Archive for the ‘Harper’s’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: RED BARAAT-“100+ BPM” (Live in front of the Brooklyn Public Library) (June 2, 2014).

Continuing with the fun that is Red Baraat, I stumbled upon this recording from the NPR studios.

As part of the Make Music New York Festival, NPR commissioned new music from Red Baraat and Sunny Jain created “100+ BPM.”  And as the blurb informs us:

“We put out a call and they came — by the hundreds. When we invited wind, brass and percussion players to join us yesterday in Brooklyn to perform a world premiere by Red Baraat‘s Sunny Jain for the annual Make Music New York festival, we were hoping that lots of different kinds of musicians would join us. And boy, did they ever.

On this absolutely gorgeous Saturday afternoon, about 350 musicians assembled on the steps of the Brooklyn Public Library to play Jain’s 100+ BPM. Young, older, professional drumlines, community marching bands, seasoned jazz players, Indian wedding band musicians, Brazilian samba drummers and scads of amateur players came out to play. It was just incredible.

I don’t know how they managed to record the music so perfectly, but it sounds fantastic.  You can really hear the different instruments (well, except maybe the poor violins and that piccolo) as they zoom in on one section or another.

The whole group plays along perfectly.  And there’s even some great sax solos (how did they decide who got to solo?) an excellent trombone solo and lots and lots of drums and percussion.

I love that after the wild soloing everybody joins back in for that great melody once again.

At 6:15, the song stops (and you get to see how psyched Sunny is).  Then after a short pause he starts clapping and selects which group of instruments will keep the beat going.  First it’s drums, then percussion, then the tubas and then the brass comes into play a new staccato riff that is fun and catchy and easy to speed up. Which it does.

He drops out the drums and selective instruments until it’s just the tuba and percussion.  Then the drums come back in and he starts picking up the tempo of that riff again.  Faster and faster do they get to 100BPM? According to this excellent free BPM counter, they make it to 106/107 BPM during the main part.

Then after a breather it’s time to keep going, faster and faster until they reach 126 BPM by the end and Sunny gives an exultant leap to end the song.

What an excellent way to spend a Saturday afternoon.

[READ: February 26, 2018] “Pardon the Intrusion”

Lydia Davis stories are usually really short–a paragraph or two or three.

This one is very different.

It is a series of posts–requests and thanks for various items.  And that’s it.

It’s hard to tell if a story can be constructed from these requests–at times it seems like you can follow a narrative.  But mostly it just seems to be people requesting goods and services. (more…)


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SOUNDTRACK: ALEX CLARE: Tiny Desk Concert #715 (March 7, 2018).

Alex Clare’s band is clearly having a beard-growing contest.  The drummer (Christopher Prendergasp) isn’t playing but everyone else suggests the stakes are high.  The bassist (Christopher Hargreaves) is winning.

Vocalist and songwriter Alex Clare is yet another soul disciple from the UK, and his visit to Bob Boilen’s desk is the perfect setting to bask in the power of his voice.

The first song, “Three Hearts,” is a love song dedicated to the moment he heard the heartbeat of his first child coming from his wife’s sonogram. Backed by a tight four-piece band, Clare’s tale of his family’s road to domestic tranquility captures the joy as well as the uncertainty of impending parenthood.

Lyrically it’s okay and sweet, it just sounds fairly typical.  Especially musically.  I thought we;d be getting 20 minutes of straight ahead soul with a little less charisma than The Commitments.

Next is “A song called ‘Love Can Heal.’  True story.”  The guitar (Jordan Peters) is far more interesting on this song.  In fact I found myself enjoying the guitar more than Clare’s voice.  I love the cool guitar licks at the end and the nifty harmonic note that ends the song.  Although, having said that, his voice is quite powerful.  And he shows it off even more on the next song.

In “Caroline,” he inhabits the words with passion and heartfelt pleading, bringing to mind some of the best soul shouters, completely lost in the sentiment of the lyric.

That is very true, he is completely swept up in this song (even he says it’s not about anyone in particular).

I really like the guitar on the final song “Open My Eyes.”   I like the whole vibe of this song–the way the song unfolds and the backing vocals as well.  Indeed I feel like each song has gotten a better as the show progressed.

While I found his music to be fine–nothing I’d go out of my way to listen to but I wouldn’t turn it off either. I found his backstory far more interesting:

The British singer-songwriter released his debut album, The Lateness of the Hour, on Island Records last summer. But the label soon discovered how serious Clare was about his faith [he is an Orthodox Jew, which I didn’t know when I made the beard contest joke] — especially when it came to the sabbath and high holy days, on which Orthodox Jews are forbidden to perform.

“When I signed to Island — you know, obviously a shomer Shabbos Jewish person — I don’t think they quite realized what that means,” Clare says. “I got offered a tour at Pesach, at Passover, and couldn’t perform.”

The offer Clare turned down was a slot opening for Adele. About four months later, he was dropped from Island’s roster, having failed to generate significant album sales or radio play. As Clare was figuring out his next move, he received a call from Microsoft, which was interested in using his song “Too Close” in a commercial. It was a deal that would make the song a hit and restart his career.

He doesn’t play that song here, which is too bad.  And the poor percussionist’s name is never given.

[READ: February 28, 2018] “Violations”

This is a story about writing stories and how autobiographical they are or are not.

It is written in close third person.  And the first sentence is really, really, really long.

It begins, “He had wanted to make sure she wouldn’t write about him…” and then it goes on in his mind about why he didn’t want to be written about and narcissism and all that kind of thing.  The short of it is that he never asked her not to write about him, but he never stopped craving assurance that she wouldn’t (and there’s a long entangled reason why not).

The “she” is his now ex-wife.  She moved out but he still gets her mail.  And she has not written about him.  He tries to get her mail to stop coming but he doesn’t cancel her magazines–especially the one that she always wanted to be published in but had never been. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RED BARAAT-Shruggy Ji (2013)..

Red Baraat’s second album feels a lot bigger than their debut.  The production is bigger, there’s (even) more diverse sounds.  And there’s a lot more vocals album.

I enjoyed the brrrrrr ah! vocals, but I’m a little less excited by the rapping. Primarily because the lyrics are pretty lame (party type lyrics for the most part). But that doesn’t diminish from the music, which is super throughout.  It feels big and solid–evidently the band was recorded playing all together with only minimal overdubs.

“Hala Bol” opens with a wild melody and some singing “bol bol bol, hala bol–RAISE YOUR VOICE!–baby baby bol hala bol.”  The song is pretty long (as most of these are and the middle features the guys chanting all manner of things in possibly different languages.

“Tenu leke” opens with a celebratory “Brrrrrrrrr ah” and chants of  “hoy hoy hoy.”  There’s a wonderful uplifting sense to the melody especially when the song takes a breath and the notes spring forth once more.

“Shruggy Ji” opens with some slow, ominous horns for about 25 seconds and then the dhol, percussion, and drums kick it up into a furious meld of go-go funk, hip-hop, jazz, and South Asian groove.  The powerful funk makes way for a good-natured rap: “Move your body and shake those hips / just feel the rhythm all under your skin / drip drop the sweat / shruggy ji lets begin.”  Nothing exciting, but fun.  The rap in the second half is less successful although I’ve read that it’s meant to be all in fun, so I guess a line like “I’m gonna ask you some question like I was Biz Markee” is just comical.  About the song band leader Sunny Jain says, “We like to think of ‘Shruggy Ji’ as that shadow lurking next to us, waiting to take over when the night falls and move our body with no inhibitions.”

“Burning Instinct” has the kind of booty shaking vibe that make you wanna move.  The dueling horn solos add to the fun chaos that the percussion is creating.

“Dama Dam Mast Qalandar” has lyrics in Hindi (I assume) which seems to work better because I’m not trying to figure out what he’s singing about.  “Sialkot” opens with some thundering dhol paying and lots of “brrrr ahs!”

“Private Dancer” also features rapping party vocals over some slow rolling funk.  I love that it begins with someone shouting “yo, turn that dhol up!”   “F.I.P.” is full of more fun and dance and lots of call and response. “Apna Punjab Hove” has a bit of an upbeat  reggae feel and a smidge of klezmer for a change of pace.  It’s still dancing, just a different step.  Lots of chanting of “ah -ha” and the like.

“Azad Azad” is an album highlight.  It’s got great percussion and a fun riff from the horns and lots of chanting.  Unlike some of the more partying songs, this one is more political: “no borders, no walls, freedom [sings / dances / rings] through us all.”

“Mast Kalander” is a fun song which proves that the more nonsensical the lyrics, the better the party: “jump in the sauce / throw your hands up and go crazy.”  I love how it gets faster and faster as it progresses.”

“Aarthi”ends the album with a cool, jazzy melody.  The party is over and it’s time to go home so lets chill things down a bit.  I love that the song opens with what sounds like someone blowing into a bass saxophone and making vocals sounds at the same time.  It’s pretty cool.

The lineup remains the same as the first album:
Sunny Jain – dhol ; Rohin Khemani – percussion ; Tomas Fujiwara – drumset ; Arun Luthra – soprano sax ; Mike Bomwell – baritone sax ; Sonny Singh – trumpet ; MiWi La Lupa – bass trumpet ; Smoota – trombone ; John Altieri – sousaphone.

[READ: January 24, 2018] “Maps and Ledgers”

I haven’t really enjoyed the stories by Wideman that much.  So I wasn’t really looking forward to this one.  But it proved to be pretty straightforward and quite compelling.

As the story opens we meet a man who says that in his first year teaching at the university, his father killed a man.  The narrator was barely established in the school–he had no phone in his office–so the call went to the English Department chair’s office.  It was his mother, sobbing and blubbering.  He had told her to call there only in an emergency, which this was, obviously.

The chair was a southern gentlemen and he respectfully left the room once the narrator had been called down.

But the story isn’t just about him.  The narrator’s Aunt C got his father a lawyer.  Aunt C was a pioneer.  She had served as a WAC office in WWII and submitted applications for jobs through the Veterans Administration.  She managed to get a job in the city planners office before they realized she was black.

They did not convict his father–the victim was black after all.  But things got worse for him.

And this is when another one of Wideman’s stories gets confusing.

My father’s son, my youngest brother, convicted of felony murder. And years later my son received a life sentence at sixteen. My brother, my son still doing time. And my father’s imprisoned son’s son a murder victim. And a son of my brother’s dead son just released from prison a week ago. And I’m more than half-ashamed I don’t know if the son, whose name I can’t recall, of my brother’s dead son has fathered son or daughter.

Gets confusing doesn’t it?

Yes it does. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKNAP EYES-Whine of the Mystic (2015).

Nap Eyes opened for Alvvays and although we only caught half of their set, I really enjoyed it.  Lead singer Nigel Chapman, had a kind of deadpan Lou Reed spoken delivery (with an extra affectation–perhaps something to do with being from Halifax?).  The drums were thumping and spare and the guitar played a mixture of pretty melodies and squalling feedback.

The songs are pretty minimal musically.   Bassist Josh Salter and drummer Seamus Dalton keep the rhythm steady with occasional grace notes from Salter.  It’s really the work of guitarist Brad Loughead that stands out–in addition to Chapman’s lyrics of course.

A comment on the lyrics from the bandcamp site:

Throughout the record, workaday details punctuate (and puncture) cosmic concerns, as Nigel wrestles with air and angels, struggling (and often failing) to reconcile the Romantic rifts, both real and imagined, that define our lives: between chaos and order (or wilderness and paradise, as in “Tribal Thoughts”); solipsism and fellowship (“Dreaming Solo” vs. “Oh My Friends”); the anxiety of social (dis)orders both big and small (“The Night of the First Show”; “No Man Needs to Care”); and the various intersections and oppositions of religion, art, and science (“Dark Creedence” and “Make Something.”) 

This first album (after several EPs with great song titles) pretty much plays that template right out of the gate–the guitars do squall with feedback,but it is kind of low on the mix–disturbing the silence but not overwhelming it.

“Dark Credence” is pretty much the same thing repeated for four minutes but the way it builds with more intense drumming and ever noisier guitar feedback is great.  “Make Something” is a slower song that adds some interesting lead guitar notes as the song nears its end.

“Tribal Thoughts” is the first song that really stands out.  It’s faster paced, with a spirited, plucked melody.  Chapman is a bit more emotive and by the end the lead guitar has really taken off.  There’s some interesting lyrics in this song too, imagine singing slowly in deadpan: “I hear the beat against the slow lines / The lines i wrote / I never write them down anymore / fuck iiiiiiiiiiiiiiitttttttttt

“Delirium and Persecution Paranoia” is a 7 minute drone of a song that really doesn’t change much.  It makes you focus on the impenetrable words:

Round the inner core rocks / the outer core flows / but while the outer core cools / the inner core grows / the loaded sun sends out heat and light and deadly magnetic radiation  /  What you gonna do / the human race / when the solar wind through the magnetosphere is breaking  / Most of us down here lying down for years / sleeping the night away / some of us try but never survive /  stay up whole night and day  //  My friend once told me about a rare insomniac’s condition / sleeps not one minute a day but feels 20 minutes of pain and blurry vision.

And I just love the amusingly desperate end:

Oh baby, all I need is another second chance
Oh baby, all I need is another twenty-five second chance
Oh baby, all I need is another two-hundred and fifty-second chance
Oh baby, all I need is another two-hundred and fifty thousand second chance

“No Man Needs to Care” is a faster song with a nice circular guitar riff.  What does no man need to care about? “No man needs to care about another man’s hair.”

“Dreaming Solo” slows things down again, and then there’s two shorter somewhat poppier (but still angsty) songs.  “The Night of the First Show” is a delightful dark (lyrically) but perky (musically) take about what I gather was the first Nap Eyes show.  “Oh My Friends” is another slow, short song.  The short ones are so different from the droning quality of the longer ones.  Like the album closer “No Fear of Hellfire,” another 7-minute song.  It opens with ringing guitars and propulsive bass.  “Sunday morning only comes around once, these days.”  And the chorus: No feel of hellfire makes me feel good.”

[READ: November 15, 2017] “Chasing Waterfalls”

This is the second story I’ve read by Krasznahorkai (this Hungarian story was translated by John Batki).

Of his previous story I wrote:

This is the kind of story that makes me wonder why someone would write about the things they do.  Not because it’s bad or not worth writing about, I just can’t imagine where the idea came from.

This was a challenging story for me to read because there are no paragraph breaks (and I love my paragraph breaks).  It is just an endless stream of prose.

This one isn’t quite as out-of-thin-air, but it’s a pretty peculiar story nonetheless. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: NICK HAKIM-Tiny Desk Concert #706 (February 14, 2018).

I thought the name Nick Hakim sounded familiar, but I had forgotten it was from an NPR SXSW Lullaby in which Hakim was draped in fairy lights.

In this Tiny Desk, his music seems much more jazzy.  He has an abundance of instruments, as well.  Two guitars (him and a lead guitarist) and a keyboardist who also has a piano at hand.  It lends itself to a lot of different sounds.

“Cuffed” has a slinky bass line and I like that the lead guitar makes a sound like rim shots almost.  I really enjoyed that the same guitar later plays a muted guitar solo.  Even the keyboard solo is a little trippy and wobbly.

As the blurb says, the music of Nick Hakim occupies a space and time that is faintly out of this world. The guitars and machinery that make up his music feel slightly askew, as though someone slowed down the tape machine every once in a while. His raspy voice feels drenched in a cavernous space.

Hakim’s songs seem very personal (“exploring the quietude of inner thoughts”), like this couplet:

she taught me to make love with patience not just thinking about myself/
to really feel the other person, oh my love, what would I do without you

“Needy Bees” slows things down to piano and a jazzy guitar with mellow lyrics like “let me live inside of your mind.”  And as the blurb notes, the music feels warm and spacious.  Again weird and wobbly guitar solo comes out of the middle of the song.

I find the way he sings “Roller Skates” to be comically restrained.  I imagine it could come across as really passionate but it seems odd the way he holds back some of his opening vocal sounds.   The sprinkling piano and cool bass breakdown in the middle of the song are terrific.

I didn’t like him at first but by the end I was getting into it.

[READ: November 15, 2017] “Bad Dog”

Not only does the dog die in this story, it is horrifically killed.

I gave away that ending, something I am loathe to do.  But you can probably  thank me for not having to read that particular piece of horror.

Having gotten that out of the way, I have to admit that this story was really compelling and craftily written.

At first I wasn’t so sure what was going on.  A lot of names are tossed out with little context.  But it soon becomes apparent that the narrator’s daughter Abby (now 31) and her husband Tim own a dog which they adopted from Tim’s friend who was moving.  They adopted it because they assumed they would not be having children.  But now they do.  A girl named Rose. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ENDON-Through the Mirror (2017).

Endon’s Through the Mirror is one of the most punishing musical experiences I’ve ever had.  They opened for Boris a few months ago and their live show was incredibly intense.  It’s no surprise that their album is, too.

When I was looking at their merch, this guy came up behind me and said, that their debut album, MAMA made him want to kill himself.  But this album was different, more enjoyable.  I thanked him for saving my life.

Endon hail from Japan and call their music “catastrophic noise-metal.”

The first song is the five and a half-minute “Nerve Rain.”  It is, simply put, a wave of noise.  The guitarist plays a loud distorted guitar–very quickly.  Non-stop for 2 and a half minutes.  It is accompanied by fast pounding drums.  In the background there are all kinds of warbling electronic noises.  After two and a half minutes the noise ends abruptly.  It starts again exactly the same after a few seconds.  This continues for the rest of the song, stopping and starting at more frequent intervals.  It is relentless.  Somebody please put the entire Republican party into a room and play this at them for 24 hours.

The second song, “Your Ghost is Dead” introduces a singer, Taichi Nagura.  The drums are twice as fast, the guitar is also incredibly fast and when the singer comes in, he uses a complicated mix of cookie monster vocals, screams, wails and desperate lashing out.  I have no idea if there are any words to these songs or if he’s just making noise.  Sometimes he’s buried under the rest of the noise.  Interestingly there’s even a cool somewhat mellow guitar riff in the middle of this song–if you removed it from the noise surrounding it, it would be very catchy.  About half way through the song, the noise stops, the riff comes through clean and then Taichi Nagura can be heard crying.   And then it all takes off again.

“Born in Limbo” slows things down with an interesting drum beat.  But the bulk of the song is manipulated sounds and effects–primarily screams, from both tapes and the lead singer.  In fact Taichi Nagura’s screams are rhythmic and strangely catchy.  There’s a Mike Patton component to this song for sure.  The middle of the song even has a somewhat traditional (wailing) guitar solo.

“Pensum” is only 90 seconds long and it is 90 seconds of pummeling noise.  It’s followed by “Postsex” which is more of the same with extra focus placed on Taichi Nagura ‘s vocals which are varied and run through a gamut of pain.

“Perversion Til Death” is 10 minutes long.  It opens with some crazy fast drumming and a slow melodic guitar melody that’s more or less buried under a wall of noise.  This song is a lot slower and more ponderous than the others, with some heavy drums, squalling guitars and screamed vocals just done at a different pace.  Until the final two minutes which are just heavy pounding.

“Through the Mirror” has some interesting guitar ideas buried under a wall of squealing feedback.  Just before the song turns into a breakneck hardcore pace there’s a ten second respite with an interesting riff and nothing else.  And then pummel.  Around three minutes the noise drops away and you get super fast drums with some electronic sounds and Taichi Nagura all-out screaming but in that strangely melodic way again.  It lasts for about 30 seconds before ethe breakneck noise (and growling takes over).  The song slows down with him weeping as pleasant guitars take over.  While these pleasant chords continue playing through, he starts screaming at the top of his lungs in mortal pain.

“Torch Your House” ends this disc with a 9 minute epic.  The song begins quietly, with some pretty guitars and gentle washes of sounds.  They explore chords for about 2 and a half minutes before the drums and noise take over,  but the guitar solo is able to pierce through the wall of noise.  Taichi Nagura screams throughout in bursts, but the guitars stay largely guitar-sounding not noise-making.  Around five-minute the whole things turns into a rocking metal song.  For the last minute or so, it all mellows out with an acoustic guitar playing the melody.  Until the last 30 seconds when the noise returns over and a five-beat drum pattern as the song crashes to an end.

Musical endurance.

[READ: September 23, 2017] “Who’s Laughing Now?”

I have enjoyed most of Tom Bissell’s writing in Harper’s  He writes about a wide array of things, including entertainment.  A while back I read a lot of his older articles and it was enjoyable to read things hat were not current anymore.  And that may be why I didn’t enjoy this article as much.  It is too current.  Too painful.  I can’t believe he hasn’t been impeached yet.

Bissell suggests that trump and SNL were made for each other.  He was the rare novelty guest to have hosted twice.  Once in 2004 to promote The Apprentice and again in late 2015 to soften perception of a presidential campaign widely seen as alarming.  Some would accuse SNL of normalizing him after this (although his being a celebrity of three decades certainly had something to do with it).

Both Times he was on ratings were great so… who used whom? (more…)

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 SOUNDTRACK: THE CROSSRHODES-Tiny Desk Concert #704 (February 9, 2018).

Who knew there was explicitly Christian rap?  I mean, obviously there must be. But I never expected to hear it, especially not Christian songs that used the n-word and the f-word.

I’d never heard of The Crossrhodes, so here’s what the blurb says

Witnessing The Crossrhodes perform at the Tiny Desk instantly snapped me back to their early beginnings, just a few miles away from NPR headquarters. In 2001… the Crossrhodes stepped on stage. Week after week, the band passionately performed original material that jumped between society’s woes and their own love lives. Word eventually spread outside of the D.C. area and one-half of the group, Raheem DeVaughn, landed a record deal.

DeVaughn went on to achieve R&B superstardom, earning two Grammy nominations, while the other half of the group, Wes Felton, has remained a pillar of D.C. culture, excelling as both a musician and actor. They reunited and released their first album in over a decade last year. Footprints on the Moon recapitulates and magnifies the ideals they conveyed in the early 2000s with a hyper-focused sense of urgency.

Poet, Raquel Ra Brown opened the show with a poem.  After her introduction, and they were the band is dressed, I expected to hear more of a gospel sound, not for him to start out by going “yo, unh.”

“Footprints on the Moon” seems to be inspirational, but what’s with this lyric:

They lyin’ bout them there two white feet
That landed on the moon a year after they killed King

And again, the songs are fairly pious and you get this couplet:

The only topic of discussion is who they touchin’
Or who they buyin’ or who they fu**in’

Sure there’s politic on the song, but where is this music going?

“How You Gon’ Fall” has a pretty great chorus but the verses are again, pretty rough

cops shot 30 rounds in 15 seconds
4 month old baby in the rear section
another mother gotta call the reverend
a dead daughter, sister, veteran
now the media posing all the questions
slandering the victim pointing out aggression
somehow the angel of god kept the baby protected
coz grandma prayed beyond the pictures and necklace

The tautology of “Praying Prayers” is surprisingly catchy .  It’s probably my favorite song of the bunch

“America” has some well thought out complaints about the country, and it ends with the last few bars of the National Anthem.  I like that they took a knee during that part.

As the show ends, he gets everyone to chant, “I got the power, you got the power, we got the power; that’s power to the people.”

Overall, there was some good stuff in this set. Not my thing but I can certainly appreciate most of it.

[READ: September 21, 2017] “Fistfight, Sacramento, August 1950”

So the crux of this story is that a fist fight between two men brings a man and a woman together.

How delightful.

The story is written in a thoughtful manner, but it is still just about two dumb drunks fighting.

Inexplicably, James Sutter, in a bar, leans over and says–as if to no one–I hate Okies. Frannie Begara challenges him to a fight outside.

So they go out in the dark (the streetlight frames their ring).  Each man has his fan base ringing behind him. (more…)

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