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rand SOUNDTRACKPISTOLERA-Tiny Desk Concert #199  (March 1 2012).

pistolPistolera is the brain child of a woman from Brooklyn who wanted to showcase music made in Mexico. [RESIST THE WALL].

The motivation was a longing for Mexican music on the part of the band’s principal songwriter and lead vocalist, Sandra Velasquez, a California native who was studying music in New York. Her solution: to form a band that played the music of her youth.

Sandra plays acoustic guitar and sings.   She is accompanied by a five string bass, accordion, electric guitar and percussion.  She has a delicate voice and sings everything in Spanish.

“Polvo” is pretty song.  She plays a lovely finger-picked guitar while everyone else adds flourishes to flesh out the song–never overpowering her voice or guitar.  The song has a louder moment with some oh oh oh ohs before growing quiet again.  It ends as prettily as it began with the delicate finger picking.

“Ponle Frenos” means put on the brakes.  She wrote this after having her first child when she realized that she needed to rest from time to time.  It is upbeat and bouncey with a reggae feel in the verse.  And there’s a fun refrain of what I hear as “beep beep beep.”

“La Despedida” is the final song, appropriately translated as “The Goodbye.”   This song feature “the symbol of the dessert,” the donkey jaw.  It is a quiet and slow ballad with bongos as the featured percussion.  There is great work from the (mostly unseen) electric guitar–nothing fancy but adding great textures and melodies over the main acoustic guitar.  He also adds a beautiful, lonesome-sounding guitar solo.  About 3 minutes in, the percussion starts playing the jaw bone along with the bongos.  He just hits it with his fist to make the rattle sound,  And then, she walks “off stage” with her guitar—standing in the audience watching.  And then the accordionist puts her instrument down and walks off—leaving just bass guitar and percussion. Then the bass departs.  After the last chords ring out the guitarist leaves just the bongo and donkey jawbone.  After a measure or two, he gets up and walks through the audience with the jaw.  It’s a great ending to the set.

It’s wonderful hearing music from other cultures, especially one that is so close to us, yet which we tend to spurn.  RESIST THE WALL.

[READ: January 27, 2017] “I Was Ayn Rand’s Lover”

This story was written near the election of Obama’s first term when Paul Ryan was a weasel with bad ideas but little power.  Now, sadly he is a weasel with worse ideas, no spine whatsoever and access to a lot of power.  But this essay is at least a fun way to make fun of him.  It begins like this:

Many of my Republican friends have said to me, “George, why are you voting for Barack Obama?” They assume it is because I believe in his radical socialist agenda of being fair to everyone, even the poor. But that’s not it at all. I could actually care less about the poor. We have some living near us, and pee-yew. They are always coming and going to their three or four jobs at all hours of the day and night. Annoying! No, the reason I am voting for Obama is more complicated.

The reason is that back in 1974, when he was just 17 and she was an internationally famous author, he and Ayn Rand were lovers: (more…)

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oct28SOUNDTRACK: JASON LYTLE-Tiny Desk Concert #249 (November 5, 2012).

sonJason Lytle was Grandaddy.  Sure there were other people in the band, but it was pretty much all him.  And then he dissolved Grandaddy and started recording discs under his own name.

I loved Granddaddy, but didn’t listen to any of his solo stuff.  So I don’t really know how different it sounds.  For this Tiny Desk Concert, he plays two songs from his 2012 solo album Dept. of Disappearance and one Grandaddy track.

“Willow Wand Willow Wand” is a catchy song with just him and a drum machine playing a backing beat.  He sounds like the guy from Grandaddy but slightly different….

Introducing “Get Up and Go,” he explains that he’s been really enjoying playing his songs in this stripped down format.  He really likes making records that are big and produced.  And now he likes not feeling pressure to do them in concert that way.  He’s happy to not try to pull off all of the bells and whistles in a live environment.  “Get Up and Go” is a “happy and peppy song and this isn’t a happy and peppy version of it.”

This song is quite slow.  Again its him on guitar but at the appropriate moments in the chorus he hits a key on the keyboard and a little melody (very Granddaddy) plays briefly.

After this song you can hear Stephen Thompson ask “Robin, you like this?” to much laughter.

He says he finished an hour long session at Sirius XM.  He was completely by himself and he was really comfortable.  But playing music in front of people makes him nervous—you’d think he had it down by now.  But he tells us “if you’ve never done it before as weird as you imagine it being… it’s that weird.”

The final song is a request for Grandaddy’s “Jed the Humanoid” and that’s when I realized why he sounds different.  He sings slightly more falsetto in Granddaddy than on the solo songs.  It’s very subtle, but I can hear it.  The original of this song is very synthy, so hearing it on acoustic guitar (with the lyrics very clear) really changes the feel of the song.

After a verse, he turns a knob on the keyboard and this weird frog-like sound bubbles under the song (similar to the one on the record, which is neat).

And as he leaves the Desk, you can hear Robin say “the saddest song in the world.”

[READ: July 20, 2016] “Samsa in Love”

Basing a story on another story can be risky, especially when the story you base yours on is incredibly famous with a first line that many people can quote without looking.

But Murakami does something very interesting with Gregor Samsa in this story.  “He woke to discover that he had undergone a metamorphosis and become Gregor Samsa.”  We don’t know who or what “he” was before this and neither does he.  He’s not even sure exactly what he is–but he knows his name.

The first few paragraphs are all about him getting used to even being human–scoffing at his body, wondering why he was so cold and what that gnawing pain was in his stomach–hunger, it turns out.  He spends several paragraphs just trying to learn how to walk on two legs.  It’s all somewhat comical although not exactly funny.

Finally he gets downstairs–the table has been set for a meal but no one is there. Everything is still warm and yet the house appears empty. No matter, he tucks into the food wand eats everything.  Then he sets about trying to cover himself.  He looks out the window and sees everyone dressed, but he’s not willing to even attempt to put clothes on so he grabs a dressing gown and slips into that. (more…)

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TNY 8.25.08 cvr.inddSOUNDTRACK: BIG THIEF-Tiny Desk Concert #561 (August 29, 2016).

bigthiefBob Boilen absolutely loves Big Thief’s debut album (it made his top ten this year).  I think it’s really good, but I don’t quite love it the way he does.

But I think their first song, “Masterpiece” is really a great song.  And in this Tiny Desk Concert, they play it with a slightly different feel.  It seems to allow the sounds of the guitars to come through a little more.  Like the album, though, the harmonies are wonderful.

When the video started, the camera focused on just Adrianne Lenker and Buck Meek, and since the first song starts with just the two of them I wasn’t even sure of the whole band was there.  They are, although it’s odd how isolated the rhythms section looks in this video.

“Paul” is a mellow song with a strangely subdued and yet catchy chorus.  It’s kind of funny to watch Buck Meek really getting down to what is a fairly mellow track–although his guitar parts are pretty cool blasts of music.

“Lorraine” also get a mellow treatment here.  For this version it’s just her singing and playing the guitar.  It works very well in this Tiny setting and her voice really shines.

[READ: March 1, 2016] “Awake”

This story is about a college Economics major who just can’t get enough sex.

Well, that’s how it starts anyhow.  Richard is lying in bed next to Ana.  He moves in close behind her, hinting.  But she moves away quickly (she is actually asleep, so that’s a reflex).  He is annoyed although he shouldn’t be–I mean they did it twice already that night.

So instead of thinking about sex he decides to think about something else.  But what? (more…)

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rek2SOUNDTRACK: OF MONTREAL-Tiny Desk Concert #263 (January 28, 2013).

of-montrealWhen I saw that Of Montreal was doing a Tiny Desk Concert I really had no idea what to expect.  I mean, it could have been anything.  The blurb even jokes that Of Montreal concerts have been described as “wildly theatrical,” “flamboyant,” “synchronized dancing” and having “strange, wandering creatures that look like amoebas.”

So I was absolutely not expecting to see two guys with acoustic guitars and a woman singing a gentle folk song.  I actually double checked to make sure I was watching the right show.

Evidently around this time, Kevin Barnes (the man behind Of Montreal) had been working on quieter, more personal work. And so we get these three songs which are, more or less, Barnes solo.

The first song, “Feminine Effects” has the assistance of singer Rebecca Cash and guitarist Bryan Poole.  Cash sings the entire song, and it’s quite lovely, if not a little dark.

The next two songs “Imbecile Rages” and “Amphibian Days” are Barnes by himself, strumming guitar and singing.  The music is fairly straightforward, although he does throw in some unexpected chords which makes the songs stand out. And, of course, his lyrics and delivery are quirky. His enunciation is peculiar and even more pronounced in this setting.

This is a real surprise for Of Montreal fans, and frankly almost a red herring for anyone new to the band.

[READ: December 31, 2016] The Impossible Fortress

Sarah received an advanced reader’s copy of this book from her friend Mary Lynn and thought I would like it.  And boy did I ever.  I read this book in half a day.  It’s a quick read and while not profound of life-changing, it was really fun and funny–with a fairly dark twist.

There are two major plots in this book and they intertwine very nicely.

The first–the “action” plot–involves the Vanna White Playboy issue.  The second–the main character plot–involves coding a video game on a Commodore 64.  For this book is set in 1987 in the suburban New Jersey town of Wetbridge.  Our protagonists are 14-year-old boys who never really fit into other cliques.

The story is about Billy Marvin.  He never knew his father and his mother has started working the overnight shift at the Food Mart to make an extra dollar an hour.  Billy’s mom has really high hopes for Billy.  But his school life is pretty dismal.  His mom believes that Billy is really smart and she tries to get Billy into honors classes.  But his grades indicate remedial classes.  If he can succeed in these classes he can get moved up.  But he does not succeed. At all. (more…)

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thrilignSOUNDTRACK: ADIA VICTORIA-Tiny Desk Concert #544 (June 30, 2016).

adiaAdia Victoria has a rough, raw voice that goes well with her simple, exposed guitar sound.  The blurb says her music “carries the singular perspective of a Southern black woman with a Seventh Day Adventist upbringing, who never felt like she’d fit in.”

She sings three song, mostly in a great, raspy voice.  For “Stuck in the South” she actually seems to be gritting her teeth as she sings: “I don’t know nothing ’bout Southern belles / but I can tell you something ’bout Southern hell.”  When the first verse ends, and her band kicks in, it adds such interesting textures.  a distorted bass and a lead guitar playing quietly distorted sounds.  This song is really captivating.

“And Then You Die” with its swirling sounds and keyboards has a very distinctly Nick Cave feel–gothic in the Southern sense of the word.  Indeed, the first verse is spoken in a delivery that would make Nick proud. This is no to say she cribbed from Cave but it would work very well as a companion song  I really like the way it builds, but the ending is so abrupt–I could have used some more verses.

After the second song the band heads away and Bob says “They’re all leaving you.”  She looks at them and growls, “Get off the stage!” to much laughter.

She sings the final song “Heathen” with just her on acoustic guitar.  It is a simple two chord song.  It’s less interesting than the others, but again, it’s the lyrics that stand out: “I guess that makes me a heathen, something lower than dirt / I hear them calling me heathen, ooh like they think it hurts.”

I’m curious to hear just what Adia would do with these songs when she’s not in this Tiny format.  I imagine she can be really powerful.

[READ: November 23, 2016] McSweeney’s Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales

For some reason or another I have put off reading this McSweeney’s volume for many years.  This is technically McSweeney’s #10, although it was also released in this printing from a  major publisher. Sadly for me, my McSweeney’s subscription had expired sometime around here so I’ve never actually seen the “official” Volume 10 which I understand has the exact same content but a slightly different cover.

One of the reasons I’ve put off reading this was the small print and pulpy paper–I don’t like pulpy paper.  And it was pretty long, too.

But I think the big reason is that I don’t really like genre fiction.  But I think that’s the point of this issue.  To give people who read non-genre fiction some exposure to genre stuff.

Interestingly I think I’ve learned that I do enjoy some genre fiction after all.  And yet, a lot of the stories here really weren’t very genre-y.  Or very thrilling.  They seemed to have trappings of genre ideas–mystery, horror–but all the while remaining internal stories rather than action-packed.

Which is not to say I didn’t enjoy anything here. I enjoyed a bunch of the stories quite a bit, especially if I didn’t think of them as genre stories.  Although there were a couple of less than exiting stories here, too. (more…)

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2016-12-05-21-06-09SOUNDTRACK: MARTHA WAINWRIGHT-Tiny Desk Concert #252 (November 26, 2012).

I’d published these posts without Soundtracks while I was reading the calendars.  But I decided to add Tiny Desk Concerts to them when I realized that I’d love to post about all of the remaining 100 or shows and this was a good way to knock out 25 of them.

marthaI have been a fan of Loudon Wainwright III for many years.  He has a very musical family and Martha Wainwright is his daughter.  Kate McGarrigle is also her mom, so that’s some lineage.

I’ve enjoyed some of Martha’s earlier songs.  I especially enjoyed her song “Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole” which “was inspired by her father. She wrote the track as a response to her father’s way of writing songs about his family, rather than tending to them.”  Ouch.

But that was almost ten years earlier than this show.  Nevertheless, as the blurb says: “Martha Wainwright’s songs examine uncomfortable moments and life experiences gone wrong, but as she acknowledges in between songs at this Tiny Desk Concert, she often has to fudge her own life story to make the details more unsettling.”

I’ve always wanted to like Martha more, but I find her music to be simply … okay.

She begins with “Some People.”  From what I recall of her earlier songs, she seems more singer-ish and tuneful on this song, as if her voice has gotten more powerful.  She holds some really long notes, too.  As I listened to this song I kept imagining Patti Smith—in voice and attitude.

About the second song, “Can You Believe It?” she says “we are referring to it as the single which is always very funny.”  As an introduction, she says her husband is the punching bag for this album.  Anybody else would have left me by now.  But he has an “understanding of the power and importance of freedom of expression in art and also exaggeration.”  This song has her frank lyrics: “I really like the make up sex it’s the only kind I ever get.”  I can see why this would be marketed as a single–even if there’s a line about “a storm of shit,” it is one of the catchier things she’s written.

She explains that right as her mother, the great Kate McGarrigle, died her son was born.  This is her first song about motherhood–she assumes her son will want it to be her last as well.  What’s strange about “Everything Wrong” is that between the chord structure and her “ay ay ays”at the end of the lines, this song sounds  lot like Rod Stewart’s “Young Turks.”

So I find that I feel the same about Martha as I did before.

[READ: December 19, 2016] “Baby’s On Fire”

Near the end of November, I found out about The Short Story Advent Calendar.  Which is what exactly?  Well…

The Short Story Advent Calendar returns, not a moment too soon, to spice up your holidays with another collection of 24 stories that readers open one by one on the mornings leading up to Christmas.  This year’s stories once again come from some of your favourite writers across the continent—plus a couple of new crushes you haven’t met yet. Most of the stories have never appeared in a book before. Some have never been published, period.

I already had plans for what to post about in December, but since this arrived I’ve decided to post about every story on each day.

This may have been my favorite story of the book so far.

Marston’s protagonist is a forty-nine year old woman, Margaret.  When we first see her, she is climbing to her seat with two glasses of wine in her hands.  She’s trying to take off her coat–but she can’t put down her wine.  Her husband, Amos, is next to her but is not really helping.  I love that he “is shifting from buttock to buttock…as if by going through the motions of helping her in his mind he might actually help her.”

The two are at a concert.  She plans to rock out with her husband and then after the show go to a hotel and have wild sex–something they haven’t done in a long time.  I loved also that she imagined them falling right onto the bed when they got to the hotel.  “(OK maybe they would just fall asleep–it had been a long day–and do it in the morning).” (more…)

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2016-12-05-21-06-09SOUNDTRACK: JANET FEDER-Tiny Desk Concert #233 (August 6, 2012).

I’d published these posts without Soundtracks while I was reading the calendars.  But I decided to add Tiny Desk Concerts to them when I realized that I’d love to post about all of the remaining 100 or shows and this was a good way to knock out 25 of them.

federJanet Feder is an amazing guitarist.  I enjoyed the simple act of her picking out the notes in a chord and simultaneously using her pinky to play harmonics on two different strings.

But beyond that she has a great sound. In part it’s the guitar which is a nylon-string baritone electric! But it’s also because of the way she prepares her strings—she gets interesting bell sounds and other rattling noises.  These aren’t the focus of the song,  just the accents of them.

The first song is not an instrumental, it’s called “Angles And Exits.” She says that she was used to not singing since she primarily played classical music.  But she has enjoyed adding voice to her songs.  Her voice is soft and delicate.  The song works with words, but it would probably be fine without them.

It looks like she has some kind of thing on the first fret on the high strings—so an open notes gets that bell sound.  She says that these additions to the guitar have allowed her to have fun playing the guitar again.

She describes what she does on the second song “Heater.”  She puts a device on her string to make a great sound.  Although even after she describes it I don’t understand how it works.  She begins the song by pulling on what sounds like an uncoiled guitar string ratcheting it tighter ad tighter.  When she finally gets to the melody, her playing is excellent—all over the guitar but not really flashy, just interesting.  The melody in the slow part at the end is enchanting.

“I Hear Voices” opens with harmonics and a rattling on the strings—a neat combination of heavenly notes and noise from an alligator clip on the strings.  It’s a mesmerizing and very cool sound and a beautiful song too.

[READ: December 16, 2016] “The Heaviest Dress”

Near the end of November, I found out about The Short Story Advent Calendar.  Which is what exactly?  Well…

The Short Story Advent Calendar returns, not a moment too soon, to spice up your holidays with another collection of 24 stories that readers open one by one on the mornings leading up to Christmas.  This year’s stories once again come from some of your favourite writers across the continent—plus a couple of new crushes you haven’t met yet. Most of the stories have never appeared in a book before. Some have never been published, period.

I already had plans for what to post about in December, but since this arrived I’ve decided to post about every story on each day.

This is the story of a young Jewish girl returning to her home in Montreal after some time in New York City.

The girl’s parents died when she was five and she had lived with her Aunt Rita and Uncle Mort ever since.  She felt that their house was never hers, and so it never grew mundane.  In the past year she had moved to New York City to go to fashion school. (more…)

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