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CV1_TNY_03_18_13Kalman.indd SOUNDTRACK: THE MILK CARTON KIDS-Tiny Desk Concert #232 (July 16, 2012).

milk-cartonI was unfamiliar with the Milk Carton Kids before seeing them on NPR.  I had always assumed they were a punk band with a name like that. Well, nothing could be further from the truth.  The Milk Carton kids are a delightful folk duo.  And they give the origin of their band name a little later in the Concert.

Joey Ryan sings lead and plays rhythm acoustic guitar.  Kenneth Pattengale plays lead guitar and sings beautiful harmonies.  It’s his guitar work that is so disarming because he plays leads throughout the songs, so rather than having the two guitars doing the same thing, his guitar is all over the place–playing beautiful trills and lines while Ryan is singing.

The first song they play is “Michigan.”  I love how in the middle of the song between the melodies and the harmonies it sounds like about three different bands—there’s a kind of Simon & Garfunkel vibe, a Jayhawks vibe, and maybe even a CS&N vibe–and yet it retains their original sound.  There’s some beautiful melodies in the vocals and the lyrics are really good (but sad).

After the song, Bob asks about the neckerchief on Kenneth’s guitar.  he says, “well it looks good.”

Then he explains that in a technical way, “This guitar is a bit crummy.”  When they play higher chords the strings buzz, so the neckerchief keeps that from happening: “It’s practical and it’s alluring—this is what got Stephen to stop at our concert to listen.”

Kenneth then says that Joey usually talks more than this “I don’t know why he’s so demure today.”  Joey deadpans, “I don’t know what demure means, but I’m, sorry if that’s how I’m behaving.”

Before the next song, Joey deadpans, “This is something we’ve been looking forward to for a long time.  Hence our palpable excitement.”

They’re very happy to be behind this desk so “We’ll play you a love song to the desk.  This song is called ‘To the Desk.'”  The song is actually called “Stealing Romance.”  They sing a duet with Ken taking the high notes.   It’s a slow ballad.  During the song you can hear all kinds of sirens going past the offices.  When it ends, Ken says, “I think Joe Biden drove down the street during that one.”  Joey reacts: “Who’s that?”

Then Joey explains the origins of their band name Milk Carton Kids.  The name comes from one of their songs “Milk Carton Kid.”  The song itself is named after a lyric in the song.  He says it’s an attempt to answer the question that’s one everyone’s mind with a completely unsatisfactory answer.  Then he says they’re not going to play that song.

Rather, they play “their happy song” “I Still Want A Little More”which proves to be really fast and uptempo—a real surprise after the other two songs.  Ken is wailing away on his guitar while they sing in great harmony.  There’s some rollicking guitars and singing.  This is my favorite song of the three.

I don’t love their slower songs. Although as far as slow songs go, their setup is great–the harmonies, the interesting guitar.  But I really like the two of them.  They are great performers and excellent storytellers.

[READ: July 20, 2016] “Checking Out”

This story is bookended with a man planning on marrying woman.

Obinze is African, and he is in London on a work visa.  He is arranging a sham marriage to be able to stay in the country.  The arrangement has been set up by some Angolans. They claim that he is a friend of a friend and they’re doing him a favor, but they are keeping lot of the money that is meant to go to his bride.

When he met Cleotilde, he was surprised to see that she was young and pretty.  And it seemed that she was pleased with him when she saw him as well-0ff.  I guess expectations are pretty low in this situation.  He was kind to her from the start, making sure that she was okay doing this. And she said she was–she really needs the money for her family.

Obinzne and Cleo meet up a few times to get their details straight, and he finds that he is really falling for her–although he knows he can’t really act on it until after the marriage. (more…)

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2011-07-11-18-ulriksen-birdsSOUNDTRACK: THE WALKMEN-Tiny Desk Concert #234 (July 29, 2012).

The Walkmen perform a Tiny Desk Concert at NPR headquarters in Washington, DC on Tuesday, June 26, 2012.

I know Hamilton Leithauser, the singer of The Walkmen, more than the band itself.  He has gone solo since 2012 and released some songs that have gotten a lot of attention.  Leithauser has a very powerful voice.  Form the blurb I gather that The Walkmen used to be a bit louder/punkier.  But for this set, Leithauser plays an acoustic guitar so this band isn’t getting too abrasive, that’s for sure.

The first song “Heaven” has a swirling guitar and bass motif that reminds me instantly of some 1990s songs.   The song is really catchy and Leithauser never lets up with his powerful singing.  The blurb comments on his voice, that it gives the songs “grit and grace, not to mention hair-raising intensity that feels a little jarring coming from a bunch of guys in crisp button-up shirts.”

“We Can’t Be Beat” begins as a slow verse with just acoustic guitar and singing.  Then the electric guitar plays some ringing notes as the drums play delicate percussion along with it.   About half way through the song, he holds a really long note (“so looooong” and then the whole band picks up the song with a loping sound that propels the song very nicely.

“Love Is Luck” has a nice beat and some great guitar sounds. It’s another catchy song from the band.

I enjoyed this set quite a bit, although I found that after listening a few times I got a little tired of Leithauser “woah oh ing” so much.

[READ: July 21, 2016] “Aphrodisiac”

The aphrodisiac at the heart of this story is interesting and subtle–it doesn’t even exactly seem like a part of the story until the end.

But I found the bulk of the story a little too long and unrelated to the aphrodisiac to be really enjoyable.

The story is about Kishen, a university graduate who had big plans to write a novel about India–to be really sunk into the Indian experience.  He had gone to school in Cambridge, but was now living back home in New Delhi with his mother and older brother Shiv.  Shiv had recently gotten married and Kishen was meeting the bride for the first time.  Her name was Naina.

Kishen found her to be kind of stupid.  However because of his own hang ups, she was the only person he felt comfortable talking to.  She seemed to accept him and even made him part of her circle of girlfriends–they all seemed to be amused by him. (more…)

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nydec blind-piotSOUNDTRACK: BLIND PILOT-Tiny Desk Concert #572 (October 21, 2016).

I really only know Blind Pilot because of NPR–they are favorites of a few of the hosts of All Songs Considered.

I don’t know their music well, but I remember enjoying what I’ve heard.  But I was still surprised by this Tiny Desk Concert because in addition to guitar and drums, there’s an upright bass (bowed and plucked), a ukulele, the ubiquitous Tiny Desk harmonium and a set of vibes!

Evidently since 2008 the band has expanded from a duo to a sextet.

The band plays four songs.  They are lovely folk song.  The vibes add a cool touch to some otherwise simple melodies.  “Umpqua Rushing” is a pretty song with a very catchy bridge.

Introducing “Packed Powder,” Israel Nebeker explains that it stems from when he was a teenager and they used to modify legal fireworks to make them more interesting.  This is my favorite of the four songs primarily because of the wonderful backing vocals during the chorus–when everybody sings “I want to see how the POWDER BURNS!”  It’s a great moment (or three) in the song.

“Don’t Doubt” is a mellow song, quite pretty, with some more lovely harmonies.

They planned to play three songs, but when Israel asks how many they should play, someone on the staff says “…four.”  So someone in the band then says, should we play, “Hot for Teacher” or “Jingle Bells.”  They decide to play “Joik #3.”  Israel explains that it was his first  attempt to write a song called “Joik.”  “I could tell you what that is, but you have Google…and an amazing team of researchers here.”

He says that before the album came out, Ari Shapiro aired it on NPR.  It’s a pretty song and Israel’s voice sounds especially powerful on it.  And, again, when the band sings the loud harmonies, it sounds terrific.

[READ: March 15, 2016] “In Other Rooms, Other Wonders”

Many authors seemed to get two stories in the New Yorker in 2008, but this has to be the closest gap between stories–Sept 15 to Dec 1.

Like the previous Mueenuddin story, the actual story part is pretty simple to recap.  And the sizable length of the story is mostly taken up with details and interior feelings.

And like the previous story, this one is set in Pakistan and looks at someone who might be able to move up a level of class, but who knows that it is a hard road.

The story begins simply enough. Husna needed a job. (more…)

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2008_10_13SOUNDTRACK: HALEY BONAR-Tiny Desk Concert #569 (October 11, 2016).

Haley Bonar was born in Canada but raised in the U.S.  She haleyis a folksinger with a country leaning (but without the twang).   For this Tiny Desk, Haley plays acoustic guitar and sings lead.  She had a keyboardist who sings great harmonies.  And behind them there’s a guy playing electric guitar (with great echoed effect), a bassist and a drummer.

“Hometown” has a great catchy chorus (well, and verse too).  It’s upbeat but melancholy at the same time.  There’s a very cool echoed slide guitar solo in the middle of the song.

Bonar doesn’t speak much, expect to joke about the appropriateness of the second song.  “Jealous Girls” is slower and moodier.  (“Jealous girls don’t have no fun unless they’re sure they’re the only one).  The middle section of this song is really cool, the way it changes the mood.  She doesn’t play guitar on this one, but there’s some great lyrics at the end of the song:

And you turn up your guitar
In another shitty bar in another shitty town
And you wonder when you’ll wake up
Yeah you wonder when you’ll wake up
From this long distance daydream of
Playing while girls scream
Alone in a hotel
Like piss in your ice cream

I love that the way this end part is sung and played it seems like it’s going to transition to another part.  But that’s just the end.

“Called You Queen” is a fast folkie song.  I really like her delivery on the verses. The chords for the chorus are fairly obvious but are really catchy anyway.  It’s a really good song.  The abrupt ending (with a hint of echo on the guitar) is spectacular

I didn’t know Bonar before this set, but i really liked it.

[READ: March 9, 2016] “Gold Boy Emerald Girl”

Yiyun Lee had a story in a 2008 May issue of the New Yorker as well.  I have enjoyed pretty much all of her stories. This one was quite different from the others in that the whole story has a feeling of inevitability to it.  And yet it was a kind of gentle inevitability that almost didn’t seem to be there.  Or something.

The story is about two adults, Siyu, 38 and Hanfeng 44.  The opening paragraph tells us that she was raised by her father and he was raised by his mother.

Siyu knew Hanfeng’s mother because she was a Professor and Siyu worked for her a while ago.  But the Professor is now retired and Hanfeng has moved back home after a stint in America to live with her.

And we see now that the Professor has set the two up on a date.

The story is told in a very gentle, unhurried way, as befits the story of these two who have taken their time with thee lives. (more…)

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nySOUNDTRACK: THE SECRET SISTERS-Tiny Desk Concert #563 (September 12, 2016).

secretsisThe Secret Sisters are, in fact, Lydia and Laura Rogers, two sisters from Alabama.  They sing pretty folk/country or even traditional songs and have wonderful harmonies.

“Tennessee River Runs Low” is from the point of view of the river (and is really quite delightful).  It comes complete with an “oh de oh de oh de oh” section.  The music is pretty simple (just a little strummed guitar) and their wonderful voices.

After the first song she says that she has seen lots of Tiny Desk Concerts and they’re thrilled to be there.  It’s more spacious than you might think.  They could square dance there–except they can’t square dance.  She says that it feels kind of like being a zoo animal.

The second song is “a super duper sad song.”  Since their previous record came out they have both gotten married–to different men, she clarifies.  (Well, they are from Alabama, they joke).  They don’t know what to write about anymore–who wants to hear happy songs?

“You’ve Got It Wrong” is indeed a sad ballad–a very pretty, very traditional sounding country song.  Their voices really sell it.

Before the final song, she says that “if you want to be happy and in a good mood don’t ever come to one of our shows.”  They only play downer music. She explains that  they grew up singing gospel in a church that had no musical instruments.  It was only their voices and no solos or choirs.   She didn’t realize they were learning how to sing at church–that’s where their harmonies come from.

So they are doing an old gospel number, “Flee as a Bird.”  The melody of the verses its wonderful–the kind I’ve never heard in a church song before.

I would never see these guys in concert, but fora Tiny Desk, their songs were quite lovely.

[READ: March 7, 2016] “A Spoiled Man”

This was a lengthy story that seemed to speak to the futility of life.

There were a lot of details which made the story really interesting, but as I think about summarizing it, I realize that the story is bombastically a man lives, succeeds, fails and dies.

Fortunately Mueenuddin tells a lovely winding story that shows just how much a man’s life can change.

The story is set in Islamabad and the main character is Rezak, “a small, bowlegged man with a lopsided, battered face.”  He is outside of the mansion of a local man who has recently married an American woman.   The woman proves to be a nice person who genuinely seems to enjoy her new life.  In Pakistan.  And people liked her as well.

Rezak tried to make himself useful around the mansion. Despite his appearance, he is a strong man and he does wind up helping the workers.  At the end of the day they invite him for dinner, but his pride makes him refuse. (more…)

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6916SOUNDTRACK: GIRL IN A COMA-Tiny Desk Concert #190 (January 30, 2012).

girlcoma I was planning on writing only about recent Tiny Desk Concerts for a while, but Nina Diaz’s (Aug 2016) Concert informed me that she was the singer of the band Girl in a Coma who are presently on a hiatus while Nina tours some solo material.

So I went back and watched this Tiny Desk to see the origins of Diaz’s music.

Girl in a Coma is a three-piece with Nina Diaz on guitar and vocals, her sister Phanie Diaz on drums and Jenn Alva on bass.  The blurb suggests that the band plays punk–typically loud crunchy guitars (although I listened to the recorded version of “Smart” and it doesn’t really sound very different from this version).  So I didn’t get that.

At any rate, the trio sounds great in this setting.  The percussion is simply tambourine and a shaker.  And Alva’s bass is really melodic and lovely playing more than just the same notes as the guitar.

“Smart” is really catchy (although Diaz does some weird things with her voice late in the song).  “Knocking At Your Door” has a fast, almost metal sounding guitar (albeit acoustic here).  But it’s the bass (which is not doing anything crazy) that takes center stage with the melodies she plays.

Before the final song Nina says it feels like show and tell or something.  And while she’s saying this, the other two switch places, with the drummer coming up front and the bass sitting in the back.

“So” has a pretty traditional folk song structure.  The reason for the switch of seats comes in the second verse when Phanie plays the melodica.  It’s a pretty song and Diaz’s voice is really nice.

I really can’t imagine them being a punk band at all, frankly.

I’m also going to point out what Diaz looks like here for contrast of what she looks like in her solo show four and a half years later.  In 2012, she’s wearing dark jeans and a v neck sweater (stripes in the purple family).  Her hair has bangs and a long braid on the side.  And she has no obvious makeup on.  Keep that in mind for the next post

[READ: November 1, 2008] “Tits-Up in a Ditch”

I read this story back in November 2008 and just couldn’t get into it.  I tried several times and could not penetrate the barrier that I felt Proulx was creating.  Well, here it is 8 years later and I tried it again, and not only did I finish it, I sort of enjoyed it.  Even though it, like everything else I seem to have read from Proulx was incredibly depressing.

The story is about Dakotah.  Dakotah’s mother abandoned her when she was a baby and left her own parents to take care of her.  They resented their daughter and Dakotah from the start.  They were harsh and uncaring towards her (although it could be prairie love, I suppose).  The grandparents are named Verl and Bonita Lister (Proulx has fun with names in her stories).

Verl and Bonita are hardscrabble, religious folks who don’t have a lot of joy.  Well, Verl had moments of happiness but probably no joy–he rode hard and then injured himself.  But he was stuck because during the 1980s in Wyoming oil companies came in and took away all the workers.

Verl gives us the title of the story when he says “Had me some luck today.  Goddam cow got herself tits-up in the ditch couple days ago.  Dead, time I found her.”  See, charming people. (more…)

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rek2SOUNDTRACK: OF MONTREAL-Tiny Desk Concert #263 (January 28, 2013).

of-montrealWhen I saw that Of Montreal was doing a Tiny Desk Concert I really had no idea what to expect.  I mean, it could have been anything.  The blurb even jokes that Of Montreal concerts have been described as “wildly theatrical,” “flamboyant,” “synchronized dancing” and having “strange, wandering creatures that look like amoebas.”

So I was absolutely not expecting to see two guys with acoustic guitars and a woman singing a gentle folk song.  I actually double checked to make sure I was watching the right show.

Evidently around this time, Kevin Barnes (the man behind Of Montreal) had been working on quieter, more personal work. And so we get these three songs which are, more or less, Barnes solo.

The first song, “Feminine Effects” has the assistance of singer Rebecca Cash and guitarist Bryan Poole.  Cash sings the entire song, and it’s quite lovely, if not a little dark.

The next two songs “Imbecile Rages” and “Amphibian Days” are Barnes by himself, strumming guitar and singing.  The music is fairly straightforward, although he does throw in some unexpected chords which makes the songs stand out. And, of course, his lyrics and delivery are quirky. His enunciation is peculiar and even more pronounced in this setting.

This is a real surprise for Of Montreal fans, and frankly almost a red herring for anyone new to the band.

[READ: December 31, 2016] The Impossible Fortress

Sarah received an advanced reader’s copy of this book from her friend Mary Lynn and thought I would like it.  And boy did I ever.  I read this book in half a day.  It’s a quick read and while not profound of life-changing, it was really fun and funny–with a fairly dark twist.

There are two major plots in this book and they intertwine very nicely.

The first–the “action” plot–involves the Vanna White Playboy issue.  The second–the main character plot–involves coding a video game on a Commodore 64.  For this book is set in 1987 in the suburban New Jersey town of Wetbridge.  Our protagonists are 14-year-old boys who never really fit into other cliques.

The story is about Billy Marvin.  He never knew his father and his mother has started working the overnight shift at the Food Mart to make an extra dollar an hour.  Billy’s mom has really high hopes for Billy.  But his school life is pretty dismal.  His mom believes that Billy is really smart and she tries to get Billy into honors classes.  But his grades indicate remedial classes.  If he can succeed in these classes he can get moved up.  But he does not succeed. At all. (more…)

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