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Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: THE HU-“Wolf Totem” and “Yuve Yuve Yu” (2018).

The HU are a band from Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia who plays what they call Hunnu Rock.  There are four guys in the band: Gala, Jaya, Enkush, and Temka.

They have recently posted two videos online (after having been a band for about seven years).

Two of the men in the band play the morin khuur (морин хуур), or horsehead fiddle.  It’s a traditional Mongolian bowed stringed instrument. It is one of the most important musical instruments of the Mongol people, and is considered a symbol of the Mongolian nation.  The third member plays a shudraga, a three-stringed lute-like instrument which I suspect is being run through some distortion pedals.

Their instruments are beautiful with intricate designs on the neck and the heads.

Despite the traditional instruments, The Hu play very heavy music.  The shundraga appears to be playing some heavy chords, while the morin khuur play lots of cool solos.

The first song, “Wolf Totem” opens with what sounds like 1,000 thumping drums.  The morin khuur plays a bowed melody as the chanted vocals come forward.

The vocals are something of a guttural growl, but it makes sense as what you might think a Mongol leader might sound like.  There may even be some throat singing.

I also like that there’s an eagle call at the beginning and end of the song.

The fact that the video includes a host of leather jacketed motorcycle riders chanting the choral HU is pretty awesome.  And the Mongolian scenery is breathtaking.

The second song is “Yuve Yuve Yu.”  I’m mentioning the video first because it contrasts nicely.  It shows all the band members inside, playing video games, watching TV–very Western stuff.  But when they open the door of their flat, they find themselves outside on the plains.

The first guy steps outside to find his shudraga.  The riff is a but more substantial on this song, but only slightly.  It feels less like a call to arms and more like a song.

Although with a chorus (in Mongolian) of

Hey you traitor! Kneel down!
Hey, Prophecies be declared!

This seems more of a call to arms than the other.

There’s a cool sliding violin riff an instead of the guttural chanting there’s  a relatively high-pitched sung “doo do do” melody.

Both of these songs are quite cool, especially the accompanying videos.  The band has received some attention for the videos (which is how I found them).  They’ve even got their songs on bandcamp.

I’m curious to see if this will translate into somewhat mainstream success in the west.

[READ: January 10, 2019] “Whisky Lullaby”

This excerpt from a longer story is perfectly written–I loved the way it was presented and how the “ending” was revealed (it’s an excerpt, so not the real ending).

Hamid is a Muslim man living in Scotland.  He has recently married a Scottish woman, Ruqiyyah, who had converted to Islam a few years ago.  She was seeking a partner and he was seeking citizenship.

“She had not always been Ruqiyyah, she once was someone else with an ordinary name, a name a girl behind the counter in the Bank of Scotland might have.”

As the story opens, Ruqiyyah is holding a bottle e of Johnnie Walker.  It is his Hamid’s bottle and she shouldn’t know about it.  She is very unhappy about the bottle.  Being an intense convert plus being Scottish, she takes things like this far more seriously than he does.  He knows it is wrong, but in the grand scheme of things, drinking (instead of writing his PhD thesis) is pretty harmless compared to black magic, adultery, abusing your parents.  This was human weakness and wasn’t Allah all-forgiving? (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BÉGAYER-“L’image du manque” (2018).

At the end of every year publications and sites post year end lists.  I like to look at them to see if I missed any albums of significance.  But my favorite year end list comes from Lars Gottrich at NPR.  For the past ten years, Viking’s Choice has posted a list of obscure and often overlooked bands.  Gottrich also has one of the broadest tastes of anyone I know (myself included–he likes a lot of genres I don’t).  

Since I’m behind on my posts at the beginning of this year, I’m taking this opportunity to highlight the bands that he mentions on this year’s list.  I’m only listening to the one song unless I’m inspired to listen to more.

I certainly didn’t know Bégayer before hearing them here.  Bégayer is a trio from the south of France that howls in French and Arabic, bangs on homemade instruments and leaves a path of delirious distortion in its wake.

Lars describes them as a combination of Animal Collective, Malian desert rock and Eugene Chadbourne thrown off a cliff.

This song starts with a kind of unsure-sounding opening foray into a guitar riff (very Malian in style), after twenty seconds, the high-pitched guitar notes resolve into a furious frenzy–an almost amelodious riff that flies around at breakneck speed.   The super fast drums help to propel the chaos along.

After a minute or so the vocals kick in–they are sparse and peculiar–more keening than singing at times and I have no idea what he is singing.  On a few occasions, the guitar seems to almost have a breakdown while he is singing although by the end he starts to sound like Jeff Buckley having a bit of breakdown himself. It’s bizarre and eerily compelling.

The whole album plays around with these sounds for a different experience with each song.

[READ: December 29, 2018] “Feast of the Epiphany”

This surreal story was published in 2016 in Gronzi’s collection Claustrophobias.

It begins with this bizarre, hilarious opening

It must’ve been either my thirty-third or my thirty-ninth birthday, if one is to believe the numerological charts, and there must’ve been some kind of adult arrangement involving children or else I would’ve never agreed to show myself in public in the company of three or four diversely aged creatures whose cumulative understanding of metaphysics was equivalent to the curiosity of a wart on the nose of a Rajasthani kaan-saaf wallah cleaning people’s ears in the streets of Paharganj.

This dinner becomes farcical with the introduction of the waiter:

Unable to appreciate the animated performance of the waiter who insisted on joining his forefingers over his head and doing a little dance every time he mentioned the rabbit in orange and thyme sauce, I finished the rather cheerless ten-year-old Hermitage before I even read the menu.

Before the appetizer is even over, the narrator makes his excuses and heads for the restroom. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KASVOT VÄXT-“We Have Come To Outlive Our Brains” (1981/2018).

After reviewing all of the songs that Phish covered from Kasvot Växt, I discovered that a fan uncovered a really good-sounding copy of one of the original songs from the album (which is all but lost) and then posted it online.

Once again I am kind of surprised at how everyone thinks of them as prog, because this song is not all that proggy.

It certainly has an 80’s vibe, as you might expect from something released in 1981 and the Phish cover is remarkably faithful.

The bass sounds great–it’s a really catchy bass line.  I prefer Phish’s vocals, possibly because these are a bit more condensed in an 80s way.  The “I see you in the distance” voice is a bit reedy too.  But the “I’m the glue in your magnet” part is fun and the music is really solid with an almost reggae feel to it.

The end of the song has a pretty wild solo (quite muted) as the rest of the band continues as if ignoring the guitar.

The biggest surprise for me is that this song is in English, when the original album had the Icelandic title of “Við Erum Komin Lever Utover Hjernen.”  Perhaps it was a stab at commercial success?

It was Brandon S. Meyer of Keanu Trees who posted this song.

[READ: January 2, 2019] “A Divine Pat”

The setup of this piece makes it seem like it was presented as a talk (it’s called a Sermon) and it opens with him apparently addressing people, but there’s no indication of to whom he spoke.

But it does cut to the chase in the opening”

It must have seemed some kind of risk to request a sermon from a man once so widely accused of blasphemy.

He talks about the outrage from Monty Python’s Life of Brain but also points out that they never felt the movie was against religion per se, but against the way people practice religion: “an idea isn’t responsible for the people who believe in it”

After listing the litany of horrible things people have done in the name of religion–all religions–he mentions his own introduction to the church in the 1950s.  He says this turned himself and man of his friends off of religion for twenty years.

But then he starts quoting from people who spoke well of religion. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KASVOT VÄXT-“Turtle in the Clouds” (1981/2018).

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

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

Here’s some more details they came up with:

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

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

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

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

This song is super funky–from the cool bass and keys sound to the lay it down riff.  It’s also got a fun singable chorus.

The juxtaposition of the two sections is great.  This is a highlight of the disc for sure.

[READ: December 20, 2018] “Acceptance Journey”

Carol moved to Rhinehorn for a six-month job at a private college.  She had also just broken up with her “boyfriend”: “More exactly, she’d run out of their motel room after he’d become enraged at her for singing “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love” in the shower and accused her of wanting to sodomize him.”

Carol was 57 and divorced and had debt from her ex-husband’s failed life-coach business.  The temp job was routine and mindless, just what she wanted.  She intended to make friends with no one until one day the neighbor, Duane, called over to her.  He explained that his wife, Dana, knew the woman she was replacing (maternity leave) and teat they would love to have her for dinner.

It was a lovely family dinner.  The food was good, and the children were charming.  They prayed before eating.  And somehow it made Carol shy of seeing them again.  Where she used to walk in the neighborhood, she now felt the need to drive around.  She drove out of town on various roads looking at billboards.  One continued to catchy her eye.  It was for something called The Acceptance Journey. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BARENAKED LADIES-Barenaked for the Holidays (2004).

Barenaked for the Holidays is one of my favorite Christmas albums of all time.  It is by turns silly, serious, religious (Jewish and Christian) and secular.  It is pro Christmas and anti Christmas and many things in between.  There are cheesy instrumentals, impressive a capella rounds and even a Batman joke.  It’s everything people love (hate) about BNL.

The disc opens with Jingle Bells.  It opens quietly with a somber piano as Steven Page sings the lyrics.  It’s quite lovely.  After a minute and a half, insanity sets in with a wild continuation, as Steven goes bananas.  There’s a drum-only verse and even a verse of Jungle Bells Batman Smells.  It encapsulates all of Christmas in just a few minutes.

“Green Christmas” is a poppy, funny anti-Christmas song that’s super catchy.  It’s sung by Ed Robertson and is one of his latter style concoctions.  I have several versions of this song om various releases.  This is my favorite because when the carolers sing and he shuts the door on them you can hear their voices change.

“I Saw Three Ships” is done on a mandolin and sung first by Kevin Hearn.  Then a rotating cast of the band joins in.

“Hanukkah Blessing” is a wonderful original song by Steven.  It’s incredibly catchy with a nice telling of the Hanukkah story.  It even has a verse in Hebrew.

“O Holy Night” and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” are done in a kind of ice rink keyboard–cheesey but a lot of fun cheesey.

I sort of like “Elf’s Lament” because it’s pretty funny, but it’s really rather dark–maybe too dark?   I don’t think I ever realized that the voice I don’t recognize i Michael Bublé, which is pretty insane.

“Snowman” is an original song about how much of a bummer it is being a snowman.

“Do They Know Its Christmas?” I hate the original of this song but I do like this version which takes some of the schmaltz and cheese out of it.  I also like that they mock “thank god it’s them instead do of you!”

“Hanukkah o Hanukkah”  Accordion and guitar play this wonderfully traditional song.

“God rest Ye Merry Gentlemen/We Three Kings” was recorded in 1996 with Sarah McLachlan.  It’s quite nice but feels out of place–like they should have re-recorded it.

“Carol of the Bells” is a trippy synth version with lots of voice-sounds from Steven.

“Footprints” is a slower Ed song–pretty and kind of somber.

“Deck the Stills” is just a genius version of “Deck the Halls.”   How did they every figure out that you could perfectly fit the words “Crosby Stills Nash and Young” into that musical pattern?  I’d love to hear the process for making this one.

“Christmas Time (Oh Yeah)” This is a Kevin song which means its sweet and kind of quiet, but there’s also some wonderful backing vocals (oooohhh yeah).

“Sleigh Ride” is zany scatting version that lasts less than a minute.

“Christmas Pics” is a Jim song with lots of upright bass.  It’s a typically funny and sweet song by Jim.

“I Have a Little Dreidel” is a little goofy sounding on banjo–it seems more hoe-down than Jewish.  But it’s a hoot.

“Wonderful Christmastime” is an instrumental with drum machine and keys but a very funny wah-wah type of keyboard sound that sort of mocks the original.  It ends with them singing happy birthday to Jesus.

“Auld Lang Syne: ends the disc.  It’s a beautiful version with great harmonies, really showcasing that this is a great band who likes to have fun too.

[READ: December 13, 2018] “Every One of My Answers was a Disappointment”

Once again, I have ordered The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This is my third time reading the Calendar (thanks S.).  I never knew about the first one until it was long out of print (sigh).  Here’s what they say this year

Fourth time’s the charm.

After a restful spring, rowdy summer, and pretty reasonable fall, we are officially back at it again with another deluxe box set of 24 individually bound short stories to get you into the yuletide spirit.

The fourth annual Short Story Advent Calendar might be our most ambitious yet, with a range of stories hailing from eight different countries and three different originating languages (don’t worry, we got the English versions). This year’s edition features a special diecut lid and textured case. We also set a new personal best for material that has never before appeared in print.

Want a copy?  Order one here.

Like last year I’m pairing each story with a holiday disc from our personal collection.

This is the story of an artist, Amelia, who has flown from Vancouver to Toronto to live for a few months.  She was almost forty, recently separated and had just had a major art showing (she sold everything and was basically set for a long time).  She sublets a place from her younger brother’s best friend Sab–neither her brother nor Sab knew about the separation. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ANNA VON HAUSSWOLFF-“Funeral for My Children” (Field Recordings, November 4, 2013).

I remember exploring this Field Recording back in 2013 when it came out.  There is something otherworldly and magical about the pipe organ, even if it is played in a rather fast and clearly secular way like in this song.

One of my [Bob Boilen’s] most surprising discoveries of 2013 is an artfully poppy pipe-organ record called Ceremony, by Swedish singer Anna von Hausswolff. Though she doesn’t consider herself an accomplished pipe organist, von Hausswolff quickly learned the instrument’s power, as well as some of its subtleties.

I talked about this song back in 2013 and felt that the percussion was more interesting than the music.  I don’t feel that way now, although perhaps this live version is different.

When we learned that von Hausswolff was coming to New York City this summer, we started scouting for a church with a pipe organ that could accommodate a small video crew and some secular music. We found Christ Church, a United Methodist church on Park Avenue with a gracious staff who helped us make this work. [Anna Von Hausswolff Finds A Pipe Organ In New York City].

The recording opens with church bells and chimes, which Anna is playing gently on the organ (you can see the switches she presses to get sounds–how high tech!).  Then the drum comes in.  It is a simple beat on a floor tom–click click boom–a martial rhythm to offset the lofty pipe organ.

Once we were set for a location, we lit some candles and moved the pipe organ (not the pipes) into a position that allowed us get the best view of von Hausswolff while keeping percussionist Michael Stasiak distant enough so as not to bury the sound of her voice. In the process, we captured a beautiful rendition of “Funeral For My Future Children,” a song on Ceremony originally recorded at another church — this one in Gothenburg.

It almost comes as a surprise when Anna starts singing as you don;t often hear vocals with a pipe organ.  But her voice has the power and inflection to match this illustrious organ and that thumping drum.  I love when the sound of the organ changes about 4 and a half minutes in–the solo just adds a whole new depth to the piece.  And when she hits a high not just before that, it’s amazing.

[READ: January 18, 2018] “Jack”

This is an excerpt from Robinson’s novel Home.  It’s set in Gilead which is the title of a previous book of hers, so I assume it is some kind of continuation of the town, if not the family.  I’ve never read anything else by her.

Since this is an excerpt rather than a short story it take a long time for much to happen.  But her writing is pretty great and everything that she writes is rather compelling.

The story opens with Glory, the youngest of six children arriving at her childhood home.  She is greeted by her father who is shockingly frail and thin and… old.  She is moving back home to take care of him now that he is by himself.

The story quickly flashes back to her childhood growing up in the house.  A house that seemed somehow too large, too ungainly for the neighborhood it was in.  How had it changed so much since she left? (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: WILD BELLE-“Love Like This” (Field Recordings, June 26, 2013).

This Field Recording [Wild Belle: Reggae-Tinged Romance Amid The Big Bikes] is set in the El Segundo-based South Bay Customs motorcycle shop.

It doesn’t seem totally appropriate for the keyboard driven pop of Wild Belle, but there’s something about singer Natalie Bergman’s voice–a little gravelly, a hushed kind of whisper that seems apt.

Wild Belle singer Natalie Bergman seemed a bit confused upon the band’s arrival. … But once we walked past the front doors, we quickly realized that this wasn’t your everyday L.A. bike shop. South Bay’s walls are lined with eccentric oddities, and the facility also houses an art gallery and a performance space for local musicians.

So it was fitting that in a coincidental twist, she told us that she’d be embarking on a motorcycle ride across the Midwest with a close friend in the next month.

“Love Like This” certainly has a reggae-tinged vibe.  I especially like the interesting echoing guitar sounds.  It’s got a catchy chorus, but the whole song seems to have such a relaxed vibe that it makes me laugh to here her nonchalantly sing

My heart’s on fire
You light me up, and I can’t cool down
Your love is wild
You’re dangerous

The song picks up and is certainly catchy.  And while I do actually like her voice, I can’t imagine more than one song from them.

[READ: February 6, 2018] “A New Paradise, or a New Hell”

This is an excerpt from the novel Death with Interruptions. It was translated from the Portuguese by Margaret Jull Costa.

It is a fascinating story with existential implications. Although I cannot imagine how this could be stretched into a novel.

On the first day of the new year, no one died.  In the whole country, not a single person died the whole day.  It was unprecedented.  There were many accidents, several life-threatening, bit no one actually died.  It was especially noticeable because the venerable queen mother who was known to be on the verge of her last breathe also did not die. (more…)

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