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Archive for the ‘#RESIST’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: ST. VINCENT-4AD Sessions (2011).

When I was looking up something about St. Vincent I happened upon this 4AD Sessions recording.  Eviddently the audio was included on reissue of Strange Mercy, but there was also this video available.

She plays four songs from Mercy in an interestingly configured and lit studio (the visuals are so very 4AD).

Shot at Shangri-La Studios in the heart of the Brooklyn film and photography district in Greenpoint, the session was recorded with Annie’s new band, Daniel Mintseris (keys), Toko Yasuda (moog) and Matthew Johnson (drums). Given St Vincent’s transgression from the underground to the pop spotlight over the course of three studio albums, it’s somewhat fitting that Shangri-La host the session having initially earned its name as a secret spot known only through word of mouth.

The first song is “Chloe in the Afternoon” which opens with synths and Annie’s voice.  It’s interesting that her latest album seems so un-guitar heavy, when in fact, the guitar never really dominates her songs.  Except when it bursts forth at choice moments.  Like on this one, when it is fuzzed almost beyond recognition.  The drums are sharp raps as Annie sings her vocals.  Then comes the almost angelic chorus “Chloe in the Afternoon.”  I love watching (and hearing) her smile as she sings it and the delicate guitar (almost inaudible) that accompanies it.  The song end with a rocking guitar solo (this is before she had her signature guitar made.

“Surgeon” opens wt synths and what sounds very unlike a guitar (the video confirms that a guitar is at least playing along with the synths).  It’s a quieter song.  When the guitar formally comes in it’s my favorite St. Vincent guitar part–up and down sliding chords followed by a nifty little riff.  It all comes and goes so fast and it’s awesome.  I love seeing her play it “live.”  After a couple of instrumental breaks and a repeat of the chorus, Annie takes a wild echoing guitar solo–she totally wails and the keys create a wavery bass line.

“Strange Mercy” is slower with a pretty, sympathetic melody.  The middle section features a neat guitar solo (oddly processed but cool-sounding).  The middle section with the great sounding guitars and verses about “dirty policemen” just confirms the greatness of this song.

“Year of the Tiger” is a smoother song which also ends the album.  It’s got terrific buzzy guitars throughout.  I this love the way she sings the “Oh America, can I owe you one” with particular venom.

St. Vincent’s music often sounds like a studio concoction, so I love seeing her duplicate it live.  And I’m really looking forward to the upcoming Austin City Limits show she recorded.

[READ: October 10, 2017] “Likes”

This is the story of a man trying to communicate with his 12-year-old daughter.

She has an Instagram account and he is trying to learn more about her by following it–since she’s not very talkative.

But her account is a puzzle–an ice cream cone, a shop window, the dog, an earlobe.

He had been spending a bit more time with her lately because she had been going to physical therapy.  He felt responsible for her inheriting his bad joints–runner’s knees, Achilles Tendonitis.  The therapist was very friendly and Ivy seemed to be open with her although he could never quite hear what they were talking about. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: DERMOT KENNEDY-Tiny Desk Concert #779 (August 24, 2018).

NPR likes Dermot Kennedy (they made him one of their Slingshot artists for 2018).  The thing that they seem to like about him is what I didn’t.

He has a powerful raspy voice–he could sing for miles.  A voice that works wonderfully with a style of music (folk or rock, primarily).  But the songs I’d heard from him were tinged with hip-hop.  And, frankly, it’s hard to work a powerful singing voice and hip-hop into the same verse.  So to me, it didn’t work, it was like the worst of both worlds.

But at the Tiny Desk, he removes all of that with a live band and, as the blurb says, a gospel choir.

Kennedy took this assignment seriously. The Dublin singer-songwriter wasn’t content with merely re-creating his songs as they sound in the studio, or stripping lavish productions down to simple acoustic arrangements. So he got himself a gospel choir.

More specifically, Kennedy and his band flew in from Ireland a day ahead of time to meet and rehearse with members of Washington, D.C.’s Howard Gospel Choir (Keila Mumphord, Taylor Nevels, Chamille Boyd, Jazmine Thomas). Every arrangement was painstakingly plotted ahead of time, so that every note would be perfect.

Two of the songs Kennedy performs here (“Moments Passed” and “An Evening I Will Not Forget”) pop up on an EP he released this year with hip-hop producer Mike Dean, and both sound radically different in this performance. They’re still forceful — and still centered on the singer’s elastic, bombastic voice — but also looser, warmer, more open.

And I suspect that’s why I like them much more.   Without all of that trapping, he sounds, yes, like Hozier or Glen Hansard.  And of course he was a busker.

They open with “Moments Passed.”  It was weird that the song and concert opens the way it does with the choir and Kennedy singing at the same time.  His voice is the centerpiece of the music and it was obscured not only by four other voices but also but a disconcerting echo effect (from Kieran Jones on keys).  But as soon as that ends, his voice works very well with the piano (Jonny Coote) and drums (Micheál Quinn).

And so when the chorus comes in and he songs his only lines while the choir sings, it works very well.  You can also hear his accent a lot more than other Irish singers, it seems.

“An Evening I Will Not Forget” has more of a hip hop delivery style, at least the way he sings, but he doesn’t try to cram it all in, he lets his voice and melody flow over the dense lyrics.  The song is one of regret and it works perfectly as just piano and his powerful voice.

After the song he jokingly asks for a towel and he laughs when he gets one (and gives it to Jones, “you;re a sweaty guy”).

For the final song, “Glory” he plays guitar on this it’s a pretty melody.  The drums are weirdly electronic and big and I like the big boom but not the ticky ticky electronics.  However, the high female voice in the chorus more than makes up for it.  The way all of the music swells together on this track is really terrific.

Sometimes you need to hear a musician live to really appreciate him.

[READ: January 3, 2017] “Gender Studies”

Sarah loves Curtis Sittenfeld, although I had never read her work before this.

I really enjoyed this short story both for its story and for its politics.

The plot is quite simple.  Nell is an almost divorced woman (she was with Henry for years with the intention of getting married, then he up and left her for a younger woman).  I really enjoyed this self-description of her and Henry “because of the kind of people they were (insufferable people, Nell thinks now).”  She is a professor of gender studies and is going to a convention in Kansas City.  Though she lives in Wisconsin, she has never been to Kansas City or even to Missouri.

The shuttle driver starts talking to her about donald trump.  He says “He’s not afraid to speak his mind, huh?”  And I love this description of her reply:

Nell makes a nonverbal sound to acknowledge that, in the most literal sense, she heard the comment.

Despite her obvious discomfort talking to him (when he calls Hillary “Shrillary” you know she is fuming), she can’t be bothered to say anything more than “There’s no way that donald trump will be the Republican nominee for President” (this was written after he was, of course). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ANDY SHAUF-Live at Massey Hall (November 23, 2017).

I know Andy Shauf from a Tiny Desk Concert.  I was fascinated then and am now by his long hair, soft-spoken voice and astonishing lack of movement in his body and mouth when he sings.

The record he is touring here is 2016’s The Party which propelled him onto bigger stages, including Massey Hall.  He says in his characteristically quiet way

Every stage is a little different.  I’m a big fan of that Neil Young record.  That was here.  That was here (smiles).

“Twist My Ankle” starts the show with his gentle guitar strums.  Twin clarinets (Daniel Pencer and Karen Ng) propel this song slowly forward.  It a wonderful melody.  Then Shauf starts singing with his unique vocal patterns.  I can’t figure out what it is about the way he sings, but the way he enunciates words is so peculiar.

Later he says that there was one interview when I said The Party isn’t a concept album, and that has followed him around.  It totally is a concept album, but I was thinking more of Mr Roboto or something.  The whole album is about a party with the common theme of humiliation and shame.  People are just making mistakes while drinking at a party–trying to navigate social situations.

“Twist My Ankle” ends with the line, “everybody’s laughing at me I wish I’d just stayed home.”

“You’re Out Wasting” has a simple, repetitive but very alluring guitar melody.  It’s a wonderfully catchy song about wasting time with the right guy.

“Quite Like You” is a bit more upbeat and catchy–the crowd reacts very warmly to it.   but again the lyrics are pretty dark.  It’s about a guy trying to pick up his friend’s girlfriend.

“Early to the Party” is a mellow song with wonderful instrumental interludes–the horns really brighten the song.  This is one of many places where his enunciation is so strange.  Especially since he sings so quietly: “tying you in nawts.”

“The Word in You” has an upbeat piano melody which his vocals follow perfectly. He says it’s exciting playing with strings and clarinets.  A lot of parts are six voices and now we have six voices–it makes the songs more exciting to play.  A lot of time you get sick of playing the same songs every night but this time the shows have gotten a little bit bigger so you can feel a different energy when people are excited to hear a song rather than trying to introduce your songs to people.

People respond loudly to “My Dear Helen.”  This song is just him on the guitar, the starkness really helps you to focus on the words.  It’s a letter to an old friend in which an old man confesses something terrible.

For the final song, “The Magician everyone comes back.  The addition of bass clarinet (Michael Sachs) is wonderful.  There’s pizzicato strings that turn into big swells from Emily Hau and Leslie Ting (violins) and Moira Burke (viola).  The doo doo doo doo part is really catchy.  The song builds and builds and is the most rocking thing with Olivier Fairfield’s drums really coming forward.  Colin Nealis on keyboards and Josh Daignault on bass flesh out this excellent set ender.

[READ: July 24, 2017] “Everything is Far From Here”

This story serves as an unrelenting indictment against immigration polices.

It opens with a woman having arrived, at last.  She is bruised and sunburnt, covered in birds and bugs and worn out.  She is told to sleep, but she cannot for she is awaiting her son.  She had been separated from him a few days ago being told there were too many of them.

She is finally able to ask someone where her son is.  The guard speaks Spanish and tells her about the family unit.  But among the children, her son is not there.   But one woman tells her that her own son arrived a while week after she did.

She decides to wait.  They let her store her clothes, her broken leather sandals, a plastic comb, and elastic hair band.  They take her pocketknife (no weapons) a sleeve of cookies (no food) and a tin of Vaseline (no reason). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: REV SEKOU AND THE SEAL BREAKERS-Tiny Desk Concert #765 (July 10, 2018).

I was not at all interested in a preacher and his church band, but wow these guys rock.

Rev Sekou says that the Seal Breakers are from Brooklyn but he’s from Arkansas.  I didn’t like the way he started the show by talking about his grandparents who worked from can’t see morning to can’t see night and then they’d go to the juke joints and then to church on Sunday.  I thought it was going to be rather preachy (he is Pentecostal) but no,

Rev. Osagyefo Uhuru Sekoum this author, activist, intellectual, pastor and singer tosses off his large-brimmed, black hat, shakes his dreadlocks and demands freedom with these words: “We want freedom and we want it now!”

Do you wanna get free?  He sounds like Richie Havens at Woodstock–gravelly voice but with a preacher intonation.  The song has got some gospel flow but with a roaring distorted electric guitar.   It’s got a big catchy chorus and a wailing guitar solo.

Resist!  Resist when they tell you what you can and can’t do.

Before the second song, he says he went to Charlottesville to organize against the white supremacist march but they couldn’t leave the church because of the Nazis.

When he went outside, he watched Heather Heyer take her last breath.  He says this is an anthem for Charlottesville called “Bury Me.”

he recalled the horrors of the white nationalist march in Charlottesville, Va. last summer. He said he spent weeks in preparation, organizing clergy for what he says was “the largest gathering of white supremacists in modern history,” then watching the activist “Heather Heyer take her last breath” after she was struck by a car that plowed into a crowd of marchers. The song “Bury Me” is a bluesy anthem to freedom that honors those who have died in that struggle for racial equality and freedom. In his free-form preamble to the touching ballad, Rev. Sekou works himself into a passionate frenzy, before airing his intense indignation for President Trump.

Bury me in the struggle for freedom…say my name.  He powerfully sings the names of people who have died in racially motivated hatred.  There’s power in the name.

The songs with a chorus of “This Little Light of Mine, I’m gonna let it shine,”

The Rev. says they need to leave that one, “I’m Pentecostal, I can go 2-3 hours, but I don’t think Brother Bob wants us in here that long.”

The  end with “The Devil Finds Work” which opens with bluesy piano.

After two minutes it becomes a big clapfest as suddenly The Saints Go Marching In.  They swing, and Rev. Sekou and we pray that you get free and he walks off while the band finishes.

Osagyefo Sekou (Vocals), William Gamble (Keys), Reggie Parker (Bass), Cory Simpson (Guitar), James Robinson Jr. (Drums), Gil Defay (Trumpet), Chris McBride (Saxophone), Brianna Turner (Background Vocals), Rasul A Salaam (Background Vocals), Craig Williams (Percussions)

[READ: January 25, 2018] “Company Towns”

This is an excerpt from “Work and Industry in the Northern Midwest.”

I’m not really sure what to make of these three short stories about work.  I found them rather comical because each supposedly normal business event ended in some kind of peculiar death.

The Whitefish Bay Merchant and Traders Bank
In 1947 the narrator traveled from Interlakken Switzerland to Whitefish Bay, Michigan to check on a bank that his father had acquired in a set of financial trades).  The bank had become extremely profitable and his father wanted to know why.  He flew to the states, stopped for two weeks in New York and another week in Cleveland before getting to Michigan.  The employees were quite jovial–in fact the guy who picked him up shared a flask with him–they were both drunk by the time they got home.  They also had a very formal, fancy diner.  The bank made its money because of an ambitious cook.  He helped to innovate the short line cooking process–a way to cook for 100 men quickly.  He was aided by a chef who ensured they used quality food.   The bosses didn’t think the employees needed this kind of delicious food, but when they saw how much it improved morale and didn’t cost that much they were on board.  And the bank, in addition to giving them a loan, took a 20 percent stake in the firm and they made a ton of money.

The narrator asked to meet these men but both had recently died.  One from drinking something he shouldn’t have and the other was involved in a shooting– the details are what makes the deaths amusing, if not really funny. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKDAVE MATTHEWS-Tiny Desk Concert #760 (June 27, 2018).

Dave Matthews Band superfandom is one of those entities that I just don’t get.  I know they had a pretty big hit back in the day, but I was really shocked a few years ago that they had a following like Phish with people seeing him/them dozens of times.

I don’t really dislike them, but I don’t really like them either.  I appreciate the musicianship and chord progressions that they play but I have a hard time with his lyrics–when they are not (somewhat) insightful, they are awfully questionable.

But to me their sound isn’t unique enough to build a fellowship out of.  Perhaps it’s a live thing and you have to see it for yourself.

So here is Dave himself–just him and his acoustic guitar(s). He sings five songs.  I don’t know if this is like heaven for DMB fans or if they prefer the whole live shebang.

He talks about getting used to singing

by himself since he is touring with his band:

We sound good at the moment but more importantly we feel good.  It’s a different feeling to play by myself.  I have to get used to it, you know first you have to get used to being alone because I’m used to having [various mugging over-the-top sounds and faces about a band making big rock sounds] but for me it’s just [makes wimpy sounds of playing a tiny guitar] a little thing”

This leads to uproarious laughter.  And that’s the one thing I don’t like about this Concert.  The music is fine, his voice sounds fine, but he is mugging for the audience so much and, presumably all Daveheads (or Dmbheads?–I kid) are hanging on his every word which they all deem hilarious.  I hate being with sycophantic fans who think any statement is a gut buster (this happened recently with someone I saw live–not every statement is one to quote on instagram).

The first two songs are from their new album.  After the first song, “Samurai Cop (Oh Joy Begin),” he complains about his voice even though it sounds fine:

“Singing shouldn’t be such a struggle.  Some people make it look so easy [sings nonsense in operatic style]. I’m like [ggggg ggg].”  Crazy laughter ensues.  After “Here On Out,” he states inexplicably, “That was a close one” and the laughter rolls on.

Dave plays a full five songs–nearly 25 minutes:

when Matthews shed his backing players to swing by the Tiny Desk for a solo gig, he couldn’t just knock out three songs and bail. Instead, he played a set so long — so defiantly un-Tiny — that his between-song banter could have filled a Tiny Desk concert on its own.

“Don’t Drink the Water” is probably my favorite Dave song.  I especially love the way the song is mostly mellow but then turns into a great dark section at the end.  Indeed, it’s the dark section that I really like, not so much the earlier part.

He says that “The last administration sent a bunch of artists to Havana to have a party.  I’m not sure if that’s was the goal… [hamming it up] go down there and… culturally…. vibe.”   I wish he’d elaborated more on that.

There’s two final songs, “Mercy” and “So Damn Lucky” on which he hits some great powerful falsetto notes.  His voice is really quite good in this setting.  I suspect this is probably a real treat for fans, so if you;re one, you should check it out.

[READ: July 3, 2018] “Little St. Don”

When you have a subject who is so contemptible so utterly crass and repulsive, a “person” who does the most unconscionable things and still manages to have supporters, it is impossible to make him look bad.

Even if you are trying comedy.  How do you try to make someone look worse than they actually are when they are lower than scum, when they treat people like animals, when they think it is okay to mock the handicapped, to brag about grabbing women, when they are willing to let people die for their own insipid and un-thought-through ideas?

This living piece of excrement has a sudden flash to destroy the lives of thousands of people and two days later decides to blame it on someone else.  And, for reasons that no one can explain, people actually believe this liar, this clearly unsound lunatic.

So how does a subtle and thoughtful writer go about making comedy about this lying dictator? (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MILCK-Tiny Desk Concert #752 (June 8, 2018).

I know of MILCK the same way anyone who has heard of her knows her:  from her performing her song “Quiet” during the Women’s March On Washington last year.

MILCK is the music of Connie Lim:

Before the concert, we talked a lot with her and her production team about how to best share her deeply affecting, anthemic pop songs. Should we have a choir? Maybe a string quartet? Or should she bring out all her gear and perform as a one-woman band, live looping everything with backing tracks, to recreate the album experience? In the end she chose the simplest (and perhaps most fitting arrangement for an artist often billed as a one-woman riot): just MILCK, by herself, with a keyboard.

MILCK has a great powerful voice and she writes some very pretty melodies.

The beautiful soaring “Black Sheep” is restrained in this version.  Her voice sounds lovely but this song needs to soar.  Nevertheless, her positive message is undeniable.  Indeed:

the ultimate message in “Black Sheep,” like pretty much all of MILCK’s music, is that you are not alone. It’s a celebration of universal, unconditional love, something the whole world could stand to hear and get behind. These songs also resonate so profoundly because they come from a genuine and heartfelt place – from MILCK’s own experiences and not a corporate office churning out scientifically proven pop formulas

Next came “Quiet” which she says she wrote as a healing song.  It has become an anthem for women and men around the world.  She laughs that this song pulled her out of her own emo isolation.  It’s wonderful how clear and powerful her voice is on this version of the song.

She encourages everyone to take a deep breath which reminds herself how shallowly she breathes.  She was comfortable being emo and then complains that “Oh My My” is “infuriatingly joyful,” it reminds us that even if we suffer there is still room for joy.

The verses are spoken/sung with this amusing start

Thought I’d be 50 still alone chain-smoking cigarettes at a bar
talking shit about my married friends to my single friends

Mid song she annotates a line that she was singing songs in hotel lobbies–covering songs by Adele and Jason Mraz and now she is opening for Mraz, so she gets to tell his audience that she used to be ignored singing his songs in hotel lobbies and now she opens for him.

It’s a lovely happy song, with some pop leanings although she keeps it on this side of good taste.

[READ: February 7, 2018] “My First Real Home”

This story was in Vicky Swanky is a Beauty which I read so long ago I don’t remember. Of course these stories are so short I don’t remember most of them anyway.

For a Diane Williams story, I felt like this one was actually pretty enjoyable and pretty understandable.

Of course, once again, it ended and I had to double-check to make sure I hadn’t lost the last page.

This is about a man who sharpens knives .  He did a great job and the narrator discovered him because Tommy used to use him and Ernie’s have hit the chain saws.  Or the man’s name was Ernie and he would do Tommy’s chainsaws.  It’s not clear. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: NAIA IZUMI-“Soft Spoken” (TINY DESK CONTEST WINNER 2018). 

I didn’t pay much attention to the Tiny Desk Contest this year (even though there were lots of opportunities to watch various front runner videos).  But this year’s winner was just announced.

Naia Izumi is a 34-year-old musician from Georgia who regularly busks on the streets of Los Angeles, where he now lives.  And now he has gotten some national exposure.

Naia starts the song with a simple percussion loop and then he sets out on some amazing finger tapping jazzy guitar playing.  It’s impressive and pretty at the same time.  And then he starts singing on top of it!

The bridge or chorus (I haven’t figure doubt what’s what yet) is strummed with some cool fluid soloing and then it’s back to the tapping–such a great melody.  There’s a short but pretty solo in the middle and then a quiet section before he resumes the drum loop again.

He starts singing some great falsetto notes (a good vocal range too, this guy) and then the song returns to the fingertapping before it abruptly ends.

I have no idea how it compares to anything else, but it’s pretty darn good.

Watch it here.

[READ: January 15, 2018] The Iceman #2

A whole bunch of books from Holloway House Publishing Co. came across my desk recently.  Interestingly, in 2008

Kensington Publishing has acquired most of the publishing assets of Holloway House Publishing in Los Angeles, the original publisher of such classic black crime writers as Donald Goines, adding an historic trove of gritty African American popular literature to its publishing program. The acquisition includes about 400 backlist titles which will become part of a new imprint at Kensington called Holloway House Classics. Holloway House also publishes a range of popular fiction and nonfiction titles including biographies of famous African Americans.

So this book and many other are likely to be reissued.

But this particular book (and the ones that came with it) were originals gifted to the library from someone.  There were quite a few books written by Joseph Nazel and I decided I’d read this one because it looked awesome.  And it was.

The premise of this series is:

Henry Highland West – he rose up out of the streets of Harlem to become one of the richest, most powerful Blacks in the world, earning the nickname Iceman due to his cold, calculating will to survive. He owns The Oasis, a multi-million dollar pleasure palace glistening in the desert of Las Vegas. And his success is a thorn in the side of those who envy the phenomenal success of the Black man! He’s already fought one battle. One vicious, backstabbing betrayal that left the desert stained with Mafia blood. And now he’s challenged again as modern-day carpetbaggers, hungry for the glitter of gold and the merciless exploitation of slave labor in Africa, waste an old friend in hopes of getting the very land that The Oasis is built on! He’s not alone in the fight. Besides his old street friends he’s got his own private army of voluptuous women trained in the martial arts. And he’s going to need them all, as his survival is threatened by the gold greed of men out to take what he’s so desperately earned! It’s high-stakes action on chopped Harleys and dune buggies as Iceman pulls all the stops just to keep the honkies from giving him the shaft!

And it was just as good as that description sounds. (more…)

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