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Archive for the ‘The Decemberists’ Category

lastman1 SOUNDTRACK: BLACK PRARIE-Tiny Desk Concert #262 (January 14, 2013).

blakcpBlack Prarie is 3/5 of the Decemberists (that seems like a hint directed at Colin Meloy, ha ha).  No actually they are a kind of folk-country band “started by Chris Funk and Nate Query, who wanted an outlet for some of their rootsy, mostly instrumental string-band wanderings.”  Jenny Conlee from the band has also joined on accordion.  That leaves Annalisa Tornfelt’s who sings “sweetly countrified vocals and [plays] violin.” I feel a little bad for the other guys in the band who are not mentioned, but I don’t know their names either.

They play three songs.  “Dirty River Stomp” is a fun instrumental with prominent accordion in the beginning and then a banjo solo and then a violin solo.  It is indeed a big stomping song.   I love the way the song sounds like it has built to an ends but there is a small accordion coda tacked on.

For “Nowhere Massachusetts” there’s a switch from banjo to guitar.  The opening section of the song sounds so much like Guster’s “Careful” that I was sure that’s what song this was.  But indeed, it is not and it goes in a very different direction after that intro.  Coincidentally, Guster also has a song that about Massachusetts (“Homecoming King”).  But this sounds really nothing like Guster once the song starts—there’s accordion and slide guitar and fiddle and of course the vocal melody is very different.

Jenny introduces “Richard Manuel” with “We’re gonna rock this out.  We’re gonna bring it.”  It turns out to be a fairly slow, quiet song.  But with some intense lyrics.  And again there is some great accordion work on this track.

As the show fades out there is much excitement about tote bags, although I’m not sure who is getting what.

[READ: December 15, 2016] LastMan 1

This is the final series of older First Second books that I hadn’t read yet.  I brought home this book 1, some time ago, but when I saw that there were six volumes and that they’d all be released relatively quickly, I figured I’d just wait until they were all out and read them closer together.

This book was originally written in French (and called Lastman there as well).  These editions were translated by Alexis Siegel.

The art is black and white (and grayscale) and the characters are what I can only describe as very French looking. The faces are very minimal, with some of them looking almost bleached out but for eyes and a mouth.  Some of the men are rather grotesque-looking while the one woman is a knockout.  (The book is safe for younger teens, with just a cleavage and an underwear shot, although the whole book is about fighting).

So the story is a little confusing (at least in Book 1).  The main plot is not at all confusing, but the context is never given, so we must try to piece it all together,

Set in an unamed village, the 184th annual Tournament of the Realm is coming up.  We first meet young Adrian who is practicing for his first competition tomorrow.  His teacher is Mr Janesen (with a full head of blond hair and a goatee) and while he is hard on them, he seems fair.  He tries to get Adrian to really harness his powers for the battle. (more…)

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2016-12-05-21-06-09SOUNDTRACK: KELLY HOGAN-Tiny Desk Concert #222 (June 4, 2012).

I’d published these posts without Soundtracks while I was reading the calendars.  But I decided to add Tiny Desk Concerts to them when I realized that I’d love to post about all of the remaining 100 or shows and this was a good way to knock out 25 of them.

kelly-hoganI know Kelly Hogan as an amazing back up singer.  She sang with The Decemberists when I saw them live (and she was truly amazing).  She also often sings with Neko Case.

I was pretty excited to hear her Tiny Desk because her voice is really beautiful.

Around this time 2012 she had released an album of songs written by all kinds of people.

“Haunted” is a catchy, bouncy number and her three musicians play along effortlessly.  She encourages everyone to sing along to the “na na na na na” part.

When the song ends she thanks every one “very much for coming to the lunchroom talent show.”

“Plant White Roses” was written by Stephen Merritt and it “is really sad” (and since it was written by Merritt you know it’s really sad). The song is pretty, but it was during this song that the Concert transformed into more of a country show.  Hogan even puts an accent on her voice to make it sound more country.  It’s pretty fascinating to witness.

The third part of the song really perks things up.

“I Like to Keep Myself in Pain” was written by Robyn Hitchcock.  She says it came from one of the many conversations they have had over the years.  This song has an even more country feel, especially towards the end.

So all in wall while Hogan’s voice is pretty fantastic and she herself is very charming, I guess I prefer her as an amazing backing vocalist (and sometimes co-lead vocalist) singing music I really like rather than the more country leanings of her own music.

[READ: December 10, 2016] “Two Minutes, Five Minutes, Ten”

Near the end of November, I found out about The Short Story Advent Calendar.  Which is what exactly?  Well…

The Short Story Advent Calendar returns, not a moment too soon, to spice up your holidays with another collection of 24 stories that readers open one by one on the mornings leading up to Christmas.  This year’s stories once again come from some of your favourite writers across the continent—plus a couple of new crushes you haven’t met yet. Most of the stories have never appeared in a book before. Some have never been published, period.

I already had plans for what to post about in December, but since this arrived I’ve decided to post about every story on each day.

Sometimes, putting a story out of sequence is a gimmick.  But if it’s written well, the gimmick really brings the story to life.

This story is out of sequence, but beyond that, it is also full of possibility.

It opens with a statement about the future: “In two minutes, give or take, she will be running as fast as she can.” (more…)

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may5SOUNDTRACK: SAINTSENECA-Tiny Desk Concert #377 (July 29, 2014).

saintsenecaLike Highasakite, Saintesenca is another band who plays instruments that are unusual (and whose Tiny Desk Concert is way too short).  But before the music started, I was fascinated by the hair of the band.  Zac Little’s head is partially shaved and he beard  is unshaven, but he also has an incredible mustache.  It’s so thick I couldn’t see his mouth moving when he started singing!  There’s also the co-lead singer, Maryn Jones’ hair which is equally fascinating.

And there’s also their instruments.  On the album, they play: banjo, baglama, bulbul, balalaika, bowed banjo, baritone ukulele, bass and bouzouki as well as a stomp box.  For the first song, “Happy Alone,” In this set there is a baglamas (played by Jones), while Little plays a Paul McCartney style bass.  There’s also drums and electric and acoustic guitars.

And their music is fantastic “Happy Alone” has a kind of Decemberists vibe.  There’s a great chorus (and two acoustic guitars accompanying).  The melody is catchy but by the time it comes around a second or third time, it’s a total ear worm.

Between songs they talk about the stompbox.  It’s a roughly 2’x2′ plywood floorboard meant for pounding the beat. The blurb says that “at a show just before this Tiny Desk Concert… Little put his boot right through that floorboard.”  There’s a hole in the box which Jones seems concerned about falling through.  The box also explains why Jones and Little both seem so outrageously tall at this show.

On “Fed Up with Hunger” Little plays a four-stringed guitar (I wish they would say what all of these instrument are).  He plays some wonderfully elaborate chords on it.  Jones sings lead in a very high-pitched delicate voice.  There’s an electric guitar added for the chorus but for the most part this is a stripped down song with some lovely harmonies in the end section.

The final song “Blood Bath” has three distinct parts and it is awesome.  Jones plays bass, Little plays acoustic and the other acoustic guitarist  plays a tiny triangular instrument (a balalaika?).  Little sings in a kind of broken falsetto.  After the first slow verse the whole band kicks in and the song really takes off.  But soon after, the whole band seems to deconstruct the song, playing a few seconds of utter noise before coming back in and following it with a really fast rocking and equally catchy section.  It’s pretty awesome.

I’m going to have to look for more from them.

[READ: May 5, 2008] “Them Old Cowboy Songs”

I was looking through older stories and saw that I had not finished a story by Proulx which was written in a June issue of the New Yorker in this ame year.  How did she ever get two stories within a month of each other?  (And they’re both really really long, too).

This story is dark. Very dark and brutal.  It is set in 1885 and looks at a young couple trying to make it out in the wilderness

Archie is a sixteen year old who lies and says he is 21 to try to get better jobs.  He works a cowboy in Dakota Territory.  In addition to being a hard worker, he is a consummate singer with a golden voice.  He marries a young girl (14), named Rose whose parents don’t approve of him or of her getting married at 14, and they settle in.  The narrator notes: “There is no happiness like that of a young couple in a little house they have built themselves in a place of beauty and solitude.” (more…)

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nimonaSOUNDTRACK: HEY MARSEILLES-Tiny Desk Concert #85 (October 17, 2010).

heymaI knew Hey Marseilles from NPR’s coverage of the 2013 Newport Folk Festival.  But I guess I forgot what they sounded like because I wasn’t expecting this at all.

“Rio” opens with almost flamenco clapping and then the full band–accordion, bowed cello, trumpet, violin and guitar come forth (this must have been chamber music month at the Tiny Desk).  There’s a kind of shanty feel to the song.  The middle section has more clapping (and loud Hey Hey!s) and a trumpet solo (played with a mute).  It is super catchy.

“From a Terrace” starts out slowly, with strings.  It has a bit of a Decembersists feel in the vocal melody.  There’s a middle section with a wheezy accordion solo that transfers to a new section and then another rather jazzy muted trumpet solo.

“To Travels And Trunks” has a beautiful string melody to open.  It is a story song and it flows wonderfully.

[READ: July 25, 2015] Nimona

Sarah brought this book home although she didn’t remember what inspired her to get it.  I liked the look of it and was happy to read it before it had to go back.

The drawing style is quite compelling to me–quite unlike other comic books.  I also loved that the title character was a young girl with crazy hair and a body type that is not, shall we say, sexy and superheroy.  That was quite a nice change of pace.

The one thing I didn’t love about the book was the text.  It was hand written and, dare I admit my age, felt like very small print to me.  It was not an easy on the eyes read.  But maybe that made me focus on it more, because I really got into it.

The story begins in a fairly simple way.  Nimona, a young girl, goes to visit the villain Ballister Blackheart.  She says she is a fan of his work and wants to work with him.  He says no. Then she changes into a shark and he decides that she might be quite useful (I loved that chapter one was two pages).  In Chapter 2 Nimona proves to be a far more ruthless individual than Blackheart–changing his minor evil plans into a plan where the whole village is burnt to the ground.

And then we get a flashback.  In a joust we see Blackheart fighting against a pretty blond man named Ambrosious Goldenloin (the names are awesome).  Blackheart won, but Goldenloin, upon losing, somehow exploded Blackheart’s arm, rendering him incapable of being a knight and thus forcing him into a life of villainy.

And then story proceeds apace with Blackheart being the kind of villain who follows the “rules.”  “Killing solves nothing, Nimona.  It’s vulgar it’s messy.”  But Nimona wants no part of that.  She immediately slays a couple of guards and everyone is shocked.  Then she sets off the self destruct button and is apparently killed.

But of course she isn’t and her reveal is hilarious.  Blackheart wants to know more about her and her incredible powers and she tells a story about rescuing a witch.  Blackheart is dubious (“really, turn the six-year-old into a dragon, that was her idea?”).   The later scene where she shape shifts into him and mocks him “SSCCIEEEENCE” is very funny too–Stevenson gets a comic tone perfectly.

Then we look into the world of Goldenloin and the Institution and it turns out that they are a pretty corrupt organization.  They are working with jaderoot–a poisonous substance which they have banned.  So Blackheart decides to try to use this to his advantage (which involves an apple saleslady named Tabitha).

I loved that although the story seems medieval with knights and dragons, it is set in a slighty futuristic times with phone screen and pagers and such.  They even go to a science expo where a Dr Blitzmeyer has created a fascinating orb which glows of its own power (she is wonderfully clueless).

Since the Institution owns the media, Blackheart is in trouble for things that the Institution has done (the jaderoot).  And soon also the Institution is done with Goldenloin–he is too good for them and his services are no longer needed.  So he is de-knighted.  When Blackheart and Goldenloin briefly meet they have a chance to revisit their joust.

But in the meantime, the Institution has captured Nimona and she is angry (and much more powerful than anyone realized).

I really enjoyed this book a lot.  I loved that Blakcheart was actually a nice guy as a villain–that’s always an enjoyable premise.  I enjoyed the way this story escalated from a simple shape-shifting concept into this apocalyptic setting.  And I really enjoyed the underlying feelings between Blackheart and Goldenloin (whatever they may actually be).  The ending was really rather sweet.

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march30SOUNDTRACKJAKOB DYLAN-Tiny Desk Concert #53 (April 2, 2010).

jakobI was not a fan of the Wallflowers–I had an unfair dislike of Jakob Dylan.  But I can appreciate his songwriting skills and that, although he looks and sounds a ton like his dad (especially with sunglasses on) he holds his own very well.

But for me the most interesting part of this solo band is his backup singers–Kelly Hogan (whom we just saw touring with The Decemberists) and Neko Case (!–there’s no photos available, so you’ll have to watch the video to see her awesome hair).  Joining Dylan on guitar is Paul Rigby.

There’s something old school about “Nothing But The Whole Wide World” (probably the refrain of practically spoken “nuthin”) that I really like.  I enjoyed the way the backing vocalists don’t do as much as you might think–their restraint is really infectious.

“Everybody’s Hurtin'” is a nice minor key song (obviously a downer) and the backing singers contribute a lot more to this one.

The final song, “Holy Rollers for Love” features Hogan and Case doing different things which really fill out the song.

I guess I’m not sure how successful he would have been had his name not been Dylan, but this is an enjoyable concert and makes me reevaluate Dylan’s career somewhat.

[READ: April 13, 2015] “This is an Alert”

Here’s yet another story from Thomas Pierce that I really liked.

The story is set in some future time (although it doesn’t seem that distant) in which there are wars going on in the upper atmosphere.  And it has a trope that I rather enjoy in short stories (although I would find annoying in a novel).  Pierce gives us no details about the war or the future or anything.  We are thrown into the story and we just have to deal with it.

It is written in first person and the narrator assumes we know what is going on. So, as the narrator (a mom) and her family are driving to her mother in law’s house.  They are all crouched down on the side of the road with gas masks on.  They are hot and cranky and they will definitely be late for lunch.  And all of this because of the speaker yelling “This is an Alert.  This is an Alert.”

She wonders whose voice it is coming out of those speakers and how he was chosen for the job.  But when the alerts stop, they pile back in the car and continue on their journey. Her husband, Neal, is sick of the drills, of the gas mask, of the constant interruptions.  They seem to have gotten worse lately–especially today.  And perhaps the most annoying thing of all is that you can’t see anything of this war–from the earth you have no insight into what is happening or what has caused the latest round of Alerts. (more…)

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[ATTENDED: April 7, 2015] The Decemberists

2015-04-07 22.33.06I’ve liked The Decemberists for a pretty long time but never saw them live.  I’m not really sure why I never had.   Sarah has become a fan over the years as well, and they had moved to the top of her must see list.  So when I saw they were playing at the beautiful and acoustically pristine Academy of Music (and it was so close to her birthday), I jumped on the chance to get tickets.

Somehow, the pre-order tickets from the band didn’t pan out, but I was able to get some pre-order tickets from the Kimmel Center and the seats were awesome.  In a box just above floor level about fifteen or sixteen rows out.  The box was very cool, as there were wooden chairs to sit on and there were all of six of us in this box.  Probably one of the best views I’ve ever had a at a show.

2015-04-07 21.01.43The show started with Colin Meloy and his guitar.  He played the opening song from their newest album, “The Singer Addresses His Audience,” a meta- song that seems even more meta when he is actually addressing you.  The song started slowly and then the two backing vocalists came on and sang along with him.  Then some “statues” were lowered behind the stage.  And as the rest of the band came out, the “quilted” cover of the album was lowered into place

I was sure they would play a set heavy with new songs, so I was surprised when they launched right into “The Infanta,” a rollicking song that really got the crowd going.  And then Colin spoke and proved why he is such a good frontman. He was very funny, suggesting that we could sit or stand, it was up to us–the seats did look comfortable, after all.  He advised the people in the way top (where we were seated for Neil Young) to not stand, because he was worried about their safety.  And then he looked over to the side and saw the front box seats–set off from the rest and seemingly very VIP and informed us all that the Duke and Duchess of Pennsylvania were in the house tonight.   On the other side of the stage in those same seats, he told us that the royalty from Pittsburgh could not make it. (more…)

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[ATTENDED: April 7, 2015] Alvvays

2015-04-07 20.23.26Canadian band Alvvays opened for The Decemberists last night.  I really like their debut album and I was pretty excited to see them.  Alvvays play a perfect update of female -fronted-90s-alt-rock that I really like (and which few bands do anymore).  There are plenty of touchstones for the kind of music they play (Letters to Cleo, Lush), and they do it perfectly–super catchy choruses, nice harmonies and simple ringing guitars.

In hindsight (after watching the headliners) it must be tough for a small band to play when the headliners have so much going on.  So the five members of Alvvays looked a little cramped on stage in their small area.  They didn’t say a lot and they barely moved around.  But they brought their A-game and ripped through their entire album (I think).

I remember thinking that their album is only about 35 minutes, so their set couldn’t be much longer than that.  It was about 30 minutes.  And, since I like the album but don’t really know song names yet, I’m not sure what they played or didn’t play (and setlist.com is no help at all).  I certainly recognized a few songs, but have no idea what order they were in.

I also had to wonder…if you are an up and coming band with a single that’s getting airplay (“Marry Me, Archie”), do you play it first and get the audience psyched to hear more, or do you save it for the end when more people have arrived.   Which they did.  And it was nice to see the crowd (who was responsive but not exactly rocking) nodding along to the song. (more…)

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