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Archive for the ‘Regrets’ Category

 SOUNDTRACK: NICK GRANT-Tiny Desk Concert #624 (June 2, 2017).

I had never heard of Nick Grant either.  And I wasn’t that impressed on an initial listen.  However, it says he’s got a bit of a flu, so kudos to him for pushing on.

In general, though, low-key rap shows are kind of weird.  They are mostly about hype, but its hard to hype a few dozen people.  But Grant is certainly game.

[Grant hails ]from a region where rap’s young guns and lil innovators tend to defy tradition, the South Carolina-by-way-of-Atlanta native proves being a purist is not just for the old heads.

Being cut from a vintage cloth has kept him in good company. He groomed himself on high school freestyle battles before working his way up to become the first signee to Culture Republic.  He’s a sly reminder that, contrary to popular opinion, the South still has a mouthful to say — and it doesn’t always have to be yelled, gurgled or Auto-Tuned to death. Sometimes it can be conveyed coolly, from a seated position, while backed by Washington D.C.’s soul garage band Black Alley, and still cut through all the noise.

I really like the live band, Black Alley.  The percussionist (Walter Clark) is particularly interesting with his congas and an electronic “plate” that plays all kinds of effects.  The bass (Joshua Cameron) is also great and the guitarist (Andrew White) plays a lot of interesting sounds.  I also like how muscular th keyboardist is playing simple chords.  And the drummer is pretty bad ass too.

The first song “Return of the Cool” (feat. B. Hess–not sure what the B. Hess is all about, I think he’s sampled in the chorus).  And that chorus is especially weird because the other singer is recorded and Grant is sort of quietly over the top of it.  It’s the smallness of the audience that makes the whole “hands side to side” part seem kind of weird.  Although it’s funny when he says, “you ain’t got your hands up.”  When it’s over he says “Give yourselves a round of applause.”  Before the next song starts he says “flu is killing me.”

It’s also strange to me in a lot of hip hop that the rappers feel the need to state who they are and where they are and sometimes when they are.  It’s been going on for decades now, but it’s odd .  So when he says “Nick Grant.  Tiny Desk.  NPR.”  it’s just what you do.  About the second song “Drug Lord Couture” he says that “street life wasn’t for me but I was fascinated with the fashion and the material things that came with being a drug dealer being in the streets.”  He says, “it wasn’t for me I found out quickly.”

He introduces the final song, “Luxury Vintage Rap” by saying that you “must be strong, have a lyrical ability to be #1.”  This song is faster with some good lyrics: “I don’t believe the devil would come as a snake / why would he come as something you would actually hate?”   There’s a cool dark end section with a funky riff.  His lyrics turn rather explicit with the startling line “sugar on a clit / that’s a sweet lick.”  As the songs sort of ends, he tells everyone, “Don’t stop.  Keep (the arm waving) going.

Grant won me over by the end.  And as the screen goes to black you can hear him saw, “Flawless….  Flawless any questions?”

[READ: April 22, 2017] “Deaf and Blind”

Vapnyar had a story in this same issue one year and a day ago.

This is the story of a young woman’s mother and her mother’s friend.  The friend was named Olga.  Olga and her mother had met at a fertility clinic.  The narrator’s mother had a child (obviously) while Olga did not.

But they bonded over their collective unhappiness. Olga said her husband loved her like crazy but that she never felt much for him–she always wanted to love someone with every fiber of her being.  The narrator’s mother was just the opposite: she loved her husband but was fairly sure he didn’t love her back.  She hoped a child would bring her husband back.

It didn’t.  And Olga didn’t get pregnant either. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: alt-J-Tiny Desk Concert #613 (April 24, 2017).

Alt-J have been reduced to a trio.  And their sound has gotten even more delicate and almost pastoral.

Bob Boilen loves Alt-J, and that’s why they’ve been invited back for a second time.  He explains:

As the primary booker of the Tiny Desk Concerts, I have this self-imposed rule: No artist can come back for a second visit unless there’s something wholly different about what they’re doing. The first time alt-J played the Tiny Desk, in 2012, they came as a four-piece; electric guitar, bass, keyboards and drums. They were a pretty new band, their album had been out a few months and they were playing in clubs for a couple hundred people, not much more.

In the five years since the band visited it has found quite a few new fans. When I heard cuts from the newest album Relaxer a few months ago I flipped and tried to think of a way to bring them back. So I wrote them, saying I’d love to have them again but that it would have to be wholly, out-of-the-box different. I told them I’d hire a brass band, an African kora player if need be, a string section… They took up the challenge. They told me to find a cellist and two violinists.

I wrote to my friend Carol Anne Bosco, a cellist, who turned out to be a huge fan of the band and helped find two violinists for the performance. About four days before the performance the band sent the string parts, written by their friend Will Gardner.

On Monday morning, the English band met the American string players and they all gathered behind my desk. As they worked their way through a first pass at “Three Worn Words,” I noticed them and relieved — alt-J had actually never heard the string arrangements, this was the first time. They sounded beautiful. By noon, NPR employees and friends gathered around my desk to witness this astonishing concert from alt-J, including two new songs and two old favorites. Magic.

“3WW” is the first single and it sounds very different.  The song opens with a lengthy instrumental, and then the keyboardist Gus Unger-Hamilton sings lead.  It sounds quite a lot like an old English balladeer song.  Then standard lead singer Joe Newman takes over.  His unusual voice is especially recognizable but the song still stays quite mellow until the moment where the strings burst forth …but just for a bit until they sing the practically whispered, “I just want t love you in my own language.”

“In Cold Blood” sounds a bit more like their old style with a very interesting drums pattern from Thom Green: lots of fast snares and toms.  The synths feel almost Ren-Faire like.  There’s also a fun section of “la la las.”  I only wish I knew what they were singing about.

“Warm Foothills” is primarily piano and strings.  There’s a very delicate falsetto vocals (and even a whistle).  All three of these songs are new.  It’s interesting to realize that these songs won’t sound like this anywhere else or on record because they have the strings only for this show.

They then say they’re going to play something from their first album, to mutters of pleasure and when he says “taro” there’s a whoop or two and Joe jokingly goes “Yes!!”  This is a quiet guitar-base song and the strings really bring out elements of it.

alt-J are certainly a weird band but they have slowly won me over.

I happened to check Wikipedia about the band and found this interesting tidbit (veracity in question of course): “The band’s unusual sound stems from the fact that due to living in student halls, where noise had to be kept to a minimum, they were unable to use bass guitars or bass drums. Thom Sonny Green suffers from Alport syndrome, a rare genetic disease which causes hearing and kidney failure. As a result, he is about 80 percent deaf.”

[READ: March 8, 2017] “Crazy They Call Me”

I usually love everything that Zadie Smith does.  But this story didn’t do very much for me.

It is a kind of inner monologue of Billie Holiday.  I’ve always liked Holiday’s voice but I don’t know much about her life.  Like I didn’t know that Billie Holiday wasn’t her real name–which was Eleanora Fagan.  But I don’t think that that’s what made me not love the story much.

I assume this story takes place near the end of her life “you certainly don’t go out anyplace less than dressed, not these days.”  She is saying goodbye both to Elenora Fagan and even to Billie: “There is only Lady Day.”

Lady Day is mostly thinking to herself about her life. How she doesn’t really like other women, is mostly a man’s lady. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: TANK AND THE BANGAS-Tiny Desk Concert #603 (March 10, 2017).

Tank and the Bangas won this year’s Tiny Desk Contest.  And here is their official Tiny Desk Concert.

There is something so alive and fun about Tank and the Bangas.  I definitely get their appeal and how much fun they are live.  There are seven members–five musicians and two singers.  The musicians are top-notch–and almost never stop, they seem to keep the groove going even between songs while Tank hangs with the audience.

And then there’s the two singers.  Jelly is an amazing hype woman.  Her voice is terrific wit ha great deal of range and delivery style.  And then there’s Tank, versatile, emotional, funny and sweet but not to be trifled with.

I really like a lot about them.  I just wish I liked their music a little more.

“Boxes And Squares” opens with a groovy riff and a great flute intro.  Tank begins by speaking in a strangely childish voice “I like that, Albert [the flautist], but it’s missing something.  It’s missing you [the audience], can I get a snap?”  She switches to some deeper voices as she sings/recites/raps the lyrics.  Tank is adorable and fun with her huge hair pulled off to thee side and spiked with purple.

I have no idea what she’s going on about in the beginning of the song–I would have been the milk, I would have been the sup etc.  Then she switches to a kind of rapping style.  Then she interacts with Jelly: “You are like a loop.”  “A what?”  “You are like a loop.”  “A what, girl?”  “You don’t understand me?” “I don’t understand what you’re saying.” “You are like a loop a hoop.  Like I’m going round and round with you like the o’s in my soup.”  There’s much laughter and fun.

I really do like the way Tank and Jelly play off of each other with the staccato riffing about whatever it is they are singing about “you…you…you”

The end of the song is a funny improv of her being excited that she won Tiny Desk.  It’s fun and funky with some great synth and bass underneath (her vocal delivery is crazy diverse).

“Quick” was their winning entry, which sounds pretty different from their contest version (I find this version to be far more dynamic and the sounds to be really cool).  But once again the focus of this song is on the two front women who are fun and vibrant and have great vocal range.

I really like the chanting: “who who who gonna save me now? (points to the audience).”    “I don’t know.” “I don’t know.”

They have a ton of fun introducing the band–singing the band members names and joking with each other.  The music pretty much never stops.

Even as they segue into the final song, “Rollercoasters.”  In New Orleans, there’s a theme park that still says “will open after storm.”  She asks “why people rode those big roller coasters.  The feeling of throwing up gave them some type of excitement that they did not receive on a regular day.”

But the song is about when she finally did ride a rollercoaster–the butterflies and fireflies fighting in my stomach.  The song is quite emotional–she even seems to be crying during the delivery.  “Jelly sings over and over fly fly fly (in a falsetto) and then oh oh oh oh in a deep voice–very cool.  I’m not sure how much of the song is improv or what’s normally there.  Rollercoasters are for people like me who have never been in love–who want to know how it feels to just fall.”  When the song ends, Tanks mumbles, “Shit, I’m such a crybaby).

Here’s a bit more detail about the band from the blurb:

Out of over 6,000 entries — more submissions than we’ve ever received — Tank And The Bangas won, unanimously, this year’s Tiny Desk Contest. I fully expected their victory performance here at NPR headquarters in D.C. to be celebratory. I didn’t know we’d all end up in tears.

This band [Tarriona Tank Ball (vocals); Jelly Joseph (vocals); Merell Burkett Jr. (keys); Norman Spence II (keys); Joshua Johnson (drums); Jonathan Johnson (bass); Albert Allenback (saxophone)] combines R&B with hip-hop’s poetry and rollercoaster storytelling, with a flair and alchemy that could only come from New Orleans. Their winning song, “Quick,” mixes liquor and revenge — a sort of modern day take on a great folk tale, but peppered with their own idiosyncratic flair and humor. What I couldn’t see, until they took over my desk, was the depth of their lyricism and the versatility of their players. At one moment fun-filled funk, the next laid-back jazz, rhythm-driven blues — and it all flows seamlessly. And it’s fun to watch: There’s a magic kinship between Tarriona “Tank” Ball and Anjelika “Jelly” Joseph as they share singing roles, like two best friends finishing one another’s sentences.

So yes, i wish I liked them a little better.  But I’ll clarify.  I enjoyed this and watched it a few times.  I wouldn’t  go out of my way to see them live, but I’ll bet it would be a lot of fun.  And I’m petty excited for them that they won.

[READ: January 11, 2017] “Chairman Spaceman”

I see that I have enjoyed a bunch of stories by Thomas Pierce.  And I enjoyed this one as well.

Don Whipple, the notorious corporate raider had given away his entire fortune–everything–houses, cars, cash–to a religion.  The religion is called God’s Plan for Space and his money has earned him a one way trip to a distant, habitable planet.  He will be frozen–and not aging–for the duration of the flight.

They wish to establish a more egalitarian society on another planet and to spread the message of God’s love to e unexplored solar systems.

The story opens on his going away party–he is leaving in a day or two. All kinds of wealthy people are there to see him off  And he was happy to never see them again.  But he was also attempting to make amends with as many people as he could. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: NINET-Tiny Desk Concert #601 (March 3, 2017).

One of the things I’d hoped to do this year was to finish posting about all of the Tiny Desk Concerts.  I didn’t know how I’d do it, but at some point I just decided to plow through them all.  And as of today, I have posted about all of the Concerts from the first one through March of this year.  There’s about 25 newer ones left.  It’s a pretty good feeling to accomplish arbitrary goals.

Ninet is the first of the newest Concerts.  Ninet Tayeb is an Israeli singer but she doesn’t sing any kind of “ethnic” or “world” music.  Rather, she and her band simply rock out.

As the first song, “Child” opens, the band sings in great harmony.  I love that the drummer (Yotam Weiss) is using a box drum but also a small hand drum (tapping with his fingers) and a cymbal (playing with his hands perfectly).  Ninet herself plays acoustic guitar and I love that you can hear her strumming and scratching on the guitar even with everyone else playing.  After a few verses, the whole band starts to rock out.  The great guitar sounds come from the electric guitarist (and main backing vocalist)–Joseph E-Shine Mizrahi.  I loved watching his guitar solo and the way he was occasionally hitting all of the strings to make them ring them out as he soloed.

I love the melody of Elinor–the way the guitars and bass (Matt McJunkins) play the same thing but in different tones.   The song takes off and runs nonstop with some great riffing in the middle and Ninet’s angry, snarling but catchy voice rising over it all.  I also love the great use of snyths (Doron Kochli) to play divergent and dark swells underneath the main riffs.

The song rocks to an end and they laugh as the guitarist picks some things up off the floor and says sorry Bob.  To which he says “what did you break now?”  That remains unresolved–I’m not even sure when it happened.

“Superstar,” the final song has the same snarling coolness as the previous two.  But it adds an interesting middle Eastern vibe from the keys as well as during the vocal lines near the end.  It sounds amazing.

The blurb has this to say:

“[Ninet is] one of the most famous entertainers in Israel today.”  She has recently settled in the States.  She has released five albums, “and their most recent, Paper Parachute, is the home of the songs she brought to us. It’s filled with a her husky-toned voice and guitar lines straight out of stateside ’70s rock, with a Middle Eastern lean. It’s a winning sound, performed by an unrestrained talent.”

I really enjoyed this set–her voice is really captivating and the riffs are wonderful.  As the song ends, Bob says “and that was the stripped down version,”  I’d like to hear the full on rocking version too!

[READ: January 12, 2017] “On the Street Where You Live”

Just the other day I learned that Yiyun Li would be joining Princeton University’s Creative Writing team.  That’s pretty exciting. If I was a groupie it would be even more exciting.  It would certainly be awkward to go to her office and thank her for all of the great fiction she’s written.  But how cool would it be to walk down the hall and see her and Jeffrey Eugenides, A.M. Homes, Jhumpa Lahiri, and Joyce Carol Oates chatting by the literary water cooler?

This is the story of Becky.  Becky’s son, Jude has autism and is being seen by two specialists.

She is in the remodeled San Francisco museum, talking to a man who says he hates museums–he hates sharing art with others.  The man is wearing a red tie that reminds her of Spongebob Squarepants.  She will write about him in her journal (mentioning only the red tie).  Her journal is comprised solely of descriptions of people.  She imagines that one day Jude will read it and be appreciative for all of her words. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SAN FERMIN-Tiny Desk Concert #315 (October 28, 2013).

When I first heard San Fermin I was immediately grabbed by the female lead voice (the song was “Sonsick”).  It was so powerful and gripping. I didn’t realize then that the female leads were the lead singers of Lucius (who I also didn’t know at the time).  San Fermin is the creation of Ellis Ludwig-Leone.

Since then I have enjoyed other songs by them as well, although I find that the songs sung by Allen Tate to be somewhat less exciting to me– I feel like his voice could one day hit me as amazing but it’s almost a little to understated for me.  And yet musically I love the orchestration and chamber poppiness.  As Bob writes:

San Fermin’s music bursts with ambition, talent and extreme joy. Its self-titled debut is charged with great storytelling and amazing vocals by both Allen Tate and Lucius singers Holly Laessig and Jess Wolfe. Then there are the arrangements: little gems that turn these songs into cinematic vignettes using trumpet, sax, keyboard, violin, guitar and drums.

San Fermin is the musical vision of Ellis Ludwig-Leone, who wrote these songs with Tate’s dark, rich voice in mind. Here at the Tiny Desk, Rae Cassidy makes the album’s female vocal parts her own.

So it’s interesting that the songs were meant for Tate.  I want just some more oomph from him.  especially here in this set.  And that’s because Rae Cassidy absolutely rules this set.

“Oh Darling” begins with a gentle piano and Cassidy’s pretty, delicate voice.  After a verse from her, Tate’s voice comes in and it’s almost comically low and formal (and actually perhaps a bit too quiet).  But when they all come in and sing it is just beautiful–the women in particular.

For “Sonsick” Cassidy sings lead with just drums.  As the song builds there’s a great chorus where the backing vocals (including Tate) sing in falsetto.  This version is quite stripped down compared to the recorded version and it really allows Cassidy’s voice to shine.  When she hits those incredibly high notes with such power, it gives me chills.

In the final song, “Renaissance!” Tate sings lead over a slow piano and violin.  The women sing backing vocals.  I like the way that the song builds in intensity with more instruments, but his voice is a little too flat for me–although he does kick in extra at the end.

There’s a really stunning version of the first two songs with the band singing live in a street and cafe and France.

Incidentally, Cassidy has since left the band and gone solo, and I wish her much success.

[READ: December 28, 2016] Humans of New York Stories

Sarah got me this book for Christmas.  I knew of Humans of New York, of course, but I wasn’t a follower of it.  So while I knew of it I didn’t really know that much about it.

There’s a brief introduction to this book (which is his second HONY book) in which he explains that HONY grew from five years of experimenting.  It evolved from a photography blog to a storytelling blog.  His original inspiration was to photograph 10,000 New Yorkers.  But then he decided to start including quotes from some of them.

He started interviewing people and found their stories became the real heart of the blog.  Of course, he thanks the community of readers and participants, because without them, he has nothing.

The rest of the book–425 pages–collects the photos and the stories. (more…)

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Frank Conniff–Twenty Five Mystery Science Theater 3000 Films That Changed My Life in No Way Whatsoever (2016)

tvfrankSOUNDTRACK: TA-KU & WAFIA-Tiny Desk Concert #576 (November 6, 2016).

Ta-ku & Wafia are Australian, and I knew nothing else about them.  So:

The chemistry between Australian singer-producer Ta-ku and his fellow Aussie singer-songwriter Wafia becomes apparent the instant you hear their voices intertwined in song. On their first collaborative EP, (m)edian, they draw on their individual experiences to touch on subjects like compromise in relationships as they trade verses and harmonize over hollow melodies.  With production characterized by weary low-end rumbles and resonant keys, the two float above the music, playing off each other’s harmonies.

Although the blurb mentions a few bands that the duo sounds like I couldn’t help thinking they sound The xx (although a bit poppier).

“Treading Water” especially sounds like The xx.  Both of their voices sound really close to that band (although Wafia’s high notes and r&b inclinations do impact that somewhat).  It’s funny that they are just sitting there with their eyes closed, hands folded singing gently.

“Me in the Middle” is another pretty, simple keyboard song with depth in the lyrics and vocals.

Introducing, “Love Somebody,” she says its their favorite on their EP and he interjects Go but it now, which makes her giggle.  Her voice is really quite lovely.  I could see them hitting big both in pop circles and in some alternative circles if they market themselves well.

[READ: November 10, 2016] 25 MST3K Films that Changed My Life in No Way Whatsoever

As you might guess from the title, Frank Conniff was involved with MST3K.  He was TV’s Frank and, as we learn from this book, he was the guy who was forced to watch every movie first and decide whether it could be used for the show.  This “job” was created because they had watched a bit of Sidehackers and decided it would be fun to use.  So Comedy Central bought the rights (“They paid in the high two figures”) and then discovered that there was a brutal rape scene (“don’t know why I need to cal it a ‘brutal’ rape scene any kind of rape ,loud or quiet, violent or Cosby-style, is brutal”) that would sure be hard to joke about (they edited it out for the show which “had a minimal effect on the overall mediocrity of the project.”

The book opens with an FBI warning like the videotapes except for this book it stands for Federal Bureau of Incoherence because the document contains “many pop culture references that are obscure, out of date, annoying and of no practical use to anyone.”   So each chapter goes through and explains these obscure references for us all. (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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