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Archive for the ‘Joanna Newsom’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: BRIDGET KIBBEY-Tiny Desk Concert #929 (January 8, 2020).

I love the harp.  Ever since I took a very brief class in grad school (like 4 weeks), where I learned exactly how to play one, I’ve wanted to buy one (that’s an expensive hobby).

Harps are usually thought of as celestial instruments, think “the stereotype of the genteel harp, plucked by angels.”

But the range on the harp is unreal–47 strings!  Such highs and lows.  And the things usually weigh a ton (not literally, or maybe literally).  When I saw Joanna Newsom, I was delighted to see her play a harp from relatively up close.

Now here is Bridget Kibbey.

Kibbey is crazy for the harp. She first heard one at a country church amid the Northwest Ohio cornfields where she grew up. Now she’s the go-to harpist for contemporary composers, some of whom who are writing pieces especially for her.

To be able to watch Kibbey play these pieces up close is breathtaking.  She starts with Bach (arr. Kibbey): “Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV 565.”  Yes, that one, the one we all know on the organ.  Well, hearing it on the harp is a whole new experience and watching her steamroll through as her fingers fly all over the place is wonderful.  You can marvel as she “offers tightly interwoven voices, like gears in a clock, with melodies and rhythms that sparkle.”

She says she transcribed the piece for the harp on a bet.  It gives her a chance to explore Baroque counterpoint and the drama of this piece.  And does she ever.

The second piece is by the “great living jazz artists Paquito D’Rivera” from Cuba.  He plays clarinet and saxophone and wrote “Bandoneon” (arr. Kibbey) for piano, which she transcribed for harp.   It is an Argentine tango and is really terrific.  I love how she keeps that bass line steady while the high notes fly around the harp.

Kibbey is really fun and boisterous and she’s very excited about her instrument.  It’s fun to hear her talk about what she’s going to be playing next.

The final piece is a “little ditty” she grew up singing in the cornfields of Ohio.  It’s Bach (arr. Kibbey): “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded” from St. Matthew Passion.

I see that she has played Princeton a few times in the past.  I sure hope she comes back!

[READ: January 9, 2020] “The Country in the Woman”

This story was published this month in a collection of previously unpublished work.

I don’t believe I’ve read much by Hurston and I was a a little put off that this story is written in partial dialect.

Looka heah Cal’line, you oughta stop dis heah foolishness you got.

But I quickly got over that as I saw what she was doing with the story.

Caroline and her man, Mitchell, are from Florida but they have moved to New York City.  The New Yorkers all want Caroline to be more like a New Yorker but they know you can’t get rid of “the country in the woman.” (more…)

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[ATTENDED: September 6, 2019] Joanna Newsom

This was scheduled to be a busy concert weekend for me–three days, three shows.

I was glad the first one was a seated, relaxed show of Joanna Newsom playing her harp and piano.  The traffic into Philly was light, until I got into City Center.  I had planned to park on the street (you can find it sometimes), but I wound up driving on a street under construction behind a bus and I watched as the time ticked away.  Finally I grabbed the nearest parking garage and sucked up the $22 fee and then hustled over the theater and managed to get into my seat just as the lights dimmed.  Holy cow.

I had never seen Newsom before, and I suspect that I was quite lucky to see her on this limited run tour because I understand it’s her first solo tour in about 15 years–she’s usually accompanied by… someone else, I guess.  It was also her first tour at all in four years.  She said she was very nervous.  And she did make a few mistakes.  But she was always gracious and self-deprecating about them.  And considering she played about 200,000 notes that night, missing one or two isn’t the end of the world.

She came out to much applause.  I gather that her fan base is pretty intense (the kind who laugh and squeal at any comment the musician makes).  However, unlike other similar fans, these were relatively restrained (it was a rather formal setting after all).  But it was nice to be enveloped in so much mutual love.

The strange thing for me is that I didn’t really know any of her songs before this show.  I knew what she sounded like and I’m sure I’ve heard a song or two somewhere, but I was a Newsom novice.  I just knew it would be an excellent evening.  And so it was.

She came out on stage to thunderous applause.  She had on a beautiful floor-length dress, which–when someone asked her–she said was by California designers Rodarte.  And that they had made four dresses, one for each of her albums. (more…)

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criminalsSOUNDTRACK: JOANNA GRUESOME-Weird Sister (2013).

joanna  I love this short rocking record from this Welsh band whose name is presumably a pun on harpist Joanna Newsome (a fairly obscure joke, no doubt).  In fact I really can’t stop listening to their blend of smooth noise and pretty/screamy vocals .  Lead singer Alanna McArdle has several distinct styles of singing, from pretty and sweet to screamed and scary.  She’s accompanied by a stellar lineup of guys who can do punk and a lot more: drummer Dave Gruesome and  guitarists George and Owen Gruesome (also vocals).

The album reminds me of My Bloody Valentine with splash of riot grrl and occasional old school punk thrown in.  There are elements of pure MBV shoegaze (and even of MBV noisy distortion), but without the meticulous layering that Kevin Shields spent years of his life mastering–this album feels largely spontaneous..

“Anti-Parent Cowboy Killers” opens with a descending guitar riff, switches to some shoegazey type verses and then jumps into some loud screamed choruses, before starting the whole thing over again.  I love the dissonance at the beginning of “Sugarcrush” and how it morphs into a strangely catchy song midway through. And then it shifts back into raw dissonance.  I also get a sense of Cocteau Twins in the vocals on “Madison” (and other songs).  The opening riff is pure dissonance but the verse is just bliss (the “head on the door line of course makes me think of The Cure even though they don’t sound like them at all).

“Wussy Void” slows things down with some actual individual notes and audible lyrics (I’m told the lyrics are very feminist, but I honestly can’t hear too many of them–which isn’t really a shame because her voice is perfect for this band and just knowing that she’s singing about meaningful things is enough of a bonus.

“Lemonade Grrl” starts shoegazey but quickly speeds up with some pummeling drums behind her delicate voice.  “Secret Surprise” is probably the “prettiest” song of the bunch–the dissonance is at a minimum, and yet it is still noisy and punky.  “Do You Really Wanna Know Why Yr Still in Love With Me?” is the sweetest song on the album, with a pleasant guitar riff and a catchy and understandable chorus–until the raging blast of punk at the end.

At 4 minutes, “Candy” is the longest song on the disc.  It slows things down and has a fairly conventional structure.  “Graveyard” starts as a punk blast but gets softer for the chorus.  And the album closer “Satan” belies its name and the album by opening delicately and having the first notices of a large bass sound and then after 2 minutes it abruptly ends.

I really love this record (all 28 minutes of it).  And I can’t wait for more.  I just found out that they have a few singles and E.P.s streaming on their bandcamp site.  Most of these recordings are earlier, rawer version of songs on the album.

[READ: October 19, 2014] Sex Criminals

This intriguingly titled comic is intended for mature readers (as you might expect).  But before we get to the criminal aspect of the story, we’ll back up to meet the characters.

First there is Suzie.  Her mostly amusing story begins with a pretty awful tragedy. A man killed Suzie’s father when she was a little girl (the story promises that things will get funnier as we learn her story). This all ties into the big banks that she rails against later, but I’m not exactly sure that this back story is even necessary (yet).

But this incident makes young Suzie delve deeper into herself.  And when she discovers what kind of pleasure can be had by herself she discovers something…peculiar.  It seems that whenever she climaxes she enters into what she calls The Quiet.  In a nutshell, everything around her stops, but she is able to move–this later led to some fairly awkward moments with guys.  She tried to talk to girls at school about this–of course they looked at her like she was crazy. Although one girl proceeds to show her about a dozen sex positions (by drawing them on the bathroom wall–this may be the funniest thing in the whole book as they are so outrageous yet so cartoony, and I’ve not heard of half of them).

She tries talking to her doctor–he basically tells her that her husband will help her when she’s older.  And then she tries her mother who is still grieving about Suzie’s dad.  So, three strikes, she’s out.

So, how does a plot develop out of this? (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: The Believer June 2005 Music Issue CD (2005).

The second annual Believer CD ups the ante from the first by featuring all previously unreleased songs. And, just to put more of a twist on things, the artists were asked to do covers of songs that they have been listening to lately. There was only one song that I knew the original of (The Constantines’ track), so I can’t say a thing about how well the covers were covered.

This becomes something of a fun rarities mix CD. As with the previous one, there’s not a huge amount of diversity in the musicians, but given the target audience of The Believer, it all seems to make sense.

We get The Decemberists (actually Colin Meloy solo) covering Joanna Newsom (who I don’t know but whose song I liked quite a bit). The most interesting track to me was by a band called CocoRosie who I’m totally unfamiliar with. The song is recorded as if it they were using a 19th century recording machine. It sounds so far away and yet it feels modern at the same time. I have no idea what they normally sound like, but I’m certainly intrigued.

There’s a few parings that are practically predestined: The Mountain Goats cover The Silver Jews, The Shins cover The Postal Service and Devandra Banhart covers Antony & the Johnsons. There’s also a track from Wolf Parade, a band I have recently gotten into. Only two bands perform and are covered on the disc: Ida and The Constantines.

It’s an interesting assortment of songs. As with any cover, it’s hard to know if you would like the original artist or if you just enjoy the new artist’s’ interpretation. But a song like “Surprise, AZ” by Richard Buckner is so well written that I don’t think it matters what Cynthia G. Mason’s cover sounds like (which is quite good).

The disc is largely folky/alt-rock, but once again, it’s a good distillation of the genre, and a very enjoyable collection.  The track listing is available here.

[READ: December 10, 2009] “Kawabata”

This story had the (in my estimation) fascinating attribute of reading as if it were written a long time ago. The writing was very formal. It also centered around a man and a woman who meet at a bed and breakfast and do little more than walk around town. Since no real clues as to the time it is set are ever given, I could imagine them dressed in nearly turn of the (20th) century garb.

A few things do dispel this fantasy: the use of the word “tits” for one, and the fact that no married woman would have been seen out with a widower while her husband was away. But despite that, I enjoyed the formality of the story. (more…)

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