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Archive for the ‘All Songs Considered’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: Bob Boilen’s Favorite Tiny Desk Concerts of 2019.

For 2020, I intend to put more albums in my Soundtrack section.  But it’s amazing how time consuming that can be.

Nevertheless, I’ll always be posting about Tiny Desk Concerts because I watch all of them.  So I’ll start 2020 with Bob Boilen’s favorite Tiny Desk Concerts of 2019.

It amuses me that Bob Boilen and I often share very similar tastes in music, but our favorite things are usually quite different.

When we first started filming musicians playing behind the Tiny Desk in April 2008, the beauty was in the intimacy and simplicity of these concerts. Now into our 11th year, after more than 900 Tiny Desks, the other treasure I find in these concerts is the variety. I remember having the cast of Sesame Street here in May, with NPR parents and their children seated on the floor watching the Muppets. The following Monday we had the blood red-faced raging of Idles, climbing all over the desk and singing “I’m Scum.” The scope of music is invigorating, especially considering a world of listening where we can not only get comfortable with what we love, but where the quantity of music from any particular genre could keep us happy all year. Tiny Desk concerts are here to shake up your tastes a little and help you stretch your ears and discover something you never knew existed or convert you to something you never thought you’d like. Here are 10 great examples of that magic from 2019.

I don’t have a list of favoirtes, but I will make some observations about Bob’s.

Bob seems to really like bands who put their names in all caps.  Also bands who have a number (specifically 47) attached to their letters.

Quinn was the Tiny Desk Contest winner.  Sesame Street is pretty iconic.  Taylor Swift is something of a surprise, but was clearly the biggest name they’ve ever had.  And yet, Lizzo’s Tiny Desk has twice as many views as Taylor Swift’s (5 million to 2.5 million!).

Looking forward to their 1,000th show later this year.  I wonder who it will be.

[READ: January 6, 2020] “Playing Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain”

This was a great short story about playing a video game.

For decades, the video game industry has been releasing video games in which a protagonist kills people from other countries.  Since I don’t play these games, I never really thought about what it would be like to be from that country and to play those games.

Surely people from all around the world like to play video games, and they probably want to play the popular ones as well.

In this story an an Afghani-American kid, Zoya, who works at Taco Bell has saved up all of his money (the money that he doesn’t give to his out of work father) to buy the final game in the Metal Gear series.  He has been playing this series which has becomes “so fundamentally a part of your childhood that often, when you hear the Irish Gaelic chorus from “The Best is Yet to Come” you cannot help weeping softly into your keyboard.” (more…)

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[ATTENDED: October 29, 2019] Jay Som

A few years ago, I listened to a podcast on All Songs Considered, in which they talked about Jay Som, Japanese Breakfast and Mitski as being similarly-minded songwriters.

I made a point to try to see all three of them and Jay Som was my third.  I feel like her songs might be the most commercial-sounding (I mean, “Superbike” is awesome!) and yet she played in the smallest venue of the three.  But the fans were really into the show!

Jay Som is the creation of Melina Duterte.  She came out last after her band set up and checked out to make sure everything was cool.  When she came out on stage there was much applause and she thanked us for coming to her show while Sum 41 was playing downstairs.  he said that she and the band checked out a few songs before their set started.  Actually their set was so short, they could have easily gone down afterward and heard more.

Up on stage with her were Oliver Pinnell on guitar, Zachary Elsasser on drums and Dylan Allard on bass and keys.  There was also a fifth person on stage.  A woman.  And that’s all I really know about her.  I’m sure she was introduced, but I never caught her name.  And, because of the position of the keyboard rack, I literally never saw her face.  She played keys and bass.  When she stood in front of the keys, the upper keyboard blocked her face and when Dylan played keys, he totally blocked her.  So, apologies, unknown band member. (more…)

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[ATTENDED: October 29, 2019] Boy Scouts

I had heard a song by Boy Scouts on NPR and I was pretty happy they were going to open for Jay Som.

Traffic was a little heavy and I feared that since another band [SUM 41!] were playing in the main part of the building, that it would be tough finding parking. But I got a spot and made it up to The Foundry with no problem. I wound up right behind a short person who was against the fence.

Boy Scouts is basically the creation of Oakland-based songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Taylor Vick.  She writes delicate, harmony-laced folk and sings in a gentle tone.

I really enjoyed that the songs were simple but not obvious.  There was usually something unexpected in the song that kept it from being monotonous.  Whether it was an unexpected pause before a beat or just the way she stretched out a chord at the end of a line.

She also played some unexpected chords–or at least unexpected high on the neck of the guitar. (more…)

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[ATTENDED: July 27 & 28, 2019] Newport Folk Festival

Back in 1998, I won a radio contest (not through luck, I knew the name of a song and couldn’t believe no one else did!) and scored a ticket to the Newport Folk Festival.  It was in a lull back then and also, I believe there was only one stage (it’s hard to remember).  Now it is at full power, selling out before artists are even announced.

S. and I have talked about going and finally this year I saw when tickets were announced and I bought 4 tickets for us.  I knew that our son wouldn’t want to go, but I decided to make a long vacation out of it–a couple days in Rhode Island and then about a week in Maine.  He couldn’t say no to going to that.

I didn’t get Friday tickets because three days seemed excessive.  Plus, you never know who is going to appear until long after you buy the tickets. and that actually worked out pretty well.   Turned out, there wasn’t anyone I really wanted to see.

So we rolled in for Saturday.  I was told that if you wanted to get the poster you had to get their very early.  We arrived at 12:30 and they were long sold out.  Oh well. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: LIGHTSPEED CHAMPION (“Field Recording” March 2, 2009).

Years before NPR created a category called “Field Recordings,” they were creating Field Recordings–“backstage” (or elsewhere) recordings of bands.  Most of these seem to happen at Music Festivals where musicians just seem to be hanging around anyway.

I have no idea how many of these there are.  In fact, the only reason I discovered this one is because there was a link to it from the Blood Orange Tiny Desk Concert.

Because it turns out that Devonté Hyness, the guy behind Blood Orange was once Dev Hynes, the guy behind Lightspeed Champion.

And so, eleven years ago, Lightspeed Champion played SXSW.

It was a spectacularly beautiful day in Austin, TX when Lightspeed Champion’s Dev Hynes and violinist Mike Siddell met with All Songs Considered’s Bob Boilen for this exclusive outdoor performance. Hynes and Siddell offered up an intimate little set as they ran through four songs, opening with “Tell Me What It’s Worth,” followed by “Everyone I Know is Listening to Crunk,” “Galaxy of the Lost” and an inspired cover of Olivia Newton John’s “Xanadu.”

For all four songs, it’s Dev on acoustic guitar and Mike on violin.  Like on “Tell Me What It’s Worth” Dev sings mostly quietly with his accent audible.  The violin adds sweet touches and occasional solos.

He introduces “Everyone I Know is Listening to Crunk” by saying that crunk is a musical genre that originated about two hours east of here.  Li’l John more or less started it and the queen of crunk is Sierra.  It features this amusing chorus (?)

my drawings are starting to suck
My best friends are all listening to crunk
i feel like the world’s gone crazy
…sometimes in the cold night my phone rings but it’s not you

“Galaxy of the Lost” is a slow pretty ballad with a lovely rising scale in the middle.

Finally comes his cover of “Xanadu” (a song I love).  The opening guitar sounds like “Sugar Pie Honey Bunch” and I love the way he resolves it into “Xanadu.”  The sprinkles of violin are a nice touch.

It’s pretty amazing how different this sounds from Blood Orange.  It’s an impressive development for an artist.

[READ: January 23, 2019] Secret Coders: Potions & Parameters

Secret Coders 4 ended with a puzzle.  But I read it months ago, so I haven’t even thought about it since then.  In fact, I have conceded that I will not learn basic programming from this series, so I’m not even trying.  I could see, though, that if you were reading these in quick succession that it would be fun to learn how to do what they are doing and to try the tests.

When we last left our heroes they were being attacked by biting ducks (!).  They use their program skills and the hard-light-generating Light-Light to escape.  And they wind up in a room with all the people who have drunk the green soda.  Including Hopper’s dad.  What?

As they try to snap him out of the “green!” stupor he is in, Dr. One-Zero arrives with Paz.  Turns out Paz was double crossing the kids all along and now Dr. One-Zero has the hard light generator and has the kids trapped.  He’s that much closer to winning–and his final plan is pretty terrible. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SHAKEY GRAVES-Live at Newport Folk Festival (July 28, 2018).

I really only know Shakey Graves (Alejandro Rose-Garcia) from NPR Music.  I enjoyed his Tiny Desk and have thought he’d be a fun folk rocker to see live.  He’s got a raspy voice and is not afraid to go loud as needed.  He says that with this show, he has now played all four stages at Newport.

He’s going to “Kick this off with a waltz that I wrote years ago that has sadly become more relevant every year I’ve played it.  It’s about not listening to people and listening to people at the same time.  What?  How’s that possible?  It’s called ‘Word of Mouth.'”

This song is just him on his guitar with a kick drum and tambourine (not sure if he’s doing the percussion, but I assume he is).  Midway through, he kicks in the distortion for a loud middle section.  The song is long, about 7 minutes, and in the middle, he says, “And if you can’t handle shit here in the United States you better get the fuck out.  That’s terrible advice, honestly.  You gotta stand your ground and hear yourself out.”

The ending feedback segues into “Foot of Your Bed.”  A full band has evidently joined him as there is now a pedal steel guitar, drums, and a harp (?!).  It’s a quiet song which they segue into the much louder “Cops and Robbers.”

“The Perfect Parts” opens with a complex drum part and then a stomping clap-along with a big dah dah dah dah chorus (that he gets everyone to sing along with).

“Big Bad Wolf” opens with some cool guitar sounds before turning into a song that builds nicely.  “Mansion Door” is my favorite song of the set.  It builds wonderfully with Graves’ rough voice totally soaring. It’s followed by “Can’t Wake Up” which he says is about a “sleepy person, oh so sleepy.  No, it’s about changing things that you’re capable of changing even if they bring you distress.”

“Dining Alone” is the theme song of this fake person Garth Nazarth (all of his songs are about this fictional guy).  Garth hates his job, but all he does is fantasize instead of changing any aspect of it.”  Continuing with the downer aspect is “Counting Sheep.”  He says that the whole new album is about suicide “oh my gosh, not that.”  He says he was never suicidal, but he has gotten letters from people who have mentioned some intense feelings.  So he encoded “don’t die” messages throughout the record.  “Counting Sheep” is “a straightforward ‘don’t die’ song.  If you need a hug, come find me, I’ll give you a hug.”

The band leaves after the rocking “Excuses.”  It’s another great song from this show.

The final two songs are solo renditions of “Bully’s Lament” and “Roll the Bones.”  There’s some great rocking guitar on “Roll the Bones.”  I feel like the energy that Graves creates is what really makes his live shows special.  I hope he plays the Festival this year.

SET LIST:

  • “Word Of Mouth”
  • “Foot Of Your Bed”
  • “Cops And Robbers”
  • “The Perfect Parts”
  • “Big Bad Wolf”
  • “Mansion Door”
  • “Dining Alone”
  • “Counting Sheep”
  • “Excuses”
  • “Bully’s Lament”
  • “Roll The Bones”.

[READ: January 19, 2019] “Do Not Stop”

For some reason I thought that Salvator Scibona was an author I really liked and I was puzzled that I didn’t like this story very much.  Then I figured out that Scibona is not who I was thinking of at all, and that the last story I read by him I didn’t really enjoy that much either.

The first sentence sums up the story pretty well: “Okinawa was a fever dream of mosquitoes and Falstaff beer.”

The whole story, which is a Vietnam war story, is also a confusing fever dream that seems endless.

Vollie is getting shitfaced, but the Marine Corp rule was that they couldn’t put Vollie on the plane to deploy if he was too drunk to walk unassisted.  As he leaves the bar he is assaulted by people selling things, and advertising jingles just compound the alcohol in his head. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: CAROLINA EYCK AND CLARICE JENSEN-Tiny Desk Concert #816 (January 11, 2019).

There have been a lot of bands I have first heard of on Tiny Desk and whom I hope to see live one day.  Carolina Eyck and Clarice Jensen are two women I would love to see live–together or separately.

The concert opens with a looping voice (Carolina’s) and what appears to be her using a theremin to play looped samples.  And then soon enough, she starts showing off how awesome she is at the futuristic 100-year-old instrument.

Carolina Eyck is the first to bring a theremin to the Tiny Desk. The early electronic instrument with the slithery sound was invented almost 100 years ago by Leon Theremin, a Soviet scientist with a penchant for espionage. It looks like a simple black metal box with a couple of protruding antennae, but to play the theremin like Eyck does, with her lyrical phrasing and precisely “fingered” articulation, takes a special kind of virtuosity.

After playing a remarkably sophisticated melody on the theremin (with suitable trippy effects here and there), for about three minutes, she explains how the instrument works.  She even shows a very precise scale.

The position of the hands influences electromagnetic fields to produce pitch and volume. Recognized as one of today’s preeminent theremin specialists, Eyck writes her own compositions, such as the pulsating “Delphic” which opens the set, and she’s got big shot composers writing theremin concertos for her.

Up next is Clarice Jensen with “her wonderful cello.”

Joining Eyck for this two-musician-in-one Tiny Desk is cellist Clarice Jensen. When she’s not making gorgeous, drone-infused albums like last year’s For This From That Will be Filled, Jensen directs one of today’s leading new music outfits, ACME, the American Contemporary Music Ensemble.

Jensen doesn’t explain what’s going on, but she makes some amazing sounds out of that instrument–she’s clearly got pedals and she modifies and loops the sounds she’s making.

“Three Leos,” composed by Jensen, offers her masterful art of looping the cello into symphonic layers of swirling, submerged choirs with a wistful tune soaring above.

Vak Eyck comes back for the final song, a wonderfully odd duet of cello and theremin.

The two musicians close with “Frequencies,” a piece jointly composed specifically for this Tiny Desk performance. Amid roiling figures in cello and melodies hovering in the theremin, listen closely for a wink at the NPR Morning Edition theme music.

Van Eyck make soaring sounds, while Jensen scratches and squeals the cello.  Within a minute Jensen is playing beautiful cello and Van Eyck is flicking melodies out of thin air.

[READ: June 24, 2017] Less

It wasn’t until several chapters into this book that I realized I had read an excerpt from it (and that’s probably why I grabbed it in the first place).  I also had no idea it won the Pulitzer (PULL-It-ser, not PEW-lit-ser) until when I looked for some details about it just now.

It opens with a narrator talking about Arthur Less.  He describes him somewhat unflatteringly but more in a realistic-he’s-turning-fifty way, than a displeased way.

And soon the humor kicks in.

The driver who arrives to take Less to an interview assumes he is a woman because she found his previous novel’s female protagonist so compelling and persuasive that she was sure the book was written by a woman (and there was no author photo).  So she has been calling out for “Miss Arthur,” which he has ignored because he is not a woman.  This makes him late and, strangely, apologetic.

He is in New York to interview a famous author H. H. H. Mandern who has, at the last moment, come down with food poisoning.

It takes only ten pages to get the main plot out of the way:

Less is a failed novelist about to turn fifty. A wedding invitation arrived in the mail: his boyfriend of the past nine years is about to be married to someone else. He can’t say yes–it would be too awkward–and he can’t say no–it would look like defeat. The solution might just be on his desk –a series of invitations to half-baked literary events around the world.  Can he simply get out of town, and go around the world, as a way to avoid looking foolish? (more…)

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