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Archive for the ‘Harper’s’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: JORDAN RAKEI-Tiny Desk Concert #935 (January 13. 2020).

I’ve never heard of Jordan Rakei.  I didn’t enjoy the first song of this Tint Desk, but that probably because I don’t really like “soulful R&B artists.”  But the other songs are a bit more jazzy and fluid and I enjoyed them more.

It also seems like Tiny Desk sets that I don’t enjoy are longer than the ones I like.  This one is four songs in 17 minutes–how do artists I’ve never heard of get more screen time than artists that Bob and Robin love?

The blurb is really glowing about the band and musically they are really tight.

The band opened with “Say Something,” from the group’s 2019 album, Origin. It’s a song that encourages people to take action and speak up for themselves.

It’s got a simple riff on the bass (Jonathan Harvey) and the guitar (Imraan Paleker).  The main feature of this song seems to be the backing vocalists: Linda Diaz, Sam Wills and Opal Hoyt who dominate the song.  I think this song just overstays its welcome since the “say something” refrain is sung about a hundred times.

They followed with “Mind’s Eye,” a commentary on technology that questions whether advancements are always a good idea.

I enjoyed the opening looping synth riffage (presumably from Jordan).  Then it kicks in with a vaguely Latin rhythm with percussion from Ernesto Marichales and a cool drum pattern of rim shots from Jim Macrae.  I liked this song a lot more.  bothe because of the really interesting middle section with cool bass lines and swirling synths and guitar as Rakei switches to piano.

This song is jazzy and it segues into the even jazzier “Talk To Me,” from the group’s 2016 debut album, Cloak.  I guess I prefer the clean piano sound and more sparing backing vocals on these two middle songs.   The end is fun with just about everyone playing some kind of percussion instrument.  Jordan sings something although i don’t know if it’s in another language or is just interesting sounds.

The final song “Speak,” was inspired by the TV show The Handmaid’s Tale, it imagines a world where nuclear war has left half the women infertile, as technology runs amok.

For this track it’s just him on piano.  I thought i would enjoy him solo a bit more than with the band, but I don’t find this song all that interesting, so bring the percussion back!

[READ: January 18, 2020] “Protocol”

This was a strange story and I didn’t really understand what was happening for the most part.

The coolest part of the story is that it was a translation and translator David Short managed to write passages with a heavy British accent even though it was originally written in Czech.  I can’t imagine what was happening in the original that would give a sentence like

An’ on top o’ that being a purveyor of love, ‘aving everyone ‘ang on till his death…

Of course, I have no idea why the character would have a heavy accent–it was never alluded to.  In fact, I don’t know why any of this story was the way it was. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BEST COAST-“Everything Has Changed” (2020).

I’ve enjoyed most of the Best Coast songs I’ve heard–simple power pop songs from Bethany Cosentino and Bobb Bruno that can be surprisingly dark.

Although Best Coast is a duo, this song is multi tracked with all kinds of overdubs–lots of backing vocals and guitar solos.  It sounds bigger than anything they’ve done before with loud crunchy guitars and a really simple riff.  And it is catchy as anything.

I like this couple of lines

I used to cry myself to sleep/ Reading all the names they called me,
….
Did they think? No, of course they didn’t.

After the big chorus she talks about what has changed

Now I’m walking a little dog on a leash
Now I live in a big pink house
I escape to witch mountain every day

I honestly don’t know if that’s a positive or sarcastic change.  But the chorus “everything has changed and I like it this way” certainly sounds positive.

One thing I particularly like about this song is that while it is all pretty simple verse/chorus, there is a third part that changes the tone and sound of the song, if only briefly, before returning to the catchy riffage.

I have plans to see them this spring and I’m looking forward to hearing this new record live.

[READ: January 15, 2019] “Who is She?”

In this brief story a woman has an existential crisis and her public reaction to it causes others to suggest ways to help her.

She says a long time ago someone told her that it was important to “locate and deploy” your own story.  This theory is put into question when she starts seeing graffiti around that says in white paint WHO IS SHE?

She saw it in a number of places and couldn’t get the idea out of her mind.   As she was crossing a boulevard, she decided to lie down on the grass in the median strip.

It was early on a Sunday and therefore very quiet but soon enough cars began passing.  Across the street from her was a gym and there were people working out with ruthless, glistening intensity,  And then (I rather enjoyed this), (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BROWNOUT-Tiny Desk Concert #934 (January 10, 2020).

I’d heard of Brownout when they released Brown Sabbath, a funk covers album of Black Sabbath songs.  They have also released an album of Public Enemy covers.

I didn’t realize that they were a long-established band (fifteen years).  They originally started as a Latin funk band (and backed up Prince).  Their singer, Alex Marrero, has only been with them for four years or so–it was originally a side project that turned into much more.

One of the things you need to know about this band is that they can change traditions or genres almost on a dime. The core members dip into soul, Latin funk, a form of Peruvian cumbia called chicha, and funk covers of both Black Sabbath and Public Enemy.

The first song they play “Somewhere To Go,”

is punctuated by an old-school R&B horn section (Mark “Speedy” Gonzales on trombone and Gilbert Elorreaga on trumpet) that’s deceptively simple and emblematic of the power of their concept and spirit.

The song has a slow groove and starts with a cool bassline from Greg Gonzalez.  There’s rocking, distorted guitars and lots of horns.  He sings a few lines and then starts singing into a megaphone “paddle your way out of this.”

The next song “Nain” is also new, “with lyrics in Spanish about being different and not fitting in and seeing that as a positive.”

The intricate interplay of the baritone sax (Joshua Levy), guitar (Beto Martinez), bongos (Matthew “Sweet Lou” Holmes) and electronic and acoustic drums (John Speice) launch the second cut, “Nain,” into another down-tempo burner,

I love the way the horns play a simple melody after the first section that sounds a bit like a commercial break in a TV show–waiting for whats to come next.  Again the guitar is interesting, playing a few complex patterns while the echoing keyboard solo from Peter Stopschinski adds a trippy aspect to it.

The final song is “You Don’t Have To Fall,” which includes

old-school Tower of Power horns that made quite a few heads dip and hips shake in our corner of the NPR building,

The song has a ripping guitar solo from Beto Martinez’s during  which Alex plays a shaker gourd.  It’s really catchy.

They seem to be able to do it all.

[READ: January 10, 2020] “The Whale Mother”

Leila’s marriage has fallen apart.  She still lives with her husband and kids, but they have both hired lawyers.  Her lawyer had told her things were over and she should “Go forth and date.”

So she decided to book a retreat

While on the SeaTac-Whidbey Island Shuttle, the older man in front of her started talking to her. He says he’s lived on the island for more than ten years.  When the ferry arrived, he led her upstairs–not waiting for her but assuming she’d be following him.  He was married–he wasn’t trying to pick her up–he just seem to enjoy talking to her.  Their time on the ferry was a little disappointing to her because she wanted to stay inside in he “sophisticated interior” but he went right through to the deck.  Nevertheless, she enjoyed the company and developed a bit of a crush on him.

He asked what her heritage was.  This “was the question she would have asked him if such a question weren’t now a minefield.  Leila welcomed the question when it came from another brown person but would not have assumed other brown people felt the same way.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BRIDGET KIBBEY-Tiny Desk Concert #933 (January 8, 2020).

I love the harp.  Ever since I took a very brief class in grad school (like 4 weeks), where I learned exactly how to play one, I’ve wanted to buy one (that’s an expensive hobby).

Harps are usually thought of as celestial instruments, think “the stereotype of the genteel harp, plucked by angels.”

But the range on the harp is unreal–47 strings!  Such highs and lows.  And the things usually weigh a ton (not literally, or maybe literally).  When I saw Joanna Newsom, I was delighted to see her play a harp from relatively up close.

Now here is Bridget Kibbey.

Kibbey is crazy for the harp. She first heard one at a country church amid the Northwest Ohio cornfields where she grew up. Now she’s the go-to harpist for contemporary composers, some of whom who are writing pieces especially for her.

To be able to watch Kibbey play these pieces up close is breathtaking.  She starts with Bach (arr. Kibbey): “Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV 565.”  Yes, that one, the one we all know on the organ.  Well, hearing it on the harp is a whole new experience and watching her steamroll through as her fingers fly all over the place is wonderful.  You can marvel as she “offers tightly interwoven voices, like gears in a clock, with melodies and rhythms that sparkle.”

She says she transcribed the piece for the harp on a bet.  It gives her a chance to explore Baroque counterpoint and the drama of this piece.  And does she ever.

The second piece is by the “great living jazz artists Paquito D’Rivera” from Cuba.  He plays clarinet and saxophone and wrote “Bandoneon” (arr. Kibbey) for piano, which she transcribed for harp.   It is an Argentine tango and is really terrific.  I love how she keeps that bass line steady while the high notes fly around the harp.

Kibbey is really fun and boisterous and she’s very excited about her instrument.  It’s fun to hear her talk about what she’s going to be playing next.

The final piece is a “little ditty” she grew up singing in the cornfields of Ohio.  It’s Bach (arr. Kibbey): “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded” from St. Matthew Passion.

I see that she has played Princeton a few times in the past.  I sure hope she comes back!

[READ: January 9, 2020] “The Country in the Woman”

This story was published this month in a collection of previously unpublished work.

I don’t believe I’ve read much by Hurston and I was a a little put off that this story is written in partial dialect.

Looka heah Cal’line, you oughta stop dis heah foolishness you got.

But I quickly got over that as I saw what she was doing with the story.

Caroline and her man, Mitchell, are from Florida but they have moved to New York City.  The New Yorkers all want Caroline to be more like a New Yorker but they know you can’t get rid of “the country in the woman.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKRHEOSTATICS-Copps Coliseum, Hamilton, ON (December 11, 1996).

This is the 22nd night of the 24 date Canadian Tour opening for The Tragically Hip on their Trouble At The Henhouse Tour.  This is the last date of the tour (so far) for which there are recordings.

The show opens with a great “Midwinter Night’s Dream” followed by a rocking “Fat.”  As the song ends with the “bye byes” Dave save “see you in the next song, Martin.”

“All the Same Eyes” is a rocking good time.  And then, after a little riff, Martin starts “Motorino” which sounds great.

Dave says, “Hi we’re the Rheostatics, not to be confused with The Howl Brothers–they couldn’t make it.  But we’ve got their jackets.”  He mentions that they have a new album out, “get it before its reduced to clear.”

During “Bad Time to Be Poor” after “feeling winter through a crack in the door,” Tim goes brrrrrr.  More Tim on “Claire” with some great soaring harmony vocals before Martin’s rather grunting solo.  Although at the end, instead of spelling C-L-A-I-R-E, Tim seems to be singing Steve L.A. yea yea yea confides in me”

The set ends with two scorching tracks.  A terrific “California Dreamline” and a roaring “Feed Yourself” (with a really intense ending).

As the feedback fades, Dave says, “Thanks to the Tragically Hip.  God bless.”

It’s a nice way to end the tour–but maybe someday we’ll hear those last two shows.

[READ: April 9, 2019] “The Unexpected”

This was a darkly amusing story (yes, it is Joyce Carol Oates) that I had to wonder if it was in any way autobiographical or just horrifyingly possible.

The story is about a writer receiving an honorary doctorate of humane letters from the community college near her home town in update New York.  She left and never came back, but has been writing about her home town for much of her career.

She is awkward from the start, “Thank you for the honor.  I am very–honored.”

She receives applause–not thunderous, but polite, even warm .  But her speech seems to fall flat (if it can even be heard over the fighter jets).  But when she is finished, she pauses and the response is enthusiastic and she wonders “Is there where I belong now?” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKRHEOSTATICS-Molson Centre Montreal, QC (December 9, 1996).

This is the 21st night of the 24 date Canadian Tour opening for The Tragically Hip on their Trouble At The Henhouse Tour. According to this host of the RheostaticsLive site: This in my opinion is the best show of the tour.

This show opens with the recording of the French language hockey game.  This time you can clearly hear him shouting Esposito!  After the recording fades,

It opens in a very amusing way.  I imagine that Dave and Martin are lying on the stage, because Dave asks, “Martin can you sleep?  I should have been asleep hours ago.”
Martin: “No, I can’t sleep.  I was up all night listening to the Local Rabbits.  Those riffs will keep anybody awake.”
[Tim starts playing the bass].
Dave “I had this weird dream we were playing in a giant rock stadium, opening for Ringo’s All Stars.  It felt really weird.  And everyone was speaking a different language.”
Martin: “Ringo’s really giving it this tour.”
Dave: “I’m just gonna get out of bed and see what Tim and Don are doing.”

They launch into “Fat.”  I really like the nice little bass tag Tim adds to the end while Martin sings “Bye Bye.”

“Aliens” is a nice surprise–I feel they just don’t play it all that much.  The feedbacking guitar segues nicely into a rocking “All the Same Eyes.”

It’s followed by a fun and bouncy “Michael Jackson.”  At the end, Martin says, “It feels good to be alive.”  Tim deadpans, “sometimes.”

Thanks to CSRG & CHUM FM and C5 for coming down and talking to us today.  This is a song [“Bad Time to Be Poor”] that’s getting played on the radio in all the finer dentist offices in the land.

Some cool sounds from Martin open up “California Dreamline.”  The ending part totally rocks until the denouement where it sounds like someone rocks so hard they may have de-tuned their guitar.

They wish Happy birthday to Gary Stokes, the finest soundman in the land.  Which leads to a lovely “Claire” that segues into a quiet intro for “Horses.”  It builds slowly and powerfully.   Lots of repeated lyrics in the middle–threaten to chop, chop.  These signs will wilt–they’re just paper ink and paper.

While martin ends with some wailing horse noises, Dave sings the first two lines of “Another Brick in the Wall” to end the show.

[READ: April 9, 2019] “Both Sides Now”

This is an excerpt from Gainza’s novel Optic Nerve which was translated by Thomas Bunstead.

It’s a little hard to guess what the whole novel is about since the excerpt worked so well by itself.

The narrator notes that one day you develop a fear of flying.

Before you turned twenty-five, flying seemed natural, but now it seems insane.  Nevertheless, you are supposed to fly to an art convention in Geneva. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: NAO-Tiny Desk Concert #833 (March 18, 2019).

This was possibly my least favorite Tiny Desk Concert I have seen.  And it was endless.  It kills me when bands I like play short sets (often only three short songs) while shows like this push nearly 20 minutes.

Nao’s voice is a comic book character–underneath that comic book voice there’s a powerful voice, but it’s all wrapped up in this goofy–how can you take it seriously–nasally nonsense–and when she goes deep, it’s even more amusing.  Worse yet, her backing singers sound like bleating goats and sheep in the first two songs–single note: “baaa.”

And yet , clearly I know nothing because the blurb describes “Nao’s sophomore effort and one of 2018’s best albums.”

Just to top it off, the album is about astrology.

In astrology, your Saturn return is the time in life when Saturn goes back to the same spot it was at the time of your birth. As Nao explained during her appearance at NPR’s Tiny Desk, “It’s about leaving adolescence and going into adulthood.” This crossing of the threshold that happens around your late 20s to early 30s is the inspiration for Saturn

Maybe I would like the album more if her voice was drowned out in synths.

While Nao usually performs with synthy, electronic twinkles, her day at the Tiny Desk was stripped down by comparison. At times, her lyrics ring out with just a sparse guitar to carry them. Like a roller coaster of unexpected upheaval, Nao’s distinctive vocal range on this four-song set goes from bellowing and husky to soft and coy, often within the same verse. Be it the breezy, Brazilian funk of “If You Ever,” the hallowed harmony of “Orbit” (complete with prayer hands) or the valiant soul-searching of “Make It Out Alive,” it’s almost as if Nao duets with herself, answering her own questions, settling into her own quirks.

I listened to the show twice to see if I was wrong.  The first song is a bit catchy–I like the guitar lick from Ariel O’Neal.  In fact, focusing on her throughout the show is a highlight.

I also really like the part between the songs when she introduces the band, because she’s not singing–it’s a nice light jam.  I admit that it amuses me that she says “that’s my cousin Samson Jatto on drums–he’s not really my cousin I just wanted to say that.”

If she didn’t do the R&B warble, the opening of “Bad Blood” would be okay.  But the comical vocals just undermine anything serious.  And then the bleating starts.  I’m not sure if only Troi Lauren and Taylor Samuels are making the goat sounds, but it sounds like it’s coming from all around the room.

“Orbit is similarly okay to start with.   “Make It Out Alive” is the fastest song in the show, with some uptempo keys and bass from Joe Price and Henry Guy.

If it were one song on a mixtape, I’d skip it, but 20 minutes was a lot to take.

[READ: March 26, 2019] “Setting the World to Rights”

A powerful opening from this story: “All his life he lived on hatred.  He was a solitary man who hoarded gloom.”

And how about this: “Good people are afraid of hatred, and even tend not to believe in it.  If it appears before their eyes, they generally call it dedication or some such name.”

Those in the kibbutz believed the subject of the story (unnamed) was full of faith and dealt severely with the world–“We invested him with a halo of self-sufficient reticence.”  This halo afforded protection against gossip although the children called him ‘wicked Haman” and pointed fingers at him.

He works with machines and is efficient and hates waste. (more…)

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