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Archive for the ‘Bjork’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: ALPINE-Tiny Desk Concert #295 (August 12, 2013).

I was unfamiliar with Alpine before this show, so the blurb helpfully notes:

The Australian sextet crafts busily impeccable pop music with a danceable sway, prominent synths and the charming shared lead vocals of Phoebe Baker and Lou James. That’s a lot of ingredients to strip down to a semi-acoustic set in the NPR Music offices; there’s virtually no margin for error.  Thankfully, the two women at the band’s heart possess gorgeously interlocking, harmony-intensive voices that require no sweeteners.

Each of the women is fascinating in her own way.  I can’t not mention that Lou James, the dark-haired singer’s outfit is light blue two piece with the top and bottom attached by crossing strands of fabric (so technically it’s a one piece).  While the blonde-haired singer, Phoebe Baker is wearing a flowery dress over a long-sleeved shirt.  Her hair looks like if she unclipped it, it would be a huge nimbus around her head.  But appearances aside, their voices work perfectly together.  They do a lot of singing one note in a pretty staccato fashion (almost like horns).  Their voices meld beautifully, whether singing in harmony or chorus.

I love the little fiddly, interesting guitar chords of the first song, “Gasoline.”  The song doesn’t deviate that much from the beginning—it’s bouncy and catchy–because all of the focus is on the two singers.  It’s really a fun song that I can’t stop listening to.

the second song, “Villages,” opens with a gentle acoustic guitar.  It’s interesting that Baker’s voice is noticeably accented in this song.  Like when she sings “Why don’t you come,” or in the really groovy middle part when James is singing, “I can’t believe I’ve seen this love,” Baker sings “Ah Oh” but you can actually hear her accent in these single notes.

They mention that they were walking around D.C. but it was way too hot.  They saw the White House and the Lincoln memorial.  The guitarist went to the Air and Space Museum (but he’s English) and the drummer is jealous.

I really like the way the third song, “Hands” opens with the vocals singing in an enchanting staccato, “It’s okay to feel the rain on my hand my love.”  And again once the verses start the vocals are very Björk-like

The final song, “Softsides,” is one they’ve never done acoustically before.  It’s also the first time their drummer has played keyboards live.  Once again the vocals are fascinating and really engaging, with each singer doing little pieces of the delicate vocal line.

[READ: July 19, 2016] Dan vs. Nature

I judged this book by its cover and title and deemed it worthy of a read.

I loved the idea of “vs. nature” and didn’t really have any sense of what the book would be a bout but the blurb “an outrageously funny and wicked raunchy romp in the woods” sounded promising.

So I was very surprised that the book began with Dan getting beaten up by jocks (the scene was funny if not a little violent) and then going home to have dinner with his mom and the man he is meeting for the first time–who his mom says just asked her to marry him.

The reason he is getting beaten up by jocks is because of his best friend Charlie.  They have been friends forever and Charlie is super smart.  He’s also a major germaphobe and has been reading everything science-related since he was little.  Charlie is also the school photographer and when he tries to get the jocks to pose for a picture he calls them uriniferous homunculi. They don’t know what that means, but Charlie explains it to them.  So Charlie and Dan both get beat up for it. The gym teacher hears the ruckus and comes out and tells them to save their fighting for the wrestling meet.  Ugh. (more…)

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[ATTENDED: March 18, 2017] Big ‡ Brave

I hadn’t heard of Big ‡ Brave when I saw that they were opening for Sunn O))).  Before the show I read this compelling description: “Big Brave utilize many elements of drone, noise, and post rock with female fronted vocals that are almost reminiscent of Bjork as far as tone.”

They play slow and loud.  And their songs are very bass-heavy even though there is no bass!  Two guitars making very low rumbles.

The band is a trio–2 guitars and a fairly sparse drum kit.  Robin Wattie (here’s a video of her singing) stood on the far side of the stage.  She sang an impassioned wail and often kept time by thumping her guitar (generating more drone I’m sure) before playing low, loud chords.

Closest to me was guitarist Mathieu Bernard Ball.  He was constantly in motion, rocking up and down as he played wondrous noises (see video) with his guitar.  (more…)

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2008_04_21-400SOUNDTRACK: HIGHASAKITE-Tiny Desk Concert #376 (July 25, 2014).

 highkiteFor some reason, some bands play a Tiny Desk Concert that is very short.  It’s especially disappointing when the band is unusual and interesting like Highasakite.

They play only two songs (for a total of 8 minutes), but they cram a lot of interesting sounds into these songs, including a flugabone.  Kristoffer Lo plays that mournful horn and Ingrid Helene Håvik compliments the yearning with words that are mysterious and somewhat dark.

For “The Man on the Ferry” the song opens with the horn playing mournful notes while the percussionist plays a tiny steel drum and Håvik plays a kind of autoharp.  There’s the fascinating lyric: “It made the Indian in me cry.”  (It’s especially interesting since the band is from Norway).

Håvik has an inflection something like Björk’s (although her singing style is very different) and there are some delightful harmonies.

The melody of the second song “Since Last Wednesday” is familiar to me.  Or the combination of steel drum and horn is just really compelling. It’s fascinating to watch the guitarist wield his horn in one hand while holding the guitar with the other and singing harmonies.  The song is also kind of mysterious (that horn again) with the lyrics:

He would never do graffiti or vandalize that house. And he would never be caught spray painting on those people’s walls. But no one has seen or heard from him since last Wednesday.

As the song progresses some really dark lyrics crop up, all under that beguiling melody.

The blurb lists some of their other titles: “Leaving No Traces,” “I, The Hand Grenade,” “The Man on the Ferry,” “Science & Blood Tests” which really says quite a lot about this interesting band.  I definitely want to hear more than eight minutes from them.

[READ: February 20, 2016] “The Repatriates”

I was fascinated by this story because I hadn’t really heard of the phenomenon of Russian emigres returning to Russia because they felt the conditions were better there than in America

The story starts by telling us that Grisha and Lera’s marriage has dissolved.  In 1994 Grisha’s visa had been processed and he was brought to America by Hewlett-Packard.  He found it demeaning and like servitude ans as soon as it was up her quit and got a new job with Morgan Stanley–building market models for mortgage traders (for those of us who doesn’t know what that is, it’s not rally that important).

But Grisha felt empty.  He said there as no spirituality in America (even though he himself was not spiritual)

Eventually Grisha started travelling back to Moscow (they had not been able to sell their apartment there, so he had a place to stay). He would visit old friends and make news ones.  He started going more frequently.  And then one of his trips lasted for two months. (more…)

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  karlove5SOUNDTRACK: RAGA ROCKERS-“Slakt” [“Slaughter”] (1988), “Hun er Fri” [“She is Free”] (1988) and “Noen å hate” [“Someone to hate”] (1990).

ragaKarl Ove mentions many bands in his books.  Raga Rockers appeared twice in this one.  I can’t find a ton about them online, because they never really made it beyond Norway, but the Google translated version of their website says:

Raga Rockers is an ingenious rock ‘n roll band that has existed since 1982.

Today the band consists of: Michael Krohn (vocals, lyrics), Hugo Alvar Stein (keyboards / guitar), Eivind Staxrud (guitar), Arne Sæther (keys), Livio Aiello (bass) and Jan Kristiansen (drums).

The band came out of the punk community in the early eighties, but became such a “poppy” large parts of the Norwegian people have founded acquaintance with them.  Songs like “She is free” and “Someone to hate” is almost singalong classics! Their greatest triumph came perhaps in 1999 when they played for thousands of ecstatic Norwegians at the yellow stage at Roskilde Festival. (Reviews of the show by Dagbladet (which Karl Ove wrote for) and Dagsavisen–both are in English.

Despite their punk roots and the rather violent song titles, the songs are almost poppy–heavy guitars but simple chords and a singer who doesn’t sound angry at all.  In fact, if I didn’t read about their punk roots, I’d swear these songs are kinda goofy.

“Slakt” is a simple song, opening with a 4/4 drum and splashes of guitar.  The middle is a bluesy riff with a chorus of “ah ha ha”  The lead singer’s voice is mostly kind of deep–not quite what I expected from the heavy guitars.

“Hun Er Fri” is quite different from the others songs.  It’s only 90 seconds long and features a piano.  The chords are still simple the piano may be playing single notes in fact).  The lyrics are pretty much nonstop and kind of fast.  It seems like a silly pop trifle and I can see why it’s popular among their fans.  The first time I listened to it, I was surprised it ended when it did.  This bootleg live version is certainly fun.

rocknrollThese two songs came from their 1988 album Forbudte følelser [Prohibited feelings]

“Noen å hate” has a bit more of a metal sound, but is essentially the same kind of heavy rock with simple chord progressions.  There’s a good solo at the end.  A black metal band called Vreid has done a cover of this song (which really only sounds different because the Vreid singer is more growly).

This song comes from their 1990 album Rock n’ Roll Party.

And yes, they are still around.  They took a hiatus in the 2000s but came back with three albums 2007’s Übermensch, 2010’s Shit Happens and 2013’s Faktor X.

[READ: May 1, 2016] My Struggle Book Five

karlove 5ukI realized as I read this fifth book that I should have been keeping a vague sense of the timeline of these books.  Specifically, because he opens this book with this: “The fourteen years I lived in Bergen from 1988 to 2002 are long gone.”  So if he was born in 1968, this book covers roughly ages 19-33.

So my general outline for the other volumes:
Book Five: 1988-2002 (19-33)
Book Four: 1987 (18)
Book Three: 1968-1981  (1-13)
Book Two: 2008 (40) (with flashbacks to meeting his second wife in 2003 or so)
Book One: 2008 (40) (with flashbacks to his father’s death in 1998 or so)

What era could Book Six possibly be about?

We’ll find out next year in what is said to be the 1,200 page final volume.

So as I mentioned above, Karl Ove talks about the fourteen years he lived in Bergen.  And it made me laugh that he says:

The fourteen years I lived in Bergen, from 1988 to 2002, are long gone, no traces of them are left, other than as incidents a few people might remember, a flash of recollection here, a flash of recollection there, and of course whatever exists in my own memory of that time.  But there is surprisingly little.

And then he proceeds to write 600+ pages about that time. (more…)

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ageSOUNDTRACK: GENEVIEVE-Tiny Desk Concert #446 (June 1, 2015).

genevieveI enjoy that the opening of this Tiny Desk Concert shows Genevieve “creating” her backup singers.  So that when she gets to the chorus and taps that loop pedal her harmonies really shine.

Genevieve is a poppy singer with a sometimes raspy but often really clean singing style.  She has a great voice and vibrant personality (and hair color).  Even though she is from Chicago, I hear some tinges of Bjõrk and maybe even Tori Amos in her voice.

Evidently she normally plays with a full band, but for this concert, she is accompanied only by Chris Faller who “plays all of the instruments.”

The first song “Colors” is played only with keyboards (and feels like it could use a little but more music–although her voice is powerful enough and that chorus is super catchy as is).  “The Enemy” is accompanied by an acoustic guitar and is a suitably mellower–a kind of sad ballad–which shows how powerful her voice is even in this more quiet setting (she has a lovely range).

The final song “Authority” feels like it might be a big raver (she adds hand claps that seem like the kind that might get the crowd going, but the claps are quiet and subtle here).  The chorus is big with lots of long-held notes and is super catchy.

Genevieve would probably be too pop for me in general, but the Tiny Desk Concerts tend to remove a lot of gloss and leave the heart of the musician.

[READ: May 15, 2015] An Age of License

I enjoyed Knisley’s Relish, so when I saw this in the library I decided to check it out.

Unlike Relish, which was about food, this book is about her travels outside of the country.  But like Relish, this book is another memoir/journal/autobiography.

Since I have been having a major Norway kick (thanks to Karl Ove Knausgaard and some great sites on Instagram) I was pretty excited to see that her travels began in Norway.  Her itinerary is short but very busy.  Fly into Iceland than immediately to Norway (for the Raptus Comics Fest in Bergen).  Then it’s off to Sweden (to visit a guy she knows in Stockholm).  Then to Berlin to join her friends on their honeymoon (which is not as tacky as it sounds). Then it’s off to France to visit her friend in Beaune, and then to hang out with her mom and her friends on Royan.  Finally a day in Paris before flying back home.  I’m exhausted just writing it all.

Knisley also has the headache of dealing with a breakup (to the nice guy who has been in her previous books) although he is kind enough  to babysit her cat while she is gone.

Every few pages has colored (watercolor I assume) drawings which add a nice touch to the otherwise black and white story.

Starting Sept 8th, she arrives in Norway.  We see the flight and other people on the flight.  We see a nice meal that she eats (Pinnekjott–someday I hope to get to the Scandinavian countries and eat food that I cannot pronounce).  Norway is fun–she goes to the Fest (where she gets to draw with Ethan Nicolle of “Axe Cop” (presumably his five-year old brother stayed home).  She shows students how to draw (her friend is a teacher), although she declines to eat Lutefisk (which she illustrates as Fish + Lye.  Lye??).  She also mentions that she was not only stalked, but that the boys who stalked her then made and published (and had it available at the following year’s Raptus Fest) a comic about stalking her–creepy! (more…)

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janfebSOUNDTRACK: TANYA TAGAQ-“Uja” and “Umingmak” live at the Polaris Music Prize (2014).

tanyaTanya Tagaq won the Canadian Polaris Prize this year.  Tagaq is a Canadian (Inuk) throat singer from Cambridge Bay (Ikaluktuutiak), Nunavut, Canada who at age 15, went to Yellowknife, Northwest Territories to attend high school where she first began to practice throat singing.  Mostly I included that so I could have the word Ikaluktuutiak in a post.  She is the first native Canadian to win the prize.

Tagaq sings in a gutteral throat singing style combined with some more traditional high-pitched notes.  She has worked with Mike Patton and extensively with Björk.  Most of her songs don’t have lyrics per se, and the album that won the prize is called Animism.

This is a live broadcast of her set which has been describes as truly mesmerizing in person.  It is certainly mesmerizing in video–marveling that the woman can sound so possessed  and yet so clearly in control.

At 1:38 when the backing vocalists (who were shrouded in darkness sing out, it’s quite startling.  I don’t know when the first song ends and the second begins, but at 3:48. when the drums start a regular beat, you can hear a sense of commercial rock amidst the avant garde music.   Around 5 minutes the music drops away and when Tagaq sings briefly in her non-throat voice she sounds almost childish. But when the throaty growls returns, it’s a bit scary, frankly.

Tagaq has talked about bringing the sensuality of throat singing out into the public and by 7 minutes, the sensuality is right there on the stage.  By the end, when she is screaming her lungs out, it has to have been really intense in the theater.  And her wold howl at the end is uncanny.

Clearly not to everyone’s taste, but probably not lie anything else you’ll hear all day.  And unlike anything you’d hear at the Grammy’s.

[READ: January 2, 2015] “Beyond the Shore”

This is  brief story about competitiveness at the gym.  It’s the kind of story that is probably acted out in gyms across the country and one which shouldn’t have been all that interesting, but Awad chose an interesting setting and characters to flesh this out.

I also enjoyed that the title has nothing to do with the action of the story.  Rather, it refers to the place where they live: “Beyond the Shore, a gated-living community that has nothing to do with California (we are nowhere near California), the apartment building which overlooks the Malibu Club Spa and Fitness Centre.”  Each morning when the narrator wakes up, she can see from her bedroom window that Char, an extremely depressingly fit woman, is already working out ion the gym. And most of the time she is working out on Lifecycle One, the very machine that the narrator has signed up for in fifteen minutes.

This wouldn’t be a problem except that in fifteen minutes, the narrator, who is not in peak physical shape will get to the gym and Char will still be in mid-routine with no intention of stopping.  When the narrator approaches Char, Char says she’s almost done (even though she ‘s already over by five minutes) and then mutters a nasty name about the narrator under her breath.  Often by the time Char gets off, the narrator has but 24 minutes in her time slot before the cardio group comes in next. (more…)

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contficSOUNDTRACKTHAO NGUYEN-Tiny Desk Concert #5 (September 4, 2008).

thaoI had never heard of Thao Ngyuen (who admits that her last name is a phonetic disaster–it’s pronounced When) before this concert and man is she a lot of fun.

  She plays a great acoustic guitar—very percussive on the strings (and even some percussive noises from her mouth before the first song starts).  Her voice is a strange mix of a few singers, reminding me a bit of Björk (but with a kind of Southern sounding accent) and maybe Beth Orton, if Beth was a bit more excited.   Thao plays her guitar very loosely—a kind of sloppiness that is really fun—but not in a “she can’t really play” way.  It’s an I’m having a lot of fun style.

NPR dude Mike Katzif heard her band Get Down Stay Down opening for another band.  And he loved her off-kilter melodies (which are ample).  “Bag of Hammers” is played on the high strings and it has an almost Caribbean feel—boppy and fun and totally made for dancing. Her guitar playing is very fast strumming, especially on “Beat (Health, Life and Fire),” I love watching the chords she is playing up and down the neck of the guitar.

I really enjoyed the conceit of “Big Kid Table” and the Hawaiian vibe she gets from her guitar.  “Feet Asleep” brings out a bit more of a country vibe from her singing (she is from Virginia).  I love the diversity of her music and I’m looking forward to checking out both her band and her solo work. In addition to being a great singer and songwriter, she is also quite funny—the story about her grandma and her calves is very funny indeed.

This continues the greatness of the Tiny Desk concerts.

[READ: November 14, 2013]  “The Empty Plenum”

The reason I got involved with Wittgenstein’s Halloween was because David Foster Wallace had said Wittgenstein’s Mistress was one of the best books of the 1990s.

The whole list is on Salon, but here’s the quote about WM:

“Wittgenstein’s Mistress” by David Markson (1988)
“W’s M” is a dramatic rendering of what it would be like to live in the sort of universe described by logical atomism. A monologue, formally very odd, mostly one-sentence ¶s. Tied with “Omensetter’s Luck” for the all-time best U.S. book about human loneliness. These wouldnt constitute ringing endorsements if they didnt happen all to be simultaneously true — i.e., that a novel this abstract and erudite and avant-garde that could also be so moving makes “Wittgenstein’s Mistress” pretty much the high point of experimental fiction in this country.

I had also read his review of the book before [I copy everything I said then below].  I admit I didn’t get that much out of it before because it was mostly about Wittgenstein and a book I hadn’t read.  Well, now that I’ve read the Markson book, it seemed like a good time to revisit the review.

Two things strike me immediately–this was written after Wallace had written Broom of the System and some other fiction and yet he speaks of himself as a “would-be writer,” not a writer.  And two, this review really belongs in a philosophy journal rather than a literary journal–DFW was making the jump from philosophy to literature, but his knowledge of philosophy is very strong, so he is focusing on that aspect of the story. (more…)

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