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Archive for the ‘#ITMFA’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: DERMOT KENNEDY-Tiny Desk Concert #779 (August 24, 2018).

NPR likes Dermot Kennedy (they made him one of their Slingshot artists for 2018).  The thing that they seem to like about him is what I didn’t.

He has a powerful raspy voice–he could sing for miles.  A voice that works wonderfully with a style of music (folk or rock, primarily).  But the songs I’d heard from him were tinged with hip-hop.  And, frankly, it’s hard to work a powerful singing voice and hip-hop into the same verse.  So to me, it didn’t work, it was like the worst of both worlds.

But at the Tiny Desk, he removes all of that with a live band and, as the blurb says, a gospel choir.

Kennedy took this assignment seriously. The Dublin singer-songwriter wasn’t content with merely re-creating his songs as they sound in the studio, or stripping lavish productions down to simple acoustic arrangements. So he got himself a gospel choir.

More specifically, Kennedy and his band flew in from Ireland a day ahead of time to meet and rehearse with members of Washington, D.C.’s Howard Gospel Choir (Keila Mumphord, Taylor Nevels, Chamille Boyd, Jazmine Thomas). Every arrangement was painstakingly plotted ahead of time, so that every note would be perfect.

Two of the songs Kennedy performs here (“Moments Passed” and “An Evening I Will Not Forget”) pop up on an EP he released this year with hip-hop producer Mike Dean, and both sound radically different in this performance. They’re still forceful — and still centered on the singer’s elastic, bombastic voice — but also looser, warmer, more open.

And I suspect that’s why I like them much more.   Without all of that trapping, he sounds, yes, like Hozier or Glen Hansard.  And of course he was a busker.

They open with “Moments Passed.”  It was weird that the song and concert opens the way it does with the choir and Kennedy singing at the same time.  His voice is the centerpiece of the music and it was obscured not only by four other voices but also but a disconcerting echo effect (from Kieran Jones on keys).  But as soon as that ends, his voice works very well with the piano (Jonny Coote) and drums (Micheál Quinn).

And so when the chorus comes in and he songs his only lines while the choir sings, it works very well.  You can also hear his accent a lot more than other Irish singers, it seems.

“An Evening I Will Not Forget” has more of a hip hop delivery style, at least the way he sings, but he doesn’t try to cram it all in, he lets his voice and melody flow over the dense lyrics.  The song is one of regret and it works perfectly as just piano and his powerful voice.

After the song he jokingly asks for a towel and he laughs when he gets one (and gives it to Jones, “you;re a sweaty guy”).

For the final song, “Glory” he plays guitar on this it’s a pretty melody.  The drums are weirdly electronic and big and I like the big boom but not the ticky ticky electronics.  However, the high female voice in the chorus more than makes up for it.  The way all of the music swells together on this track is really terrific.

Sometimes you need to hear a musician live to really appreciate him.

[READ: January 3, 2017] “Gender Studies”

Sarah loves Curtis Sittenfeld, although I had never read her work before this.

I really enjoyed this short story both for its story and for its politics.

The plot is quite simple.  Nell is an almost divorced woman (she was with Henry for years with the intention of getting married, then he up and left her for a younger woman).  I really enjoyed this self-description of her and Henry “because of the kind of people they were (insufferable people, Nell thinks now).”  She is a professor of gender studies and is going to a convention in Kansas City.  Though she lives in Wisconsin, she has never been to Kansas City or even to Missouri.

The shuttle driver starts talking to her about donald trump.  He says “He’s not afraid to speak his mind, huh?”  And I love this description of her reply:

Nell makes a nonverbal sound to acknowledge that, in the most literal sense, she heard the comment.

Despite her obvious discomfort talking to him (when he calls Hillary “Shrillary” you know she is fuming), she can’t be bothered to say anything more than “There’s no way that donald trump will be the Republican nominee for President” (this was written after he was, of course). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ANDY SHAUF-Live at Massey Hall (November 23, 2017).

I know Andy Shauf from a Tiny Desk Concert.  I was fascinated then and am now by his long hair, soft-spoken voice and astonishing lack of movement in his body and mouth when he sings.

The record he is touring here is 2016’s The Party which propelled him onto bigger stages, including Massey Hall.  He says in his characteristically quiet way

Every stage is a little different.  I’m a big fan of that Neil Young record.  That was here.  That was here (smiles).

“Twist My Ankle” starts the show with his gentle guitar strums.  Twin clarinets (Daniel Pencer and Karen Ng) propel this song slowly forward.  It a wonderful melody.  Then Shauf starts singing with his unique vocal patterns.  I can’t figure out what it is about the way he sings, but the way he enunciates words is so peculiar.

Later he says that there was one interview when I said The Party isn’t a concept album, and that has followed him around.  It totally is a concept album, but I was thinking more of Mr Roboto or something.  The whole album is about a party with the common theme of humiliation and shame.  People are just making mistakes while drinking at a party–trying to navigate social situations.

“Twist My Ankle” ends with the line, “everybody’s laughing at me I wish I’d just stayed home.”

“You’re Out Wasting” has a simple, repetitive but very alluring guitar melody.  It’s a wonderfully catchy song about wasting time with the right guy.

“Quite Like You” is a bit more upbeat and catchy–the crowd reacts very warmly to it.   but again the lyrics are pretty dark.  It’s about a guy trying to pick up his friend’s girlfriend.

“Early to the Party” is a mellow song with wonderful instrumental interludes–the horns really brighten the song.  This is one of many places where his enunciation is so strange.  Especially since he sings so quietly: “tying you in nawts.”

“The Word in You” has an upbeat piano melody which his vocals follow perfectly. He says it’s exciting playing with strings and clarinets.  A lot of parts are six voices and now we have six voices–it makes the songs more exciting to play.  A lot of time you get sick of playing the same songs every night but this time the shows have gotten a little bit bigger so you can feel a different energy when people are excited to hear a song rather than trying to introduce your songs to people.

People respond loudly to “My Dear Helen.”  This song is just him on the guitar, the starkness really helps you to focus on the words.  It’s a letter to an old friend in which an old man confesses something terrible.

For the final song, “The Magician everyone comes back.  The addition of bass clarinet (Michael Sachs) is wonderful.  There’s pizzicato strings that turn into big swells from Emily Hau and Leslie Ting (violins) and Moira Burke (viola).  The doo doo doo doo part is really catchy.  The song builds and builds and is the most rocking thing with Olivier Fairfield’s drums really coming forward.  Colin Nealis on keyboards and Josh Daignault on bass flesh out this excellent set ender.

[READ: July 24, 2017] “Everything is Far From Here”

This story serves as an unrelenting indictment against immigration polices.

It opens with a woman having arrived, at last.  She is bruised and sunburnt, covered in birds and bugs and worn out.  She is told to sleep, but she cannot for she is awaiting her son.  She had been separated from him a few days ago being told there were too many of them.

She is finally able to ask someone where her son is.  The guard speaks Spanish and tells her about the family unit.  But among the children, her son is not there.   But one woman tells her that her own son arrived a while week after she did.

She decides to wait.  They let her store her clothes, her broken leather sandals, a plastic comb, and elastic hair band.  They take her pocketknife (no weapons) a sleeve of cookies (no food) and a tin of Vaseline (no reason). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: REV SEKOU AND THE SEAL BREAKERS-Tiny Desk Concert #765 (July 10, 2018).

I was not at all interested in a preacher and his church band, but wow these guys rock.

Rev Sekou says that the Seal Breakers are from Brooklyn but he’s from Arkansas.  I didn’t like the way he started the show by talking about his grandparents who worked from can’t see morning to can’t see night and then they’d go to the juke joints and then to church on Sunday.  I thought it was going to be rather preachy (he is Pentecostal) but no,

Rev. Osagyefo Uhuru Sekoum this author, activist, intellectual, pastor and singer tosses off his large-brimmed, black hat, shakes his dreadlocks and demands freedom with these words: “We want freedom and we want it now!”

Do you wanna get free?  He sounds like Richie Havens at Woodstock–gravelly voice but with a preacher intonation.  The song has got some gospel flow but with a roaring distorted electric guitar.   It’s got a big catchy chorus and a wailing guitar solo.

Resist!  Resist when they tell you what you can and can’t do.

Before the second song, he says he went to Charlottesville to organize against the white supremacist march but they couldn’t leave the church because of the Nazis.

When he went outside, he watched Heather Heyer take her last breath.  He says this is an anthem for Charlottesville called “Bury Me.”

he recalled the horrors of the white nationalist march in Charlottesville, Va. last summer. He said he spent weeks in preparation, organizing clergy for what he says was “the largest gathering of white supremacists in modern history,” then watching the activist “Heather Heyer take her last breath” after she was struck by a car that plowed into a crowd of marchers. The song “Bury Me” is a bluesy anthem to freedom that honors those who have died in that struggle for racial equality and freedom. In his free-form preamble to the touching ballad, Rev. Sekou works himself into a passionate frenzy, before airing his intense indignation for President Trump.

Bury me in the struggle for freedom…say my name.  He powerfully sings the names of people who have died in racially motivated hatred.  There’s power in the name.

The songs with a chorus of “This Little Light of Mine, I’m gonna let it shine,”

The Rev. says they need to leave that one, “I’m Pentecostal, I can go 2-3 hours, but I don’t think Brother Bob wants us in here that long.”

The  end with “The Devil Finds Work” which opens with bluesy piano.

After two minutes it becomes a big clapfest as suddenly The Saints Go Marching In.  They swing, and Rev. Sekou and we pray that you get free and he walks off while the band finishes.

Osagyefo Sekou (Vocals), William Gamble (Keys), Reggie Parker (Bass), Cory Simpson (Guitar), James Robinson Jr. (Drums), Gil Defay (Trumpet), Chris McBride (Saxophone), Brianna Turner (Background Vocals), Rasul A Salaam (Background Vocals), Craig Williams (Percussions)

[READ: January 25, 2018] “Company Towns”

This is an excerpt from “Work and Industry in the Northern Midwest.”

I’m not really sure what to make of these three short stories about work.  I found them rather comical because each supposedly normal business event ended in some kind of peculiar death.

The Whitefish Bay Merchant and Traders Bank
In 1947 the narrator traveled from Interlakken Switzerland to Whitefish Bay, Michigan to check on a bank that his father had acquired in a set of financial trades).  The bank had become extremely profitable and his father wanted to know why.  He flew to the states, stopped for two weeks in New York and another week in Cleveland before getting to Michigan.  The employees were quite jovial–in fact the guy who picked him up shared a flask with him–they were both drunk by the time they got home.  They also had a very formal, fancy diner.  The bank made its money because of an ambitious cook.  He helped to innovate the short line cooking process–a way to cook for 100 men quickly.  He was aided by a chef who ensured they used quality food.   The bosses didn’t think the employees needed this kind of delicious food, but when they saw how much it improved morale and didn’t cost that much they were on board.  And the bank, in addition to giving them a loan, took a 20 percent stake in the firm and they made a ton of money.

The narrator asked to meet these men but both had recently died.  One from drinking something he shouldn’t have and the other was involved in a shooting– the details are what makes the deaths amusing, if not really funny. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKDAVE MATTHEWS-Tiny Desk Concert #760 (June 27, 2018).

Dave Matthews Band superfandom is one of those entities that I just don’t get.  I know they had a pretty big hit back in the day, but I was really shocked a few years ago that they had a following like Phish with people seeing him/them dozens of times.

I don’t really dislike them, but I don’t really like them either.  I appreciate the musicianship and chord progressions that they play but I have a hard time with his lyrics–when they are not (somewhat) insightful, they are awfully questionable.

But to me their sound isn’t unique enough to build a fellowship out of.  Perhaps it’s a live thing and you have to see it for yourself.

So here is Dave himself–just him and his acoustic guitar(s). He sings five songs.  I don’t know if this is like heaven for DMB fans or if they prefer the whole live shebang.

He talks about getting used to singing

by himself since he is touring with his band:

We sound good at the moment but more importantly we feel good.  It’s a different feeling to play by myself.  I have to get used to it, you know first you have to get used to being alone because I’m used to having [various mugging over-the-top sounds and faces about a band making big rock sounds] but for me it’s just [makes wimpy sounds of playing a tiny guitar] a little thing”

This leads to uproarious laughter.  And that’s the one thing I don’t like about this Concert.  The music is fine, his voice sounds fine, but he is mugging for the audience so much and, presumably all Daveheads (or Dmbheads?–I kid) are hanging on his every word which they all deem hilarious.  I hate being with sycophantic fans who think any statement is a gut buster (this happened recently with someone I saw live–not every statement is one to quote on instagram).

The first two songs are from their new album.  After the first song, “Samurai Cop (Oh Joy Begin),” he complains about his voice even though it sounds fine:

“Singing shouldn’t be such a struggle.  Some people make it look so easy [sings nonsense in operatic style]. I’m like [ggggg ggg].”  Crazy laughter ensues.  After “Here On Out,” he states inexplicably, “That was a close one” and the laughter rolls on.

Dave plays a full five songs–nearly 25 minutes:

when Matthews shed his backing players to swing by the Tiny Desk for a solo gig, he couldn’t just knock out three songs and bail. Instead, he played a set so long — so defiantly un-Tiny — that his between-song banter could have filled a Tiny Desk concert on its own.

“Don’t Drink the Water” is probably my favorite Dave song.  I especially love the way the song is mostly mellow but then turns into a great dark section at the end.  Indeed, it’s the dark section that I really like, not so much the earlier part.

He says that “The last administration sent a bunch of artists to Havana to have a party.  I’m not sure if that’s was the goal… [hamming it up] go down there and… culturally…. vibe.”   I wish he’d elaborated more on that.

There’s two final songs, “Mercy” and “So Damn Lucky” on which he hits some great powerful falsetto notes.  His voice is really quite good in this setting.  I suspect this is probably a real treat for fans, so if you;re one, you should check it out.

[READ: July 3, 2018] “Little St. Don”

When you have a subject who is so contemptible so utterly crass and repulsive, a “person” who does the most unconscionable things and still manages to have supporters, it is impossible to make him look bad.

Even if you are trying comedy.  How do you try to make someone look worse than they actually are when they are lower than scum, when they treat people like animals, when they think it is okay to mock the handicapped, to brag about grabbing women, when they are willing to let people die for their own insipid and un-thought-through ideas?

This living piece of excrement has a sudden flash to destroy the lives of thousands of people and two days later decides to blame it on someone else.  And, for reasons that no one can explain, people actually believe this liar, this clearly unsound lunatic.

So how does a subtle and thoughtful writer go about making comedy about this lying dictator? (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MILCK-Tiny Desk Concert #752 (June 8, 2018).

I know of MILCK the same way anyone who has heard of her knows her:  from her performing her song “Quiet” during the Women’s March On Washington last year.

MILCK is the music of Connie Lim:

Before the concert, we talked a lot with her and her production team about how to best share her deeply affecting, anthemic pop songs. Should we have a choir? Maybe a string quartet? Or should she bring out all her gear and perform as a one-woman band, live looping everything with backing tracks, to recreate the album experience? In the end she chose the simplest (and perhaps most fitting arrangement for an artist often billed as a one-woman riot): just MILCK, by herself, with a keyboard.

MILCK has a great powerful voice and she writes some very pretty melodies.

The beautiful soaring “Black Sheep” is restrained in this version.  Her voice sounds lovely but this song needs to soar.  Nevertheless, her positive message is undeniable.  Indeed:

the ultimate message in “Black Sheep,” like pretty much all of MILCK’s music, is that you are not alone. It’s a celebration of universal, unconditional love, something the whole world could stand to hear and get behind. These songs also resonate so profoundly because they come from a genuine and heartfelt place – from MILCK’s own experiences and not a corporate office churning out scientifically proven pop formulas

Next came “Quiet” which she says she wrote as a healing song.  It has become an anthem for women and men around the world.  She laughs that this song pulled her out of her own emo isolation.  It’s wonderful how clear and powerful her voice is on this version of the song.

She encourages everyone to take a deep breath which reminds herself how shallowly she breathes.  She was comfortable being emo and then complains that “Oh My My” is “infuriatingly joyful,” it reminds us that even if we suffer there is still room for joy.

The verses are spoken/sung with this amusing start

Thought I’d be 50 still alone chain-smoking cigarettes at a bar
talking shit about my married friends to my single friends

Mid song she annotates a line that she was singing songs in hotel lobbies–covering songs by Adele and Jason Mraz and now she is opening for Mraz, so she gets to tell his audience that she used to be ignored singing his songs in hotel lobbies and now she opens for him.

It’s a lovely happy song, with some pop leanings although she keeps it on this side of good taste.

[READ: February 7, 2018] “My First Real Home”

This story was in Vicky Swanky is a Beauty which I read so long ago I don’t remember. Of course these stories are so short I don’t remember most of them anyway.

For a Diane Williams story, I felt like this one was actually pretty enjoyable and pretty understandable.

Of course, once again, it ended and I had to double-check to make sure I hadn’t lost the last page.

This is about a man who sharpens knives .  He did a great job and the narrator discovered him because Tommy used to use him and Ernie’s have hit the chain saws.  Or the man’s name was Ernie and he would do Tommy’s chainsaws.  It’s not clear. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RHYE-Tiny Desk Concert #727 (April 9, 2018).

Rhye is one of those bands that the guys on All Songs Considered just love.  But I find that his songs are completely insubstantial from his delicate falsetto to the restrained music.  It just puts me to sleep.

As such:

It seemed only fitting that when Rhye performed the band’s Tiny Desk Concert that it be at night, illuminated by flickering light. The music Mike Milosh sings and writes conjures the evening and a swaying, romantic vibe.

It was five years ago nearly to the day that we filmed Rhye by candlelight in New York City as the band toured for its enigmatic album Woman. Mike Milosh requested that Rhye’s members be filmed “only in silhouette, with the lights dimmed low” at Le Poisson Rouge show.

This time around the hundred or so flickering lights set the tone for the sextet of strings, keyboard, guitar, bass and drums to perform music from 2018’s Blood. The sound is warm and velvety, all the instruments gently pulsing, as Mike Milosh softly sings with that high-pitched yearn.

Tiny Desk Concerts are often awkward by nature — bands playing in the middle of an office in the daytime for musicians used to playing in the evening, with stage lighting. But there was a special transformation that took place at this Tiny Desk the moment the music kicked in. I’m a sucker for a vibe in music — that feeling when a sound completely shifts the mood of a room. This vibe was more like a house show than an office, which put me in a pensive, pleasant place. Sit back and enjoy.

“Please” is just so soft that it seems to float away.  The only cool parts are the guitar and bass lines.

“Taste” I like the instrumentation of this song, especially the violin and bowed upright cello.  And when the guitar solo comes out its like the loudest thing you’ve ever heard (in comparison). But when you think the song is over it’s still got about 5 more minutes of blandness to go.

“Song For You” is seven minutes of slow moodiness.  I like the trombone solo.  And the end is very pretty.   In fact, most of the songs are pretty if they were either shorter or if those songs were actually just the ending of a song.  Otherwise it’s all kind of samey.

[READ: January 5, 2018] Protect Yourself

This short book looks at the brief history of venereal disease posters that were created during WWII.  It was edited by Ryan Mungia with an essay by Jim Heimann.

The essay has the great title “VD posters: propaganda to the penis” is short.  Mostly this is just a collection of posters.

The premise is that commanders have had to fight venereal disease and the enemy simultaneously.  During WWI, 18,000 American military personnel were incapacitated with sexually transmitted diseases each day!  By WWII it was reduced to about 600 per day.

Protection certainly helped and graphic posters were there to spread the word. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JOHN PRINE-Tiny Desk Concert #717 (March 12, 2018).

For all of the legendary status of John Prine, I don’t really know that much about him.  I also think I don’t really know much of his music.  I didn’t know any of the four songs he played here.

I enjoyed all four songs.  The melodies were great, the lyrics were thoughtful and his voice, although wizened, convey the sentiments perfectly.

The blurb sums up things really well

An American treasure came to the Tiny Desk and even premiered a new song. John Prine is a truly legendary songwriter. For more than 45 years the 71-year-old artist has written some of the most powerful lyrics in the American music canon, including “Sam Stone,” “Angel From Montgomery,” “Hello In There” and countless others.

John Prine’s new songs are equally powerful and he opens this Tiny Desk concert with “Caravan of Fools,” a track he wrote with Pat McLaughlin and Dan Auerbach. Prine adds a disclaimer to the song saying, “any likeness to the current administration is purely accidental.”

I thought the song was great (albeit short) with these pointed lyrics:

The dark and distant drumming
The pounding of the hooves
The silence of everything that moves
Late in night you see them
Decked out in shiny jewels
The coming of the caravan of fools

That song, and his second tune, the sweet tearjerker “Summer’s End,” are from John Prine’s first album of new songs in 13 years, The Tree of Forgiveness.

He introduces this song by saying that.  This one is a pretty song.  It might drive you to tears.  He wrote this with Pat McLaughlin.  We usually write on Tuesdays in Nashville because that’s the day they serve meatloaf.  I love meatloaf.  We try to write a song before they serve the meatloaf.  And then eat it and record it.

For this Tiny Desk Concert John Prine also reaches back to his great “kiss-off” song from 1991 [“an old song from the 90s (whoo)…  a song from the school of kiss off 101”] called “All the Best,” and then plays “Souvenirs,” a song intended for his debut full-length but released the following year on his 1972 album Diamonds in the Rough. It’s just one of the many sentimental ballads Prine has gifted us.

He says he wrote it in 1968…when he was about 3.

Over the years, his voice has become gruffer and deeper, due in part to his battle with squamous cell cancer on the right side of his neck, all of which makes this song about memories slipping by feel all the more powerful and sad.

“Broken hearts and dirty windows
Make life difficult to see
That’s why last night and this mornin’
Always look the same to me
I hate reading old love letters
For they always bring me tears
I can’t forgive the way they rob me
Of my sweetheart’s souvenirs”

The musicians include John Prine, Jason Wilber, David Jacques and Kenneth Blevins.

 

[READ: December 11, 2017] X

I really enjoyed Klosterman’s last essay book, although I found pretty much every section was a little too long.  So this book, which is a collection of essays is perfect because the pieces have already been edited for length.

I wasn’t even aware of this book when my brother-in-law Ben sent it to me with a comment about how much he enjoyed the Nickelback essay.

Because I had been reading Grantland and a few other sources, I have actually read a number of these pieces already, but most of them were far off enough that I enjoyed reading them again.

This book is primarily a look at popular culture.  But narrowly defined by sports and music (and some movies).  I have never read any of Klosterman’s fiction, but I love his entertainment essays. (more…)

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