Archive for the ‘All Songs Considered’ Category

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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7_28_08-640SOUNDTRACK: NINA DIAZ-Tiny Desk Concert #560 (August 26, 2016).

nina And here it is four and a half years later.  Nina Diaz has gone from wearing dark jeans and a v neck sweater (stripes in the purple family) to wearing a Sonic Youth T-shirt with the neck collar torn off and the sleeves removed.  Her arms are covered in tattoos.  Her hair is long and down and she’s got pink eye shadow on.  girlcoma2Here’s a comparison photo.

Her voice sounds much more powerful as well.

I’m fascinated by her bassist who is playing a seven string bass (and has crazy hair).  And I’m intrigued that there’s a dedicated melodica player in this show.

As she sings “January 9th” you can see how much more confident she is (not that she was nervous in 2012).   She sings her songs with real power and sway in her body.  The song opens with some cool bass lines (he really uses all of the 7 strings, which I like).  And as the song moves along the backup band sings harmonies which sound very good.

“Dig” has a bunch of cool things going on.  There’s an interesting, somewhat sinister main guitar melody, a cool bass line and a slide guitar from the second guitarist.  I really like the way she delivers the lines in the middle of the song–a kind of accent that works great with the lyrics.

As she opens “For You” she says she’d like to “hopefully have it on in the background when someone’s losing their virginity.”  And with a lyric like “For you I’ll go all the way.  I scream your name,” it seems pretty likely.  It begins with just her voice and acoustic guitar (with the other guitarist playing some melodies too).  The song is a sweet tender ballad and when she asks at the end if we can picture someone losing their virginity to it, the answer is certainly yes.

[READ: March 1, 2016] “The Teacher”

This story goes in some interesting directions.  It begins with the narrator (I) talking about the “girls” Betty and Maeve.  They are good girls, who do whatever they can to help people out.  In their apartment, they have taken in pregnant teens, boys caught stealing and even, once, a suspected sex offender (which didn’t make the town happy).

Maeve types documents and Betty reads manuscripts for a publisher.  And that’s how they met Dr. Chacko.

Betty received Chacko’s manuscript.  It was really long and handwritten. So Maeve copied it out on the computer and they both fell in love with the content.  When they tried to explain the book to the narrator they couldn’t do it in any way that made sense to her.  They also failed to describe him to her as well. (more…)

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carrieSOUNDTRACK: CATE LE BON-Tiny Desk Concert #337 (February 18, 2014).

cateCate Le Bon has a very interesting style of singing–it reminds me of Grace Slick in her enunciation, but also like someone whose speaking accent is very strong and is somewhat masked by her singing (like the way she sings “reason” as “ree-sun” as opposed to “reezun”).

The blurb explains that her “phrasing is completely tied to her Welsh dialect — in fact, her first record was in Welsh…. The enunciation is completely tied to the loneliness and the questioning.”

 For this concert it is just her and her fellow guitarist H. Hawkline (both wearing super cozy sweaters).  They share the guitar licks very nicely–it’s not always clear who is playing what–with her sometimes finishing his lines (I believe).

“Are You With Me Now?” has a very catchy chorus (with an “ah ha ha ha ha” part that makes it sound like an olde English ballad).

“No God” plays with very simple guitar lines (chords played very high on the neck of her guitar and a simple accompanying riff).  Hawkline plays keys (and sings some great falsetto backing vocals) to flesh out this song.  Everything is so clean you can hear each note from the guitar and her voice.

“Duke” opens with some interesting slightly off sounding from Cate while Hawkline plays a simple chord pattern (his fingers are enormous, by the way).  Hawkline’s falsetto is almost as engaging as the vocal lines that match the guitar line which Cate plays.  And when she says “I’ll see you here” in that unexpected pronunciation, it’s totally captivating.

I like Le Bon a lot and want to hear what she wounds like on record.

[READ: May 18, 2016] Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl

After finishing Bob Boilen’s book and thinking about how I don’t really love music-based books, I immediately read Carrie Brownstein’s book.  Carrie Brownstein is one of the two guitarists in Sleater-Kinney and Wild Flag.  She is also one of the leads (writer and actor) on Portlandia.  And she wrote for NPR for a while, too.  Basically, Carrie is the shit.

One thing I took away from this book is that I’ve read a few musician memoirs (Mötley Crüe and Marilyn Manson to name a few) and this is the first one I’ve read that was filled with so much sadness.  Not “I was stoned and regret sleeping with that person with an STD sadness,” but like, real family problems and even a dead pet.  And, as Carrie herself jokes, her stories of being on tour and ending up in the hospital are not based on drugs or other debauchery, but on anxiety and even worse, shingles.

The beginning of the book starts in 2006, around the initial break up (hiatus) of Sleater-Kinney.  Carrie is in pain–emotional and physical–and she can’t take much more.  She starts punching herself hard in the face. (more…)

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boilenSOUNDTRACK: ANGEL OLSEN-Tiny Desk Concert #333 (January 27, 2014).

angelBob Boilen has liked Angel Olsen for some time, so when she did her Tiny Desk and most of us had never heard of her, he was already a fan.

Olsen plays a long set but with four songs.

She sits very still, strumming with her thumb and singing kind of low–not unlike Sharon van Etten.  The first song, “Unfucktheworld” is only two ans a half minutes.  The second song, “Iota,” is a little longer.  She sings in an affected almost falsetto style, although the guitar remains very spare.

Between these songs, she is coy about the title of the new record although she is quick to say the first word of the title “burn.”  Later she admits that the final song contains the title of the album, if we wanted to spend time figuring it out.

I marvelled at how high the chords were that she played on “Enemy,”  She seems to eschew any bass for this song.  This one is five and a half minutes long and is just as slow as the others.

Before the final song they talk about whether this is the most awkward show she has done.  She says everyone is very alert–and indeed you can hear utter silence between songs.  But then they talk about the storm outside (and potential tornado) and how this show may never air if the storm is really bad.

“White Fire” is an 8 minute story song.  She does use the whole guitar for this one, which has many many verses.   Since I don’t really know Olsen’s stuff that well, I don’t know if this was a good example of her show or a fun treat to hear her in such an intimate way.

[READ: May 10, 2016] Your Song Changed My Life

This site is all about music and books, but you may be surprised to know that I don’t really like books about music all that much.  I have read a number of them—biographies, autobiography or whatever, and I don’t love them wholesale. Some are fine, but in general musicians aren’t really as interesting as they may seem.

What I do like however, is hearing a decent interview with musicians to find out some details about them–something that will flesh out my interest in them or perhaps make me interested in someone I previously wasn’t.  Not a whole book, maybe just an article, I guess.

I also really like Bob Boilen. I think he’s a great advocate of music and new bands.  I have been listening to his shows on NPR for years and obvious I have been talking about hundreds of the Tiny Desk Concerts that he originated.  I also really like his taste in music.  So I was pretty psyched when Sarah got me this book for my birthday.

I read it really quickly–just devoured the whole thing.  And it was really enjoyable. (more…)

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3shadSOUNDTRACK: ANDREW BIRD-Tiny Desk Concert #535 (May 31, 2016).

andrewbirdI haven’t known too many of the recent Tiny Desk performers, but I do know Andrew Bird.  I heard him on NPR and was quite taken with his whistling (one of his trademarks).  I bought his album, but learned after listening to it that I prefer him more in small doses and single songs rather than a whole album.

And while I didn’t love the album (it’s good but didn’t blow me away), these three songs are pretty great.

That whistling is present a lot during this Tiny Desk Concert.  The first song “Are You Serious” has a lot of whistling and is an incredibly catchy song (possibly because it has a very similar melody to “Oops I Did It Again”?).  Regardless of the reason, this song is really fun.  One of the delightful things about Bird, in addition to his whistling is that he also plays violin in number of different ways.  He strums it like a guitar for the beginning of the song and even plays a plucked solo (while still holding it like a guitar).  There’s also some “proper playing” by the end of the song.

“Roma Fade” also opens with his whistling and violin plucking and then shifts to s much more uptempo violin bowing.  It’s got a very catchy melody and again I love how he switches from plucked violin notes to bowed melody.

“Capsized” is a song I have been hearing on WXPN quite a bit.  I had no idea it was him and I really liked it so it was a surprise treat to hear it here.  I don’t recall if the radio version opens this way but in the Tiny Desk, there’s a great fast violin intro and some bowed upright bass rumbling.  The verses are great but it’s the the catchy chorus “and when you wake up” that rules the song.  There’s a cool plucked violin solo and some more nice bowing.

The band he has (bass, guitar and drums) also sings great harmonies which really make these songs sound big.  It’s a great Tiny Desk and means I’m going have to dig out the album I have and give it another spin.  And actually it is good, just a bit more mellow than I like.

[READ: March 10, 2016] Three Shadows

I really liked just about everything in this graphic novel.  I was struck almost from the start by Pedrosa’s drawing style, which relished in loops.

The first page has a boy and his father walking in the garden.  The tree is comprised of circles, the man’s pipe is producing circle smoke rings, even the apples in the trees are swirling circles.  The whole pages looks to be in motion.  And it has a very interesting folk-art feel.  On the next page the trees are simply big swirling circles.  It’s really visually striking.

However, once a story begins “Back then life was simple and sweet,” you know that the story isn’t going to be a happy one.

But it does start off peaceful.  This small family–mom dad and little boy live in an idyllic little house far from the world.  But one day, their dad sees three shadows on the top of the hill.  He gets really freaked out about them even though they don’t come close.  His wife thinks that he is overreacting, but every time he sees them, he knows they are up to something.  And then one night they come in adn try to take the little boy. (more…)

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592016SOUNDTRACK: FLORIST-Tiny Desk Concert #526 (April 29, 2016).

floristFlorist is a quiet band–they remind me a bit of Kimya Dawson from the Juno soundtrack.  There are four members of the band–lead singer/guitarist Emily Sprague and a drummer who has only one drum and plays very sparsely. And then there are two guys who switch between bass/guitar and keyboards.  In this Tiny arrangement, the keys are right next to the guys which makes it very easy for them to switch back and forth–I wonder if it works so well on a bigger stage.

I knew the first song, “Vacation” from an earlier All Songs Considered show and this live version sounds pretty much like the recorded version.  Sprague has a very gentle voice–almost a whipser (but not mumbling or anything).  And her guitar playing is really pretty.  I remember Bob Boilen talking about how much he liked her lyrics like:

Like when I used to ride roller coasters with my dad / When a swimming pool in a hotel / Was a gift from God / Like, love, we’re like a family / I don’t know how to be

The song is mostly just her singing until the end when the bassist sings (also very quietly) a duet with her

At least I know that my house wont burn down down to the ground / or maybe it will / if I’ve been in love before and I’m pretty sure I have / I’m pretty sure that my house could burn down down to the ground tomorrow.

 Between the first and second song the bassist/keyboardist holds down some notes while the others tune and get ready to play.  They’re the most un rock n roll looking band I’ve seen, with them dresses in cozy clothes as they calmly prepare for the second song.

“Cool and Refreshing” sounds that way.  The melody is really pretty once again.  And Sprague’s vocal line is quite lovely.  And the lyrics:

Think of me by the creek in cutoff jeans holding onto / Something that has meaning to me / I don’t really think my life will ever make me / As happy as Kaaterskill Creek

I like the middle of the song when everything drops away except for the lone synth note.

The notes ring out after the second song when Emily finally looks up and says “Thanks everybody” before looking sown and starting the third song, “1914.”  This vocals are a duet, and musically it is just the two guitars.  It’s a very simple song, sparsely conveying the idea of a farewell letter from 100 years ago:

Please remember to feed the cat.  Please remember that I’m never coming back.  I was born in 1994 / I as born in the 70s / I was born in 1823 and you were born right next to me.

Florist was touring recently.  I imagine it must be the quietest show you could ever go to.  But also a very pretty show.

[READ: December 13, 2012] “The Foosball Championship of the Whole Entire Universe”

The premise of this piece is very simple–it is indeed the foosball championship of the whole entire universe.  And the players are eleven-year old Nathaniel Rich and seven-year old Simon Rich.

This “joke” more or less tells itself, but Rich is able to add wonderful details to the story of it to make it much funnier than just the title.  Nathaniel’s Blue team has won all 83 matches, but this game–the last of the summer vacation–is for all the marbles.

Rich has broken the “story” down into analyses of Keys to the Game.

Like Coaching, in which we learn all about Coach Simon’s style (as told by the “players”): “Coach cries a lot” or “the last time we lost, coach attacked us.  It was scary because even though he’s just a boy, he’s also a giant–fifty to sixty times our height.” (more…)

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