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Archive for the ‘Marriage (Happy)’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: THUNDERCAT-“Black Squalls” (2020).

I really liked Thundercat’s album “Drunk.”  At first I wasn’t sure about it because it tends into some smooth R&B which I don’t really like.  But his musicianship and lyrics were just too good, that he won me over.  And when he gets his bass fingers moving, it’s a marvel.

Thundercat is touring around here soon and I’m thinking about getting a ticket.  I didn’t realize he’d be releasing a new album.  This song “Black Squalls” comes from it.

“Black Squalls” marries the two parts of Thundercat’s work with a great opening funky fat bass line and Thundercat’s falsetto vocals.

A wavery synth line introduces the catchy chorus

‘Cause there’s no more livin’ in fear
No more livin’ in fear
If we don’t talk about it on the web

I love Thundercat’s falsetto backing vocals while Steve Lacy and Steve Arrington sing the post-chorus.

The juxtaposition of smooth and thumping bass is fantastic.  This is the single edit of the song.  The album version will have a contribution from Childish Gambino.  Now THAT should be cool.

[READ: January 15, 2020] “Saturday Project”

I really enjoyed this story and its divergent plot lines.

I also enjoyed the somewhat confusing way it started.  Geoff and his wife Laura had discussed “cutting the cord” and I couldn’t quite picture what that meant.

Then the UPS man brought some boxes which made the reality come home.

Soon enough it becomes clear that they are cutting the cable cord and switching to a satellite dish.  Laura is concerned, can they still watch local news? He assured her it was a good idea.  And yet those boxes stayed unopened in his workroom for months. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SHARON VAN ETTEN-Tiny Desk Concert #898 (October 7, 2019).

It was Sharon Van Etten’s 2010 Tiny Desk Concert that introduced me to her.  I was blown away by the songs from Epic.

When Sharon Van Etten made her Tiny Desk debut back in the fall of 2010 [with about fifteen people in the audience], her voice exuded fragile, gentle grace. Performing songs from that year’s Epic, she huddled around a single acoustic guitar with backup singer Cat Martino to perform a set of tender and evocative folk-pop songs.

Sharon released a couple more albums and then took some time away from music.  She returned this year with the appropriately named comeback single “Comeback Kid.”  The big difference was that now there were synths!

Cut to nearly a decade later. One of only a handful of artists to get a repeat headlining engagement at the Tiny Desk [that handful is getting bigger and bigger it seems]. Van Etten has spent the last few years purging her bucket list: She’s become an actress (appearing as a guest star on The OA), released a string of increasingly aggressive albums (the latest of which is this year’s synth-driven Remind Me Tomorrow), toured the world, performed on Twin Peaks, written music for films, become a mom, gone back to school and popped up in collaborations with everyone from Land of Talk to Jeff Goldblum.

I had no idea that these things happened.  So good for her, I guess.

It’s only natural that this Tiny Desk concert feels different; you can hear it before Van Etten and her band even show up onscreen. Its pace set by the ticking beat of a drum machine, “Comeback Kid” is in full bloom here, with a swaying arrangement that fills the room before Van Etten opens her mouth.

“Comeback Kid” is super catchy.  It sounds similar to the recorded version although a little smaller, perhaps.  There’s also a few extra keyboard flourishes from Heather Woods Broderick (who played the Tiny Desk as a member of Horse Feathers way back in 2009).  Charley Damski plays the synth washes that fill the room.  Sharon plays acoustic guitar and sings with serious intensity.

“You Shadow” starts with bass (Devin Hoff) and a drum machine (Jorge Balbi).  There’s no guitar on this track, but Sharon’s voice sounds great:

 the singer performs with considerable intensity here, seething through “You Shadow.”

She quietly thanks everyone and introduces the band.  This moment of thanks and appreciation in no way prepares you for the intensity in which she sings the set-closing “Seventeen.”

The song also starts with synth and bass.  Sharon sings but doesn’t start playing acoustic guitar until after the first verse.  Everyone adds gorgeous backing vocals for the chorus.  Then Sharon starts getting intense while singing.  Normally “la la las” are kind of upbeat, but she comes out of them with a fire as she sings “with a scream that slashes through the office air.”

Her voice almost breaks and she seems to be quite moved by the performance.  It’s really tremendous.

I admit that I like her earlier stuff better–the way she sang, the way her backing singers complimented her and the intensity of her music.  But after seeing her live this summer and now watching this, her intensity is still there–it’s just used more sparingly and appropriately.

The only downside to this Tiny Desk is that Heather Woods Broderick–who is an amazing backing vocalist–is pretty subdued here.  It’s appropriately subdued in this setting, but it’s a shame to not hear her in full.

Here (left) is a picture from Sharon’s first Tiny Desk Concert.

[READ: November 7, 2019] “The Flier”

This story was very cool.

I really loved the way the entire story totally downplayed “one of the most wondrous occurrences in the history of humankind.”

It begins with the narrator explaining that his wife Viki had invited their friends Pam and Becky over: “short notice–but there’s something we’d like to talk over with you.”

As he describes the meal he’s made, in quite a lot of detail, Pam and Becky arrive.  The narrator hears them talk about him and he acknowledges that his illness has made him small and light.

After the pleasantries are over, Viki says matter-of-factly that the narrator “has developed the ability to fly.” (more…)

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[LISTENED TO: August 2019] The Schwa Was Here

I know about Neal Shusterman because Sarah really loved his Arc of a Scythe series.  I love the cover design of that series, but I haven’t read the books (yet).

I was looking for audio books for our summer vacation and found that Shusterman had written a lot of books before the series.  Including this one, The Schwa Was Here.

I have always loved the word “schwa.”  I never full understood it I just knew it was represented by the upside down e [like this: ǝ].  The epigram of the book actually explains a schwa pretty well.  So here’s the simple version:

The schwa sound is the most common vowel sound. A schwa sound occurs when a vowel does not make its long or short vowel sound.

I also had no idea that this was part a series until I looked it up.  The series is called the Antsy Bonano Novels.  Now I ‘m curious to see where this series goes.

I loved the audio book because Shusterman reads it in his greatest Brooklyn accent. And while the characters aren’t thoroughly diverse is voice, they are diverse enough to keep the characters straight.  But his accent is awesome.  And it’s relevant because Antsy is a Brooklyn boy through and through and he addresses the way they talk.

As soon as his brother says a bad word, their mother “hauls off and whacks him on the head in her own special way… ‘You watch your mout!’  Mom says ‘mout’ not ‘mouth.’  We got a problem here with the ‘th’ sound.”

They also have problems with vowels.  He is Anthony, but known as Antny (which became Antsy).  And, his family are Catlick. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: QUINN CHRISTOPHERSON-Tiny Desk Concert #854 (June 3, 2019).

Quinn Christopherson won the 2019 Tiny Desk Contest.

Despite the fact that I watch all of the Tiny Desk Concerts, I don’t really get involved in the Contest.   There’s just too many entries and too many bands to root for.  So I just sit back and wait to see who the judges pick.

When I first listened to Christopherson’s winning entry, “Erase Me,” I wasn’t that impressed.  It was spare and his voice was unusual.  His voice was kind of punky–the kind of voice that might work really well with some loud guitars around it, but this song was just a voice and a quiet guitar.  The song was pretty long and it was very angsty.

It built up some interesting tensions.  And by the end, I kind of liked it.

Then I read about Quinn, and how he is a transgender man, and I started thinking about how many people will say that he won because of that (like they said that Gaelynn Lea won because of her “condition” as well).  And that annoyed me (I’m not reading comments this time).

Then I listened to the song again and I really got it–the honesty, the power in his voice and the vulnerability behind the words.  It’s definitely not a song for everyone.  It is not catchy (although the chorus is kind of catchy), it is not easy.

One of the things about the Tiny Desk entrants is that there are some 5,000 of them and you never know how serious they are as musicians.  I mean, I could submit a song.  Quinn’s video, is fascinatingly set up in an art gallery in Anchorage, Alaska, where he lives.  But you never know if it’s his only song.

Indeed, no, as the blurb says,

What was most striking about the performance was [Quinn and his musical partner, guitarist and singer Nick Carpenter’s], unfettered confidence. Watching them play together and hearing their songs, with their interweaving guitar lines and vocal harmonies, feels like seeing two brothers performing old favorites.

This Tiny Desk confirms that his delivery is more of a melodic storyteller than a singer.

Quinn writes story-songs about what he knows best, his mom and sister, about their addictions and his love for them.

He opens with his brand-new tune, “You Told Me.”  It’s a slow song, with Nick playing the more active guitar parts.  It’s personal and intimate and yet still vague enough that you’re not entirely sure what it’s about.

And then comes an insight into life in Alaska.

A moment after our 2019 Tiny Desk Contest winner, Quinn Christopherson, finished his first song at the NPR offices, he made a confession. He looked at me, while tuning his “vintage white” Fender Telecaster, and said, “I don’t know if you know this, but when you called me and you told me, ‘You won!’ I got off the phone and I thought, ‘Dang, I should buy a guitar.’ Legit, did not have one. But that’s Anchorage; that’s the music community there. Everyone just borrowed me their stuff long term.”

The next song, Glenn,” is about his father.  Quinn and Nick play their chords back and forth chuckling with each other before Quinn starts singing

a moving song about his father and their beautiful two-peas-in-a pod relationship. There’s a line in that song that goes to the heart of Quinn’s songwriting talents: “My dad, he plays guitar, says he knows more than he can do. He tells me that I do more than I know.”

I enjoyed this verse:

He asks me what I wanna do when the weekend came
I always wanna go camping but not too far away
So we head to Eagle River and make ourselves a fire
Just the two of us eating pancakes and listening to …N… PR.

In the middle of the song Quinn says, “if my dad was here right now he’d probably say… wheres the bridge?”

They definitely have fun at the Concert.   Even during Quinn’s contest-winning song “Erase Me,” their excitement is palpable.

“Erase Me” is about his recent transition, what it now means to be a man and how he sees the way the world treats him differently after so many years of being “used to pulling the short stick” as a woman. It’s a revealing look at the roles of men and women in our culture at a pivotal time from a songwriter who, I believe, will be a defining voice in the future of music.

They lyrics are really affecting

“I got so used to pulling the short stick /
I don’t know what to do with all this privilege /
‘Cause I got a voice now and I got power /
But I can’t stand it,”

But even during this intense song, they can still have fun.  In the video submission, Nick’s guitar cuts out during the transition to the loud part.  It’s fascinating that they left it in, but they did.  During the Concert everyone sort of chuckles at how Nick handles that moment.

I’m curious to see what kind of success Quinn has after this.

[READ: June 3, 2019] “Canvas”

This story starts in a fascinating way.

The narrator talks about a woman, Agnes, who may or may not be in the upstairs apartment.  The narrator was renting the place and Agnes said she may be back to work in the studio upstairs.  The situation was weird but affordable. And the narrator would only be there for maybe a year longer while she did research on Gothic iconography of the soul.

She didn’t see much of Agnes and then one day there was a note on her door from Agnes inviting her to the studio.

I love this description of Agnes:

She was sitting on a stool, her bones jutting out in a frenzied geometry.

Agnes thanked her for coming saying it was good to be among friends “She looked at me quickly, to see my reaction.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: STELLA DONNELLY-Tiny Desk Concert #819 (January 22, 2019).

Stella Donnelly has been generating some buzz lately, but I wasn’t familiar with her.  I didn’t even realize she was Australian.

She is adorable with her hair in two little nubs at the back of her head and a big smile most of the time.

She immediately won the office over with her broad smile, warmth and good-natured sense of humor. It’s the kind of easy-going, open-hearted spirit that makes her one of the most affable live performers you’ll see. While there’s no doubting her sincerity, she’s also got a disarming way of making her often dark and brutal songs a little easier to take in.

And indeed, she does not mince words when she sings.

“Beware of the Dogs” is a delicate song with Stella strumming her guitar with no pick and singing in a beautiful but soft voice.  There’s such a gorgeous melody for the chorus.

It turns out that this song and the other two are new.  Because she doesn’t even have an album out yet!

For this set, she performed entirely new — and, as of this writing, unreleased — songs from her upcoming full-length debut, Beware of the Dogs. Opening with the title cut, Donnelly smiled cheerfully through the entire performance while reflecting on the horrors that often lurk beneath the surface of seemingly idyllic lives. “This street is haunted like a beast that doesn’t know its face is frightening to behold,” she sings. “All the painted little gnomes, smiling in a line, trying to get your vote.”

As the song builds she gets more pointed:  “There’s no Parliament / Worthy of this country’s side / All these pious fucks / taking from the 99.”

She follows with “U Owe Me” which is “about my old boss at  a pub I used to work at back home.”

This song has a gentle guitar melody and some surprisingly soft vocals (including some vibrato at the end of each verse).   But the lyrics are straightforward and pointed (all sung with that disarming smile)

you put your great ideas up your nose /
and then try to tell me where the fuck to go /
you’re jerking off to the cctv /
while I’m pouring plastic pints of flat VB [or Foster’s or whatever].

At the end of the song she says, “He actually paid me a week after.  I was on the wrong week of my payroll.  It was very dramatic back then.”

She says “Allergies” is a run-of-the-mill breakup song.   “I’ve only got two of them and this is one of them.”  It’s a delicate, quiet song (capo on the tenth fret!) and once again, her voice is just lovely.

How can this Concert be only ten minutes long? I could listen to her all day.

Surprisingly, Donnelly chose not to play any of the songs that have gotten her to where she is in her young career — songs like 2017’s “Boys Will Be Boys” or last year’s “Talking,” two savagely frank examinations of misogyny and violence that earned her the reputation for being a fearless and uncompromising songwriter. But the new material demonstrates that her unflinching perspective and potent voice is only getting stronger.

I’m bummed that I am busy the night she’s playing a small club in Philly, as it might just be the last time she plays such a small venue.

[READ: January 26, 2019] Brazen

This is an awesome collection of short biographies of kick-ass women.  Bagieu has written [translated by Montana Kane] and drawn in her wonderful style, brief, sometimes funny (occasionally there’s nothing funny), always inspiring stories about women who spoke up for themselves and for others.  Some of the women were familiar to me, some were not.  A few were from a long time ago, but many are still alive and fighting.  And what was most cool is that the stories of the women I knew about had details and fascinating elements that I was not previously aware of.

What a great, great book.  It’s perfect for Middle School students all the way to adults.  I actually thought it might be perfect for fourth and fifth grade girls to read and be inspired by.  However, it skews a little bit older.  There’s a few mentions of sex, abortion, rape and domestic violence.  These are all real and important issues, but may be too much for younger kids.

Bagieu’s art for most of the pages is very simple–perfectly befitting a kind of documentary style but after each story she creates a two page spread that is just a breathtaking wash of colors which summarizes the previews story in one glorious image.  Its terrific. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: CHROMEO-Tiny Desk Concert #797 (October 19, 2018).

I’m not sure if I’ve heard of Chromeo, but the name is pretty great.

The band consists of David Macklovitch (Dave 1–Vocals/Guitar) and Patrick Gemayel (P-Thugg–Bass/Talk Box).  They have a pretty classic Prince/funk sound.  But how can they be so funky if they don’t have a live band?

Self-proclaimed “Funklordz” Chromeo played with a live band for the first time at the Tiny Desk. The duo usually performs their live shows over backing tracks with shimmering chrome guitars and keyboards mounted on mannequin lady legs.

I need to see that.  But for this show, there is a live band, which may change their desire to be just a duo, because they sound great.

For “Count Me Out” Dave 1 sings and plays guitar.  P-Thugg plays a great slap bass and, the biggest surprise–a keyboard-operated talk box.

Mid song they shift gears to a major funk storm in “Jealous (I Ain’t With It).”   I love hearing P-Thugg robot singing “I Ain’t With It” and then talk-boxing a synth solo.

But the story of Chromeo is pretty fun as well.

David Macklovitch (Dave 1) and Patrick Gemayel (P-Thugg) met when they were 15 while growing up in Montreal and have been cranking out the electro-funk jams ever since. At first glance, their Jewish and Arab partnership might seem unlikely. But their signature sounds are undeniably infectious, epitomized by P-Thugg’s Talk Box – an instrument that transforms his vocals into robotic sounds.  On being Canadian, P-Thugg announced in his robot voice “it’s very, very cold” to which Dave 1 quipped, “it’s cold… free healthcare.”

The backing band mostly adds synths and drums.  I assume that these could all be electronic, but it feels so much more real with everyone else there.  In the middle of “Jealous,” P-Thugg takes off his bass and Eric “E-Watt” Whatley starts playing a great funky bass of his own.  But the band looks like a cohesive unit (it’s amazing that this is the first time they’ve played together).

The band was outfitted in go-go-style matching uniforms custom embroidered with the words “Funk Lordz.”  The Philadelphia based line-up included keyboardist Eugene “Man-Man” Roberts and legendary percussionists Rashid Williams and Aaron Draper.

“Don’t Sleep” has a very 70’s sound–with some great synthy work from Man-Man.  I don’t know if the song always has this middle section, but Dave 1 shouts, “we’re in DC right?”

With a nod to DC’s own funky go-go music scene of the ’70s, their …. breakdown at the end of the song “Don’t Sleep” was a fitting tribute to NPR’s hometown, Washington, D.C.

Even though their songs seems to be kind of negative (Jealous, Don’t Sleep on Me), the music is fun and dancy.  The final song “Must’ve Been” continues that fun, talk-box hook-filled tunage.

 Listening to Chromeo is a joyous affair. Watching them get funky with a stellar band behind The Desk for the very first time, it’s impossible to sit still.

Chromeo completely won me over.  Also, how do they not have French accents?

[READ: November 28, 2018] “Snowing in Greenwich Village”

The December 3, 2018 issue of the New Yorker was an archival issue, meaning that every story was taken from an earlier issue.  The range is something like 1975-2006, which is odd since the New Yorker dates back so much longer.  Although the fiction pieces are at least from the 1940s and 1950s.

This story felt a lot more timeless than the Stafford story.  It is about a young married couple and the first visitor to their new place.

The Maples had just moved in and their friend Rebecca Cune had come over for a drink.

Rebecca tells them about her previous living arrangement with a woman and that woman’s boyfriend.  The Maples had lived in a log cabin in a YMCA camp for the first three months of their marriage.

Drinks were passed around and Richard was playing the good ghost. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966).

Back in the early days of CDs (1996), it was exciting when things that you never expected to see available were right there for the asking.

Who knew anybody wanted a CD of How the Grinch Stole Christmas?

This CD contains the entire narration from the movie.  He even narrates Cindy Lou Who in this version.  The songs are included–and are even interrupted by the narration–as in the movie.

The rest of the disc includes four songs from the movie, sung by the original artists.  You get “Welcome Christmas” as well as a reprise of it and “Trim Up the Tree” sung by the Whos in Whoville.  The final song is “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” sung by the irrepressible Thurl Ravenscroft and his amazing voice.

Does anyone need to listen to this?  Probably not, but it is fun to listen to without having to sit down and watch a movie.

[READ: December 1, 2018] “Sea Monster”

Once again, I have ordered The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This is my third time reading the Calendar (thanks S.).  I never knew about the first one until it was long out of print (sigh).  Here’s what they say this year

Fourth time’s the charm.

After a restful spring, rowdy summer, and pretty reasonable fall, we are officially back at it again with another deluxe box set of 24 individually bound short stories to get you into the yuletide spirit.

The fourth annual Short Story Advent Calendar might be our most ambitious yet, with a range of stories hailing from eight different countries and three different originating languages (don’t worry, we got the English versions). This year’s edition features a special diecut lid and textured case. We also set a new personal best for material that has never before appeared in print.

Want a copy?  Order one here.

Like last year I’m pairing each story with a holiday disc from our personal collection.

Most of the stories have nothing to do with Christmas.  In fact, some of them are quite dark and unhappy.  But others are just kind of weirdly enjoyable.

This story is weirdly enjoyable. (more…)

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