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Archive for the ‘All Songs Considered’ Category

 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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[ATTENDED: April 24, 2018] Double Ferrari

I first heard about Double Ferrari when NPR covered them for their SXSW special.

They were described as “a thrillingly over-the-top throwback to a time when guitar virtuosos noodled their way to arena-sized stardom, Double Ferrari crafts giddily triumphant odes to giddy triumph.”  And why would you only have one Ferrari when you could have a Double Ferrari?

The song on the show was an instrumental based around guitar riffs.  That’s what they do.  I felt like they took the best solos from classic British heavy metal and built songs around them–with two guitars playing the parts in delicious over the top harmony.  And of course I love that the band Double Ferrari has a song called “Double Ferrari ” from the album Double Ferrari. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JEFF TWEEDY-Live at NPR Music’s 10 year Anniversary Concert (December 2, 2017).

I’m going to be seeing Jeff Tweedy live tomorrow night.  So I prepped for the show by watching this 20 minute session from NPR Music’s 10th anniversary.

There were a lot of performers at this Concert but for me Tweedy’s 20 minutes was the highlight.  He stood on stage with his white jacket and white cowboy hat and he effortlessly played five songs that spanned nearly 25 years. (There’s a terrific version of “Born Alone” which Tweedy sings with Kronos Quartet here).

His guitar playing is simple but effective and works as a perfect backdrop for his the focus of his voice and lyrics.

Thankfully for us and the audience at our 10th anniversary concert on Dec. 2 at the 9:30 Club, Tweedy’s set managed to run the gamut of [his] celebrated career. From his beginnings as a slack, alt-country rocker (playing Uncle Tupelo’s “We’ve Been Had”) and A.M.-era Wilco (with “Passenger Side”) to his recent turn as Mavis Staples’ producer and songwriter (on “Jesus Wept”) and later, Nels Cline-era Wilco (“Locator”).

The constant in all this experimenting is Tweedy’s voice as a singer and songwriter — one that invites a deep trust, even when it courts darkness. Performing solo with an acoustic guitar, his voice was once again at the center of it all.

The first song, “Bombs Away,” was previously unreleased.  The lyrics were thoughtful and stark

“I leave behind a trail of songs / from the darkest gloom to the brightest sun,
I’ve lost my way, but it’s hard to say / what I’ve been through should matter to you.”

When he starts Uncle Tupelo’s “We’ve Been Had” the smoke machine sends wafts across his face.  “Is something on fire?  …  I am cooking!”  The song soars and is one of the more upbeat songs he plays.

He follows with “Locator” from Schmilco.  It’s certainly odd on the record, but this acoustic version lets you see the foundation of the song before all of the cool effects are added.

He plays the pretty but rather downbeat “Jesus Wept” which is something that he worked on with Mavis Staples for their collaborative album.  I don’t know her version, but his is delightful.  When it’s over he says, “I thought I’d pull that one out because it’s such a big celebration….  It’s a fun song.  Can anyone think of a song I should play that’s celebratory?”  [audience shouts out].  Jeff continues, “so you don’t know any of my songs, that’s cool.”

Someone shouted out “Passenger Side” and he plays that.

He ends with “I’m The Man Who Loves You” which gets lots of applause.  He has some fun with fast guitar playing, and he is clearly having a grand time.

I can’t wait to see what he does with a full set.

 

[READ: January 25, 2017] “I Didn’t Win Any Pulitzer Prizes This Year”

This piece was not in the magazine.  It was in the Daily Shouts section online.  I am refraining from writing about these online-only posts in general, but this one slipped past my print-only radar.

Just how do you stretch out a premise like this for an entire essay?

He explains that this egregious omission continues his twenty-nine year streak of not receiving even one of these prizes.

Overlooked in nonfiction: an email with the subject line “Re: (No Subject).”  The Prize committee did not conclude that the email was informative “but its brevity was what pushed it over the edge.” (more…)

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 SOUNDTRACK: JENNY AND THE MEXICATS-Tiny Desk Concert #721 (March 26, 2018).

I had never heard of Jenny and the Mexicats.   Interestingly, the blurb below doesn’t say anything about where they are from.  One assumes Mexico, but Jenny herself has a rather posh British accent when she speaks.  It also turns out that the band is based in Spain…so all preconceived notions are dashed.

Jenny and the Mexicats’ … high energy shows are unforgettable … Mixing flamenco, originally from southern Spain, with Jenny Ball’s jazz trumpet background and a little bit of cumbia has created their one-of-a-kind musical identity.

The grooves these musicians create can be frenetic (as in the first performance here, “Frenético Ritmo”)…

This song is sung in a mix of Spanish and English–the verses are predominantly Spanish but the ends of each verse seem to be in English.  Jenny’s trumpet works perfectly with the music they are playing.  And the electric guitar plays some interesting sounds throughout.  The song slows down to a pretty ballad with the flamenco guitar playing a solo before the song ratchets up again, cumbia all the way.

or slow and luxurious (“The Song for the UV Mouse House”).

Jenny sings in English on this song with a fascinating accent.  She has a diva’s R&B wavering vocal style, and yet she also seems to have some cockney on some of the words. The song is a ballad and the plentiful drums–hand, box, snare and percussion–keep the roots in Mexican music.   The whispered spoken word middle is a nice touch.

In both cases, the group presents the perfect cushion for Ball’s impassioned singing and engaging stage presence. There are no weak points in the instrumentation, and with Ball out front, the songs come to life as the short stories they are — like that of the young lady who appreciates a beer before taking on life’s challenges in “Verde Más Allá.”

Before the song Jenny tells a story about their favorite show: “We did a concert based on airlines.  We came out like pilots, there was a plane crash in the middle of the show, we came back as angels and devils, it was a lot of fun.”  The guy behind her helps out: “it was a Halloween show.”

“Verde Más Allá” is a mellow song about a Caguama (pronounced kawama).  The guitarist asks, “What is a caguama?”  It’s a liter-sized beer, and the song is about a girl who doesn’t like to work and loves her caguama.  It’s a fun song, “no le gusta trabaja!”  After the first verse, right on cue, the percussionist plays the office’s train whistle which makes everyone crack up.  The end of the song features some sing along, and the flamenco guitarist doing one of those high-pitched flamenco laughs.  At the end, Jenny (whose dress is dangerously short), holds down the ends of her dress so she can jump for the conclusion of the song.

Much good fun is had.  Caguama!

[READ: January 31, 2018] “Five Stories”

Here’s five more short short stories from Diane Williams.  And once again, she amazes me with her sentences and aggravates me with her stories.

“Girl with a Pencil”
The first two paragraphs seem like a different story, as the rest of the story seems to flow from paragraph number 3 in which a girl draws a picture of her future: two shoes, a pair of legs and the hem of a skirt on top.  Her mother was mad that there was no head.  I like that this is a formative experience but the resulting brute seems oddly out-sized.

“A Gray Pottery Head”
I enjoyed this story because of the way it ended.  “That night…something exciting a foot.  She has a quarter hour more to live.”  Except that that wasn’t the end of the story (it was the end of the page).  The next several paragraphs are about her death. It’s the first of her stories where I felt it was way too long. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KATIE VON SCHLEICHER-“Mary” NPR’S SOUTH X LULLABY (March 29, 2018).

I had never heard of Katie Von Schleicher.  I don’t know what the rest of her music sounds like.  But this ballad sounded a lot like Cowboy Junkies.

This is a pretty, sad song.  her voice is lovely, but the thing that I enjoyed the most was watching her guitarist Adam Brisbin play high notes and then a cool tumbling style of playing low notes.

This was recorded at the Spire Studio Tour Bus (basically a camper trailer, parked on Cheer Up Charlie’s lot, with brilliant recording gear, amps guitars) It’s the quietest song from Katie Von Schleicher’s magnificent 2017 album, Shitty Hits.

Katie Von Schleicher wrote to me just after this filming to tell me more about “Mary.” “I’ve been teaching a songwriting class and it’s funny now to break these things down into craft and intention,” she says via email, “but I do feel that writing to a person’s name is a really tender practice, one that can unlock kindness and a conversational tone. If speaking to a part of yourself, personifying it, singing warmly, you can spare your faults and self-criticisms by speaking as if to another person [and] maybe even take your own advice. As much as they’re personal, I’m also trying to get close to some of my favorite things, which also include Randy Newman’s ‘Marie’ and Raymond Carver’s short stories (so full of conversation). For me, ‘Mary’ is a place and time rather than a person, childhood and youth and the strange space I’ve found in going back to the house where I grew up in Maryland to make records now.”

[READ: March 28, 2018] “The Intermediate Class”

I really enjoyed the way this story used the set up of the foreign language class as a way to explore feelings and sentiments that are too hard to express.

Kiril’s mother wondered why he would want to take a German class now, why spend his time with “lazy old American housewives.”  His mother didn’t approve of his taking German back in college either.  He majored in computer science and had no time to waste.  Plus, he was a native English speaker (unlike her who was til trying to learn it).

Kiril has shown up to the Intermediate German class a little late, but the class was welcoming.  There were four people in the room: a woman with an Afro, Wanda; a pale thin woman, Morgan; a Latino man, Alejandro; a sunburned, angry white man, Arthur.  There was piano playing from behind a wall in the class.   It stopped and a man and a young woman came out.  The woman was Claire, a student in the class.  The man was the teacher.

He said he would ring a bell and they would only speak in German afterward.  When the bell rang the atmosphere changed.  (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MAX RICHTER-“Dream 3 (In The Midst Of My Life)” from Sleep– NPR’S SOUTH X LULLABY (March 17, 2018).

This piece is remarkable.  And the except provided here (all 8 minutes of it) is but a teeny fraction of the entire 8 hour work.

I had heard about this piece on Echoes a few months ago and was very interested in it, but figured there was no way I’d hear it.  I never imagined anyone would hear it quite like this:

Right at the start of the 2018 SXSW Music Festival, Max Richter’s eight-hour composition Sleep was performed overnight to an audience tucked into 150 beds. They — the audience, not the tireless group of musicians who performed the piece — slept, dreamed and sometimes snored through this trance-inducing experience.

Richter has described this piece: “Really, what I wanted to do is provide a landscape or a musical place where people could fall asleep.”

In the video here, you’ll see Richter himself on keyboards and electronics, along with the ACME string ensemble and soprano vocalist Grace Davidson.

What I loved about the story of this piece is not that it is a piece to sleep to exactly but that it is based around the neuroscience of sleep.  He says, “Sleep is an attempt to see how that space when your conscious mind is on holiday can be a place for music to live.”

It’s wonderful and I would love to sleep to it some night.

[READ: April 13, 2016] “Old Wounds”

I thought that I had read more by Edna O’Brien but it appears that I’ve read hardly anything by her.

This story was an interesting look at Irish stubborness and the way families can hate each other over small things (or even big things).

The narrator explains that her family had a falling out and for several years there was no communication at all between them.  Even when they attended funerals they did not acknowledge each other.

Finally all of the older people had died off and it was just her and her cousin Edward (both past middle age) they met and put aside the hostilities. They even visited the family graveyard together.  The graveyard was on an island a short boat ride from Edward’s house. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BECCA MANCARI-“Dirty Dishes” NPR’S SOUTH X LULLABY (March 15, 2018).

Becca Mancari plays a pretty acosutic guitar melody while Blake’s effects-laden pedal steel guitar soars and echoes around her.

I don’t know the original, but according to the blurb, “Mancari removes the clicking pulse of the studio version to underline the song’s lonely atmospherics.”

The song is simple–one that speaks to a relationship: “‘I can’t face myself,’ Mancari repeats the line like a broken admission spoken through a pinhole camera, a whispered truth so potent it can’t be looked right in the eye. “

At 2:41, the guitarist hits a great effect that turns the soaring pedal steel guitar into a buzzy rocking guitar solo while Becca strums on.  It’s a great interlude that really sells this song.

I also love that the final 30 seconds is just the sound of the guitar(s) fading out.

There are moments in this video where the Nashville-based singer-songwriter turns away from the many faces of the Life Underground installation by Hervé Cohen, which is part of the SXSW Art Program and supported by the Cultural Services of the French Embassy in the United States. What’s being projected onto the screens in the room are interviews with subway passengers from around the world who share their stories and dreams. The installation’s notion is that empathy often comes by just asking a few questions, which, maybe for “Dirty Dishes,” is just too damn hard right now.

[READ: April 12, 2016] “The Tiger’s Wife”

Téa Obreht took the literary world by storm with her debut novel The Tiger’s Wife.  I’ve had a copy of it on my bedside I guess now for 8 years.  I’ve been meaning to read it but other things always jump in first.

So finally I got around to reading this excerpt from the novel.

The excerpt is, I assume, the first few sections of the novel since they are numbered and begin with 1.

The first part is called The Tiger and it talks all about the titular tiger.  The tiger was in a zoo (or a circus) in 1941 when the Germans began bombing the city for three straight days.

The tiger should have died in the concussion and rubble, but he managed to escape and wandered to the village. (more…)

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