Archive for the ‘Michael Nyman’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: MAX RICHTER-Tiny Desk Concert #935 (January 22, 2020).

Max Richter is a composer and pianist.  His music is emotional and even more so when you know what has inspired it.

The first piece “On The Nature Of Daylight” was written as a response to the 2003 Iraq War.

In Daylight, which has been effectively used in movies such as Arrival and Shutter Island, a simple theme rolls out slowly in the low strings until a violin enters with a complimentary melody in a higher register. Richter, at the keyboard, adds a subterranean bass line for added gravitas, while high above another violin soars sweetly, mournfully. With all elements interlocked – and sensitively played by members of the American Contemporary Music Ensemble [Clarice Jensen: cello & artistic director; Ben Russell, violin; Laura Lutzke, violin; Isabel Hagen, viola; Claire Bryant, cello] – the piece gently sways, building in intensity. It all adds up to a six-minute emotional journey that, if you open yourself to the sounds, can leave you wrung out.

The music reminds me of the kind of repeating motifs you might hear in someone like Michael Nyman.

In between the two emotional string-filled pieces, he plays a solo piano piece called “Vladimir’s Blues.”

Its delicately toggling chords are an homage to novelist Vladimir Nabokov who, in his spare time, was a respected lepidopterist, obsessed with a subfamily of gossamer-winged butterflies called the blues. Richter plays the piano with the practice pedal engaged for a warm, muted sound.

The final piece, “Infra 5” is a ballet that he composed as

a meditation on the 2005 terrorist subway bombings in London… he counters violence with calming, thoughtful music.

This piece is much like the first in that it is beautiful and repetitive and thought-provoking.  This one is interesting because Richter does not play on it.  He just stands there and listens, no doubt deep in thought.

Richter is a truly amazing contemporary composer and his music is just wonderful.

[READ: January 23, 2020] Giant Days Early Registration

I found out recently that there is an end to Giant Days. In fact I believe it has already ended, but there are still three or so collections left to come out.

When a beloved (and award winning) series nears its end, it is time to put out early issues and special features collections.  Usually they come once the series has ended, but this one has come early.

Early Registration is a collection of the first self-published comics that John Allison made of our heroes Daisy, Esther and Susan.  This book is drawn by him (in the style that I initially preferred although I have now come to love Max Sarin so much that these pictures look weird).

This book begins with Esther’s parents sending her off to college (I didn’t realize until recently that Esther de Groot was in Allison’s previous comic Scary Go Round and that this is a spin off of sorts.  I don’t know that comic but am sure looking forward to reading it. (more…)

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jdSOUNDTRACK: PET SHOP BOYS-Electric (2013).

psbAfter the sombre, more reflective Elysium, Pet Shop Boys came back with the far more upbeat and dancey Electric.  Right from the start, you know this is back to high energy fun (with of course sardonic lyrics). The opening track, “Axis,” is a major dance song with processed vocals and a great riff–I love how the song goes very electronic and artificial sounding around 4 minutes in.  “Bolshy” has a classic PSB sound–dancey keyboards and Neil Tennant’s ageless voice.  I don’t really quite know what the song is about but it is really fun to sing along to. It is followed by “Love is  Bourgeois Construct” (I sense a strangely political theme here–and I love that the follow-up line is “just like they said at University” ), I love the way the song gets really muddy while the synth line plays and that it emerges bigger and better than ever–the sound reminds me of the synth songs in A Clockwork Orange and the riff is on Michael Nyman’s “Chasing Sheep Is Best Left to Shepherds.” The way the music is so epic-sounding for such a simple idea of a song is great,

“Flourescent” is a darker song, with big synths and cowbells ringing in the song.  It’s got a steampunky wheeze as the drum beat and a echoey synth note which all coalesces before Tennant’s vocals which come in–two minutes into the song.  It’s a very moody piece and even at 6 minutes doesn’t feel overly long.

“Inside a Dream” is a dancey song with a fast melody.  “The Last to Die” is a Bruce Springsteen song from his album Magic (I had no idea) which they electrify and make synthy, but not dancey exactly.  They do a very good job of capturing the Springsteen vibe in their own way.  “Shouting in the Evening” is a very dancey song, one of may favorites on the record–I love the way Chris Lowe distorts his keyboards on this track.  “Thursday” has a great vocal line–“It’s Thursday night, let’s get it right.  I want to know you’re gonna stay for the weekend.”  It’s a catchy song with the repeats of the days: “Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday.”  I could do without the rap (by Example) which reminds me way too much of Blondie’s rap in Rapture–stiff and kind of forced.

The final song “Vocal” I find odd in the lyrics.  It’s about songs that he likes, which is fine, but the line, “every track has a vocal, and that make a change” is weird–do dance songs not have vocals anymore?  Well, how would I know, i don’t listen to a lot of dance music.  Anyhow, it’s super catchy and dancey.  I like the way it builds to the big chorus even if the song isn’t very complex.

While I enjoyed the introspective Elysium, it’s great to have a big loud Pet Shop Boys album as a return to form.

[READ: October 22, 2014] Three Early Stories

I found this book on the shelf at work.  I had no idea that a) Salinger had written so many stories that have yet to be collected (according to Wikipedia there are about a dozen) or that these three had been collected in this very strange edition.  The book collects three stories and includes illustrations by Anna Rose Yoken.  The illustrations are fine, but not worth getting the book for (and feel a bit more like a children’s book illustration than a Salinger story).  The other strange thing is that the text is only on the right side pages, so although the book is 69 pages, there’s really only about 35 pages of story.

I had never read any of these stories, so I was glad to find this book.  They were written before Catcher in the Rye, and it’s interesting to see what was on his ind before he created Holden Caufield.  These stories seem to focus on college-aged women and the way they behave.  The portraits of these women are not flattering, but they are fairly realistic.

“The Young Folks” is set at a party (I can’t believe how many cigarettes are smoked in these three stories).  At 11PM during the party, Lucille Henderson, (the college-aged host) sees that her friend Edna Phillips is by herself, still.  So she introduces her to William Jameson.  Jameson is more interested in the laughing (and presumably drunk) blond girl who is sitting amid three guys from Rutgers who are hanging on her every word.

As soon as Jameson is introduced to Edna, he starts making excuses that he should leave the party–he has a theme due on Monday.  But Edna clings to him  with conversation. She asks about his theme, she tells him about the guy who was too forward with her–she’s no prude, but come on.  She offers him cigarettes and invites him to the balcony.  He is too polite to tell her off, but he is giving major signals that she must see and is perhaps saving up as ammunition for later. (more…)

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march2014SOUNDTRACK: VALENTINA LISITSA-Chasing Pianos: The Piano Music of Michael Nyman (2014).

Inym,an don’t listen to a lot of classical music, but I do like it. I also enjoy some modern composers, in particular I have a strong fondness for Michael Nyman. Yes, yes, he’s a soundtrack composer, blah blah, but I find his music to be very pretty and often delightfully eccentric.   His music reminds me of Phillip Glass, in its repetitive nature, but he goes beyond the minimalism that Glass was trying to create by implementing inventive melodies and expansive sounds.

 Valentina Lisitsa is a 44 year old Ukrainian pianist and she tackles music from throughout Nymans’ soundtrack career.  Nyman came to prominence with The Piano, which is a beautiful score.  And this is where this album starts out.

I’m not going to talk about each piece.  Rather, the album overall has a consistent feel–piano versions of Nyman’s music.  Nyman isn’t the most difficult composer, but he has his own style and so the entire album has a nice flow (although it does get a little slow by the end).

She plays songs from eleven of his soundtracks (which I’ve listed at the end).  Many of them get only one track, but Wonderland gets two and The Diary of Anne Frank gets 5 cuts.  I actually don’t know either of those two scores.  The bulk of the disc is, unsurprisingly, from The Piano which has ten cuts here.

I actually know his older soundtracks a lot better, so it was interesting to hear these piano versions of many of these familiar tracks.  Like “Time Lapse” from A Zed & Two Naughts and “Chasing Sheep is Best Left to Shepherds” (ne of my favorite pieces by him) from The Draughtman’s Contract.

Stripping down Nyman has an interesting effect because you can really hear how pretty the melodies are.  Although the real pleasure I get from his songs is the weird embellishments he puts on them, like the interesting sounds (horn and didgeridoo?) in “Here to There” from the Piano (which are absent here).

Although it has the feeling of a piano concerto the end (with several songs from The Piano in a row) is a bit samey.  It was smart to end the disc with a reprise of the opening.

There’s also songs from Drowning By Numbers, Carrington, The End of The, Man with a Movie Camera, The Claim and Gattaca

[READ: April 3, 2014] “On Nudity” and “The Trees Step Out of the Forest”

I am linking these two essays because I read them very close to each other and they are almost diametrically opposed in their content. And I thought it would be an interesting contrast.

“On Nudity” is a very simple essay about nudity. When Norman Rush was a kid–9 or 10–his father was really into nudism. He always wanted to go to nude beaches, he was very lax with nudity around the house and he tried to get his wife to join him. She was reluctant. Indeed, she didn’t really seem to like her husband very much and it seems they only got married because she was pregnant (and he may not have thought that was a good enough reason, to be honest).  She tried her best to make him unhappy because of this, and that seemed to involve declining his nudity bug.

So there were copies of Sunshine and Health (the premiere nudist magazine) hidden in the house (although Norman knew where they were), and yet, despite this access, he couldn’t get enough.  Rather than sating his needs, he was more obsessed than ever.  He wanted the real thing, whether it was getting his cousin to play strip poker or trying to spy on women in changing rooms.  He talks about the various hings he did just to get a peek of flesh.  And as the essay comes to close he apologizes to the two women whose privacy he invaded by spying on them.  The guilt about what he did to these women made him stop, although the women likely never knew what had happened to them. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE DIVINE COMEDY-BANG goes the Knighthood (2010).

I’ve really enjoyed The Divine Comedy since their earliest Michael Nymanesque music.  I loved the orchestral pop that Neil Hannon seemed to effortlessly create.  His last few records have been less exciting to me.  He has toned down the orchestration and made his songs more subtle.  They’re still beautiful but they’re not always as immediately arresting.  I thought that was true of this album as well, although I found that when I sat down and really listen to the music and words together (what a novel idea) the music played so well with the lyrics that the album overall is easily one of his best.  Although I still prefer the pomp and full orchestration of the earlier music, this newer stuff is very interesting. An artist has got to grow, right?

The new sound is more Tin Pan Alley.  It’s piano with guitars and occasional horns–very limited strings are present at all.  And, as any fan knows, Neil writes wonderful songs about love, and the songs on here are some more great love songs.  The non-love songs span the gamut of ideas–from emotionally wrenching to downright silly.  Neil is definitely a “get to know him” kind of songwriter.  And it’s rewarding when you do.

“Down in the Street Below” is a piano based song that morphs into a jaunty little number after some quiet verses.  It features yet another of his great melodies.  “The Complete Banker” is a jaunty piano song that mercilessly mocks the banking industry.  Not terribly original but certainly fun and lyrically it’s quite clever.  “Neapolitan Girl” is a faster song (reminds me of a Broadway musical or movie instrumental) which is (as they all are) very fun to sing along to).  “Bang Goes the Knighthood” is a musical hall song that is really quite funny despite the somber sound of the music (it’s about a knighted man who indulges in certain proclivities that might cost him what he has).

“The Indie Disco” is the exact opposite, it’s bouncy and shuffly and yet understated as only an indie disco can be (this may be the softest, least excited “yea!” in any song ever.  Name checking Morrissey may not be original but it would be a less real picture without him.  The songs he mentions are kind of dated, but are probably pretty accurate to what gets played in an indie disco these days.  “Have You Ever Been in Love” could be used in any rom-com film montage.  Although maybe it’s too obvious?  Sweetly filled with strings (yes strings).

“Assume the Perpendicular” is a slightly faster song, as befits lyrics, “I can’t abide a horizontal life while “The Lost Art of Conversation” is another bouncy tune with a whistle for an ending!

“Island Life” is one of the first duets I can think of from the Divine Comedy–it sounds like something out of the movie Brazil.  “When a Man Cries” is an emotionally wrenching song.  It seems somewhat out of place for Hannon’s usual topic, but it’s quite beautiful.  The silly fun of “Can You Stand Up on One Leg” is the perfect antidote.  Each verse provides something that’s harder to do than you think.  The final verse offers, “can you hold a singing note for a stupidly long time…. Let’s see how long you can hoooooooooo….oooold on to a note.” For the record, Neil’s note is 29 seconds long….stupidly long!  Is that really him holding that high note for 29 seconds?

The final song “I Like” is a wonderful poppy ditty, in which the full band rocks out (more or less) to another great melody.  It’s a perfect love song (even modernized to include a kind of rhyme with sexy and texting).

Initially I was a little disappointed by this disc, but it really proved to be fantastic.  More, Neil, more!

[READ: December 28, 2011] Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?

Is Mindy Kaling a big enough celebrity to write a book (memoir or otherwise?).  To use her own in-book comparison, she’s nowhere near Tina Fey’s level of fame, right? (although I actually think she is funnier).  I mean, she’s a minor character on a popular show.  True, she’s also a writer and producer, but that’s not going to lead you to fame or anything.  The more I read about her in the book, the more I wondered exactly who would know her aside from fans of The Office.

None of that is to say that Kaling isn’t awesome.  She is.  She’s funny and talented and I am thrilled she wrote a book–sometimes within an ensemble your individual voice will get lost.  But I have to wonder how much name recognition she has.  And the book doesn’t do a lot to dispel this sense for me.  I mean, she tells about everything she’s done, and really all she had done was write Matt & Ben (which sounds awesome and which I remember hearing about back in the day) and work (a lot) for The Office.  Not minor accomplishments by any stretch, but not a fame-inducing resume.  Nevertheless, good for her that someone was interested in letting her write a book.  And good for us who read it.  If you are amused by the use of the subtitle of the book (which I am) you will like enjoy the humor here.

I had read some excerpts from the book so I assumed it was all funny essays and whatnot, but it’s not.  It’s actually a memoir with funny essays mixed in.   Of course, Mindy’s life before Matt & Ben isn’t really very “interesting” (the book is very funny during this time of her life, even if she really didn’t do much more than babysit for rich folks and watch Comedy Central).

In the Introduction, Mindy provides a FAQ about the book.  One of the questions is if she is going to offer advice and she says yes.  And here’s the thing, Mindy’s advice is outstanding.  She offers advice about many topics and I don’t think I disagreed with her about anything (except maybe pea coats).  She’s like the voice of reason in a world gone mad and an excellent role model for anyone. (more…)

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thenwecameSOUNDTRACK: THE DIVINE COMEDY-Liberation (1993).

libeartiuonThis is considered by many to be the “first” Divine Comedy album, even though Neil Hannon released a previous album under the name Divine Comedy (Fanfare for the Comic Muse).  He disowned that album, but, as you do, he reissued it several years later after much demand.

This is the second Divine Comedy album that I bought (after Promenade). And so, because I just reviewed Promenade, this review works as something of a comparison, which is of course, unfair, as Promenade should be compared to this, but so be it.

What I was most struck with, when listening to this disc after Promenade is how, even though the album covers are designed similarly, and everything about the discs suggests they should be similar, just how dissimilar the music is.  Not in a global “who is this band?” sense, but just in the particulars of the orchestration.

With Liberation, there’s no Michael Nyman influence.  Rather, you get some beautifully written orchestral pop music.  Although the orchestra is not terribly conventional: with harpsichord and organ being among the top instruments heard.

In a comparison to Promenade, Liberation is less thematically consistent but has more singles to offer.  “Bernice Bobs Her Hair” (the title of an F. Scott Fitzgerald story, so the literate songwriting is clearly in evidence) is a wonderful pop song.  As is “The Pop Singer’s Fear of the Pollen Count,” (“Even when I get hay fever I find, I may sneeze, but I don’t really mind… I’m in love with the summertime!”) the catchiest ode to summer this side of the Beach Boys.  “Your Daddy’s Car” speeds along on plucky strings and is just so happy, even when they crash the car into a tree.  “Europop” is a fantastic dressing down of Europop songs while still being hugely catchy.

Because I really enjoy Promenade (and Casanova) I tend to overlook this disc, but really it is just as good, and in some cases better than those two.  An air of pastoral glee pervades the record making it a real joy to listen to.  Especially in the summer.

[READ: December 8, 2008] Then We Came to the End

This book has the great distinction of being written in the first person plural (the narrator is “we,” for those of you who don’t remember eighth grade grammar).  This, of course, brings the reader into the story almost against his or her will.   Really, though, as you read it, you don’t think of yourself as being in the book, but rather, that the company that the unnamed narrators work for is something of a collective mentality.  And so it is.

The narrators work at an unnamed advertising agency in Chicago.  The time frame is the late 1990’s to early 2001 and there are lots and lots of layoffs.  Any time someone is laid off, “we” say they are “walking Spanish down the hall” (from a Tom Waits song).  And slowly they watch as one by one, staff are let go. (more…)

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promednade1I heard about The Divine Comedy in the beloved British magazine Q.  I used to get every issue up until about two years ago.  I enjoyed their reviews, and especially enjoyed learning about bands that were under the radar here.  I think the Divine Comedy album that was being talked about was Casanova, but I wound up getting Promenade first.  And once I did, I was hooked.

Promenade is their second album, and it is still my favorite.  It features a musical soundtrack that is similar to Michael Nyman in its electronic/repetitive structure.  Nyman’s The Piano soundtrack came out in 1993, and although Nyman had been writing scores for years, The Piano seems like a pretty close reference point to Hannon’s work.

And yet, despite the “modern” sounding style of the music, the lyrics are old school Britain at its best.  And, Neil Hannon’s voice is truly an old-school croon (it’s almost cheesy, but not quite).  But it’s the words, oh the words, that really sell the disc.

In fact, the song that sold me from the beginning was “The Booklovers,” which is just a list of authors.  Really.  But the list is punctuated with smarty pants allusions to the writers’ works and it’s all wrapped up in a catchy chorus. But that’s not all, each song references literature in some way.

“Bath” opens with an orchestral flourish as a woman, well, bathes. “Going Downhill Fast” is about racing your bike downhill, with my favorite line: “Vacuous vice!/Just once or twice/Thrice/Four times in five we forget we’re alive.” A Seafood Song” and “Geronimo” lead you to the realization that this album is about two young lovers.  First they are having lunch, and then they get caught in a torrential downpour.  “Don’t Look Down” has one of my favorite orchestral pieces as towards the end of the song, the young man on a Ferris Wheel has a discussion with a God “who really ought not to exist” as the music grows more and more tense.

“When the Lights Go Out All Over Europe” is another stellar song that contains a wonderfully building chorus.  “The Summerhouse” is a really nice ballad.  “Neptune’s Daughter” has the story taking a dark turn until the ribald delights of “A Drinking Song.”  This song in particular has been one of my favorites because it is raucous and silly and oh so clever.  It also ends with one of the great couplets in all of drinking songdom: “From the day I was born ’till the night I will die/All my lovers will be pink and elephantine.” It is soon followed by “Tonight We Fly” a propulsive song of the two lovers “flying” over their life together and flying away from everyone.

It’s truly sublime.  I can understand those who don’t like Michael Nyman’s style not really enjoying this disc.  But if you like lyrical wonderment, you must check this out.  Divine Comedy’s next disc “Casanova” removes the Nyman influence but retains the cleverness. By most accounts it is a better album but I still love Promenade.

[READ: January 2008] Public Enemy #2

Sarah bought this collection for me for Christmas last year.  I don’t read a lot of comic strips, but occasionally one pops up on my radar.  I had seen a few Boondocks comics and really liked them.  This is the 2nd to last collection of the strip (I think…some are called treasuries, so I’m not sure what the distinction is). (more…)

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