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SOUNDTRACK: Y LA BAMBA-NONCOMM 2019 (May 14, 2019).

I have been hearing a lot about Y La Bamba lately and for some reason I didn’t realize that they sang in Spanish (which is why I thought it was an odd name for an English-speaking band).  I know WXPN has been playing some of their songs, perhaps I only heard “My Death” and “Orca” which are in English and which they did not play at NonComm.

But they do sing in Spanish and they bring a wonderfully diverse sound to these Spanish lyrics.  And they are not simply casually Spanish either, as their mission statement explains “BEING A CHICANA, MEXICAN AMERICAN HAS BEEN AND WILL CONTINUE TO BE A STRENGTHENING JOURNEY. I AM LEARNING HOW TO CELEBRATE MY BEAUTY, HISTORY, BE AND HEAL FROM WITHIN IT.”  Nor are they exclusively Spanish. “I WRITE IN SPANISH BECAUSE IT WANTS TO BE SUNG, I WRITE IN ENGLISH BECAUSE IT WANTS TO BE SAID.”

Lead singer, guitarist and songwriter Luz Elena Mendoza is the daughter of immigrants from Michoacán, and she has channeled into her music her Mexican-American heritage and her many frustrations with American culture.

And she demands the audience’s respect.  I would have found this particular set very uncomfortable as Mendoza, called out talkers in the back of the room, demanded silence and respect.  I’m all for silence and respect for bands during shows.  In fact I wish more bands would demand it, but this was really uncomfortable to listen to and I wasn’t even there.

Demanding silence form the drinkers at the bar, she said “I don’t come here to waste my time, […] you hear me?” She waited for the crowd’s attention. “You hear me? […] OK. Because that’s real. I’m not here to be cool, to give you something that you think might be cool. I’m here to give you my parents’ story.”

This is all pretty awesome, but since nearly all of the songs they sang were in Spanish, I’m not sure how much the audience really got out of what she was singing.

The blurb describes their music as a “mix of indie-punk, música mexicana and raw emotional storytelling” while Mendoza sings and raps in Spanish and English, railing against misogyny, patriarchy, and white ignorance.

Y La Bamba were at their most intense last night when Mendoza rapped in unison with keyboardist Julia Mendiolea, including on their fiery opener, “Paloma Negra”(“Black Pigeon”).

There’s some gentle echoing guitars (Ryan Oxford) and some bouncy synths underneath their very fast rapping.

As the raging “Paloma Negra” concluded, drummer Miguel Jimenez-Cruz instantly slid into a sly tresillo groove that marked the introduction to “Boca Llena,”

Later, “Bruja de Brujas” introduced all kinds of cool sounds in the bass (Zack Teran) and the percussion.  It was funky and fun.  The song ended with a

a wash of echoing cymbals and guitars that finally coalesced into the arrival of “Cuatro Crazy,”

This was the first (and only) song sung in English.  It was quiet with the two singers singing in a gentle falsetto over washes of guitar.

A blend of phasers, distortion and delay lines infused the band’s guitar and vocal sounds with an electric energy, and helped Mendiolea’s synth provide a brooding ambient backdrop for the spoken-word “Santa Sal.”  This was spoken in English, but it had some echoing and it was a little hard to follow.

It was during the introduction to “Una Letra” that Mendoza started to get angry with the crowd.

As she introduced the ballad “Una Letra,” Mendoza explained to the crowd, “It’s about domestic violence. It’s about my mom writing a letter to me, wishing […] for me to have the good things that she couldn’t have. And if those don’t want to hear this story, and you’re here to listen, then I don’t know what you’re doing here.”  Mendoza and her bandmates gently repeated, “No se sabe. No se sabe, se comprende.” — “You don’t know. You don’t know and you don’t understand.”

Again, she has every right to be annoyed that she’s telling these personal stories and people are apparently ignoring her.  But again, it’s hard to “hear the story” if you don’t understand the language.

This is when she launched into her “I don’t come here to waste my time, […] you hear me?”  tirade.  But It felt a little better when she sent her anger to someone who should know better.

“I’m very disappointed in Morrissey,” she went on to refer to a 2018 interview that Fiona Dodwell conducted with the former Smiths frontman, for which he has received intense backlash. In the interview, Morrissey aligned himself with a UK political movement known as For Britain and dismissed the many critics who have deemed the movement extremist and racist.  Morrissey performed at NonCOMM just a few hours before Y La Bamba on Tuesday night, before a crowd that presumably included some of the same listeners who attended the Y La Bamba set.  “I’ve been a huge fan of Morrissey and I just heard him talk,” Mendoza continued, “He thinks that ‘racism’ is just a childish word that we use against one another. He’s a white man with so much privilege! I am so disappointed!”

I had wondered if anyone would allude to Morrissey’s recent politics statements and thought no one had.  But Mendoza did not hold back.

I don’t know if Morrissey had anything to do with the next song but “Soñadora” shimmied ans swayed and Mendoza’s voice soared to new heights. “Corazón, corazón,” she and her bandmates chanted.

What is particularly unsettling is that on the recording, people sound respectful, but apparently she is unhappy with the crowd.

Before a gentle solo rendition of “Entre Los Dos,” she said

“I politely ask for everyone’s silence,” she said. But as the bar and the back the room remained noisy, she continued, “Because what are we doing here? … People wanna have their drinks, but I’m really asking — just giving benefit of the doubt — just everyone’s silence. To actually listen to what’s happening….  If you saw, ‘Y La Bamba is playing,’ and you saw what record I put out, and you got to read the story — you got to hear that it’s for women.” This prompted shouts of approval from several voices in the room, but Mendoza seemed intent on getting the attention of even more of the crowd. “You know? Right? Right? Isn’t that what we’re here for? … Let’s remember that, OK? Come on, we’re not children anymore. You know what I’m saying?”

She strummed her guitar softly and continued on with the song, but stopped singing again at one point to remind the room, “I’m not gonna play my song until everyone gets the point … I’m making my point, and I’m gonna make my point everywhere I go. It’s not really about like, you know, hearing me sing, it’s about listening. Like, yeah, if I get to sing, cool. But it’s about listening … and it’s really hard. Like, nobody even knows what I’m talking about back there. No one.” She then addressed those closest to the stage. “But I see you! I see those who are in the front. I see you. I hear you, with your heart.”

Of all of the comment she made, I though this was the most powerful and could be used in any context

After Mendoza completed “Entre Los Dos”, Jimenez-Cruz began a low drum roll and Oxford’s electric guitar shuddered back to life. Before the band began their final two numbers, Mendoza looked to front row of the crowd with resolve. “You guys wanna help me sing this song?”

“When I show up here, it starts right here.  When I ask for silence I really wanna be taken seriously.  When I am out there walking out on the street, I am not going to count on it. “

That’s pretty powerful and reasonable thing to say.  But she seems so pissed when she says it that it’ hard to know how to respond to her request that everyone sing a long to a pretty melody of “dadada da da da”  “Riosueltos” is a great rocking rap-filled song.  It was my favorite of the set, with its cool bass and guitar.

The set ends with “De Lejos”an upbeat dancey number with some great wild guitar work.

Before this show I was curious about Y La Bamba, but I can tell they are not a band I need to see live–I wonder if she’ll demand the same respect at XPNFest, when people are not there just to see them.

[READ: May 3, 2019] “Green Ash Tree”

The July/August issue of The Walrus is the Summer Reading issue.  This year’s issue had three short stories and three poems as special features.

I don’t normally write about poems.  Certainly not ones that appear in magazines (this blog would be all poetry if  did that).  But for a summer reading issue that features three poets, since I wrote about the other two, I figured I should include this one as well.

Of the three, I feel like I “got” this one the least.

A tree never dies
except in our neighborhood.  Green ash,
stripped in old age, all branches
cleanly lopped by saws: a torso standing

Upon being aware of this poor specimen (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: TACOCAT-NONCOMM 2019 (May 14, 2019).

Tacocat are from Seattle and they are very happy to be here.

It sounds like that was another set that would have been a lot of fun to see:

An indie-punk four-piece from Seattle [singer Emily Nokes, drummer Lelah Maupin, bassist Bree McKenna and guitarist Eric Randall] walked onto World Cafe Live’s upstairs stage glowing—literally. Covered head-to-toe in bright colors and sparkles. The band brought an unwavering burst of energy to the first night of NonCOMM, performing a handful of songs from each of their three albums.

Tacocat wasted no time getting started as they jumped right into “Hologram” from their latest album This Mess Is a Place. Lead singer Emily Nokes started dancing with a tambourine in her hand and didn’t quit until the set was complete (minus breaks between songs to sip some tea—we hope she’s feeling okay).

“Hologram” puts a slight political spin (I assume) on their poppy punk songs.  Indeed, their identity seems to be one of snark and surf-pop, but with thoughtful questions underneath

Not so long ago, I used to feel like
I was too sensitive to be alive
But maybe now it’s the opposite
Too much to say
So I don’t say anything
Is numb even a feeling?
I just wonder how anyone falls for this anymore

“Bridge to Hawaii” is about seasonal depression–wouldn’t it be nice to build a bridge from rainy Seattle to beautiful Hawaii so that you could just walk there?  While “New World” wonders what it would be like to build a new world–like in sci-fi movies.

New world, new planet
No ugly buildings in my eyes
No paperwork, no jerks, no parking tickets
No beak to feed, no nine-to-five

“The Joke of Life” is about “when when things are too hard to make fun of anymore because they’re already making fun of themselves.”   Randall chimed in, “the death of satire.”  The song contains the chorus: “The jokes is that the joke is already a joke.”  This one features backup vocals from Randall and McKenna which perfectly complement Nokes’s raspy lead vocal.

At the end of the song drummer Lelah Maupin [who was sporting a checkered onesie and a toothy smile throughout all 7 songs the band played] said, “my whole life as a drummer has been building up to playing that song.”

“Grains of Salt” changes their sound a bit with some synthy solos.  It’s more poppy than punky but doesn’t feel too far away from their sound.

Randall says that they needed t pick a single for their album and “Crystal Ball” just didn’t make the cut.  “But we love it.  We love all our children equally.”

The final song, “I Hate the Weekend” is which is dedicated to everyone who ever worked in the service industry…  like you.  Let’s all be nice.  Let’s all tip well.  Let’s not throw up in the sink.”  It’s a ripping fast song with this nice section

Homogenized and oh so bleak
Got a hall pass from your job
Just to act like a fucking slob

before the chippy clap-along chorus.

I missed Tacocat when they came around, but I hope they open for someone I see real soon.  Stream this show on the media player.

[READ: May 3, 2019] “Fake News”

The July/August issue of The Walrus is the Summer Reading issue.  This year’s issue had three short stories and three poems as special features.

I don’t normally write about poems.  Certainly not ones that appear in magazines (this blog would be all poetry if  did that).  But for a summer reading issue that features three poets, I thought I’d make an exception.

Especially for this one, which is subtitled “An American bodyguard forsees his death.”

How’s this for an opening line

Do I love my country less  than I pledged,
since I haven’t yet brought the tent top down
on this circus?  Head clown, I and the men

code call him, in small font, or else imPOTUS–

But if some fanatic
does attempt to off him (snipe him, stab him,

body bomb him), my Navy SEAL-trained nerves
will trigger a textbook-expert tackle–

block bullets with my skull, spine, sacrum

I have often wondered if we would ever see a day when a bodyguard would turn on him–for love of country since he is wrecking our so badly.  I assume not.  I can’t imagine what would have to happen to a person’s mind to act that way.

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SOUNDTRACK: MORRISSEY-NONCOMM 2019 (May 14, 2019).

Morrissey was (to me) quite a surprise performer at NonComm.  It seems way too “exposed” for him.  When I mentioned divas not mingling with fans, it was Morrissey I had in mind.  I don’t know if he mingled anywhere at NonComm, but, speaking of divas, he does not have a live stream available.

I had the radio on when he performed and heard a bit of his set.  I was impressed with his voice.  It doesn’t sound like it used to in his heyday, but it still sounds strong.  He seems to have modified the songs to allow his somewhat deeper, gravellier voice to work well with them.

I was supposed to see Morrissey last time he came to Philly.  I even had a ticket. But better than a Morrissey show, I got a Morrissey excuse–the show was cancelled.  On the night of the show!  So I don’t feel the need to see him now.  I wonder if he’ll actually make it to his show this summer.

Since I can’t re-listen to his NonComm set, I’ll have to rely on the (lengthy) blurb that The Key has written.

Morrissey was as cynical, self-obsessed and self-assured as ever at NonCOMM on Tuesday night. “I have to warn you before I begin,” he offered slyly as he took center stage. “I have never in my life been this close to another human being. So If I don’t do something illegal, I will do something extremely… enjoyable.”

The World Cafe crowd responded with a roar, and the band burst into a rowdy rendition of “Alma Matters” from Morrissey’s 1997 album Maladjusted. His croon was grave and full-throated, and the band matched his machismo with pounding drums and several wailing guitar solos early in the set. Morrissey strutted across the stage, full of pomp and in his element; he danced with his microphone stand, clapped along to the band, and took every opportunity to denounce his critics, including in song. “So, the choice I have made may seem strange to you. But who asked you anyway? It’s my life to wreck, my own way,” began his opening number. The Manchester native dressed himself in all black, with a t-shirt proclaiming “MEAT IS MURDER” (also the name of a 1985 LP by his former band, The Smiths) and dressed his band in blood-red tees that threatened “BE KIND TO SEALS OR I’LL CULL YOU.” (These shirts are also available on Morrissey’s website.)

But for all his sarcasm, egotism and brash political inclinations, the Philadelphia crowd still hoped to show Morrissey plenty of genuine affection. Dozens of fans standing in the front row reached out to hold his hand each time he stepped downstage; one of his most ardent fans attempted to climb onstage before being shoved back down by a security officer, and another fan got so far as to step onto center stage and lock Morrissey in an embrace before security managed to pull them away from the singer.

Did this really happen?  Is there footage?  He didn’t cancel the rest of the set?

The crowd enjoyed a set spanning Morrissey’s career, including “I’m Throwing My Arms Around Paris” from 2009’s Years of Refusal, the Pretenders cover “Back on the Chain Gang” from 2017’s Low in High School, and the Jobriath cover “Morning Starship” from his upcoming album California Son.

Recently, as Morrissey has begun making public appearances to promote California Son, journalists and fellow musicians have criticized him for his outspoken support of For Britain, a UK political party that many have deemed extremist and racist. On Monday night, Morrissey appeared on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon to perform “Morning Starship,” and he wore a lapel pin featuring For Britain’s trident logo. On Monday night at NonCOMM, he wore no pin and made no mention of the controversy, although he seemed bent on repelling all those who might judge him (as usual).

I was very curious if anyone would say anything about him or to him about what he;’s been saying lately, but apparently not.  Left-wing Morrissey fans (like me) are able to turn compartmentalize.

In between two songs, he gave the crowd a snarky smile and chuckled, “As I thank you now, I have many critics. I have many critics. As you know, I have many critics,” he repeated, before concluding, “They’re all idiots!” With that, he exploded into his most contemptuous number of the night, “If You Don’t Like Me, Don’t Look At Me.”  “See if I care! See if I care! See if I care!” he taunted in each verse. Growling lead guitar propelled this song toward its climactic finish, which was marked by Morrissey’s send-off, “Don’t get your knickers in a twist!” (These lyrics do not appear in the recorded version from 2009.)

Morrissey also performed one Smiths track — “That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore” from Meat is Murder — before finishing with “The Bullfighter Dies” and the menacing “Jack the Ripper.” During the closer, white strobe lights struck him as his deep laugh echoed through the hall. Then, while the clanging guitars faded and the stage smoke dissolved, he smugly proclaimed, “I love you. Goodnight.” He tore his shirt in two, ripped it off and tossed it into the crowd, then departed.

Wait, he tore his shirt off?  For real?

I need more pictures to see what really happened.  And I’d like to hear “That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore” to see if he or Johnny Marr now sings songs from The Smiths better.

[READ: May 3, 2019] “Extinction Sonnets”

I don’t normally write about poems.  Certainly not ones that appear in magazines (this blog would be all poetry if  did that).  But for a summer reading issue that features three poets, I thought I’d make an exception.

Especially for this one.

And it seems quite apt for Morrissey.

This depressing series of five poems is five sonnets written to extinct species.

The Monteverde Toad (Costa Rica)

This one offers some modicum of hope:

like fallen stars How lost the scientists
wondering where you went and why. Perhaps mist

there’s still hope that one day you’ll be found
like buried treasure: patient, underground.

The Baiji Dolphin (China)

[once] esteemed as a goddess: one glimpse then gone–

this time you’re drowned for real, will not return
no matter how much incense people burn.

The Black-Faced Honeycreeper (Hawaii)

The Honeycreeper is not yet extinct but is very close. Hence

rarest bird in the world

hidden on remote Haleakala

They say that you are “unusually quiet.”
Well, lonely as you are, why would you sing?
You pretty thing, pretty thing, pretty thing.

The River Otter (Japan)

Once abundant at as reeds in the waters
where you swam and played and raised your young for years,
you’ve disappeared victim of casual slaughter
because humans must wear fur.  Profiteers…

The Pyrenean Ibex (France and Spain)

extinction’s a mystery
we’ll never understand.  But full of guilt
or full of pride, we tried to fix history
by cloning you.  No luck.

The end of this poem summarizes the whole series and summarizes humanity, too.

The things we killed
can never be restored, we know that now.
What we don’t know is who dies next, and how.

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SOUNDTRACK: TORO Y MOI-Tiny Desk Concert #845 (April 29, 2019).

I have been hearing about Toro Y Moi for quite some time and yet I never got a sense what he (they) were like.  I also always assumed it was a duo (which apparently it is not).

Chaz Bear, who performs as Toro y Moi, is going to do what he feels. In preparation for his Tiny Desk concert, we were given two possible sound scenarios: aim to recreate the heavily electronic and lustrous aura that birthed his latest LP, Outer Peace or strip away the bells and whistles for an acoustic performance. The game-time decision was the latter and fans were treated to brand new iterations of these songs.

I had assumed that the music was dancey, so this acoustic rendition was a surprise.  Reading that blurb makes more sense.

Toro y Moi’s discography conveys that same unpredictability and showcases his affinity for a wide span of genres. While largely known as an early pioneer of chillwave, Outer Peace is anything but. It’s hard-hitting, funky and directly to the point, as is this Tiny Desk concert.

It’s true.  “Laws of the Universe” is as funky as anything (that bass!–Patrick Jeffords) with the stabs of piano (Tony Ferraro) really bring the melody home.  The drums (Andy Woodward) snap and pop and bring the song to life.  And I love the nod to LCD Soundsystem: “James Murphy is playing in My house.” (we should have all replied “my house”).

Stripping down such heavily produced songs could risk revealing weaknesses. In this case, the rhythms move just the same. Removing the Auto-Tune, synths and effects make way for some insightful songwriting that’s often hard to hear in the recorded version.

Like in “New House” which is “about wanting that gold.”  It comes across as such a simple song with simple but relatable lyrics.

I want a brand new house
Something I can not buy, something I can afford
I ain’t even make it off the jetway now
Phone’s been on blast like all day (Ring)
Why you gotta do this? Try to test me now
Right when I touchdown got anxiety (Fuck)
Follow signs out of the terminal now
JFK is a different animal now
Damn baggage claim is like a warzone now
Glad I packed light clothes, I’m on my own

He has a simple, quite vocal delivery here in this mellow song.

“Freelance” returns that funk in the bass with more nice piano punctuation of melody.  I love this verse:

No more shoes and socks, I only rock sandals
I can’t tell if I’m hip or getting old
I can’t hear you, maybe you could change your tone

For the final song they brought out a special guest (who I didn’t know).

With shaker in tow, Bear sat front and center at a stool to deliver four of my favorites from Outer Peace, including “Ordinary Pleasure,” with bongo assistance from Foots of Foot and Coles.

There is definitely a sameness to the set (are they all in the same chord?)  His quiet delivery and the spare piano are all there.  But each song has a moment that lets it stand out.

Like the funky bass and the insanely catchy chorus of “Ordinary Pleasure.”  The bass and ooohs have a very disco feel to it as you dance along to “Maximize all the pleasure, even with all this weather, nothing can make it better, maximize all the pleasure.”

I have since listened to all four songs and I found the Tiny Desk versions to be more enjoyable each time–except for “Ordinary Pleasure” because the disco is ramped up on the album and it’s impossible not to shake to it.

[READ: April 29, 2019] “Poetry”

There is so much going on in this story, that it’s amazing it keeps its coherence.

James and Celeste are on vacation near a volcano.  Possible rain suggested that Celeste would not enjoy the hike but, “so, frankly, did Celeste’s dislike of hikes.”  But the volcano was there and so they had to climb it.  Celeste could sit out out, of course, but “there was the looming question of marriage and children, after all and of the deeper compatibility of our interests.”

She had once told an acquaintance that he needed harrowing ordeals to prove he’s not on the road to death.

The hike was tough–straight up, it felt–and it did rain.  He hoped they would both hold on to the idea that suffering underwrote a deeper pleasure.  He promised it would be over soon and they would enjoy the taste of prune de Cythère.  (Even though neither one knew what it actually was). (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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SOUNDTRACK: KASVOT VÄXT-“Say It To Me S.A.N.T.O.S.” (1981/2018).

Back in 1994, Phish started covering a classic album for its Halloween costume. In 2015 they covered the Disney album: Chilling, Thrilling Sounds Of The Haunted House, which pretty much meant all bets were off.  So in 2018, they decided to cover an obscure Scandinavian prog rock band called Kasvot Växt and their sole album, í rokk.  This proved to be a big joke–they were a nonexistent band.  They had so much fun creating this band, that they even enlisted others to expand the joke.  This included impressively thorough reviews from WFMU and from AllMusic.

The joke is even in the name: when translated together Kasvot Växt and í rokk means “Faceplant into rock.”.

Here’s some more details they came up with:

The Scandinavian prog rock band purportedly consists of Jules Haugen of Norway, Cleif Jårvinen of Finland, and Horst and Georg Guomundurson of Iceland.  The album’s label, Elektrisk Tung, supposedly went out of business shortly after the LP’s release and little information about the record appears on the internet. Bassist Mike Gordon made a tape copy of í rokk in the mid-’80s and Phish would play it “over and over in the tour van in the early ’90s.” In the Playbill, guitarist Trey Anastasio insisted, “Every time the Halloween discussion comes up, we talk about Kasvot Växt. We honestly were worried we wouldn’t have the chops to pull it off or do justice to the sound, but when it came down to it, we just couldn’t resist any longer.”

The decision to go with an obscure album few have heard or even heard of appealed to the members of Phish. “We’ve paid tribute to so many legendary bands over the years, it felt right this time to do something that’s iconic to us but that most people won’t have heard of,” Gordon said as per the Phishbill. “And with these translations we’re really performing songs that have never been sung in English before.” Keyboardist Page McConnell added, “I love the mystery surrounding this whole thing. If those guys ever hear we did this I hope they’re excited because we absolutely intend it as a loving tribute.” As for what Phish fans can expect? “A weird, funky Norweigan dance album! Get out there and put your down on it!” exclaimed drummer Jon Fishman.

While the listings for the 10 tracks on the original í rokk were in a Scandinavian language, the titles appear in English in the Playbill. Phish called upon a Nordic linguist to translate the lyrics to English for tonight’s performance.

These songs do not really sound like a Norwegian prog rock band.  They do sound an awful lot like Phish (although with a more synthy vibe overall. The band has this part of their live show streaming on Spotify under the Kasvot Växt name.  And I’m ending the year by talking about each song.

This is probably the most memorable of all of the songs on the disc.  The keyboards are funky, the bass is funky and the wa- wah is funky.  The verse is a nice, slow slinky build up to the big chorus which is dumb and easy to remember, and–more to the point–really fun to sing along (hi-ho-hi-ho-hi-ho).

The post chorus of “This is what space smells like (you will always remember where you were)” is more or less screamed and makes it pretty unforgettable.  What does S.A.N.T.O.S. stand for?

Well, most of the time Tom Marshall writes the songs with Trey, but according to a Live for Live Music report:

Trey and Tom have been best friends and songwriting partners since elementary school, but Tom explains that he had absolutely nothing to do with Phish’s mastermind curveball they threw for Halloween, and remained in the dark, just as Phish’s entire fanbase did. Trey remains extremely tight-lipped following Phish’s debatably greatest prank ever, but according to Tom Marshall, the one thing Trey divulged is what the acronym S.A.N.T.O.S. stands for. Whether we believe it or not, Trey evidently told Tom that S.A.N.T.O.S., from Phish’s new tune “Say It To Me S.A.N.T.O.S.”, stands for “Subterranean. Arctic. Neuro. Technology. Orientation. Station.”

Whatever it stands for, it’s great.

[READ: December 7, 2018] “I Flirted with the Women”

This is an excerpt from a book whose subtitle is A Life and Work in Conversation with the Life and Work of Etheridge Knight.  I don’t know what that means and that makes this excerpt which is largely about Mary Karr even more puzzling.  (After re-reading I see now that it is Hayes interviewing Mary Karr about Etheridge.)

It begins with someone saying

One day Mary Karr sort of appeared along my path like a brush fire.  She’s incendiary, combustible, she’s a walking flame.  She’ll light up the whole house or she’ll burn that motherfucker down.  Recently when I told her I described her that way to people, she paused and said, “I don’t know if that’s a compliment or a complaint.”  I meant it the way she heard it.

I myself only really know about Mary Karr because of her association with David Foster Wallace.  I don’t think I’ve ever read her. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: HALF WAIF-Tiny Desk Concert #803 (November 9, 2018).

Nandi Rose Plunkett is a member of Pinegrove. She released albums as Half Waif, and when Pinegrove retreated for a time, she toured as Half Waif.  I wanted to see her but didn’t have the opportunity.

I was under the impression that her shows were very spare and I wasn’t sure if I would enjoy a full live set by her.  This five piece version (see more below) has a wonderful full sound though and these songs sound terrific.

The band [is] more often a trio, with Nandi singing her songs and playing keyboards, Zack Levine on drums and Adan Carlo bass synth and guitar.

But for this show she has a five piece band, which she has a great introduction for:

Midway through Half Waif’s Tiny Desk, singer Nandi Rose Plunkett stops to let us all know that this particular Half Waif show is extra special. “So today we’re actually ‘Full Waif,’ because I am joined by my dear friends,” she says. “These are all musicians who have played with the band Half Waif over the past five years, but we’ve never all played together until now! So thanks for the opportunity to get ‘Full Waif’ together.”

The other two guys are Zubin Hensler keys and Robin electronic drums.

It’s clear that she doesn’t need all five of them–the music isn’t all that complicated but it ensures a really full sound.  What’s most notable is the two drummers–each doing his own thing but combining into a wonderful rhythm session.

The session opens with “Lavender Burning.”  It sounds like she is playing a harmonium, but I don’t think she is.  The layers of synth are added to by Adan and Zubin.  It’s not until about half way into the song that the drums come in and it adds a lot of texture to an already wonderful song.

“Lavender Burning,” with its opening line, “Staring out into the shifting darkness / Tryin’ to give a name to the place where my heart is,” reinforces my love for their peaceful, almost backwoods calm.

The more I listen to the song the more powerful it becomes.  And Nandi’s voice is just lovely.

“Silt” opens with electronic drums and Nandi’s simple synth washes.  I love the thoughtful and clear lyrics

Nobody deserves me.  I get lonely. I get angry.
My love is like an island.  You can’t find it if you’re not trying
And if you want my love I will guide you. I will be your anchor.  If I only have a minute to myself. T hen i would let you in without poison.  I would eat my anger if you only gave me what I wanted.

Adan offers some nice backing vocals and Nandi does double duty on synth and piano.  There’s so many interesting sounds I’m not sure who is doing what (like that synth solo at the end).

The final song is “Salt Candy” which is the a more acoustic track–Nandi on piano only to start.  Adan is making the tiniest sounds on guitar and the drumming is spare and minimal.

When they closed with “Salt Candy,” the line “I wanted to be carried in my mother’s arms / I wanted to be buried in my mother’s arms,” in this setting and with the spare punctuation of electronic drums and textures, sitting alongside Nandi’s voice, was particularly chilling.

It’s a beautiful set and makes me like them a lot more.  I’ll definitely have to see them when they tour again.

[READ: January 7, 2017] “Pardon Edward Snowden”

Many people feel that stories about writers are not very interesting.  I disagree typically, but that’s probably because I aspire[d] to write something someday.

This story is about a poet and I really liked it a lot.  I enjoyed the political and the literary nature of the story.

Mark McCain received an email sent to many American poets inviting him to sign a “poetition” requesting that president Obama pardon Edward Snowden.

The request also took the form of a poem and the narrator talks about some of the rhymes: “pardon and rose garden.”  “nation and Eden” “Putin and boot in.”

Mark forwarded the email to his friend, the poet E.W. West.  They were enraged by the “poetition.” (more…)

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