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Archive for the ‘Hem’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: HEM-Tiny Desk Concert #306 (September 28, 2013).

Hem is one of All Songs Considered‘s earliest discoveries. Back in 2002, we received a beautiful and unique album called Rabbit Songs. It was a homey, fireside kind of record, with a sound that could be called country or Americana, and the arrangements by Dan Messé made it feel quaint and warm. To top it off, there was singer Sally Ellyson, an untrained natural talent with an effortless yet breathtaking voice. Hem has gone on to make five more albums since Rabbit Songs; their latest, Departure and Farewell, finds the group still writing songs that feel as if they’ve always been there.

Bob is quite right about the feel of this band, the drums are actually foot stomping and piano tapping, and that makes the band sound like they are siting around cozy room with friends.   And then there’s her voice.  There’s nothing specific about it that stands out, and yet it really does.  Her voice feels incredibly warm and welcoming, making you want to stop and listen.  And perhaps it’s something about the recording which makes everything feel soft (but not muddy) and warm.

And even in the songs themselves, it feels like friends hanging out.  During “Walking Past The Graveyard, Not Breathing” they say “go George” as the intro to the bass solo and then “go Heather” for the violin solo.   “Tourniquet” has some great lyrics, between the alliteration at the beginning and the great metaphor of the song, I was so taken with the lyrics that I didn’t even realize how pretty the melody was:

Brooklyn, I’m broken — I’m breaking apart
Oh Brooklyn, your bridges are bound up in light —
Every artery’s clogged as you pull the belt tight —
And this tourniquet turns even tighter until
Traffic comes to a standstill

When the song suddenly takes off near the end (but only briefly) it really elevates the song which was already delightful.  Introducing the final song, “Seven Angels” she says they are excited to be there, playing in this format.  She says the song can be seen as a lullaby–she likes to sing it for her sister.  She says she doesn’t write the songs but she can pretend this one is hers.

It’s hard to imagine this band playing a venue much larger than this one–they seems right at home in a small space.

[READ: July 31, 2016] Stop Forgetting to Remember

This is a fascinating story about the comics artist Walter Kurtz.  I know very little about Peter Kuper, but I gather that this is sort of his life but written as an autobiography of somebody else.  (For instance, Kurtz was born on the same day as Kuper).

The back cover blurb also states how daring it was for Kurtz to write all of this –showing the embarrassing details, etc.: “My spouse would have killed me!”

This book is a collection of “stories” (not sure if they were ever published separately) that are joined by the narrative thread of Kurtz telling us about his life.  And the “occasion” for this reflection is the pending birth of his first child.  He is freaking out a bit–when he was young he never wanted kids, and then maybe he was cool with it, but recently he’s become terrified again.  He’s particularly afraid because he’s engaged with the world and he sees that as each month goes by, things get worse: AIDS, global warming, overpopulation, famine, wars (and that’s just 1996). (more…)

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tcoop-realmanSOUNDTRACK: REAL MAN ADVENTURES: A Collection of (Mostly) Original Songs by (Entirely) Original Artists–All Inspired by the Book. (An Album! A Book! A Shark!) (2012).

realcdThis soundtrack came with my copy of the book, although it can be ordered separately as well.  It is a varied collection of music in many different genres.  The one thread is that many of the performers are either transgendered or are openly gay or some variation in between.  And lyrically the songs are based on chapters from the book (some literal and others use the book as a jumping off point).  No one can be expected to enjoy the whole disc (the musical styles are just too different), but there’s some really enjoyable and interesting music here.

 OUR LADY J. “Picture of a Man” (live)
I’d never heard of Our Lady J., but she is a transgendered classical singer and has worked with some of the greats in theater. The song opens with a piano solo for one minute.  It acts as an introduction to this theatrical piece (with big backing vocals) about what a man “really” looks like. I love the diversity in this song. It gets really big and quite over the top.

RICK MOODY-“The Closest I Ever Came to Writing a Poem”
Yes, writer Rick Moody wrote this thoughtful song. The music is simple, stark piano with Moody singing gently. It’s quite pretty.

SOCE, THE ELEMENTAL WIZARD-“He Will”
This is a rap song (in the style of Eminem), which addresses Cooper’s troubles with  getting a passport (the lyrics are taken mostly from the book). The rapper has fast flow and the lyrics are complex and interesting, although I don’t really like his delivery that much.  Still, it’s a great lyrical song. Soce is one of the few openly gay rappers.

T. COOPER & PEG HAMBRIGHT-“Interlude: high School”
A 34 second piano, well, interlude with words from the book.

HEM-“The Beautiful Sea”
This is a pretty song, reminiscent of Sarah McLachlan. Hem have a bit more oomph than Sarah, but are equally as pretty. This song was way too short.

THUNDEREGG-“The Guest Star of the Rest Stop”
This is a country(ish) song, with a vaguely out of tune guitar and slow droning vocals. I’d not heard of them before but I see they have dozens of records out. At 5 minutes, I found this one a little long.

T. COOPER & PEG HAMBRIGHT-“Interlude: College”
Another simple piano melody with words from the book.

SCOTT MILLER & THE COMMONWEALTH-“12th Man”
Another country song, this one about (not) playing football (always being the 12th man). It’s a sweet and sad song. Miller also has a number of albums out even though I’ve not heard of him either.

GEO WYETH-“Target Practice”
This song starts as a weird electronic track with sampled voices and then it morphs into a spare keyboard track with Wyeth’s kind of high vocals. It reminds me a bit of the Mountain Moats, but with keyboards instead of guitar. And I don’t like it as much.

CHRIS PUREKA-“Old Photographs”
Pureka has a lot of albums out too (and I thought I knew music). She is a delicate folksinger (until she really starts belting out the words at the end) reminding me of one half of the Indigo Girls. This was a really good, rather dark song.

DYNASTY HANDBAG-“One Man”
This is a sinister electronic/rap song detailing the fears of violence in the trans community.  Dynasty Handbag seems to be a loose cannon with some very interesting videos out there.  Definitely check her out.

T. COOPER & PEG HAMBRIGHT-“Interlude: My 20s”
This interlude is done on accordion.

THE JULIE RUIN “Girls Like Us” (Vag Vocal Version).
This is Kathleen Hannah’s band The Julie Ruin with special guest Vaginal Crème Davis (possibly not her given name) on vocals. Davis’ vocals are way over the top, but surprisingly not that different from the originals’ mocking tone (and cheesy synths).

SCOTT McCLOUD-“On My Darker Days”
McCloud is in Girls Against Boys.  This song is dark electric guitar (very processed) with virtually no percussion. The vocals are whispered as well.  I enjoyed the beginning but then felt it was a little samey and felt a little long even though it’s only 3 minutes.

ROCCO KATASTROPHE-“F.E.A.R.”
Katastrophe is a rapper (one of the first openly transgendered). His flow is strong and his lyrics are great. I don’t care for his backing music that much.  For although it is appropriately ominous, it feels a bit anemic.

MARTY COOPER WITH THE RIFTERS-“May You Always Ride in the Sunlight”
This sounds like an old timey cowboy song (I can’t find much else about Marty Cooper).  It’s a sweet song that would fit well at the end of any mix cd of good feeling songs. Even if you don’t like the genre, it’s hard not to like this song.

So this proves to be an interesting mix of songs, with a lot of ne (to me) artists.

[READ: May 1, 2014] Real Man Adventures

I didn’t know T. Cooper before receiving this book from McSweeney’s.  Cooper has written several novels although I didn’t recognize any of them when I looked them up (Lipshitz 6 sounds familiar though).  This book is a memoir.

What’s interesting is that Cooper talks about trying very hard to avoid reviewers referencing his past, and yet with this memoir he has completely outed himself.  I was going to try to not write about his past out of deference to his preferences, but since this memoir is all about his past it’s impossible not to.

So, if you know T. Cooper’s writing and you don’t want to know anything about his past, stop reading this and don’t read the book.

I know that I’ve made that enticing, which I didn’t mean to do.  And who knows, maybe fans of his writing already know this. (more…)

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