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Archive for the ‘Set at School’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: MERCHANDISE-“Become What You Are” (April 17, 2014).

I feel like I’ve heard of Merchandise, but I can’t be sure.  Especially given their complex history:

Merchandise got its start on the Tampa punk and hardcore scene, then got weirder as artier influences like krautrock took hold. As its sound became harder to pin down, the band inspired an 18-month bidding war between record labels: This year, Merchandise finally signed with 4AD, and adventurous new material has begun to trickle out.

For this Field Recording [Merchandise Sprawls Out In The Sunlight] singer Carson Cox and guitarist Dave Vassalotti — a configuration Cox describes as “some component of Merchandise” — held court for an informal session at Friends & Neighbors,

Before he starts singing a bird goes squawking by, Cox says, “The bird’s on backup vocals.”

As the song starts, it’s acoustic guitar and gentle crooning.  Then Vassalotti’s  electric guitar powers in.  It’s so much louder but the acoustic is perfectly audible–great mixing!  For all that build up of punk and krautrock, this proves to be a pretty straightforward folk song with buzzy guitars.

The end builds nicely with the two of them rocking out.  With the ending guitar solo, the song wends it way to over 9 minutes long.

Though it usually keeps its songs to reasonable lengths, Merchandise also knows how to sprawl out: Its new single, “Begging for Your Life/In the City Light,” spans a whopping 14 minutes. So it’s no surprise that even a truncated version of the group would be capable of wringing an epic out of such a casual environment.

[READ: June 2018] The Misfortune of Marion Palm

Because I have been trying to empty my drafts folder of all of the New Yorker and Harper’s stories that have been cluttering it for two years, I have not read that many books this year.  I’m usually good for 100+ books a year, but this year it will be closer to about 30, if that.

I’ve also read some of these books quite a while ago, so my memory isn’t as fresh as it should be.

I’m not exactly sure why I read this book.  The title was intriguing–“misfortune” is a rather compelling noun.  Plus the chapters are almost all around 3 pages.  But I think it was the very premise that was so fascinating.

Marion Palm is a Brooklyn Heights wife and mother.  She works at her children’s (fancy, expensive) school and was a devoted, if suffering wife.  But as the book opens, she is on the lam with $40,000 cash in her pockets.  She said goodbye to her children but did not say goodbye to her husband.

This is all questionable behavior.  What is even more questionable is that she said goodbye to her two girls (aged 8 and 13) in a diner and then ran out on the bill.  It was cash only and all of her cash was in her knapsack and she didn’t want her girls to see it.  So she left them there. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JULIE BYRNE-Tiny Desk Concert  #788 (September 19, 2018).

Julie Byrne plays a quiet acoustic guitar and sings in a melodic whisper (almost).  She reminds me of Nick Drake in many ways.

Even in an office in broad daylight, Julie Byrne sings with both a husk and a whisper as if she’s gone a long time without speaking – as if she’s been alone, as if she’s been traveling. Her opening number at the Tiny Desk, “Sleepwalker,” sings of the road as a source of freedom.

I lived my life alone before you
And with those that I’d never succeeded to love
And I grew so accustomed to that kind of solitude
I fought you, I did not know how to give it up

Byrne’s guitar playing sounds very full as is each string gets its own special attention.

Julie Byrne’s hypnotic fingerstyle picking conjures a sense of wandering, a style she adapted from her father and a sound she grew up with until multiple sclerosis robbed him of that companionship and comfort. She now plays her dad’s guitar.

After performing “Sleepwalker” alone, Julie Byrne was joined by her musical companions, Marilu Donovan on harp and Eric Littmann on electronics. Together they conjure an ethereal compliment to Julie’s love of the open landscape.

“Follow My Voice” begins with just Byrne.  After a verse or so, the harp enters, making the song seem somehow even more delicate.  And the keys are there just to add a bit more substance–but not to solidify this delicacy.

“I Live Now as a Singer” is just the keys and the harp.  It reminds me a lot of Enya, with the washes of keys and Byrne’s deep but delicate voice.

[READ: January 5, 2017] “The Short History of Zaka the Zulu”

This story is set in a boys’ Jesuit boarding school in Africa.  The narrator is relating the story of a boy they nicknamed Zaka the Zulu. The narrator explains that Zaka was always odd but that they had never expected that hew would be accused of murder.

He was a very smart boy and he succeeded very well–which made him a little unpopular.  But he became even more unpopular when made head prefect.  He was so upright and sincere; he would get boys in trouble for the slightest infraction.  His worst punishment was when he made the younger boys stay for an extra period so that they could not watch the Mary Wards (the girls from Blessed Virgin Mary school) go for their weekly swim.

There were 40 or so Mary Wards every year.  They didn’t live with the boys, of course, but they were all part of the same school–the girls got the best Jesuit education the country could offer.   Only senior boys were allowed to mingle with the girls–particularly at the one or two dances each year.  It was felt that the girls had a civilizing effect on the boys. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ANTHONY ROTH COSTANZO-Tiny Desk Concert #789 (September 21, 2018).

The first thing you see when you look at this Tiny Desk Concert is the amazing harpsichord–large and decorated like an old-fashioned leather-bound book.  It is stunning.

But you’re only likely to notice it if you haven’t first heard Costanzo’s voice and then had a look at him.

A word about Costanzo’s voice. He is a countertenor, a man who sings in the range of a female alto. The roots of the tradition date way back to the 1500s, when young male singers, called “castrati,” were castrated in order to preserve their high, flexible voices.

“I’ve managed to do it without castration,” Costanzo joked to the audience of NPR staffers. These days, countertenors sing in falsetto, and while as recently as 30 years ago it was considered something of an androgynous novelty, now countertenors are part and parcel of the opera world.

The music is exceptional and is wonderfully modern with that classical feel that opera naturally seems to add.

Costanzo performs songs from his new album, which pairs music by George Frideric Handel with Philip Glass. Strange bedfellows perhaps, and born more than 250 years apart, but somehow Glass’ repetitive, staccato beats and Handel’s long, flowing melodies manage to shake hands across the centuries.

The first piece is by Philip Glass.  And the music sounds like perfect chamber pop.  The flute plays the Glassian up and down melody while the bassoon plays the wonderful, peculiar bass notes.

One obvious common thread is the arrangements, by Nicholas DeMaison, that Costanzo commissioned expressly for this performance, featuring harpsichordist Bryan Wagorn (playing a beautiful double-manual French-styled instrument built by Thomas and Barbara Wolf), along with flutist Alice Teyssier and bassoonist Rebekah Heller.

Glass’ “Liquid Days,” begins with a recitative introduction, similar to a Handel aria. But the lyrics, by David Byrne, depict love, in all its quotidian splendor.

It is somewhat strange to hear a countertenor (or even if he were a female singing alto) singing lyrics in English.  His voice is truly amazing.

It is even more peculiar to hear the word “television.”  But Byrne’s lyrics are pretty awesome:

We are old friends
I offer love a beer
Love watches television

Love needs a bath
Love could use a shave
Love rolls out of the chair and wiggles on the floor
Jumps up
I’m laughing at love
I’m laughing at love

And all the while Costanzo’s voice sounds operatic, serious, significant.

Costanzo’s agile voice, with its polished tone and patrician phrasing, is a singular reminder that we live in a golden age of countertenors – guys who sing high in music both ancient and modern.

Up next is Handel’s “Pena tiranna” (From ‘Amadigi di Gaula’) which means, I have a tyrannous pain in my heart and I can never hope to find peace.  It opens with harpsichord and bassoon, a wonderful combination.  The flute then enters to play a harmony with his voice.

“Pena tiranna,” from Handel’s undervalued Amadigi di Gaula, is a compelling example of how well the composer can spin a gorgeous melody to evoke the deepest anguish.

The final piece is from Glass: “In the Arc of Your Mallet” (from ‘Monsters of Grace’)” which has a text by the 13th-century Persian poet Rumi.  It speaks of longing in sexy undertones.  He says that in this translation brings out the strange, layered longing–sometimes dirty–meaning under the surface.

Anthony Roth Costanzo is a feisty performer who knows a thing or two about busting down barriers in classical music. After all, opera singers don’t normally belt out arias behind office desks, and they don’t insist on lugging harpsichords with them. They also don’t routinely sing in Bronx middle school classrooms and get students talking about emotions. But Costanzo is fearless. (And after seeing this amazing Tiny Desk performance, watch him melt the hearts of distracted sixth-graders.)

[READ: January 9, 2017] “The Driver”

I never anticipated where this story was going.  And the direction it took to get there was really interesting.

It begins with the story of Mrs Quantrill, a respectable woman who managed to get their house listed on the Nation Register of Historic Places.  She and her husband were philanthropists and they threw legendary parties.

There’s an aside that says when their son Spencer inherited the house, he demolished it and replaced it with storage units.

But at the time of this story Spencer is 9 years old.  And Mrs Quantrill has been called into the principal’s office because Spencer is struggling.  Spencer is nervous and doesn’t know what to do with his, feet, his eyes or his hands. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE DIVINE COMEDY-Loose Canon: Live in Europe 2016-2017 (2018).

I loved The Divine Comedy at the turn of the century (the fin de siècle, if you will).  They were one of my favorite bands.

Since then Neil Hannon (the man behind the band) has released a few albums which I have liked–but none as much as those early records.

This recording is primarily his latter songs, and as such isn’t as exciting to me.  (Although setlists from the tour shows that he played a lot of older songs as well, so this disc is mostly a latter period recording).

The first three songs are from the newest album Foreverland: “How Can You Leave Me On My Own,” “Napoleon Complex” and “Catherine the Great.”  And among the next few songs are “To the Rescue” and “Funny Peculiar.”   So that’s five in all from that album.

The previous album Bang Goes the Knighthood accounts for five more songs “The Complete Banker,” “Bang Goes The Knighthood,” “At The Indie Disco,” “Assume The Perpendicular” and “I Like.”

So that’s ten of seventeen from the two latest albums.

After listening to it a few times I have come to appreciate his newer music even more and to see that it is equally as cleverly crafted.  He’s just a different person now with different lyrical and musical ideas.  I will certainly give a re-listen to the last decade;s worth of music.

“How Can” is fun a bouncy, “Napoleon” is snarky and witty.  “Funny Peculiar” is a duet with  guest vocals from Lisa O’Neill.  She has a fascinating singing style which is kind of peculiar in its own way.

“The Complete Banker” is wonderfully sarcastic and catchy and “I Like” is so simple and delightful.  “Assume the Perpendicular” is an other fun uptempo song, but of this batch its “Indie Disco” that is the real highlight (this includes an excerpt from New Order’s Blue Monday”).

It also sounds like this was a fun souvenir for anyone who saw the tour (he dressed up as Napoleon and others, and apparently “Indie Disco” was really fun live).  I have always wanted to see them and hold them high on my list of bands to see.  But he hasn’t been to the States in almost ten years, so I don’t have high hopes to experience them live.

The band for The Divine Comedy’s live shows has changed over the years, sometimes large and orchestral or, like this tour, a simpler five-piece.  They sound good although they do underplay the orchestral quality of the music.

Going back there’s one from Victory for the Comic Muse “A Lady Of A Certain Age” and one from Absent Friends “Our Mutual Friend.”  These two songs are lovely and quite poignant, especially “Lady.”  They are a far cry from the raucous songs of old.

The first older song is from 2001’s Regenertaion with a wild and fun rendition of “Bad Ambassador.”  His voice doesn;t sound great on this song.  I’m not sure if he ever sounded great live, but he certainly underplays some of the bigger moments in the song.

The crowd really gets pumping for Fin de Siècle‘s “Generation Sex” and “National Express.”  These two songs are a lot of fun and I imagine mus t be really rousing live.  Once again he doesn’t sound great. Not that he has lost his voice but almost like he;s not trying all that hard.

The disc is collected from shows all over Europe, so its interesting if they picked songs where he doesn’t sound that great.

It’s not until the encores that he brings out two really old songs 1994’s “A Drinking Song” and “Tonight We Fly.”

I’m sure they picked this particular version of “A Drinking Song” because he admits to being quite drunk himself.  And there’s a funny moment where he gets a hair caught in his throat.  “Is it yours?”  Indeed, his banter with the audience is a highlight.  He is clearly a good showman, and perhaps that makes up for some of the shortcomings of the disc.  This song is a good example.  His voice is much louder than the instruments and, frankly, he doesn’t sound that great as what is mostly a capella–but the overall presentation is fun.

The ending “Tonight We Fly” is a treat as well.  Again, he doesn’t sound perfect, but he sounds like he’s having fun.

I feel like this makes me want to see them a little less–except that it sounds like the performance is great even if his voice isn’t anymore.  Regardless, is he ever comes back to the States, I’ll be there for sure.

[READ: January 19, 2018] “The People Who Kept Everything”

I read this novel 7 years ago.  But since I’ve been going back through old Harper’s and found this excerpt I thought it would be worth reading (the excerpt) again.  And I really enjoyed it, I had forgotten about this scene until the end of the piece.

The narrator says that on the night before he left for college his father gave him a Spanish dueling knife and told him to keep it and never lose it.

When the narrator asks his father where he got it he says he’d better not say–he could tell him he won it in a card game in El Paso or a cathouse in Brownsville.

He kept the knife in a drawer and it moved with him to every location her went–dorm rooms, apartments.  Often it was in the kitchen with the cutlery, ignored by everyone except the new girlfriend who wanted to cook something. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: GREAT LAKE SWIMMERS-Live at Massey Hall (July 8, 2014).

I don’t know all that much about the Great Lake Swimmers.  I have heard of them (for years), but never actually heard them, I guess.

They are a five piece who play thoughtful folk songs.  Their tempo is varied with some upbeat songs and a few slower ones.

The lead singer is Tony Dekker and when he is joined by violinist Miranda Mulholland on vocals their harmonies are quite lovely.

“Think That You Might Be Wrong” is a slower song with a kind of sad violin and great harmonies.

“Put There By the Land” has a kind of fun build up with everybody “warming up” making strange sounds especially the guitar and drums, before the song kicks in properly.  The addition of the pizzicato violin really elevates the song.  I love the way in ended kind of noisily with some thundering drums as it segues into “Pulling on a Line.”

“Your Rocky Spine” opens with a banjo (Erik Arnesen) and changes the tone of the music–Dekker’s voice seems a bit higher too.

“Everything is Moving So Fast” opens with a cool mini drum solo (Joshua Van Tassel)–not a show off solo just a cool rhythmic exploration that leads to the quiet thoughtful lyrics.   There’s some wonderful harmony vocals from Miranda at the end as well as a little upright bass solo (Bret Higgins).

They brought in a string quartet to play with them, although I can’t tell if it make much of a difference since they already have a violin.

They end with “I am Part of a Large Family” which opens with another “warming up intro” which is fun.  It’s builds to a wild and fun climax with a ripping violin solo.  An excellent show ender.

These guys should certainly be in heavier rotation on folk shows.

[READ: March 20, 2018] Evil Librarian

Sarah was reading the sequel to this book (Revenge of the Evil Librarian) and I thought it sounded pretty funny.  So she encouraged me to read the first one.

I really enjoyed the combination of teen romance and demonic villianry.  There’s an obvious antecedent in Buffy, but this goes in very different directions.

I also enjoyed the way the story was paced.  The book felt very long–which I know is a contradiction–and could have been a lot shorter.  But I think the stuff that fleshed it out was what made it so much fun, so I’m glad it wasn’t shorter

It opens on our heroine Cynthia.  She is crushing hard on Ryan.  Ryan is like TV sitcom architect/kindergarten teacher–jobs that people have that work well in sitcoms but that no one really has in real life).  He is a jock who loves musical theater.  He hangs out with all of his jock friends.  But he has an amazing voice and is the lead in the school’s upcoming production of Sweeney Todd.

And he’s single! (more…)

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 SOUNDTRACK: COLD SPECKS-Live at Massey Hall (May 23, 2014).

After enjoying the Rheostatics Live at Massey Hall video, I thought it would be interesting to check out some of the other artists in the series.

The very first artist to play was Cold Specks.  I had never heard of Cold Specks and I was blown away by their set.

So who is Cold Specks:

Cold Specks is the stage name of Canadian singer-songwriter Ladan Hussein, who was previously known as Al Spx. Her music has been described as doom-soul. The name Cold Specks is taken from a line in James Joyce’s Ulysses (“Born all in the dark wormy earth, cold specks of fire, evil, lights shining in the darkness.”).

As the set opens, Al Spx (for that is what she was known as at the time) speaks about Massey Hall, learning about it from Charles Mingus and Neil Young albums.

And then the band comes out and they play “A Broken Promise.”  There’s such a great moodiness to the melody and the sound of the guitar (and bass pedals).  There’s interesting keyboard effects throughout as well as a spare but powerful unconventional drum rhythm.  And then there’s her voice powerful and a little menacing–arresting and gripping.  There’s a Nick Cave vibe to what she does, but with a very different texture because of her voice.

“Bodies at Bay” is a bit more uptempo and rocking with a wonderfully dramatic slow down for the powerful chorus.  I hear a bit of Marianne Faithfull and some of the more out there vocals of Tina Turner in her voice.  But the contrast between her voice and the music is very engaging.  “Living Signs” is a bit more spare–really focusing on her voice.

She describes “Hector” as “an old one” (which means it came from her other album).  Al Spx plays guitar and I love the way her guitar adds a new layer of music.  The melody in the bridge/chorus is fantastic.

“Let Loose the Dogs” starts a capella.  She sings it off mic (I wonder who could hear her) and then the band comes in with a quieter synth sound.  It’s a much less dynamic song, but a nice mellow moment.

She explains that she doesn’t play Toronto very much and yet this is her fourth time at Massey Hall. “I’ve informed my booking agent that shows in Toronto will be strictly limited to Massey Hall.

“Old Knives” is slow and moody but builds really nicely–a great song overall.  The big, crashing middle section is intense.  As the song ends, they let the music ring out as the guys leave.  As they are walking off, she says, “they fucked off before I could introduce them.”  So they are: drums: Loel Cambpell; guitar: Tim D’eon; the magic corner over here, including Marxophone: Jim Anderson.

While they are gone she says she’ll play “a song or two on my own here.”  She plays guitar and sings “Blank Maps.”  It has the same moodiness just unplugged–the guitar melody is simple, but very cool.  I’m glad I watched this, it has made me a fan.

You can watch the footage here.

[READ: March 19, 2018] To Kick a Corpse

At the end of the previous book, the Qwikpick Adventure Society was in trouble.  Lyle (whose parents work at the Qwikpick and the kid who has access to all of the Qwikpick goodies) was seen as bad influence on the other two.  His best friend Dave had been grounded, but that has finally been lifted.  But Marilla, the girl on whom Lyle is massively crushing (and the funnest girl ever), has been banned from ever seeing him (or the Qwikpick) again.  It was so bad that her parents even told the school principal that she was not to be seen talking to or eating lunch with Lyle (somehow Dave was not deemed so guilty).

It’s a pretty sucky couple of months.

One day the local historical group came by with fliers looking to Save Greenhill Plantation, a local farmhouse that belongs to Colonel Shergood.  Dave and Lyle were joking about the terrible speech when they were tapped on the shoulder and given in-school suspension.

But then Marilla, who is a rule follower to the letter and never wants to upset her parents, broke the rules and shouted “Good” when she heard the plantation was being turned into a Kmart. This guaranteed her an in-school suspension as well.  When they asked her why she would do that, she explained that she hates Colonel Shergood and she wants to “go kick his dead *&%!”

Marilla has never said a bad word in her life, and the boys are shocked.

Why is Marilla so upset? (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KING CRIMSON-The Elements Of King Crimson – 2017 Tour Box (2017).

The (so far) final Tour Box (although the band is still touring in 2018) is notable for having what might be the definitive collection of live “Lark’s Tongue in Aspic” recordings–Parts I to IV (and more) from different eras.

But that’s disc two.  Disc one continues with the sampling of the band’s career.

Disc 1 opens with “Wind.”  Although each “Wind” extract seems a tad different.  This one is all talking, no wind.”   (extract)  talking no wind.

Next comes an a capella first verse of “21st Century Schizoid Man.”  It’s just Greg Lake singing really loud before seguing into the rest of the song, this time from 2015.  It’s a great version.

Continuing like the other boxes, there’s an instrumental edit of “In The Wake Of Poseidon,” which is quite lovely.

This disc has a number of Mel Collins flute improvs taken from various Lark’s Tongue recordings in 2016.  Each one is wonderful and I could listen to his flute all day.

Another recording of “Peace,” this time with in a rehearsal that ends with Jakko cracking up because of something that Gavin has done (with lots of bad words bleeped out).

It’s followed by a stellar recording of “Cirkus” from 2016.  This is the first time played since 1972 and it sounds much more intense and complex than the version on the previous box.

It’s followed by an abridged instrumental recording of “Islands” and a 2015 live recording of “Easy Money” (complete with sound effects–I loved hearing this live the first time.

“Suitable Grounds For The Blues” is a 2015 rehearsals that ends when someone calmly says “It was Harrison, sir.  He made me laugh, sir.  He did the drum fill out of Hawaii 5-0 twice.

“The Great Deceiver” from 1974 sounds tremendous and I hope this means they might be busting it out for the 2018/19 tour.

“Asbury Park” is a live recording. It’s a fast and rollicking instrumental edited down to fit nicely with a terrific 2016 recording of “One More Red Nightmare.”

There’s a 2015 rehearsal of “Meltdown” and then a jump to an alternate (instrumental) mix of  “Thela Hun Ginjeet.”  I normally love these instrumental mixes, but i find that this song really uses the words wonderfully and I miss them.

The only other track from this era is a 1982 recording of “Heartbeat” which is insanely catchy and I can;t believe wasn’t a hit.  The disc ends with a 2008 performance of 1984’s “Sleepless” which sounds really 80s (the bass in particular) even though it was recorded in 2008.  I’ve often thought that Adrian Belew makes King Crimson sound like The Talking Heads, and that seems to be true with this song.

The disc ends with the intermission and photography announcement from 2016 concerts.

Disc 2 is the Lark’s Tongue disc, but it doesn’t start with it.  It opens with 2004’s “Form No. 1” with strings guitars and a Tony Levin groove.  Then there’s a version of “THRAK ” from the Thrak sessions.

The disc has several tracks called “Keep That One Nick” which are some early recordings and dialogue.  Each one is about 4 minutes long of guitars or drums or the whole band recording primarily parts of LTIA.

When the series starts, we’ve got a

2015 recording of “Larks’ Tongues In Aspic Part I” followed by a
1974 recording of “Larks’ Tongues In Aspic Part II.”

after a Nick recording of percussion (in which the drums sound like child’s toys and like Bruford is hitting everything in the studio, they continue the series with a

1984 recording of “Larks’ Tongues In Aspic Part III.”  This is my least favorite Part–I can;t get over how much I’m disliking the 1980s recordings, especially since  Discipline is one of my favorite KC albums.

after a recording jam of Part II (keep that one, Nick) there’s a

1999 recording of “Larks’ IV ConstruKction” where you can see the connection to the LTIA series in this song.  Then comes a

2003 recording of “Larks’ Tongues In Aspic Part IV” which sounds great once again.

It’s followed by a 2016 recording of “Level Five” which is sort of an unofficial Part 5 to LTIA.

Presumably these are Fripp’s favorite versions of the series. So there.

The disc and set ends with a radio advert for the Larks’ Tongues In Aspic album because who even knew they made radio adverts for albums.  It’s a great piece of history.

I imagine there will be a 2018 box, as the band has taken a few months off and is getting ready to start touring Europe and Japan through the end of the year.  And who knows, one more trip back to the U.S. in 2019?  Yea, I’d be ready to see them once more time by then.

[READ: February 1, 2017] Multiple Choice

I have really enjoyed Zambra’s stories a lot.  As with most of Zambra’s work, this one was translated from the Spanish by Megan McDowell and I thought it was terrific.

As it turns out almost half of this book has been previously published: “Reading Comprehension: Text No. 1” (New Yorker, July 6 & 13, 2015) and “Reading Comprehension: Text No. 3” (Harper’s, July 2016).  In total, there are three Reading Comprehension texts in the book, as well as a few other types of “test questions.”

The original of this book was called Facsímil, and it uses “the structure and questions of the Chilean Academic Aptitude Test as its organizing principle. Called both a work of parody and poetry, Multiple Choice examines the role of the education system and standardized testing in promoting compliance to authoritarian rule.”

Since this book is set up like test there are 5 parts to work through.  (more…)

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