every instrument in the universe (on his last album he was credited with marimba, flute, vibraphone, voice, organ, duduk, tubular bells, gongs ,etc.”

Dumb Numbers is the project Adam Harding whose musical style has been described as doom, sludge, and “swooning feedback pop.”  He has worked with all kinds of people including David Yow, singer of The Jesus Lizard.

That’s the background for this nearly three minutes of bizarreness.

The song starts with a toy piano playing Carol of the Bells.  Soon enough, OHMME sing beautifully the actual song, including the ding dong ding dong.  Meanwhile the counterpoint vocals (normally “Hark how the bells, Sweet silver bells…”) features David You singing “Don’t go insane, don’t go insane” to that melody.

That’s all that Yow sings, over and over for nearly 3 minutes.  And he clearly starts to go a little insane.  His vice fades to a whisper, turns into a rant, and sometimes even gets back on track to the timing.  Meanwhile OHMME sounds really beautiful.

Around 2 minutes in, Yow seems to have lost it entirely, mumbling incoherently until he screams “look out mama, there’s a….”

OHMME stop singing and then the melody of “Carol of the Bells” suddenly morphs into Mike Oldfields’ “Tubular Bells” and the song takes on a whole new tone.

As the song fades Yow screams “Faaaaaaaaalllllllll on your knees.”

This is the song you play when you want everyone to leave your Christmas party.

You can watch Yow sing over the backing track here.

[READ: December 16, 2019] “Show Me Your Dantes”

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 was delightfully surreal.  I am very intrigued that it is an excerpt from an upcoming novel which is the second of a trilogy about  character named Prin.  Initially I thought Prin was a woman, because, why not.  But that was quickly settled, when it was obvious Prin was a forty-year old man.

The excerpt starts with Prin being interviewed by a Charlie Tracker.  Charlie asks him what he knows about this job and Prin says that if he got the job he would be working with Charlie but would be working for Hugh, Charlie’s son.

The story seemed to be pretty normal–a man getting interviewed–until Charlie says he is impressed that the Prin wore new shoes to the job interview, “most of the professors I’ve met over the years show up in shoes they stole from hobo camps.”  Since I didn’t know when this story was set I didn’t know how literal that was meant to be. (Apparently not at all).

As the interview gets going Charlie offers to let Prin see “the finest private collection of Dante manuscripts and Dante memorabilia in the United States.”   Charlie is a little disappointed that Prin wasn’t more excited about that but Prin says he’d be more excited if he knew what this position was all about.

Charlie gives a lengthy and affecting explanation of how he got into Dante (it had to do with the Vietnam war and a very disturbing scene).  We also learn about Charlie’s business background and how he succeeded after the war. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SPACEFACE-Holidazed EP (2018/2019).

Last year, Spaceface released a single of “Christmas Time is Here” from A Charlie Brown Christmas.  It was trippy and cool with lots of echoing guitars and keys.  I guess it came from this EP, which I only learned about this year.

Although i see that some of the songs on this EP came out in 2019, so Spaceface is messing about with time this year.

The first song is “Christmas Party (Naughty & Nice)” credited to Spaceface, Andy Clockwise and Swimm.  Swimm is a band that “makes music with the concepts of weightlessness and fluidity as the common elements in their genre-blurred sound.”  Andy Clockwise and Chris “Cookie” Hess (from Swimm) do the vocals on the track.    The song opens with jingling bells.  Then a big fat fuzzy riff kicks in and the song takes off.  Angelic group vocals sing the chorus and then the music fades out as the spoken word part comes in.  With statements like “it seems like this year we might be able… to party” and “we’ll have a merry Christmas after all as long as Jake can share his adderall,” that must be the naughty side.  While the nice side has the angelic voices singing “your presence is the only present we need.”  It’s pretty catchy and that cool opening riff comes back at the end to finish it off.

Up next is “Single Star” featuring “LABRYS on vocals (Penny from Broncho).”  I unpacked this to discover that Penny Pitchlynn’s solo project was called Labrys and she is now in Broncho.  A quiet echoing guitar flows through the song as Penny’s low key voice sings the lyrics

A single star is lighting our new way,
but is it fate? A shadow’s doubt outshines your quiet truth
A single star’s bluish halo hue, brings promise of truth
Unbroken yet fickle as a flame

It doesn’t feel overtly Christmasy, although the lyrics do tend tin that direction.  But the addition of jingle bells in the chorus do give it a holiday feel.

There is also “Wish To Come True” which is the demo of “Single Star.”  It’s a lovely instrumental version of the song.

The EP also includes the original “❇Christmas Time Is Here❇” as well as the instrumental version by Spaceface and Kwka (Mike Fridman) which ares till trippy and wonderful.

This is a nice leftfield Christmas EP–a trippy addition to your holiday party.

[READ: December 15, 2019] “Executions and Horses”

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.

I’m going to use Jarman’s description of the story to summarize it, because I couldn’t do it justice.

“Executions and Horses” is historical fiction set during the Red River Rebellion.  Riel’s shooting of Thomas Scott at Fort Garry is often viewed as his big mistake and that Riel was hanged in 1885 because of this shooting. The Prime Minister said Riel will hang though every dog in Quebec howl.  This still echoes in Canadian politics.

I couldn’t do it justice because I don’t really know this period in history very well at all and I really didn’t know what was going on for much of the story.

The story is elliptically written and, although the death of Thomas Scott is a central moment to the story, the focus is really on someone with nothing to do with the story.  I actually assumed the narrator was a woman, although re-reading the story there is no indication of that and I think perhaps the narrator is a man.  Which means that the lesbian/outsider subtext I assigned to the story is totally false.

Rather, I guess it is just a guy who fancies Gertie the Outside Woman who “walks her manic chicken on a length of twine.”  He is following Gertie’s backside, but also wondering if they put Scott’s half-alive body under the river ice. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: PEARL JAM-“History Never Repeats” (1995).

On December 2, Pearl Jam announced that their fan club holiday singles will be released to streaming services.  Their first holiday single was released back in 1991.  It was “Let Me Sleep (Christmas Time).” They are rolling out the songs one at a time under the banner 12 Days of Pearl Jam.

These releases are coming out as a daily surprise.

I was not aware of this recording at all.  It is, indeed, the Split Enz song.  It was recording during a Pearl Jam show on March 24, 1995 in Auckland, New Zealand.   It must be during a quiet middle section, because it’s just Eddie with Neil Finn & Tim Finn live at the Mount Smart Stadium.

It is a bare-bones version with just voices and one electric guitar.  Neil Finn plays guitar and sings the first verse.  Eddie takes the second verse.  Tim Finn sings the third verse.  All three share  backing vocals and the chorus.

It’s a rare treat to hear an old recording like this, especially one of a song they’ve not played since.

[READ: December 13, 2019] “The Infinite”

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.

I really like César Aira’s stories.  He’s a fascinating guy and insanely prolific.

He has written nearly a hundred books.  Most of his novels are quite short, so I’ve never really thought of him as writing actual short stories.  This one comes from his collection The Musical Brain: And Other Stories which was translated by Chris Andrews.

The unnamed narrator says that as a kid he played some extremely strange games.  I love this line, “They sound made up when I explain them, and I did, in fact, make them up myself.” (more…)

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