Archive for the ‘Conor Oberst’ Category

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…)


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freedomSOUNDTRACK: CRASH TEST DUMMIES-Jingle all the way… (2002).

ctdEven though the Crash Test Dummies are often seen as a joke band or a one hit wonder (which I guess they are), I’ve liked them for a while (their earlier stuff a lot more than their later stuff, admittedly).  But it seemed like they’d have a fun take on Christmas music.

And it starts out in a comical sort of way with Brad Robert’s deeper-than-ever voice reciting about his life in Los Angeles, where it is warm and sunny at Christmas time.  I like that he rhymes 24th with up north.  The spoken section is quite loud in the mix (it sounds like he is right in your ear).  Unfortunately, that is the case when he starts singing too–he is uncomfortably loud in the mix and it sounds like he is holding back because of it–he doesn’t sound great and his voice sounds more comical than interesting.  Which is a shame because the music (with cheesey keyboards) is great.

Roberts sings lead on about half of the songs.  Ellen Reid sings lead on the other half except for a couple where they split lead duties.

The rest of Robert’s songs include: “Jingle Bells” (which is certainly comical–it sounds like a chain gang song with the “Hey!s” sounding almost like a prison chant).  It’s weird and cool though (even if his voice is once again too loud in the mix).  “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” has his voice mixed much better–he seems to be really singing.  And this version–a loungey/jazzy rendition is much great fun.  “God King Wenceslas” sounds proper (with Reid’s close backing vocals).  It has a pretty penny whistle keeping the song going.

Ellen Reid has a great voice and I love hearing her sing.  But in the first two songs she sings lead on in this disc she sounds like she is singing too slowly.  “O Little Town of Bethlehem” especially sounds like the music is going to pass her up at any minute.  I also don’t like the country vibe of the song.  “In the Bleak Midwinter” is also (intentionally) slow, which I don’t like.  Perhaps I just don’t like this song (although I do think the melody is lovely).  “The Little Drummer Boy” is beautiful and Robert’s bass backing vocals are perfect.  “Silent Night” is done in a countryish style, but I like this version.  Although normally this song can make me cry, this version absolutely does not–too honky tonkish.

The final song, “The Huron Carol” is quite formal and proper–just Reid and a piano opening the song.  It sounds very holy, very pretty.  When Robert’s bass backing vocals come in, it adds more depth to the song.  And it’s a lovely way to end.

[READ: October 30, 2014] Freedom

I read this a couple months ago and then got so caught up in reading other things that I never got around to posting about it.  And that’s a bummer because I really liked the book a lot and I fear that I won’t remember everything I wanted to say about it.

I had read a couple of excerpts from the book in the New Yorker (quite some time ago).  They were helpful in grounding the story for me, but they didn’t prepare me for the breadth of the story.  It follows one family, the Berglunds, through several decades, focusing on each of them in great detail as they navigate through the Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush and a smidge of the Obama years.

The Berglunds are a liberal family.  They were among the first white families to move onto their urban street in St. Paul, Minnesota (after white flight to the burbs).  Patty is a charming (some say smug) homemaker and Walter is a lawyer (public defendant, naturally).  They have two kids, Jessica and Joey.  Patty dotes on Joey to an embarrassing degree (Joey is embarrassed by it, Jessica is infuriated by it and even Patty is kind of embarrassed when she really thinks about it).  At the same time she is rather neglectful of Jessica.  Naturally, Jessica becomes quite the success (loves reading, committed to the environment), while Joey rebels and finds all kinds of ways to disappoint them and make money.  (This isn’t a bad thing, but the family has plenty of money and Joey doesn’t need to (especially not the way he goes about it).  Not to mention Walter and Patty are not into the money for money’s sake thing.

The book opens that there was some “news” about Walter. He and Patty had moved to Washington DC two years earlier.  He clearly did something bad (we won’t find out until much later).  But that serves as an introduction to the Berglunds.  And then we go back to see them, years earlier, settling into St Paul. (more…)

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regifterSOUNDTRACK: CONOR OBERST-Tiny Desk Concert #367 (June 23, 2014).

conoI’ve never been a fan of Conor Oberst (or any of his many bands). I really don’t like his voice, which I admit sounds sometimes like Paul Westerberg, but I’d just rather listen to Paul Westerberg. But one nice thing about watching the Tiny Desk Concerts is that it gets you to focus on a band for fifteen minutes to really see an artist perform.

I still don’t really like Oberst’s voice, but I like his song construction and he seems like a very nice guy. On this current tour, Dawes is his backing band and for the Tiny Desk Concert Taylor and Griffin Goldsmith from Dawes accompany him. And I think they really help the songs grow.

“Time Forget “ is certainly a catchy song and when Dawes kicks in it sounds really good. “Double Life” features a little too much of just Oberst (his voice is really quite wavery at times here—he says it’s early to be singing), but the parts with Dawes are fuller and meatier. “Zigzagging Towards the Light” has very weird backing vocals from the Goldsmiths–I find them unsettling almost like ghosts.   Although Oberst’s voice sounds better here and by the end the song they come together very nicely. “Artifact #1” is a nice collaborative song (I feel like Dawes’ contribution makes the song really shine).

As the show ends, Oberst presents to Bob Boilen an even Tinier Desk which is very funny, and Oberst says he regrets wearing the heavy coat (which does look uncomfortable).

[READ: July 5, 2014] Re-gifters

This was an interesting story about a young girl, Jen Dickson, who has two things going on in her life: lust for a boy and an upcoming Hapkido competition.

Jen (real name Dik Seong Jen, but Koreans put the first name last so it becomes Jen Dickson or Dixie as her friends call her) is excellent at Hapkido—she is intense and channels her anger and energy into her Ki.  At least she was until she fell for classmate Adam.  Now suddenly Adam is all she can think about and her Ki has gone out the window. Sadly for her, not only doesn’t Adam know she exists, she wasn’t even invited to his birthday party—and everyone was invited to his party.  Jen’s best friend Avril helps her out through most of this—they’re in hapkido class together and hang out all the time.   Avril describes Jen’s personality as spiky.

Jens’ family is not rich, but they value Hapkdio as a traditional sport, so they are willing to pay for her lessons, especially since she is so good.  Her mom makes jewelry and sells it at a local market. One day, when delivering the jewelery she is harassed and called all kinds of racist names by some street thugs. Surprisingly, one of them, Dillinger, comes to her rescue, telling his boys not to pick on the little girl. He sends her running (even though she was about ready to fight). While at the store she sees a beautiful Hwarang Warrior figure. It costs $199, and there’s no way she can afford it.

These stories converge in a painfully obvious way. There is an upcoming Hapkido competition. The entry is $100, so her father gives her the money. Then, it turns out that her invitation to Adam’s party was put in the wrong locker at school. She thinks the warrior would make a great present for Adam, so she uses that tournament money and her own money to buy this $200 item (gasp!). (more…)

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chomuSOUNDTRACK: THE FAINT-“Help in the Head” (2014)

doom“Help in the Head” opens with an incredible amount of feedback and squalling noise–some of it natural and other parts sounding quite processed.  After ten seconds the song begins properly with a pounding drum and buzzing guitars.  The song is quite simple–a catchy melody that blossoms once the bridge kicks in (with some “oh ohs”).  The chorus is also simple and catchy, “I just meant you needed help in the head” with all kinds of fuzzy screaming swirling around.  A few minutes later, the song ends with more noise, just as it began.

The Faint has been around a long time and are on Saddle Creek records, home to Conor Oberst and his many bands (he was in an original incarnation of The Faint). The song has much in common with Oberst’s style of pop–simple melodies and very catchy structures, but it is so overlaid with noise and distortion that it takes it out of the realm of simple pop music into a pop music that is actually abrasive..

[READ: February 21, 2014] The Galaxy Club

Brendan Connell is back with his most daring book yet.  Daring, because it is so very different from what he usually writes.

I have really enjoyed Connell’s audacity in his previous books–whether it was the extensive research done into both cooking and history in Lives of Notorious Cooks (2012) or the brutality that religion can inspire in The Architect (2012) or his exploration into extremely transgressive behavior in Metrophilias (2010).  He has never been afraid to push the edge of the envelope into unexpected areas.  But what makes this book so daring is that it is, for the most part, pretty “normal.”  Book covers don’t typically indicate anything really, but this book cover, in sober black and white, really conveys the feeling of the book–gritty, small town, hardscrabble Southwest.

And yet despite the somewhat conventional nature of the story, there are also fantastical elements.  Each chapter is narrated by a different (sometimes recurring) character.  Some are narrated by “Those Underground,” and “Demon Taming Stick” and even “Prawn Dragon Colonel.”  But they are also narrated by normal folks.  Connell’s past work in creating manifold characters in his short stories really pays off for the number and divergent characters he has here.

The main characters are a man named Cleopatra–who claims to be the Queen of the Nile herself.  The Montoya family: Ibbie, Theodore and their son Blue Boy.  The Roybal family: Elmer and his aunt Ramona.  And a police officer named Alfonso Torcuato Southerland-Hevia y Miranda who claims to be switched at birth with Elmer–but he claims he bears no grudge. (more…)

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CV1_TNY_10_07_13Kalman.inddSOUNDTRACK: DAVID DONDERO-Tiny Desk Concert #10 (December 5, 2008).

donderoBob and Robin at NPR love David Dondero.  I have never heard of him outside of their show (where they play his new songs when they come out).  Apparently he has some kind of connection to Conor Oberst (their voices sound similar—although I gather that Dondero came first).  I don’t care for Oberst in general, although I find that Dondero’s voice is more palatable to me.

He plays four songs on acoustic guitar.  And they’re all enjoyable.  They are simple folks songs “We’re All Just Babies in Our Mama’s Eyes,” is a little fast.  While “Rothko Chapel” is probably my favorite of the four.  I was really intrigued by the Chapel (which is real and which I’d never heard of) and which sounds cool—his song is an interesting look at it. “In Love With the Living and the Dead” and “It’s Peaceful Here” round out the set.

I feel that more than his music (which is good but not especially memorable), it’s his lyrics that Dondero is known for.  his songs are thoughtful and interesting and look at a variety of subjects.

[READ: January 6, 2014] “I’m the Meat, You’re the Knife”

This is an interesting story constructed in a way that lets you know that something big has happened between two people.  But we are never told exactly what happened, we are simply given a lot of stories with which to construct the event ourselves.

Jay is walking home—his father has just died—and he is greeted by an old friend, Ed Hankey.  Jay doesn’t feel like talking to Ed about his father, especially when Ed tells him that Murray Cutler is currently in hospice.  Murray was their English teacher–Jay has become a writer—with Ed emphasizing how important Murray was to them.

The story bounces back and forth between the preparations for Jay’s father’s funeral and his visits to Murray in hospice.  The differences are pronounced but not emphasized: Jay’s family is there to make arrangements, to plan for all of the details.  Meanwhile, Murray has no family, no one to visit him in hospice.  Indeed, when Jay visits him, a volunteer is reading to him. (more…)

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decwalrusSOUNDTRACK: FIRST AID KIT Live at Newport Folk Festival July 28, 2012 (2012).

jacobs-folkfest-44I discovered First Aid Kit through NPR and I liked the two or three songs so much I bought their album, The Lion’s Roar.  And here’s a full set at Newport Folk Festival.

There’s three members of First Aid Kit, two sisters and a boy drummer all from Sweden.  I don’t know if coming from Sweden has any impact on their singing, but their voices are extraordinary  especially when they harmonize.  “Blue” is one of their great songs and it sounds amazing live.

They also do a stunning cover of Joan Baez’ “Diamonds & Rust,” and on their final track, “King of the World,” Conor Oberst gives a guest vocal (he’s on the album too).

Lyrically, the band is interesting too.  I love the premise of “Emmylou” and the phrasings in “The Lion’s Roar.”  In this show, they dedicate “Hard Believer” to Richard Dawkins, so the band are definitely not lightweights.

It’s a great set and a wonderful introduction to this compelling Swedish band.  I hope they get some more airplay in the States.  You can check it out here.

[READ: December 10, 2012] “Flesh and Numbers”

Stephen Marche publishes a lot of stories in The Walrus, and I find that I’m hit or miss about him.  And, indeed, I was even hit or miss about this story.  I feel that Marche is often trying to go for shock in his stories–and this one has two kinds of shock in it.

The first is that a husband pays his wife for a blow job.  (A bright red Canadian $50).  And later he starts paying her a $50 every time they have sex.  This all begins because she wants to buy a pair of boots that she deems too expensive.  The story kind of looks at the idea of prostitution and power roles in marriage, but only glancingly.

The story talks about their financial situation (they are both successful, although there is a marked discrepancy in who makes how much and how they divide up the bills).  But once this casual money-for-sex situation arises, she finds that she is enjoying the feeling of getting the money.  Indeed, since he always pays with a red 50, she stars getting mildly turned on whenever she sees them in her daily life.  They both find that they are having sex more and doing more interesting things in bed.  In fact, hen the new iPad comes out she offers anal sex as an option for more cash. (more…)

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The second disc in this set is a somewhat more raucous affair than the first (which was pretty much all acoustic performances).  On the surface, this seemed like the better disc of the two.  I like so many bands on this disc: Spoon, Arcade Fire, My Morning Jacket, The New Pornographers, Stuart Murdoch, Blonde Redhead.

And the disc starts out really great. The Spoon track, “Well Alright” may just be my favorite song on the whole compilation.  The Arcade Fire are typically great.  Beirut, whom I’d not heard before have a great track and My Morning Jacket’s song is very good, in a mellow sort of way.

From there, though, the disc kind of goes downhill. The Sharon Jones track is okay.  Dave Sitek’s (of TV on the Radio whom I love) track is fine.  It’s very basic, especially for him.  It has grown on me somewhat, but it’s nothing too exciting.  The New Pornographers track is catchy but nothing amazing.  Even the Stuart Murdoch (who has never done a bad track) song is mild at best.

But Riceboy Sleeps, which is a side project from the amazing Sigur Rós just kills the disc in its tracks.  The thing about Sigur Rós is that if you’re not in the mood for them, they are too ponderous by half.  So, in the midst of these kind of rocking songs, this 9 minutes ambient instrumental is just death.  And, it’s followed by a dreadful version of “amazing Grace” by the usually delightful Cat Power.

And then comes the Conor Oberst song.  This is the second song by him that I’ve listened to in a short period of time (the other was on Future Soundtrack of America).  And I just don’t get this guy’s appeal.  I feel like I must be a crotchety old man thinking this but I’ll say it: he sounds like a total knockoff of Paul Westerberg.  And the weird thing is, he sounds like a 19 year old P.W. singing the songs of the middle-aged P.W.  “Lua,” the track on here has some clever wordplay, but the melody of the song is pretty much note for note of The Replacements “Sadly Beautiful.”

And at this point in the disc I never even give Blonde Redhead and Kevin Drew a fair chance.

Track sequence means a lot, and I fear they do a disservice to the disc on this one.  I’m still a fan of Disc One and there’s a number of great tracks on Disc Two, but I was rather disappointed by this one.

[READ: December 22, 2009] Love as a Foreign Language Vol. 2

This volume concludes this engaging romance from Oni Press.

I was a little concerned as the volume opened because the Joel-Hana budding romance is derailed by a couple of silly misunderstandings.  (I was afraid we were heading towards TV-slapstick territory).  But, they proved to be just a few moments of comic relief in what was heading into a pretty emotional conclusion.

There’s also the sudden realization/crisis that his fellow teacher, the fun and flirty British woman also has a thing for Joel (what’s a guy to do with two women into him?  And realistically a British romance seems more feasible than a Korean one). (more…)

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