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Archive for the ‘New Yorker’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: MOUNTAIN MAN-3 songs from Tiny Desk Family Hour (March 12, 2019).

These next few shows were recorded at NPR’s SXSW Showcase.

Mountain Man have been all over NPR the last couple of months.  And here they are again, showing off their beautiful voices in a church.

When Mountain Man began a decade ago, it consisted of three close friends arraying their voices in a resplendent blend, often without so much as an acoustic guitar for adornment. Today, the configuration remains exactly the same, except that all three members — Alexandra Sauser-Monnig, Molly Sarlé and Amelia Meath — have developed strong solo identities along the way. Sauser-Monnig also records wonderful folk-pop songs under the name Daughter of Swords, Molly Sarlé released a magnificent single under her own name earlier this year, and Meath is the singing, dancing half of the transcendent synth-pop powerhouse Sylvan Esso.  So when Mountain Man showed up for a softly joyful set at NPR Music’s Tiny Desk Family Hour — recorded live at Austin’s Central Presbyterian Church during SXSW on Tuesday night — it was almost like seeing four acts at once: three solo, one collective. Choosing a single excerpt was a fool’s errand, so here are three: the breezy a cappella “AGT,” from 2018’s Magic Ship, as well as Mountain Man arrangements of Sarlé’s “Human” and Daughter of Swords’ “Grasses.”

The opening song is a capella.  It is started by Alexandra with first Molly and then Amelia all joining in to make their gorgeous harmonies.  After the first round through the song, they start singing faster and faster.  To a frankly impressively rapid speed by the end.

The second song is by Molly Sarlé.  She says it’s about how “unfortunately easy it is to talk to god like he’s a man.”  Molly sings the main body while gently strumming her guitar.  Amelia and Alexandra provide the lovely backing vocals.   (I love that Amelia seems to be cracking up a lot through the show, but is always pitch perfect).

Alexandra Sauser-Monnig’s Daughter of Swords song “Grasses” is up next.  The guitar is more picked than strummed, but it is still a very quiet, gentle song.  I really like Molly’s voice as a backing vocalist.

They’ll be performing at Newport Folk Festival and I’m intrigued to see them.

[READ: March 18, 2019] “Color and Light”

I assumed that this story is set in Ireland, although there was nothing explicitly stated about the location–except that it is by the water.

The main character Aidan, has an older brother Declan (could be Ireland or just America).  When we first meet them, they are in Declan’s car and he is driving a woman, Pauline.  Pauline is bold and flirtatious.  She is a screenwriter.  Declan doesn’t say much and Aidan is very shy.  So that leaves Pauline to make all of the comments.  She learns that Aidan works in the hotel.  And at one point she stares at him for a couple of minutes while he puzzles out what she’s after.

A few weeks later Pauline comes to the hotel restaurant with an entourage.  Aidan is surprised at how deferential everyone is to her.  She sort of recognizes him at first and when he explains who he is she seems happy to see him.  When she leaves with her crew she invites him along but he refuses.

A few nights later Declan picks up Aidan from work and a drunk Pauline is in the back seat.  She is feistier than usual and asks Aidan all sots of personal questions–like has he ever slept with a guest at the hotel.  Declan yells that she is flirting with him.  And when Aidan turns around to look at her, sprawled on the backseat, Declan punches him.  By the time Declan drops them off, Aidan can’t tell if Declan is mad at him or at her. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KING GIZZARD AND THE LIZARD WIZARD-Polygondwannaland (2017).

KGATLW continued to amaze in 2017 with their fourth record of the year.  This record was given away for free in November–it was released under an open source licence—meaning the band did not sell copies of the album, but uploaded the master tapes online, encouraging fans to make their own copies and bootlegs of the album. They wrote:

Make tapes, make CD’s, make records.  Ever wanted to start your own record label? GO for it! Employ your mates, press wax, pack boxes. We do not own this record. You do. Go forth, share, enjoy.  P.S. If u wanna make cassettes I don’t really know what you would do.  Be creative. We did it once but it sounded really shit.

As of 2019, Louder tells us

They put the master tapes and artwork online, and indie labels all over the world filled their boots. According to Discogs there are currently 246 different versions of the album, coming in all sorts of shapes and sizes. There’s the label who released a triple vinyl 8″ lathe-cut edition of 101 copies. Australian label Rhubarb Recordings released an edition of 500 housed in a reflective silver foil laminated gatefold sleeve with psychedelic UV printing. Pocket Cat Records released a run of 20 with the grooves cut into blank laserdiscs. Aural Pleasure Records used a Kickstarter campaign to fund their edition of five “Glitter Lizard” LPs, with transparent blue and yellow vinyl featuring embedded glitter and “lizards.” It all got a bit crazy out there.

Conventional wisdom would say that obviously if they’re giving it away, it must not be very good.  But that’s the surprise (or not, given the quality out put of these guys)–this album is just as good as their others, and in many places better.  They really seem to have unified their sound for the bulk of this album, incorporating so many aspects of previous albums, but successfully merging them into a coherent whole.  There’s an epic song, a whole bunch of songs that segue into other songs, songs that refer to other songs, loud vocals, quiet vocals, flutes, harmonica, and it’s all wrapped up in an early Pink Floyd-era synth sound. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: PHONY PPL-Tony Desk Concert #829 (March 4, 2019).

This is another case where a band I’ve never heard of gets four songs and twenty minutes.  It’s petty to be bugged by that, but when band I like sometimes play 9 minutes, it’s a bummer.  However, by the end of the 20 minutes this jazzy, rocking r&b band won me over.

Phony Ppl is from Brooklyn.  They are fronted by an incredibly happy and smiling guy named Elbee Thrie.  In fact everyone seems really happy and full of energy

Phony Ppl is a group that emits a vigorous energy on and off stage. In this case, the spirit was exchanged between the band and the NPR staff from the moment they gathered behind the desk and gave a zesty greeting.

I thought they seemed very confident for a new band and it turns out they’re not new at all.

The Brooklynites formed in high school and stand out as one of a handful of R&B bands in the industry that makes eclectic choices in fashion and lyrical narratives. Their fifth full-length, 2015’s Yesterday’s Tomorrow, was praised for the way the band seamlessly melds jazz, R&B and hip-hop.

The songs are certainly jazzy (with a near-continuous sax from guest Braxton Cook).  If he’s a guest I wonder if I would enjoy them more without the sax.

They opened with “Compromise,” a highlight from Yesterday’s Tomorrow, and locked into an up-tempo pocket as if it was a second skin.  Midway through, during a quiet part where he claps along, Thrice says that the song’s “about meeting somebody at the wrong time” he says midsong.  There’s some awesome fuzzed out guitar solos from Elijah Rawk.  And I like when Rawk and bassist Bari Bass star swinging back and forth in sync, just enjoying themselves.

From there, they wove in three more songs, including two from their latest project, mō’zā-ik.

Thrice says that “One Man Band” is very special to him.  Hopefully you can feel it and I don’t have to explain why.  The middle sees a shift to reggae chords with some grooving bass and some delightfully gentle piano from Aja Grant.

“Cookie Crumble” features a kazoo solo that sounds a bit like a muted trumpet.   And by the final song, (uno mas, uno mas) “Why iii Love the Moon” they have totally won me over.  I love the way he interacts withe everyone on hand–“oh wait, she’d not ready.”  “You ready yet?”  “Oh she;s ready, we can play now.”

Maybe it was the nice backing vocals from drummer Maffyuu or the amazing moment when Cook and Rawk played the same solo on guitar and sax at the same time.  It was a great moment of synergy–they sounded amazing together.  And they totally won me over.

[READ: March 4, 2019] “The Starlet Apartments”

This is the story of a couple of young men fresh out of Yale.  The narrator was working for F.S.G. in New York City. Then he got invited by an old classmate, Todbaum, to move out to Hollywood to work on scripts–for projects that were already vetted!

The narrator, Sandy was delighted with the arrangement.  They lived in the Starlet Apartments a classic thirties two-story complex with a swimming pool. They drank a lot and tried to pick up women,  They fancied themselves great writers.  They wrote a ton and sold none.

After a few month, Sandy heard from his younger sister.  She had just graduated and wanted to come out to L.A. (anywhere but home).  He imagined having an attractive woman with them would only help their chances. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MOUNTAIN MAN-Tiny Desk Concert #824 (February 13, 2019).

I had only heard of Mountain Man from an earlier Field Recordings Session on NPR–back in 2012!  Since then the individuals have all gone to different successes but they have reconvened for a new album and this Tiny Desk Concert.  We’ll also be seeing them at Newport Folk Festival this summer.

Mountain Man is endearing.  And they are so quiet.

Mountain Man is the perfect band for a Tiny Desk concert. These three women make the most intimate music; and behind the desk, the voices of Amelia Meath, Molly Erin Sarlé and Alexandra Sauser-Monnig were the stars. Adorned by only light, rhythmic acoustic guitar, they sing songs that conjure a simpler life: dogs, friends, moonlight, sunlight, skinny dipping, beach towels and sand.

These dear friends have known each other for more than ten years, since their college days in Vermont. They released their first album in 2010 called Made The Harbor and only recently had a follow-up with the pleasantly surprising, 2018 fall release of Magic Ship.

They play three songs.  “Rang Tang Ring Toon” has a two note guitar melody from Alexandra Sauser-Monnig.  While she plays, she sings the first verse.  Then the other two join in (that’s Molly Sarlé on the really high notes).  It’s a very simple guitar melody–so simple that when she plays a kind of solo (also very simple) it really jolts you out of the gentle melody.

There’s a true kinship that happens in this trio. Things get quiet, sometimes funny and playful or, at moments, awkward, especially when they talk about “savory oatmeal.”

It’s Alexandra who talks about the savory oatmeal (with wild mushrooms, fried garlic, poached egg and chives).  It was delicious–although Molly says, “I had a different thing.”

For “Moon,” Molly plays guitar.  Her playing is more strumming.  She sings very high and the others join in.  One fascinating thing about most of these songs is the nonsense syllables they sing.  Obviously the first song (just the title alone), but even this one has a refrain of:  “Dai dai dai dai dai dai dai dai.”

For the last song Amelia Meath (yes, of Sylan Esso) sings a capella.  Before the song she says she’d like to dedicate it to “all my NPR crushes–anyone who works at NPR who has looked me in the eye and asked me questions about myself.” The song starts with all of them humming.  Then Amelia sings and they accompany her with their hums until they all sing amazing harmonies.  It’s all so quiet and sweet, you just want to lean in to hear them better.

In the eight years between Mountain Man records, Amelia Meath went on to create Sylvan Esso with Nick Sanborn. Molly Sarlé, meanwhile, was in a meditation center in California — at a cliffside trailer in Big Sur — and worked on her own, beautiful solo album, which is due out soon. And Alexandra Sauser-Monnig worked with Hiss Golden Messenger, released her own music under the name ASM and has a new record coming as well.  There’s a tour about to happen, and hopefully they won’t vanish after that for another eight years. There’s no other band like them.

[READ: February 12, 2019] “The Confession”

The confession in this story is a rape.

The narrator is the rapist.  He can’t reveal his name or the rural village where it happened because his father is a feared and respected man and he doens’t want to bring shame on him.

The summer this happened, the boy says his father didn’t want him to be idle, so he was sent to the countryside for hard work with the villagers.  The villagers were illiterate and there was no electricity.  He was bored out of his mind.  The only entertainment was the story that the boys all told about a girl from the area who had been rejected by her clan because of her sexual behavior.

One afternoon he went with one of the older men to the plains to gather grass for the animals.  The man treated the boy with deference because of the boys father, but he did show him how to do the work efficiently.

Then they both saw off in the distance, a young woman crossing the plains.  They both imagined it was the girl from the stories.  So immediately the man ran up to the girl.  She didn’t react to the man–she was too tried to resigned to her fate,  He threatened to hit the her if she screamed and then he tore of the girl’s harem pants.  He then presented the girl to the boy like a gift. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KURT VILE-Tiny Desk Concert #822 (February 6, 2019).

I love Kurt Vile.  I love his sense of humor, I love his attitude and I love most of his music–I love the way his songs are often circular with catchy parts.  I wish I liked his music a lot more-but some of his stuff is a little too meandering for me.

Having said that, he was dynamite live.  And this Tiny Desk is a delightful distillation of his live show.

For this show Kurt plays acoustic guitar and he’s joined by guitarist Rob Laakso and a drum machine.

“Bassackwards” is a wonderful song–and really highlights everything I love about Kurt.  It’s a mellow song with chill out lyrics, a beautiful melody and a circular style in which the song never really seems to go anywhere and yet even at over 6 minutes, it never gets dull.

I love that Kurt does most of the musical heavy lifting even on the acoustic, with Lassko providing the rhythm.

He’s very funny between songs.  This son is from my new album as well.  It’s called “A Working Class HEro is Something to Be” but, uh, also “Loading Zone.”

“Loading Zones” is a faster song which feels like it’s going to overtake itself at some point.  The totally relaxed harmonica (I’ll give John Popper a run for his money…as usual)and his laconic delivery of I park for free is a wonderful contrast.

For the final song “Tomboy” his switches guitar and jokes, “this song’s about John Popper.’  I love this song with its beautiful guitar lines and his halting vocal delivery.  Again, a wonderful juxtaposition of styles, which the blurb addresses:

Kurt Vile exudes a casualness at the Tiny Desk in his style and body language that is so unlike most anxious artists who come to play behind my desk. …The way he plays guitar, he seems distracted, yet the complex guitar lines he so nonchalantly plays, along with his musical mate Rob Laakso, are effortlessly beautiful and lyrical.

On the surface, it all can seem just chill. But there’s a lot of rumination in these songs — and even when he’s gazing into the overhead office lights, I think he got his mind on the stars and the world at large.

Imagine how good he is live when he switches between seven or eight guitars (and banjo).

[READ: February 4, 2019] “Asleep at the Wheel”

I really hope this is an excerpt because I want to read a lot more.  Plus there’s a lot going on, not all of which is resolved.

Set in the not too distant future (I fear), technology has taken over more than it has now.  Cindy is driving a self-driving, cognizant vehicle named Carly.  It not only tells her which way will be fastest, it also reminds her about a purse she wanted to pick up (which is now on sale).

In fact, there are no non-automated vehicles anymore–except in race tracks and in the desert.  There are ad-driven free cars called Ridz that take you to your destination after stopping by a few of the stores you like to shop at first.  Some daredevils even try to hop on automated cars –they ride on the roof–despite the dangers–and go as far as they can.

One such daredevil is Cindy’s son.  While he is riding on top of a car he sees his mom in the car next to him.  He is sure he’s busted until he sees that she is napping. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKNILÜFER YANYA-“In Your Head” (2019).

I only recently started paying attention to Nilüfer Yanya since I found out she’s be opening for Sharon Van Etten in a couple of weeks.  I was intrigued by her, but wasn’t blown away.  Then she released this song which really changes the dynamic of her music.  Although really all she’s done is add some big fat fuzzy chords to her simple poppy music.

But there’s nothing wrong with big fat fuzzy chords.

She doesn’t have a lot of music out–a couple of singles–so this brash rocker may be a change of style or might just be another style she does.

Perhaps the most intriguing thing about her is her singing voice, which is full of British vowels and a kind of staccato delivery.  Unlike overblown pop divas, Nilüfer sings like a young punk over some vintage sounds.

[READ: January 29, 2019] “What Can You Do with a General”

This is a Christmas story of sorts.  John and Linda are married with grown up children.  While Linda is on the phone, John is in the hot tub waiting for her.  But when she arrives she said that Sasha’s flight is delayed.  Which means she’ll land right during the holiday traffic.  Also Andrew (Sasha’s boyfriend who has children and who Linda assumes is still married) won’t be able to make it either.

Sam arrived first.  He drove down in his used car.  He had called his parents far too often to debate whether or not to buy or lease a sedan.  But Linda took the time to go over everything with him.  He was hooking up the iPad–trying to convince his parents, who assumed it was broken because the battery ran out–that they liked would like streaming music better than their cds.

Chloe came next.  She said she had driven a half hour with the gas light on.  When her father chastised her for this, she ignored him and played with the dog instead.

She had to be gentle with the dog because it had recently had a pacemaker installed.  Now John, who didn’t particularly like dogs to begin with, was on routine watch for this poor creature who could no longer run or jump or do much of anything.  This also sounds like the set up for a Christmas sitcom, but it’s not,.

John tried to engage with his kids but “sometimes their rudeness left him breathless.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: NEW ORDER-“Ceremony” (live) (1981).

Recently, Peter Hook was in Philly to play some New Order music with his band The Light.  I wonder how much different that show sounded from this one.

New Order formed out of the ashes of Joy Division in 1980.

Their first single, “Ceremony,” was actually written with Joy Division prior to Curtis’ suicide. It popped up as a single in advance of New Order’s 1981 debut album, Movement, which is about to receive the deluxe-reissue treatment; to commemorate the occasion, the band is circulating a little-seen performance of “Ceremony,” recorded live at Manchester’s CoManCHE Student Union.

Imagine having been at that show in 1981?

The music sounds amazing here–the guitar sound is perfect, the bass and drums are spot on.  But the vocals are terrible.  Practically inaudible.  I realize that he’s mostly speak/singing at this time, but you really can’t really hear him at all on the first verse.  It’s a little better on the second verse, but it’s the instrumental break that’s the real high point.

You can read about the re-release here.

[READ: January 23, 2019] “Cream”

The first line of this story sounds like it could describe most of Murakami’s stories:

So I’m telling a friend of mine about a strange incident that took place back when I was eighteen.  I don’t recall exactly why I brought it up.  It just happened to come up as we were talking.

Murakami is all about the strange incident.

He gives some details about himself at the time–finished high school, not yet in college–when he received an invitation to a piano recital.  The invitation came from a girl who was a year behind him in school but who went to the same piano teacher. They once played a piece together but she was clearly much better.  He’d stopped playing and obviously she had gone on to give a recital .

The recital hall was at the top of a mountain in Kobe.  He took a train and then a bus and then had a short walk to get to the venue.  It was a weird, inconvenient place for a concert venue.  He brought flowers to show his appreciation. (more…)

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