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SOUNDTRACK: ALA.NI-Tiny Desk Concert #642 (August 14, 2017).

ALA.NI is a London-born, Paris-based singer who draws inspiration from her uncle, a British ’20s and ’30s cabaret star by the name of Leslie “Hutch” Hutchinson.  She writes her own songs in the style of the standards he sang.

ALA.NI is sweet and funny and very charming.  She exudes calm and grace as she stretches and waves her long limbs and fingers.  It’s mesmerizing.  And her voice sounds amazing.  The blurb notes:

The singer asked us to record her set using her vintage RCA Ribbon microphone, which she carries around in a small briefcase between shows. It’s a security blanket, a bit of visual branding, a statement of stylistic intent — and, not for nothing, a big reason ALA.NI’s voice carries with such warmth and intimacy.

“Cherry Blossom” sounds terrific.  The guitar is gently echoed and her voice is soft and delicate but incredibly right on.  You could easily imagine hearing the pops and clicks of old vinyl behind her.

Between songs she is chatty and funny.  She raves about the NPR gift shop, “I got some beeswax paper that I can wrap my sandwiches in.”

She says that “Ol Fashioned Kiss” is about kissing.  She plays an acoustic guitar which she uses mostly for percussion in the beginning, but then she adds some gentle strums herself.  It’s a simple, old-fashioned bluesy song.  She does a lot of scatting.  And as the song comes to its natural ending, she says tells her guitarist, “no no keep it going, there’s too many toys here.”  She plays all kinds of things on the desks—a small drum set, some other percussive thing and even the cow mooing can.

“Suddenly” sounds like an old song–it’s so hard to believe these are new.  And then comes

Darkness at Noon is a powerful old-fashioned sounding song that opens. “We agreed to end this love affair.”  It’s chilling and gorgeous.

When the song is over she introduces her guitar player, “this is Marvin Dolly on guitar.  It’s actually Marvin’s birthday today.”  She leads everyone in a version of Happy Birthday she hits some amazing high notes while everyone else sings along  She turns as the song ends, “wow you all can sing as well.”

What a delightful person with such an enchanting voice.

[READ: June 25, 2017]  “Why Aren’t You Laughing”

Sedaris has become a lot more reflective in his later writing.  There’s still humor to be had, but for the most part this is a sad tale about his mother.

He begins by talking about the plainness of the North Carolina house he shares with Hugh (he calls Hugh his boyfriend, although I thought they were married).  He says even the theater manager at the box office he performed at knew what their house look like: “spread out over four levels and paneled in dark wood like something you’d see on a nineteen seventies TV show.”  Hugh liked to point out that the pint of the place was the view.

The title of the piece comes as he says he is signing his name on tip-ins for his books while Hugh reads the final draft of the manuscript.  Depending on Hugh’s reaction or silence David would shout Whats so funny? or Why aren’t you laughing? (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RHEOSTATICS-The Horseshoe Tavern, Toronto Ontario (August 11 1994).

This is a monster show.  Nearly three hours long!  I’ve said before that I’d love to have professional recordings of certain shows and this would absolutely be one of them. Most of the show sounds pretty good although near the end the audience starts talking a little too loud. But man, what a set list.

This is one of the last shows Dave Clark played before leaving the band. This show was on the same day Introducing Happiness was reviewed as a new release in Now Magazine. (See the review below right).  The Setlist was a carefully constructed chronologically arranged 36 song, 2-set night.

They open the showing by thanking everyone for coming out on short notice, whatever that means.  Dave says they had 35 songs on the list  (they play 36 in total).

The first four songs are from Greatest Hits
Higher & Higher, Crescent Moon, Canadian Dream (which hasn’t gotten much play in the available shows) and Ditch Pigs.  They joke about their older songs: because we play some older music sometimes, like now, we forget the words, right Tim?  They also thank “anybody who helped us last night to cut our live track and video of Claire.”

The next song is “Royal Albert (Joey II)” which never appeared on an album, formally, so who knows how old it actually is.

Then there are five from Melville  (+1 later on)

A slow “Saskatchewan” builds very big by the end with Dave taking some of the last verse.  Tim observes that it’s a rough start tonight, although it all sounds quite good.  “Chanson sans Ruelles” has a quiet middle with a brushed section on drums.  When the song is over, because it is sung in French, Clark chimes: Tim Vesely for Governor General.  Bidini agrees saying, “he is Ray Hnatyshyn of rock.”  Upon assigning the rest of the cabinet: Bidini would be minister of sport; Tielli would be Finance Minister (of course) and Clark would be Minister of National Resources he is a national resource unto himself.

They start “When Winter Comes” and then they state:   at this point in When Winter Comes we’d like to express individually what the review in Now Magazine meant to us (if you click on the image it seems to come out a little more clearly).  Each of the four sings something.  Bidini: “nothing sweet nothing.”  Clark recites to the rhythm of his drum beats: “you know, Dave, I really like the things that they say all day but I got to know so I can tell you.”  Giving up he says, I love that Sloan album they gave one N–it’s better than the last one it’s better it’s cooler… why be mean to such a good band?  Bidini chimes in: “So the reason our album sucked is because Dave Clark listened to Sloan too much, obviously.”  Martin kind of mumbles his response but it’s something along the lines of, “I guess it mad me sad but it’s just another thing for a shirt.”  Tim says 1) we have to work really hard to complete that hoser rock opera.  The other thing is that its my weekly paycheck … 120 bucks?”  The rest of the song sounds great.

Clark: the next song [“It”] is one of my favorites and we don’t play it enough.  It’s followed by a fairly slow version of “Record Body Count” that gets the crowd really riled up.

“Woodstuck” is also not on a record.  But it’s a great song which they introduce as an “ode to a friend of ours who was really really into the hippie culture.”  1994 is the 25th anniversary of Woodstock (and the Woodstock ’94 concert).  Dave says to someone “you got that at the original Woodstock at the Pizza Pizza kiosk. Woodstock ’94 is brought to you by Pizza Pizza and their new… herbal pizza.”   In the “intermission” of the song Bidini throws in the lyrics to “Blitzkrieg Bop” with the same melody as the main song.

Referencing something, Bidini says Dan Aykroyd walked by and he was really polite, he said “excuse me,” which is pretty nice.  Clark jokes, “Did you say Ghostbusters?”

Next there’s 8 from whale music (+2 songs later)

“Sickening Song” sounds great and bright.  Afterward Dave sees “Matthew” and says “You got engaged?  Cool, congratulations young lovers. It’s our second Green Sprouts anulmen….no engagement.”

“Who” sounds good but they have a little trouble with those last few thump thump notes.  Soul Glue adds a heavy rocking coda to it.

Dave starts “Queer” by chanting “We’re here, we’re queer, we will not go away.”  At the end, Dave recite sa poem that ends, “Acceptance, forgiveness, and love.” which he says is from Broadway Danny Rose.  They also throw in a verse from “Good Guys and Bad Guys” from Camper Van Beethoven.

During he first verse of “Self Serve Gas Station,” the tape gets a little wonky.  And Martin’s changes the line: “What went wrong with Martin?  Is he stoned?” Someone shouts “yeaahh” and there’s the retort: “how do you know?”

Martin plays the blistering riff to RDA a few times before they take off with the song.  And then it’s time for a short break.

Clark announces, “we’re back.  This song is called “You Shook Me All Night Long with a Shaved Head.”  “Shaved Head” is quite pretty and slow.  They introduce James Gray of Blue Rodeo on keyboards and Tim plays accordion for “What’s Going On?”

They play 2 from the Whale Music Soundtrack.  About “Song of Flight” Dave says, “we played that song in Kingston and a smallish college student did a bird dance in 7/8.”  And then for those who got a free single at the Bathurst Street Theater, they play “Torque, Torque.”

Then there’s 10 from Introducing Happiness (+1 song later).  They introduce “Claire” as “Wet Home Alabama.”  After Fan Letter to Michael Jackson, they say, “The king is dead long live Lisa Marie and Michael.  Congrats to Michael on his wedding… that’s three Green Sprouts weddings.”

After mentioning a convoy, Bidini asks Clark “What was your CB handle?”  “Fuzzy Wuzzy.  I played CB with my best friend–it was strictly platonic.”

As Earth/Monstrous Hummingbird opens, you can hear a lot more crowd noise.  Talk of “I’d like to hear that recording.”

After “Me and Stupid,” Dave says “I’m afraid that when we go to England and play in front of  packed house of 150 British screaming Moxy Fruvous fans and we get up there to play California Dreamline” this is all that’ll come out  (some crazy nonsense noises) and they’ll love us and we’ll be on the cover of all the music magazines and we’ll never be able to face anybody in Canada again.”  Clark disagrees: “bullshit don’t believe your own mythology.”

“The Woods Are Full of Cuckoos” is “about a great Canadian band.”  And “Artenings Full of Gold” is weirder than ever, the “digging a hole” section sounds very much like Zappa (with high-pitched laughing whoooos).

Really fast PROD after which Clark asks, “how’s it feel to be in Ontario after the legal drinking hour?”

In the beginning of “California Dreamline,”Martin messes up and has to start over.  And then they all mess up…hold on false start.  Someone jokes, “Sounded like the Stones alright.”  They resume mid-song.  Martin says, “Stop.  Fuck this song let’s move on.”

So they pick right up with “Horses.”  Its fast and powerful and at the end he chants: “help break the owners of Major League Baseball, boycott professional sports.”  Speaking of sports, “Might as well award the Montreal Expos works series champion right here and now, ok.”  Then Dave says, “to my friend Steve from Hamilton…that didn’t count the CFL in that boycott of professional sports, all teams except the Hamilton Tigers.”

Bidini continues, “You braved the cold and blizzard conditions… oh it’s August, sorry.  So our record came out Tuesday with general release in October when they’ll play the Bathurst Theater.  He gives a plea to “Help Canadians music dominate worldwide in the 1990s.”   Clark, “And don’t forget those condoms when they’re at the Commonwealth Games.”

They come back for an encore with “Row.”  It’s sweet and quiet—not a really exciting encore, honestly.  But it’s followed by a romping “Legal Age Life,” which gets everyone really moving.

Such a great show.  It’s shows like this that make me wish that a) I knew about the band back then and b) I had actually seen them live.

[READ: June 5, 2017] Clean, Cleaner, Cleanest

This short story is a brief description of an older woman’s life.  Not a lot happens in terms of plot, but it is a wonderful story full of detail and character with a satisfying ending.

Marie is a maid at a motel.  She has worked there for nearly 30 years.  She is Catholic and goes to confession often.  But “she was more flexibly Catholic than strictly Catholic, so she did believe in birth control.”  The condoms she found stopped bothering her because safe sex was better than abortion.

Over the years she had seen the drug users go from needles to pipes to meth and now back to needles.

She also learned to be clinical about the messes she cleaned up: feces and urine to made it sound like she was helping people rather than dealing with the worst of them. (more…)

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[LISTENED TO: June 29, 2016] No Girls Allowed (Dogs Okay) 

Scab McNally is a clever fourth-grade kid who is always inventing things. But he’s also kind of selfish and pretty mean to his sister.  Isabelle is his twin but because she really uses her brain (She is smart times ten) she has been bumped up from 4th grade to 5th grade.

Isabelle doesn’t understand Scab’s brand of cleverness (and mischievousness) and so she writes a daily news report about all of the things that Scab has done to her (and done at school) through the day.  She reads this to her parents every night.  It’s pretty hard for Scab to catch a break at this point.

But obviously, the more Isabelle tells on him the more things he does to her.  He puts cheese in her underwear drawer and dead bugs in her room.

This is all some background to the fact that more than anything else Scab wants a dog.  (There seem to be a lot of books about kids who desperately want a dog).  Scab’s best friend has a dog, Oscar–a wiener dog.  And Scab is super jealous but always happy to help out with Oscar.  Of course, since Isabelle is always attaining on him, his parents don’t think he is responsible to own a dog. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ALPINE-Tiny Desk Concert #295 (August 12, 2013).

I was unfamiliar with Alpine before this show, so the blurb helpfully notes:

The Australian sextet crafts busily impeccable pop music with a danceable sway, prominent synths and the charming shared lead vocals of Phoebe Baker and Lou James. That’s a lot of ingredients to strip down to a semi-acoustic set in the NPR Music offices; there’s virtually no margin for error.  Thankfully, the two women at the band’s heart possess gorgeously interlocking, harmony-intensive voices that require no sweeteners.

Each of the women is fascinating in her own way.  I can’t not mention that Lou James, the dark-haired singer’s outfit is light blue two piece with the top and bottom attached by crossing strands of fabric (so technically it’s a one piece).  While the blonde-haired singer, Phoebe Baker is wearing a flowery dress over a long-sleeved shirt.  Her hair looks like if she unclipped it, it would be a huge nimbus around her head.  But appearances aside, their voices work perfectly together.  They do a lot of singing one note in a pretty staccato fashion (almost like horns).  Their voices meld beautifully, whether singing in harmony or chorus.

I love the little fiddly, interesting guitar chords of the first song, “Gasoline.”  The song doesn’t deviate that much from the beginning—it’s bouncy and catchy–because all of the focus is on the two singers.  It’s really a fun song that I can’t stop listening to.

the second song, “Villages,” opens with a gentle acoustic guitar.  It’s interesting that Baker’s voice is noticeably accented in this song.  Like when she sings “Why don’t you come,” or in the really groovy middle part when James is singing, “I can’t believe I’ve seen this love,” Baker sings “Ah Oh” but you can actually hear her accent in these single notes.

They mention that they were walking around D.C. but it was way too hot.  They saw the White House and the Lincoln memorial.  The guitarist went to the Air and Space Museum (but he’s English) and the drummer is jealous.

I really like the way the third song, “Hands” opens with the vocals singing in an enchanting staccato, “It’s okay to feel the rain on my hand my love.”  And again once the verses start the vocals are very Björk-like

The final song, “Softsides,” is one they’ve never done acoustically before.  It’s also the first time their drummer has played keyboards live.  Once again the vocals are fascinating and really engaging, with each singer doing little pieces of the delicate vocal line.

[READ: July 19, 2016] Dan vs. Nature

I judged this book by its cover and title and deemed it worthy of a read.

I loved the idea of “vs. nature” and didn’t really have any sense of what the book would be a bout but the blurb “an outrageously funny and wicked raunchy romp in the woods” sounded promising.

So I was very surprised that the book began with Dan getting beaten up by jocks (the scene was funny if not a little violent) and then going home to have dinner with his mom and the man he is meeting for the first time–who his mom says just asked her to marry him.

The reason he is getting beaten up by jocks is because of his best friend Charlie.  They have been friends forever and Charlie is super smart.  He’s also a major germaphobe and has been reading everything science-related since he was little.  Charlie is also the school photographer and when he tries to get the jocks to pose for a picture he calls them uriniferous homunculi. They don’t know what that means, but Charlie explains it to them.  So Charlie and Dan both get beat up for it. The gym teacher hears the ruckus and comes out and tells them to save their fighting for the wrestling meet.  Ugh. (more…)

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2016-12-05-21-06-09SOUNDTRACK: RUFUS WAINWRIGHT-Tiny Desk Concert #237 (August 20, 2012).

I’d published these posts without Soundtracks while I was reading the calendars.  But I decided to add Tiny Desk Concerts to them when I realized that I’d love to post about all of the remaining 100 or shows and this was a good way to knock out 25 of them.

rufusPreceding his sister by a few months at the Tiny Desk was Rufus Wainwright.  I love Rufus’ delivery and style.  I really like his voice too.  The problem is I don’t really like his music all that much.  I wish I did, because I love hearing him sing.  But for some reason it doesn’t do anything for me.  We even saw him live (on a bill with Guster and Ben Folds) and left half way through his set because it’s such a different energy than the other two.

But I love this little bit of information about this show:

We’d never tried to squeeze a piano behind the Tiny Desk, but when I saw a chance to have Rufus Wainwright play here, I wouldn’t — and he probably wouldn’t — have had it any other way

That’s particularly funny because now some five years later they have had all kinds of things behind his desk.

He plays three songs on the piano.

“The Art Teacher”is a sad story about, yes an art teacher.  Really listening to the lyrics (full of art references) makes the song come alive.

Before the second song, he says I’m promoting my new album Out of the Game…yes, you may applaud if you wish.  Covers a lot of genres of music, one is, briefly, country.  Today is a lazy hazy day in the South–while we’re near the South.

“Respectable Dive”is a slow song (the country song, but not sounding country here) and again, the lyrics are great.

“Montauk” is about several people.  His daughter Viva Katherine Wainwright Cohen and his fiance.  Viva’s bilogical mother is Lorca Cohen who is Leonard Cohen’s daughter.  The last verse is about “my mother, the great Kate McGarrigle” (Rufus’ father is Loudon Wainwright III).

This song is, as the blurb says:

Wainwright at his best. The piano lines flow with forward motion in a Philip Glass way, and there’s also a hauntingly beautiful story. Wainwright sings to his daughter Viva, [imagining her] grown up and visiting her two fathers in Montauk, a small community on the eastern tip of Long Island.

So I am torn between really liking his voice but feeling that his delivery is a little too slow to fully understand the great lyrics.  There’s so much greatness in his stuff, and yet I can’t find my way in.

[READ: December 20, 2016] “Defamer”

Near the end of November, I found out about The Short Story Advent Calendar.  Which is what exactly?  Well…

The Short Story Advent Calendar returns, not a moment too soon, to spice up your holidays with another collection of 24 stories that readers open one by one on the mornings leading up to Christmas.  This year’s stories once again come from some of your favourite writers across the continent—plus a couple of new crushes you haven’t met yet. Most of the stories have never appeared in a book before. Some have never been published, period.

I already had plans for what to post about in December, but since this arrived I’ve decided to post about every story on each day.

I really liked yesterday’s story and I really liked this one as well, even though it is very different.

This is a the sad story of a woman named Birdie.  Boy oh boy everything goes wrong in her life.  She works at an office.

Big boss takes a four-hour lunch.  He has suffered no major disasters in his life.  [He and his wife plan] their vacation to Maine a year in advance.  This is one way to live.

Birdie works in a corner cubicle near Bog Boss’ office… [She] makes $20,000 a year forwarding emails to people who make $15,000 a year.

Birdie assumes that her boss is having an affair on his four-hour lunches.  But one day she see him during his lunch break working at a deli, frantically making sandwiches for customers.  Nothing makes sense. (more…)

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humanSOUNDTRACK: ROOMFUL OF TEETH-Tiny Desk Concert #404 (November 10, 2014).

teethRoomful of Teeth is an acapella group (with a drum on the first song).  The singers  all tend to sing notes (or words) in a rather unsettling style.  As the blurb says, “Mix a bit of yodeling with Tuvan throat singing, add in a pinch of Sardinian cantu a tenore, fold in compositions from cutting-edge composers and you have the vocal group Roomful of Teeth. This eight-voice ensemble, which includes the 2013 Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Caroline Shaw, is gleefully dismantling the traditional definition of ensemble singing right before our ears (and teeth!)…. The agility of the voices and multicolored blend they achieve are extraordinary.”

And that’s all so accurate.  Everything is kind of unsettling and strangely beautiful. But definitely unsettling.

The first song was written by Australian Wally Gunn and is called “The Fence Is Gone.”  There are so many different sections.  It reminds me a lot of the middle of Pink Floyd’s Atom Heart Mother.  With singers having an almost atonal operatic movement.  But in between lyrics, the vocalists are largely singing going “oh ha” or just “bah bah.”  It’s really fascinating.  And the more I listen to it the more I wonder how they know just what (somewhat unusual) note to sing.  The blurb adds: “verses emerge from an infrastructure of “oh-ha” syllables and a simple drum pulse, ending with women’s voices, tight in harmony, like a chord from a Casio keyboard.”  That Casio remark is pretty spot on.

Before the second song, one of the men says that the “women are going to so do a song.”  The men leave and Rinde Eckert’s “Cesca’s View”  begins with a kind of yodeling (really good yodeling). After which the three remaining women sing a beautify low melody very hymn-like.  Then the yodeling comes back (with some beautiful high notes at the end).  Then they all come together to do the the yodelling melody very pretty harmonies.  The blurb adds “In Rinde Eckert’s “Cesca’s View,” imagine a lonely cowgirl on some windswept plain. Estelí Gomez gets her yodel on, beautifully, while the three other women vocalize in close, barbershop-style harmony. It literally ends on a high note.”  When the four are singing together, it’s really pretty.

The final song was written by the founder of the group, Brad Wells.  “Otherwise” features some very intense bass notes from the men and high notes from the women.  The blurb says “Warm, rounded tones in male voices contrast with a steely sheen from the women and a high drone like a Tibetan singing bowl. The harmonies take a tangy, almost Bulgarian turn, then we get something truly otherworldly. A pulsing, slightly creepy Sardinian “bim-bom” vocalise buzzes like a gigantic cicada.”   The Bulgarian comment is really spot in as the women absolutely sound like the Bulgarian choirs.  And that “bim bim bom” section is so alien and otherworldly.  I love when they throw in some  little “hey ya” mixed in.  But the most amazing thing has to be “Dashon Burton’s operatic baritone [which] soars above it all.”  His voice is really intense.

At first I didn’t really like their music, but after a few listens I could really appreciate what they were doing.

[READ: May 1, 2016] Human Body Theater

Maris Wicks is the illustrator for another First Second non-fiction book I loved called Primates.  I thought her drawings were perfect (and also really cute).  And she has done it again. Never have brains and bowels and viruses and allergies been so adorable!

But despite the cuteness of the drawings (and the title), this is a real, genuine nonfiction book about the human body.

Wicks covers just about everything you might want to know about how our bodies work.  It is geared toward children (she does discuss reproduction, but in very basic terms), but it is full of so many details that I think many adults will find they learn things from this book.  I know I sure did. (more…)

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alieeenSOUNDTRACK: THEE SILVER MT. ZION MEMORIAL ORCHESTRA-Hang On to Each Other EP [CST105] (2014).

Hang_on_to_each_otherI try to go in sequence with a band’s records.  But this release is, inexplicably, a dance remix Ep of a song from the album Horses in the Sky.  The original is basically an a capella song with a harmonium.  Efrim sings the main melody and the chorus sings the repeated refrains.

It’s pretty cool and the spareness of it really resonates.  About four minutes (of 6 and a half), the refrain switches to “any fucking thing you love.”  Then about 5 minutes in he switches to “birds toss precious flowers from the murky skies above” while the chorus starts singing, “Any fucking thing you love.”

This EP features vocals by Ariel Engle of AroarA, and virtually nothing of the original song except the words.

The first side “Any Fucking Thing You Love” is 11 minutes long and is as promised, a dance remix.  And it is a serious, get your butt on the dance floor remix.  No irony, no winking, just butt shaking.

It opens with roars and a boat (ocean liner) whistle and then some dance drums.   Then there’s what sounds like lions roars, a middle-eastern-sounding instrument and screams.  Then the female vocals come in singing “Hang On To Each Other.”   The majority of the song is an instrumental dance section with washes of keyboards and drums.  There’s roaring noises as the beat keeps up the pace.  About 9 minutes in she starts chanting “Any fucking thing you love” and the song continues to dance on until the feedback sounds at the end.

Side two is “Birds Toss Precious Flowers” which opens with that same boat whistle.   Some skittery keyboards come in and out and then a big bass drum starts keeping the beat.  It doesn’t start getting dancey until after about 90 seconds.  That’s when the vocals come in—echoey and very cool.  About four minutes in the music cuts away and it’s just the thudding bass drum and vocals, then the song picks up again  At around 7 minutes the “birds fly” part kicks in.  The song turns really dancey with a vocal solo   The last two minutes are more or less the keyboard winding going through a very slow reverb pedal.

Of the two, I like the second one better as there’s more interesting things going on, but I have to assume that the first is a better club song.

[READ: February 15, 2016] A.L.I.E.E.E.N.

Lewis Trondheim found this book while on vacation.  It is the first collection of extraterrestrial comic strips every discovered.  And Trondheim convinced First Second to publish it [#10yearsof01].

A.L.I.E.E.E.N. stands for Archives of Lost Issues and Earthly Editions of Extraterrestrial Novelties.  (The book was originally published in France with the title A.L.I.E.E.N.)

The book is adorable, with cute and cuddly aliens creatures on a fascinating world.  There’s a blue four-legged guy and a yellow two-legged guy with a long tail and they are frolicking amidst butterfly-looking creatures.  The aliens only speak in alien tongue (I wonder if the characters can be translated or if it is just gibberish).  Then on page two, the blue guy runs into a tree and has both his eyes poked out in pools of blood.

WHAT?! (more…)

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