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 SOUNDTRACK: GABRIEL GARZÓN MONTANO Tiny Desk Concert # 622 (May 26, 2017)

I have no idea who Gabriel Garzón Montano is.  The blurb suggests that even if I don’t know, others certainly do.

I was, admittedly, thrown for a loop when Gabriel Garzón-Montano told me that he wanted to perform unaccompanied, just him and a piano. The meticulousness of his work is clear on his debut album, Jardin, a three-year creative process in which Gabriel plays most of the instruments, tracking them to two-inch tape, layering its overall sound. Jardin takes its title as an umbrella; fruits, bugs and other plants are the driving metaphors tying together this dense work, which blooms over successive listens. Garzón-Montano doesn’t necessarily wear his heart on his sleeve — he forces you to listen and peel the layers back.

Garzón-Montano’s career trajectory veers wide — living with Philip Glass for a year while his late mother played in the composer’s ensemble, sitting under the minimal maestro’s piano as he practiced; Lenny Kravitz making possible his first tour experience; while Drake exposed Gabriel’s sound to the masses.

That decision to go it alone at the Tiny Desk made sense, though, the moment he started to play; his talent is left elegantly exposed in this unadorned performance. He says his visit to the Tiny Desk “with just piano and vocal reminds me of what is lost when a song is fully produced and arranged — it was an exciting and vulnerable experience. I was nervous for this one.”

Here then, are three songs from Jardin, along with the song that introduced Gabriel to the world… laid bare.

When I listened to this the first time I thought he played 2 longish songs but indeed, there are 4 shortish songs.

I really love the piano sound he gets but the r&b style of pop singing is not my thing and so many “babys.”

I singled out a few things in the songs.  The line in “My Balloon” “I’ll get back on my balloon and meet my baby on the moon” I find endearing even if it is kinda dumb.  I enjoyed the way “Long Ears” came seamlessly from the first song.  It starts with a high note and falsetto vocals. It’s much more interesting than the first song.  And the second half of “Long Ears” is quite interesting, almost dissonant–although I could do without the you you you section.

I thought the first line of “6 8” was “fuck me real slowly,” which was disconcerting.  Especially since a later line was “I’m just like a baby drooling over you.”  But I believe it is “rock me real slowly.”  It segues cleanly into the final song, “Crawl.”  I think he stars in the same falsetto but then switches to a deeper voice.  I love the bouncy middle section that sounds like a musical.  Although once again there’s too much oo ooo ooo ooo.

All of those vocalizings sound especially flat during an under produced occasion such as this.

[READ: April 26, 2017] “You Are Happy?”

This story was fairly straightforward, but it opened up a cultural aspect that I had no idea about.

The main character is Laskshman, an Indian boy living in the United States.  As the story opens, we see Lakshman’s grandmother telling Lakshman’s father that he should break his wife’s arms and legs to prevent her from getting to the bottle.

Lakshman’s mother is an alcoholic, and, apparently, there is no greater disgrace for an Indian woman.  At parties–parties that were usually segregated–she often joined the men and drank and gave her opinions, to the disgust of all present.

She had begun drinking was Lakshman was 8 and they moved to America.   But by the time he was 9 she was drinking during dinner.  When he turned 11 she was drinking during the day.  His father had had enough.  He stated matter of factly that she was a drunkard.  Their marriage had been arranged and they never grew to love one another.  This certainly didn’t help. (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:  CHICANO BATMAN-Tiny Desk Concert #612 (April 17, 2017).

In the blurb for this show, Felix says that he was sol by their name.  And I am too.  It’s a great name.  And yet it is not entirely useful in terms of musical style.  But he summarizes pretty nicely:

a sound that perfectly captures dark lounges, quinceañera dances, car shows and backyard parties.

That lounge sound is completely evident with the keyboard tone–old fashioned and bachelor pad-like.  But this is no bachelor pad music, because behind the keys are some groovy and at time funky bass (from Eduardo Arenas) and some cool guitar wah wahs (from Carlos Arevalo) and more.

Holding it all together is Gabriel Villa on drums and then on keys and guitar and vocals is Bardo Martinez.  Martinez sings in such a cool, laid-back manner.  It’s often a gentle falsetto but it always feel like he is just chillin’ and singing these groovy songs.

And they also wears suits with bow ties.

“Freedom is Free” is a delicate and groovy song with lots of wah wah guitar and a cool echoing guitar solo.  It’s also got a great bass line.  The song is sweet and catchy with a great wah wah build up at the sudden ending.

“Friendship (Is A Small Boat In A Storm)” has been quite popular on the radio here and man is it catchy.  The loungey organ and vocals are a great start, but the way the chorus just burst forth after the first verse–the backing singers (Nya Parker Brown and Piya Malik) hit the marks perfectly and then the staccato guitar riffs after that.  Its irresistible. (Parker Brown and Malik are from the band 79.5 and have been touring with them).

The ladies leave for the final song, “Jealousy.”  There’s a great funky bass line and fun drums before the song turns rather mellow.  I love the between chorus riffs.  Although I find the main song a little too slow, it probably works well between faster songs.

And they are all so polite and charming, I’m sure I’d enjoy seeing them live.

[READ: February 20, 2017] “The Prairie Wife”

I recently read another story by Sittenfeld in the New Yorker and really enjoyed it.  And this one was not only great and wonderfully written, it was full of surprises.

It’s hard to write about without giving away some of the surprises because they were so good.

But here’s a spoiler free attempt.

Kirsten is married with two kids.  The family has a routine and it involves Kirsten waking up and getting the boys up in time for school.  But lately she has been using her morning time to look at Lucy Headrick’s Twitter feed. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SINKANE-Tiny Desk Concert #610 (April 10, 2017).

I’ve heard of Sinkane but I didn’t really know much about them.  Not knowing what to expect, it was really fun to watch this show and see such diversity in the band.

Their music kind of defies categorization, which the blurb addresses:

Sinkane is the music of Ahmed Gallab — and such hopeful music it is. He grew up in London and has lived in Sudan and in Ohio and, these days, New York City. His band reflects his own love for music from around the world; you can hear a great New York jazz band in the rhythms of Sinkane, but you can also hear the influence of Bob Marley and the hypnotic repetition of Sudanese desert sounds.

“U’Huh”is the first song.  Ahmed says “You can help us out with this song you just have to say ‘u’huh.'”  The song is fun right from the bat.  The verses are catchy, with each line ending with “u’huh” (although singing partner Amanda Khiri  looks a little intent as she sings that affirmative line).  Ahmed sings with a surprising falsetto–which plays off against the repeated “u’huh.”

The song contains the Arabic phrase “kulu shi tamaam,” which translates to “everything’s great — it’s all going to be all right.”  And when it gets to the chorus, it grabs hold and won’t let go.

I love that there’s kind of reggae guitars (by Johnny Lam) and a surprising amount of acoustic piano (which you don’t hear all that much in reggae) from Elanna Canlas.  I also love that all of s sudden yo become very aware of all of the percussion, like a small triangle and cowbell and other things.  Those are all played by guest percussionist Reggie Pace from No BS! Brass Band.

“Favorite Song” opens with snaps /claps and a slinky guitar riff, a pulsing bass (Ish Montgomery) and a fun piano melody.  No falsetto for most of the main vocal lines and the great chorus “wont you play my favorite song….”

“Deadweight” has a cool dark riff on bass and guitar and the guitar uses a glass slide as well.  The bass and drums (Jason Trammell) are a great rhythm section.  Ahmed and Amanda sing a duet and they sound great together.  Then the whole band sings together.  I love that the piano plays little melodies that seem to be different from the rest of the song and yet work perfectly.  The guitar solo at the end comes as a surprise but it sounds terrific.

This is a fun, uplifting set from a really interesting band.

[READ: February 1, 2017] “Underground”

I really enjoyed this story quite a bit.  Although, as I think about it more, it almost seems like three unrelated episodes and makes me wonder if this is an excerpt from something bigger.

This is the story of Michael Salter.  Michael is forty-seven.  He’s recently divorced and even more recently come out as gay.  He has three distinct portions to his day.

The first is him at home with his most recent “boyfriend” Jeremy, a twenty-something guy he picked up on Grindr.  Michael is old-fashioned and formal.  He dresses beautifully (and has done so ever since he was little–learning to tie his own bow tie in school).  [There’s an odd line here “Mr. Collins, his Latin teacher, had taught him, and after an hour of practice Michael had the knot mastered along with a boner-size bruise on his backside.”  I have several possible ideas about what this means, but the “boner-sized bruise” just doesn’t make literal sense to me.]

Anyhow, Michael is a fancy older guy and Jeremy is a young stud.  Jeremy posts selfies all day and has thousands of followers.  Somehow this is part of his job.  At seven dates, Jeremy had become Michael’s most serious boyfriend.  And yet Michael is constantly checking Grindr, more in sheer amazement at the technology and the ease of cruising than for actually wanting to do anything. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: OVERCOATS-Tiny Desk Concert #607 (March 27, 2017).

Overcoats is Hana Elion and JJ Mitchell.  They sing beautiful duets–sometimes in harmony, sometimes in unison–but always perfectly together.  And they seem to have an incredible affection for each other–notice the way they hug each other at the end of the show.

I was intrigued by the blurb that says:

Behind those rich voices lies a spare electronic backdrop that feels spacious and refreshing. Not long ago, these songs would likely be backed by a nylon-stringed guitar, but their healthy energy feels more urgent with an underpinning drone and Joao Gonzalez’s drumming.

And it’s true.  As the songs progress, you do rather expect to hear more folk sounds, but instead the songs are almost dancey, certainly soulful.  At times they are dancey, as the duo do some really fun dances too.

“23” opens with Elion’s guitar and slightly higher voice.  She and Mitchell switch off lead vocals until Mitchell pays some keyboards which broadens the sound…slightly.  As the song nears its end Mitchell puts some synths on a loop, the women sing a round of Ahhs until a great delicate moment at the and as Elion slides her hand up the neck of her guitar ringing out that chord higher and higher until the end.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen two people smile so much and be so happy about what they are doing and who they are with.

JJ introduces “Leave the Light On” by saying “Hana has a life long dream to do a Tiny Desk.  She’s actually retiring after this show.”  This song is much more dancey.  They both sing the line “leave the light on for myself when I come home” and then the Gonzalez samples it ( I assume) and loops it.  There’s not a lot to the song, but it’s quite infectious, especially as they dance wildly between verses, swinging their arms and smiling at each other.  They even put their arms around each other while they sing .

“Hold Me Close” is a pretty ballad that’s slower and more poignant.  And they do hold each other close as they sing.  When they sing the last few words to each other you can feel the love between them.  It’s really something.

I didn’t mention the fact that they are wearing identical white tunics, because no one else did. I don’t know if that’s how they dress on stage, but it really makes a visual statement.  I also can’t imagine them singing in a larger space than the Tiny Desk.  The performance is so intimate what would they do with a bigger stage?

[READ: January 25, 2017] “You Never Really Know”

This comic piece goes from funny to very funny to fairly insane in a matter of a few paragraphs.

The story begins with a strange misunderstanding.  The narrator saw a homeless man holding out a cup and begging for change. But as he got closer her realized the man was not homeless and that the cup was actually full of coffee!

Then he notes that his fiancée would probably step over a guy like that without a second thought.

He cites some other examples of how the world is full of surprises: The C.E.O. of a Fortune 500 company could turn out the be the greatest basketball player. And, his mother, a nurse, could be speaking to that man’s fiancée behind his back.

You never know what’s going on.  Until you hire a lawyer. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SAMPHA-Tiny Desk Concert #605 (March 21, 2017).

The name Sampha sounded sorta familiar.  I see that he is a producer to the stars (Kayne, Drake).  He’s also a musician in his own right.  The blurb says “Sampha’s music is more feel everything than feel good, which is why his fans hold him so close to their hearts.”

Sampha plays three songs:

The vulnerability on his debut, Process, isn’t hard to dissect, but can be downright agonizing to digest; his immediate family has been riddled with disease and ailments, with both his parents succumbing to cancer. Process finds Sampha interpreting this complicated emotional prism — and confronting his own mortality through it.

Sampha stopped by the NPR offices to perform 3 tracks from Process. The result is a Tiny Desk Concert as intimate as it gets (and that’s saying something). It’s just him, a piano and these heart-wrenching songs that we reckon double as coping mechanisms.

“Plastic 100°C” is played on the keyboard with all kinds of trippy sounds introducing the main song.  I like the main riff, which is full of interesting minor key notes.  I’m not really sold on his voice though, which is kind of nebulous here.  I’m not sure what his recording sounds like, but the starkness of this song makes me surprised that it is popular.  It’s quite long as well–almost 7 minutes.

The final two songs are on piano

“(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano” is an ode to the piano and his reflecting on how important his mother was in his life.  “Blood On Me” is an intense song with some intense singing.  Neither one strikes me as being particularly poppy or marketable, but he clearly has found his audience.

[READ: January 20, 2017] “Quarantine”

The story was so interesting, both in content and pacing.  I really enjoyed it a lot…until the end.

The story follows Bridget.  As it opens, we learn that she lived in Barcelona fora year.  She stayed with college friends, then she sublet from a guy named Marco.  She slept with Bernadette and her roommate Laurie–but not at the same time–although the thing with Laurie upset Bernadette happy.  Then she did something stupid in Marco’s apartment and got kicked out of there as well.  She moved to a cheap hotel until her co-worker Angela rescued her.

Angela was from Vancouver, “and some dewy freshness that Bridget associated with the West Coast seemed to cling to her always, even when she was sleep-deprived or drunk.”  Bridget is also from Canada. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: TANK AND THE BANGAS-Tiny Desk Concert #603 (March 10, 2017).

Tank and the Bangas won this year’s Tiny Desk Contest.  And here is their official Tiny Desk Concert.

There is something so alive and fun about Tank and the Bangas.  I definitely get their appeal and how much fun they are live.  There are seven members–five musicians and two singers.  The musicians are top-notch–and almost never stop, they seem to keep the groove going even between songs while Tank hangs with the audience.

And then there’s the two singers.  Jelly is an amazing hype woman.  Her voice is terrific wit ha great deal of range and delivery style.  And then there’s Tank, versatile, emotional, funny and sweet but not to be trifled with.

I really like a lot about them.  I just wish I liked their music a little more.

“Boxes And Squares” opens with a groovy riff and a great flute intro.  Tank begins by speaking in a strangely childish voice “I like that, Albert [the flautist], but it’s missing something.  It’s missing you [the audience], can I get a snap?”  She switches to some deeper voices as she sings/recites/raps the lyrics.  Tank is adorable and fun with her huge hair pulled off to thee side and spiked with purple.

I have no idea what she’s going on about in the beginning of the song–I would have been the milk, I would have been the sup etc.  Then she switches to a kind of rapping style.  Then she interacts with Jelly: “You are like a loop.”  “A what?”  “You are like a loop.”  “A what, girl?”  “You don’t understand me?” “I don’t understand what you’re saying.” “You are like a loop a hoop.  Like I’m going round and round with you like the o’s in my soup.”  There’s much laughter and fun.

I really do like the way Tank and Jelly play off of each other with the staccato riffing about whatever it is they are singing about “you…you…you”

The end of the song is a funny improv of her being excited that she won Tiny Desk.  It’s fun and funky with some great synth and bass underneath (her vocal delivery is crazy diverse).

“Quick” was their winning entry, which sounds pretty different from their contest version (I find this version to be far more dynamic and the sounds to be really cool).  But once again the focus of this song is on the two front women who are fun and vibrant and have great vocal range.

I really like the chanting: “who who who gonna save me now? (points to the audience).”    “I don’t know.” “I don’t know.”

They have a ton of fun introducing the band–singing the band members names and joking with each other.  The music pretty much never stops.

Even as they segue into the final song, “Rollercoasters.”  In New Orleans, there’s a theme park that still says “will open after storm.”  She asks “why people rode those big roller coasters.  The feeling of throwing up gave them some type of excitement that they did not receive on a regular day.”

But the song is about when she finally did ride a rollercoaster–the butterflies and fireflies fighting in my stomach.  The song is quite emotional–she even seems to be crying during the delivery.  “Jelly sings over and over fly fly fly (in a falsetto) and then oh oh oh oh in a deep voice–very cool.  I’m not sure how much of the song is improv or what’s normally there.  Rollercoasters are for people like me who have never been in love–who want to know how it feels to just fall.”  When the song ends, Tanks mumbles, “Shit, I’m such a crybaby).

Here’s a bit more detail about the band from the blurb:

Out of over 6,000 entries — more submissions than we’ve ever received — Tank And The Bangas won, unanimously, this year’s Tiny Desk Contest. I fully expected their victory performance here at NPR headquarters in D.C. to be celebratory. I didn’t know we’d all end up in tears.

This band [Tarriona Tank Ball (vocals); Jelly Joseph (vocals); Merell Burkett Jr. (keys); Norman Spence II (keys); Joshua Johnson (drums); Jonathan Johnson (bass); Albert Allenback (saxophone)] combines R&B with hip-hop’s poetry and rollercoaster storytelling, with a flair and alchemy that could only come from New Orleans. Their winning song, “Quick,” mixes liquor and revenge — a sort of modern day take on a great folk tale, but peppered with their own idiosyncratic flair and humor. What I couldn’t see, until they took over my desk, was the depth of their lyricism and the versatility of their players. At one moment fun-filled funk, the next laid-back jazz, rhythm-driven blues — and it all flows seamlessly. And it’s fun to watch: There’s a magic kinship between Tarriona “Tank” Ball and Anjelika “Jelly” Joseph as they share singing roles, like two best friends finishing one another’s sentences.

So yes, i wish I liked them a little better.  But I’ll clarify.  I enjoyed this and watched it a few times.  I wouldn’t  go out of my way to see them live, but I’ll bet it would be a lot of fun.  And I’m petty excited for them that they won.

[READ: January 11, 2017] “Chairman Spaceman”

I see that I have enjoyed a bunch of stories by Thomas Pierce.  And I enjoyed this one as well.

Don Whipple, the notorious corporate raider had given away his entire fortune–everything–houses, cars, cash–to a religion.  The religion is called God’s Plan for Space and his money has earned him a one way trip to a distant, habitable planet.  He will be frozen–and not aging–for the duration of the flight.

They wish to establish a more egalitarian society on another planet and to spread the message of God’s love to e unexplored solar systems.

The story opens on his going away party–he is leaving in a day or two. All kinds of wealthy people are there to see him off  And he was happy to never see them again.  But he was also attempting to make amends with as many people as he could. (more…)

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