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Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: TOMBERLIN-Tiny Desk Concert #855 (June 6, 2019).

I rather like when we see a glimpse at the workings of things.  Like how a Tiny Desk Concert typically happens:

Before I bring an artist to the Tiny Desk, I try to see them perform live. It helps me get a handle on what they’ll be capable of doing at my desk, minus all the artful tinkering of a studio. But I never saw Tomberlin before she came to my desk. My desire to see Mitski and Overcoats when Tomberlin was last in town had me at another venue and another opportunity failed to happen. But I was simply in love with Tomberlin’s ethereal debut album At Weddings and took a chance.

I didn’t know how her fragile songs would translate; all I knew was that Tomberlin was coming to the Tiny Desk to play acoustic guitar and sing, along with her musical partner Andrew Boylan. The eerie production that felt like the backbone to the fragile songs on At Weddings would be gone.

I haven’t heard this album, so I don’t know about the eerie production.  I wonder if that would set her apart from other similar women-with-acoustic-guitars.   This is not dismissive of Tomberlin–it is genuinely hard to distinguish yourself when all you have is a guitar and your voice.

On the first song, “Any Other Way” she sounds like a couple of other recent quiet(er) female singers.  The addition of Boylan helps a bit because he able to add some delightful harmonies and some simple guitar riffs to accompany her strums.

I think her perspective also sets her apart a bit

Tomberlin is the daughter of a Baptist pastor, grew up singing in the church and, since her teens, has questioned her own beliefs in God and faith. And as you listen to her sing these delicate, vulnerable songs, you may find your way to a new songwriter, capable of distilling doubt and isolation while forming a community around her music and expressing assurance.

So lyrics like this are quite unusual

Feeling bad for saying
Oh my god
No I’m not kidding

They say that even the most seasoned performers get nervous at the Tiny Desk.  Those nerves are apparent a bit between songs as she asks, “How’s work going today?  Anything happening? I don’t keep up with the things when I’m doing this thing.”  She continues, “I tried to mute trump’s name on Twitter but it doesn’t work.”  After trying to banter some more she says, “I’m going to stop talking and we’ll play another song.”

The combined guitars and harmony vocals on “Self-Help” are really wonderful. And this verse is terrific

I used the self-help book
To kill a fly
I think it worked mom
I think I’m fine

The final song, “Untitled-1” plays nicely with the harmony guitars.

When Tomberlin began to sing at her Tiny Desk Concert, wearing a bit of Tiny Desk nervousness on her sleeve while singing “I know I’m not eternal, I’m just a young girl,” these songs questioning her religious beliefs, felt deep and personal.

This song was the most interesting of the three for the guitars and for the way she really puts some power in her voice as the song progresses.

[READ: June 4, 2019] “Poorly Mapped”

The June 10th issue of the New Yorker features five essays by authors whom I have enjoyed.  They were gathered under the headline “Another Country.”

Dinaw Mengestu was born in Ethiopia but had not been back for many years.  His family left when he was two years old, in 1978.  When he returned, twenty-five years later (the only one in his immediate family to do so during that time) his aunt Aster asked him not to leave the house while she was out.

She had told him that nothing had changed in those years” even your mother’s shoes are still there.”  Further, everything he would need was available in their house–satellite television, internet and American food.  So he should stay put.

He assumed her concern as because of the protests and mass arrests dating back to 2005, but she shrugged all of that off saying that Western news made it seem worse than it was, “We’re fine, we go to work we live our lives.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MAGOS HERRERA AND BROOKLYN RIDER-Tiny Desk Concert #849 (May 15, 2019).

Brooklyn Rider was on a Tiny Desk nearly a decade ago.  My main take away was how poorly it was lit.  I enjoyed them for their multicultural take on classical music.  For this Tiny Desk, they team up with Mexican singer Magos Herrera (whom I’ve never heard of).

When the intrepid string quartet known as Brooklyn Rider first visited the Tiny Desk nine years ago, no one knew what the musicians might play. They’re as likely to trot out an Asian folk tune as they are a string quartet by Beethoven, or one of their own compositions.

For this visit though, we knew exactly what was on tap. The band, fronted by the smoky-voiced Magos Herrera and backed by percussionist Mathias Kunzli, performed three songs from the album Dreamers, a collection steeped in Latin American traditions.

The versatile Mexican singer, who has never sounded more expressive, notes that these songs emerge from struggle.

She says, “Although there is a lot of light and usually I don’t sing that early, my heart is warm and expanding.”

The first song, Gilberto Gil’s bossa nova-inspired “Eu vim da Bahia” is “a tribute to his home state. He released it in 1965 as Brazil’s military dictatorship took charge.”  I love that between the heart-felt words, there is a gorgeous instrumental passage from the quartet (Johnny Gandelsman and Colin Jacobsen: violins; Nicholas Cords: viola; Michael Nicolas: cello).

She says the songs transcend dark times with the values of their words.  Gil wrote the tune a year before the dictatorship was installed in Brazil

The atmospheric, flamenco-tinged “La Aurora de Nueva York,” composed by Vicente Amigo, has lyrics from a poem written by Federico García Lorca, the Spanish poet who wrote it while he was in residence in New York in the 1920s.  She says “A Poet in New York is my favorite book” and this poem is the most iconic poem from the book.  Her voice is smoky and impassioned.  There’s some wonderful pizzicato from the quartet.  There’s some lovely solo moments from the violins and some spectacular percussion sounds from Mathias Kunzli.

García Lorca, who fell to assassins during the Spanish Civil War in 1936.

The final track “Balderrama,” by the Argentine folk legend Gustavo Leguizamón, ruminates on a café which served as a safe haven for artists to talk about their work.

One of the members of Brooklyn Rider says that when they talked about this project, they wondered which songs to do.  Which would best represent beauty in the face of difficult circumstances–an antidote to cynicism.  What is most precious and beautiful to a culture.

This song and all of them certainly do that.

[READ: May 16, 2019] “The Presentation on Egypt”

I have enjoyed everything I’ve read by Bordas.  And I really enjoyed this one.  A story would have to be good if the apparent main character has your name and–before committing suicide–has to pull the plug on a brain-dead man with your son’s name.  [That was painful to read].

The story opens with Paul telling the wife of the brain-dead man that he is completely brain-dead.  Unlike on TV, he wasn’t going to magically snap out of it.  When the wife finally agreed to pull the plug and the main died, Paul went home, had a cigarette, and hanged himself.

Paul had a wife and a daughter (if either one had my wife or daughter’s name, I would have had to give Bordas a call).  Paul hanged himself in the laundry room, perhaps knowing that his daughter would never go in there. (more…)

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

A couple of years ago I had a pass to NonComm, but ultimately I decided not to go.  I had never been to World Cafe Live and, while it sounded like a fun time, it was just so many mid-week nights and lots of leaving early, that it sounded more exhausting than fun.

I have now been to World Cafe Live and I can imagine that the (less divaish) bands are hanging around talking to people (and radio personalities) which is probably pretty cool.

I love the idea of these sorta personal concerts, too.  But I have since come to see that they are 20-45 minutes tops.  Hardly worth driving 90 minutes (one-way) for.

But since the shows are streaming you can watch them live.  Or you can listen to the recorded version online.

I’ve been aware of Phosphorescent for a number of years but I seem to have him/them confused with another band (Telekinesis–a one word band name that is actually just one person, who also put out a new album this year).  Phosphorescent is the project of Matthew Houck and in this performance it’s just him on the acoustic guitar.  I’m not sure what he normally plays live, but during this set he said, “this is the first time I’ve played an acoustic guitar for a concert in 20 years, probably.  It feels pretty weird up here at the moment.”

Recently, Phosphorescent has had a big single on WXPN called “New Birth in New England” which I love.

He opened with “C’est La Vie No. 2” off his latest album C’est La Vie.  His delicate strumming paired perfectly with his lyrics, which I especially liked;

C’est La Vie they say but i don’t know what it means
I say love’s easy if you let it be

“My Beautiful Boy” has a wonderful guitar melody (clearly it is about his becoming a father).  Even though his lyrics are thoughtful and somewhat serious, he was a charming frontman, staying “this song is about rocks.  It’s called ‘These Rocks.'”

He told us “New Birth in New England” doesn’t go on an acoustic guitar by itself.  But it will tonight.   It sounds wonderful in this stripped down version, although I prefer the recorded version.

The last song of the set was “Song For Zula,” a track from Phosphorescent’s 2013 album Muchacho.  I didn’t realize this was his song which I really liked back when it came out.  It’s really beautiful and, once again I like the way he plays with existing lyrics to make them his own.

and it showcased the strength of his vocals as he belted it out for the crowd before making his way off stage. The hearty applause was fitting for the wholesomely low-key set. Give C’est La Vie a listen now and check out Phosphorescent on tour this summer.

Some say love is a burning thing
That it makes a fiery ring
Oh but I know love as a fading thing
Just as fickle as a feather in a stream
See, honey, I saw love,
You see it came to me.

Now if I can keep his name straight, I’ll have to listen to him a bit more.

[READ: May 3, 2019] “Upholsetry”

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 loved this story.

I love the dysfunctional families involved in it and I love the way it is circular while still moving forward. Plus it’s darkly comic.

The narrator, Iris, says that when she told her mother (whom she calls Judy, never mom) that she was going marry Thom, Judy didn’t hesitate to say that he was a car crash waiting to happen.  Judy is a psychologist not a fortune-teller.  But her words proved to be literally true–Thom was in a car accident with Iris in the car.  Iris fractured her skull.  Somehow, Thom still wore the T-shirt he was wearing during the accident–and he assures her that the faded pink spot is not blood.

Thom is extremely smart and was rewarded out of college with many luxury job offers.  He turned them all down to teach at McGill College. The accident left Iris with some brain injury, so going back to her job wasn’t really an option.  (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: NEGATIVLAND-Negativland (1980).

Negativland was (is?) a weird “band” who released absurdist sound collages.  Their purpose was culture jamming and they created quite a stor throughout their “career.”    The band was more or less created by David Wills (born 1954) also known as “The Weatherman”.. He was a cable repairman when he joined the group with a then-teenage Mark Hosler (1962) and Richard Lyons (1959-2016) also known as Dick Vaughn, Dick Goodbody, and Pastor Richard Seeland.

Their first record came out in 1980 and had twenty untitled tracks.  The “songs” were mostly sound effects, radio broadcasts and home recordings. There was some original guitar and drum machine, but mostly it is just collage.

About the tracks:

[SIDE 1]

1. You can hear a spoken word news announcer in the background as a guitar line comes in followed by a drum machine.  Then comes a woman (David’s mother, I believe ) reciting “This is Negativland.”

2. A ticking clock with a pretty guitar melody and then increasingly loud table saws (one in each ear)

3. A drum machine with a spoken word announcer.  This blurb comes from a fan on YouTube:

The man speaking, Mitch Werbell, worked for U.S. covert operations. At the time, (late 70s) there was a big problem with urban terrorism in Argentina. They had threatened to kidnap Coca-Cola reps in Buenos Aires. Werbell is explaining (on the ABC TV show 20/20) what he told the terrorists would happen if they tried, when he was hired to go help the executives escape the area.

4. Horns playing single notes.  It abruptly ends with ringing alarms

5. Guitars (electric and acoustic) playing and echoing.  This is the longest track at almost 5 minutes. Lots of spoken words among the trippy sounds and boopers.

6. Drum machines and noises and then after a violin line comes the most famous early phrase from NegativalndL “Seat Be Sate” (Play Black Sabbath at 78).  The “poem” is soon taken over by noise and a looped spoken word.

7. A menacing static noise and very sci-f sound effects couple with a German language instruction tape.

8. Static noises and de-tuned acoustic guitar strumming as someone sings a bit

9 A looping string of interesting sounds–booper, waves of sound and a clip o kids singing and then Don’s family speaking, all looped into a rhythm.  Finally a classroom rule about silent E

10. Drum machine with a whispered singing vocal and a catchy guitar riff with (of course) lots of distorted noises.

The lyrics:

Cara mia, why
Must we say goodbye
Each time we part
My heart wants to die
Darling, hear my prayer
Cara mia fair
Here are my arms
You alone will share

All I want is you
Forever more
To have, to hold
To love, adore
Cara mia mine
Say those words divine
I’ll be your love
Till the end of time

My cara mia
My cara mia
My cara mia

[SIDE 2]

11. French speaking and the an a loop of an older man saying “everything’s going fine, no trouble just get set and get going. Amen.

12. Warbled distorted vocals of a man and woman reciting the Hail Mary.

13. A family scene with people talking over a news broadcast (WCBS news time).  You can hear David saying “It’s not alive, Drew.”

14. Some more kids talking with all kinds of jammer sounds over them.  The final line has a woman saying “Reading the book by the seamen within would be very helpful.”

15.  Blues on an acoustic guitar (pretty well played) although by the end the solo is out of tune and crazy.

16. Boopers and outer space sounds.  Multiple radio broadcasts overlapping including one about a bedpans in hospitals.  And a joke ( I can’t guess the comedian, but he sounds a bit like Bob Goldthwait or Les Claypool, but it obviously isn’t) “I wouldn’t marry you if you were the last man on earth.”  The punchline is obscured then the laughter come in.

17. A slow drum beat and random noises on a guitar

18. A family scene David’s mother talking about the affordability of buying meat by the pound.

19. A low deep siren sound followed by this dire message from the Emergency Broadcast Network: “The office of civil defense has issued the following message “this is an attack warning” this is an attack warning.  An attack warning means an actual attack against this country has been detected.  Then there’s David inviting Everett to a barbecue that afternoon.  It’s followed by some audio from the American Airlines 191 plane crash from 1979.  This segues into a family scene where the dad is telling a joke about cannibals.  A man walked among cannibals with cases of Pepsi.  The cannibals drank the Pepsi and ate the man.  All except his thing.  When they were later asked why they didn’t eat his thing, they sang, “Things go better with Coke.”

20. The final track states, “Now hear how a real parakeet should sound.”  Then a woman says good morning and then a crazy raspy voice repeats here.  The album ends with this oscillator sound that my parents had in the 1970s–a kind of looping really fake bird chirping.  No idea why they had it.

This actual release of this record was accomapnied by all kinds of original magazine clippings and artwork. And the CD came with pins and other cool things.  It’s a weird artifact from the dawn of culture jamming.

[READ: April 20, 2019] “The Glass House”

I decided it would be interesting to go back to the year 2000 and to read all of the New Yorker stories up to the present.  I think as of now I have read through 2005.  By the time I have finished (next year, I’m sure) I’ll have 20 years of stories read.

This story is set during the Civil War.  The main character, Will, has just enlisted.  His brother, Sam, was killed at Bull Run and Will came to take his place.  His Captain was very happy to have him because Sam was a brave and well-liked man.  But Will, as he himself would admit, was neither of those things.

After Sam’s death, the Captain intended to go to Sam’s house personally to pay his regards to their family.  Had Sam’s mother seen the Captain, she would have spit on him.  But before that could happen, Will decided to enlist.  He forged his mother’s signature and didn’t tell anyone when he left. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MAJOR HIT-Robert De Niro at the Tony Awards Remix (2018).

Who is Major Hit?  No idea.

Is this remix very good?  Not really.  It’s only a minute or so.

Is it hilarious?  Yes.

Is it satisfying?  Hell Yes.

Will you listen to it more than once?  Probably not.

But will you feel a little bit better about your taxes after hearing this?  Well, probably not.

Actually, it might make you feel a little better.  And you probably find yourself quoting De Niro, too.

 

[READ: April 4, 2019] The Awakening of My Interest in Advanced Tax

Madras Press publishes limited-edition short stories and novella-length booklets and distributes the proceeds to a growing list of non-profit organizations chosen by our authors. For this particular book, proceeds to benefit Proceeds to benefit Granada House.

Originally appearing at the heart of The Pale King, David Foster Wallace’s posthumous semi-novel, this extended monologue brilliantly rambles its way around the circumstances that brought its narrator out of his ‘wastoid’ childhood and into maturity at the IRS. Along the way, he falls under the spell of a fake Jesuit, considers the true meaning of a soap opera station break, and narrowly escapes a gruesome death on the subway.

This is the final Madras Press book that I had left to read.  Since I has already read The Pale King, I was in no hurry to read this one.  But now it’s nice to say that I’ve finished all of the Madras Press books.  And that I could post this just in time for the massive Republican tax scam in which thanks to trump and his evil puppet mcconnell, my tax return dropped over $3,000.  Bastards.   May they all rot in prison.  And then hell.

Interestingly, back when I read this during Pale Summer (2014), this entire section was one week’s reading.  So my post from that week is still relevant.    It is posted almost in its entirety below:

This book is an excerpt from The Pale King.  In the book, it is almost 100 pages of one person’s testimony.  Without the novel for context, this excerpt stands on its own just fine.  It is basically an unnamed person’s introduction.  This narrator is so detail oriented that everything gets the same amount of importance–snowfall, the way to score drugs, the effects of drugs, Christian roommates, his father’s death, his mother’s lesibianism, oh and taxation.

So much of it is “irrelevant,” that I hate to get bogged down in details.  So this is a basic outline of ideas until the more “important” pieces of information surface.

For the most part, this is all inside one man’s head as he talks about his life in college, after college, and into the Service.  Mostly this is simply a wonderful character study, full of neuroses and problems that many people face at some point (to one degree or another).  The interviewee states that “A good bit of it I don’t remember… from what I understand, I’m supposed to explain how I arrived at this career.”

Initially he was something of a nihilist, whose response to everything was “whatever.”  A common name for this kind of nihilist at the time was wastoid.  He drifted in and out of several colleges over the years, taking abstract psychology classes.  He says that his drifting was typical of family dramas in the 1970s–son is feckless, mother sticks up for son, father squeezes sons shoes, etc. They lived in Chicago, his father was a cost systems supervisor for the City of Chicago. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: NAO-Tiny Desk Concert #833 (March 18, 2019).

This was possibly my least favorite Tiny Desk Concert I have seen.  And it was endless.  It kills me when bands I like play short sets (often only three short songs) while shows like this push nearly 20 minutes.

Nao’s voice is a comic book character–underneath that comic book voice there’s a powerful voice, but it’s all wrapped up in this goofy–how can you take it seriously–nasally nonsense–and when she goes deep, it’s even more amusing.  Worse yet, her backing singers sound like bleating goats and sheep in the first two songs–single note: “baaa.”

And yet , clearly I know nothing because the blurb describes “Nao’s sophomore effort and one of 2018’s best albums.”

Just to top it off, the album is about astrology.

In astrology, your Saturn return is the time in life when Saturn goes back to the same spot it was at the time of your birth. As Nao explained during her appearance at NPR’s Tiny Desk, “It’s about leaving adolescence and going into adulthood.” This crossing of the threshold that happens around your late 20s to early 30s is the inspiration for Saturn

Maybe I would like the album more if her voice was drowned out in synths.

While Nao usually performs with synthy, electronic twinkles, her day at the Tiny Desk was stripped down by comparison. At times, her lyrics ring out with just a sparse guitar to carry them. Like a roller coaster of unexpected upheaval, Nao’s distinctive vocal range on this four-song set goes from bellowing and husky to soft and coy, often within the same verse. Be it the breezy, Brazilian funk of “If You Ever,” the hallowed harmony of “Orbit” (complete with prayer hands) or the valiant soul-searching of “Make It Out Alive,” it’s almost as if Nao duets with herself, answering her own questions, settling into her own quirks.

I listened to the show twice to see if I was wrong.  The first song is a bit catchy–I like the guitar lick from Ariel O’Neal.  In fact, focusing on her throughout the show is a highlight.

I also really like the part between the songs when she introduces the band, because she’s not singing–it’s a nice light jam.  I admit that it amuses me that she says “that’s my cousin Samson Jatto on drums–he’s not really my cousin I just wanted to say that.”

If she didn’t do the R&B warble, the opening of “Bad Blood” would be okay.  But the comical vocals just undermine anything serious.  And then the bleating starts.  I’m not sure if only Troi Lauren and Taylor Samuels are making the goat sounds, but it sounds like it’s coming from all around the room.

“Orbit is similarly okay to start with.   “Make It Out Alive” is the fastest song in the show, with some uptempo keys and bass from Joe Price and Henry Guy.

If it were one song on a mixtape, I’d skip it, but 20 minutes was a lot to take.

[READ: March 26, 2019] “Setting the World to Rights”

A powerful opening from this story: “All his life he lived on hatred.  He was a solitary man who hoarded gloom.”

And how about this: “Good people are afraid of hatred, and even tend not to believe in it.  If it appears before their eyes, they generally call it dedication or some such name.”

Those in the kibbutz believed the subject of the story (unnamed) was full of faith and dealt severely with the world–“We invested him with a halo of self-sufficient reticence.”  This halo afforded protection against gossip although the children called him ‘wicked Haman” and pointed fingers at him.

He works with machines and is efficient and hates waste. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKAMANDA PALMER-“The Ride” Tiny Desk Family Hour (March 12, 2019).

These next few shows were recorded at NPR’s SXSW Showcase.

The SXSW Music Festival is pleased to announce the first-ever Tiny Desk Family Hour showcase, an evening of music by artists who have played NPR Music’s Tiny Desk Concert, at Central Presbyterian Church on Tuesday, March 12 from 8-11pm.

This show is the most interesting visually because Palmer is sitting at her piano and the camera is at all angles–so you can see the crowd and how close they are to the performers.

The blurb is also interesting because I had no idea the performers only played for about 15 minutes.

When Amanda Palmer heard she’d have around 15 minutes for her Tiny Desk Family Hour performance, she assumed there wouldn’t be time for most of the songs on her new album, There Will Be No Intermission, a sprawling masterwork with epic tracks clocking in at 10 minutes or more. So, she showed up with just her ukulele in hand, prepared for a stripped-down, abbreviated set. But when we wheeled out a grand piano just for her – and after I gushed to the crowd about Palmer’s brilliant new opus on the nature of humanity called “The Ride” – she decided she had to play it.

Like many of the tracks on There Will Be No Intermission, “The Ride” is a deep, existential dive into fear, death, loneliness and grief, with the tiniest glimmer of hope or comfort at the end. This is Palmer’s first album in seven years and it documents all she’s been through in that time. It’s also an album she says wouldn’t have been possible if she hadn’t decided to make it on her own, with crowdfunding support from fans. “It’s a very intense record. It’s been a very intense seven years of my life since I put out my last one,” she told the crowd at Austin’s Central Presbyterian Church. And without having a label to answer to, she said she was able to “write an entire album with songs that are really long and about miscarriage and abortion and about the kind of stuff I don’t want to take up to ‘Steve’ in marketing to try to explain why this record should exist.”

It’s a powerful song–simple and mostly unchanging–where the focus is on the words.  But those few times when the vocal melody changes or she adds that circus melody it’s a jarring change from the story she’s presenting.

Though she’s played abbreviated versions of “The Ride” in past shows, this is one of her earliest performances of the full, album-length song. Two days after her Tiny Desk Family Hour set, Palmer returned to the Central Presbyterian Church for an epic, two-and-a-half hour concert with just her ukulele and piano.

[READ: February 2019] Future Home of the Living God

I’m not sure what drew me to this book. I have read (and enjoyed) many short stories by Erdrich, so I assume her name stood out.  The title is also pretty cool.

But I really had no idea what was coming.  I also didn’t know that Erdrich is Turtle Mountain Chippewa, which obviously lends weight to her Native American depictions.

This story is about Cedar Hawk Songmaker, an adult woman who was adopted by “Minnesota liberals” as a baby.  When she went to find her Ojibwe parents, she learned that she was born Mary Potts.

The book is written as Cedar’s diary.  It begins August 7 (year unstated).  The book is set in the future.  A cataclysmic event has happened and I absolutely love that since this book is written from Cedar’s point of view, she doesn’t know what happened.  She will never learn what happened, and neither will we.  It is just understood that evolution as we know it has stopped.  People seem to be devolving. Or more specifically babies are being born in a state of devolution.  Again, no more details are given. (more…)

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