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Archive for the ‘NPR/PRI/PBS’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: KHRUANGBIN-Tiny Desk Concert #743 (May 16, 2018).

The sound of the guitar that Khruangbin create is so dead on for an old sixties band that as they started this set I thought perhaps it was a sample they were opening up with.

But it was all live.  And as the camera comes on for “Maria También” we see this trio jamming this really groovy instrumental song (with whispered words from bassist Laura Lee).  The guitar melody is full of circular riffs but when it shifts to the main body, I love the way the bass and guitar play the same thing but it sounds like a fresh addition of low-end (his guitar seems to eschew the low-end entirely).  The middle of the song is a cool guitar solo with lots of hammer-ons and chords thrown in to generate a really wonderful sound–the tightness of the ending is really cool too.

So Khruangbin is a

trio from Houston, Texas heavily inspired by 1960s and ’70s funk and soul from, of all places, Thailand. That musical passion has taken them on a journey that, these days, incorporates music from Spain, Ethiopia and the Middle East. Khruangbin’s largely instrumental music is grounded in Laura Lee’s bass, with Mark Speer playing those melodic, richly reverbed guitar sounds and Donald “DJ” Johnson on drums and piano.

“August 10” is a jazzier number with lots of slow but evocative bass. The main part of the song is gentle chords with some cool riffage.  The middle slows things down with some very gentle na na na nas from all three members. Johnson’s drums are pretty simple and standard throughout–keep the beat and add some accents.  It’s that funky bass line that is so great.

Two of the three songs performed at this Tiny Desk Concert are from their 2018 album Con Todo El Mundo, which is dedicated in part to Laura Lee’s Mexican-American grandfather. He’d often ask her how much she loved him and the response that pleased him most was when she would say, “con todo el mundo,” (with all the world.)

The third track in this performance is one of the band’s first forays into vocals, from their 2015 debut album, The Universe Smiles Upon You. “White Gloves” gently pays homage to a “classy lady” who was “a fighter” and who “died in a fight.” Its open-ended lyrics could imply a battle that was violent or an illness. It isn’t clear.

“White Gloves” is more mellow and less jamming.  I am fascinated that Johnson switched to piano (no drums on this track) for this song. Unlike the other two songs, this one needed to grow on me, but I enjoyed it by the end.

[READ: January 28, 2018] “The History of The History of Death”

This story is written as a speech given at a Symposium held at the University of Melbourne, 2— The Symposium was called “Postmortem of the Printed Word.”

The speaker announces that in 490 BC Hermodorus tried to refute Heraclitus’ claim that “everything changes and nothing remains still.”  He did so by writing a History of Death in which “only those things which had ceased to change” would be recorded.

After writing the first volume, he died of a seizure.  Another scribe had just recorded Hermodorus’ death when he himself fell ill and died.

Future writers chronicling this History of Death also died in complex ways.  One was trampled by a horse, one died of stomach cancer.  When it was translated into German, it became like something of a light for moths as so many scholars wound up dead. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE RURAL ALBERTA ADVANTAGE-Live at Massey Hall (July 8, 2014).

The video opens with Nils Edenloff saying that this concert is an amazing posterity thing.  That it’s ungraspable for them right now, but they’ll look back after the fact and say, “Oh wow, I looked great then.”

“As a scrappy indie band it feels wild to be allowed to set their gear on stage for a spell.”

I have hears some songs by the band, but, wow, live they are a powerhouse.

The way “Luciana” opens is incredible: Drummer Paul Banwatt is a maniac sounding like two or three drummers as he crashes through some snare drum pattern variants and cymbals galore.

Nils Edenloff’s guitar has a great loud sound–very electric and large.  It sounds like the strings are loose wires smacking against the guitar and the fretboard (bot not detuned or anything).  And he sings with abandon.

Amy Cole’s keys are not as powerful as the rest but they provide a foundation for the rest of the band to play on

Muscle Relaxants has Cole singing backing vocals which fleshes out their sound even more.  They make a large racket for a trio that’s almost all acoustic.  Between songs, Nils comments:

“Wow you guys are quiet, no phones out, I guess.”

Don’t Haunt This Place is slower.  The vocal melody is familiar if not common, but the drums are just so thumping, it sounds great.  And the backing vocals are perfect.

Introducing “Tornado 87” he says

For those not from Alberta, you don’t have to sing Alberta songs if you’re from here, it’s just something we stumbled on.  Oddly enough we played part of this song last weekend at the Stampeders home opener and there happened to also be a tornado while we played this song.  Lets hope for the best tonight.

The song continues with the intensity of the other songs but it has a wonderful quiet middle section which erupts into an explosion at the end.

Two Lovers is solo, just Nils and his guitar.  It’s a nice break from the intensity.

“Terrified” is a new song that opens with just a guitar but then …boom…  great harmony vocals and a powerful chorus.

The show ends with “Stamp” which has a great clap-along section and wonderful ooohs to end the song.

This was the final video in Season One of the Live at Massey Hall series.   There are four seasons in total thus far.

[READ: May 9, 2018] ”Without Inspection”

This is the story of a man falling to his death: “It took Arnold six and a half seconds to fall five-hundred feet” is how it opens.

The story zooms in on Arnold’s mind for those six and a half seconds and the few seconds that remain before he actually dies.

He sees his son, Paris and Paris’ mother, Darlene.  And he flashes back to how they met, what has happened since they met and what he hopes will happen after he is gone.

The fall was unplanned and occurred when his left foot slipped off a scaffold and he fell out of the loosened (or broken) safety harness.

The story also details the fall–faster by the second. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: NAIA IZUMI-Tiny Desk Concert #742 (May 14, 2018).

Naia Izumi won the Tiny Desk Contest and here he is with his full Tiny Desk Concert (note to those who submit–you’ll need to have more than one song handy if you win).

He and his band play three songs.

Naia Izumi won us over with his mind-boggling and unique style of guitar playing — a combination of tapping on the fingerboards and soul-filled whammy bar-note bending. And his multi-octave singing range blended so eloquently with his guitar stylings.

Naia is often a one-man band playing on the streets with a drum machine. But for his Tiny Desk Concert he brought bassist Adam Matijasevic and drummer Kynwyn Sterling. He’d met Kynwyn after submitting one of his songs to a math rock Facebook group. And that’s the thing: Naia’s music draws from so many spheres of sound. There’s that punctual, rhythmic, mathematical pulse to what he does, but there’s also a fluid, almost African Kalimba sound in there as well. They’re two sounds I wouldn’t often think of as coexisting.

“Soft Spoken” (the song that won the contest) starts off with him beat boxing and then playing that astonishing finger-tapping riff.  He seems very relaxed and comfortable playing the song in this setting.  And the addition of the bass and guitar really flesh out the sound nicely.  I particularly like the few extra bass fills.  And of course a live drummer is always superior to the machine (even if she looks a little disinterested).   The guitar solo is really pretty, too.

It’s a song, as I hear it, that speaks to the power inherent in the gentle and quieter voices that are often drowned out by the outspoken and boisterous ones. Its title was originally “Soft Spoken Woman” and, as we later learned, Naia had identified as a woman for nearly seven years. More recently, as he said in an interview with Washingtonian Magazine, “I’m not into that anymore because I just want to relax with biology and be comfortable with what I have.”

The other two songs are new to even Contest watchers.  Can he do it two more times? Indeed he can.

“As It Comes” features some very cool guitar seconds (lots of chords with vibrato).  It’s pretty neat to watch his hands fly up and down the neck of his guitar.  He does some more finger-tapping in the middle of the song and what I love about it is that he’s not showing off or trying to impress (although it is impressive).  It’s all in service of the song (especially if he was playing by himself).

But it’s Izumi’s vocals that really deliver on this song.  He sings the bridge with a wonderfully delicate whisper that soars into his high falsetto.

There seems to be a synth on this track although I can’t place it.

The final song is “Soul Gaze” and it sounds huge.  There’s something about the guitar effects that he uses on the chords that make this song explode  with a Jimi Hendrix kind of texture.  And his vocal delivery soars into Jeff Buckley territory.  I love that those two things drew my attention more than the finger-tapping (which also sounds great).

It’s a tremendous song and Izumi seems a more than worthy winner.

[READ: May 8, 2018] “You Never Really Know”

This piece is fairly slightly Eisenberg is always able to pull the funny out of seemingly slight premises.

As the title suggests, Jesse knows a lot about the N.B.A.  And that knowledge does come in handy in unexpected places.

Like with his prospective father-in-law.  The man is unimpressed with Jesse–no stable employment, no car or house as well as being emotionally unavailable,

Jesse doesn’t disagree with the man, in fact he confirms it and notes that this must be how the Detroit Pistons’ manager felt after drafting the disappointing Darko Miličić instead of Carmelo Anthony in 2003.

This catches the father’s interest: “You know the tertiary details of the Darko Miličić saga?”

In a second example, Jesse was speeding –going ninety-one miles an hour in a sixty-five zone.  The difference is 26 mile per hour.

Jesse acknowledges his mistake and points out that 26 is also Kyle Korver’s jersey.

The officer is stunned that this guy knows the jersey number of the rotation player for the Cleveland Cavaliers.  But he explains he’s no savant, he reads about basketball all the time.

He stopped reading novels because it makes him feel competitive with other writers, whereas when he reads about basketball he knows there is no competition.

The office is sorry that he is plagues by this self-doubt and borderline hubris.

Finally, he is talking to the N.B.A Commissioner who wants to offer him a job “as a superstar player.”  Because what matters in a clutch situation?  Not quick reflexes but “an ability to name the assistant coaching staff of the Oklahoma City Thunder.”

Fun fact:

Michael Jordan an Scottie Pippen quizzed each other using flash cards.

Eisenberg always brings a smile to my face.

For ease of searching, I include: Darko Milicic.

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SOUNDTRACK BELA FLECK & ABIGAIL WASHBURN-Tiny Desk Concert #741 (May 11, 2018).

I know and like Bela Fleck.  I know and like Abigail Washburn.  I had no idea they were married.

A very pregnant Abigail Washburn points to Bela Fleck at the Tiny Desk and says “and just so you know, this is his fault.” I won’t spoil the video by telling you his response.

Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn are two American musical treasures. This husband-and-wife banjo duo write original tunes steeped in the roots of folk music. Their playing is sweetly paced with melodies interweaving through their intricate, percussive picking all while Abigail soars above it all with her discerning, yearning voice.

I also had no idea how political they are.

Their first tune, “Over the Divide,” was written at the height of the Syrian Refugee Crisis. They’d read a story about a Jewish, yodeling, Austrian sheep herder who helped Syrians out of Hungary, through the backroads that likely only sheep herders know.

Lyrical content aside, the music is just stunning.  The banjo is oft-mocked for its twang, but these two play such beautiful intertwining lines, it is just magical.   The opening melody is just jaw-droppingly lovely.

They each switch banjos to rather different-looking ones–deeper more resonating sounds

The second tune, “Bloomin’ Rose,” is a response to Standing Rock and the Dakota pipeline that is seen as a threat to water and ancient burial grounds. The intensity and thoughtfulness in Bela Fleck’s and Abigail Washburn’s music is why it will shine for a good long while, the way great folk tunes stay relevant over the ages.

But Abigail isn’t just banjo and vocals,

For the third tune, Abigail waddled over to a clogging board. And before she began her rhythmic patter, told us all that “my doctor said that what I’m about to do is ok! I have compression belts and tights on that you can’t see.” [Bela: so do I].  They then launched into “Take Me To Harlan,” another one of their songs from their 2017 album Echo In The Valley.

She says that they met at a square dance in Nashville, and she loves dancing and movement.  Bela plays and Abigail sings and taps for this jazzy number.  The middle of the song features a call and response with Bela on banjo and Abigail tapping [“Eight month?  No problem.”].

For the final song, “My Home’s Across the Blue Ridge Mountains,” Abigail says it’s usually done in a perky bluegrass country style but they listened to the lyrics and decided it was not perky at all.  So they turned it into a different thing.  It’s a somber song with Bela on a relatively slow banjo (with a slide that he sneaks on near the end) and Abigail singing mournfully (she can really belt out a tune).

Although as Steve Martin pointed out, with a banjo almost everything is upbeat.

The parties at their house must be a hoot.

[READ: January 21, 2018] “Active Metaphors” and “Death By Icicle”

“Active Metaphors” is one of Saunders’ funniest pieces that I’ve read.  And whats strange about that is that it was an essay published in the Guardian newspaper.

There are two headings: “Realistic Fiction” and “Experimental Fiction”

“Realistic Fiction” begins with the narrator in a biker bar.  He overheard two bikers, Duke and StudAss discussing these two types of fiction. –they’d purchased their “hogs” with royalties from their co-written book Feminine Desire in Jane Austen.  There was some verbal sparring during which they threw Saunders out a window “while asking questions about F. Scott Fitzgerald’s fallen American utopia.”

The narrator explained his theory of realism to them–everything happens the way it actually would and then suggests that maybe a central metaphor would help define things.  There’s an impotent farmer and every time he walks past the field, the corn droops.  An active metaphor like this helps the reader sense the deeper meaning of the story.

As they ride off with him on their hog, the bikers use some great professorial language–the end is hilarious. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: DARLINGSIDE-Tiny Desk Concert #739 (May 4, 2018).

I genuinely can’t believe that Darlingside hasn’t done a Tiny Desk Concert before as they are a perfect band for it–four guys playing primarily acoustic instruments, singing gorgeous harmonies around one microphone–perfect..

But here they are for the first time sounding somehow bigger than they do live (must be the small space and the surprisingly loud bass).

If you’re Darlingside and you have three albums out (but two that fans really love) and you can only play three songs, what do you choose? You must choose something from Birds Say, of course, but what?

They chose “The God of Love” one of several gorgeous songs on the album and a showcase for Don Mitchell’s 12 string guitar and Auyon Mukharji’s violin.

I did not know that

“The God of Loss” was inspired by the Arundhati Roy book The God of Small Things, and by the main character’s attempts to preserve humanity in the face of competing forces.

As is standard practice, Harris Paseltiner give the opening introduction.  He speaks of being up since five and drinking decaf and eating a delicious quiche.  Don quips, “don’t worry you only have to hear about Harris’ morning in minute detail, not he rest of us.”

And then it’s time to move on to the new album.  The current single “The Best of the Best of Times” allows them to show off the new electronic gizmo that adds sounds to the album as well as Auyon’s mandolin.  It’s also really catchy, and Don throws in all kinds of unexpected dissonance with that little electronic thingy.

Auyon introduces the band by saying how they are similar to Bob Boilen (I did a little research on the internet).

Don: Tiny Desk Concert is named after a band that Bob was part of (Tiny Desk Unit) with a friend named Michael Barron.  Don has a friend named Michael with whom he plays music (Michael Cohen, different Michael, same idea).

Don: has a friend name Michael who whom he played music.  (Michael Cohen, different Michael, same Idea)

Harris: Bob grew up around Italian people and uses his hands to speak.  So does Harris.

Dave: thinks about the sound of words and how good it feels to say things and Bob’s “stage name” Bob Boilen is very pleasant to say so they probably gave that in common.

Auyon: Bob sometimes wears bolo ties I also sometimes wear bolo ties.

The end the set with Harris on cello and Auyon on violin playing the gorgeous, melancholy “Extra life” which

starts off the album with these lines:

“It’s over now
The flag is sunk
The world has flattened out
Under the under grow
I’ve always found
A level further down
As I begin to lose hold of
The fiery flowerbeds above
Mushroom clouds reset the sky
Extralife”

After the string-filled opening Harris jumps back to guitar and Auyon is back on mandolin while Dave Senft is playing the little electronic gadget this time

The opening is nearly a capella so that when the band kicks in, the full instrumentation on the second verse, it feels huge.

Through these end-of-time lyrics comes deep appreciation for what we have and what’s worth holding on to. And through it all Darlingside’s humor shines, with in-between chatter about quiche and common bonds. Don’t miss this band’s music. This is the perfect introduction to Darlingside, right here.

Every time I’ve heard them they’ve been great.  The only downside to this show is that it’s so short.

[READ: March 30, 2018] “Find the Edges”

This was a very sad, rather short story about death and a family disintegrating.

The central metaphor of putting a puzzle together was really effective without being obvious.

His wife loved jigsaw puzzles.  She always said to find the edges and work your way in. But the kitchen table, which usually held her puzzles was now filled with papers, bills for wreaths and the like.  Also on the table was a pie from the Rendons next store. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: GZA & The Soul Rebels-Tiny Desk Concert #738 (May 2, 2018). 

GZA is the latest rapper to come to the Tiny Desk with a live band.  He had a six piece brass band Manuel Perkins (Sousaphone), Julian Gosin (Trumpet), Marcus Hubbard (Trumpet), Erion Williams (Saxophone), Corey Peyton (Trombone), Paul Robertson (Trombone) and two percussionists Lumar LeBlanc and Derrick Moss.

It turns out that on a recent tour The Soul Rebels were actually the headlining band and GZA was a special guest:

This set was recorded when The Soul Rebels were in Washington, D.C. for a performance at the 9:30 Club that featured GZA and Talib Kweli. It was one of just a handful of live concerts GZA has done with the group.

I was surprised to hear than GZA (or frankly anyone from Wu-Tang Clan was “notoriously introverted.”  Also that “Most rap fans would name RZA as the head of the Wu-Tang Clan. But Wu purists know that GZA, or The Genius, is the crew’s unspoken elder statesman.”

Once they stepped behind the desk they got right down to business, opening with the sparkling “Living In The World Today,” from GZA’s 1995 solo album Liquid Swords. These 23-year old lyrics and metaphors felt timeless.

After the song he smiles, “That was cool.”

GZA continued his onslaught of poetic precision with another beauty from Liquid Swords, “Duel of the Iron Mic.” “I ain’t particular,” he spat, starting to break into a sweat behind the desk. “I bang like vehicular/Homicides on July 4th in Bed-Stuy.” At one point, GZA even channeled his cousin, the late great Ol’ Dirty Bastard, who provided the hook on the original version of the track.

By the third and final song at the Tiny Desk, driven by unbridled passion and his command of the room, GZA was soaked in sweat as they broke into the title track of Liquid Swords. The Soul Rebels perfectly recreated the track’s seamless horn hits while adding on a bit of their own flare. The cherry on top arrived when GZA used his final minutes to tell the story of how the hook originally came together. In RZA’s basement, smoking and drinking with fellow Wu lyricist Masta Killa, RZA was sold on a routine he, GZA and ODB used to perform as teens.

I don’t know GZA’s solo stuff.  I don’t really know his flow.  He sounds a bit old and a little rusty, but his delivery is strong (even when he “forgets his own verse” in “Liquid Swords”).   I love the way The Soul Rebels play the eight notes over and over in an almost menacing holding position.

And the tale he tells about the final song is pretty great.

 

[READ: April 10, 2018] “The Mastiff”

This is one of those stories (translated from the French by Linda Coverdale) that to me just seems endless despite its brevity.

The Master has never seen this thing before.

He releases the howling mastiff.

He follows the dog.

For the rest of the story. (more…)

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 SOUNDTRACK: ÌFÉ-Tiny Desk Concert #736 (April 29, 2018).

ÌFÉ is from Puerto Rico.  Creator Otura Mun has a fascinating history as to how he wound up creating this band:

Otura Mun started out in the world as Mark Underwood, a Goshen, Ind., native whose parents were Mennonites and who managed to snag a coveted spot on the University of North Texas’ drumline. But that was before a flight mixup landed the percussionist, composer, DJ and producer with a free trip to Puerto Rico. Two years later, he moved permanently to the island, became a Yoruban high priest and began creating electronic music that channeled the African diaspora.

Woah.

So ÌFÉ (pronounced ee-faye) combines traditional Afro-Cuban drumming and chanting with a kind of Jamaican dancehall sound.  Midway through the set, Mun explains that he drilled holes into the traditional acoustic drums and has attached electronics to them, essentially making them triggers, but with the traditional acoustic sound as an overtone.  It’s pretty amazing.

The group’s debut album, IIII+IIII, (pronounced “Edgy-Og-Beh”) is a fresh electronic take on tradition that’s winning over even the most devout practitioners of the western African-based spiritual ceremonies that form the base of their music. That’s hard to do with ritual music.

Although interestingly, for the first song “House of Love (Ogbe Yekun),” they play acoustically.

For their turn behind the Tiny Desk, Otura Mun and his ensemble unplug their drums for their first tune, an acoustic version of their “House of Love (Ogbe Yekun)”.

This acoustic sound is quite compelling in itself.  Yaimir Cabám plays a beautiful acoustic guitar (pretty, simple chords) and sings, I believe wordlessly.  Meanwhile, the rest of the band plays various percussion: simple electronic percussion and shaker and various hand drums.  Anthony Sierra on congas keeps the rhythm.

After a verse, Otura Mun joins in on vocals (with deep backing vocals from Beho Torrens).  It’s a quiet, soothing song with occasional punctuation from the drums.  When the melody finally changes after 4 minutes, it sounds like a massive shift even if it’s just a few notes.

“Prayer for Oduduwa (Para Meceditas)” opens with bells and shakers and some interesting electronic splashes before the massive amounts of electronics take over the song.  I believe Rafael Maya joins them and was not their for song one.

The sound of the second song here is what startled me when I heard the band’s debut CD last year: the parts normally performed on Afro-Cuban bata drums and chekeres are electronically treated for a traditional prayer for the deity Oduduwa.

They sing in a traditional chanting style including an awesome low chant (from Torrens) that sounds otherworldly.

By the last tune, “Bangah (Pico Y Palo),” the electronics have created a sonic playground that plays perfectly against the battery of Afro-Cuban rhythms.   “Bangah,” focuses on a reflection of the Orisha Ogún, the owner of war in the religion, whose main tool is the machete.

Mun says he wanted to play urban music you could improvise and to use percussion as the basis–Cuban rumba combined with Jamaican dancehall.  He demonstrates some sounds and then a deep rumbling bass: “we got your nasty subs that you know from that the stuff that’s nasty.”

The song is a shout out to those struggling against the vestiges of colonialism still prevalent in Puerto Rico.

They begin the song with a “breathe in” [inhale] let it out Ahhh!

I love the way the various voices are processed.  Torrens sound deeper and Cabám’s voice sounds alien and like it is three voices at once.  The various lines are interspersed with interesting vocals sounds: grunts and screams that punctuate the verses.

It’s a very cool set.

[READ: March 19, 2018] The Rat with the Human Face

In 2014, Angelberger’s first book The Qwikpick Adventure Society was reissued as Poop Fountain.  He then wrote two more books in this trilogy.

This is the second book (written in 2015) and it opens with this

This is the second of three stacks of papers this guy found in a storage room at the old Qwikpick gas station in Crickenburg.  The guy, who asked me not to use his name, called me because one of my old newspaper articles was in the first stack.  (You know I was a reporter before I wrote the Origami Yoda books, right?)

Then he reminds the readers that this book is set in 2000–kids didn’t have iPhones or smartphones.  They didn’t have phones at all and cameras took forever to charge the flash and they drained the batteries fast.

So the entire Qwikpick Adventure Society: Lyle, Marilla and Dave is back, but this story begins with bad tidings–the Qwikpick Adventure Society was disbanded after this adventure.  (more…)

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