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Archive for the ‘All Songs Considered’ Category

CV1_TNY_05_24_10.inddSOUNDTRACK: PASSION PIT-Tiny Desk Concert #248 (Ocobert 29, 2012).

passionPassion Pit surprised the heck out of me with this Tiny Desk Concert.  The album that two of these songs come from is full of loud, brash synthy anthems.  But they totally dial everything back with just two performers–a synth and a guitar.

The blurb notes that

Michael Angelakos is a fussy sonic craftsman: A keyboardist and singer who started out working solo on his laptop, he now makes fizzily catchy electro-pop that orbits around monster hooks.  Angelakos clearly saw an opportunity in bare-bones arrangements of his best-known songs — his 2008 breakthrough single “Sleepyhead” and two hits from this year’s Gossamer, “Take a Walk” and “Carried Away” — that he couldn’t explore with a full band.  With only his own falsetto, an electric piano, and simple guitar lines from Passion Pit’s Ian Hultquist, Angelakos gets to direct listeners toward his words, which blossom under scrutiny.

“Talk a Walk” is a poppy happy synth song.  An almost gleeful song about taking a walk.  Well, in this version, with everything stripped away, you get to hear just what a depressing song this actually is.  And when you hear this, you’ll never be able to hear that bubbly anthem the same way again.   It’s a rich, thoughtful sketch of an immigrant family’s experiences, expectations, dreams and disappointments.

Once my mother-in-law came
Just to stay a couple nights
Then decided she would stay the rest of her life
I watch my little children, play some board game in the kitchen
And I sit and pray they never feel my strife

“Sleepyhead” is from their 2008 album—their first hit, although I didn’t know it.  The keys are quiet and simple on this while the guitar plays the main riff.  It too is quite catchy.

“Carried Away” is also from Gossamer, and it’s another big, boppy sugary single.  This understated version does the same as the first song—you can really hear the words, but the melodies and catchiness remain, just much more quietly.

Even though these version are interesting and enjoyable.  I was mostly attracted to the sound of Gossamer, so I’ll stick with the originals.

[READ: January 25, 2017] “Your New College Graduate: A Parents’ Guide”

This piece is designed as a FAQ for parents on how to deal with their college graduate, once the commencement ceremony is over and “your child will be ready to move back into your house for a period of several years.”

This helpful guide answers questions about things like feeding:

Most college graduates are vegetarians and will become cranky or upset if offered meat. They also have irregular eating habits. Most prefer to skip family meals.

Or drinking:

Most require six to eight beers per night, plus occasional “shots” throughout the week.

(more…)

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ny2010SOUNDTRACK: ALT-J-Tiny Desk Concert #258 (December 17, 2012).

altjAlt-J is a peculiar band—lead singer Joe Newman’s voice is really unusual—and quit divisive as I understand.  But even the music is peculiar: “The band’s songs are wrapped in enigmatic textures, with swift shifts in arrangements inside every song and an oddness to the drums…that curious rhythm at the foundation of the songs reveals not a hint of cymbals.”

I can’t say I noticed that they were necessarily more spare at the Tiny Desk concert, but the blurb notes, “[Drummer] Thom Green plays mostly with a mounted tambourine and cowbell for the sorts of things a hi-hat would accomplish — that tick tick sound, with the snap of the sound coming from a small-bodied 10″ snare called a popcorn snare. The sparseness that happens in the absence of crashing cymbals leaves a lot of space in the music.”

I happen to really like the music behind this voice and I also find his voice… intriguing.  At first I wasn’t sure, but I feel like once I got sucked into the music, I enjoyed it all the more.

“Tessellate” has some great basslines and interesting keyboards.  Newman sings and plays an electric guitar in the most delicate way imaginable.  After the first song, there’s some amusement as he asks someone in the audience for the guitar (we don’t see it but there’s some chuckles about the person missing her big chance).

Newman switches to acoustic for “Something Good” (which I think of as the Matador song).  He plays this guitar a lot louder than the electric.  But once again the melody is quite unusual–very catchy and unexpected (and he can sing in quite a deep voice compared to his rather high normal singing voice.   And speaking of high voices the keyboardist does some really impressive falsetto notes in this and the first song.

Then they pass the bass over and the audience member gets “another chance.”  Bob jokes that they may ask her to play it next.  For the final song “Matilda,” the bassist switches to guitar and Newman is back on the electric.  His voice is so strange on this song.  It’s almost like he is singing internally to himself rather than externally to the room.  I love the drum rhythms that play under the song.

I didn’t realize there were no cymbals, but that does make a lot of sense as there are no “exclamations” to the rhythm, just a steady, interesting beat.  When their album came out in 2012 I wasn’t sure about them, but I think they’ve won me over.

As the Concert ends, they are very gracious.  When Bob says “Thanks for doing this,” he replies, “Thanks for having us. It’s the first time we’ve really played in an office.”  Which is a funny thing to say out loud.

[READ: January 23, 2017] “Who is Alex Trebek?”

I was looking through all of the pieces that Simon Rich has published in the New Yorker.  Most of them have been collected in his various books, but there were a couple that hadn’t.  This is one of them.

In his book Last Girlfriend on Earth, he has a short piece called “When Alex Trebek’s Ex-Wife Appeared on Jeopardy!”  This story is written in the same style–consider it a companion piece.

The focus this time is on Trebek himself.  And I really like the amusing way Rich sets it up: (more…)

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2014_11_10SOUNDTRACK: LORD HURON-Tiny Desk Concert #247 (October 25, 2012).

lordhironLord Huron is one of those bands that I hear of a lot, but whom I don’t really know much about. I also think they are someone I like, but listening to this Tiny Desk Concert, it’s clear they are not any of the bands I think they are.

As far as this Tiny Desk Concert goes, Lord Huron proves t be a five piece folk outfit.  They have lovely harmonies

“She Lit A Fire” is a pretty standard folk song.  Although I like the way the song shifts gears to a faster guitar style.  I really like the way the one guy’s guitar sounds like mandolin, too.  “Time To Run” is a bit faster and catchier.  In fact, when the oh oh oh oh part comes in, it’s hard not to want to sing along.  And the middle part where it’s just guitar and bongos is pretty hard not to enjoy.

“Lonesome Dreams” opens with some echoed bass notes. It’s got some really catchy parts although I don’t really love the yodeling voice that he puts on.  The band does four songs (practically unheard of).  “Ends of the Earth” opens with that same yodeling voice, but once the harmonies kick in it sounds great.

I didn’t realize that Lord Huron had only released their first album in 2012.  They have really made a name for themselves.

[READ: July 20, 2016] “Primum Non Nocere”

I enjoyed this whole story except for the very end which seemed to turn the story into something else.  In retrospect that something else is also pretty interesting and it throws a whole new light on the story, but I enjoyed the story so much as it was that the twist really impacted the way I enjoyed the rest of the story.

The title translates as “first, do no harm” and the story is about a youngish girl and her mother–who is a psychotherapist. 

I loved the way the story began.  Jewel is totally embarrassed that her mother asks her patients if they are “Cell phoning.”  She says it all the time.  How lame.  Until she realizes that her mom is actually asking if they are “self-harming.”

Her mother was brutally honest about a lot of things and was, of course, right about everything.  One thing that her mother always said was “that no one ever gets beyond high school. It’s all high school for the rest of your life.” Not true, Jewel knew, yet also true.

Her patients loved her for that unconventional understanding. She stood up for them; she visited their homes and talked to their problematic relatives, went to the store with them, walked them along the river, allowed them to bring their pets to their therapy sessions. She came to her children’s defense, too, with teachers or friends or the parents of those friends. She was brutally honest, blunt.

(more…)

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booksSOUNDTRACK: YO LA TENGO-Tiny Desk Concert #271 (April 15, 2013).

y-o-la-tenI’ve enjoyed Yo La Tengo’s music for years and years.  I have many of their records, although I’d never consider them a favorite band. They’re just a reliable band I like.   This Tiny Desk Concert sees the venerable band in acoustic format (with no drums!).  Ira Kaplan sings and plays guitar, drummer Georgia Hubley sings backup and bassist James McNew plays an acoustic 12-string guitar.

Yo La Tengo has a lot of diversity in their records.  And even here, their songs sound quite different.  I had never before considered that on “Is That Enough” Kaplan sounds like someone out of A Mighty Wind (Harry Shearer perhaps?)  I also never considered how much they sound like The Velvet Underground (which I guess others have, but I especially noticed when Hurley sings her slow song).  McNew also adds some lovely high-pitched harmony vocals (compared to Georgia’s deeper harmonies).

After the first song, Kaplan says, “You in the back will never hear this one”  They start “Tears Are In Your Eyes” from their 2000 album (and I can’t help but hing that McNew’s 12 sting is out of tune).  Georgia sings and sounds incredibly like Nico on this song.

It’s strange how Ira keeps whispering to Georgia (you can kind of hear him) throughout the song–the microphone is really sensitive.

“Ohm” is one of my favorite songs from their album Fade. Its simple, but with some great harmonies and I love the way the song–which is fairly straightforward–goes up an octave during the “say goodnight “ part.  That little melody shift really makes this song wonderful.  And it sounds terrific here.   I also love how the end is a repeating of the same chord and chanting vocals while Ira plays a wild (but acoustic) guitar solo.

I’ve never really considered seeing Yo La Tengo live (they tour all the time), but maybe I should.

[READ: January 23, 2017] “Don’t Be Evil”

Before Simon Rich started writing longer pieces for the New Yorker, his Shouts & Murmurs pieces were usually pretty short–and he crammed a lot of funny into that short space.

This piece is all about Google.  It’s kind of one-note, but it’s still pretty funny.  And its brevity prevents it from wearing out its welcome.

So it begins with him saying how much he loves the Google Dictionary feature.  It’s really convenient, but sometimes the results can be strange.  Then he gives some examples: (more…)

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[ATTENDED: March 4, 2017] clipping.

I first heard clipping. on All Songs Considered about a month ago.  The song was noisy and brash and vulgar and featured incredible rapping from a voice that I recognized but couldn’t place.  Then they told us that the rapper was Daveed Diggs who was Thomas Jefferson and the Marquis de Lafayette in Hamilton.  He won a Tony for the role(s).  And now here he was fronting this band of experimental glitch-hop.  And there he was just a few dozen feet from us. 

I love the Fillmore, but it’s one of the few venues that we don’t ever seem to be able to get very close to the stage for.  I guess the artists are a little more popular (and tend to sell out) so there’s less wiggle room at some of the other shows.  So we were further back than I would have liked.  But we could still fully absorb the spectacle.

Clipping are not exactly the kind of band I’d pair with The Flaming Lips (who sing about rainbows and love and whatnot).  And indeed, the contrast was pretty stark.  But the Lips have a crazy stage set-up and it seemed to work perfectly with the kind of static and noise that Clipping creates.  And I’m sure they loved being able to hook into the Lips’ wall of video screens behind them. (more…)

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oct28SOUNDTRACK: JASON LYTLE-Tiny Desk Concert #249 (November 5, 2012).

sonJason Lytle was Grandaddy.  Sure there were other people in the band, but it was pretty much all him.  And then he dissolved Grandaddy and started recording discs under his own name.

I loved Granddaddy, but didn’t listen to any of his solo stuff.  So I don’t really know how different it sounds.  For this Tiny Desk Concert, he plays two songs from his 2012 solo album Dept. of Disappearance and one Grandaddy track.

“Willow Wand Willow Wand” is a catchy song with just him and a drum machine playing a backing beat.  He sounds like the guy from Grandaddy but slightly different….

Introducing “Get Up and Go,” he explains that he’s been really enjoying playing his songs in this stripped down format.  He really likes making records that are big and produced.  And now he likes not feeling pressure to do them in concert that way.  He’s happy to not try to pull off all of the bells and whistles in a live environment.  “Get Up and Go” is a “happy and peppy song and this isn’t a happy and peppy version of it.”

This song is quite slow.  Again its him on guitar but at the appropriate moments in the chorus he hits a key on the keyboard and a little melody (very Granddaddy) plays briefly.

After this song you can hear Stephen Thompson ask “Robin, you like this?” to much laughter.

He says he finished an hour long session at Sirius XM.  He was completely by himself and he was really comfortable.  But playing music in front of people makes him nervous—you’d think he had it down by now.  But he tells us “if you’ve never done it before as weird as you imagine it being… it’s that weird.”

The final song is a request for Grandaddy’s “Jed the Humanoid” and that’s when I realized why he sounds different.  He sings slightly more falsetto in Granddaddy than on the solo songs.  It’s very subtle, but I can hear it.  The original of this song is very synthy, so hearing it on acoustic guitar (with the lyrics very clear) really changes the feel of the song.

After a verse, he turns a knob on the keyboard and this weird frog-like sound bubbles under the song (similar to the one on the record, which is neat).

And as he leaves the Desk, you can hear Robin say “the saddest song in the world.”

[READ: July 20, 2016] “Samsa in Love”

Basing a story on another story can be risky, especially when the story you base yours on is incredibly famous with a first line that many people can quote without looking.

But Murakami does something very interesting with Gregor Samsa in this story.  “He woke to discover that he had undergone a metamorphosis and become Gregor Samsa.”  We don’t know who or what “he” was before this and neither does he.  He’s not even sure exactly what he is–but he knows his name.

The first few paragraphs are all about him getting used to even being human–scoffing at his body, wondering why he was so cold and what that gnawing pain was in his stomach–hunger, it turns out.  He spends several paragraphs just trying to learn how to walk on two legs.  It’s all somewhat comical although not exactly funny.

Finally he gets downstairs–the table has been set for a meal but no one is there. Everything is still warm and yet the house appears empty. No matter, he tucks into the food wand eats everything.  Then he sets about trying to cover himself.  He looks out the window and sees everyone dressed, but he’s not willing to even attempt to put clothes on so he grabs a dressing gown and slips into that. (more…)

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2011-07-11-18-ulriksen-birdsSOUNDTRACK: THE WALKMEN-Tiny Desk Concert #234 (July 29, 2012).

The Walkmen perform a Tiny Desk Concert at NPR headquarters in Washington, DC on Tuesday, June 26, 2012.

I know Hamilton Leithauser, the singer of The Walkmen, more than the band itself.  He has gone solo since 2012 and released some songs that have gotten a lot of attention.  Leithauser has a very powerful voice.  Form the blurb I gather that The Walkmen used to be a bit louder/punkier.  But for this set, Leithauser plays an acoustic guitar so this band isn’t getting too abrasive, that’s for sure.

The first song “Heaven” has a swirling guitar and bass motif that reminds me instantly of some 1990s songs.   The song is really catchy and Leithauser never lets up with his powerful singing.  The blurb comments on his voice, that it gives the songs “grit and grace, not to mention hair-raising intensity that feels a little jarring coming from a bunch of guys in crisp button-up shirts.”

“We Can’t Be Beat” begins as a slow verse with just acoustic guitar and singing.  Then the electric guitar plays some ringing notes as the drums play delicate percussion along with it.   About half way through the song, he holds a really long note (“so looooong” and then the whole band picks up the song with a loping sound that propels the song very nicely.

“Love Is Luck” has a nice beat and some great guitar sounds. It’s another catchy song from the band.

I enjoyed this set quite a bit, although I found that after listening a few times I got a little tired of Leithauser “woah oh ing” so much.

[READ: July 21, 2016] “Aphrodisiac”

The aphrodisiac at the heart of this story is interesting and subtle–it doesn’t even exactly seem like a part of the story until the end.

But I found the bulk of the story a little too long and unrelated to the aphrodisiac to be really enjoyable.

The story is about Kishen, a university graduate who had big plans to write a novel about India–to be really sunk into the Indian experience.  He had gone to school in Cambridge, but was now living back home in New Delhi with his mother and older brother Shiv.  Shiv had recently gotten married and Kishen was meeting the bride for the first time.  Her name was Naina.

Kishen found her to be kind of stupid.  However because of his own hang ups, she was the only person he felt comfortable talking to.  She seemed to accept him and even made him part of her circle of girlfriends–they all seemed to be amused by him. (more…)

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