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Archive for the ‘New Yorker’ Category

CV1_TNY_05_24_10.inddSOUNDTRACK: PASSION PIT-Tiny Desk Concert #248 (Ocobert 29, 2012).

passionPassion Pit surprised the heck out of me with this Tiny Desk Concert.  The album that two of these songs come from is full of loud, brash synthy anthems.  But they totally dial everything back with just two performers–a synth and a guitar.

The blurb notes that

Michael Angelakos is a fussy sonic craftsman: A keyboardist and singer who started out working solo on his laptop, he now makes fizzily catchy electro-pop that orbits around monster hooks.  Angelakos clearly saw an opportunity in bare-bones arrangements of his best-known songs — his 2008 breakthrough single “Sleepyhead” and two hits from this year’s Gossamer, “Take a Walk” and “Carried Away” — that he couldn’t explore with a full band.  With only his own falsetto, an electric piano, and simple guitar lines from Passion Pit’s Ian Hultquist, Angelakos gets to direct listeners toward his words, which blossom under scrutiny.

“Talk a Walk” is a poppy happy synth song.  An almost gleeful song about taking a walk.  Well, in this version, with everything stripped away, you get to hear just what a depressing song this actually is.  And when you hear this, you’ll never be able to hear that bubbly anthem the same way again.   It’s a rich, thoughtful sketch of an immigrant family’s experiences, expectations, dreams and disappointments.

Once my mother-in-law came
Just to stay a couple nights
Then decided she would stay the rest of her life
I watch my little children, play some board game in the kitchen
And I sit and pray they never feel my strife

“Sleepyhead” is from their 2008 album—their first hit, although I didn’t know it.  The keys are quiet and simple on this while the guitar plays the main riff.  It too is quite catchy.

“Carried Away” is also from Gossamer, and it’s another big, boppy sugary single.  This understated version does the same as the first song—you can really hear the words, but the melodies and catchiness remain, just much more quietly.

Even though these version are interesting and enjoyable.  I was mostly attracted to the sound of Gossamer, so I’ll stick with the originals.

[READ: January 25, 2017] “Your New College Graduate: A Parents’ Guide”

This piece is designed as a FAQ for parents on how to deal with their college graduate, once the commencement ceremony is over and “your child will be ready to move back into your house for a period of several years.”

This helpful guide answers questions about things like feeding:

Most college graduates are vegetarians and will become cranky or upset if offered meat. They also have irregular eating habits. Most prefer to skip family meals.

Or drinking:

Most require six to eight beers per night, plus occasional “shots” throughout the week.

(more…)

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ny2010SOUNDTRACK: ALT-J-Tiny Desk Concert #258 (December 17, 2012).

altjAlt-J is a peculiar band—lead singer Joe Newman’s voice is really unusual—and quit divisive as I understand.  But even the music is peculiar: “The band’s songs are wrapped in enigmatic textures, with swift shifts in arrangements inside every song and an oddness to the drums…that curious rhythm at the foundation of the songs reveals not a hint of cymbals.”

I can’t say I noticed that they were necessarily more spare at the Tiny Desk concert, but the blurb notes, “[Drummer] Thom Green plays mostly with a mounted tambourine and cowbell for the sorts of things a hi-hat would accomplish — that tick tick sound, with the snap of the sound coming from a small-bodied 10″ snare called a popcorn snare. The sparseness that happens in the absence of crashing cymbals leaves a lot of space in the music.”

I happen to really like the music behind this voice and I also find his voice… intriguing.  At first I wasn’t sure, but I feel like once I got sucked into the music, I enjoyed it all the more.

“Tessellate” has some great basslines and interesting keyboards.  Newman sings and plays an electric guitar in the most delicate way imaginable.  After the first song, there’s some amusement as he asks someone in the audience for the guitar (we don’t see it but there’s some chuckles about the person missing her big chance).

Newman switches to acoustic for “Something Good” (which I think of as the Matador song).  He plays this guitar a lot louder than the electric.  But once again the melody is quite unusual–very catchy and unexpected (and he can sing in quite a deep voice compared to his rather high normal singing voice.   And speaking of high voices the keyboardist does some really impressive falsetto notes in this and the first song.

Then they pass the bass over and the audience member gets “another chance.”  Bob jokes that they may ask her to play it next.  For the final song “Matilda,” the bassist switches to guitar and Newman is back on the electric.  His voice is so strange on this song.  It’s almost like he is singing internally to himself rather than externally to the room.  I love the drum rhythms that play under the song.

I didn’t realize there were no cymbals, but that does make a lot of sense as there are no “exclamations” to the rhythm, just a steady, interesting beat.  When their album came out in 2012 I wasn’t sure about them, but I think they’ve won me over.

As the Concert ends, they are very gracious.  When Bob says “Thanks for doing this,” he replies, “Thanks for having us. It’s the first time we’ve really played in an office.”  Which is a funny thing to say out loud.

[READ: January 23, 2017] “Who is Alex Trebek?”

I was looking through all of the pieces that Simon Rich has published in the New Yorker.  Most of them have been collected in his various books, but there were a couple that hadn’t.  This is one of them.

In his book Last Girlfriend on Earth, he has a short piece called “When Alex Trebek’s Ex-Wife Appeared on Jeopardy!”  This story is written in the same style–consider it a companion piece.

The focus this time is on Trebek himself.  And I really like the amusing way Rich sets it up: (more…)

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april-5SOUNDTRACK: THE ZOMBIES-Tiny Desk #236 (August 12, 2012).

zombiesWhen I saw that The Zombies were playing Tiny Desk I was really puzzled.  I love “Time of the Season,” but beyond that I’ve never really thought about them.  I didn’t know if they were a one-hit wonder or if they’d struggled for years or what.  I certainly never imagined they were togetehr in 2012.  And the blurb addresses that:

Predicting music that will survive the ages just isn’t possible. And the very existence of The Zombies in 2012 is even more baffling.  Its best known song, “Time of the Season,” came out after the band had already broken up.

I also had no idea that Rod Argent, of the band Argent, was involved with The Zombies (or that he was still making music).  But there he is, talking about the reunited band and playing keyboards.  He tells us, e don’t normally play in such a stripped down version.”  For the Tiny Desk it’s just keys and vocals.  Colin Blunstone, the original singer was 67-years-old when he did this show.  And man, both of them sound great.

The open with another song that I didn’t know was by them: “She’s Not There,” another classic.  It’s unmistakable and sounds great. Blunstone is clearly pushing his voice hard (and it’s all the more noticeable in such a stripped down version).

The blurb notes: “We caught Blunstone early in the morning for this Tiny Desk Concert, a time of the day when his range was self-admittedly a bit strained. However, the essence is still all there and so is the chemistry between Colin and Rod, a chemistry that began 51 years ago.”

They have a new album (!) out.  Argent says they tried to figure out what would sound good stripped down and they “Any Other Way.”  It’s quite good but not as memorable as the other two.

“Time of the Season: sounds a little different—very slow and with out the “Ckh aaah” and backing vocals.  But Blunstone sounds great and Argent plays some great piano solos.

For the final song, they play “a big solo hit that Colin had” called “I Don’t Believe in Miracles.”  I didn’t know the song.  It was written by the guitarist Russ Ballard who was the guitarist for Argent.  It’s a good song, I can see it being a hit with his soaring voice.  At the end, he comments, “I missed the really high bit at the end—I thought my eyes might pop out if I did that.”

It was great to hear these songs live, and maybe I’ll have to see if they made any other songs that I’ve always liked.

[READ: July 11, 2016] “Gavin Highly”

I haven’t really liked the stories from Janet Frame.  And I found this one to be somewhat unsatisfying as well.

There’s an element of fairy tale about this story that I did like–with the narrator unsure if her memory is doing any good.

The narrator (age unspecified, but the story is a recollection from childhood) is talking about the man Gavin Highly.  Highly was a strange guy.  He lived alone and always had done so.  But there were stories about him–that he lived in a rabbit burrow and invited ferrets in for afternoon tea.  “But of course that sort of story couldn’t be believed by realists.”

For all of his eccentric living–never actually living in a proper house that anyone knew of–he did collect books.  People said there were books everywhere.   They were probably worth thousands of pounds and if he had a mind to, he could sell them and buy a nice place.  But he never would. (more…)

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2010 SOUNDTRACK: ANTIBALAS-Tiny Desk #243 (October 4, 2012).

antibAntibalas (Spanish for “bulletproof”) is a Brooklyn ensemble.  Eleven members turned up for the Tiny Desk.  And they are quite the ensemble.  There are trumpets, saxophones, two guitars, a bass and a ton of percussion.  There’s a percussionist/keyboardist wearing a lucha libre mask (!) and the lead singer (singing in English and some other language) has what looks like tribal paint on his face. (He also plays conga and cowbell).

The blurb states:

There just aren’t many bands like Antibalas. These are jazz players making dance music: Their music is big and fun, and their guiding spirit is Fela Kuti, the brilliant big-band leader and Nigerian Afrobeat pioneer. Afrobeat is a musical style featuring nearly endless songs, mixing funk and jazz, grooves and riffs, with the rhythm carried by not only the drums, but everyone. Everyone — horn players, bass players, guitarists — plays rhythm in Afrobeat music.

It’s one thing for a big group to make a big sound — and, sure, Antibalas does that — but what stands out is the subtlety of this ensemble; the way the horns weave in and out of each other, sometimes complementing and at other times inspiring and creating musical conversation between players. That extends to all the players, from vocals to guitar. When you start to listen to that conversation and you hear that build in a rhythm, it’s so powerful, so full of joy. If they come to your town, drop what you’re doing and go see them. Wear dancing shoes.

They play two songs, but they are long and full of rhythm.  “Dirty Money” runs just under 6 minutes. I really like the way the horns seems to echo and answer each other during the slow sections.  While the whole band sings the backing voices.  And when the masked guy switches from percussion to keyboards, it’s got a  groovy 70s sound coming out of that machine.   All of it is anchored by the bass, keeping a steady rhythm.  One of the trumpeters switches to trombone for a solo as well.

“Him Belly Go No Sweet” has an even funkier feel–lots of percussion and staccato horns slowly working with each other to create a big sound.  Even though there’s plenty if music in this song it’s impressive how much they use silences—things are never quiet (there’s always a bass line or percussion) but for such a big outfit they can really get things to quiet own.  The end half of the song sees the band singing “go up  go down” while the lead singer seems to improvise a whole bunch of stuff.

It is, indeed, hard not to dance to this.

[READ: July 10, 2016] “Baptizing the Gun”

This was a very dark story and, if nothing else, it made me never want to go to Lagos, Nigeria.

The story is told in first person by a priest.  He is not wearing his collar and is driving a borrowed VW Beetle through the traffic of Lagos.

As the story opens, a woman is screaming because a thief just pulled an earring out of her ear–tearing her earlobe. He is caught and, astonishingly, “ringed with tires, doused in petrol, and set ablaze.”  Even though there is barely any fuel to be had “there’s always enough for the thief.”

The priest believes his trip was a success and many parishes have promised his parish in the Niger Delta money and materials.

But on his way back (at 18:03) the car dies in traffic. (more…)

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nySOUNDTRACK: TAKEN BY TREES-Tiny Desk Concert #253   (November 29, 2012).

treesTaken By Trees plays only 2 songs, and it’s one of the shortest Tiny Desk Concerts I can think of (it’s not even 7 minutes long).  I clearly have gotten Taken By Trees confused with a number of bands with similarly constructed names (band with By and The in the title), for I had no idea what this band sounded like.

They are a four-piece with a lead singer, Victoria Bergsman, who sings in such an understated way that it’s almost melodic speaking.

“I Want You” has a reggae feel to it—the quick guitar chords and slow bouncy bass, but with Bergsman’s delivery the song couldn’t sound less reggae.

“Only You” is a bit more uptempo.  It was in this song that I noticed Bergsman’s accent (she and the band are from Sweden).  The set up of this song is similar to the previous one–a deep bass running through under high guitar chords.  It doesn’t sound reggae this time, but it sounds very delicate.

This was a gentle concert, which I enjoyed, although I don’t know that I’d ever want to see them live.

[READ: July 14, 2016] ”La Vita Nuova”

I enjoyed the fragmentary way that this story was constructed.  The story begins on the day that Amanda’s fiance left her.

Her parents were upset and angry.  Her friends said that he was no good.

She walked home, took out her wedding dress and brought it to work where she had all of the children at her school “decorate it.”  The school didn’t appreciate this gesture: “your personal life is not an appropriate art project for first grade.”

Then she lost her job at the school and later that year her ex-fiance married someone else (as her friend said he would). (more…)

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2014_11_10SOUNDTRACK: LORD HURON-Tiny Desk Concert #247 (October 25, 2012).

lordhironLord Huron is one of those bands that I hear of a lot, but whom I don’t really know much about. I also think they are someone I like, but listening to this Tiny Desk Concert, it’s clear they are not any of the bands I think they are.

As far as this Tiny Desk Concert goes, Lord Huron proves t be a five piece folk outfit.  They have lovely harmonies

“She Lit A Fire” is a pretty standard folk song.  Although I like the way the song shifts gears to a faster guitar style.  I really like the way the one guy’s guitar sounds like mandolin, too.  “Time To Run” is a bit faster and catchier.  In fact, when the oh oh oh oh part comes in, it’s hard not to want to sing along.  And the middle part where it’s just guitar and bongos is pretty hard not to enjoy.

“Lonesome Dreams” opens with some echoed bass notes. It’s got some really catchy parts although I don’t really love the yodeling voice that he puts on.  The band does four songs (practically unheard of).  “Ends of the Earth” opens with that same yodeling voice, but once the harmonies kick in it sounds great.

I didn’t realize that Lord Huron had only released their first album in 2012.  They have really made a name for themselves.

[READ: July 20, 2016] “Primum Non Nocere”

I enjoyed this whole story except for the very end which seemed to turn the story into something else.  In retrospect that something else is also pretty interesting and it throws a whole new light on the story, but I enjoyed the story so much as it was that the twist really impacted the way I enjoyed the rest of the story.

The title translates as “first, do no harm” and the story is about a youngish girl and her mother–who is a psychotherapist. 

I loved the way the story began.  Jewel is totally embarrassed that her mother asks her patients if they are “Cell phoning.”  She says it all the time.  How lame.  Until she realizes that her mom is actually asking if they are “self-harming.”

Her mother was brutally honest about a lot of things and was, of course, right about everything.  One thing that her mother always said was “that no one ever gets beyond high school. It’s all high school for the rest of your life.” Not true, Jewel knew, yet also true.

Her patients loved her for that unconventional understanding. She stood up for them; she visited their homes and talked to their problematic relatives, went to the store with them, walked them along the river, allowed them to bring their pets to their therapy sessions. She came to her children’s defense, too, with teachers or friends or the parents of those friends. She was brutally honest, blunt.

(more…)

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booksSOUNDTRACK: YO LA TENGO-Tiny Desk Concert #271 (April 15, 2013).

y-o-la-tenI’ve enjoyed Yo La Tengo’s music for years and years.  I have many of their records, although I’d never consider them a favorite band. They’re just a reliable band I like.   This Tiny Desk Concert sees the venerable band in acoustic format (with no drums!).  Ira Kaplan sings and plays guitar, drummer Georgia Hubley sings backup and bassist James McNew plays an acoustic 12-string guitar.

Yo La Tengo has a lot of diversity in their records.  And even here, their songs sound quite different.  I had never before considered that on “Is That Enough” Kaplan sounds like someone out of A Mighty Wind (Harry Shearer perhaps?)  I also never considered how much they sound like The Velvet Underground (which I guess others have, but I especially noticed when Hurley sings her slow song).  McNew also adds some lovely high-pitched harmony vocals (compared to Georgia’s deeper harmonies).

After the first song, Kaplan says, “You in the back will never hear this one”  They start “Tears Are In Your Eyes” from their 2000 album (and I can’t help but hing that McNew’s 12 sting is out of tune).  Georgia sings and sounds incredibly like Nico on this song.

It’s strange how Ira keeps whispering to Georgia (you can kind of hear him) throughout the song–the microphone is really sensitive.

“Ohm” is one of my favorite songs from their album Fade. Its simple, but with some great harmonies and I love the way the song–which is fairly straightforward–goes up an octave during the “say goodnight “ part.  That little melody shift really makes this song wonderful.  And it sounds terrific here.   I also love how the end is a repeating of the same chord and chanting vocals while Ira plays a wild (but acoustic) guitar solo.

I’ve never really considered seeing Yo La Tengo live (they tour all the time), but maybe I should.

[READ: January 23, 2017] “Don’t Be Evil”

Before Simon Rich started writing longer pieces for the New Yorker, his Shouts & Murmurs pieces were usually pretty short–and he crammed a lot of funny into that short space.

This piece is all about Google.  It’s kind of one-note, but it’s still pretty funny.  And its brevity prevents it from wearing out its welcome.

So it begins with him saying how much he loves the Google Dictionary feature.  It’s really convenient, but sometimes the results can be strange.  Then he gives some examples: (more…)

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