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Archive for the ‘Regrets’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: ALICE RUSSELL-Tiny Desk Concert #288 (July 15, 2013).

I read the name Alice Russell and pictured some kind of folk artist.  Boy, was I surprised to see a woman with  bleached blonde hair, a leather jacket and a funny t-shirt.  And then her band started playing low groovy soulful music.

Turns out:

Russell is a classic soul-infused singer — close your eyes and it’s easy to hear a Southern drawl, but truth be told, she’s a Brit. American-style R&B from Britain has a long history dating back to the 1960s with Dusty Springfield and on up through 21st-century artists like Adele. As for Alice Russell, she’s been making great soul music for 10 years, and her arrangements on To Dust often include a dose of electronics.

I didn’t love her voice when the first song “To Dust” started.  But as soon as the chorus kicked in I was hooked–wow, what a great voice she has and with the full band playing behind her it sounded amazing (the sampled backing singers was a bit flat, but otherwise OK).  And by the second chorus, man she is belting out the song—it’s great.  The Adele comparisons are spot on.

Then she hit Bob’s gong at the end of the song and told us that it was an ode to the taxman.

“For a While” is a great big soul song.  The drummer gets some great sounds out of that one drum he has.  And they keys sound great too.  I love the middle part where there’s some seriously long pauses in between beats–they are all wonderfully in sync.  At the end of the song she yells “I didn’t gong!” and then makes a peculiar hand gesture about a turtle.

“Heartbreaker” has such a classic-sounding riff it’s hard to believe it’s a new song.  I like it a lot (although I don’t care for the chanted “when it falls, when it breaks” by the guys).

I have to agree with this blurb about her:

To Dust is Russell’s fifth album, but the hiatus that followed 2008’s Pot of Gold may be the reason too many people don’t yet know what she’s doing. This stuff is as powerful as the work of any American singer making soul music in the 21st century. If you haven’t heard of her yet, think of this as a well-overdue introduction.

[READ: May 15, 2016] I Kill the Mockingbird

I bought this book from the bookstore in Bethlehem, PA.  I don’t buy too many books these days but I saw this one in the PA authors section (and it was 20% off) and the title sounded intriguing.  So I grabbed it.

And I’m I glad I did. This book was outstanding.  I loved it from the first chapter and was thrilled that the ending was also very satisfying–not easy given the way the story was heading for a conclusion that could have gone in many different directions.

So what’s this about?  Well, there are three kids, Lucy Elena and Michael.  They are at the heart of the story.  I loved loved loved that these three were great friends who’d known each other forever.  And they were all big big big readers. Such an awesome start to a story. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: NICK HAKIM-“The Want” NPR’S SOUTH X LULLABY (March 24, 2017).

It’s always interesting to hear someone with a big hairy beard sing in high falsetto, and that’s just what Hakim does here.

This song is very simple with twinkling synths and programmed beasts all underneath Hakim’s delicate voice.  The blurb introduces Hakim to those of us who don’t know him:

Nick Hakim begins with a bit of a fake-out — languorous strings like something out of a Stars Of The Lid record rumble from a sampler, somber and hesitant. But as he begins to sing in a heartbroken falsetto, surrounded by optical fibers hanging from the ceiling of SXSW’s Optic Obscura installation by Raum Industries, the ambient intro morphs into a quiet, psychedelic croon.

“The Want” will appear on Hakim’s full-length debut, Green Twins, but for now, this solo version is only backed by Mellotron and the reverb’d rhythms of what sounds like a Casio preset. It’s soul music for outer-space, performed in a room that looks like outer-space.

This blurb makes this song sound a lot more trippy than it actually is.  To me, the only psychedelic bit is one harp line.  Otherwise it sounds like a very spare, echoing, simple song.  The end does add some interesting layers of sound, but maybe the recorded version is more trippy.

[READ: June 1, 2016] The Good Neighbors: Kith

I didn’t really love book one in this series.  I enjoyed the premise, but found the execution flawed–both in the “script” and to an extent in the drawings–there a bunch of characters who all look vaguely similar.  But I did like it enough to want to read Book 2.

There’s a handy recap that catches us up.

Then we see Rue sad because of her sullen boyfriend who might be breaking up with her.  But he’s a dick anyhow as are most of the characters, frankly.

About 30 pages in something interesting happens when they discover a knife in a tree. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: PHOEBE BRIDGERS-“Smoke Signals” NPR’S SOUTH X LULLABY (March 22, 2017).

Bridgers’ “Smoke Signals” is a beautiful haunting song that reminds me a little of Liz Phair in her delivery.  I had heard this song before and really liked it–I especially loved the arrangement, which had echoing guitars that reminded me of Twin Peaks.

“For this Tiny Desk, Bridgers and percussionist Marshall Vore came to Bob Boilen’s hotel room just before midnight to play the striking ‘Smoke Signals.'”  The music is great with Bridgers’ open chords, and Vore’s suitcase percussion, children’s toy bells and vocal harmony.  The cho and vibe are removed in this version which means you must really listen to the words–which are pretty intense.

I like how she talks about musicians in such an interesting way:

Singing ‘Ace of Spades’ when Lemmy died / nothing’s changed LA’s alright

and then later

Its been on my mind since Bowie died/ just checking out to hide from life

The toy bells and harmonies are a really nice touch, but again, it’s those lyrics:

I went with you up to
The place you grew up in
We spent a week in the cold
Just long enough to
“Walden” it with you
Any longer, it would have got old

This song is a little too slow for my preferences, but it’s very beautiful. I’d like to hear more from her.

[READ: February 5, 2016] The Good Neighbors: Kin

This book was on the new shelf at my library.  And since I like Black and Naifeh I was grabbed it.  Then I saw that it actually came out in 2008. Whatever.

It also turns out that my library has book two of this trilogy but neither had book 3 (which came out in 2010).  What gives?

Holly Black is best known (by me anyway) as having written The Spiderwick Chronicles.

This story is actually a YA graphic novel and it definitely skews older.  But like Spiderwick, it deals with a normally unseen world coming into contact with out own. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: LILA DOWNS-Tiny Desk Concert #590 (January 13, 2017).

This is yet another example of musicians, artists who are bridging the divide that certain politicians have been trying to wedge int our country.  Between the translated works of Zambra and the multilingual works of Lila Downs, it’s pretty obvious that cultural racism is just stupid.  #ITMFA

The blurb tells us

Downs has spent her career exploring the furthest reaches of Mexican folk music. With a voice that borrows heavily from opera, Downs performs the kind of full-throated mariachi singing that would fit right in at Mexico City’s Garibaldi Square — ground zero for mariachi.

She can also coax the most tender moments from romantic boleros. But Downs is at her best when she and her band gather all of those influences to create cross-cultural expression that breaks down musical barriers. Entertaining and inspiring, she’s as much a storyteller as a singer, and her between-song banter lays bare the Mexican soul, only to have it punctuated in song.

She plays four songs and dedicates the first “Humito De Copal” to “all the journalists in the line of fire.”

Even though this song has many components of traditional Mexican folk, the size of the bad (nine pieces) and the big sound she creates transcends folk and makes it sound really catchy for all.  I love it when midway through, the song takes off in a fun fast dancing section

She is really striking and her voice is amazing.  She’s also playing a cool scratchy/grater item.

“La Promesa” comes from a series of song about he ritual and the offering of the Day of the Dead.  She asks, “what does the homeland mean to us as Latin Americans as Mexicans and as Mexican Americans. It begins with a great electric guitar sound and cool organ accompaniment.  And then she sings in quite a low voice holding notes for amazingly long (about 18 seconds).  It turns into a bluesy song with a lengthy bluesy guitar solo.

The third song, “Viene La Muerte Echando Rasero” was written by a campesino, a farm worker, about rich and poor and young and old being taken by death.  He says “even hit men are going to die.”  She switches to a jarana, a small eight-stringed guitar-like instrument.  After a slow intro the song picks up a bit with a kind of reggae feel.  There’s already a big echo on the mic already but in the middle she cups her hands and gives the whole sound a much bigger echo.  It has a catchy ending with everyone singing along.

She introduces the final song, “La Patria Madrina” by saying “In Mexico, you wake up and put on the news and see a lot of depressing things and you wake up and hope today will be better…and it isn’t.  But despite all of this everything will be better tomorrow.”  It’s a slower song with more reggae sounds and dramatic flourishes.  This time there’s a kind of slide guitar running through the song.

The band consists of : Lila Downs (vocals, jarana); Paul Cohen (sax); George Saenz, Jr. (trombone); Hugo Moreno (trumpet); Marcos Lopez (seated percussion); Yayo Serka (seated drums); Rafael Gomez (electric guitar); Leo Soqui (jarana); Luis Guzman (bass).

[READ: August 28, 2016] “Reading Comprehension: Text No. 3” 

I’ve enjoyed a lot of Zambra’s works and this one is no exception.  I’m particularly intrigued by the “quiz” portion at the end of the piece which really takes the story in a different direction.

The structure of the story is similar to other stories I’ve read by him–I have to assume that he is being reasonably autobiographical about his youth and his life with the woman who would be his son’s mother.  If not then he has really appropriated this character.

A man is writing a letter to his son.  I loved the way the beginning started with the narrator telling his son to forget all of the thing that he has said or done: “mitigate my shouting, my inappropriate remarks, and my stupid jokes.” (more…)

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harpers-magazine-march-2017-4SOUNDTRACK: GALLANT-Tiny Desk Concert #594 (January 30, 2017).

Despite the impressive cred, I had never heard of Gallant.  I mean, check out these bona-fides:

When Christopher Gallant was featured in Forbes‘ 30 Under 30 list, the testimonial came from none other than Elton John, who said, “When I hear his voice, I just lose it.” The two even performed Gallant’s song “Weight In Gold” together back in September.

Gallant performed a stripped-down version of that hit when he came to the Tiny Desk earlier this month, and preceded it with another of his best-known songs, “Skipping Stones.” Written with Jhené Aiko, that tune radiates sultry intensity and passion; here, the talented Dani Ivory (who’s performed as a touring member of Imagine Dragons) sits in for Aiko.

Ology, Gallant’s 2016 debut, is up for a Grammy — for Best Urban Contemporary Album [it lost to Lemonade] — and another of its falsetto-driven highlights opens this three-song set. On the record, “Bourbon” is produced with a funky, old-school, Prince-like drum track, but here, a steady drum beat grounds the hypnotic song just as well, if not better. Best of all, “Bourbon” gets a welcome bonus at the Tiny Desk: a guest rap by Saba, a charismatic rising star and frequent Chance The Rapper collaborator.

The musicians for this set are: Gallant (vocals); Wes Switzer (bass); Dani Ivory (keys, vocals); Dylan Jones (guitar); A.J. Novak (percussion); featuring guest rapper Saba in “Bourbon.

I don’t really like R&B all that much, but I can certainly appreciate a great voice and man does Gallant have one.  On “Bourbon”his falsetto is really really impressive.  And Saba has an incredibly fast flow.  And on “Skipping Stones,” again, he has such an amazing falsetto.  I don’t know what the recorded version’s female singer sounds like, but while Dani Ivory does a fine job, she really can’t compete with him.  And on “Weight In Gold” he hits some amazing high notes with ease.

[READ: February 21, 2017] “Dona Nobis Pacem”    (means grant us peace)

This story has an epigram from Plato’s Republic in which someone asks Sophocles about his love life, if he can still make love to a woman.  Sophocles replies: “Shush man, I am very happy to have escaped from that–as happy as a slave who has escaped from an insane and heartless master.”

The title of the story “Dona Nobis Pacem” means “grant us peace.”

This story is written as an address from a sixty-two year old divorced professor of philosophy to a 58-year-old widowed member of the faculty.  They have known each other for many  years.  Her husband died two years ago and since then the two of them have holidayed togetehr a few times.  Their vacations have been primarily to Italy or the Alps or, as in the current vacation, to the Aegean shore of Turkey and the Greek Islands.

They often shared a room–their vacations were amicable and pleasant.

And then in Bergama, their hotel had but one bed. They reluctantly agreed to share the bed.  And that’s when things changed. (more…)

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semonSOUNDTRACK: RUN THE JEWELS-Tiny Desk Concert #596 (February 6, 2017).

When Killer Mike and El-P walk out to the Desk, El-P drinks from a formerly unopened liquor bottle (E&J), which Bob says has been aging for 8 years.

Then as the music from DJ Trackstar begins, EL-P says “I insist that you clap your hands like this, lets see if NPR has rhythm”–and after a few claps everyone is way off, to much laughter.

The blurb says

Like any good pair of twins, Run the Jewels have a freaky sort of unspoken fraternity. When El-P (née El-Producto, née Jaime Meline) — rapper, producer, and all-around godfather of the backpacker scene of the late-90’s — and Killer Mike strode in with their usual uniforms — Mike in a gold chain as thick as a garter snake, El in a fitted Yankees cap and pair of blue-mirrored sunglasses — the two didn’t have to do as much as nod to one another before upending three tracks from their latest LP, RTJ3, in strange and perfect symbiosis.

On “Talk to Me,” I feel like Killer Mike’s flow is a little better than El-Ps at least in the beginning.  El-P also says fuck a lot, which I noticed when I first downloaded their album, as well–lots of fucks, which is kind of lazy, I think.  Or maybe I just like Mike’s lyrics better.  Like this:

Born Black, that’s dead on arrival
My job is to fight for survival
In spite of these #AllLivesMatter-ass white folk

After he says this line, they stand back to back, middle fingers raised.  El-P says “this is the pose we do in this song.”

Before “Legend Has It” El-P grabs a banana like a microphone and says it feels more natural that way (Mike then signed the banana for Bob and he had it laminated).  As the song begins, Mike says, “y’all can dance to it your boss ain’t looking.  It’s a little slower and El-P has his flow on and has some great lines:

I am the living swipe right on the mic, I’m a slut
I don’t know how to not spit like a lout
I’ll spill a pound of my kids on your couch

and

I don’t play chicken, you prick, I’m a fox
You wanna kick it, I’ll give you the rocks
You kiss the wood chipper blade if you balk
I’m fuckin’ magic, in fact I’m a warlock of talk
I got a unicorn horn for a (stop)

But the crowd is on it this time when they chant and the crowd goes “RTJ!”

As the song ends, El-P says “You know why they do these things because for that least one week you cannot complain about your jobs.”

The final song is “A Report To The Shareholders.”  Before it begins, El-P says.  “It’s oddly awesome to be here.”  Then he takes one more swig.  Mike shouts, who got the weed?

It is much slower, almost spoken. Each guy gets a verse, between them, there s little instrumental and El-P says ” we haven’t figured out to so in this part.”  My favorite line of the show comes in this song:

“ooh, Mike said ‘uterus'”
They acting like Mike said, “You a bitch”
To every writer who wrote it, misquoted it
Mike says, “You a bitch, you a bitch, you a bitch”
Add a “nigga” for the black writer that started that sewer shit

The two do indeed play off each other perfectly–echoing the last lines of each other’s words.  And despite how angry they sound i the words, they are a surprisingly genial bunch.

[READ: December 8, 2016] Demon Vol. 1

I’ve really enjoyed pretty much everything that Jason Shiga has created.  I love the style of his characters–seemingly very simple yet very expressive.  And I love that his stories are bizarre, complex and mind-blowing.

I’m delighted that this series is being distributed by First Second since I like just about everything they do.  Although I am a little surprised that the published it, given how icky it gets.

Shiga has drawn some books that were kid friendly, but this book IS NOT!  It is about suicide and murder and bad language and all manner of adult things.  Indeed in the forward Shiga notes, “It’s been a dream come true working on this project, pushing past the limits of common decency–of good taste–with every new page. (more…)

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2010 SOUNDTRACK: ANTIBALAS-Tiny Desk #243 (October 4, 2012).

antibAntibalas (Spanish for “bulletproof”) is a Brooklyn ensemble.  Eleven members turned up for the Tiny Desk.  And they are quite the ensemble.  There are trumpets, saxophones, two guitars, a bass and a ton of percussion.  There’s a percussionist/keyboardist wearing a lucha libre mask (!) and the lead singer (singing in English and some other language) has what looks like tribal paint on his face. (He also plays conga and cowbell).

The blurb states:

There just aren’t many bands like Antibalas. These are jazz players making dance music: Their music is big and fun, and their guiding spirit is Fela Kuti, the brilliant big-band leader and Nigerian Afrobeat pioneer. Afrobeat is a musical style featuring nearly endless songs, mixing funk and jazz, grooves and riffs, with the rhythm carried by not only the drums, but everyone. Everyone — horn players, bass players, guitarists — plays rhythm in Afrobeat music.

It’s one thing for a big group to make a big sound — and, sure, Antibalas does that — but what stands out is the subtlety of this ensemble; the way the horns weave in and out of each other, sometimes complementing and at other times inspiring and creating musical conversation between players. That extends to all the players, from vocals to guitar. When you start to listen to that conversation and you hear that build in a rhythm, it’s so powerful, so full of joy. If they come to your town, drop what you’re doing and go see them. Wear dancing shoes.

They play two songs, but they are long and full of rhythm.  “Dirty Money” runs just under 6 minutes. I really like the way the horns seems to echo and answer each other during the slow sections.  While the whole band sings the backing voices.  And when the masked guy switches from percussion to keyboards, it’s got a  groovy 70s sound coming out of that machine.   All of it is anchored by the bass, keeping a steady rhythm.  One of the trumpeters switches to trombone for a solo as well.

“Him Belly Go No Sweet” has an even funkier feel–lots of percussion and staccato horns slowly working with each other to create a big sound.  Even though there’s plenty if music in this song it’s impressive how much they use silences—things are never quiet (there’s always a bass line or percussion) but for such a big outfit they can really get things to quiet own.  The end half of the song sees the band singing “go up  go down” while the lead singer seems to improvise a whole bunch of stuff.

It is, indeed, hard not to dance to this.

[READ: July 10, 2016] “Baptizing the Gun”

This was a very dark story and, if nothing else, it made me never want to go to Lagos, Nigeria.

The story is told in first person by a priest.  He is not wearing his collar and is driving a borrowed VW Beetle through the traffic of Lagos.

As the story opens, a woman is screaming because a thief just pulled an earring out of her ear–tearing her earlobe. He is caught and, astonishingly, “ringed with tires, doused in petrol, and set ablaze.”  Even though there is barely any fuel to be had “there’s always enough for the thief.”

The priest believes his trip was a success and many parishes have promised his parish in the Niger Delta money and materials.

But on his way back (at 18:03) the car dies in traffic. (more…)

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