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Archive for the ‘The Mountain Goats’ Category

[ATTENDED: February 2, 2018] Steven Page

I was thrilled to see Steven Page play with Art of Time Ensemble back in 2015.  When I saw that he was playing (somewhat) locally again, I was really excited to get tickets.  It wasn’t until much later that I realized that he was doing a Songbook tour with the Art of Time Ensemble and not playing songs from his (excellent) solo albums.

That was fine, because I loved his Songbook release with AoT, but as always, I’d much rather see someone sing his or her own songs than covers. But Page had picked great songs for his album with AoT and he picked an even better selection for this show.

The ensemble came out on stage followed shortly after by Page.  Steven explained that the purpose of the evening was that these songs were designed to have their vocal melodies remain largely unchanged but for the arrangers to push the boundaries of what  these songs could sound like.  To go as far as possible without going too far.  He thought many people wouldn’t a lot of the songs but that this might inspire them to check out the originals. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE ENFIELD TENNIS ACADEMY-“My Missing Eye” (2017).

The Enfield Tennis Academy is one of the major locations in David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest.  So, of course, a band that names itself after it must be listened to.

This is the first release by the band (which states “The Enfield Tennis Academy is TR.”

The bandcamp site describes this song as

“Garbage thrown together on a free trial of Reason. Song’s about missing a fucking eye. Real music soon.”

This is two minutes of noisy instrumental metal math rock.  There’s a lot of different sounds in this two minute song.

It opens with some staccato pummeling sounds–the guitars are interesting in that they sound like they are chords yet ringing out at the same time.  The middle is a really fast pummeling section that reminds me of Ministry.  Those opens stringed chords come back late in the song, and they sound really cool.

I’m curious to see what TETA’s “real music” is going to sound like.

[READ: July 20, 2017] Reheated Liō

I have really enjoyed the Liō books (going forward, I’m leaving off that line over the o, because it’s a real pain).

The strip has been going on for some 12 years now, which is pretty amazing.  And yet, there don’t seem to be any new or recent collections out.

So Lio is strip about a boy named Lio.  Lio is a dark, dark kid.  He has a pet squid, he loves monsters and he’s delighted by chaos.  Over the years his character hasn’t changed much but Tatulli has given him some surprising tenderness, which is a nice trait. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BLEACHERS-Tiny Desk Concert #648 (September 12, 2017).

I didn’t realize that Jack Antonoff, lead singer of Bleachers, was the lead guitarist (but not singer) for the band fun.

I really don’t like the lead sax by Evan Smith on two of the songs.

I particularly don’t like the sound of the sax on “Everybody Lost Somebody.”  When the sax is gone, the song which is otherwise just piano (Mikey Hart) sounds pretty great.  Antonoff’s delivery is quite interesting on this song, it reminds me of The Mountain Goats’ John Darnielle–an almost-speaking, somewhat arch style..

After the song ends, Antonoff asks, “How often you guys do this?”
Bob says, “We got another one in an hour.”
Then he continues, talking about how NPR seems like a nice place to work.

For the second song, “Don’t Take The Money,” Antonoff says: “If you ever see Bleachers live, it’s two drum sets and it’s big and it’s kinda like this big statement that I could hide behind the tears with this big rock show. But the songs are written like this.”

This is kind of funny since the drums are played on a boombox and are quite loud.  The synths really fill the room, too.  Oddly the song segues into the chorus of Queen’s “Radio Gaga.”  Of the threes songs this is my favorite.  There’s no sax and Smith is playing along on a second set of synths to really make a full sound.

My favorite part of the song is at the end when he tries to get the boom box to stop.  He hits the button (trying to get a percussive sound), but it doesn’t turn off.  He and the pianist turn it into a cool improvised ending.

He says, “that’s cool we’ve never played that song like that.  That’s how it’s meant to be.  In some ways.  That’s what I love about playing live is to trick people–trick them into getting really sweaty and then going home and having weepy moments.”

After the song, Antonoff talks about the live show.  The blurb helps out:

“My manager says, ‘When you play for 1,000 people, don’t talk to one person. It’s only cool for them,'” Antonoff said. It was offered as an apology — he had just finished aiming a monologue about the link between dancing and crying at a single NPR staffer in the audience — but it was also a perfect encapsulation of the connection Antonoff’s songs create. Bleachers makes truly conversational pop, songs that sound expansive but retain a sense of intimacy, even when aimed at the masses.

This final song is called “Foreign Girls” and he tells the band, “I guess we’ll do it… like we talked.”  The sax is back and is almost obscured by him “la la la’ing” but it does peek through.

It’s interesting hearing them like this, but I don’t know what they sound like all big and dancey, so I can’t really compare.

[READ: October 1, 2016] Ms Marvel: Super Famous

Confusingly, this book collects issues 1-6, but they are definitely not the first issues one to six.  This is a whole new story line which follows the previous books and is listed as Volume 5.  The book has three artists: Takeshi Miyazawa (issues 1-3) , Adrian Alphona (part of issue 1), and Nico Leon (issues 4-6).  And it starts off almost where the last series ended.  Except it’s 8 months later and a few things have happened.

Like Ms Marvel has officially become an Avengers (there’s a cool two page spread of them coming down the alley (although I don’t recognize some of them, actually).  And Ms Marvel is doing pretty well.  However, Kamala, the girl who is Ms. Marvel is having a hard time keeping up with schoolwork, friends and family while fighting crime at night.

Oh and somehow in the last 8 months, her best friend/crush Bruno has started dating a wicked cool girl named Mike.  How did she not notice this romance blooming?  And can she take it out on Bruno?  Well, she can until she looks up and sees her image (well Ms Marvel’s image) on a billboard.  And this has her fighting mad, even more so when she finds out who is responsible for the billboard.

Turns out it is a bunch of developers creating Hope Yards–a plan to clean up Jersey City by making it unaffordable for undesirables.  And what’s worse is that the people protesting the unannounced building of Hope Yards are naturally associating her with the project. (more…)

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silentSOUNDTRACK: HOSPITAL SHIPS-Tiny Desk Concert #177 (November 23, 2011).

hospital shipsHospital Ships is a band created by Jordan Geiger, who was in the band Shearwater, among others. In 2011 he released his second album as Hospital Ships.  The blurb describes the album as “packed with poppy folk songs and brash rockers enhanced with instrumental flourishes and bursts of guitar feedback,” but for this recording, they strip everything down to the basics: a guitar, banjo, ukulele and a drum with a towel over it to muffle the sound.

Geiger has a rather high-pitched, delicate, almost talking-singing voice and his songs are rather pretty.  The band plays 3 songs in just over ten minutes.  The first one, “Phantom Limb,” (once my lover, now my friend, you are my phantom limb) has a recurring motif of them saying/singing “ha ha” which is rather catchy.

“Carry On,” features a four-letter word (technically a seven letter word), which might be one of the first times on a Tiny Desk Concert that such a word is uttered.  It’s especially funny given how sweet the band sounds.  The sentiment of the song is nice though: “To all the women I’ve loved, When I was with you I would say I was better off….  And when I’m gone, carry on, carry on.”  There were harmonies in the first song, but they are more prominent in this one (three part) and are quite nice.  The banjo player also does a whistling solo.

“Let Me In” made me laugh because he uses the word baby a lot (which Ben Folds said in his Tiny Desk that he has never said in real life, so why would he put in it a song?).  But this song is very gentle and sweet–just Geiger on his guitar singing “baby, let me in.”

Geiger’s voice reminds me of a few different people–Ben Gibbard from Death Cab for Cutie especially on the final track; perhaps the Mountain Goats or the Weakerthans.  And his songwriting is very good.

[READ: December 26, 2015] Silent But Deadly

I really enjoyed the first Liō collection, and was pretty excited that I could find the second collection so quickly (my library doesn’t have any more collections for some reason, so I’ll have to track the rest down elsewhere).  This book collects the strips from February 25, 2007 – December 2, 2007.

Not much has changed from that book to this one, but I think Tatulli’s comic chops have gotten even better.

The strip won me over immediately with the first one in the book. Lio draws a monster and it comes to life.  He looks at the marker and it says “magic marker” and he gets a big grin and goes back to work.  So simple yet so funny.

It is that big grin–wide open-mouthed just unfettered mischievous delight that occurs in nearly every strip. (more…)

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jan2016SOUNDTRACK: CHRIS THILE & MICHAEL DAVES-Tiny Desk Concert #133 (June 13, 2011).

After seeing Avi Avital play an amazing show last week, it seemed only thilefitting to mention a show with an other amazing mandolin player. Chris Thile does some incredible work on that tiny instrument.  I’d love to see a duel between the two of them—it would be mind blowing.

Thile has played with many many different musicians, both in bands (Punch Brothers, Nickel Creek) and as duos and trios.  And this duet with guitarist Michael Daves is fantastic.

Daves plays a folkie electric guitar and sings.  They share lead and harmony vocal duties (with Thile usually going higher).  And while Thile’s mandolin solos are incredible, Daves is no slouch on the guitar either–his fingering may be just as fast as Thile’s.

The two have a great rapport (and play a super long set!).  The duo met and were going to record one song, but it turned into more than a dozen.  And they play 6 of them during this show.

“Sleep With One Eye Open” feature Daves on lead vocal.  It’s upbeat and bouncy folk with a country twang attached.  (I love that Thile’s mandolin is just as loud as Dave’s guitar).  And I love watching Thile bounce around while playing.

They duet on vocals for “Rabbit in the Log” which is about the inherent cuteness and tastiness of rabbits.  Thile’s fingerwork is mind blowing until you hear the solo that Daves does.  And how does a song that’s so fast end so sweetly?

“Bury Me Beneath The Willow” is slower song with Thile on lead vocals.  it shows that their whole act isn’t about speed.

“Billy In The Lowground”  Thile says that Billy, “through no fault of his own ended up in the lowground.”  It’s an instrumental so we just have to imagine what Billy did.  It’s another place for them to show off their skills.

“It Takes One to Know One” is a more bluesy than bluegrass song with Daves on lead vocals.  It’s alike a slow blues song with Daves’ country twang vocals.  Thile’s slide solo is amazing—never seen anything quite like that on the mandolin (well, until Avi did something similar).

When their set should be over, Thile says they’ll do “one more for good measure.”  “Roll In My Sweet Baby’s Arms” is an incredibly fast song.  They duet on vocals but Daves really shines on the super fast guitar solos.

The more I see Chris Thile the more I’m impressed by him.  I can’t wait to see who he teams up with next.

[READ: February 23, 2016] “There are Other Forces at Work”

John Darnielle, singer and guitarist for the Mountain Goats is also a fiction writer.  And here is a great essay about John Cage.

Darnielle opens the essay by saying that on the day that Nixon resigned, Darnielle was 7, but he cheered anyone since he was taught that Nixon was the bad guy.  And on that day, John Cage gave the first public reading of “Empty Word” a piece of unaccompanied voice in which he read from Thoreau’s journals and reduced the journals first to single words then to syllables and eventually to letters–drawing them out slower and slower.

This piece caused riots.

Then Darnielle gets to the meat of the matter.  He has gone to Halberstadt because The John Cage Project has been performing Cages’ “ORGAN2/ASLSP” there since 2000.  And it plans to run until 2640.  Perhaps you have heard of this piece and its preposterous length.

There is a piano version of ASLSP (which stands for As Slow as Possible).  Darnielle tries to imagine playing each note on a piano until it rang its length out (about 30 seconds). But an organ can play for as long a performer can hold the note.   The only instruction Cage gave for the piece: “all eight pieces are to be played.  However, any one of them may be repeated, though not necessarily, and as in ASLSP, the repetition may be placed anywhere in the series.”   In other words you can play it for as long as you like

Here’s a 4 minute version

It is being performed in Halberstadt because the modern twelve note keyboard was in vented in Halberstadt in 1361.  That was 639 years before 2000 and thus the entire piece will last until 2640 which is 639 years from 2000 (there’s nice symmetry for an asymmetrical piece).  As such, since they were mathematical about it, they determined that one of the 8 parts would last 71 years.  That’s 71 years of an organ playing a single note.

When Darnielle arrives it is for one of the changing of the chords.  This discordant chord had been playing since 2012.  Before he arrived, he tried to imagine what it would be like, and he is both underwhelmed but also moved by the simplicity of it.  He says its not pretty or unpretty, it’s just sort of there–a kind of background drone.  It’s also much quieter than he imagined.  The chord is being played by sandbags–there is no keyboard.

The note change (and Darnielle’s visit) was on October 5, 2013.  The next change is in 7 years.  Here’s a list of planned chord changes (note they do not go until 2640)

The piece started with a 17-month rest on September 5, 2001, Cage’s 89th birthday. The first sound appeared on February 5, 2003. Subsequent dates for note changes include:

  • July 5, 2004
  • July 5, 2005
  • January 5, 2006
  • May 5, 2006
  • July 5, 2008
  • November 5, 2008
  • February 5, 2009
  • July 5, 2010
  • February 5, 2011
  • August 5, 2011
  • July 5, 2012
  • October 5, 2013
  • September 5, 2020

Beyond the sound of the chord there are things to see.  An engraved metal panel attached to an iron rail at eye level–these were paid for by people as a funding for this project and they were allowed to write what they liked.

Darnielle was quite moved by the thing although he is concerned because they play the notes of the new chord one at a time–one note builds on the others.  He says the piece is supposed to be just the one chord and that’s it.  (Realistically it allowed the three people who were invited to begin the chord to each have a moment in the spotlight).  Then he realizes that in the course of 639 years (if you were to compress it to a reasonable length) that will seem like a blip or a grave note.

Darnielle notes that Cage can still cause people’s ire to rise, just if you look at all of the YouTube comments on his piece “4’33′”(the silence piece).  People are outraged by it, still.

I really enjoyed Darnielle’s look at this fascinating event.  I really like Cage for his daring.

Here’s a person’s recording of the event

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Popular-MechanicsSOUNDTRACK: THE MOUNTAIN GOATS-Tiny Desk Concert #41 (January 3, 2010).

mgI have talked about Tiny Desk Concerts off an on (more than 100, if I’m counting right), but I never really made a concerted effort to do them all.  So now I’ve decided to make the effort.  My plan is to post two old concerts a week and also mention new ones when they pop up.  Since there are nearly 450 concerts, this will take ages and ages.  But I’ve been really enjoying the bands I like and it’s been fun listening to the bands I didn’t know.  And two a week seems reasonable enough.

I know the Mountain Goats, although I don’t know them all that well–I keep meaning to listen to them more.  So this is a good place to start.  It’s just John Darnielle and his guitar.

These four songs are simple enough and yet they have s much passion and inventiveness.  Darnielle is known primarily for his lyrics, but he throws a good melody over his songs too.

He plays two (then) new songs, the quiet “Hebrews 11:40” and the loud “Pslams 40:2.”  His voice is instantly recognizable in either song–it more or less just sounds like him singing louder, and yet there’s something slightly different in his rollicking singing voice–a bigger intensity, perhaps.

He also plays two old songs.  The slow “Color in Your Cheeks” and the rollicking “Going to Georgia” (which he starts and then interrupts and then starts again).

While his lyrics are serious, his between song banter is charming and funny (“I am permanently a young man, no matter how old I get”).  I just saw that the Mountain Goats were on Seth Meyers’s show, I’ll have to check that out too.

Watch the Tiny Desk Concert here.

[READ: April 21, 2015] “Learning to Fly Part 1”

I was going to let my Popular Mechanics subscription lapse.  I enjoy it a bit, but don’t really read it all that much.  But this issue has some good articles and the start of this four part essay by an author I really like.  Who knew that authors wrote for such unlikely places?

I suspect that Popular Mechanics readers probably aren’t used to long form essays, because this first part, called “Takeoff” is only four pages long–this is not a Harper’s essay we’re looking at, here.  But the writing is still really good.

Ferris talks about the two things that contributed to his decision to take flying lessons.  The first was the death of his father and the second was his absolute fear of flying. (more…)

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38SOUNDTRACK: SAN FERMIN-“Crueler Kind” (2013).
sanfermin-91f624c3b893c51669028614cc4bbf4973704a7c-s1

This was the final song that NPR played in their summer new music collection.  It was a band that Bob didn’t know, but he liked the song and then saw them live and put the song here.

It opens very simply, quietly with beautiful harmonies over a simple synth.  After about 45 seconds, the drums and horns (!) kick in and the backing harmony vocals take on more of a choral sound (AHHHH!) that punctuates rather than accompanies the vocals.

The main riff stems from that horn—a bass saxophone?  And yet during the verses, everything resorts to that pretty, mellow sound.

It’s a very interesting mix of musics, and it reminds me of some of the more experimental bands of the 1990s.  I’ll bet they would be fun to see live.  And I’d like to hear more from this album.

[READ: June 20, 2013] McSweeney’s #38

And with this book, I have now read all of the McSweeney’s issues (except that Mammoth Treasury which I will get to, probably by the end of the year).  This one was a great collection of fiction and non-fiction, it also had an inserted comic.  The book itself was paperback, with a nice, textured cover and a cool design for the numbers. In looking for a picture I learned that it came in two colors (the yellow that I received and a black cover with white lines).

It continues with the later issues’ less frivolous style (in that there’s nothing weird about the book) and throughout, the quality of the work is great.  I really enjoyed this book.  It opens with letters and contains color pictures, too.

Letters (more…)

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