Archive for the ‘The Head and the Heart’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: OF MONSTERS AND MEN-“Mountain Sound” (Field Recordings, June 13, 2012).

When this song first came out I was instantly smitten by it.  The combination of male and female vocals, the big chorus and interesting instrumentation were just terrific.  And the song is catchy as anything.

And then the rest of the world thought the same and this song became inescapable.

Around the same time I heard Of Monsters and Men, I also heard The Head and the Heart who had a similar aesthetic.  And I still have a hard time telling them apart (even if OMAM is from Iceland and THATH is from Seattle).

This Field Recording [Of Monsters And Men Brings Out The Sun] was filmed on the first day of the Sasquatch! Music Festival.

We managed to get backstage of the Gorge Amphitheater to capture a live session with one of the hottest new bands to hit the festival circuit, Of Monsters and Men. No strangers to natural beauty, the Icelanders were nevertheless stunned by the picturesque backdrop of the Gorge as they performed “Mountain Sound,” one of the new songs added to the American release of their debut album.

“We sleep until the sun goes down,” they sang repeatedly while the sun instead broke through the clouds as if called out by the song’s radiant optimism. The band will continue to thrill fans in larger and larger venues, but it’s private moments like this when Of Monsters and Men best displays its natural charm.

This is a wonderfully low-key take on the song with just a couple of guitars, and accordion and a trumpet (and a big plastic drum as the percussion).

I’ve heard this song so many times that it’s nice to hear it in such an unadorned fashion.  To actually hear the two lead vocals–how unusual they sound.  And to see how much fun the band is having playing at the Sasquatch Festival (yes, in Seattle).

[READ: November 12, 2018] “Show Recent Some Love”

I love Sam Lipsyte’s stories.  I love the tone and breeziness he showcases, even in stories with serious undertones.

This story ( I assume it is an excerpt) is unofficially set during the #metoo movement.  Mike Maltby was recently fired from his own company: “Only an ogre could defend Mike Maltby.”  Isaac, the protagonist, was not an ogre–maybe a jerk–said Nina his life partner.

But Isaac agreed that Mike’s ouster was for the best–Mike had done all kinds of heinous things in executives suites, “because it wasn’t about sex.  It was about power.  And sex.  And probably a few other things.”

But Isaac felt a twinge of remorse because Maltby had hired him and “had also been, weirdly enough for a brief time, his stepfather.” (more…)


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SOUNDTRACK: KUINKA-Tiny Desk Concert #716 (March 9, 2018).

Kuinka are a happy band.  Smiles are on all four members’ faces as they play their three songs.

Miranda Zickler says that they spend all of their time in the van listening to NPR, so this is pretty exciting for them.

The blurb says:

Last year I came across Kuinka (coo-WINK-uh), a band from Seattle… Kuinka’s live performance knocked me out even more than the creative video they’d submitted for the contest.

Since then, Brothers Zach (guitar) and Nathan (mandolin) Hamer, along with Miranda Zickler (keys) and Jillian Walker (cello), have come to D.C. for an official performance at the Tiny Desk, bringing with them their great harmonies and unique blend of energetic, string-band music with a dose of synth.

I’m not sure what the band sounds like normally–if they typically play electronic drums or what, but as the blurb notes

The songs are performed here on relatively tiny instruments, including a ukulele, a drum pad, a small synth, a mandolin and a banjo, along with an electric guitar. But the performance is fleshed out beautifully with rousing vocal harmonies.

All three tracks performed here are from Kuinka’s 2017 EP Stay Up Late, and each one has its own charm.

“Curious Hands” has lead vocals by Miranda.  There’s a cello, keys and Nathan playing a small acoustic six string guitar (or ukulele?).  He gets a pretty big (largely percussive) sound out of that little thing.  But it’s the harmonies that are really spectacular.  I feel like the electronic drums are a little too electronic for this largely folk band but whatever.

For “Spaces,” Zach switches from electronic drums to electric guitar.  He also sings lead with an unexpected twang.  Nathan has switched to mandolin which gives the whole song a kind of Americana vibe.  The electronic drums sound they chose is awful, but there’s a really cool synth sound between verses that prevents this from being overtly in one genre.

Miranda “explains” the name of the band: Kuinka is like kuinka-dink but it doesn’t have anything to do with that, it’s just a coincidence [that’s our ‘bit’].

The blurb’s recommendation to stay until “Mistakenly Brave” is a good one as it is the most rousing song.  They revert back to previous instruments, although Miranda plays banjo.  The harmonies are terrific (much better than the solo vocals, honestly).  It’s got that whole The Head and the Heart vibe going on.  Big soaring vocals and a cool break that leads to a rollicking coda.  Mid way through, Zach switches back to electric guitar to add some oomph.

[READ: April 20, 2016] Endpoint

John Updike died in January 2009 after decades of writing for the New Yorker and elsewhere.  As the news settled in the magazine ran this tribute to him in the March 16 issue.

Rather than running a story, they published a ten-poem sequence called “Endpoint,” (I didn’t even know he wrote poetry).  Most of these poems were written in 2008, while presumably, he knew he was dying from lung cancer.

Endpoint (more…)

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This collection is fairly new (a second volume has just come out this year).  It was curated by Chris Funk from The Decemberists.  It’s a nice mix of contemporary bands and classic songs.  The disc is mostly fun–it gets a little bogged down in the middle–and upbeat.

FUN-“Sleigh Ride”
The first time I heard this  had no idea who it was (I didn’t look at the disc).  I actually thought it was a female pop singer.  After listening a few times I’m mixed but favorable on it.  I love the sound effects in the background.  It’s fun, even with the autotune.

THE SHINS-“Wonderful Christmastime”
This is one of my least favorite Christmas songs, but I like this version better than Pauls’s.  It doesn’t sound especially like The Shins to me though.

I love Rufus’ distinctive voice–he does louche so well.  Sharon is somewhat indistinct here but she is well-matched with him.

PAUL McCARTNEY-“The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire)”
This might be the only disc I have where someone covers a song by an artist on the disc.  His version of this is way too slow.  But I am intrigued that he says “some holly and some mistletoe” (Because he’s vegetarian).

BLACK PRAIRIE featuring SALLIE FORD-“(Everybody’s Waitin’ for) The Man with the Bag”
I typically don’t care for this song, but I love this bluegrassy version.  It’s stomping and fun (and Chris Funk plays on it).

THE CIVIL WARS-“I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”
The Civil Wars are downbeat folk artists but, man, their voices together are so lovely.  Their harmonies make this song essential despite the less than upbeat rhythms.

CALEXICO-“Green Grows the Holly”
This song sounds so wonderfully Calexico.  I love it and would even have assumed it was an original of theirs if I didn’t know better,

AGESANDAGES-“We Need A Little Christmas”
I’m torn about this song.  They modify the delivery and I think I like it.  It’s also pretty infrequently played so it gets extra points.  But it feels like a real downer when you can hear the lyrics so clearly.

HOLLY GOLIGHTLY-“That’s What I Want for Christmas”
I don’t know who this is. And I don’t really care for this song which is kind of slow and ponderous even if the message is a good one.

This is big brassy version of the song which sounds like it could be quite old with Thomas’ husky voice.

I dislike this song to begin with, so making a countryish version certainly doesn’t help.

ELEANOR FRIEDBERGER-“Santa, Bring My Baby Back to Me”
So this song is interesting with its strange chord choices and themes.  And it would be great if it were like 2 minutes long.  It seems to end quite naturally at that time, but then some vibes come in and the song gets all slinky.  That would be fine except it just repeats the same line and vibes section for 3 minutes!  WTF Eleanor?

FRUIT BATS-“It’s Beginning to Look Like Christmas”
It drives me nuts the way this guys says Creeesmas.  Why does he say it like that?  It’s crazy.  And I can’t get past it because he says it a bunch.

Y LA BAMBA-“Señor Santa”
This song is more or less “Mister Sandman” but sung with the lyrics of Mister Santa.  There’s a wheezy accordion and the great accented voice of the lead singer Luz Elena Mendoza.  I love this and more artists should invent songs like this for the holidays.

PUNCH BROTHERS-“O come, O come, Emmanuel”
The Punch Brothers are awesome and this version of this song terrific.  Chris Thile sings wonderfully as he gets that mandolin worked up.  I love that they turn it into an opportunity to stretch out some, too.

THE HEAD AND THE HEART-“What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?”
A terrific duet with the unmistakable voice of Charity Rose Thielen.  This is a sprightly and fun song and they do a great job.  I love the way she sings “maybe I’m crazy” and the vamping at the end is fantastic.

ANDREW BIRD-“Auld Lang Syne”
Andrew plays some high-spirited violin and sings briskly.  There’s a kind of countryish feel to it, which is quite different for this song.

Overall this is a good collection to add.  Nothing offensive or off-putting and maybe just one or two duds.

[READ: December 21, 2017] “The First Day of Winter”

Once again, I have ordered The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This year, there are brief interviews with each author posted on the date of their story.

Hello. Welcome. It’s finally here: Short Story Advent Calendar time.

If you’re reading along at home, now’s the time to start cracking those seals, one by one, and discover some truly brilliant writing inside. Then check back here each morning for an exclusive interview with the author of that day’s story.

(Want to join in? It’s not too late. Order your copy here.)

This year I’m pairing each story with a holiday disc from our personal collection. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE HEAD AND THE HEART-Sasquatch Music Festival, May 28, 2011 (2011).

This is the fourth live recording from The Head and the Heart that NPR offers.  Not bad for a band with only one album out.  This set finds the band even more confident and relaxed (despite their genuine excitement at playing the festival).  The band sounds fantastic and I’ve really grown to appreciate the female harmonies on most of the songs now (I’ve not always liked them on every song).

This set has two as yet unrecorded songs in it (one of them was listed as untitled).  There’s some banter between the band and the fans (the band is nothing if not jovial) including a great story about how someone in the band went to Sasquatch the year before and swore he wouldn’t remove his backstage pass wrist band until The Head and The Heart band played Sasquatch.  I like to imagine there was ceremonial wrist band cutting ceremony on stage, but that is lost in the audio version.  Of course the story would be better if it was two or three years later, but it’s still a pretty good one. [See the Five Dials review below for a similar story!]

I found the sound quality of the show to be less than perfect.  The sounds are a bit muddied.  I don’t blame the band.  The Sasquatch venue may be beautiful (so many performers comment on it, I’d love to see the view) but I suspect that maybe the audio was less than stellar.

Nonetheless, The Head and the Heart continue to amaze in a live setting.

[READ: July 3, 3011] Five Dials Number 14

If Five Dials 13, The Festival Issue, was a double live CD, jam-packed with photos and stories and all kinds of wonderment, Five Dials Number 14 is an EP.  Even though it contains only one item, it’s more than a single, because the item is long and a lot is packed into it.  And that ends my metaphor.

One of the fun things about Five Dials is that it can be whatever length it wants to be. Many magazines offer double issues, but they never offer tiny issues afterwards.  And sometimes it’s nice to have a short issue that you can enjoy leisurely, without having to sift through filler.

So this issue consists of exactly two items: Craig Taylor’s introduction and the nobel prize acceptance speech by Orhan Pamuk. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE KOPECKY FAMILY BAND-Tiny Desk Concert #131 (June 6, 2011).

I’d never heard of The Kopecky Family Band, but the write-up about them was pretty interesting, so I decided to give the Tiny Desk concert a listen.  The band (all 7 of them) play a great collective of music: two guitars (acoustic & electic) bass, cello, violin, drums and keyboard.  They play a sort of traditional folk with a very full sound.

Indeed, they remind me an awful lot of The Head and the Heart (the singer’s voice in particular), although they are from different edges of the continent and have been playing music about as long as each other (indeed, The Kopecky Family Band released an EP in 2008 whereas Head and the Heart formed in 2009).

And the Kopecky website offers lots of free music (which is very cool).

“Howlin’ at the Moon” is a full acoustic sounding track.  “Birds” has a simply gorgeous whistle/xylophone melody that is as beautiful as it is catchy.  “Disaster” is a tender ballad with wonderful harmonies.  And “Red Devil” is a somewhat more rocking song, which really helps to demonstrate the bands’ diversity.

And the band is charming.  Keyboardist/singer Kelsey admits to having left a trinket of some kind of the office bookshelves (which are littered with things).  It’s a wonderful set, and because of it, I downloaded the band’s first EP from their site.

[READ: June 5, 2011] Great Philosophers Who Failed at Love

Shaffer was signing books at BEA this year.  My coworker told me that he was very funny and that he signed her book in an amusing way.  He happened to be signing at the table next to the line I was on. Sadly, he finished before I was able to get to him.  But I was pretty close to the beginning of the line, so I asked if I could grab a copy of his book, which I did (although no autograph for me).

This is a silly book of nonfiction.  It looks at thirty-seven philosopher or thinkers and their utter failure at love.  Each man (and occasional woman) has had some distinguishing characteristic that made them pretty lousy in the emotional range.

The title of the book is funny and is meant to be kind of surprising: these smart folks were terrible at love.  Of course, spending a minute or two thinking about who these people were and what they did, it’s not surprising that they were lousy at love.  These were intellectuals, people who spend most of their time in their own mind.  Of course they couldn’t have a serious relationship.

Nevertheless, these stories are all more or less amusing (Louis Althusser accidentally strangled his wife to death(!) which isn’t amusing per se, but the story of it is, kind of).  Shaffer does a great job at keeping each entry brief but really retaining the salient points of the thinker’s philosophy and a cogent example of his or her lousiness at love.  He also throws in some amusingly snarky comments of his own as he goes along.

I was delighted that the book order was done alphabetically rather than chronologically.  A chronological list would have been a little too samey in terms of each person’s context.  The alphabetical list allows for jumping around from say Plato to Ayn Rand which keeps the stories interesting and fresh.

At the end of each person’s piece, there’s an “In His Own Words” which offers a quote that details his or her written philosophy regarding love.

Dare I say that this is an ideal bathroom book?   It certainly is. And it makes you feel a little better about yourself (if you haven’t for instance, adopted your mistress as your daughter (Sartre)).

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Just months after their in-studio session, The Head and the Heart played South by Southwest.  This set seems somehow louder than the in-studio (which seems a very common phenomenon–the bands just seems to be quieter in-studio somehow, even if they are playing hard, it still seems subdued, which isn’t bad at all, just odd).  So here, the band really lets loose (or maybe it’s because they’ve been playing no for six extra months?) and they sound like they’re really having fun.

Their sound is loud and (somewhat) chaotic, and it really suits them.  The set list is similar to the in-studio (they also play “Cats and Dogs” which segues into “Coeur d’Alene”).  “Ghosts” and “Lost in My Mind” are also here (“Lost” sounds great in this rambling, somewhat shambolic format).  They also play “Down in the Valley.”  Added to the set are “Winter Song” and “River and Roads.”  These two songs feature vocals by violinist Charity Thielin, and I have to admit I don’t love her voice.  Perhaps it’s in this context or that she is mixed a wee bit to loud (because I didn’t dislike her voice in the in-studio).  As I said, I haven’t heard the studio version yet, so I’ll chalk it up to a very large crowd.

But otherwise the set is outstanding, and I’m becoming a huge fan of the band.

[READ: March 28, 2011] Here They Come

I had been thinking about reading this book for a while (the blurbs on the back are quiet compelling) but I kept putting other McSweeney’s books in front of them (I had hoped to finish an entire stack of McSweeney’s novels before The Pale King came.  But it shipped two weeks early and threw off my plan).

I have read two pieces by Murphy in previous McSweeney’s issues, but looking back they didn’t prepare me for this strange story. And the strangest thing is the point of view of the narrator (but more on that later).

This is actually a simple enough story.  Set in New York over an unspecified time period (there’s a couple of winters and a couple of summers, but I’m not sure if it’s new seasons or flashbacks), the (as far as can tell) unnamed narrator girl leads a pretty crap existence.

Firs there is John, the hot dog vendor.  He’s a married man from a middle eastern country (his family is back there).  And basically the narrator lets him feel her up (for what it’s worth on a flat chested 13-year-old) for free hot dogs and candy bars.  She doesn’t seem to upset by the groping and keeps going back to pass the time with him.

Then there is her brother, an obnoxious boy who walks around in a silk dragon bathrobe all the time. When he is not smashing things with his guitar when he walks past the furniture, he is smashing things in his room or threatening to shoot himself with their old, unloaded gun.

Her mother works all the time but really can’t afford to take care of them or feed them.  And she says “Merde” night and day (she is French).  But worse is her mother’s mother, la mere, who stays with them from time to time.  la Mere seems like she has money but she never gives them any. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE HEAD AND THE HEART-KEXP in Studio, September 14, 2010 (2010).

My saga of The Head and the Heart continues.  Sarah had ordered me the disc for Christmas, but the self-released CD had gone out of print.  This is because Sub Pop was going to re-release the record sometime in the new year.

Well, NPR loved the album, so why wouldn’t they have more recordings by them?  (This is one of the great things about enjoying new bands…they are far less likely to restrict listening and downloading abilities online).  So, this session (September) was recorded shortly after they released their album (July).  I have still yet to hear the actual album, but I have fallen in love with these songs.

This set (which has some very brief interview portions) is five songs. The band sounds great, with wonderful harmonies.  The first two songs “Cats and Dogs” and “Coeur d’Alene” meld together seamlessly, and it works wonders.  “Lost in My Mind” is an amazingly catchy single: the “whoo whoos” (which sound not unlike a train) are wonderfully catchy (in a Mumford and Sons kind of way).

They also play “Ghosts” (another catchy catchy song) and the non-LP song “Down in the Valley” (which has the slightly uncomfortable opening lyrics: “I wish I was a slave to an age-old trade”).

This neo-folkie revival has generated some great bands, and The Head and the Heart are yet another one.

[READ: April 14, 2011] “A Withered Branch”

This is a very brief short story (a page and a half) translated by Anna Summers.

A young woman hitchhikes into Vilinus.  She is picked up by a trucker and is unbothered until they get to a rest stop.  While they are having dinner, one of the drivers wonders who she will sleep with that night.

But that is the prelude to the story.  When she arrives in the city, she meets a woman of about fifty who, when the narrator asks if there is any place to stay, offers her own house to the (dirty and sweaty) stranger/narrator. (more…)

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