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Archive for the ‘Liars’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: SILK ROAD ENSEMBLE–“Briel” (Field Recordings, March 26, 2014).

There have been many fun Field Recordings, but this one [Welcome to Yo-Yo’s Playhouse] is surely the most fun. The countless members of Silk Road Ensemble were taken to ACME Studio, a theatrical props warehouse in Brooklyn.  They were given pretty much free reign to put on costumes, to bring out mannequins, to do whatever they wanted and that makes this session seem even bigger than it already is (and it’s already pretty big).

That’s all not to mention that the Silk Road Ensemble is a pretty amazing group of musicians:

cellist Yo-Yo Ma and some of the world’s premiere instrumentalists and composers, including members of Brooklyn Rider, Chinese pipa virtuoso Wu Man, Iranian kamancheh virtuoso Kayhan Kalhor, Spanish bagpiper Cristina Pato, American percussionist Shane Shanahan and clarinetist Kinan Azmeh from Syria.

As we’ve had the opportunity to forge those bonds over time [many of these performers have done Tiny Desk Concerts], we’ve gotten to know the warm, generous-spirited personalities that come along with these immense talents. We thought that setting them loose in a props house, where they could pick and choose among the curiosities for little elements to bring into the camera frame, would bring those aspects of their personalities into sharper focus. What we wound up with was a magical afternoon of play in all senses of the word — not just having the chance to record these virtuosos and their instruments in a spirited performance of John Zorn’s Briel, here arranged by Shanir Ezra Blumenkranz, but also to capture them (and us) having an immense amount of fun.

I had no idea this was a John Zorn piece.  It sounded like a Hebrew composition and now I understand why.  But in the best world music tradition, this piece is arranged for musicians from all over the world–percussion, strings, brass and reed.  There’s a bagpipe solo, a kamancheh solo and a field of percussion.  The song is just way too short.

But to watch Yo-Yo Ma play the cello while holding a mannequin that looks like George Harrison is just one of the many highlights.

[READ: April 2018] Loner

Everything about the look of this book appealed to me.  The title, the crappy cover, the backwards type, the size, it all just seemed like a light, funny story.

Perhaps something about it should have read “creepy” too.

David Federman is a New Jersey native.  He went to Garret Hobart High School (named for New Jersey’s only vice president) He’s smart (he was accepted in to Harvard) but dull and, as we get to know him, pretty unlikable.  He imagines that Harvard will be a place where he (and other geeks like him) will flourish and kick ass.

He’s not wrong in thinking that–everyone he meets  seems to want to change.  But no one wants to change by hanging out with David.

David winds up in a freshman group that he hates–the Matthews Marauders (who are anything but).  In fact, nothing is going very well until he sees Veronica Wells.  She is everything he desires–a sophisticated New Yorker with money, intelligence and beauty. (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: ROY AYERS-Tiny Desk Concert #712 (March 1, 2018).

I hadn’t heard of Roy Ayers, although I imagine I’ve heard his work somewhere before.  I love the vibes so I was looking forward to his set.

I was a little bummed to hear him singing–I assumed it would be all instrumental. Especially since his songs aren’t exactly lyrically masterful.  But the jazzy funky solos were pretty great.

Roy Ayers [is a] 77-year-old jazz-funk icon.  He sauntered through the office with a Cheshire grin on his face, sharing jokes with anyone within earshot. Accompanying him was a trio of brilliantly seasoned musicians — keyboardist Mark Adams, bassist Trevor Allen and drummer Christopher De Carmine. Later during the performance, pride washed across Ayers’ face as his bandmates took the spotlight. (Be sure to watch as Adams woos not just the room but brightens Ayers’ face during his solo.)

The set began with one of Ayers’ more recognizable hits: an extended version of “Searching,” a song that embodies the eternal quest for peace and love.  The vibes solo at 2 and a half minutes is worth the wait, though.

The lyrics are essentially.  I’m searching, searching, searching searching. It takes over a minute for him to even get to the vibes!  It’s followed by a groovy keyboard solo that starts mellow be really takes off by the end.

During “Black Family” (from his 1983 album Lots Of Love), you’ll hear him call out “Fela” throughout. That’s because Afrobeat legend Fela Kuti was a huge influence on Ayers in the late 1970s; the two eventually collaborated on an album, 1980’s Music Of Many Colors. “Black Family” is, in part, a tribute to Fela, even if the original version didn’t include his name.

Again the lyrics: “lo-lo-lo-lo-long time ago” and not much else repeated over and over and over. But it’s all lead up to a great vibes solo (as the band gets more and more intense).  I love that the keyboardist has a keytar as well and is playing both keys at the same time–soloing on the keytar with an awesome funky sound.  There’s even a cool bass solo.

Concluding this mini-concert, Ayers closed the set out with his signature tune, “Everybody Loves the Sunshine”, a feel-good ode if there ever was one. The essence of this song flowed right through him and out to the NPR audience.

Another terrific vibes solo is followed by a keytar solo which is full of samples of people singing notes (they sound like Steely Dan samples)–it’s weird and kind of cool.

[READ: August 2017] McSweeney’s No 46

As the subtitle reflects this issue is all about Latin American crime.  It features thirteen stories selected by Daniel Galera.  And in his introduction he explains what he was looking for:

DANIEL GALERA-Introduction
He says it used to be easy to talk about Latin American fiction–magical realism, slums and urban violence.  But now things have expanded.  So he asked 13 writers to put their own Latin American spin on the crime story.

And of course, each McSweeney’s starts with

Letters

DANIEL ALARCÓN writes passionately about Diego Maradona’s famous “Goal of the Century” and how as a child he watched it dozens of times and then saw it thousands of times in his head.  When he learned of Maradona’s questionable “Hand of God” goal, his father said that his previous goal was so good it counted twice.  But Daniel grows sad realizing that the goal of the century also marked the beginning of Maradona’s decline.

LAIA JUFRESA this was a fascinating tale about a game called Let’s Kill Carlo that her family played.   It involves a convoluted history including her mother “inventing” a child in order for her husband to come to Mexico from Italy and avoid conscription there.  But when this child “Carlo” “came of age” they had to think of reason why he wasn’t there anymore–so they invented the Let’s Kill Carlo game.

YURI HERRERA waiting for a bus in New Orleans as a man lay in the gutter also waiting.

VALERIA LUISELLI her friend recently moved to Minneapolis with her nervous wreck Chihuahua named President.   He was diagnoses with terminal cancer and the vet encouraged all manner of alternative therapies.  This friend was a very sweet person and had many virtues. And yet perhaps through her virtue the alternative therapy seems to have worked.

FRANCISCO GOLDMAN wants to know why immigration officers at Newark Airport are such dicks (and this was before Trump–#ITMFA).  He speaks of personal examples of Mexican citizens being treated badly.  He had asked a friend to brings books for him and she was harassed terribly asked why did she need so many bags for such a short stay.  Another time he was flying back to NYC with a Mexican girlfriend.   She went through customs and he didn’t hear anything for hours.  He didn’t know if she would even make it though customs at all–even though she’d done nothing wrong.   He imagines wondering how these officers live and what their lives must be like that they seem to take pleasure in messing with other people’s lives. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JAMILA WOODS-Tiny Desk Concert #699 (January 29, 2018).

Jamila Woods is the Associate Artistic Director of Young Chicago Authors, the non-profit organization behind the Louder Than a Bomb youth poetry slam festival.  She also did guest vocals on a slew of albums recently.

Last year she released her debut album HEAVN.  But there is so much more

Singer, songwriter, poet, educator and community organizer Jamila Woods is also a freedom fighter: a voice that celebrates black ancestry, black feminism and black identity. “Look at what they did to my sisters last century, last week,” goes a line from “Blk Girl Soldier,” her powerful opening number at the Tiny Desk.

A cool bass line from Erik Hunter opens “Blk Girl Soldier.”  I don’t love the music that much (too jazz lite for me) but the lyrics are outstanding

We go missing by the hundreds…
The camera loves us, Oscar doesn’t…
They want us in the kitchen
Kill our sons with lynchings
We get loud about it
Oh now we’re the bitches

Woods’ delivery is fantastic and the backing vocals (and keys) from Aminata Burton add a nice touch.  Throughout this song and the others the drums are great–different sounds and rhythms from Ralph Schaefer.

Woods followed “Blk Girl Soldier” with “Giovanni,” another anthem of black female pride, inspired by the Nikki Giovanni poem “Ego Tripping.” The original text includes no punctuation, not a single comma or period, and reveals a liberated prosody that is also illustrated in the song. Listen how her lyricism interplays with the rhythm section’s syncopated groove to create a captivating state of emotional buoyancy.

I love the stops and starts and the groovy bass and soaring guitars from Justin Canavan.  But once again, I’m more enamored of her lyrics

Little Bitty you wanna call me
100 motherfuckers can’t tell me
How I’m supposed to look when I’m angry
How I’m supposed to shriek when you’re around me

“Holy” opens with just keys and a punctuating drum beat.  This song is a slower one and it is all about self-empowerment.

Of particular note is her recurring theme of self-love, as heard in “Holy,” the last song in this set: “Woke up this morning with my mind set on loving me.” (What a refreshing affirmation to hear “loving me,” instead of the predictable “loving you.”)

I don’t like R&B, but I could see this album transcending that for me.

[READ: November 12, 2017] The Resurrection of Joan Ashby

I received an email from A.M. Homes touting this book (obviously, I wasn’t the only one).  It was quite an encouraging email so I decided to give this fascinating book a try.  Boy, did I love it.

The book opens with a clip from the Fall issue of Literature Magazine.   It is a story about Joan Ashby, wondering where she has been all of these years.  The article says that they have been allowed to look at her childhood notebooks.

At thirteen she wrote nine precepts she was determined to follow in order to become a writer

  1. Do not waste time
  2. Ignore Eleanor when she tells me I need friends
  3. Read great literature every day
  4. Write every day
  5. Rewrite every day
  6. Avoid crushes and love
  7. Do not entertain any offer of marriage
  8. Never ever have children
  9. Never allow anyone to get in my way

Eight years later she burst onto the scene with her first collection of short stories about incest, murder, insanity, suicide, abandonment and the theft of lives called Other Small Spaces.  Four years later in 1989 her second book Fictional Family Life was a collection of superbly interlocked stories.

She was considered brutal and unsparing and wrote very powerfully.

During all of this time, her parents were irrelevant–they didn’t seem to think much about her when she was young and when she became successful she had little to do with them.

The “magazine” prints excerpts from these stories and here is where Wolas really shines.  She creates story fragments that really show off what a great writer Ashby (and of course, by extension, Wolas) is.

These are followed by an interview and her last public sighting–a reading of her work.  It was at this reading that her first shock was revealed–she had gotten married.  And when she toured for the second book, the women who revered her were outraged by this betrayal.

The opening section is “continued after the break” which is basically the rest of the book. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RANDY NEWMAN-Tiny Desk Concert #658 (October 10, 2017).

Randy Newman is a pretty amazing composer.  It’s really hard to believe that the guy who wrote “Short People” then went on to write at least three songs for Pixar that make me cry instantly upon hearing.

And yet I would never listen to him on purpose.

But Bob Boilen has some pretty wonderful things to say about the man:

I think Randy Newman is a national treasure. If he was just a funny guy making music, I’d be OK with that, but his wit is sardonic, satirical and politically on point. Mixing politics and humor with music is usually about the punchline, and his punchlines even make the singer smile.

Randy Newman paints lasting portraits of places and people, all the while poking fun and highlighting injustice, stupidity, power and humanity and he’s been doing it for half a century. Here are the opening lines to his recently released song “Putin”:

“Putin puttin’ his pants on / One leg at a time / You mean he’s just like a regular fella, huh? / He ain’t nothing like a regular fella.”

I happen to not like this song all that much, although there are some very funny lines.  And he is pretty funny in general.

Like when he says “Let me announce this [next song] a little bit: Here’s another one.”  “She Chose Me” is a wonderful tear-jerker (it will certainly be used in a film):

“I’m not much to talk to, and I know how I look / What I know ’bout life comes out of a book / But of all of the people there are in the world / She chose me.”

“It’s A Jungle Out There” is a more romping number although I once again can’t help but hear it as a soundtrack song.  It’s easy to picture a cartoon tiger singing: “I could be wrong now…don’t think I am though.”

He talks about the final song “Wandering Boy” and says: Every Labor Day people would get together at a family party that everybody went to.  He started going when he was 8 and was still going as an adult.  And you could see families change: So the lyric is: “First came here with my father then I brought my wife.”

It’s a sad song, possibly about his son dying?  I’m not willing to investigate further.

I love that Newman is so recognizable–his voice and style are all his own.  And I love that he is still making songs that will make me cry.

[READ: January 25, 2017] “Flooding the Zone”

George Saunders can be politically humorous from time to time (actually quite often).  But he also has solutions to political problems.  Like this one, which should very easily take care of all of the world’s problems.

There are approximately twenty-five million Iraqis in Iraq. There are approximately three hundred million Americans in America. This means that there are approximately twelve Americans for every Iraqi. This means that, if we all go, each American will be responsible for one-twelfth of an Iraqi. An Iraqi family of five will thus be attended by sixty Americans.

See how easy that is?  If we all go to Iraq, we can pamper all of the Iraqis.  We can cook for them while they relax.  We can clean up after them, bring them coffee or tea.  Even insurgents will be followed by friendly Americans asking questions and telling endless stories.  We can all bring a 30 day supply of provisions and that should take care of it. Well, and of course medicine and doctors and what not.

Iraqis swill become so happy and sated that there will be no more violence.

But that’s not all.  Wait till you hear Phase II. (more…)

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pfilSOUNDTRACK: MACKLEMORE & RYAN LEWIS-Tiny Desk Concert #254 (December 3, 3012).

mackI missed the whole Macklemore & Ryan Lewis thing when it happened in 2012.  I was vaguely aware of “Thrift Shop,” but really didn’t know much about him until the hype blew up all over the place.

And now four years later, I’m catching up on him and finding it all pretty great.

This Tiny Desk Concert is interesting for a number of reasons.  All of the backing females vocals are prerecorded, but the trumpet is live (I gather that’s Lewis on the mixing board).  And he and the audience really get into it–I’m not sure when he was in his rise at the time of this show.

I gather that all three of these songs were well-known at the time.  But I’d never heard “Same Love” at all before. It is a surprisingly powerful and moving song about gay rights and human rights.  It seems to start out with a different tone altogether—he is scared that he is gay.  But it quickly turns into something much sweeter and loving. It’s actually quite a tear-jerker.  Then he changes the mood entirely.

“Thrift Shop” has an amazingly catchy melody for the chorus.  The vocal line is a sample as well.  And while I have heard the song before I never noticed the “this is fucking awesome” final line, which has been stuck in my head for weeks now.  This song is really funny.  The R Kelly line is hilarious [Probably should’ve washed this, smells like R. Kelly sheets (Pissssss…) But shit, it was 99 cents! ] and the whole bit about paying $50 for a T-shirt is spot on.  He hops around and is full of infectious energy.  There’s a live trumpet solo at the end.  Lewis plays with a set of sleigh bells and then knocks them off to much laughter.

As the song ends he grabs the Emmy and says, “Thank you, we’re outta here.  Peace.”

The final song is “Can’t Hold Us.”   The chorus of that song sounds so familiar.  I’m sure I’ve heard it before but I can’t imagine where (maybe roller skating?).  But man, is it catchy.  For this version, Ray Dalton sings with them.  I guess maybe he’s the guy who sang the original?  It sounds like there’s also a recording going with it, though, so who knows, and who cares.  The live trumpet is a nice touch.

As Bob notes: “The live, sweet, soulful sounds of singer Ray Dalton belting, ‘Like the ceiling can’t hold us’ had Macklemore standing on my desk and shaking the dust off the ceiling tiles.”  It is fun an exhilarating.  And as the show fades, you can hear him ask, “You guys have a shower?”

[READ: February 8, 2016] The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil

Saunders wrote this novella during the Bush administration. But it feels shockingly more relevant now.  This is the story of an unqualified buffoon who takes charge and attempts to force his will on a country.

But in typical Saunders fashion it is over the top and somewhat absurd, except that it is all quite real.

The story is about a small country called Inner Horner.  Inner Horner is so small that only one citizen can stand in it at a time.  The other five citizens must stand in The Short-Term Residency Zone.  Outer Horner is huge with lots of empty space.  The Outer Hornerites don’t really mind the Inner Hornerites being in the Zone, but they didn’t want to offer any of their own land to Inner Horner because, well, what if other countries wanted land too.

Then one day, a seismic shift makes Inner Horner even smaller.  Now only 1/4 of a citizen can fit in Inner Horner at a time.  Leon, an Outer Horner Border Guard noticed that this citizen (whose name was Elmer) was mostly in Outer Horn and he sounded the alarm that meant Invasion in Progress.

The Outer Horner Militia (Freeda, Melvin and Larry) came over and glared at Elmer.  They don’t believe in the shrinking–decent countries don’t shrink.  But the militia doesn’t know what to do.  And then Phil, a guy standing nearby, says why not tax them?

Phil was in love with Carol, a citizen of Inner Horner. But she had married Cal (another Inner Horner citizen) and they had a child, Little Andy.  This made Phil very bitter.  (more…)

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922SOUNDTRACK: SAUL WILLIAMS-Tiny Desk Concert #565(September 16, 2016).

saulSaul Williams sings three songs in this Tiny Desk Concert.  He is accompanied by two guys on acoustic guitars.  But his songs are so much more than the few chords played guitars.

I was unfamiliar with Williams before this Concert.  He is a rapper, poet, activist, writer and much more.  All of his songs include impassioned spoken sections in which he (presumably) free verses eloquently.

He opens the set with a series of statements/accusations.  And when he announces the title of the song, “Burundi” he tells us that the song is called… an astonishing list of cities that have similar problems.  He explains that the chorus contains stanzas from the Sufi poet Rumi: I’m a candle, you can chop my neck a million times but I still burn bright and stand.  The middle of the song is a lengthy spoken section in which he talks about everything that is going on in the world.  And he ends with this excellent thought: “The voice and vision that counters power cannot be wiped out.”

For “Think Like They Book Say,” one of the guitarists plays out a rhythmic tapping on the body of the guitar while the other plays the melody.  It’s a menacing sort of melody and it is dedicated to Chelsea Manning.

Before the final song Saul grabs Bob Boilen’s James Brown doll.  He cradles the doll, kisses his forehead and then has his guitarist play a lullaby “Down For Some Ignorance.”  It begins as a very mellow song.  And then mid way through the song, he presses a button on his computer and the song turns into an electronic wildstorm of sounds and samples.

During the end of the song, he recites a phenomenal list of grievances.  And as the song ends, you can see that he has brought a tear to his own eye.

It’s a very powerful Tiny Desk.

[READ: March 10, 2016] “My Gal”

I’ve mentioned before that I really like George Saunders’ work, and I find his funny pieces to be especially funny.

What’s odd about this piece (which was in Shouts and Murmurs) is that it was topical.  Nothing odd about that exactly, except that reading it nearly 8 years later, in another election cycle, it seems almost quaint.  Especially since Trump has replaced Sarah Palin as the Republican’s (and now the country’s) biggest idiot and liar.

This essay is by a guy who loves Sarah Palin–she’s his gal. (more…)

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