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Archive for the ‘Language’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: TOMBERLIN-Tiny Desk Concert #855 (June 6, 2019).

I rather like when we see a glimpse at the workings of things.  Like how a Tiny Desk Concert typically happens:

Before I bring an artist to the Tiny Desk, I try to see them perform live. It helps me get a handle on what they’ll be capable of doing at my desk, minus all the artful tinkering of a studio. But I never saw Tomberlin before she came to my desk. My desire to see Mitski and Overcoats when Tomberlin was last in town had me at another venue and another opportunity failed to happen. But I was simply in love with Tomberlin’s ethereal debut album At Weddings and took a chance.

I didn’t know how her fragile songs would translate; all I knew was that Tomberlin was coming to the Tiny Desk to play acoustic guitar and sing, along with her musical partner Andrew Boylan. The eerie production that felt like the backbone to the fragile songs on At Weddings would be gone.

I haven’t heard this album, so I don’t know about the eerie production.  I wonder if that would set her apart from other similar women-with-acoustic-guitars.   This is not dismissive of Tomberlin–it is genuinely hard to distinguish yourself when all you have is a guitar and your voice.

On the first song, “Any Other Way” she sounds like a couple of other recent quiet(er) female singers.  The addition of Boylan helps a bit because he able to add some delightful harmonies and some simple guitar riffs to accompany her strums.

I think her perspective also sets her apart a bit

Tomberlin is the daughter of a Baptist pastor, grew up singing in the church and, since her teens, has questioned her own beliefs in God and faith. And as you listen to her sing these delicate, vulnerable songs, you may find your way to a new songwriter, capable of distilling doubt and isolation while forming a community around her music and expressing assurance.

So lyrics like this are quite unusual

Feeling bad for saying
Oh my god
No I’m not kidding

They say that even the most seasoned performers get nervous at the Tiny Desk.  Those nerves are apparent a bit between songs as she asks, “How’s work going today?  Anything happening? I don’t keep up with the things when I’m doing this thing.”  She continues, “I tried to mute trump’s name on Twitter but it doesn’t work.”  After trying to banter some more she says, “I’m going to stop talking and we’ll play another song.”

The combined guitars and harmony vocals on “Self-Help” are really wonderful. And this verse is terrific

I used the self-help book
To kill a fly
I think it worked mom
I think I’m fine

The final song, “Untitled-1” plays nicely with the harmony guitars.

When Tomberlin began to sing at her Tiny Desk Concert, wearing a bit of Tiny Desk nervousness on her sleeve while singing “I know I’m not eternal, I’m just a young girl,” these songs questioning her religious beliefs, felt deep and personal.

This song was the most interesting of the three for the guitars and for the way she really puts some power in her voice as the song progresses.

[READ: June 4, 2019] “Poorly Mapped”

The June 10th issue of the New Yorker features five essays by authors whom I have enjoyed.  They were gathered under the headline “Another Country.”

Dinaw Mengestu was born in Ethiopia but had not been back for many years.  His family left when he was two years old, in 1978.  When he returned, twenty-five years later (the only one in his immediate family to do so during that time) his aunt Aster asked him not to leave the house while she was out.

She had told him that nothing had changed in those years” even your mother’s shoes are still there.”  Further, everything he would need was available in their house–satellite television, internet and American food.  So he should stay put.

He assumed her concern as because of the protests and mass arrests dating back to 2005, but she shrugged all of that off saying that Western news made it seem worse than it was, “We’re fine, we go to work we live our lives.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: HAYKO CEPKIN-“Kabul Olur” (“Accepted”) (2018).

Hayko Cepkin is a Turkish singer of Armenian descent.  He was born on March 11, 1978 in Istanbul.

It’s hard to find out anything about him that’s not in Turkish.  So I’m including what I find interesting

In June 2005, he released his first album “a collection of compositions he recorded at home and all lyrics, music and arrangements of his own.”

He left Istanbul in 2014 and moved to Selçuk, İzmir.  He bought 9 acres of land from Şirince, and created a place where the lovers of Varil / Barrel Camping will enjoy and relax. The artist continues his music studies here.

He even had a festival there some years ago.

This song is from his latest album which is a great example of Anatolian rock–a fusion of Turkish folk and rock music.  He has taken it to some heavier levels than other bands with heavy electronics.

“Kabul Olur” starts with some electronic sounds and a flute before Cepkin starts singing in his rather lovely, powerful voice.

A minute it the drums kick in and the song starts to rock.  And then comes the power chorus at 1:20 (the second time through is even more powerful).  The post-chorus–the repeated title–is like a decompression after the intensity of the chorus.

The pounding middle section is a great combination of his growls and a traditional flute.

The denoument is him repeating “tamam” which means okay.  Its an ntense ending to a song that totally rocks.   Here’s the translated and original lyrics and the video below.

“Accepted”

My path is long, slow
Yolum uzun, ağır ağır geçer 
Life is tired I lean a little, see me
Ömür yoruldum eğilin biraz, beni görün 
The road is not this life desperation
Yol değil bu ömür biçaresizlik 
Stop, this is the final final way to death.
Durdurun, kesin final bu yol ölüm. 
Hear my voice, my voice is a little choked.
Duy duy sesim sesim biraz biraz kısık kısık buruk. 
He sees the end, walks, crazy heart.
Sonunu görür, yürür, deli gönül. Why isn’t my day in the season. 
Neden mevsim olupta günüm geçmiyor. 
Why is it born in my hands and dying? 
Ellerime doğupta neden ölüyor 
Even after all life goes by 
Bile bile sonuçta ömür geçiyor 
Heavy heavy heavy heavy heavy …
Ağır ağır ağır ağır ağır…Acceptance?
Kabul mu olur? 
Yeah, okay.
Evet, tamam.
Why isn’t my day in the season. 
Neden mevsim olupta günüm geçmiyor. 
Why is it born in my hands and dying? 
Ellerime doğupta neden ölüyor 
Even after all life goes by 
Bile bile sonuçta ömür geçiyor 
Heavy heavy heavy heavy heavy … 
Ağır ağır ağır ağır ağır… It’s okay.
Kabul olur. 
Yeah, okay.
Evet, tamam.

 

[READ: June 4, 2019] “Geneva, 1959”

The June 10th issue of the New Yorker features five essays by authors whom I have enjoyed.  They were gathered under the headline “Another Country.”

I do love a story which features lots of diacritics, and this one sure does.  Orhan talks about his brother Şevket and their mother Şekure and how they left Turkey because their father had gotten an good job with IBM in Switzerland.  The boys were seven and nine and their mother wanted them to learn French.  She had learned French in Istanbul and believed she could teach them at home.

But the boys were willful and she gave up, assuming the children would learn the language on the shore of Lake Geneva, in the parks, on the streets, or even at school.

But Orhan resisted the French language.  All of school was in French and Orhan seized up.  Mostly he hated being separated from his brother and he felt at sea. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JÜRGEN MARCUS-“Ein Festival der Liebe” (1973).

Schlager (see the end of the book entry below) has become a catch-all term for (European) inoffensive pop music.  But apparently in the 1970s it had a slightly different and more specific connotation/sound.  The more I dove into this explanation, the more confusing it became.  Until someone posted a link to this song.

It’s easy to see how people reacted against the music back when it was super popular–it is so safe and inoffensive as to be totally offensive to any one with artistic sensibility.  But now that pop music has become something so radically different, often aggressive and vulgar and very electronic, this kind of bland, fun sing along is actually charming and kind of appealing.

The chorus is easy to sing along to, you can clap along without anything complicated going on and it’s all happy and sweet (even the ahhs in the backing vocals are super happy).  The music is soft, even the little piano “riff” in the middle is obvious.  I love that the song gets a little “risky” in the end third with a “drum solo” and Jürgen singing a kind of tarzan yell, but it’s all returned safely to th end.

The video is spectacular with Jürgen’s brown suit, big hair and even bigger collars.   It’s quintessential warming cheese.  It’s the school of music that ABBA came from as well.  It’s Eurovision!

And I find it quite a relief from the pop schlager of today.  This song was given example of contemporary German schlager:  Helene Fischer “Atemlos durch die Nacht”.  Her delivery is inoffensive by the music is so contemporary and dancefloor that it doesn’t feel anywhere near as delightful as the 1970s song,

[READ: February 9, 2019] How to Be German

I saw this book at work–the German side–and it looked like it might be funny.  I wished I could read more than the very little German that I know.  And then I flipped the book over and discovered it was bilingual!  Jawohl!

This manual is a very funny book about being German.  It was written by a British ex-pat who moved to Germany many hears ago and has settled down in the country he now calls home.  The book gently pokes fun at German habits but also makes fun of his own British habits and cultural components.

I studied German for one year which makes me in no way qualified to judge the quality of the humor or the accuracy of the cultural jokes.  The book does a very good job of cluing the unfamiliar in on what he’s talking about.  Although there are about a dozen exceptions where no context is given to the ideas that he’s talking about, which is quite frustrating, obviously.

I’m not going to go through all 50 of these ideas, but there are some that are particularly good and some that I found especially funny. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KING GIZZARD AND THE LIZARD WIZARD-Oddments (2014).

After the psychedelia of the previous album, KGATLW released this varied collection of songs.  Indeed, none of the 12 songs sound anything like the others.  It’s hard to say if this is a collection of leftover songs or an attempt to make a varied record.  After all, they had released four and a half albums in three years.

Nothing is really more than 3 minutes except “Work This Time.”  Everything goes by so quickly it’s hard to know what to think.

“Alluda Majaka” opens this record with an instrumental that has every style of music thrown into it–funky bass, organ, Indian music, there’s also sound effects and clips from a movie or two and really loud drums.  It’s a crazy opening for a crazy album.

“Stressin'” slows things down with a falsetto vocal and a gentle groove including a warbly wild guitar solo.  It’s followed by “Vegemite,” a nonsensical ode to vegemite with a great beat and an easy to sing along chorus (sung by Ambrose, I believe): Veg-e-mite…I like.

“It’s Got Old” is slower simple rocker (complete with flute and handclaps) and somehow is followed by the trippy, synthy swirls of “Work This Time.”  It opens with a rumbling wild drum intro and then becomes really gentle with more soft falsetto vocals.

“ABCABcd” is 17 seconds of garage rock nonsense before the sweet rocking acoustic guitars of “Sleepwalker.”

“Hot Wax” sounds like an old(er) KG garage rock song.  There’s creepy vocals from Stu and a simple riff and a chorus that literally repeats chorus from “Surfin Safari” but with their own muffled, fuzzy garage rock chords.  “Crying” has an old soul sound with its simple three note melody.  It even has spoken word parts (the way you act, girl) and everything.

The end of the disc throws in even more craziness in the last five or so minutes.  “Pipe Dream” is a one minute instrumental that doesn’t really do anything except evoke a psychedelic moment.  It fades out just as a riff begins.  But it’s not the riff to “Homeless Man in Addidas” which is a quiet acoustic folk song that sounds an awful lot like “April She Will Come” by Simon & Garfunkel.  The disc ends with “Oddments,” a 25 second piece of silliness that’s like a commercial for the disc which even chants out the disc name.

Unlike their more cohesive albums, this is not a necessity exactly, but it is a fun opportunity to see just how much KGATLW can do in 30 minutes.

[READ: November 2018] Cluetopia

This is a brief history of the crossword puzzle as broken down by year.

David Astle (whose name must be a crossword answer) is a crossword maniac.  What makes this book especially interesting to me is that he is from Australia, which means he has a very different perspective on the crossword puzzle than someone like Will Shortz.  For there is a great American/British (and Australian) divide when it comes to crosswords.

Astle is a huge fan of British-style cryptic puzzles and he really delves into some of the best ones over the last century.

A neat summary of the different types of puzzles comes from Always Puzzling: (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: STELLA DONNELLY-Tiny Desk Concert #819 (January 22, 2019).

Stella Donnelly has been generating some buzz lately, but I wasn’t familiar with her.  I didn’t even realize she was Australian.

She is adorable with her hair in two little nubs at the back of her head and a big smile most of the time.

She immediately won the office over with her broad smile, warmth and good-natured sense of humor. It’s the kind of easy-going, open-hearted spirit that makes her one of the most affable live performers you’ll see. While there’s no doubting her sincerity, she’s also got a disarming way of making her often dark and brutal songs a little easier to take in.

And indeed, she does not mince words when she sings.

“Beware of the Dogs” is a delicate song with Stella strumming her guitar with no pick and singing in a beautiful but soft voice.  There’s such a gorgeous melody for the chorus.

It turns out that this song and the other two are new.  Because she doesn’t even have an album out yet!

For this set, she performed entirely new — and, as of this writing, unreleased — songs from her upcoming full-length debut, Beware of the Dogs. Opening with the title cut, Donnelly smiled cheerfully through the entire performance while reflecting on the horrors that often lurk beneath the surface of seemingly idyllic lives. “This street is haunted like a beast that doesn’t know its face is frightening to behold,” she sings. “All the painted little gnomes, smiling in a line, trying to get your vote.”

As the song builds she gets more pointed:  “There’s no Parliament / Worthy of this country’s side / All these pious fucks / taking from the 99.”

She follows with “U Owe Me” which is “about my old boss at  a pub I used to work at back home.”

This song has a gentle guitar melody and some surprisingly soft vocals (including some vibrato at the end of each verse).   But the lyrics are straightforward and pointed (all sung with that disarming smile)

you put your great ideas up your nose /
and then try to tell me where the fuck to go /
you’re jerking off to the cctv /
while I’m pouring plastic pints of flat VB [or Foster’s or whatever].

At the end of the song she says, “He actually paid me a week after.  I was on the wrong week of my payroll.  It was very dramatic back then.”

She says “Allergies” is a run-of-the-mill breakup song.   “I’ve only got two of them and this is one of them.”  It’s a delicate, quiet song (capo on the tenth fret!) and once again, her voice is just lovely.

How can this Concert be only ten minutes long? I could listen to her all day.

Surprisingly, Donnelly chose not to play any of the songs that have gotten her to where she is in her young career — songs like 2017’s “Boys Will Be Boys” or last year’s “Talking,” two savagely frank examinations of misogyny and violence that earned her the reputation for being a fearless and uncompromising songwriter. But the new material demonstrates that her unflinching perspective and potent voice is only getting stronger.

I’m bummed that I am busy the night she’s playing a small club in Philly, as it might just be the last time she plays such a small venue.

[READ: January 26, 2019] Brazen

This is an awesome collection of short biographies of kick-ass women.  Bagieu has written [translated by Montana Kane] and drawn in her wonderful style, brief, sometimes funny (occasionally there’s nothing funny), always inspiring stories about women who spoke up for themselves and for others.  Some of the women were familiar to me, some were not.  A few were from a long time ago, but many are still alive and fighting.  And what was most cool is that the stories of the women I knew about had details and fascinating elements that I was not previously aware of.

What a great, great book.  It’s perfect for Middle School students all the way to adults.  I actually thought it might be perfect for fourth and fifth grade girls to read and be inspired by.  However, it skews a little bit older.  There’s a few mentions of sex, abortion, rape and domestic violence.  These are all real and important issues, but may be too much for younger kids.

Bagieu’s art for most of the pages is very simple–perfectly befitting a kind of documentary style but after each story she creates a two page spread that is just a breathtaking wash of colors which summarizes the previews story in one glorious image.  Its terrific. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KASVOT VÄXT-“The Final Hurrah” (1981/2018).

Back in 1994, Phish started covering a classic album for its Halloween costume. In 2015 they covered the Disney album: Chilling, Thrilling Sounds Of The Haunted House, which pretty much meant all bets were off.  So in 2018, they decided to cover an obscure Scandinavian prog rock band called Kasvot Växt and their sole album, í rokk.  This proved to be a big joke–they were a nonexistent band.  They had so much fun creating this band, that they even enlisted others to expand the joke.  This included impressively thorough reviews from WFMU and from AllMusic.

The joke is even in the name: when translated together Kasvot Växt and í rokk means “Faceplant into rock.”.

Here’s some more details they came up with:

The Scandinavian prog rock band purportedly consists of Jules Haugen of Norway, Cleif Jårvinen of Finland, and Horst and Georg Guomundurson of Iceland.  The album’s label, Elektrisk Tung, supposedly went out of business shortly after the LP’s release and little information about the record appears on the internet. Bassist Mike Gordon made a tape copy of í rokk in the mid-’80s and Phish would play it “over and over in the tour van in the early ’90s.” In the Playbill, guitarist Trey Anastasio insisted, “Every time the Halloween discussion comes up, we talk about Kasvot Växt. We honestly were worried we wouldn’t have the chops to pull it off or do justice to the sound, but when it came down to it, we just couldn’t resist any longer.”

The decision to go with an obscure album few have heard or even heard of appealed to the members of Phish. “We’ve paid tribute to so many legendary bands over the years, it felt right this time to do something that’s iconic to us but that most people won’t have heard of,” Gordon said as per the Phishbill. “And with these translations we’re really performing songs that have never been sung in English before.” Keyboardist Page McConnell added, “I love the mystery surrounding this whole thing. If those guys ever hear we did this I hope they’re excited because we absolutely intend it as a loving tribute.” As for what Phish fans can expect? “A weird, funky Norweigan dance album! Get out there and put your down on it!” exclaimed drummer Jon Fishman.

While the listings for the 10 tracks on the original í rokk were in a Scandinavian language, the titles appear in English in the Playbill. Phish called upon a Nordic linguist to translate the lyrics to English for tonight’s performance.

These songs do not really sound like a Norwegian prog rock band.  They do sound an awful lot like Phish (although with a more synthy vibe overall. The band has this part of their live show streaming on Spotify under the Kasvot Växt name.  And I’m ending the year by talking about each song.

While the verse of this song isn’t especially memorable, a funky bass line runs through a chanted verse and the “ooh ooh oohs” at the end of the lines are  fun.

The chorus is the poppiest moment and is lots of fun. But the highlight of the song comes at the end of the first chorus when Trey sing “The faceplant into rock” and Page plays the twisted sample of an accented woman saying “foosiplant in torock” over and over during the funky bass and keys solo.

By the end, the vocals get rough and almost mean as they encourage you to faceplant into rock.

What starts as one of the gentlest songs on the record ends as the heaviest.  And at just over 8 minutes long, it begins a section of longer jams.

[READ: December 8, 2018] “Smithereens”

This is an excerpt from a short story that was translated from the Greek by Karen Emmerich.

The story is pretty nihilistic.  The narrator is concerned about his friend Tasos who is shooting guns and talking to himself.  Not that there’s anything wrong with talking to yourself–everyone does it.   We can’t stand the silence.  It’s too much to bear.

He says people on the island people swear a lot too.  Even the women and children.  Sometimes we joke that we’ve invented a new language: Shitlish.  We curse and swear from morning to night.  “we’ve slowly stopped talking the way we think, and now we think the way we talk.”

That part of the story was fun. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: DEBO BAND-“Ney Ney Weleba” (Field Recordings, May 16, 2012).

This is yet another Field Recording [Debo Band: Ethiopian Funk On A Muggy Afternoon] filmed during SXSW at the patio of Joe’s Crab Shack.

I was not familiar with Debo Band.  They are led by Ethiopian-American saxophonist Danny Mekonnen and fronted by magnetic singer Bruck Tesfaye.  The group infuses its dance-friendly songs with the Ethiopian pop and funk music of the 1960s and ’70s.

Compared to a dark club full of dancing fans, a muggy Austin afternoon with the sun peeking out over our isolated spot at Joe’s Crab Shack isn’t the ideal setting for a Debo Band performance. But once the group began digging into “Ney Ney Weleba” — a classic song by Alemayehu Eshete — it didn’t take long to get caught up in Debo Band’s deep, infectious groove.

This is a bizarre song to write about because there are just so many elements and so many things going on.  Lead accordion, violin, horns and lyrics in Amharic.  But with guitar, bass and drums and a rocking beat.

This vibrant 11-member group collects its influences like trading cards: It finds common ground in jazz, classic soul, psychedelic rock and New Orleans party bands, playing with song forms, manipulating rhythms and finding space for improvisation.

Plus, the fact that the band is signed to Sub Pop — a label more known for indie-rock and pop — represents something of a statement. Debo Band is a rock group first and foremost, and one that can bring joyful intensity to listeners who might not otherwise naturally gravitate to this music. It’s a winning cross-cultural stew of sounds that grabs you instantly, and ought to have you bobbing along and sweaty in no time.

The whole song lurches along with a really fun beat, and then there’s a trumpet solo and a very psychedelic echoing guitar solo.  It ends with a rocking jam from the two saxes and then a re-visitation of the opening.

I have no idea what the song is about but I like it.

[READ: November 2008] “It All Gets Quite Tricky”

I thought I had read everything that David Foster Wallace had published in Harper’s but as I was going through back issues, I found this little thing.  It’s basically correspondence between Wallace and some students.

These letters were written about in the David Foster Wallace Reader.

Anne Fadiman’s Afterword about the State Fair (which these letters reference) in the book is my favorite because she talks about using the essay in her classes. She focuses on just one section (the one about food) and asks them to really parse out its structure and content.  She also says that one student got to write to DFW each semester and that he would answer their questions for him.  His letters always ended with, “Tally Ho, David Wallace.” (more…)

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