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Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: TINY DESK PLAYLISTS (2019).

As on October 1, NPR has started the Tiny Desk Playlist page.

As of today there are 9 Playlists on the page.  I’m not going to comment on them, as I’ve already posted about all of these shows (except CHAI as of now).  I might disagree with some of these lists, but whatever the case they are a good introduction to Tiny Desks if you haven’t already seen one.

5 Tiny Desk Concerts That Will Literally Make You Cry
• Julien Baker (read more)
• Yusuf/Cat Stevens (read more)
• Bernie and The Believers (read more)
• Rev. Sekou and The Seal Breakers (read more)
• Barbara Hannigan (read more)

The 5 Most Uplifting Tiny Desk Concerts
• Lizzo (read more)
• Superorganism (read more)
• Fragile Rock (read more)
• Dan Deacon (read more)
• Mucca Pazza (read more)

The 5 Wildest Tiny Desk Concerts
• Gogol Bordello (read more)
• Red Baraat (read more)
• The Cristina Pato Trio (read more)
• George Li (read more)
• Dirty Three (read more)

The Best-Sounding Tiny Desk Concerts, Vol. 1 [selected by “the guy mixing the performances and bopping his head along just off (and sometimes on) screen” Josh Rogosin].
• Monsieur Periné (read more)
• Andrew Bird (read more)
• Nick Hakim (read more)
• Tedeschi Trucks Band (read more)
• PJ Morton (read more)

The Best Of The Very Beginning Of Tiny Desk Concerts
• Laura Gibson (read more)
• Vic Chesnutt (read more)
• Tom Jones (read more)
• Thao Nguyen (read more)
• Dr. Dog (read more)

The 5 Best ‘Before They Were Stars’ Tiny Desk Concerts
• Brandi Carlile (read more)
• Anderson .Paak & The Free Nationals (read more)
• Adele (read more)
• H.E.R. (read more)
• Mitski (read more)

Tiny Desk Trick Or Treat: Our 5 Favorite Concerts In Costume
• Neko Case’s Halloween Special (read more)
• Blue Man Group (read more)
• Mucca Pazza (read more)
• CHAI (read more)
• Preservation Hall Jazz Band (read more)

#ElTiny: The Best Latinx Tiny Desk Concerts, Vol. 1
• Natalia Lafourcade (read more)
• Jorge Drexler (read more)
• Juanes & Mon Laferte (read more)
• iLe (read more)
• Café Tacvba (read more)

Lianne La Havas’ 5 Favorite Tiny Desk Concerts
• Tank And The Bangas
• Anderson .Paak & The Free Nationals
• Noname
• Tamino
• Mac Miller

[READ: October 28, 2019] “God’s Caravan”

This story opens with boys crouching in the dirt shooting marbles.  I assumed it was set in the 1950s, so I was surprised to see that the boy knew of Michael Jackson’s moonwalk.  But it is set in Memphis, Tennessee–“Soulsville the black part.”

Earl was kicking butt and winning marbles left and right when the boys heard an ice cream truck trundle up.  But this was no ice cream truck.  Rather it was a van and it was playing “I’ve come from Alabama with a banjo on my knee.”  On the side of the van, painted in “blood of Jesus” red were the words “God’s Caravan.”  The speakers then broadcast “When I say, ‘Ride or die’…you say ‘Amen.'”

The voice said “Ride or Die” and Earl and the other boys all shouted back “Amen.”

The door opened and there was the pastor, dressed in black judge’s robes.  He said he had sweets for their hearts. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE FLAMING LIPS-“Halloween on the Barbary Coast” (1992).

A lot of the music I listen to is weird and probably creepy to other people, but I don’t necessarily think of songs as appropriate for Halloween or not.  So for this year’s Ghost Box stories, I consulted an “expert”: The Esquire list of Halloween songs you’ll play all year long.  The list has 45 songs–most of which I do not like.  So I picked 11 of them to post about.

Clearly this Esquire list is not meant to be scary or Halloween-appropriate songs.  Many of them might have a Halloween-type word in the title or chorus, but since they are songs you might want to listen to all year, the’re not really holiday specific.

There are songs that have Halloween in the title, like this one.  Although this song really has nothing whatsoever to do with Halloween.  Nor is it scary in any way.  It’s just weird trippy, pre-radio-friendly Flaming Lips.

Wayne Coyne’s voice is high and the main guitar riff is fluid and kind of catchy.  After a minute, the song shifts to a kind of acoustic stomping song.

The lyric does include the line “boy you still got shit for brains/it’s Halloween on the coast again.”  Of course it also references a Christmas tree, so I guess it could be a Christmas song too?

There’s a vaguely Middle Eastern feel to the middle portion of the song, but mostly it’s just a fun, shambolic Lips song.

[READ: October 24, 2019] “Sredni Vashtar”

Just in time for Halloween, from the people who brought me The Short Story Advent Calendar and The Ghost Box. and Ghost Box II. comes Ghost Box III.

This is once again a nifty little box (with a magnetic opening and a ribbon) which contains 11 stories for Halloween.  It is lovingly described thusly:

Oh god, it’s right behind me, isn’t it? There’s no use trying to run from Ghost Box III, the terrifying conclusion to our series of limited-edition horror box sets edited and introduced by Patton Oswalt.

There is no explicit “order” to these books; however, I’m going to read in the order they were stacked.

This has been quite possibly my favorite story in any of the Ghost Boxes.

Saki is the pen name of British author Hector Hugh Munro.  I could not get over that this story was written in 1912, as it was timeless and darkly amusing. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KATE BUSH-“Under Ice/Waking the Witch” (1982).

A lot of the music I listen to is weird and probably creepy to other people, but I don’t necessarily think of songs as appropriate for Halloween or not.  So for this year’s Ghost Box stories, I consulted an “expert”: The Esquire list of Halloween songs you’ll play all year long.  The list has 45 songs–most of which I do not like.  So I picked 11 of them to post about.

Esquire didn’t pick this song, but the inclusion of Kate Bush yesterday reminded me of this pairing of songs which I find incredibly creepy–especially late at night wit headphones.

This comes from side two of the Hounds of Love album.  Side Two is a suite or a story called The Ninth Wave.  Kate makes full use of sound effects and vocal panning so that you can hear the voices all around your head as they whisper, call or threaten.

The side begins with the gentle “And Dream of Sheep” which shows a young woman falling asleep (later we find it’s not as innocent as it seems).  This segues into “Under Ice” which begins with slow string notes that sound like someone skating.

Kate’s voice is deep, slow and echoey as she sings about skating on the ice.  You can hear a voices calling, but she doesn’t heed them:

I’m speeding past trees
Leaving little lines in the ice
Cutting out, little lines in the ice
Splitting, splitting sound
Silver heels spitting, spitting snow

and then in a more tremulous voice (with great watery sound effects) followed by a chorus of voices:

There’s something moving under
Under the ice moving
Under ice through water
Trying to
It’s me
Get out of the cold water
It’s me
Something
It’s me
Someone, help them

The two minute song segues into “Waking the Witch” which opens with a whispered “Wake up!” and an early morning wake up call while voices from all over the headphones try to get you to wake up–some more gently than others.

After a minute or so of this the song becomes an intensely scary four minutes.  A voice of someone, pleading, but garbled and cut up–perhaps under water? It is a nightmarish attempt at communication when a deep scary male voice states (with Kate singing the parenthetical)

You won’t burn (red, red roses)
You won’t bleed (pinks and posies)
Confess to me, girl (red, red roses, go down)

With a pretty melody, a voice whispers Spiritus Sanctus in nomine.  It cuts to another chopped up and manipulated voice praying “Bless me, father, bless me father, for I have sinned.”

The deep voice returns in accusation:

I question your innocence
She’s a witch
(Help this blackbird, there’s a stone around my leg)
Ha, damn you, woman
(Help this blackbird, there’s a stone around my leg)
What say you, good people
(Guilty, guilty, guilty)
Well, are you responsible for your actions?
(This blackbird)
Not guilty (help this blackbird)
Wake up the witch

As the four minutes fades off, we hear a helicopter flying through the air and a man shouting

Get out of the waves!
Get out of the water!

The story continues from there and gets a bit more positive, but man, the cinematic detail of this is staggering. Apparently she was finally able to stage this suite when in 2014, she performed her first concerts since 1979.  I would have loved to have seen that.

[READ: October 23, 2019] “The Distributor”

Just in time for Halloween, from the people who brought me The Short Story Advent Calendar and The Ghost Box. and Ghost Box II. comes Ghost Box III.

This is once again a nifty little box (with a magnetic opening and a ribbon) which contains 11 stories for Halloween.  It is lovingly described thusly:

Oh god, it’s right behind me, isn’t it? There’s no use trying to run from Ghost Box III, the terrifying conclusion to our series of limited-edition horror box sets edited and introduced by Patton Oswalt.

There is no explicit “order” to these books; however, I’m going to read in the order they were stacked.

This has been quite possibly my favorite story in any of the Ghost Boxes.

Richard Matheson wrote I am Legend and many episodes of The Twilight Zone and this story was the epitome of dark suburban paranoia come to life.  It is also scarily timeless and, aside from some of the words used in the story, could easily have been written today. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THOM YORKE-“Volk” (2018).

A lot of the music I listen to is weird and probably creepy to other people, but I don’t necessarily think of songs as appropriate for Halloween or not.  So for this year’s Ghost Box stories, I consulted an “expert”: The Esquire list of Halloween songs you’ll play all year long.  The list has 45 songs–most of which I do not like.  So I picked 11 of them to post about.

I knew that Thom Yorke had scored the soundtrack to the film Suspirira.  I didn’t know that the film was a remake, or that the band Goblin scored the original or even what the film is about.

Esquire said that Yorke’s “Suspirium” was the creepy Halloween song from the record, but I don’t find it any more creepy than any Radiohead song–his vocals are so unmistakable that it’s all Radiohead to me.  However, this instrumental later in the soundtrack is definitely a creepy piece of music.

It opens with synthy twinkling that sounds more like scraping metal. Then a thin echoing synth melody takes off.  The sound of that melody morphs and shifts, growing louder and quieter and changing shape before returning to that original sound again.  After two minutes splashes of discordant keyboard sounds pop in and turn into various other sounds.

The song continues to move forward with a slow bass and atmospheric sounds.  It starts to get more tense around the four minute mark as more jagged sounds stab the air.  At nearly five minutes, drums come out of nowhere.  They lend a beat to the sounds, but the beat is frenetic and as unsettling as anything else and it just adds to the cacophony.

Then at around 5:45 everything abruptly gets turned off and sharply fades out except for some echoing sounds.

It seems over but for the last 30 seconds a pulsing wall of loud grunting seems to slowly creep out of the silence.

Shudder.

[READ: October 18, 2019] “Bayou de la Mère”

Just in time for Halloween, from the people who brought me The Short Story Advent Calendar and The Ghost Box. and Ghost Box II. comes Ghost Box III.

This is once again a nifty little box (with a magnetic opening and a ribbon) which contains 11 stories for Halloween.  It is lovingly described thusly:

Oh god, it’s right behind me, isn’t it? There’s no use trying to run from Ghost Box III, the terrifying conclusion to our series of limited-edition horror box sets edited and introduced by Patton Oswalt.

There is no explicit “order” to these books; however, I’m going to read in the order they were stacked.

I am familiar with Poppy Z. Brite, although I’m not sure exactly how.  Perhaps I am just familiar with the name because it is so unusual.  (It’s a pseudonym of course).

I always assumed Poppy was a woman, but indeed, Poppy is a man.

This story is also not particularly scary.  It is more of a story about the relentless hands of religion–which can indeed be scary. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: DAN TEPFER-Tiny Desk Concert #884 (August 29, 2019).

Most of the time, a Tiny Desk Concert is an opportunity to see an artist in a quiet almost unplugged setting.  Sometimes, it’s an opportunity to see a band really show off in a close space.  And sometimes a Tiny Desk Concert will blow your freaking mind.

Like this one.

I have never seen anything like this.

Dan Tepfer has created a program that plays the piano along with him.  It’s for a project he calls Natural Machines.

Watch the keys and you’ll see this Disklavier — a player piano — plucking notes on its own. But it’s not a prerecorded script.

Here’s how it works: Tepfer plays a note, and a computer program he authored reads those notes and tells the piano what to play in response. Tepfer can load different algorithms into the program that determine the pattern of playback, like one that returns the same note, only an octave higher. Another will play the inverted note based on the center of the piano keys. These rules create interesting restrictions that Tepfer says make room for thoughtful improvisation. In his words, he’s not writing these songs, so much as writing the way they work.

Tepfer plays free improvisation–he “makes things up and tries to be present in the moment” but the computer responds to him in real time based on rules.

He says for “Canon At The Octave” theres’ an axis of symmetry on the piano and “everything I play on one side if reflected on the other side.  Super simple, but it leads to musical problems that lead to real music.”

Since he is improvising, he is also reacting to what the computer makes.

He explains that “Tremolo” is when a note is repeated very quickly.  He gives the example of a violin player playing a note quickly.  It’s much harder on piano than a violin and it’s impossible to do more than ten notes at once.

He plays single notes that generate a series of chords playing quickly all at once–it’s really cool to watch the piano take off as if with a mind of its own.

But watching the piano isn’t the only cool thing

To better communicate what’s happening between him and the piano, Tepfer converted these audio-impulse data into visualizations on the screen behind him, displaying in real time the notes he plays followed by the piano’s feedback. [We dive even deeper into this project in a recent Jazz Night in America video piece].

He explains that these improvs are super short versions to show off how the programs work.

“TriadSculpture” is all about harmonic ratios.  Pythagoras discovered that sounds work with whole numbers.  The math behind music.  So Tepfer has mapped numbers as a 3-D object and he has been printing them–even more mind blowing.  The computer program generates these shapes–  everything he plays on his left hand creates those shaped in real time on the screen.

Perhaps the trickiest part here, unlike a human-to-human duo, is that the computer plays along with 100 percent accuracy based solely on Tepfer’s moves. He compares it to dancing with a robot that never misses a beat. Tepfer has to play in kind to keep the train on the tracks, but if he falls out of step, so does the computer.

Fortunately he never falls out of time (or at least it’s hard to tell since it’s all improvised.

The final piece is “Constant Motion” in which he plays a note and the computer responds to it by playing a note either up or down.  This creates a fun fast piece that explores the full range of the piano.  The visuals for it are very cool too.

I’m not sure if this would be fun to see live (at least any more fun than an improvising pianist is) because listening to it you don’t always really know what’s happening or that the piano is doing the work.  But seeing it up close like this is awesome.

[READ: August 21, 2019] Holy Cow

Like most people, ever since watching The X-Files, I’ve liked David Duchovny (why don’t you love me?).

I watched some of the Red Shoes Diaries just for him.  I watched some of Californication just for him (Didn’t have whatever network it was on, so never watched more than a bit of it).  But I’m always willing to give him a shot because I think he’s smart but goofy.

Enter Holy Cow.

This is Duchovny’s first novel and just what a pitch it must have been.

Hi, this is David Duchovny.  Yup, that one.  I’d like to write an adult book about a cow that wants to go to India once she finds out cows are worshiped there.  Yes, David Duchovny.

I had no idea he had written this book.  I just happened to see it on my library shelf when I was looking for something else.  The book was short and had (terrible) drawings in it and seemed like it would be absurdly funny.

So, with the caveat that if you think that a talking cow buying a plane ticket and going to Jerusalem with a pig and to Turkey with a turkey sounds stupid and juvenile.  Well, you’d be right.  But you’d be missing out on an enjoyable, silly romp if that kept you from reading it. (more…)

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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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