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Archive for the ‘Language’ Category

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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SOUNDTRACKAGES AND AGES-“Divisionary (Do the Right Thing)” (Field Recordings, August 28, 2014).

I really like this song.  I’ve heard several recordings of it.  The studio version, the Tiny Desk Concert, the one with the Northwest Children’s Choir and now this one.

Once again, done during the Newport Folk Festival, this Field Recording [Ages And Ages, Singing An Anthem For (And With) Everyone] corrals a band into a small, unused space. In this case, that space seems to be an unused room.  And in that small room, the band is joined by The Berklee Gospel and Roots Choir.

Bob Boilen says:

I’ve seen many magical collaborations at the Newport Folk Festival over the years, as artists band together and create in the Newport spirit. This particular venture was epic, featuring the strongest anthem of the year — by the Portland band Ages and Ages — and the voices of the Berklee Gospel and Roots Choir.

This song always sounds better with a big chorus of singers.  There’s not much to it, but the full body of voices can lift anyone;s spirits.  Especially when they start singing various different melodies on top of each other.  It’s quite lovely.

Ages and Ages played near me recently and I thought about seeing them and then I realized that this is the only song I know by them!

[READ: January 2, 2017] “How Can I Help?”

This is a story about a woman and her sister.  But the way the story is revealed is really wonderful.

It begins: “Consider Hayley, our hire of two months, a relative endurance run.”

The narrator bemoans Hayley’s decisions, like spending $4.25 (roughly 31 minutes of work at her salary) each day on a skim latte coffee from an unnamed retailer even though their office offers the same coffee in-house for free.

In the second paragraph, she says “I like and admire Hayley, she is a team player.  I don’t judge.  But I have of late been tempted to judge.”

And that’s when she reveals that perhaps her objectivity is clouded because Hayley is her sister. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: GOLDEN DAWN ARKESTRA-Tiny Desk Concert #761 (June 29, 2018).

They came marching in from off stage in robes and masks, with instruments and face paint, in more colors than have ever been in one place.

And they began the first song with a cacophony of keyboards and percussion before playing the discofied funk of “Children of the Sun.”

There’s horns from “Malika” (Sarah Malika Boudissa–Baritone Sax, Vocals), and “Zumbi” (Chris Richards–Trombone, Vocals) who set the melody going while the percussion from “Lost In Face” (Rob Kidd–Drums–who does indeed have a mask covering his face) and “Oso the Great” (Alex Marrero-Percussion) keeps things moving.

There’s a slowdown in the middle with just bass “Shabuki” (Greg Rhoades-Bass), and keys from the leader himself “Zapot Mgawi” (Topaz McGarrigle-Vocals, Organ, Synth).

Throughout the songs you can hear some wah wah guitar from “Yeshua Villon” (Josh Perdue-Guitar) and vibes–a persistent instrument which sounds otherworldly and perfect.  They come from “Isis of Devices” (Laura Scarborough-Vocals, Vibraphone).  Behind her, dancing throughout the song is “Rosietoes” (Christinah Rose Barnett-Vocals, Tambourine).

So what do we know about this band?

The blurb says:

It was a late night at an unfamiliar club in Austin, Texas when the spirit, sound, lights and costumes of the Golden Dawn Arkestra put a huge, dreamy smile on my face. It took more than three years to get ten of the players and performers in this band (there are often even more) to my desk. I tried to transform the bright daylight of the NPR office with some of my handy, previously used holiday laser lights. But honestly, it wasn’t until their psychedelic jazz kicked in that the office transformation felt real. Band leader, Topaz squawked through his megaphone to join them on their journey, while singing “Children of the Sun.”

Topaz told me that the band’s inspiration for both the name and the spirit of the musicians is loosely based on the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. The organization, devoted to the study of the occult and paranormal activities, has been around since the 19th century.

Both of Topaz’s parents were heavily into spiritual movements and what happens here falls somewhere between high art and a circus, with music that feels connected to Sun Ra’s jazz, the extended musical adventures of The Doors and the surprise elements of Parliament-Funkadelic. You can dance and/or trance, or sit back and enjoy the spectacle.

Before “The Wolf” he apologizes for an outbreak of cold on their planet.  But he wants to remind us that we are all human beings from the same planet and that we are all from stardust and vibrations. Together we can change the planet.

We would like there to be more light and love in the universe.  We must all stand together.  This is our fight song for that.

It moves quickly with the horns playing away and t he percussion flying.

The final song “Masakayli” opens with bongos from “Oso the Great” and clapping from everyone (including the audience).  The horn melody sounds a lot the theme from S.W.A.T. (there’s nothing wrong with that).  I feel like the guitar was kind of quiet through the other songs, but you can really hear “Yeshua Villon” on this one, especially the guitar solo.

This song ends with the jamming circus atmosphere that really takes off with a trippy keyboard solo from Topaz as “Rosietoes” plays with a light up hula hoop and “Zumbi” parades through the audience trying to get everyone hyped up.

It’s a tremendous spectacle and should bring a smile to your face.  Next time these guys are in town, I’m there.

[READ: February 2, 2018] “Always Another Word”

These are the same remarks that were included in Five Dials Issue Number 10.

But since it has been some time since I posted them and since I am being a completist here, and since it has been nine years since Infinite Summer, I’ll cover these four in somewhat more details

Michael Pietsch
speaks about being DFW’s editor. He says that Dave loved to communicate through letters and “the phone messages left on the office answering machine hours after everyone had departed.”  He says he loved Dave’s letters and tore into them hungrily.  He gives examples of some communiques about cuts and edits of Infinite Jest.

I cut this and have now come back an hour later and put it back

Michael, have mercy.  Pending and almost Horacianly persuasive rationale on your part, my canines are bared on this one.

He continues that David’s love affair with English was a great romance of our time.  How he was so excited to be selected to the American Heritage Dictionary‘s Usage panel. But that was surpassed by his own mother’s excitement about it,

Michael thinks he may have tried to use every word in the dictionary at least once.  When he, Michael, suggested a book that opened with the word “picric,” David’s instant response was “I already used that!.”

Zadie Smith
addresses the critics of BIWHM who thought the book was an ironic look at misogyny. She felt it was more like a gift.  And the result of two gifts.  A MacArthur Genius grant and a talent so great it confused people.  His literary preoccupation was the moment the ego disappears and you’re able offer your love as a gift without expectation of reward.

She says that she taught students to read BIWHM alongside Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling.

The most impassioned recommendation he gave her was Brain Moore’s Catholics, a novella about a priest who is no longer capable of prayer. Don’t think of David as a God-botherer–think of it as ultimate value.

You get to decide what you worship, but nine time out of ten it turns out to be ourselves.

For David, Love was the ultimate value, the absurd, the impossible thing worth praying for.

George Saunders
speaks of reading BIWHM and finding that it did strange things to his mind and body.  He says it was like if you were standing outdoors and all of your clothes were stripped away and you had super-sensitive skin and you were susceptible to the weather whatever it might be–on a sunny day you would feel hotter; a blizzard would sting.

The reading woke him up, made him feel more vulnerable, more alive.  And yet the writer of these works was one of the sweetest, most generous dearest people he’d ever known.

He met Dave at the home of mutual friend in Syracuse.  While he feared that Dave would be engaged in a conversation about Camus, and he would feel humiliated, Dave was wearing a Mighty Mouse T-shirt and talked about George and his family, asking all about them.

Saunders says that in time the grief of his passing will be replaced by a deepening awareness of what a treasure we have in the existing work.  The disaster of his loss will fade and be replaced by the realization of what a miracle it was that he ever existed in the first place.   But for now there is just grief.

For now, keep alive the lesson of his work:

Mostly we’re asleep but we can wake up. And waking up is not only possible, it is our birthright and our nature and, as Dave showed us, we can help one another do it.

Don DeLillo
says that Dave’s works tends to reconcile what is difficult and consequential with what is youthful, unstudied and often funny.  There are sentences that shoot rays of energy in seven directions.

It’s hard to believe that in September, he will be dead ten years.

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