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Archive for the ‘Parenting’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: ANNA VON HAUSSWOLFF-“Funeral for My Children” (Field Recordings, November 4, 2013).

I remember exploring this Field Recording back in 2013 when it came out.  There is something otherworldly and magical about the pipe organ, even if it is played in a rather fast and clearly secular way like in this song.

One of my [Bob Boilen’s] most surprising discoveries of 2013 is an artfully poppy pipe-organ record called Ceremony, by Swedish singer Anna von Hausswolff. Though she doesn’t consider herself an accomplished pipe organist, von Hausswolff quickly learned the instrument’s power, as well as some of its subtleties.

I talked about this song back in 2013 and felt that the percussion was more interesting than the music.  I don’t feel that way now, although perhaps this live version is different.

When we learned that von Hausswolff was coming to New York City this summer, we started scouting for a church with a pipe organ that could accommodate a small video crew and some secular music. We found Christ Church, a United Methodist church on Park Avenue with a gracious staff who helped us make this work. [Anna Von Hausswolff Finds A Pipe Organ In New York City].

The recording opens with church bells and chimes, which Anna is playing gently on the organ (you can see the switches she presses to get sounds–how high tech!).  Then the drum comes in.  It is a simple beat on a floor tom–click click boom–a martial rhythm to offset the lofty pipe organ.

Once we were set for a location, we lit some candles and moved the pipe organ (not the pipes) into a position that allowed us get the best view of von Hausswolff while keeping percussionist Michael Stasiak distant enough so as not to bury the sound of her voice. In the process, we captured a beautiful rendition of “Funeral For My Future Children,” a song on Ceremony originally recorded at another church — this one in Gothenburg.

It almost comes as a surprise when Anna starts singing as you don;t often hear vocals with a pipe organ.  But her voice has the power and inflection to match this illustrious organ and that thumping drum.  I love when the sound of the organ changes about 4 and a half minutes in–the solo just adds a whole new depth to the piece.  And when she hits a high not just before that, it’s amazing.

[READ: January 18, 2018] “Jack”

This is an excerpt from Robinson’s novel Home.  It’s set in Gilead which is the title of a previous book of hers, so I assume it is some kind of continuation of the town, if not the family.  I’ve never read anything else by her.

Since this is an excerpt rather than a short story it take a long time for much to happen.  But her writing is pretty great and everything that she writes is rather compelling.

The story opens with Glory, the youngest of six children arriving at her childhood home.  She is greeted by her father who is shockingly frail and thin and… old.  She is moving back home to take care of him now that he is by himself.

The story quickly flashes back to her childhood growing up in the house.  A house that seemed somehow too large, too ungainly for the neighborhood it was in.  How had it changed so much since she left? (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: AMIR ELSAFFAR & TWO RIVERS-“Hemayoun” (Field Recordings, July 3, 2013.

I was pretty excited to see the start of this Field Recording [Amir ElSaffar & Two Rivers: Golden Sound In A Gleaming Space] because it begins with hammered dulcimer and oud.  I have never seen these two instruments used in jazz before.

But once the band starts the jazz pushes out he Middle eastern instruments somewhat.

The oud is certainly drowned out by the horns, but you can hear it plucking away.  And the hammered dulcimer is hardly used at all.

I had never heard of the participants although apparently

The session had the feeling of a reunion. ElSaffar — a trumpeter and santur (hammered dulcimer) player who was born near Chicago to an Iraqi father and an American mother, and who grew up immersed in both cultures — had recently moved from New York to Cairo to pursue his work with Arab classical music. But this group with Ole Mathisen on saxophone, Zafer Tawil playing oud, Carlo De Rosa on bass and Nasheet Waits on drums shifted into Two Rivers gear immediately.

At 3:49 when the sax solo starts the minimal oud is used more to keep the beat than anything.  At 5:10 the trumpet returns playing a riff with the sax.  By around 7 minutes its all trumpet and drums (some good improv) with the bassist adding rhythm but playing very hard and being barely heard.  At around 8 minutes there’s a minimal oud solo that runs through to the end of this song.  This is particularly cool, although I kind of wish the other guys didn’t drop out entirely–I’d like to see the oud share the stage with the traditional jazz instruments.

I love that the music has non-Western instrumentation but I feel like it is underutilized.  But maybe that’s not the point

 ElSaffar has found a beautiful and singular way of pairing the sibling spirits of jazz and the classical maqam system of the Arab world, with their shared spheres of improvisation, deep knowledge of tradition and urge to keep innovating. Two rivers, but they lead to the same ocean.

[READ: October 22, 2017] “The Sinking of the Houston”

O’Neill has a way with making stories amusing despite the tension underneath.

It begins with a defense of sleep. The narrator says when he became a parent of young children, he became an opportunist of sleep: “I found myself capable of taking a nap just about anywhere, even when standing in a subway car or riding an escalator.”  But when the boys grew up into “urban doofuses neurologically unequipped to perceive the risk incidental to their teenage lives,” sleep became much harder to get.  He would lie awake until they were all home, and then every sound in the house would be meaningful.

Then comes the phenomenon of Dad Chair, a black leatherette armchair which he has designated as his haven.

It has worked pretty well except when the boys disrupt the peace.

The middle son asks if he’s heard of Duvaliers, the dedicators of Haiti.  The dad says he knows all about them–they were horrible.  When the boy tries to tell him more details, he retorts: “I lived through it ! I don’t want to discuss it!”  The boy logically says you didn’t exactly live through it.

Another son asks where East Timor is.  They all want to talk about atrocities.  But he has a new philosophy–Cest la Vie–it works pretty well. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: YUJA WANG-“Toccata in D minor, Op. 11” (Field Recordings, February 19, 2014).

I have never given much thought to the physical creation of a piano.  This Field Recording [On A Chilly Factory Floor, Yuja Wang’s Piano Sizzles] is set on the factory floor of Steinway & Sons.  As it opens you can see the craftsmen putting some touches on a piano, which really makes you think about how these machines are created.

This episode also introduced me to Chinese-born pianist Yuja Wang.

She is a [at the time] “27-year-old ultra-glam artist” who came to the factory in

one of her trademark dresses, significant stiletto booties and a Gucci fur stole, as well as some wrist warmers as a concession to the temperature.

The piece she played was also one I was unfamiliar with, played a piece that would chop shrinking violets to mulch: Prokofiev’s “Toccata in D minor, Op. 11.”

The blurb calls the piece “blisteringly difficult” and I totally agree.  It is nonstop notes for nearly five minutes.  Wang is up and down the keyboard, banging out notes in a nearly atonal piece (how she even remembered it much less played it is amazing).  And to see her pressing pedals in stilettos is pretty amusing too.

On a third listen, it’s not so much atonal as just very busy.  The melody is in there, it is just surrounded by so much else.  And watching the blurs that are Wang’s hands is jaw-dropping.

[READ: January 6, 2017] “Cold Little Bird”

I feel like Ben Marcus stories resist me, somewhat.  But this one was fantastic.

Martin and Rachel have two boys: a ten-year old-and a six-year-old.  As the story opens, Jonah, the ten-year-old says he doesn’t want to big hugged anymore. That he doesn’t like it.  He hopes that they will respect his decision about this.  He tells them that they can always cuddle with Lester, the six-year-old.

The parents shrug this off and think it is a phase.  Even when Jonah flatly says “I don’t love you.”

His parents tried to respect his wishes even as it went on for several weeks.  Martin was getting more and more exasperated, but Rachel seemed to be okay with it–telling him to back off and give the boy some space.

Soon enough, Jonah started playing with Lester–being very chummy and lovely with him.  And yet he did not warm up to his parents. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: CORY HENRY AND THE FUNK APOSTLES-Tiny Desk Concert #792 (October 5, 2018).

Cory Henry & The Funk Apostles blew me away with the first song of this Concert.  “Love Will Find A Way” opens with a deep bass sound as the funk starts.  And then Henry adds the great sound of the Hammond.

There’s so much joy in the sound of the Hammond organ, especially for those of us of a certain age. Hearing it can transport you to the early ’70s, when every rock band seemed to have one in its arsenal: The Allman Brothers, Santana, Deep Purple. In the hands of true masters — like the late Billy Preston and the very-much-alive Booker T. Jones — the organ can be a melodic, funky rhythm machine.

Cory Henry’s name belongs in the same breath as the Hammond organ masters of the past. The instrument creates the central sound of his dynamic, neo-soul- and funk-infused musical identity, and he opens his turn behind the Tiny Desk with what feels like an encore: the full-on soul assault of “Love Will Find a Way.” The song twists and turns, then winds up as a full-on celebration — and it’s only the first song in his set.

The song does have several part including a lengthy middle solo section.  Over the heavy organ chords there’s a wailing guitar solo and a keyboard solo from the synth player.

By the end of its six minutes it absolutely feels like an encore–a show ender.  It’s awesome.

“Trade It All” is a bit more soul, less funk, which means I don’t like it as much.  B

Henry’s keyboard skills are on full display during a synth solo in “Trade It All,” which also spotlights his entire band. To my mind, they’d have sounded right at home on Stax Records in the ’70s — no small accomplishment.

The middle shows a softer, quieter side of the Hammond–one that sounds a bit cheesier to my ear.  And yet there’s no denying Henry’s deft finger work (there’ a hint of Stevie Wonder in there for sure).

The final song, the ten-minute “Send Me a Sign” has a lengthy, almost preacher-like quality and is clearly gopsel-inspired.

It showcases some of the roots of Henry’s songwriting; it’s inspired by church sermons that bloom into group sing-alongs. Just another way Cory Henry digs way back to give us something new and exciting.

[READ: October 11, 2017] “One Saturday Morning”

I have never been disappointed with a story from Tessa Hadley.  She might be one of my favorite writers whom I’ve never read outside of magazines.

This story is wonderful because the we learn so much about so many people through the eyes of one woman.

Valerie is Gil’s second wife.  Gil is in his fifties and Valerie is twenty-four.  Gil is a successful professor and she was (as someone described her with disdain) a typist.

But as the story opens, Valerie is trying to cope with Gil’s daughter.  Robyn is nine years old, can’t button her own dress and is utterly unprepared for several days at another house.  This was the first time Valerie had met her…stepdaughter?  And Robyn was plain and kind of dull.  She was polite but had no toys (she played cleverly with scraps of fabric, but would not engage when asked about them).

She was certainly a dullard when it came to food–toast was all she could think of. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MERCHANDISE-“Become What You Are” (Field Recordings, April 17, 2014).

I feel like I’ve heard of Merchandise, but I can’t be sure.  Especially given their complex history:

Merchandise got its start on the Tampa punk and hardcore scene, then got weirder as artier influences like krautrock took hold. As its sound became harder to pin down, the band inspired an 18-month bidding war between record labels: This year, Merchandise finally signed with 4AD, and adventurous new material has begun to trickle out.

For this Field Recording [Merchandise Sprawls Out In The Sunlight] singer Carson Cox and guitarist Dave Vassalotti — a configuration Cox describes as “some component of Merchandise” — held court for an informal session at Friends & Neighbors,

Before he starts singing a bird goes squawking by, Cox says, “The bird’s on backup vocals.”

As the song starts, it’s acoustic guitar and gentle crooning.  Then Vassalotti’s  electric guitar powers in.  It’s so much louder but the acoustic is perfectly audible–great mixing!  For all that build up of punk and krautrock, this proves to be a pretty straightforward folk song with buzzy guitars.

The end builds nicely with the two of them rocking out.  With the ending guitar solo, the song wends it way to over 9 minutes long.

Though it usually keeps its songs to reasonable lengths, Merchandise also knows how to sprawl out: Its new single, “Begging for Your Life/In the City Light,” spans a whopping 14 minutes. So it’s no surprise that even a truncated version of the group would be capable of wringing an epic out of such a casual environment.

[READ: June 2018] The Misfortune of Marion Palm

Because I have been trying to empty my drafts folder of all of the New Yorker and Harper’s stories that have been cluttering it for two years, I have not read that many books this year.  I’m usually good for 100+ books a year, but this year it will be closer to about 30, if that.

I’ve also read some of these books quite a while ago, so my memory isn’t as fresh as it should be.

I’m not exactly sure why I read this book.  The title was intriguing–“misfortune” is a rather compelling noun.  Plus the chapters are almost all around 3 pages.  But I think it was the very premise that was so fascinating.

Marion Palm is a Brooklyn Heights wife and mother.  She works at her children’s (fancy, expensive) school and was a devoted, if suffering wife.  But as the book opens, she is on the lam with $40,000 cash in her pockets.  She said goodbye to her children but did not say goodbye to her husband.

This is all questionable behavior.  What is even more questionable is that she said goodbye to her two girls (aged 8 and 13) in a diner and then ran out on the bill.  It was cash only and all of her cash was in her knapsack and she didn’t want her girls to see it.  So she left them there. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ST. VINCENT-4AD Sessions (2011).

When I was looking up something about St. Vincent I happened upon this 4AD Sessions recording.  Eviddently the audio was included on reissue of Strange Mercy, but there was also this video available.

She plays four songs from Mercy in an interestingly configured and lit studio (the visuals are so very 4AD).

Shot at Shangri-La Studios in the heart of the Brooklyn film and photography district in Greenpoint, the session was recorded with Annie’s new band, Daniel Mintseris (keys), Toko Yasuda (moog) and Matthew Johnson (drums). Given St Vincent’s transgression from the underground to the pop spotlight over the course of three studio albums, it’s somewhat fitting that Shangri-La host the session having initially earned its name as a secret spot known only through word of mouth.

The first song is “Chloe in the Afternoon” which opens with synths and Annie’s voice.  It’s interesting that her latest album seems so un-guitar heavy, when in fact, the guitar never really dominates her songs.  Except when it bursts forth at choice moments.  Like on this one, when it is fuzzed almost beyond recognition.  The drums are sharp raps as Annie sings her vocals.  Then comes the almost angelic chorus “Chloe in the Afternoon.”  I love watching (and hearing) her smile as she sings it and the delicate guitar (almost inaudible) that accompanies it.  The song end with a rocking guitar solo (this is before she had her signature guitar made.

“Surgeon” opens wt synths and what sounds very unlike a guitar (the video confirms that a guitar is at least playing along with the synths).  It’s a quieter song.  When the guitar formally comes in it’s my favorite St. Vincent guitar part–up and down sliding chords followed by a nifty little riff.  It all comes and goes so fast and it’s awesome.  I love seeing her play it “live.”  After a couple of instrumental breaks and a repeat of the chorus, Annie takes a wild echoing guitar solo–she totally wails and the keys create a wavery bass line.

“Strange Mercy” is slower with a pretty, sympathetic melody.  The middle section features a neat guitar solo (oddly processed but cool-sounding).  The middle section with the great sounding guitars and verses about “dirty policemen” just confirms the greatness of this song.

“Year of the Tiger” is a smoother song which also ends the album.  It’s got terrific buzzy guitars throughout.  I this love the way she sings the “Oh America, can I owe you one” with particular venom.

St. Vincent’s music often sounds like a studio concoction, so I love seeing her duplicate it live.  And I’m really looking forward to the upcoming Austin City Limits show she recorded.

[READ: October 10, 2017] “Likes”

This is the story of a man trying to communicate with his 12-year-old daughter.

She has an Instagram account and he is trying to learn more about her by following it–since she’s not very talkative.

But her account is a puzzle–an ice cream cone, a shop window, the dog, an earlobe.

He had been spending a bit more time with her lately because she had been going to physical therapy.  He felt responsible for her inheriting his bad joints–runner’s knees, Achilles Tendonitis.  The therapist was very friendly and Ivy seemed to be open with her although he could never quite hear what they were talking about. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ST. VINCENT-Masseduction (2018).

St. Vincent’s latest album seemed like a radical departure for Annie Clark.  It seemed to be all synth–a transgression from her guitar prowess.  But in fact it was a continuation of the sound that Clark generates with her guitar.

Her albums have always used synths.  And her albums have always used effects on her guitars to create different sounds.  They have just moved further along on this album.

“Hang on Me” opens the disc with drums and sound effects.  The guitar comes in but it sounds like synths (like most of the album).  Her voice is up front  (It would have been very cool if it sounded like she was whispering in your ears).  The song builds with more and more sounds.  The processed guitar still sounds nothing like a guitar but you can tell from the way it is played that it is a guitar–which is pretty cool.

“Pills” is almost all dance–lots of drums and synth sounds (which may be guitar, who can tell).  It’s the chorus, (the repeated pills pills pills) that really grabs you.  The guitars that come through have a very Prince-like feel (and the sexual connection–pills to fuck) even when the roaring fuzzed out guitar solo comes blasting through it’s not unlike something Prince would have done.  When the second part of the song comes in–absolutely quiet compared to the chaos that came before (S. assumed it was a different song) it has a beautiful melody and really showcases Annie’s voice nicely.  The two parts are so very different and yet both are really catchy in their own way.

“Masseduction” is the most poppy song on the record (and probably of her career).  It starts again with drums and Annie’s whispered vocal (again mixing her right in your ears would have been very intense).  Then comes there’s the big chorus of echoed vocals singing “mass seduction” with roaring guitars underscoring everything (even though this album feels very un-guitar there are noisy guitars galore on it, they’re just buried underneath everything).

Chanted vocals and programmed synth open up the fast-moving “Sugarboy.”  I love that the riff from “Los Ageless” is presented her in much faster and more staccato and mechanical way.  This song has a great, catchy chorus.

“Los Ageless” was the second single off the album and the dancey beat and synth sounds were quite a shock when the song came out.  For this one, her voice is mixed right in the middle of your head, which is very cool.  But it’s the “how can anybody have you” part that is so incredibly catchy and wonderful.  There’s not a lot of guitar on this song until the third verse in which all the synths drop out and you get a nasty guitar playing behind the verse–once again so inorganic but so interesting.

“Happy Birthday Johnny” is a beautiful piano ballad that showcases a great melody and lovely vocal from Annie.

“Savior” features a slinky guitar line with bits of wah-wah on it (slighty porn-y to be sure, especially given the topic of the song).  The bridge picks things up and with each subsequent verse more and more is added (backing vocals, big drums and sound effects).  It’s when the song gets to the third part, the ‘pleeeease” that it totally soars.

“New York” is another piano song, this one with more dance beats in it and the rather graphic “you’re the only motherfucker in the city who can stand me” for a chorus (odd choice for first single).  The bridge “I have lost a hero” just soars out of the piano section in a very cool way–the juxtaposition is outstanding.

After the quite ending of New York the noise and electronica of “Fear the Future” comes as quite a shock.  It’s practically a wall of noise before and abrupt ending

“Young Lover” is quieter and sounds a lot more like early St. Vincent songs.  The music is spare–thumping drums and washes of music.  But that first chorus grows very loud–crashing electronic drums and soaring vocals.  The amazing part comes toward the end as Annie hits some incredibly high notes and then caps it off with a high note that gives me chills every time I hear it.  The fact that she duplicated it live was just staggering.

“Dancing with a Ghost” is 46 seconds of waves of synths (or guitars) that I never quite realized was its own song.  It almost segues into “Slow Disco” which is a quiet song with strings and Annie singing.  When the harmony vocals come in it builds the song nicely.   Then someone (Annie?) sings a recurring motif of “don’t it beat a slow dance to death.”  It’s my least favorite song on the album and the one she has now made two (slower) remixes of.

That feels like it should end the album, but there is one more song, the dramatic “Smoking Section.”  With a husky voice Annie sings of getting stomped out and screaming “let it happen, let it happen, let it happen.”  The strings build dramatically until a loud three note riff introduces the second part of the song.

This album is pretty polarizing, even though it is St. Vincent through and through.

[READ: October 3, 2018] “The Rise and Rise of Annie Clark”

The previous story that I read by John L’Heureux was also about the Catholic church.  That one was the story of Jesuit Priesthood, circa 1954, and a man trying to join.

This one is also based around the Catholic church circa 1950.  The subject is very different, but with the same questioning attitude.

Annie Clark is a middle-aged woman in the 1950’s .  I’m unclear where this is set.  At first I thought France, but that is unlikely. so somewhere in the States, but I have no idea where.

Since the end of WWII, Annie knows that women were the real winners–women are taking charge of their lives.

But Annie is Catholic and must proceed slowly. (more…)

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