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Archive for the ‘Marriage Trouble’ Category

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

At the beginning of 2017, KGATLW promised that the would release five albums in the year.  They released four and as the year drew to an end it looked like we might not get that promised fifth release.  And then on the last day of the year, Dec 31, they released Gumboot Soup.

Surely this one–squeezed in on the last day of the year–must be a mishmash of the crap that they didn’t put on their other records, right?  Or maybe acoustic versions of existing songs?  Or something equally lame?

Indeed, not.  For KGATLW are nothing if not full of ideas.

Their previous albums were thematic.  This one is certainly more of a collection of songs rather than an album.  And yet, this collection is not crap.  Mackenzie described thee album as a “place for us to put a lot of different ideas that we’re trying to experiment with in the song, rather than within the whole record. And for me, some of my favorite songs of the year are on [Gumboot]. It’s more song-oriented than album-oriented.”

So the album isn’t unified, but that diversity somehow makes it even more compelling.

“Beginner’s Luck” is a beautiful sweet delicate song.  The opening is quiet guitar and the clearest vocals yet from Stu.  It’s a dreamy, gentle song, as if they were influenced by the Mild High Club sessions to write a pretty, retro pop song.  There’s great bass on this song as well and I love that Ambrose adds some lead vocals to the chorus.  There’s some lovely flute and backing vocals.  As the song reaches its end it gets louder and more distorted with a wild wah wah guitar solo and the whole band joining in to rock.  This seems to mock the sweetness of the beginning.

It’s followed by “Greenhouse Heat Death” which reintroduces some microtonal melodies and a rumbling groove.  This song is an environmental song with Stu singing in his darker, distorted voice about the degradation of the Earth (from the Earth’s point of view–“my house has fried, all life has died”).

“Barefoot Desert” comes out of that darkness with a wonderfully bright song–flutes, some terrific bass lines, and Ambrose’s always-chipper vocals.  The riff is dynamite too.  There’s even a very Beatles-esque middle instrumental section before the song lopes off again.

“Muddy Water” is a really catchy fast-paced stomper with some call and response vocals (I love at the end when Ambrose starts singing “I prefer the muddy water” back to Stu).  The riffing is great and it all feels very reckless, like they (or we) can’t stop.  The introduction of (two) saxophones is pretty unusual and a nifty twist on their sound.

“Superposition” is a soft almost robotically smoothed out song.  Everything is high and floaty–the flute, the vocals, the bass.  It’s a pretty different sound for them, although they maintain the vocals-follow-the-musical-melody that they have perfected.  And then of course, they have to upend the pleasantness with some crazy skronking saxophone solos in the middle of the song.  But even those seem almost distant and like they are not exactly part of the song.

“Down the Sink” is a fantastic song that sounds very much unlike anything they’ve done before.  There’s some cool funk and 70s inflections on the riffs and sounds.  The chorus “the street is where people live, the street is where people die” has a fantastic 70s, almost blaxploitation, film soundtrack feel.   I’d love to hear them explore more of this sound.

“The Great Chain of Being” is one of the outright heaviest things they’re recorded, with big heavy riffs and growling vocals.  It’s a bit out of place on this record, but it rocks too wonderfully to complain about.  It clearly seems like it could have been on Murder of the Universe, but maybe they just enjoyed rocking out and wanted to write a new song.

“The Last Oasis” has a delightful cocktail lounge feel, with vibes, languid bass and Ambrose’s gentle vocals.   I love that it gets hazier and sounds more and more like it’s being submerged as the song goes on.  Meanwhile, “All is Known” returns to them microtonal sounds of Banana for the main riff and heft of this pumping song.

One of my favorite tracks is the delicate “I’m Sleeping In.”  I love the interesting and satisfying bass lines that runs through this gentle song about sleeping:

I know within my body
I need rest from muscle ache
I really need a break
So I’m sleepin’ in, in

There’s some quiet harmonica and a really compressed sound.  It seems like sleep will never come because of some random noises that come in to disrupt the chill feeling.  Although by the end, the tape slows down and sleep has finally won.  The disc ends with “The Wheel” a groovy psychedelic track with wavery keys and flute. It’s the least dynamic song on the record but it feels nicely stretched out and trippy.

So the track order definitely makes this feel like an odds and ends assortment.  I’m not sure if they could have made a heavy side and a trippy side, or if it’s just more fun to have this batch of oddments together in the soup of gumboot.

The good thing is there’s not a bad song on it and it really covers every imaginable style.

After five albums in year, the only thing to do was to release no records in 2018 and tour the world.  But 2019 suggests a new disc in on the horizon.  I can’t wait.

[READ: March 3, 2019] “The Arithmetic of Common Ground”

This story had an interesting conceit which I feel it didn’t fully follow through on.  It posits that children have commonalities and looks at what estimated percentage of those commonalities they need to have for friendships to work.  I enjoyed the way it seemed almost like a technical report in the beginning.

At the opening, we see a couple meeting.

Born within six months of one another, within the same medium-sized city, and of comparable socio-economic class, they automatically overlap somewhere between 33 to 35 percent. Make the city Calgary and make them both only children who—as a consequence of their solitudes—have both grown up somewhat unsociable and somewhat bookish. If both dutifully attended music lessons in guitar and piano to complement their school work, their common ground might go as high as 40 to 55 percent.

Despite being different by some 45 to 60 points, they share enough interests (musical) to meet, fall in love, get married and have a child: Benjamin.

But for group dynamics a simple Venn diagram does not suffice because each pairing is its own diagram.  The story proceeds to explore Benjamin and his friends. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KING GIZZARD AND THE LIZARD WIZARD-Flying Microtonal Banana (2017).

2017 was a massive year for KGATLW as they pledged (and kept that pledge) to release five albums in the year.  This was the first.

Flying Microtonal Banana starts with the same sort of relentless frenzy that Nonagon Infinity had.  Just witness the stomping, grooving repetition of “Rattlesnake,” a catchy, 7 minute song whose lyrics are primarily “rattlesnake.”

The difference comes in the title of the record.  It’s not banana, it’s microtonal.  The banana in question is the yellow microtonal guitar that Stu Mackenzie uses on the album (and live).  It’s a custom-made guitar modified for microtonal tuning, which allows for intervals smaller than the semitones of Western music.  Since the new guitar could only be played with similarly tuned instruments, the rest of the band got their gear tricked out with microtonal capabilities.

This gives many of the songs a distinctly Middle-Eastern sound.  As does the inclusion of the zurna, a wind instrument which is almost constantly loud, high-pitched, sharp, and piercing.  Not an inviting description, but the instrument adds some interesting sounds and textures to the disc.  “Rattlesnake” is so catchy, though, that the zurna just feels like one more component.

“Melting” lets up the intensity with a wonderful guitar/vocal melody and some great synth accents.  As the song grooves along there’s some cool sounds and textures throughout the vocals and background sounds.  The solo comes from a slightly distorted synth–the ever-rising melody is catchy but leaves you wanting more.  The microtones really come out in the middle of the song, where the guitar/vocal melody experiments with all the various microtones that their instruments could achieve.

“Open Water” has a ringing guitar melody and a sinister chorus about open water.

Open water
Where’s the shore gone?
How’d I falter?
Open water
Height of the sea
Will bury me
And all I see is
Open water

There’s a very cool microtonal guitar solo throughout the middle of the song.   When the zurna comes in it brings a whole new kind of tension.

The rest of the album is made up of shorter songs.  They don’t exactly segue into each other, but they do feel like a suite of sorts.  Except that each one focuses on a different style (not at all unusual for KGATLW).

“Sleep Drifter” is sung in a near whisper, almost comforting, as it follows the nifty rising chorus melody.  The interstitial guitar riff is really cool, too.  “Billabong Valley” returns to their Western style from earlier albums.  It is sung by Ambrose in his very different vocal style.  There’s a staccato piano and an interesting western-inspired microtonal riff.  “Anoxia” slows things down with a twisty guitar.  The zurna contributes to a trippy ending.

“Doom City” sounds like early Black Sabbath with deep notes and a strangely hippie tone with lots of echo.  Then it picks up speed and adds some wild zurna tones.  There’s even some high-pitched laughs giving an even weirder feel.  I love that the speed jumps between slow and ponderous and speedy and hurried. “Nuclear Fusion” has a staccato rhythm.  For this one, not only does the lead vocal follow the interesting guitar melody, but there’s a deep harmony voice following along as well.   I always love when they add organ sounds to the song, like this one.  And the deep voices as the beginning and end are pretty awesome.

The final track is the instrumental title song.  It explores all manner of microtonal solos both on guitar and zurna.  It opens with bongos and congos and just takes off from there with the screeching zurna melody.  It’s catchy and weird like t he rest of the album and it ends with the winds blowing things away.

That’s the banana itself on the right.

[READ: January 2019] Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore

I was attracted to this book because of the title.  I knew literally nothing about it, but the blurb called it a smart, twisty crime novel.  I typically don’t read crime novels, but I’ve had pretty good luck with books set in bookstores, so it seemed worth taking a chance.

And, wow, what a delightfully convoluted story.  It was absolutely full of surprises and puzzles.  In the past I would have tried to figure out he puzzles myself, but since the answers to the puzzles were given right after the puzzles were shown, I got lazy and let the book do the work for me.   And what a fascinating bunch of characters Sullivan has created.

Lydia Smith works at the Bright Ideas Bookshop in Denver.  She has been there for a while, but she’s keeping a low profile.  She grew up in Denver and had a reasonably good childhood.  Then, suddenly something horrific happened and she and her father moved into a remote cabin outside of Denver where neighbors were nowhere near.  Her father, who was once a loving librarian too a job at a county prison and became a hardened policeman.

The event is hinted at in the beginning.  In the middle we get a vivid description of her perception of the event.  The rest of the story unpacks it.

After living in the woods, Lydia left her father, without saying a word.  She returned to Denver and hadn’t spoken to him for years.

She loves the security of the Bright Ideas Bookstore.  The store is populated by the Book Frogs, old men mostly, who spend hours and hours here browsing books.  They are all eccentric in some respect, but they are harmless–and most are thoughtful.

But as the book opens, one of the younger Book Frogs, Joey Molina, her favorite one, hangs himself–right upstairs in Western History.  She tried to take him down, to save him, to do something.  But she was too late.  As she was trying be helpful, she saw that he had a picture in his hand.  It was a picture of her when she was a little girl.  A picture she had never seen before.

What a great opening chapter! (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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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: HEATHER LEIGH-“Soft Season” (2018).

At the end of every year publications and sites post year end lists.  I like to look at them to see if I missed any albums of significance.  But my favorite year end list comes from Lars Gottrich at NPR.  For the past ten years, Viking’s Choice has posted a list of obscure and often overlooked bands.  Gottrich also has one of the broadest tastes of anyone I know (myself included–he likes a lot of genres I don’t).  

Since I’m behind on my posts at the beginning of this year, I’m taking this opportunity to highlight the bands that he mentions on this year’s list.  I’m only listening to the one song unless I’m inspired to listen to more.

Opening with a kind os squealing feedback and heavy bass and drums, it is pretty hard to believe that Heather Leigh is playing the pedal steel guitar but Lars assures us that’s what’s happening

Heather Leigh is among a group of artists who are reshaping the sound of the pedal steel guitar. [Her new] solo album stretches her noise/improv background into songwriting territory. With an elastic sense of time and a beguiling voice, Heather Leigh hears a new world drenched in aqueous echo.

After a brief opening Leigh starts singing–a kind of high operatic voice that works well with the feedbacking style of guitar she’s playing–like she’s almost singing along to the guitar melody, but not exactly.  The middle is quieter, more mellow, a “prettier more conventional sound.”  The song cycles through the original noisy sound, and back to the quieter music before ending on that feedback opening.  That powerful music crescendoes and then the song closes out with an a capella couple of lines.

You can her it and a couple other songs on her bandcamp site.

[READ: January 3, 2019] “Come In, Come In”

This story concerns a woman and her contractor, Louie.  He came highly recommended but he is taking forever.  Every time she assumes he will finish a project in her bathroom, he seems to have messed something up and needs to replace it.

The tiles were askew.  Even the tub was askew. He apologized and fixed it of course, but come on.

And if that weren’t bad enough, he had just sent her a text love letter.  “Lady Joanna, the more I see you the more I want to see you.”

She was annoyed at the absurdity “single woman + contractor = absurd.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKPoolside Yuletide: 51 Songs To Paint Your Holidays Pink Season’s greetings from roséwave, the soundtrack for living your best life (2018)

This summer, Lars Gottrich, my favorite All Songs podcast contributor, took some friends and started something called roséwave, which is:

Roséwave is a one-word joke I made on Twitter that was less about a genre (that does not exist) and more a lifestyle (that very much exists). Without thinking too hard, y’all can probably think of five pop songs one might tipsily shout along to, whether at karaoke, in the back of a cab, out with your besties spilling a little bit of the pink drink on your new shoes. This is how a spiraling playlist sprang from friends all over the country, just in time for the first official day of summer.

It’s terrible.  Ironically or not.  And yet there’s some good songs on the list too (Lars has great taste as well as terrible taste).  So for the holidays, he created a Roséwave playlist.

It is also terrible.

Poolside Yuletide is the holiday playlist for both basics in warmer climes (hello Australia!) and those of us who need to escape the winter blues, or at least require a reflective mix of sweet and sad while staring out frosty windows. (We see you, “Blue Christmas” as sung by noted mope Conor Oberst.) Saxophones stream across Carly Rae Jepsen’s faithful, yet undeniably Queen of Christmas cover of “Last Christmas” and Bruce Springsteen’s high-kickin’ “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town.” There’s the drum-machine joy of Saint Etienne’s should-be-classic “I Was Born On Christmas Day” and the perfectly titled “Dashing Through the Snow in High Heels” by K-pop group Orange Caramel. PJ Morton puts a New Orleans bounce spin on “This Christmas” while Big Freedia twerks all over “Rudy, The Big Booty Reindeer.” A La Face Family Christmas offers not one, but two tidings: TLC’s bopping “Sleigh Ride” (Left Eye’s “giddiup, giddiup, giddiup and away we go” will single-handedly make your spirits bright) and a reminder that OutKast’s very first single was a “Player’s Ball” wrapped in “nonsense about some silent night.”

But your halls just aren’t properly decked without some classics, including The Supremes’ lush orchestration of “My Favorite Things,” Otis Redding’s “Merry Christmas Baby” and, yes, Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas” — Christmas doesn’t even begin until we hear this song, don’t @ us. We made Poolside Yuletide three hours long not just to soundtrack holiday parties and long drives home, but because we know the season contains every shade of e•mo•tion.

For the most part I do not like this play list.  But even if Lars has gone off the deep end into pop cheese, he is still Lars and he is able to dig out some great gems that I didn’t know about (and some old favorites too)

Here is the full list of songs.  Should you dare to find the playlist, it is here.

I’ve bolded songs I liked (using generous terms for “like” because it’s Christmas), but didn’t go into too much detail about anything.  Next year I’ll dig out some of these favorites and make a mix of my own.

Carly Rae Jepsen-Last Christmas
Saint Etienne-I Was Born on Christmas Day
DWV-Christmas Ain’t Christmas
Ronald Isley-What Can I Buy You
PJ Morton, HaSizzle-This Christmas
OutKast-Player’s Ball
John Legend-No Place Like Home
Joseph Washington, Jr-Shopping (okay)
Kayne West, CyHi The Prynce, Teyana Taylor-Christmas in Harlem
The Waitresses-Christmas Wrapping
RuPaul, Markaholic-Hey Sis, It’s Christmas (terrible but good but I may not ever listen again)
The Supremes-My Favorite Things (they’ve made this an xmas song with sleigh bells)
Fountains of Wayne-Valley Winter Song
Casey Musgraves Christmas Makes Me Cry
Bright Eyes-Blue Christmas
Chance the Rapper-Blessings
Whitney Houston-The First Noel
Britney Spears-My Only Wish (This Year) (surprisingly not bad)
Bruce Springsteen-Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town
The Killers, Toni Halliday-A Great Big Sled (nice to hear guitars for xmas, even if the song is bland)
The Spook School-Someone to Spend Christmas With (my favorite song on the list)
Natalie Merchant-Children Go Where I Send Thee
Khuangbin-Christmas Time is Here (slow and trippy interesting)
Otis Redding-Merry Christmas Baby
TLC-Sleigh Ride
Brenda Lee-Christmas Will Be Just Another Lonely Day
Mariah Carey-All I Want for Christmas Is You
Boys II Men-Let It Snow
Amy Grant-Emmanuel
Ariana Grande-Wit It This Christmas
Orange Caramel, Nu’est-Dashing Through the Snow in High Heels (K-pop)
Phoenix-Alone on Christmas Day
Yumi Zouma-December
Beyonce-Ave Maria (not that song, exactly)
Cocteau Twins-Frosty the Snowman
Phoebe Bridgers-Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
Tracey Thorn-Joy
Tom Petty-Christmas All Over Again
Taylor Swift-Christmas Must Be Something More  (I like the music but the lyrics are too preachy)
Michael McDonald-That’s What Christmas Means to Me
Kylie Minogue, Dannii Minogue-100 Degrees
Earth, Wind & Fire-December (a December version of their song September)
The Weather Girls-Dear Santa Bring Me a Man This Christmas) (goofy)
Big Freedia, Ms. Tee (Rudy, the Big Booty Reindeer)  (The first verse is funny, but no)
Justn Beiber-Mistletoe ( I don’t hate this. How is that possible?)
Feist-Mushaboom (is this a Christmas song in any way?  Oh, it mentions snow in the chorus)
Booker T. & The M.G.’s-Winter Snow (a little slow but I love Booker T.)
Aretha Franklin-‘Twas the Night Before Christmas (spoken word and funny)
Clarence Carter-Back Door Santa (the sample for Run DMC)
Eartha Kitt-Santa Baby
The Orioles-What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve

Boy there are a lot of songs that I hate up there.

[READ: December 23, 2018] “Legends of the Seoul Dogs”

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.  But this particular Soundtrack comes from the deep NPR Christmas archive. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: H.E.R.-Tiny Desk Concert #811 (December 12, 2018).

I vaguely remember H.E.R. from the concert they mention below (my entire mention of that Concert which I did not like at all is that she has a nice voice).

It’s nice that she came back and her concert is much better than the guy she guested on.

H.E.R. stunned us as a special guest for Daniel Caesar’s Tiny Desk concert earlier this year, in an appearance that showcased her vocal mastery. That earned her an invite to play again, front-and-center. She attacked her second go ’round with more fervor than the first, highlighting her skills as a multi-instrumentalist, maneuvering between acoustic and electric guitars, then the Fender Rhodes.

She plays four songs.  The first “Going” (Interlude) is short and very cool.  A nice introduction to her electric guitar playing and her cool deepish voice.  It leads into “Feel A Way” which showcases her deep soulful voice.  Her backing singers are great, but the highlight for me is the instrumentation in the middle of song–the guitar and piano both play excellent riffs together.  It sounds fantastic–it’s a shame the singers have to vamp all over it.

For “Hard Place” she switches to an acoustic guitar which sounds even better with the piano.  The melodies and vocals are quite nice on this song, although I hate the way she sings the end the song–find a note and stick to it.

The final song is apparently her biggest hit and I hate it.  She switches to keys, which are lost among the piano.  But the problem for me is that she just goes off on that awful R&B warbling that plagues so many pop songs. I know that’s what people love, but I HATE it.  The pseudo-scatting at the tail end is much more preferable to that nonsense.  But man it makes the okay song just endless.

While H.E.R. stands for “Having Everything Revealed,” she’s an artist who’s built her reputation on a certain degree of anonymity. The cover art for her debut, 2016 EP, H.E.R. Volume 1, shows a woman’s silhouette over a blue backdrop. Her visuals never provide the audience a clear shot of her face and her signature accessory for every outfit is a pair of large, dark sunglasses.

Most other bands only get three songs.  I wish she did as well.

[READ: January 6, 2017] “Bedtimes”

This was a short, sad story about a marriage disintegrating.

And the way it was done was wonderfully subtle.

Thomas and Mary have grown children.  On Monday night, he is working on his laptop and Mary is Skypeing.  She decides that he is working all night so she goes to bed.  When he comes up an hour later, she is “sound asleep, face to the wall.”

On Tuesday, Mary takes their dogs for a walk around bedtime.  So Thomas decides to go up to bed.  When she comes up later, he is “Sound asleep, face to the wall”.

On Wednesday, she goes to sleep first. (more…)

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