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Archive for the ‘Set at School’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: ALDOUS HARDING-Tiny Desk Concert # 639 (July 28, 2017).

Aldous Harding is a singer from New Zealand.  Her second album, Party, is full of deeply personal songs with memorable melodies and spare instrumentation.  Aldous Harding’s musical partner for the Tiny Desk is Jared Samuel Elioseff .

I was mesmerized by her performance right from the start.  Her voice is deep and sultry like Nico’s, and I imagined that she was French the way she enunciated.  There’s something about her face–she seems to be filled with what…? disdain? emotion?  as she sings these song.  She grits her teeth, protrudes her lower jaw, makes fascinating expressions all to convey her meanings.

The first song she performs,”Imagining My Man,” is about what she calls the “tender and frightening thoughts that come with being in love,” and what you witness while watching her are often painful, pensive expressions that are as important to the song as the notes being played.

I really like this song a lot–the simple melody, the fascinating delivery and the wonderful touch of a strange little zip sound after each singing of “all my life….”  The way she sings “if you get down” introduces yet another strange expression and an even stranger vocal delivery.  It all borders on comical, but she is not funny she is baring emotion.

In introducing “Blend” she gives Jared the guitar and says “I’m really sorry for what you’re about to see me do, but it’s all for the good of the song.”  And I genuinely can’t tell what she’s talking about.  She doesn’t do anything expect change the drum sound on the keyboard.  This song is whispered and the guitar plays gentle picked notes.

For the final song, “Horizon,” she takes away the guitar, stands up and says “thanks for watching” with a smile.  She stands singing the final song which I think is my favorite.  The expressions she uses as she delivers the first few lines is really intense–almost like a verbal threat:

I broke my neck dancing to the edge of the world, babe
my mouth is wet, don’t you forget it, don’t you lose me

The fact that she stands straight, dressed all in white–unmoving except for some hand gestures–just adds to the subtle intensity of her performance.

[READ: August 1, 2017] “Eric Duncan”

Philip Roth retired from writing in 2012, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t get more new material from him (although this isn’t exactly new, since it is from 2008).  This excerpt comes from remarks he gave at his 75th birthday celebration and will be collected in a forthcoming volume.

This is his recollection of the first things he ever wrote on his mothers Underwood typewriter.  In 1943, Philip’s mother was teaching him to type–white keys with black letters and number which “constituted all the apparatus necessary to write in English.”

He says that as soon as he mastered touch typing, he wrote his first title: “Storm Off Hatteras.”  But he says that instead of writing his own name, he wrote by Eric Duncan: “There’s little that can bestow more confidence and lend more authority than a name with two hard c’s in it.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE SHINS-Tiny Desk Concert #638 (July 24, 2017).

Although this is billed as The Shins, it is actually James Mercer solo (although really The Shins are more or less Mercer’s solo gig anyway).

Mercer plays three songs with just his voice and acoustic guitar: two new tracks and one that reached back to 2003 from the album Chutes Too Narrow.

The first two are slow and very folky–I don’t know the new album yet.

“Mildenhall” has a country flare and is something of an autobiography.  “I thought my flattop was so new wave until it melted away.”  The chorus is nice: A kid in class passed me a tape a later chorus reveals: “a band called Jesus and Mary Chain.”     Started playing his dads guitar and that’s how we get to where we are now.”  I love the unexpected ending chord.

“The Fear” is a delicate, simple song that fits perfectly with his voice.  It’s also quite sad.

“Young Pilgrims” is the recognizable song from Chutes to Narrow (the song even mentions that phrase).  It doesn’t sound that different in this stripped down format–there’ some missing extra guitars bit other wise the acoustic format fits it well. The biggest difference is that he seems to be singing in lower register here.

In fact none of the songs sounded like him exactly and I think that’s why– he usually sings in more of a kind of higher pitch, so it’s interesting to hear it slower and lower.

[READ: June 29, 2017] “The Mustache in 2010”

I really enjoyed the story.  I loved the strange way it was constructed and that even though it didn’t seem to start as a story, it certainly was one.

It begins

Social historians will record that in the early twenty-first century, the fashion for a clean-shaven face lost its dominance in metropolitan North American Bourgeoisie society.

After some lengthy discussion about the merits of various facial hair construction ,we meet Alex, a youngish (36 is youngish in New York City) businessman.  He availed himself of this trend by shaving only every third Monday.  His growth was dense and black.

One morning he realizes that he had left large sideburns, which amused him.  Thereafter he “subtracted facial hair so as to create an amusing residue.”  He never wore the stylized looks outside, they were private jokes for him and his wife.  Although there was always a scream of horror because he would sneak up on her.

This all l leads to some more details about Alex.  He was Québécois living in New York.  His English was fine but “fell just short of the level required for wittiness.”  This left him with an unjustly wooden personality.  So his wife was always looking for nonverbal diversion for him. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RHEOSTATICS-University of Calgary (September 5, 1992).

This set is also them opening for Barenaked Ladies, just following the release of Whale Music.  It comes four months after the previous show online and I love that the set is almost entirely different.

It opens with a slightly cut off “PROD.”  I can’t believe they’d open with that.  AS they pummel along, the song pauses and the band starts whispering “what are they gonna do?  I don’t know.”  Then they romp on.

Bidini says they have three records out.  The first you can’t get, the second is called Melville and this is “Record Body Count.”

They’d been playing “Soul Glue” for a long time, this one sounds full and confident.  Then they introduce “King of the Past,” as “a song about looking for Louis Reil’s grave site. You know who he is, right?  Canada’s first and foremost anarchist.”  It’s a gorgeous version.

When it’s over they announce “Timothy W. Vesely has picked up the accordion!”  (Earlier Dave said that anyone who could guess Tim’s middle name would in a free T-shirt). They play a fun if silly version of “Whats Going On.”

“Legal Age Life” is a fun folky romp.  They get very goofy at the end with everyone making funny sounds and then Clark shouting “everyone grunt like a seal.”  Bidini asks “Is Preston Manning in the audience tonight?”  Clark: “No fuckin way.”  Near the end of the song they throw in the fine line “Eagleson ripped off Bobby Orr!”

Martin almost seems to sneak in “Triangles on the Wall.”  This is a more upbeat and echoey version than the other live shows have.  The end rocks out with some big drums.

As they preapre the final song, Bidini says, “We’re going to play one more song and then we are going to leave like sprites into the woods.”  He asks if anyone knows “Horses” and if they wanna “sing Holy Mackinaws with us?”  But they need more than 1–we need at least 3.  The three “imposters” are named Skippy and His Gang of Fine Pert Gentlemen.  They are told to behave until the chorus or “I’ll get Steve Page to sic ya.”

Then, back to the audience he says, “This is a song about Peter Pocklington and what a fucking asshole he is.”  [Pocklington is perhaps best known as the owner of the Oilers and as the man who traded the rights to hockey’s greatest player, Wayne Gretzky, to the Los Angeles Kings].  The fans aren’t very vocal during the shouting, but the band sounds fanasttsic.  Just a raging set.  It segues into a blistering version of “Rock Death America.”

Not saying that they upstaged BNL at all, but that would be a hard opener to follow.

[READ: January 17, 2017] “The Quiet Car”

This is the story of a writer who had been granted a temporary teaching job at a prestigious University.  I don’t exactly know Oates’ history with Princeton, so I don’t know if she was ever in the same position as the character of this story, but I was secretly pleased when she mentioned the Institute of Advanced Study, so that it was obvious that the prestigious University was indeed Princeton.

But the story starts many years after he has left the University.  R— is standing on a train platform.  The story begins with this excellent observation: “nowhere are we so exposed, so vulnerable, as on an elevated platform at a suburban train depot.”

While R– is standing on the platform waiting for the train to New York City he notices that someone is unmistakably looking at him.  He has been recognized before–there’s a small subset of the population who really likes his books. And, in what is a wonderful detail that tells you a lot about this man: “if the stranger is reasonably attractive, whether female or male, of some possible interest to R—, he may smile and acknowledge the recognition.”

This detail proves important because as he gets on the train he begins to think about the stranger–he believes he recognized her face. (more…)

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[LISTENED TO: December 2016] The League of Beastly Dreadfuls

beastlyI was looking for an audio book to listen to with the kids and I found this one.  I didn’t know anything about it, but the title was interesting.

I never suspected just what a peculiar story this turned out to be.

It is the tale of Anastasia McCrumpet, an otherwise normal 11-year-old girl who suffers from flatulence and a mum who does little more than yell from her bed all day.  Her father is a loving man, but as of a few years ago he has been quite obsessed with vacuum cleaners.  She also has a guinea pig who is quite ill-tempered; when it feels crossed by someone, it takes revenge by pooping in their slippers.

On this particular morning, they were having a funeral.  A funeral for her father’s plant (they wound up tossing it out the window).  And then her father made them his famous waffles (which her mother screamed for upstairs).

But Anastasia was running late for school that morning because of the funeral and she ran out of the house wearing a most unusual outfit (part of a Halloween costume, which was top on the laundry pile). (more…)

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[LISTENED TO: June 29, 2016] No Girls Allowed (Dogs Okay) 

Scab McNally is a clever fourth-grade kid who is always inventing things. But he’s also kind of selfish and pretty mean to his sister.  Isabelle is his twin but because she really uses her brain (She is smart times ten) she has been bumped up from 4th grade to 5th grade.

Isabelle doesn’t understand Scab’s brand of cleverness (and mischievousness) and so she writes a daily news report about all of the things that Scab has done to her (and done at school) through the day.  She reads this to her parents every night.  It’s pretty hard for Scab to catch a break at this point.

But obviously, the more Isabelle tells on him the more things he does to her.  He puts cheese in her underwear drawer and dead bugs in her room.

This is all some background to the fact that more than anything else Scab wants a dog.  (There seem to be a lot of books about kids who desperately want a dog).  Scab’s best friend has a dog, Oscar–a wiener dog.  And Scab is super jealous but always happy to help out with Oscar.  Of course, since Isabelle is always attaining on him, his parents don’t think he is responsible to own a dog. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKJULIA JACKLIN-Tiny Desk Concert #621 (May 22, 2017).

I’d never heard of Julia Jacklin, an Australian singer-songwriter.  But I found her music to be almost painfully slow and laconic–very much like Cowboy Junkies.  It’s quite pretty, but I need a little more pep.

The blurb notes:

Julia Jacklin doesn’t need much accompaniment. Jacklin’s full-length debut, last year’s Don’t Let The Kids Win, knows just when and how to lean in to this simplicity, surrounding her with spare instrumentation that keeps that voice in the center of the frame.

For her Tiny Desk debut, Jacklin reproduces three of that album’s drowsily beautiful ballads with the aid of a backing band so restrained, you can read the effort to keep quiet on their faces.

That’s all very true.  Her music is slow and sometimes it’s so quiet that it’s all about her voice which is pretty (but drowsy).

“Don’t Let The Kids Win” is slow and quiet.  The guitar is so quiet you can hear her pick hitting the strings as she strums.  It’s unclear that Julia is Australian until she sings  “don’t want them growing up thinking three years olds are good at playing basketball” and her accent comes through on basketball).  The song eventually starts to grow a little louder with backing vocals by the end.  And I believe one climactic note from bassist Ben Whiteley (from Toronto)

“Lead Light” has considerably more pep.  The drums (from Ian Kehoe also from Toronto) are quiet but sound like gun shots in this quiet setting.  The song swings slowly with some pretty guitar lines from Eddie Boyd from Australia).

Never has a song sounded less like a pool party than “Pool Party.”  What’s interesting about singers who sing like this is that I love listening to lyrics, and yet when people sing so slowly like this I lose all forward momentum of the lyrics.  So even if they are good, I’m lost them after a verse.

[READ: April 4, 2017] “Northeast Regional”

I feel like the cover to Cline’s book The Girls was iconic in 2016.  I don’t know anything about the book, but that cover was everywhere.  So this is my first exposure to her writing.  And I rather liked it.

The story started a little clunky I thought–it took me a few paragraphs to get the flow.  But once it got going I couldn’t stop.

The story begins with Richard on a train.  He has been riding for close to five hours.  He is heading to his on Rowan’s school and we know that something bad has happened.  He keeps checking his phone.  He gets messages about his son, but nothing from Ana.

Richard has been divorced for 16 years.  His wife has primary and majority custody of their son Rowan who is now at a private school “out in the middle of nowhere.”

Richard has been seeing Ana (part a succession of married women) for some time (the divorce was over a decade ago).  He and Ana had a weekend planned together (it was the first time they would spend the night together), but nothing seemed to be going right.  Everything seemed significant to her, from groceries to clothes to movie choices.  Richard was in a mood; he hated the movie she chose (black and white?  He was only fifty.  Or fifty-one).

And then he got the phone call. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: LJOVA AND THE KONTRABAND-Tiny Desk Concert #611 (April 14, 2017).

Ljova and the Kontraband play a rollicking blend of gypsy music with a twist.

There’s a viola, an accordion, an upright bass and a hand drum.  And they play rollicking fast trad music as well as delicate sow ballads.

Ljova and the Kontraband embraces Western classical, jazz and an array of international styles including tango and Eastern European and Balkan folk music. These top-flight musicians, who hail from Russia, Lithuania, the U.S. and Switzerland, pile all of these sounds atop of each other with great glee, and emerge with creations that alight on totally new and exciting terrain.

The band is led by the composer, arranger and viola player Ljova (Lev Zhurbin), who comes by this musical eclecticism naturally: the Moscow native, who comes from a family heavily involved in the arts, has worked with an astonishingly wide and starry group of collaborators, including Jay Z, the Bollywood queen Asha Bhosle and cellist Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble. In this Kontraband setting, he and his bandmates (including Ljova’s wife, the preternaturally sweet-voiced, Lithuanian-born singer Inna Barmash) create performances of deep earthiness, fragile tenderness, ebullient humor and quicksilver shifts in texture.

“Love Potion, Expired” is one of those fast songs with twists and turns and all kinds of solos.  The middle section is practically a percussion solo by Mathias Künzli (from Switzerland).  While the strings and accordion are sort of fiddling away on a couple of notes, Künzli (on his box drum) plays a sophisticated solo on the box which also includes all manner of percussion–cymbals, clackers, shakers, finger cymbals and other things that clatter (he even includes his thigh at one point).

It’s followed by an appropriately wild accordion solo (and that instrument is gorgeous) by Patrick Farrell (from Michigan).  The song is played at breakneck speed and is really fun.

The second song introduces us to Inna Barmash (Ljova’s wife). She explains that “Ven Ikh Zol Hobn Fligelekh (If I Had Wings)” is a Yiddish folk song from Western Ukraine.  She says the beginning of the poem is translated as “If I had wings I would fly to you if i had chains I would pull you to me.”  It id played as pizzicato and strummed viola while Inna sings.

But the heart of their Tiny Desk Concert was the song “By the Campfire,” whose words have a long, strange history that goes back to the Middle Ages. The words originally come from 12th-century Germany; Ljova’s grandfather, a noted translator, translated this poem from German to Russian, which Ljova uses in his musical setting.

Barmash gave us her own English translation of this unsettling, stunning, and perhaps even prophetic text: “Lies and spite command the world / Suffocate its consciousness, / Truth is poisoned, dead is law / Honor killed — obscene extolled! / … And the wisdom of our days / Teaches theft, deceit and hate.”

There are a couple of parts to this song.  As it begins, the accordion sounds like flutes.  Barmash sings beautifully for a few verses.  And then in the middle she sings a long sustained note that seems to signal the band to start on a chaotic section with everyone playing things crazily for a few seconds.  Then she does another long note and the song turns into traditional Russian type of dance.  There are many parts and this song goes through all of them.

Before the final song Ljova apologizes for disturbing their lunch.  “Walking on Willoughby” was written by Patrick, it’s a fun, wild polka that’s seven minutes long.   There are many parts to this song as well.  At times the viola and accordion play off of each other.  There’s several opportunities from each of them to solo held together by that thumping bass by Jordan Morton (from Syracuse).

The middle slows down to a one two count as the accordion plays a disjointed sounding solo.  There’s even more after that as this song just spirals in all directions.

[READ: July 10, 2016] Lunch Lady and the Schoolwide Scuffle

This appears to be the final book of the Lunch Lady series.  The book ends on something of a cliffhanger but to the best of my knowledge, no book has come out after this one.

But don’t be sad because this is a very satisfying conclusion.

As we left book 9, Lunch Lady had been fired.  She is so despondent that when the opening pages feature bad guys doing bad things, she’s not even there to stop them. It’s the fifth bank to be robbed in two weeks and Lunch Lady is just lounging about eating ice cream.  Egads!

But even worse, the school is a shambles–the superintendent has put a portrait of herself in every room (even the bathrooms).  Te teachers have been replaced by convicts, the principal has been replaced by Mr Edison who was put away in book 3 and even more shocking, Milmoe is being nice to them–he realizes he’s in over his head as student council president. (more…)

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