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Archive for the ‘Okkervil River’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: LANDYLADY-Tiny Desk Concert #657 (October 6, 2017).

As I started watching this video I said to myself, Is that Son Lux’s drummer (Ian Chang)?  Look at the way he is drumming, it must be him.  And it is!

I had never heard of Landlady but I was instantly intrigued that Chang was playing with them.

The Brooklyn-based band’s songs are the initial creation of leader Adam Schatz, who observes the world with fresh, almost alien eyes.  Landlady is also a band of brilliant musicians who carefully craft their playing to serve the songs. Each player on their own might seem to be making quirky sounds or playing odd rhythms, but together they create head-turning tunes.

The opening track for Landlady’s Tiny Desk performance, “Cadaver,” has its origins in a friend of Schatz’s who went to medical school, and the years she spent examining a single cadaver over and over and even more specifically about a tattoo on that cadaver’s buttocks.

“Cadaver” opens with prepared piano sounds although the song quickly resolves itself into a kind of quirky Steely Dan vibe.  I love that Chang is using big soft bright blue brushes on the drums and that he even plays the desk and everything else around him during the slightly noisy middle section.

After the song, Schatz is very funny.  “Thanks for coming to work today I think a lot of us are actually very impressed by people who actually go to work.  Afterwards we’ll have all sorts of questions.  So know that while you’re looking at us wondering how do they do it.  Know that we’re looking back at you… wondering how do we do it.”

“Solid Brass” opens with some lovely guitars.  This song feels like something Gabriel Kahane might have constructed.  The chorus begins with just the piano and him singing “My voice is lower in the morning” over and over.  And then the whole band joins in on that simple sentiment.  That chorus melody is repeated but with other different simple ideas: “your legs are shorter in the evening.”  After that chorus, the guitarist Will Graefe plays some wildly distorted noises while the piano has stopped and only Ryan Dugre on the bass is there to keep it going.

For their Tiny Desk Concert they came in as a foursome but also recruited the Washington D.C. string quartet, Rogue Collective to flesh-out their sound on the third song, “Electric Abdomen.” That cut, which seems to be about being uncomfortable in your own skin, sounds like it came from a long-lost tape from The Beatles during a session for Abbey Road, full of wonder and, like this Tiny Desk performance, worth digging deep into.

Schatz introduces the quartet: “These are our new friends Rogue Collective.”  [Alexa Cantalupo (violin); Livia Amoruso (violin); Deanna Said (viola); Natalie Spehar (cello)].  One of them jokes: “Not Rouge Collective.”  Schatz quickly replies: “That’s us.”

He tells us:  “They learned all the music.  That was very nice of them.  This is hard.   You get nervous when you’re not used to being nervous.  So I thought I’d say that out loud.  A lot of people come here and they don’t seem nervous.  Top artists of today…  Who are some of the….  Like John Philip Sousa.  Guys like them they act all macho and they think they can just nail it.  But its hard and it puts us in a vulnerable place and I think that’s the point of this.

“So I want to say ‘Thank you, Bob and everyone for putting us in this compromising position.’

“I’d like to dedicate this last song to one of the most important pieces of Public Radio that was ever produced.  A program that changed the world and you can’t imagine the world before it existed.  So I’d like to dedicate this song and the rest of our lives to Car Talk, which basically raised me.  They were like to extra parents.”

“Electric Abdomen” opens with the sound of vibes and prickly guitar.  Then the strings fill in and the guitar sounds great and.  And, yes, it has s decidedly Abbey Road feel to it–the guitar sound especially.

I enjoyed this set immensely and watched it many times.   And I was only saddened to discover that Landlady (and Okkervil River) played a show in Philly the night before I watched this video.  Sigh.  That’s a lovely pairing.

[READ: January 24, 2017] “My Guilty Pleasures”

Many times in short New Yorker pieces, the jokes are topical, which means they don’t always hold up well.  And, sometimes, they get stuck in one thing and don’t really move beyond that.

George Saunders is usually pretty good at getting his topical jokes to move beyond whatever he is spoofing.

But he also likes to really hammer home one idea for a while.  Like this one, in which his guilty pleasure is watching reality shows (all based around The Bachelor). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: OKKERVIL RIVER-Tiny Desk Concert #311 (October 15, 2013).

I had first heard of Okkeervil River a few years ago, but I never really knew much about them.  I assumed they were a folk band.  Then a few years back I first head “Down Down the Deep River” and loved it.  I had some idea that the band was maybe a duo, so I was surprised to see this rather large 6 piece band–two acoustic guitars, 1 electric guitar, keys, trumpet and drums.

So what’s the deal with this band and the name?

At first blush, Okkervil River is obviously a good rock ‘n’ roll band, but listen closely — especially to its lyrics — and you’ll hear a great rock ‘n’ roll band. The group has been making sharp, thoughtful music since the late ’90s, with the first of its seven albums coming out a dozen years ago.

The songs in this Tiny Desk Concert are from The Silver Gymnasium, a record inspired by the childhood of 37-year-old singer-songwriter Will Sheff; he grew up a bespectacled, crooked-toothed redhead in the small New Hampshire town of Meriden. His lyrics are drenched in specific memories, pop-culture references and youthful insecurity.

The stories pop a bit more in this acoustic set-up for Okkervil River, but they rock plenty hard in concert and on their albums. If you’ve missed the past dozen years of this band, start here and then work your way back through its catalog. The Stage Names is my favorite, but nothing disappoints.

[The band takes its name from a short story by Russian author Tatyana Tolstaya set on the river in St Petersburg].

As it turns out the band is more rocky than folky–even if they are heavily acoustic.

“On a Balcony” a catchy swinging folk rock song.  The addition of the trumpet after averse is really cool.

Before “Pink Slips” Sheff switches guitars with the other guy–then laughs because the strap is set wrong.  Someone says, why not just switch straps?  Which they do.  Bob asks him about the strap correlation and he says: I don’t like the Paul McCartney disconnected cerebral height but I don’t like the grunge-Kurt-Cobain-I-cant-reach-my-guitar thing.  He likes a happy medium.  Then they ask about his shirt–it’s by Winsor McKay, the comic artist.  He says he always loved him, then he saw the Tom Petty “Runnin’ Down a Dream” video which imitates McKay.  It was a like a dream come to life, so he thought he’d make shirts of artists he likes and sells them with his merch.

“Pink Slips” has a kind of slacker melody with a lot of words—and here you can really hear the sophisticated lyrics that Bob talks about.  And the backing vocals sounds terrific.  After the song he says No one has caught the Kevin Costner references in that song. (Waterworld and The Postman).  He also notes that Tom Petty plays himself in The Postman.

“Down Down the Deep River” is so catchy, although this version is very different from the recorded version—more folky less keyboardy.  I really like the keyboard/horn melody and the great backing vocals.  And the claps are super fun.

[READ: July 8, 2016] Chew: Volume Eleven

Book Eleven covers issues 51-55.  And it features the death of two major characters!

Chapter 1 opens with the cryptic panel TWO YEARS LATER.

It shows Chu Chu’s bestselling cookbook being taken out of the best seller display and being replaced by Amelia’s EATERS series.

Then we flash up to heaven where Tony’s deceased sister Toni catches us up to speed briefly before getting called to bed by Abraham Lincoln and Genghis Khan (I love the bed scenes, they are so funny–the way Guillory draws the sheets so snug…).

Next we move to the White House where the annual Easter Egg hunt has been replaced by a Platypus Egg Hunt (with a platypus that looks quite similar to another famous cartoon platypus).  How I wish this was a commentary on the Trump Easter Egg Fiasco #RESIST.

Next we flash to Olive working in the White House kitchen.  It is through Olive’s lightning fast reflexes she is able to stop an assassination attempt of the President.  And their fast work has promoted them to full-fledged agents with the FDA.  Sadly for Olive, she is assigned to work with Ginny who is pretty nutty.  But some flash forwards show just how well they work together.

The next chapter shows the early history of Savoy.  His wife died in the avian flu epidemic which put him on the path to finding the truth about it.  But when he offers his services, a Senator is quick to shut him down–which doesn’t make Savoy very happy. (more…)

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  hyperSOUNDTRACK: SHEARWATER-Tiny Desk Concert #9 (November 14, 2008).

shearwaterI didn’t really know Shearwater before this Tiny Desk Concert.  I’d heard of them but wasn’t familiar with their music (I assumed it was more countryish).  I was also really surprised to find that Thor Harris was in the band (he is currently playing with Swans–it doesn’t get too much more different between Swans and Shearwater (even if they are both birds).

Jonathan Meiberg is the singer–he was formerly in Okkervil River for a number of years before Shearwater became too big to be a side project.  The setting is perfect for the band as they get to showcase some really quiet insturments.  Like the Waterphone (designed by Richard Waters, although Thor Harris made the one they are using).  It is based on the calimba and they describe it as the sound you hear when something weird happens on Lost.  Thor also plays the clarinet (!).

Meiberg has a great voice, and it perfectly complements these delicate songs.  “Rooks” has melodies on xylophone and Hammered dulcimer (which also looks homemade).  “Leviathan, Bound” is based on the documentary “Blue Water White Death” about great white sharks and whalers.  They explain that this is a new version of the song with banjo.  And before they start the song they nearly knock something over (it is a Tiny desk after all).

“North Col” is the less commonly use approach to Mt Everest.  And this song is just as spare and pretty.  Before playing the final song, they show the album cover (of Rook) and talk about Kahn & Selesnick, the artists who made it (it’s quite striking).  Then he explains the origins of “I Was a Cloud” which he wrote when he was in the Falkland Islands.  They were birding and found a tiny bird living under the wreckage of a fighter jet.  It’s a beautiful image and a beautiful song.

And I definitely need to hear more Shearwater after this.

[READ: December 29, 2013] Hyperbole and a Half

The whole blogs-into-books thing is weird.  You can read everything in these blogs for free on the internet, so why do they come out in books?  Is the internet insecure when it comes to publishing?  Are these things more legitimate as books?  Is it just a way to make money?  Are they in print just in case the internet explodes?  It certainly undermines the concept that books are dead.  Well, whatever, some blogs translate very well to print.  Like this one.

I have enjoyed Hyperbole and a Half a number of times, but I never thought to check it regularly.  So I had no idea that Allie had taken a year off.  And I had no idea that she suffered from Depression so people were concerned about her.  I always just thought her strips were very very funny and didn’t read anything in them.  Of course, knowing she was Depressed (she admits as much in the book) makes the darker stories seem darker, but the funny ones are still really funny.

I mean, just look at drawings! No really, look at the drawings–they are so weird and creepy and so freaking funny.  It seems like she can’t really draw, because the pictures are crazy.  And yet she is so consistent with her lines and styles that I have to assume she is a masterful artist and has chosen this crazy style to accentuate her crazy stories.  And it is genius. (more…)

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