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Archive for the ‘Short Story’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: DAKHABRAKHA-“Kolyskova” NPR’S SOUTH X LULLABY (March 21, 2017).

I loved DakhaBrakha’s Tiny Desk Concert.  It was mesmerizing and beautiful.  And so the performers came to SXSW and did a lullaby.  And as the blurb says, they brought their “cello, keyboard, accordion – and tall, wool hats! — to the balcony of the Hilton Austin hotel.”

This lullaby of “Kolyskova” quiets things down a bit.  The song opens with simple keyboard notes.  One of the women sings, and when they reach the end of the verse, the male accordionist sings a falsetto that matches the women’s tone.  The woman on drums makes a strange sound–like a baby crying or animal yelping.

Then he winds up singing lead on the second verse in that falsetto with the women singing backing vocals.  Then the cello and drums kick in to build the sound.   The third verse is sung by the cellist as the keys play a pretty melody.

The song is upbeat with lots of bouncy vocals, even though the lyrics seem rather dark.  ‘The band only ever calls it “Lullaby.” It’s a quiet, contemplative song that the band says is a “connecting of several lullabies” with “philosophical lyrics that [say] we have time for everything — time to laugh and cry, time to live and die.’

I love at the very end as the song slows down to just the keyboardist singing because the drummer adds a very cool breathing as a kind of percussion accompaniment.  And then as the camera pulls back the two attack the keyboard making a cacophony of fun notes.  I bet they’re a lot of fun live.

[READ: June 2 2016] Explorer: The Hidden Doors

This is the third (and I assume final) in a series of graphic novel short stories edited by Kazu Kibuishi, the creator of Amulet.

I really enjoyed the first one a lot and was pretty excited to read the rest. As with the other two I was delighted by the authors involved and the quality of these stories.

The three books are not related to each other (aside from thematic) so it doesn’t matter what order you read them in.

This book revolves around the theme of “hidden doors.”  I like the way each author takes a concept that seems like it would be pretty standard and turns their stories into things that are very different indeed. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK:  NINA DIAZ & Y LA BAMBA’s LUZ ELENA MENDOZA-“January 9th” & “Living Room” NPR’S SOUTH X LULLABY (March 20, 2017).

I was intrigued by this pairing because Luz Elena Mendoza has a shirt buttoned up to her neck and, from the angle of the first song, it appears that she has her long sleeves down, while Nina Diaz (originally from Girlfriend in a Coma) is wearing a sleeveless T-shirt with tattoos showing up and down her arms.  They seem somewhat mismatched.  Until they sing.  (And also during the second song when it becomes obvious that Luz Elena’s arms are covered in tattoos as well).

The two have never played together, but after NPR Music paired them in the courtyard of St. David’s Episcopal Church for a late evening performance, we’re beginning to wonder why not. They’ve both played the Tiny Desk (Diaz twice, once with Girl In A Coma) and both navigate complex emotions and notions of identity in their music. Also, they just sing beautifully together, Mendoza’s yodel swirling in Diaz’s gritty croon.

Luz Elena’s song “Living Room” is first.  She plays guitar and sings. It’s a short song with Nina’s nice high harmonies over Luz Elena’s deeper voice.  The blurb also notes: Mendoza shares a brand-new song here, “Living Room.” When the two harmonize its confession — “I feel like I’ve been undressing all my thoughts in front of you” — it is, in tandem, starkly intimate and separate.

Nina Diaz’ song “January 9th” is a bit more fun (partially because I know it from her Tiny Desk Concert, but also because it’s a bit more upbeat).  I like Diaz’ singing quite a bit.  Mendoza’s backing vocals add nicely to the “bad one/sad one” part of the chorus.  The blurb adds: “It’s a bluesy ballad with a through line of ’60s pop, a tribute to her late grandmother, cooed and howled into a warm Austin evening.”

Future collaborations should be called for.

[READ: June 27, 2016] Explorer: The Lost Islands

This is the second in series of graphic novel short stories edited by Kazu Kibuishi, the creator of Amulet.

The three books are not related to each other (aside from thematic) so it doesn’t matter what order you read them in.

This first one is all about “lost islands.”  What was neat about this book was that since the premise of an island is so broad, the stories were all very different. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: L.A. SALAMI-“Day To Day (For 6 Days A Week)” NPR’S SOUTH X LULLABY (March 17, 2017).

L.A. Salami’s full name is Lookman Adekunle Salami.  I really enjoyed Salami’s song “Going Mad As The Street Bins.”  His delivery is great and there were some rather unexpected chords.

For this performance of “Day to Day,” he is standing on the balcony of the Hilton Austin hotel overlooking the downtown skyline.

I usually try to pair kid-friendly songs with books, but there’s some curses in this song).

The music is basically the same for 7 minutes (although it does build by the end), which means you must focus on the lyrics. And they are pretty dark.  It talks about boredom on public transportation as well as gruesome deaths on the news.  There’s talk of mental health, like this section:

Went to work for the NHS –
Mental health, people depressed.
Met Joanne – Scared of living,
Afraid of dying, terrified of being.
Then met Paul, a schizophrenic,
Shaking limbs, paranoid fanatic –
Unwashed 10 days in a row –
So afraid almost paralytic.
I tell them that I do the same –
In certain moods, on certain days…
But despite the sane ways I can think
I could not do much to convince them…

But mostly I enjoy his delivery which has his slightly accented voice and charming mannerisms.  The first time I heard this I wasn’t as drawn to it as I was his other song, but each listen unveils something more to like about it.

[READ: June 1, 2016] Explorer: The Mystery Boxes

This is the first in a series of short graphic novel short stories edited by Kazu Kibuishi the creator of Amulet.

Sarah brought these home for the kids to read and they were sitting around our house for a while so I picked one up.  When I flipped through it and saw all the great authors in it I knew I had to read them.

The three books are not related to each other (aside from thematic) so it doesn’t matter what order you read them in.

This first one is all about “mystery boxes.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: LILA DOWNS-Tiny Desk Concert #590 (January 13, 2017).

This is yet another example of musicians, artists who are bridging the divide that certain politicians have been trying to wedge int our country.  Between the translated works of Zambra and the multilingual works of Lila Downs, it’s pretty obvious that cultural racism is just stupid.  #ITMFA

The blurb tells us

Downs has spent her career exploring the furthest reaches of Mexican folk music. With a voice that borrows heavily from opera, Downs performs the kind of full-throated mariachi singing that would fit right in at Mexico City’s Garibaldi Square — ground zero for mariachi.

She can also coax the most tender moments from romantic boleros. But Downs is at her best when she and her band gather all of those influences to create cross-cultural expression that breaks down musical barriers. Entertaining and inspiring, she’s as much a storyteller as a singer, and her between-song banter lays bare the Mexican soul, only to have it punctuated in song.

She plays four songs and dedicates the first “Humito De Copal” to “all the journalists in the line of fire.”

Even though this song has many components of traditional Mexican folk, the size of the bad (nine pieces) and the big sound she creates transcends folk and makes it sound really catchy for all.  I love it when midway through, the song takes off in a fun fast dancing section

She is really striking and her voice is amazing.  She’s also playing a cool scratchy/grater item.

“La Promesa” comes from a series of song about he ritual and the offering of the Day of the Dead.  She asks, “what does the homeland mean to us as Latin Americans as Mexicans and as Mexican Americans. It begins with a great electric guitar sound and cool organ accompaniment.  And then she sings in quite a low voice holding notes for amazingly long (about 18 seconds).  It turns into a bluesy song with a lengthy bluesy guitar solo.

The third song, “Viene La Muerte Echando Rasero” was written by a campesino, a farm worker, about rich and poor and young and old being taken by death.  He says “even hit men are going to die.”  She switches to a jarana, a small eight-stringed guitar-like instrument.  After a slow intro the song picks up a bit with a kind of reggae feel.  There’s already a big echo on the mic already but in the middle she cups her hands and gives the whole sound a much bigger echo.  It has a catchy ending with everyone singing along.

She introduces the final song, “La Patria Madrina” by saying “In Mexico, you wake up and put on the news and see a lot of depressing things and you wake up and hope today will be better…and it isn’t.  But despite all of this everything will be better tomorrow.”  It’s a slower song with more reggae sounds and dramatic flourishes.  This time there’s a kind of slide guitar running through the song.

The band consists of : Lila Downs (vocals, jarana); Paul Cohen (sax); George Saenz, Jr. (trombone); Hugo Moreno (trumpet); Marcos Lopez (seated percussion); Yayo Serka (seated drums); Rafael Gomez (electric guitar); Leo Soqui (jarana); Luis Guzman (bass).

[READ: August 28, 2016] “Reading Comprehension: Text No. 3” 

I’ve enjoyed a lot of Zambra’s works and this one is no exception.  I’m particularly intrigued by the “quiz” portion at the end of the piece which really takes the story in a different direction.

The structure of the story is similar to other stories I’ve read by him–I have to assume that he is being reasonably autobiographical about his youth and his life with the woman who would be his son’s mother.  If not then he has really appropriated this character.

A man is writing a letter to his son.  I loved the way the beginning started with the narrator telling his son to forget all of the thing that he has said or done: “mitigate my shouting, my inappropriate remarks, and my stupid jokes.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: DESSA-Tiny Desk Concert #325 (December 9, 2013).

I had never heard of Dessa before.  Evidently she is a rapper, singer, poet and songwriter and is part of the Twin Cities hip-hop collective Doomtree.  As versatile as she is, Dessa faced down a string of challenges in getting to the Tiny Desk. Near the tail-end of a tour — during which thousands of dollars’ worth of her band’s gear was stolen — her voice started to give out as she battled a bad cold. (Keep an eye out for her expression of relief at the completion of “The Man I Knew” in this set.) And, of course, Dessa and her band had to come up with ways to perform three songs from Parts of Speech in such a way that the drums and guitars wouldn’t drown out the unamplified voices of herself and singer Aby Wolf.

I wouldn’t have known she was sick at all, as her voice is pretty powerful.  She raps the first song, “Fighting Fish” (I love that it references Zeno’s Arrow)  I like the grooves of the music and the simple guitar licks.   But it sounds amazing when Wolf starts singing.  Wolf has a great voice.  For the second verse, Dessa speaks more than raps—if only they could both make better use of the mic.

For the second song, “The Man I Knew,” the two sing a duet quite lovely.  And I like the way they each seem to highlight the end of each others’ lines with a harmony note.  I can’t help but think that Aby steals the how a bit.  The guitar and bass have simple but delightful riffs.  And the middle part with the counterpoint is very cool

I like the guitar sounds of “The Lamb,” and Dessa’s voice is great on this one.

Her lyrics are somewhat aggressive but really spot on: “You’ve got a way with words / you got away with murder” and “They can sew your hands together but they can’t make you pray.”

I am curious to see what her full band sounds like because this stripped down version is really good.

[READ: August 28, 2016] “Vladivostock Station”

This story opened my eyes to something I was unaware of.  The narrator’s father was a Korean refugee from the second world war. After the war his father settled in Russia and had children with a local woman.  Evidently this was quite common, although I’d never heard this before.  So the narrator is half-Korean with a Russian name.  I’s never heard of such a thing.

But that’s not the point of the story at all.  Rather, it is the story about Misha and his old friend Kostya.  They have known each other for ages.  Kostya worked at Misha’s father’s hotel for many years, but the two lost touch.  In the meantime, Misha had become an employee of the railroad –he repaired the insides of older trains. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JOHN LEGEND-Tiny Desk Concert #320 (November 16, 2013).

Recently John Legend acquired some humorous publicity when his name was misspelled at the Golden Globes.  But his career has been pretty impressive up until now.  He has impressive collaborated with Jay-Z, Kanye West, and The Roots just to name a few.  Nevertheless, I didn’t actually know what he sounded like.  But clearly I’m the only one, because the room is just packed with people.

The blurb tells us that he “achieved the kind of statesmanlike musical-ambassador status usually afforded to artists twice his age. He is, in short, the sort of star who doesn’t usually perform behind desks in offices.”

Though he recently released a fine new album titled Love in the Future, from which “Made to Love” and “All of Me” were drawn for this set, Legend took special care to provide the backstory for “Move,” which he’d recorded for the soundtrack to 12 Years a Slave.  Legend executive-produced that soundtrack himself

For these three songs, he plays piano and sings in a very soulful and understated way.  “Made to Love” is a slow, pretty soulful ballad.  It’s quite romantic with the chorus: “we were made to love.”

He tells a very powerful and personal story relating to 12 Years a Slave for which he recorded “Move.”  The album version was recorded with U.K. musician Fink.  But here there is no piano, just a guitarist.  It has powerful lyrics.  The end of the song features a clapping section which seems strange for such a down-cast song.

The final song is “All of Me.”  It is a lovely song, especially when he gives that gentle falsetto in the chorus.  Legend really is quite the performer–understated and with a great voice.

[READ: September 5 2016] “Fiber Optics, Holy Places”

I haven’t read any Barrodale before.  I don’t know if her stories are typically cryptic, but I found this one to be very cryptic.

The story begins “after they made love…” he told Ema that he’d been reading an old book by Sloane Newam.  It’s a great book, although it ruined her career.  But he says, “she’s funny.  She reminds me of you.”  At the airport the next day, he gave her a copy of Sloane Newam’s memoir and said, “Read it and you will see.”

Although writing that book ruined Newam’s career.

On her flight home, he gave her a copy of the memoir.  Confusingly, in the next sentence, Barrodale writes: “Halfway through the novel [it said memoir above], while flying over Missouri, she came to a fight between Sloane Newam and her boss.”

But I did really enjoy this bit:  While flying she says to the person next to her: “It’s pretty, huh? Out the window.  It’s Missouri. Get it? Mis-uh-ry? Misery. It’s like — I’m so happy, I’m over misery — Missouri.”  And this reaction: “The woman seemed embarrassed and turned away herself.”

Ema bought both books on Amazon, on for a penny, the other for $109.

The first book was about her lifelong affair with a married man…something that Ema could relate to.  But she thinks that made her guy never read these novels, something seems off. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ANDERSON .PAAK & THE FREE NATIONALS-Tiny Desk Concert #557 (August 15, 2016).

I had heard so many great reviews of  Anderson .Paak but I didn’t really like his album.  But I love this Tiny Desk—there’s something great about this live set.  First off, I love that he’s on the drums–and I love Paak’s drumming—all high hats and rim shots and total funk.  Especially when he starts tapping with his fingers on the snare.  And I really love the funky sound of the keys and the bass.

For this Tiny Desk, they reworked three cuts from Malibu,

Guitarist Jose Rios and bassist Kelsey Gonzalez inject a hard-rock edge into the Hi-Tek-produced “Come Down.”  He opens this by saying, “This song is appropriate since its like a sauna in here right now.”  (The opening lyrics are: Y’all niggers go t me hot.”  It is fun and funky and a great opener.  At the end, he asks the bassist: “What is that song about, Jose?  Coming down off of what?  Substances?  That’s what you into?”  “No. Naw.”  “I like water myself.”

The second song “Heart Don’t Stand A Chance” features a lot of keyboards.  It’s a slow, groovy song.  Much more soulful than funky.

“Put Me Thru” is really funky.  He says “This song is about Jose’s ex-girlfriend.  She still your ex-right?”  “Yea.”  When it ends he jokes Tiny Desk, Big Heart.

Normally bands play 3 songs, but everyone is so into the set that they get to play one more.  “What else y’all wanna play?  Should we do requests?” Someone shouts, “Suede”  And he shouts, “OH!  I though this was a more cultured, mature….  So you all like being called bitches over here?”  He cautions, “I talk a lotta shit on this song, is that okay?”  We’ve never done this song like this.  He asks Jose, “Go over the notes. You know the chords?”  “It’s only a loop—only two chords.”  They all laugh.

“Suede” is a super funky, pretty vulgar song.  But .Paak is so charming, it’s hard to criticize.  Especially at the end of the show when he says, “That actually my mom’s favorite song.”

[READ: September 5, 2016] “Let’s Go to the Videotape”

This was a fascinating story about a widow who submits a video of his child to Americas Funniest Home Videos.  His son, Gus, was riding a bike for the first  time.  As he was going along, he hit a rock and flew over his handle bars into the bushes.  His helmet pulled down over his eyes.  Nick kept filming, seeing that he wasn’t hurt.  And then Gus looked up and said “Daddy, am I okay?”

Nick sent the video to some friends and they all thought it was very funny.

The video had made it to the finals and they were in the studio watching the other finalists’ videos.  And then it was their turn.

Gus was very uncomfortable–mostly because of his clothes but also because of the attention. (more…)

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