Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Conor Oberst’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: BETTER OBLIVION COMMUNITY CENTER-Tiny Desk Concert #844 (April 24, 2019).

This Tiny Desk Concert marks another one of those rare occasions where I’ve seen a band live BEFORE their Tiny Desk.

I saw BOCC on April 2.   I assume that this Tiny Desk was recorded around that time (bands usually play DC right before or after Philly), but it takes a week or so to get online.

I really enjoyed the BOCC concert, which rocked more than I thought it would.

But I enjoyed this Tiny Desk even more than that because Conor Oberst and Phoebe Bridgers are having so much fun with this show.  Truth be told they had a lot of fun at our show too, but they experiment more here.  They also have lots of experience at the Tiny Desk.

When this fabulous new duo arrived for their Tiny Desk, it felt like old friends coming home. Both Conor Oberst and Phoebe Bridgers are Tiny Desk alum. Conor’s first Tiny Desk Concert came in 2014. Phoebe has come by twice in the past few years, first as a solo artist in 2017 and then as part of another creative and collaborative endeavor with Lucy Dacus and Julien Baker as boygenius in 2018. So, unlike the bundle of nerves that often come with an appearance at the NPR offices, this one was fun and, at times, silly, like when Conor Oberst sang into a fake rubber microphone on the other end of a chopstick that was sitting on my desk. But there was nothing trivial about the songs or the collaboration.

The first song starts off fairly seriously.  They play their (only?) hit, “Dylan Thomas” with Conor on electric guitar and Phoebe and backing guitarist Christian Lee Hutson on acoustic.  It sounds great–possibly even better than the record.

when their voices intertwine, there’s a radiance that often feels joyful even while singing words like the ones on their opening number, “Dylan Thomas.”

“I’m getting used to these dizzy spells
I’m taking a shower at the Bates Motel
I’m getting greedy with this private hell
I’ll go it alone, but that’s just as well”

For the second song, “Exception to the Rule,” Conor and Phoebe put down their guitars and simply sing (Conor into that fake microphone).  Christian plays guitar and Emily Retsas plays an omnichord.  As Emily sets up the “toy” Phoebe says, we’re going to set it to avoid choreography.”  Their voices really do sound great together, even with this ultra-minimal backing music.  The chorus is catchy, too!

For the final song, “My City” Bob Boilen himself comes out swinging a plastic whistling tube.

So I was whipping a corrugated, ribbed plastic hose over my head, creating a high pitched siren sound, trying to blend in with Christian’s electronics on “My City.” It was my Tiny Desk performance debut, and I was thrilled to be part of this magical act.

Conor and Phoebe pick up acoustic guitars and Christian plays a pocket piano (I gather).  This song feels the most like a folk song and again, they mostly sing together.  But Phoebe gets a solo verse near the end and that little change make a big difference in the overall flow of the song.

For the most part this is a quiet song, but the buildup for the end is pretty great.

[READ: April 20, 2019] “Brothers and Sisters Around the World”

This story is set in Madagascar.  Michel is a French-Italian white man who is married to the narrator–an African American woman.  They live in Cannes where it is always sunny.  But on vacation they travel the world to get hotter and wilder.  Islands are what Michel prefers.  “Any place where the people are the color of different grades of coffee.”

She says he loves her for all the wrong reasons.  He thinks she has some of that island wildness inside of her, but she grew up in Massachusetts and has a “steely Protestant core.”  Her parents never thought it would last.  But they have been together for eight years and they have a child.

As the story opens, he is telling her about how he drove “those two little whores” on the Zodiac.  “You should have seen their titties bounce!”

She admits:

It’s no surprise to me when Michel tries to share the ribald thoughts that run though the labyrinth of his Roman Catholic mind.  He doubtless thought that I would get a kick out of hearing about his boat ride with a pair of African sluts.

(more…)

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

[ATTENDED: April 2, 2019] Better Oblivion Community Center

I’m not often on the pulse of what is trending in music.  Sometimes I’m ahead, often I’m not all that interested.  But every once in a while it converges.  And thus on April 2 I was part of one of the hippest crowds in town.

I got there pretty early as I knew it was sold out (it sold out very quickly).  And I was standing pretty close to Pheobe Bridgers.  Earlier this year, I did not get to see the boygenius shows (they didn’t come close enough to us).  But I have seen each of the women solo twice (this is my second Bridgers show and yes, it counts).

There was a photo-op when you walked in.  A life-size cutout for you to take an ID photo for the BOCC.  I declined to do that, but I did get the fun squeezable stress-house.

The band came out and they started playing songs from the album.  I didn’t know the album all that well (I was amazed at how many people knew all the words), but I’d enjoyed what I’d heard.   I expected a kind of folk-rock show.  I was in no way prepared for how much the show rocked and how much fun the show would be.  There were even beach balls thrown around! (more…)

Read Full Post »

[ATTENDED: April 2, 2019] Christian Lee Hutson

I had not heard of Christian Lee Hutson before this show. I had no idea that he was in the Better Oblivion Community Center band (multi-instrumentalist) or that he has written songs for BOCC and boygenius (and that Phoebe Bridgers was producing his album).  So he has a lot of connections in this Community.

He looks rather Southern California.  With his sweeping hair and good looks he could be an extra on the new Veronica Mars series).  But he sings in a lovely accent-less voice. His voice and his guitar lines are clean and classic.  His melodies sound ageless, aside from his more contemporary lyrics (like on Northsiders):

We were so pretentious then
Didn’t trust the government
Said that we were communists
And thought that we invented it

Morrissey apologists
Amateur psychologists
Serial monogamists
We went to different colleges

(more…)

Read Full Post »

[ATTENDED: February 10, 2018] First Aid Kit

I first heard First Aid Kit from a Tiny Desk Concert back in 2012. I was immediately transported by their harmonies. And by the fact that the office looks dark and like they are the only ones in it (Bob, if you read this, if anyone deserves a second Tiny Desk it’s these two–maybe one with lights on!)

I also knew that Sarah would love them, which she did when I put “Emmylou” and “The Lion’s Roar” on a disc for her.  Then we bought the album and she’s become a bigger fan than me.

They played XPN Fest in 2015, but our first year at the Fest was 2016, so we didn’t have an opportunity to see them live until now.  Understandably, this show sold out pretty quickly, but I was quick on the draw and got my tickets right away.

When we got to Union Transfer there was a long line to get in (that ever happens!) And then there was a long (very orderly) line to get merch.  We knew we had to get one of the gorgeous posters which were of somewhat limited supply–although I saw at the end of the show that  they still had some, so I guess poor Sarah didn’t have to carry it all night long.

We were still pretty early and got a good location. The first wonderful thing about the crowd was that they were all short–except for one guy who was literally a foot taller than everyone else (he was very nice and a future librarian and was not in our way).  And unlike some of the more intense shows I’ve been to, nobody pushed his way up front at the last minute.  The crowd was courteous and polite (and even though it was sold out it didn’t feel cramped (maybe half the people had the flu)). (more…)

Read Full Post »

SOUNDTRACK: FIRST AID KIT-Stay Gold (2014).

This album was also produced by Mike Mogis, who did The Lion’s Roar.  And with each new album, the “duo” of Klara and Johanna Söderberg grows bigger and bigger.  This album adds a full string section as well as a mellotron, vibraphone and lap dulcimer (these last three all thanks to Mogis.

“My Silver Lining” is an incredibly catchy, swinging song.  In addition to the cool strings and the lovely oooh melody, it’s that big bold “Woah oh” that really sells the song.  I also love the whispered vocals at the end the “try to keep on keeping on” is really cool and a very different sound for them.

“Master Pretender” has some interesting instrumentation–a bass clarinet in the first verse, fiddles and pedal steel in the second verse and striking lap dulcimer in the chorus.  It’s also the first instance of them cursing I think, “I always thought that you’d be here / But shit gets fucked up and people just disappear.”

“Stay Gold” a beautiful chorus sets this song apart, the melody is really great.  “Cedar Lane” is a slower song that focuses on the sisters’ harmonies in the beginning but the chorus inspires with those soaring falsetto notes.  But the biggest and best surprise of this song comes nearly 4 minutes in when the song shifts to an intense refrain of “how could I break away from you?”

“Shattered & Hollow” is a slower, more mellow song with an interesting percussion.  “The Bell” has some unexpected melody lines but soaring vocals, but it all coalesces wonderfully in the last minute “Can you hear the bell?” in great harmony.

“Waitress Song” is so wonderfully down to earth (if not depressing):

I could move to a small town / And become a waitress / Say my name was Stacy / And I was figuring things out / See, my baby, he left me / And I don’t feel like staying here tonight

I also love the way they sing this line in the folky style of the song despite referencing a very different type of song:

I remember the music / From the down stair’s bar: Girls, they just want to have fun

The way the ending of this song redeems itself with the cool lap steel and their ooohs as well as an uplifting ending makes this a surprisingly powerful track:

I could drive out to the ocean / And just stare in awe / I could walk across the beaches / And sleep under the stars / Our love would seem trivial and obscure / Now and never feel lost anymore

“Fleeting One” This song moves along really nicely with some amazing high notes in harmony.  “Heaven Knows” is their by-now familiar autoharp song.  Except that it also combines the rocking elements of the previous albums’ “King of the World” a shuffling guitar, stomping drums and great good fun. And while the last album had them shout FIRE! in the middle of Conor Oberst’s verse, this time they up the ante further by slowing things down and sing

Tell me what’s your story / do you think it’ll ever sell / and what’ll you do if it comes down to it / and it all goes…. STRAIGHT TO HELL!

“A Long Time Ago” ends the album as a dramatic piano ballad.  It sounds really quite different for them.

So this album builds on everything they’ve been working on, adding more and more sounds and getting their voices to sound somehow even better.

[READ: January 30, 2018] “The Boundary”

This story is from the point of view of a young girl whose family looks after a small cottage.  The cottage is in the Italian countryside.  Her family is not Italian (they are from very far away), and when they moved to Italy they first lived in the city.  The countryside is about as alien to them as they can imagine  And they don’t especially like it.

Every Saturday a new family comes to stay in the cottage.  And those people love the countryside, can’t stop talking about how great it is.

The girl who looks after the cottage is familiar with the routine.

There’s usually four of them–two parents two kids. The girl shows them around, shows them the mouse poison and tells them to kill the flies at night because their buzzing will wake them up in the morning.

As the guests settle in, she pretends to ignore them, but she always watches–especially when they leave the screen doors open.  Since the cottage is so close, she can hear everything the family says. (more…)

Read Full Post »

SOUNDTRACK: FIRST AID KIT-The Lion’s Roar (2012).

This album was my first exposure to First Aid Kit and I immediately loved the harmonies and the dark but positive-sounding vocals.

I’m probably one of ten people on earth who doesn’t love Bright Eyes, but I love the production by Bright Eyes’ Mike Mogis (with contributions from Bright Eyes’ Nate Walcott and band leader Conor Oberst–maybe I need to re-listen to Bright Eyes).

The first song I’d heard was the opening cut “The Lion’s Roar.”  The song starts with a minor key guitar chord progression and “electronic flute.”  It’s atmospheric and a bit spooky-sounding, but when they come in with the chorus “And I’m a goddamn coward, but then again so are you” in wonderful harmony that is at times right on and other times kind of dissonant, it’s goose-bump-inducing.  Oh wow. what a moment

Pitchfork describes that electronic flute as “one deeply eerie flute tone that lingers throughout, floating in and out of scenes like a sly specter” and that’s pretty accurate.

It’s followed by “Emmylou” the most gorgeous country song I’ve ever heard, complete with pedal steel guitar and a wonderfully evocative chorus: “I’ll be your Emmylou, and I’ll be your June/ If you’ll be my Gram and my Johnny, too,” (do watch them sing it to Emmylou Harris at an award ceremony and watch her brought to tears).

“In The Hearts Of Men” slows things down with some wonderful moments as the sisters sing the “la la las” throughout the chorus.  Once again, there’s surprisingly dark lyrics for two women around 23 and 21.  And speaking of dark lyrics, the pretty xylophone and guitar play a chirpy melody in “Blue” which has this stark and dark verse:

And the only man you ever loved / You thought was gonna marry you / Died in a car accident when he was only 22 / Then you just decided, love wasn’t for you / And every year since then / Has proved it to be true

Damn.  How does a song with that lyrics have a beautiful soaring chorus that is so uplifting and Abba-esque and yet again lyrically:

But you’re just a shell of / Your former you / That stranger in the mirror / Oh, that’s you / Why’d you look so blue?

“This Old Routine” features more of that uncanny, how are you only 21 years old lyrics sung with such beautiful harmony (and delicate mandolin sprinkled in):

This old routine will drive you mad
It’s just a mumble never spoken out loud
And sometimes you don’t even know why you loved her.
Well you look at her now, and you see why.

The second half of the song has strings and such, playing a simple five note melody.  There’s a moment near the end where the strings play that five note riff and its followed by the mandolin playing the same melody one step up and it’s just gorgeous.

“To a Poet” has a fast tight guitar melody.  As the song builds, a harmonium is added.  The chorus goes in a high register until the simple catchy end line: “There’s nothing more to it / I just get through it.”  The poet in question is Frank O’Hara

But Frank put it best when he said
“You can’t plan on the heart”
Those words keep me on my feet
When I think I might just fall apart

The string section ending is bit of a surprise since neither one of them palsy on it but it does add some nice texture to this song that has just grown from a tiny guitar to full orchestration over the course of 6 minutes.

That cool flute sound returns on “I Found a Way,” as it runs through the falsetto-filled chorus.  “Dance To Another Tune” slows things down for a while until the middle features another string section.  This time the sisters add their “bah bah bahs” to it and it sound terrific.

“New Year’s Eve” brings back the autoharp (you can really hear the plectrum zipping along the strings–something I’ve never noticed when others play it).  It’s a suitably quiet song with a gentle harmony on the final line of the chorus: “that’s what’s going to save me.”  And I love that no other instrumentation is added.

The end of the record is quite different from anything else.  “King of the World’ is a dynamic romp, easily their fastest, loudest, stompingest song.  It’s got a full band behind them and a vocal turn from Conor Oberst.  There’s all kinds of strings and mandolin tucked in the corners that peek out here and there.  There’s even horns which sound a bit like Calexico.

This album is just fantastic.  And their harmonies get better and more confident with each album.

[READ: January 22, 2018] “Writing Teacher”

I have not really enjoyed any of the stories I’ve read by Wideman.  This was the first one that I felt was on the right path to my enjoyment.  And then it kind of drifted away from me at the end.

It also features one of the things I hate most in stories–more on that in a moment.

This is the story of a writing teacher.  He is reading and reviewing a story by a student, Teresa McConnell who, “wants to help other people.”  The story “wishes to save the life of its main character, a young woman of color, a few years out of high school, single, child to support, no money, shitty job, living with her mother who never misses an I-told-you-so chance to criticize her daughter’s choices.”

What I hate most in stories comes a few sentences later: (more…)

Read Full Post »

boilenSOUNDTRACK: ANGEL OLSEN-Tiny Desk Concert #333 (January 27, 2014).

angelBob Boilen has liked Angel Olsen for some time, so when she did her Tiny Desk and most of us had never heard of her, he was already a fan.

Olsen plays a long set but with four songs.

She sits very still, strumming with her thumb and singing kind of low–not unlike Sharon van Etten.  The first song, “Unfucktheworld” is only two ans a half minutes.  The second song, “Iota,” is a little longer.  She sings in an affected almost falsetto style, although the guitar remains very spare.

Between these songs, she is coy about the title of the new record although she is quick to say the first word of the title “burn.”  Later she admits that the final song contains the title of the album, if we wanted to spend time figuring it out.

I marvelled at how high the chords were that she played on “Enemy,”  She seems to eschew any bass for this song.  This one is five and a half minutes long and is just as slow as the others.

Before the final song they talk about whether this is the most awkward show she has done.  She says everyone is very alert–and indeed you can hear utter silence between songs.  But then they talk about the storm outside (and potential tornado) and how this show may never air if the storm is really bad.

“White Fire” is an 8 minute story song.  She does use the whole guitar for this one, which has many many verses.   Since I don’t really know Olsen’s stuff that well, I don’t know if this was a good example of her show or a fun treat to hear her in such an intimate way.

[READ: May 10, 2016] Your Song Changed My Life

This site is all about music and books, but you may be surprised to know that I don’t really like books about music all that much.  I have read a number of them—biographies, autobiography or whatever, and I don’t love them wholesale. Some are fine, but in general musicians aren’t really as interesting as they may seem.

What I do like however, is hearing a decent interview with musicians to find out some details about them–something that will flesh out my interest in them or perhaps make me interested in someone I previously wasn’t.  Not a whole book, maybe just an article, I guess.

I also really like Bob Boilen. I think he’s a great advocate of music and new bands.  I have been listening to his shows on NPR for years and obvious I have been talking about hundreds of the Tiny Desk Concerts that he originated.  I also really like his taste in music.  So I was pretty psyched when Sarah got me this book for my birthday.

I read it really quickly–just devoured the whole thing.  And it was really enjoyable. (more…)

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »