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Archive for the ‘Huh?’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: BRODY DALLE-“Dressed in Dreams” (Field Recordings, July 15, 2014).

For this Field Recording [Brody Dalle: Raging Into the Light], Brody Dalle plays in an Indian Restaurant!  I fancy myself a knowledgable punk fan, but I’ve never heard of Brody or either of her bands.

Throughout her career, punk icon Brody Dalle has embraced her aggressive side. Best known as the lead singer of The Distillers and Spinnerette, Dalle has a sandpaper- and velvet-tinged voice that speaks to rebellious young punks who are curious about the world yet vulnerable to its sharp edges. “I’ve never understood why there was such a fuss about aggressive women in music,” Dalle says. “To me, aggression is a human instinct. … I’ve felt provoked for most of my life, especially as a child. I guess I’ve carried those feelings into my songs.”

So it was a pleasant surprise that Dalle was open to the challenge of crafting a stripped-down version of her song “Dressed in Dreams.” An anthem about getting back up when you’ve been kicked down, the song is personal to Dalle: After overcoming addiction, she almost immediately faced a brutal bout of postpartum depression. “I had a hard time getting myself up and running before I wrote this record,” she says. “I felt worthless. I was embarrassed and lost.”

Luckily, Dalle was able to use her songwriting as a way to fight back. Earlier this year, she released Diploid Love, her first solo album, and she says she happily embraces her day-to-day life as a working rock mom and wife. As Dalle set up her gear at New York City’s Panna II, we noticed the way the chili-pepper strands that covered every surface of the restaurant bathed her in a weirdly fierce yet serene red light. They provide a nice little visual metaphor for the way raging against the darkest points in life can help bring you into the light.

I love the fuzz she gets on an acoustic guitar.

But I have since listened to the recorded version and I like it a ton more.  The extra guitar really helps make what is an otherwise simple and repetitive song far more interesting.  Her voice also sounds a lot better on the record.

But the weirdest thing is how long this song is.  The Distillers songs were proper punk songs, last about 3 minutes or less.  This one, running over 4 doesn’t have enough variety to sustain that length.

[READ: February 5, 2018] “A Failure of Concern”

I wrote this about a Ben Marcus story published in Harper’s in 2011:

It goes on for several pages.

There is some degree of amusing shock value in the way he speaks … but as with much of what I’ve read from Marcus, I feel like I could have read half of this and gotten enough.

No explanation is given for the problem (and, fair enough, it is only an excerpt) and anyway, by the end, I didn’t really want one.

And I feel exactly the same about this story.

The nutshell story is that the narrator’s father and a lodger in their house are both missing, possibly murdered.  There is a detective there looking for clues.

The narrator is a lunatic, a mental case, and idiot, a deviant, a murderer, something, whatever.  The narrator gets common quotes and facts wrong. The narrator seemed to hate both his father and the lodger and seems likely very guilty. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SEVYN STREETER-“It Won’t Stop” (Field Recordings, August 6, 2014).

The blurb for this song totally cracks me up (especially 4 years removed) because not only did this song not seep into my collective consciousness, I’ve never heard of it. Nor have I heard of Sevyn Streeter.

Although it is funny that just last week my wife and I were utterly mocking people who name their child a number–what else did George Costanza tell them to do? And how misspelling it like this is even worse.

Anyhow, here’s the blurb:

In the spring of 2013, songwriter and R&B singer Sevyn Streeter released a song called “It Won’t Stop,” which she’s called her “baby.” Over the year and change that’s followed, the song has sunk into our collective consciousness through commercial radio play and a music video viewed more than 35 million times, and on the recommendation of a growing group of critics and fans. The lyrics are vernacular, warm, unpretentious, while the performance demanded by the music is not for the meek. Away from a studio — and air conditioning — in a New Orleans boxing gym, Streeter executed with muscle and grace.

Having mocked the blurb, the song itself is pretty.  I’ve no idea what the original sounds like, but this version is done with just two acoustic guitars–one of whom seems to be playing some bass melodies from time to time.  Streeter sings and warbles all over the song and does those R&B quivering notes that I hate, but she does have a nice voice.

But damn is this song long.  Why is a pop song five minutes long?

It’s neat that they filmed this Field Recording [Sevyn Streeter Knocks Us Out] in a boxing gym–how on earth were they able to eliminate all of the ambient noise?  It almost seems like it’s not live.

[READ: February 8, 2018] “Microstories”

This is a collection of flash fiction pieces which may or may not be connected.

Rain
Never ending rain seemed to be the truth until the day he was born.  While everyone was delighted for him that he never had to experience it, he lived with regret that he would never have the chance.

Divorce
He is dressing for his grown up daughter  What a strange thing to have to do–how infrequently he sees her, how should he look.  No idea what happened at the end of it though?  An earthquake? (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: HOBO JOHNSON AND THE LOVEMAKERS-Tiny Desk Concert #785 (September 12, 2018).

Hobo Johnson and the Lovemakers are an incredibly fun and spontaneous-seeming band.  With lots and lots of shouting

“Romeo & Juliet” opens with some quiet piano and the band screaming: “Oh shit!  Godammit!  Fuck!  With Hobo continuing…Oh, that’s my shit right there!”

This song is a remarkably insightful look into a failing relationship.  It follows so many different avenues as Hobo John (Frank Lopes) speak/raps/sings lyrics that seem very personal.

We’re just Romeo and Juliet
But getting drunk and eating Percocets
But just to ease the stress
But soft what light, thru yonder window breaks
It is the east, but Juliet just puked off the balcony
How romantic

And if Romeo & Juliet continued to be married
Thens there’s half of a chance
That their kids would get embarrassed
When all the kids at school all talk about their parents
And Romeo Jr. has to say they’re not together
And Junior will dream of the day when he’s a man
And what he’ll do to avoid that 50% chance
Of his kids feeling the way he feels
He’ll probably just stick with Netflix and Chill

It ends with an a capella poem that details the breakup of parents–the sound of people falling out of love.

This is a band always on the verge of emotional explosions, all while Frank Lopes, aka Hobo Johnson, is quoting Shakespeare and making references to Jay-Z, The Front Bottoms song “Twin Size Mattress” and so much more.

“Sex in the City” opens with a pretty, quiet piano melody.  Hobo Johnson recites all of concerns about sex and love.  Lines like (“I got a duvet the other day – how do you wash a blanket? In a washer? That’s what I found out”)

So I’m not a babymaker-looker
But maybe I am
To a woman who really loves me
for who I am or maybe who I’m not
Either way it’s getting bothered and hot — GROSS!

If I looked like Brad Pitt mixed with a bit of Jake Gyllenhaal
in a bowl of David Hasselhoff.
I wouldn’t be here at all, I’d been in Los Angeles.
Or at your mom’s house eating all those sandwiches –DAMN I LOVE THOSE SANDWICHES.

It’s a terrific song.

Then Bob brings some peach scones our for the band–scones that he made himself.  (He got up at quarter to 7.  Hobo: That’s pretty early.  I will eat all these my self [grumbling] We’ll share them as a band).

The band

accomplished something remarkable this year with their Tiny Desk Contest entry. They made a simple backyard video – a single camera shoot – that’s now been seen almost 10 million times on YouTube. And the song they played, “Peach Scone,” has unlocked a door to a dream – to play a Tiny Desk Concert and be heard. The song is a tale of one-sided love – a tale of kindness in the face of loneliness and depression. Now, “a couple of kids – five I guess” as its lyrics go, get to bring their creative, urgent and somewhat nervous energy from Sacramento, Calif. to play “Peach Scone” and more to millions of other listeners.

They start “Scones” and Hobo messes up the words and laughs.  “How does this work when you mes at Tiny Desk?”  Bob: “Just start again.”  “Really?” “And we play the embarrassing part, too.”  “Really?  That’s awesome.”

For this song the pianist plays drums and there’s lots more shouting.  Despite the aforementioned kindness.  It’s terrific and slightly different from their video.

At times it’s as much a storytelling session or personal confession than a musical performance, and for me it conjures feelings of empathy and understanding and compassion.

The final song “Creve Coeur 1” is quieter.  It starts with a sad piano melody and although it has moments that are louder, the ending feels very personal: “Sorry Frank, You’re much too late.”

I hope I get to see them as they make the rounds touring.

[READ: September 20, 2017]  “As You Would Have Told It to Me (Sort of) If We Had Known Each Other Before You Died”

I really enjoyed this story.  Even if by the end I had no idea exactly what was happening.  And even after thinking about I’m not sure I even understand the internal logic of the title, much less the story.

It begins, “I remember that it was fall.”

Then the narrator tells the memory in past tense but with a sense of surprise as everything unfolds.

First, the police ring his doorbell.  The narrator thinks it is Katja.  He hadn’t spoken to her in three days, but things were like that between them sometimes. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KING-“Supernatural” (Field Recordings, September 17, 2014).

This Field Recording [KING Makes A Record Lover’s Paradise Even Better] was created before Prince died.  Hard to believe that was two years ago already!

I mention this because the women of KING (Paris and Amber Strother and Anita Bias) speak of him in the present tense.  Which is strangely comforting.

The women mention Prince because evidently he heard a song from their debut EP and contacted them out of the blue.  His manager sent them a one line email: “Would you be interested in meeting Prince?”  Get outta here!

On a steamy morning upstairs in a record lover’s paradise KING laid down a gorgeous version of “Supernatural,” one of the songs that lit up Twitter three years ago.  While customers quietly thumbed through LPs — then stopped to stare — the singers gently and precisely intertwined their three voices in service of a love song.

Their voices and harmonies are quite lovely.  Although this is not a type of music I enjoy.

[READ: January 19, 2018] “In the United States of Africa”

This is an excerpt from a novel originally written in French and translated by David and Nicole Bell.

The blurb says that the novel opens with “a brief account of the origins of our [African] prosperity and the reasons that have thrown the Caucasians onto the paths of exile.”

This excerpt is not terribly compelling.  There’s a hint of a cool story there but it seems to be overtaken by philosophical musings. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: FEDE GRAÑA Y LOS PROLIJOS-“”El Gigante” (Field Recordings, May 5, 2015).

Fede Graña Y Los Prolijos are from Uruguay and play a stomping bluegrass (which is why this is called A Bluegrass Ditty By Way Of Uruguay).

Every year SXSW hosts a night of music from Uruguay.

Nestled between Argentina and Brazil way down on the southern tip of the Americas, Uruguay spends way too much time in the shadows of its better-known neighbors.

But a closer listen reveals something for just about everyone: rockeros, sure, but also fans of hip-hop, folk-influenced downtempo music and singer-songwriters with distinct voices and stories to tell.

With an electric bass and a small hand drum laying down the thumping rhythm and an accordion adding to the flair, the fascination comes from the very American-sounding guitar solo that introduces the song.  But once you comfortably know that this is bluegrass, it’s even more surprising when they all sing in Spanish.

After a couple of verses, there’s an accordion solo followed by an acoustic guitar solo (from the other guitarist).  There’s a slow down that seems like an ending but it’s a fake out as the song takes off once more,.

There’s some great guitar fingerwork by he singer as the song races to an end

What a fun song, although I never heard the word “Gigante” once..

[READ: January 5, 2017] “Chicken Hill”

Joy Williams’ stories never do what I expect them to do–for better and worse.

This is the story of Ruth.

It begins with Ruth going to a memorial fundrasier at the Barbed Wire, a biker bar “in a somewhat alarming part of town.”  She had donated $30 to the memorial of a boy, Hector, who has been run over by a sheriff’s deputy.

Ruth was pleased that the father was suing the sheriff–then she found out it was the boy’s fault–he had run in to traffic against the light.

The transition is a strange one: “It was probably just a coincidence that a child appeared not long after that.”  This was a girl who lived in a house nearby.  She was the daughter of a doctor and rather than introducing herself she said to Ruth “I would like to draw you in plein air.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: DARLINGSIDE-Live at Newport Folk Festival (July 27, 2018).

Darlingside never disappoints and this stream from Newport Folk Festival is an excellent opportunity to hear them live.

The sound quality is excellent and their voices are more clear than on the record!

I had no idea this was only their first time at Newport Folk est and Harris is suitably excited (even though it’s only 11AM).

It’s also an opportunity to hear their one of a kind banter.

The harmonies on “Go Back” are just heavenly.  And they are positively angelic on “Singularity.”

The introductory cello solo at the beginning of “Harrison Ford” was a delightful change.  And the guitar really rocks loud on “Eschaton” (almost like a real rock band!)

There’s also the hilarious band member introduction (different at every show).

Auyon says that they were able to play for a boys and girls camp, Camp Grovernor.  But something was lost in communication and the camp director thought the band name was “Don Mitchell,” (their banjo player).  And the director was asking, “Is it Don Mitchell and the…”  Auyon explained that the Don Mitchell is silent and it’s just Darlingide.  This got him to wonder what the band would be if each member was the main character.

Dave Senft plays kick drum, bass and guitar.  Dave had a child recently so it would be Dave Senft and The Weird Uncles.
Harris Paseltiner plays cello and guitar. Harris lights his beer light in body and light in color and as far as I can tell utterly devoid of flavor…  so Harris Paseltiner and The Lightest Beers.
Don Mitchell plays banjo and guitar.  Don is from CT and is steeped in New England traditions, like nativism and xenophobia which he demonstrates every time he uses Midwestern as an insult…. which is particularly irksome to those of us in the band who are from the Midwest.  In the spirit of brotherhood, Don Mitchell and The Midwesterners.
Auyon Mukharji plays mandolin and violin and with me we would be Auyon Mukharji and the Best of Friends.

Harris: it’s the first time he’s ever been earnest.  It must be something in the water.
Don: that was the height of Midwesternness.
Auyon: and it felt really good.

This the first time I’ve heard them play the Neil Young song “Red Sun” which sounds great of course.  It’s done a capella, too.

  • “The God of Loss”
  • “Go Back”
  • “White Horses”
  • “Extralife”
  • “Harrison Ford”
  • “Singularity”
  • “Eschaton”
  • “Red Sun (Neil Young)”
  • “Blow The House Down”

[READ: February 4, 2016] “Five Arrows”

This is strange little story about a man who moves to an island because his gangrenous foot smells so bad that he has ejected himself from polite society.

But it is told from the point of view of a young boy, Insu.  Insu is from the village of Bupyeong in Korea.  But he has lived in The United States and Germany for the last two years.

Insu is shocked at what has happened to their village–the river which five years ago was so clear you could see the bottom was now dammed up and cloudy.  The locals were trying to grow carp.

It turns out that Insu and his friend are rowing across the river to find Big Uncle and Little Uncle.  They are skipping school and know that the uncles can keep a secret. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKGEORGIE JAMES-Builds ‘Monument’ In Two Days (Project Song: December 17, 2007).

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 second one they did was with Georgie James

Georgie James is a band on the rise [Note: they broke up on August 4, 2008]. The duo makes smart, infectious pop with tight harmonies and jangling guitars — an upbeat and innocent sound that’s made its debut album (Places, 2007) a sleeper success.  Georgie James got its start when drummer John Davis’ former band, Q and Not U, disbanded in 2005.  Davis turned to his singer-songwriter friend, Burhenn, to forge something new.

At first, the two seemed like an unlikely pair. Davis had spent the past seven years releasing records with his bandmates on the legendary D.C. punk label Dischord and touring the world. Burhenn, on the other hand, had been releasing solo projects on her own label, Laboratory Records, and playing smaller venues on the east and west coast.

They eventually settled on a stark but serene image by New York photographer Phil Toledano, depicting a bare room with a large pile of books stacked in the middle. For the phrase, the band chose “Something Joyful.”

Their process seems tense to me.  But maybe that’s just how they bounce ideas off of each other.

He chose the words “something joyful.”  She chose David Bowie and 45.
She likes the pile of books in empty room–she sees it youthful and he sees it as disuse, disrepair, neglect.  They decide to use that picture and the phrase “something joyful.”

She plays piano melody banging out ideas for the tune on the first day. There’s lots of discussion and back and forth–very different from Merritt’s solitary style.

“It’s really difficult when you have two people who are trying to meet in the middle,” Burhenn says. “We each had a different vision of where this was going to go, and to try to very quickly throw that together is a difficult thing.”

They change styles.  She suggests maybe a Talking Heads’ vibe.  She sings it in a David Byrne-ish drawl but he doesn’t like it.  She says this is turning into a nightmare and fears the song sounds like John Cougar Mellencamp or Rod Stewart.

But in the final hour they pulled it out.

Davis added drums, bass and guitar. The two layered the sound with multiple harmonies and hand-claps.

Two days later, they had a song they called “Monument.” It’s a three-and-a-half-minute pop gem that marries the contrasting loneliness of the photograph with the spirit of “something joyful.”

As they walk out she says, “I think it’s awesome.”  And it’s very catchy.

[READ: February 2, 2018] “All That Glass”

This is a peculiar story that starts out seemingly reasonable and then just goes off the rails.

A man says his wife no longer wants to sleep in the bedroom anymore.  He took it as an attack against him and wondered what he did.  But she ignores that and says she wants to move into the conservatory.  He agrees but says that “All that glass, it gets cold in there at night.”

She moves some basics into the conservatory.  He thought it was odd, but it gave the conservatory a good spring cleaning.

It was cold in there at night  She wore extra clothes though, and that was that. (more…)

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