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Archive for the ‘Julien Baker’ 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…)

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SOUNDTRACK: boygenius-Tiny Desk Concert #805 (November 16, 2018).

boygenius have been getting a ton of absolutely deserved press for combining the amazing talents of Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers and Lucy Dacus.

I wasn’t that upset when I read that the three weren’t touring near me (the tour was Lucy, Julie, Phoebe and then boygenius) because I had seen all three of them fairly recently.

In fact, I saw Phoebe in July, Lucy in April and Julien a few days after Lucy (as well as in April 2017).  But then I heard exactly how the tour was structured and that the boygenius part at the end was just stunning.  My only (sort of) consolation, was that they didn’t tour anywhere near me, so it’s not like it was my fault I didn’t go.

And I first heard about all three of them from Tiny Desk Concerts.

The group is new, but all of the members of boygenius — Julien Baker, Lucy Dacus and Phoebe Bridgers — are Tiny Desk Concert alumae. In fact, Julien has been behind my desk twice before. So when the usual nerve-racking session was over and I shouted out, “So, is it any easier the second or third time?” I had to laugh when I got a resounding “No!” from all of them.

Boygenius only has six total tunes, all from their just-released, self-titled EP, and here they perform half of that catalog. What you get at the Tiny Desk is a frailer version of these more fleshed-out songs from a band that is likely quite temporary.

All three songs are delicate and lovely–somewhat belying at least Lucy and Phoebe’s ability to totally rock out

“Souvenir” opens with Julien singing the first verse while she gently plays mandolin.  Phoebe plays guitar and sings the second verse.  Lucy (no instrument) sings  a wonderful harmony with Phoebe in the second part of her verse and then sings the end solo.  All three sing the end.  It’s amazing how wonderful their voices sound together–they fit like a practiced team.

Bob asks if they have a joke.  Lucy attempts a cupcake joke and messes it up.  “I shouldn’t have gotten into that.  You baited me.”  Phoebe asks where the king keeps his armies (I’m not giving that away) and no one laughs (although I thought it was great).  Lucy says Jokes are not our forte.  To which Phoebe corrects her, It’s totally my forte, Lucy.

On the second song, “Me & My Dog” Phoebe (whose speaking voice is so much deeper than her singing voice its uncanny) sings the first verse and plays guitar.  Julien is on piano.  There’s gorgeous oohs from Lucy and Julien and then all three of them harmonize on the chorus.

For their closing tune at the Tiny Desk, “Ketchum, ID,” Julien, Phoebe and Lucy each take a verse.

Only Phoebe plays guitar on this one.  And they harmonize beautifully on the chorus.

Lucy’s verse ends the song with the line, “Let’s dissolve the band, move to Idaho.” And the chorus to the song, in stunning harmony, echoes the mileage of the lifestyle, how they live and how they met: “I am never anywhere / Anywhere I go / When I’m home I’m never there / Long enough to know.”

This trio is a special gift to us all in 2018.

There is a part of me that thinks it would be best if they simply made this lovely EP, did some shows and dissolved.  What a great stamp to make on music.

And yet I can’t help but think that we all need more from them.  We should just be grateful we got what we did.

Also, listen to their interview on All Songs Considered for more insight and a full retelling of the muffin joke.

[READ: December 14 2015] “Jelly and Jack”

This story is set in 1985, which is what allows its simple premise to be executed so well.

Jelly is a woman who calls men.  Not as a job or for sexual gratification, exactly.  But just to talk to  them.

The details are a little sketchy about who she calls, but it appears to be people she doesn’t know herself but knows about because of other men.  Some of the men are annoyed by her calls.  Some are angry, some even curse at her.  But others are willing to talk to her. (more…)

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[ATTENDED: April 17, 2018] Tancred

When I saw the name Tancred a while back I imagined a kind of Middle-Eastern-sounding band.  I had a very specific idea in my head.  So I was really quite surprised to discover that they are actually a 90s-sounding alt rock band created (more or less exclusively) by Jess Abbott (who was in Now, Now for a time).

When I first heard “Bed Case” I was totally psyched.  It pushed all of the buttons I have for 90s female-led alt-rock.  I mean, holy cow.  There’s a total Letters to Cleo/Juliana Hatfield vibe but with a modern sensibility of not following exactly the 90’s rules.

I was super duper psyched that they were opening for Julien Baker.

Incidentally, Tancred (1075 – December 5 or December 12, 1112) was an Italo-Norman leader of the First Crusade who later became Prince of Galilee and regent of the Principality of Antioch…. thanks Wikipedia. (more…)

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 [ATTENDED: April 17, 2018] Julien Baker

We saw Julien Baker open for The Decemberists almost exactly one year ago.  I knew her music (and that she was a quiet singer) but Sarah and I were really blown away by her live performance.

So when I saw that she was playing again, this time in a venue we’d never been to before, I thought it would be a fun birthday present for Sarah.  An opportunity to see this artist as a headliner when the crowd was there for her (we felt the Philly crowd was a bit rude for this quiet singer).

White Eagle Hall proved to be a gorgeous venue, both in appearance and sound quality.  Baker was an excellent first show to test out the acoustics because it was incredibly quiet and her voice and guitar rang out beautifully.  Although it must be said having the bars right on the floor did make for some unexpectedly loud bursts of noise. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JULIEN BAKER-Tiny Desk Concert #690 (January 10, 2018).

Julien Baker joins a handful of artists who have now made a second appearance at a Tiny Desk Concert.  (If they start inviting artists back regularly, they’ll never get ANY work done at the NPR offices).

I was quite enamored with Baker when I watched her first Tiny Desk Concert.  And I was totally smitten with her when I saw her open for The Decemberists.

Julien plays three songs here.  I’m intrigued that in the blurb Bob says “I reached out to ask if she would be willing to do something different this time around.”

It makes it sound as if she’s going to do some kind of dance/electronica show.  But I guess the difference is that last time, she just played electric guitar and this time she mixes up instrumentation and adds a violinist.

The first two songs, “Hurt Less” and “Even,” were accompanied by Camille Faulkner, with Julien on piano for the opening tune and acoustic guitar on the second.

If Julien Baker sounds delicate with just her electric guitar, she’s twice as delicate on piano.  But her voice sounds exquisite–powerful, honest and a little raspy, adding a slight edge.

I love seeing her sticker-covered acoustic guitar as she sings on “Even”:

Putting my fist through the plaster in the bathroom of a Motel 6 / I must have pictured it all a thousand times / I swear to God I think I’m gonna die / I know you were right / I can’t be fixed, so help me

She tends to play her guitar a little louder than the piano, so this one is a bit more dynamic.  The violin adds some aching sounds over the top.

I love that she plays each song in a very different style:

For the final song, Julien put together an arrangement of “Appointments” that begins on electric guitar, which then was looped as a backdrop to her on piano and voice.

It’s always fun watching someone loop guitar melodies.  And I like that she continues to loop long after it seems like the looping is done.  This allows for some of her gorgeous ringing chords.  They continue to ring out as she plays the piano.  It’s even cooler that she can stop parts of the guitar looping while she is completing the song.

All along her voice, which seems so delicate when she starts proves to be really powerful, especially during “Appointments” when she builds to a powerful high.    When I saw her live, she held a really long note that was quite impressive.  Don’t be fooled by the quietness of her music, Julien Baker rocks.

[READ: October 27,2017] Threads of Blue

This is the sequel to Beautiful Blue World, a book I really enjoyed.

In the first book, Mathilde’s country of Sofarende was being attacked by Tyssia.  She was sent to a special location to work on the war effort–they needed precocious children and she was picked for her empathy.  As the book ended, Mathilde followed her empathy and, while their encampment was under siege, released a teenaged prisoner of war because she felt that he was a good person who was just caught up in the war.

This act caused her to leave her group (and her best friend Megs) and to miss the conveyance to safety.

As this book opens, Mathilde wakes up on a boat that is bringing her to the country of Eilean.  She has secret documents and an order to be secretive.

The book picks up right where the previous one left off (I could have used a slight refresher, honestly). (more…)

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[ATTENDED: April 14, 2017] Julien Baker

I first heard Julien Baker from All Songs Considered.  Her song “Sprained Ankle” is simply beautiful.  She plays a very delicate guitar and on that song you can barely hear her voice–everything is very gentle.

I was intrigued when I saw that she was opening for The Decemberists, but I wasn’t entirely sure how much I’d like a whole set of such mellow music.  But Bob Boilen has said on many occasions that you need to see her live.

And that proved to be true.

Her set started quietly with a new song, “Funeral Pyre” and then the incredibly pretty harmonics (looped) of “Funeral Pyre.”   But she wasn’t all about delicate folksiness.  Because on a few of these songs she belted out powerful notes–signing loud and hard and letting those notes linger for a long time.  Her voice was absolutely amazing.  And for just a “girl with a guitar,” she won the audience over pretty easily. (more…)

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CoverStory-2-22-16-879x1200-1455509711 SOUNDTRACK: JULIEN BAKER-Tiny Desk Concert #513 (March 7, 2016).

julienI had never heard of Julien Baker before this Tiny Desk Concert.  Indeed, she looks young enough that perhaps this is her first concert (it isn’t).

Baker plays a lovely, slightly echoey, but otherwise very clear electric guitar.  Her tone is so clear and quiet.  And her voice is also incredibly delicate.  Watching her play and sing it’s amazing you can hear anything at all, and yet she does not wilt in any way–her music is delicate but not whispered.

As with many players these days, she uses a looping pedal to great effect.  For the first song, “Sprained Ankle” she loops the lovely harmonics at the beginning of the song and then allows for the multiple layers to play.  Her vocals are as gentle as the harmonics, and yet, again, not whispery.  At barely 2 minutes, the song leaves you wanting more.

She talks about doing a new song for them called “Sad Song #11” since “I already have ten sad songs.”  She thanks everyone for their “courteous laughter.”  And then plays another beautiful song now officially titled, “Funeral Pyre.”  She has a very nice way with words: “Ash for a decorative urn you keep on your mantelpiece like a trophy for everything.”  There’s a beautiful layered guitar solo at the end too.

The introductory guitar lines from “Something” are really lovely–her sound is just so clear–and once again, the song is beautiful and haunting with her repeated lyrics sounding more powerful with each go around.

The blurb about the show references Torres, and I totally see the deference.  They don’t sound anything alike in that Torres is brash and loud, but they have that same up-close and intimate vibe.  For Baker, it makes you want to lean is as she sings.

[READ: February 17, 2016] “sine cosine tangent”

I have always meant to read more from DeLillo, I just never do.

And while I have enjoyed all of the things I have read by him, I didn’t love this story so much.  Okay, I’ve since found out that this is an excerpt, which changes things.  I’ll keep my review the same but with bracketed realizations pertaining to the novel.

This is the story of a young man (his age in the story is unclear to me, and I’m not sure how much distance separates the present from the past [presumably this is covered in the novel]) and his relationship with his father.  His father is a successful businessman but the son says that he “shaved a strip of hair along the middle of my head, front to back, I was his personal Antichrist.”

His father left when he was 13, although he never found out why.  Years later, he sees his father, Mr Ross Lockhart on the TV, discussing the ecology of unemployment in Geneva. (more…)

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