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Archive for the ‘The New York Review of Books’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: ST. VINCENT-Tiny Desk Concert #696 (January 22, 2018).

The new St. Vincent album is not very guitar heavy.  There are guitars but they are often very processed soundings.  And there’s very little in the way of shredding.

On tour, she has been playing acoustic guitar versions of some of the songs for VIP guests.  I was curious what kind of Tiny Desk Concert St. Vincent would do.  And I am delighted that she chose to do the acoustic show here (even though a set of old and new stuff with just her and the acoustic guitar would be amazing).  As Bob says:

Whenever I imagined a St. Vincent Tiny Desk Concert, it was always going to be loud and electric.

I recently saw St. Vincent live, but getting to see her up this close, it’s really amazing just how long her fingers are.  This lets her play some really interesting chords.  So here she is with just her acoustic guitar, playing three songs from MASSEDUCTION.

Annie Clark stood at my desk, in front of a few hundred-plus NPR employees and close friends, and hit us hard with her un-amplified voice, unplugged guitar, her checkered wardrobe and most importantly, her songs.

“New York” is wonderful to hear on guitar as the album version is all piano.  I love the way the simple back and forth chords of the chorus are replaced by the really interesting and complex chords of the verses.

“Los Ageless” sounds so very different in this version.  Rather than the full on dance version, this opens with a plucked guitar chord structure and some cool fast guitar solo-ettes.  It is remarkably different from the slick production of the album.  The chorus which is powerful and wonderful on record is slowed down and almost quiet here–a very different take on this great song.  One that really shows off her voice, too.

After telling the NPR staff that she listened every day, she says she has one question “She heard that underneath her sensible button down Terry Gross has full sleeves of tattoos.”  Bob: “All true.”  “That’s what I figured.  Terry goes hard.”

“Slow Disco” ends the album and it too is very different here.  It really showcases her voice, especially at the end.  The acoustic versions don’t really show off her mad guitar skills, but they do show some interesting chords structures.  I wonder if after her next album, if she returns to a more guitar-based sound, if these songs will get a new treatment live.

It’s fascinating to see her swaying as she plays these songs because live she is stock still, unmoving and statuesque,  Bob also notes:

This stripped-down set is more about emotion, more about a one-on-one connection, and that’s the bravery. To come out from the lights and the effects, leaving the laptop sync behind, pulled me into these songs in ways both the album and her live show hadn’t.

You can hear similar acoustic versions (as well as an interview) from World Cafe.

[READ: January 9, 2017] “Texas”

This is the first story I’ve read by Gates.  It is about Garver, a sixty-three year old painter and how his life has changed since his wife left him to move to Italy.

His children wished he’d had a better attitude, but who were they to talk.  William, his oldest, had actually graduated, with a degree in marketing.  Emma had gotten pregnant in her sophomore year and was a stay at home mom in Texas.  Marianne had finally straightened out enough to hold down a job at an animal shelter near Burlington.

He still lived in the huge house that his children grew up in.  He still had payments on it.  And he was too young for social security.  But he needed money.  So he decided to rent out the big house and live full-time in his studio out building–which was four-season ready and even had a mini fridge that he installed when he and his wife stopped speaking. (more…)

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nyrbSOUNDTRACK: ALEC OUNSWORTH-Tiny Desk Concert #48 (February 22, 2010).

alecI didn’t recognize the name Alec Ounsworth.  But I see that he is the singer from Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, a band I don’t know at all.  He has created some other music outside of Clap Your Hands, like the band Flashy Python, which features members of Dr. Dog, The Walkmen and Man Man.  And in the fall of 2009, he released a solo record called Mo’ Beauty.

In this Tiny Desk it is just him and guitarist Matt Sutton.  They play three songs from Mo’ Beauty (on guitar and harmonica): “Modern Girl (…With Scissors),” “Holy, Holy, Holy Moses (Song for New Orleans)” and “When You’ve No Eyes.”

Since I don’t really know CYHSY, I can’t compare this to that band.  The songs are pleasant and a little catchy.  I feel like perhaps the wordplay is what draws you in (he refrains “all this useless beauty” in the first song).  His voice is distinctive and takes a little getting used to, but I warmed up to it by the end of the set.

After the set he says that the other three guys from the touring band were waiting in the van.  As the show fades you hear Bob Boilen mutter, “it was okay to invite them up.”

[READ: May 11, 2015] “Argentina: The Brothels Behind the Graveyard” 

Roberto Bolaño talked about this article in The Secret of Evil.  I was curious to read it and was happy to find it quite easily and for free online from The New York Review of Books.

I don’t really know Naipaul at all, although Bolaño spoke very highly of him.

This article looks at Argentina.  I don’t know how much time he spent there, but it sounds like NYRoB sent him there to write and essay or two..

He begins by talking about the death of Perón (in July of 1974).  Perón was in the ninth month of his third presidency and his legend had lasted for thirty years.  He was overthrown in 1955 and was exiled for seventeen years.  He had a triumphant return the previous year and a resounding failure shortly after. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: TIJUANA NO!-Transgresores de la Ley (1994).

In the mid 90s, when I was living in Boston, I discovered MTV Latino, and the Rock en Español resurgence.  Since I’m always interested in new music, I bought a few CDs by these Spanish-singing bands.  For most of my life I’ve thought about the rabid Japanese audiences who loved bands that sand in English.  Did they understand the lyrics?  And did it matter?  Well, here was a test for me.

Tijuana No! was the first band I bought and I really liked it (and still do).

The disc opens with a rollicking ska rocker “Goples Bajos” which features a wonderful horn filled breakdown and ends with a blistering guitar solo.  The title track, “Transgresores de la Ley” opens with a military beat and a military sounding flute before taking off with a heavy verse and, more impressively, a punk/shouty chorus.

My favorite song is “Tu y Yo,” it’s funky all over the place and has a super heavy midsection.  And “Borregos Kamikazes” has a wonderful juxtaposition of speedy, almost loco lyrics in the verses with some great group vocals in the chorus.

The first surprise (for me) comes with “La Esquina del Mundo” because suddenly there’s a female vocalist on lead.  She sounds great (her voice has a cool echo on it) and although she doesn’t quite convey the heaviness of the rest of the track, it’s an interesting juxtaposition.

The second surprise is that the track “Conscience Call” is mostly in English (I got so used to not understanding the lyrics that I was quite surprised to hear words I understood).

The final surprise comes with the penultimate track: an excellent cover of The Clash’s “Spanish Bombs.” Again sung by the female vocalist, her voice works wonderfully with the track.  The chorus, sung in Spanish, is really perfect.

So, in answer to the question, do you need to understand the lyrics to enjoy the music?, I’d say no.  Although it is nice once in a while.

[READ: November 20, 2010] The Savage Detectives

This was the Bolaño novel that I had initially wanted to read because the reviews were so glowing (amusingly enough it turns out to be virtually the last book of his that I read).  And now that I have read almost all of his books, it’s obvious how this book fits into his larger scheme of writing (I wonder what I would have thought if I hadn’t read the other books, too.  In fact, I wonder if I would have liked 2666 more at the time if I had read this one first.  As it is, I think I enjoyed this more having read 2666 first).

[DIGRESSION: When I was reading 2666 I found a fantastic review of 2666/The Savage Detectives by Daniel Zalewski, which reviews 2666 and The Savage Detectives in context of Bolaño’s life].

In a previous post I noted how Bolaño doesn’t really write conventional novels.  And this one is no exception.  Part I is the diary of Juan Garcia Madero, a 17-year-old aspiring poet.  It covers from November to December 31, 1975 .

Garcia Madero talks about his introduction to the visceral realists, a group of Mexican poets whose legacy is more or less unknown to us now (in the book–in reality there was no such group).  The two main visceral realists are Arturo Belano and Ulises Lima, and we will follow or look for these two for the rest of the book.

As with other Bolaño books, there is a massive obsession with sex.  At first Garcia Madero is a virgin and thinks about sex a lot.  Then he finally has sex with first one woman and then many women.  And he writes about them in his diary and spares no details.  (Many entries reveal him having sex with one of his girlfriends 5 or 6 times a night).  And there are of course whores and other deviant sexual individuals (including a guy who carries a large knife by which he measures his penis–we never see this, it’s all hearsay, but it’s in there).

And during this time, he is writing poetry as well–a fully welcomed member of the visceral realists.   (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: New Moon Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (2010).

Back in the 90s, it seemed like every week there was a new soundtrack featuring an unreleased song from some great alt rock band.  This meant huge sales for soundtracks, even if for the most part they weren’t solid start to finish.  In fact, mostly you got three great new songs, three pieces of rubbish, one great song by a band you’d never heard before and two or three okay tracks.

The inclusion of a new Death Cab for Cutie song was the big news about this soundtrack.  And overall, the reviews were positive.  And I’m pleased to say there aren’t really any horrible songs here.  (I have no idea how the soundtrack fits in with the movie as I haven’t seen it and probably never will).

But as with that old soundtrack formula: we get a few good songs by reasonably well-known bands: Death Cab for Cutie, Thom Yorke, Bon Iver & St, Vincent, Muse, Grizzly Bear.  And then there’s a whole bunch of good rock songs.  The disc plays as something of a sampler of downcast, mellow alt rock. In fact, the back half of the disc sounds like a pretty decent alt rock radio station from the last decade or so.

Some of the tracks even sound like 90s alt tracks (Hurricane Bells, that song is 16 years old right?  And Sea Wolf, you’re channeling Peter Murphy, I know.)  The final two tracks are okay.  The Editors is kind of a Nick Cave via Joy Division sorta spoken word ballad.  And I admit I’m a little disappointed in the Lykke Li track–they got hyped beyond their ability.  The final track is a piano score, which is fine.

The biggest surprise to me is how much that Death Cab for Cutie songs sounds like a Rush song.  I’ve never considered that the bands sound anything alike before, and yet from the moment the song opens, that could be Geddy Lee singing, and that whole guitar structure is very Rush-like.  Maybe they should do a cover of it.

[READ: April 20, 2010] Maps and Legends

This is a collection of 17 non-fiction pieces by Michael Chabon.  The pieces cover everything from book reviews, essays about reading and writing, comic book and comic book artists and golems.

The opening essay is about the modern short story and it sets the tone for the entire book.  Interestingly, this essay talks about the state of entertainment and how “Entertainment has a bad name.  Serious people learn to mistrust and revile it.  The word wears spandex, pasties, a leisure suit studded with blinking lights. (13).  This very topic is at the heart of the David Lipsky/David Foster Wallace book (and in fact Chabon is mentioned in that book as well.)  Ah, serendipity. (more…)

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