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Archive for the ‘Short Story’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: MOUNTAIN MAN-3 songs from Tiny Desk Family Hour (March 12, 2019).

These next few shows were recorded at NPR’s SXSW Showcase.

Mountain Man have been all over NPR the last couple of months.  And here they are again, showing off their beautiful voices in a church.

When Mountain Man began a decade ago, it consisted of three close friends arraying their voices in a resplendent blend, often without so much as an acoustic guitar for adornment. Today, the configuration remains exactly the same, except that all three members — Alexandra Sauser-Monnig, Molly Sarlé and Amelia Meath — have developed strong solo identities along the way. Sauser-Monnig also records wonderful folk-pop songs under the name Daughter of Swords, Molly Sarlé released a magnificent single under her own name earlier this year, and Meath is the singing, dancing half of the transcendent synth-pop powerhouse Sylvan Esso.  So when Mountain Man showed up for a softly joyful set at NPR Music’s Tiny Desk Family Hour — recorded live at Austin’s Central Presbyterian Church during SXSW on Tuesday night — it was almost like seeing four acts at once: three solo, one collective. Choosing a single excerpt was a fool’s errand, so here are three: the breezy a cappella “AGT,” from 2018’s Magic Ship, as well as Mountain Man arrangements of Sarlé’s “Human” and Daughter of Swords’ “Grasses.”

The opening song is a capella.  It is started by Alexandra with first Molly and then Amelia all joining in to make their gorgeous harmonies.  After the first round through the song, they start singing faster and faster.  To a frankly impressively rapid speed by the end.

The second song is by Molly Sarlé.  She says it’s about how “unfortunately easy it is to talk to god like he’s a man.”  Molly sings the main body while gently strumming her guitar.  Amelia and Alexandra provide the lovely backing vocals.   (I love that Amelia seems to be cracking up a lot through the show, but is always pitch perfect).

Alexandra Sauser-Monnig’s Daughter of Swords song “Grasses” is up next.  The guitar is more picked than strummed, but it is still a very quiet, gentle song.  I really like Molly’s voice as a backing vocalist.

They’ll be performing at Newport Folk Festival and I’m intrigued to see them.

[READ: March 18, 2019] “Color and Light”

I assumed that this story is set in Ireland, although there was nothing explicitly stated about the location–except that it is by the water.

The main character Aidan, has an older brother Declan (could be Ireland or just America).  When we first meet them, they are in Declan’s car and he is driving a woman, Pauline.  Pauline is bold and flirtatious.  She is a screenwriter.  Declan doesn’t say much and Aidan is very shy.  So that leaves Pauline to make all of the comments.  She learns that Aidan works in the hotel.  And at one point she stares at him for a couple of minutes while he puzzles out what she’s after.

A few weeks later Pauline comes to the hotel restaurant with an entourage.  Aidan is surprised at how deferential everyone is to her.  She sort of recognizes him at first and when he explains who he is she seems happy to see him.  When she leaves with her crew she invites him along but he refuses.

A few nights later Declan picks up Aidan from work and a drunk Pauline is in the back seat.  She is feistier than usual and asks Aidan all sots of personal questions–like has he ever slept with a guest at the hotel.  Declan yells that she is flirting with him.  And when Aidan turns around to look at her, sprawled on the backseat, Declan punches him.  By the time Declan drops them off, Aidan can’t tell if Declan is mad at him or at her. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JOHN PAUL WHITE-“The Long Way Home,” Tiny Desk Family Hour (March 12, 2019).

These next few shows were recorded at NPR’s SXSW Showcase.

The SXSW Music Festival is pleased to announce the first-ever Tiny Desk Family Hour showcase, an evening of music by artists who have played NPR Music’s Tiny Desk Concert, at Central Presbyterian Church on Tuesday, March 12 from 8-11pm.

I have recently been re-listening to The Civil Wars and re-remembered how great John Paul White is.  He’s playing near me in a few weeks, but I can’t go see him.  I do hope he comes back.

John Paul White is a Tiny Desk veteran two times over: He’s performed once as a solo artist and once as half of the decorated and now-defunct Americana duo The Civil Wars. So he was a natural to take the stage for NPR Music’s Tiny Desk Family Hour.  The room felt at once packed and cavernous, with White perfectly suited to the setting. He’s got a voice made for high ceilings.

White is up on stage with just his guitar and his voice.  He plays a song that is about his love/hate relationship about the music business.

White introduced the song with a boast any artistically inclined parent will understand: “I want to do a song for you now that I’m really happy to say makes my kids cry.  It’s not easy. My kids are hard. I immediately felt guilty but knew I was going to record it for the next record. But “The Long Way Home” taps into greater universal truths than that, capturing the way even our most ambitious pursuits can feel like a mere stepping stone to the comfort of the everyday.

It’s a bouncy minor key song and you know it’s going to be a gut-wrencher.  The chorus: “I ain’t leaving, I’m just taking the long way home to you.”

Yikes, if all of White’s songs are as emotionally charged as this, maybe I don’t want to see him in person.  But his voice sounds fantastic.

[READ: March 3, 2019] “Sweet”

This was one-page and thoroughly confusing.

It begins: “Gregory Speen learns to not doubt himself and Mike Brenlan supports him wholeheartedly.”

Then we get small sections about Speen.

Speen can tell that a woman is cruel. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KING GIZZARD AND THE LIZARD WIZARD-Gumboot Soup (2017).

At the beginning of 2017, KGATLW promised that the would release five albums in the year.  They released four and as the year drew to an end it looked like we might not get that promised fifth release.  And then on the last day of the year, Dec 31, they released Gumboot Soup.

Surely this one–squeezed in on the last day of the year–must be a mishmash of the crap that they didn’t put on their other records, right?  Or maybe acoustic versions of existing songs?  Or something equally lame?

Indeed, not.  For KGATLW are nothing if not full of ideas.

Their previous albums were thematic.  This one is certainly more of a collection of songs rather than an album.  And yet, this collection is not crap.  Mackenzie described thee album as a “place for us to put a lot of different ideas that we’re trying to experiment with in the song, rather than within the whole record. And for me, some of my favorite songs of the year are on [Gumboot]. It’s more song-oriented than album-oriented.”

So the album isn’t unified, but that diversity somehow makes it even more compelling.

“Beginner’s Luck” is a beautiful sweet delicate song.  The opening is quiet guitar and the clearest vocals yet from Stu.  It’s a dreamy, gentle song, as if they were influenced by the Mild High Club sessions to write a pretty, retro pop song.  There’s great bass on this song as well and I love that Ambrose adds some lead vocals to the chorus.  There’s some lovely flute and backing vocals.  As the song reaches its end it gets louder and more distorted with a wild wah wah guitar solo and the whole band joining in to rock.  This seems to mock the sweetness of the beginning.

It’s followed by “Greenhouse Heat Death” which reintroduces some microtonal melodies and a rumbling groove.  This song is an environmental song with Stu singing in his darker, distorted voice about the degradation of the Earth (from the Earth’s point of view–“my house has fried, all life has died”).

“Barefoot Desert” comes out of that darkness with a wonderfully bright song–flutes, some terrific bass lines, and Ambrose’s always-chipper vocals.  The riff is dynamite too.  There’s even a very Beatles-esque middle instrumental section before the song lopes off again.

“Muddy Water” is a really catchy fast-paced stomper with some call and response vocals (I love at the end when Ambrose starts singing “I prefer the muddy water” back to Stu).  The riffing is great and it all feels very reckless, like they (or we) can’t stop.  The introduction of (two) saxophones is pretty unusual and a nifty twist on their sound.

“Superposition” is a soft almost robotically smoothed out song.  Everything is high and floaty–the flute, the vocals, the bass.  It’s a pretty different sound for them, although they maintain the vocals-follow-the-musical-melody that they have perfected.  And then of course, they have to upend the pleasantness with some crazy skronking saxophone solos in the middle of the song.  But even those seem almost distant and like they are not exactly part of the song.

“Down the Sink” is a fantastic song that sounds very much unlike anything they’ve done before.  There’s some cool funk and 70s inflections on the riffs and sounds.  The chorus “the street is where people live, the street is where people die” has a fantastic 70s, almost blaxploitation, film soundtrack feel.   I’d love to hear them explore more of this sound.

“The Great Chain of Being” is one of the outright heaviest things they’re recorded, with big heavy riffs and growling vocals.  It’s a bit out of place on this record, but it rocks too wonderfully to complain about.  It clearly seems like it could have been on Murder of the Universe, but maybe they just enjoyed rocking out and wanted to write a new song.

“The Last Oasis” has a delightful cocktail lounge feel, with vibes, languid bass and Ambrose’s gentle vocals.   I love that it gets hazier and sounds more and more like it’s being submerged as the song goes on.  Meanwhile, “All is Known” returns to them microtonal sounds of Banana for the main riff and heft of this pumping song.

One of my favorite tracks is the delicate “I’m Sleeping In.”  I love the interesting and satisfying bass lines that runs through this gentle song about sleeping:

I know within my body
I need rest from muscle ache
I really need a break
So I’m sleepin’ in, in

There’s some quiet harmonica and a really compressed sound.  It seems like sleep will never come because of some random noises that come in to disrupt the chill feeling.  Although by the end, the tape slows down and sleep has finally won.  The disc ends with “The Wheel” a groovy psychedelic track with wavery keys and flute. It’s the least dynamic song on the record but it feels nicely stretched out and trippy.

So the track order definitely makes this feel like an odds and ends assortment.  I’m not sure if they could have made a heavy side and a trippy side, or if it’s just more fun to have this batch of oddments together in the soup of gumboot.

The good thing is there’s not a bad song on it and it really covers every imaginable style.

After five albums in year, the only thing to do was to release no records in 2018 and tour the world.  But 2019 suggests a new disc in on the horizon.  I can’t wait.

[READ: March 3, 2019] “The Arithmetic of Common Ground”

This story had an interesting conceit which I feel it didn’t fully follow through on.  It posits that children have commonalities and looks at what estimated percentage of those commonalities they need to have for friendships to work.  I enjoyed the way it seemed almost like a technical report in the beginning.

At the opening, we see a couple meeting.

Born within six months of one another, within the same medium-sized city, and of comparable socio-economic class, they automatically overlap somewhere between 33 to 35 percent. Make the city Calgary and make them both only children who—as a consequence of their solitudes—have both grown up somewhat unsociable and somewhat bookish. If both dutifully attended music lessons in guitar and piano to complement their school work, their common ground might go as high as 40 to 55 percent.

Despite being different by some 45 to 60 points, they share enough interests (musical) to meet, fall in love, get married and have a child: Benjamin.

But for group dynamics a simple Venn diagram does not suffice because each pairing is its own diagram.  The story proceeds to explore Benjamin and his friends. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: PHONY PPL-Tony Desk Concert #829 (March 4, 2019).

This is another case where a band I’ve never heard of gets four songs and twenty minutes.  It’s petty to be bugged by that, but when band I like sometimes play 9 minutes, it’s a bummer.  However, by the end of the 20 minutes this jazzy, rocking r&b band won me over.

Phony Ppl is from Brooklyn.  They are fronted by an incredibly happy and smiling guy named Elbee Thrie.  In fact everyone seems really happy and full of energy

Phony Ppl is a group that emits a vigorous energy on and off stage. In this case, the spirit was exchanged between the band and the NPR staff from the moment they gathered behind the desk and gave a zesty greeting.

I thought they seemed very confident for a new band and it turns out they’re not new at all.

The Brooklynites formed in high school and stand out as one of a handful of R&B bands in the industry that makes eclectic choices in fashion and lyrical narratives. Their fifth full-length, 2015’s Yesterday’s Tomorrow, was praised for the way the band seamlessly melds jazz, R&B and hip-hop.

The songs are certainly jazzy (with a near-continuous sax from guest Braxton Cook).  If he’s a guest I wonder if I would enjoy them more without the sax.

They opened with “Compromise,” a highlight from Yesterday’s Tomorrow, and locked into an up-tempo pocket as if it was a second skin.  Midway through, during a quiet part where he claps along, Thrice says that the song’s “about meeting somebody at the wrong time” he says midsong.  There’s some awesome fuzzed out guitar solos from Elijah Rawk.  And I like when Rawk and bassist Bari Bass star swinging back and forth in sync, just enjoying themselves.

From there, they wove in three more songs, including two from their latest project, mō’zā-ik.

Thrice says that “One Man Band” is very special to him.  Hopefully you can feel it and I don’t have to explain why.  The middle sees a shift to reggae chords with some grooving bass and some delightfully gentle piano from Aja Grant.

“Cookie Crumble” features a kazoo solo that sounds a bit like a muted trumpet.   And by the final song, (uno mas, uno mas) “Why iii Love the Moon” they have totally won me over.  I love the way he interacts withe everyone on hand–“oh wait, she’d not ready.”  “You ready yet?”  “Oh she;s ready, we can play now.”

Maybe it was the nice backing vocals from drummer Maffyuu or the amazing moment when Cook and Rawk played the same solo on guitar and sax at the same time.  It was a great moment of synergy–they sounded amazing together.  And they totally won me over.

[READ: March 4, 2019] “The Starlet Apartments”

This is the story of a couple of young men fresh out of Yale.  The narrator was working for F.S.G. in New York City. Then he got invited by an old classmate, Todbaum, to move out to Hollywood to work on scripts–for projects that were already vetted!

The narrator, Sandy was delighted with the arrangement.  They lived in the Starlet Apartments a classic thirties two-story complex with a swimming pool. They drank a lot and tried to pick up women,  They fancied themselves great writers.  They wrote a ton and sold none.

After a few month, Sandy heard from his younger sister.  She had just graduated and wanted to come out to L.A. (anywhere but home).  He imagined having an attractive woman with them would only help their chances. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KING GIZZARD AND THE LIZARD WIZARD-Paper Mâché Dream Balloon (2015).

After the imposed restrictions of Quarters (four songs each 10:10 long), Paper Mâché Dream Balloon goes for a change.  Actually, it goes for a lot of changes.

For this is an acoustic folk album.  It retains all of the psychedelia of their recent records but it removes the heaviness and harshness of those albums and focuses on the mellow.  The twelve songs are also quite short.  Only three songs are over three minutes.  There’s flutes and sitar (which actually isn’t that unusual for KGATLW).  And most of the lyrics are understandable (if not comprehensible).

“Sense” opens with strummed acoustic guitars and a melody from a saxophone or clarinet or both.  “Bones” has a lovely simple guitar riff (so catchy) and more flutes than you can shake a stick with holes at.  It’s immediately catchy and delightful.  “Dirt” ups the power some with slightly louder drums, but it is still fueled by flutes and gentle vocals.  “Paper Mâché Dream Balloon” maintains the high quality, pretty songwriting with a lovely flute melody and a much more uptempo (but somehow even poppier) chorus.

“Trapdoor” changes thinks pretty dramatically for this album.  There’s still a lead flute, but the melody has become kind of intense and minor key and the chanted “Trapdoor” chorus is reminiscent of earlier KGATLW freakout choruses.  But while the song stays restrained, it is still the loudest thing to be found here.  “Cold Cadaver” returns to that flute-y happiness (despite the title) and even features a cheerful “whooo” or two.  I love how the song stops and a very martial drum beat starts but the song never goes off the rails, it just follows along like before.

“The Bitter Boogie” is the longest song in the disc.  Although it initially seems as short as the others because it almost stops half way through.  But it slows down and then begins a new, pretty guitar melody and then a new vocalist comes in and continues the song.

“NGRI (Bloodstain) opens with a fast piano note (very rock-n-roll sounding) and some wailing harmonica.  But it’s all very friendly (until you start listening to the lyrics–no idea what NGRI stands for though (not guilty for reasons of insanity?) but the chanted “bloodstain” is a bit disconcerting.  There’s some wild drumming and a little sitar at the end, but it seems to serve more as a segue to the next song.  “Time = Fate” is a delightfully poppy ditty that seems to be related to “Time = $$$” although musically it doesn’t have any connection (aside from being a delightfully poppy ditty).

“Most of What I Like” is a sweet ballad (although the drums feel particularly distorted (and split between the two headphones) which leads to the final song. “Paper Mâché” is an instrumental which ends the album with a delightful flute melody and acoustic guitars.  It runs for about 2 minutes and is then followed by an incredibly speeded up something (the whole album backwards?) going faster and faster until it explodes.

It’s frankly amazing how many musical ideas this band has.  And the fact that they can pull of so many styles so well is a testament to their songwriting.

[READ: January 19, 2016] “Fox”

This is a story where animals are personified, but in which they also live in the “real” world, apparently.

The foxes are the adjudicators of the world.  The aunts run the den.  They sit upright, tails curled around their feet.  They are pretty animals and they enjoy being pretty.

Aunt Rob spoke the most.  She explained that all animals differ in their violent tendencies:  “The lions are racist, nervy.  They think everything south of Paris is Arab,  everything east of Poland is Chinese.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KING GIZZARD AND THE LIZARD WIZARD-Quarters (2014).

KGATLW have made all kinds of albums, but up until now they hadn’t put any real restrictions on themselves.  Enter Quarters.  This album is made of four tracks.  Each track is 10 minutes and 10 seconds long.  It was never released on CD, only vinyl (and digital).  And it’s pretty fantastic.

Each ten minute song is very different from the others.  The songs are not complex mutli-part suites or anything, they are more like gently meandering trips which explore a melody in every possible way.

“The River” has a fun opening and then a jazzy main riff in which the vocals follow the guitar line as it meanders nicely.  After a couple of verses it takes off into a kind of Santana vibe, with some great soloing and some bongos.  It seems like its going to end early, but the last two minutes introduce a new guitar riff and style that compliments the beginning–a nice instrumental coda to the beauty that has come before.

“Infinite Rise” opens with the sound of something lifting off–soaring higher and higher–and then the music starts.  It’s a series of slow two note lines (vocal and musical) that conclude with a great verse-ending riff.  It’s such a groovy trippy song that when they start adding sound effects (a baby crying, jolly laughter, a monkey, a rooster crowing) it is a little jarring but still makes sense somehow).  The groovy guitar solo(s) that float through to the end are pretty great too.  This one seems like it’s cheating the 10:10 rule because it ends around 9 minutes but then tacks on the reverse soaring intro and ten seconds of noises.  But it’s not like they ran out of ideas…that song could have jammed for ten more minutes.

“God is in the Rhythm” is a slow, pretty bluesy song.  The vocals are high and gentle and the guitar solo sounds like it came straight from the 1950s, but there’s enough psychedelia on it to keep it from sounding like it’s a 50s tribute song.  The guitar work throughout is really spectacular.   Once again, the last ten seconds or so mess about with sound and speed but it never feels like they ran out of ideas.

“Lonely Steel Sheet Flyer” has a rather dramatic build up for an introduction.  A pretty, meandering vocal and guitar riff is accentuated with cool trippy guitar sound (rising echos and the like) .  The middle has a quiet interlude with more cool guitars and a nice bassline.  It feels like the song is going to end early, but no, it starts a kind of middle eastern riff and then takes off again.  I love that the pretty main riff returns many times to basically start the story over again.

This is a wonderful record.  It’s cohesive and very chill, and the musicianship jumps exponentially with each release.

[READ: February 16, 2019] “This Wicked Tongue”

I love The Walrus.  I read every issue cover to cover (one of the few publications I still do). But sometimes the short stories in the magazine just don’t work for me.

I was pretty intrigued to read this one because it had a kind of prologue: “Here beginneth a short treatise of contemplation taken from the Book of Alice Nash, Ancress of Shere, c. AD 1372.”

But then I started reading the story and I just could not get into the writing style at all.

“Before we leave, we tell You–smoke kestrel, thumb sky.”  What kind of opening is that? (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KING GIZZARD AND THE LIZARD WIZARD-I’m in Your Mind Fuzz (2014).

Even though this record came soon after Oddments, this has been considered the first major release by KGATLW (maybe that’s because it was the earliest recording that was still in print (until the reissues).  This album is a major step forward in their psychedelic garage rock sound.

The first four songs are more or less a continuous suite.  Not really, but all four songs contain the same breakneck drum pace and rumbling bass line and each one segues into the next.

“I’m in Your Mind” has a simple guitar riff, lots of wickedly distorted harmonica and a catchy vocal line.  It segues into “I’m Not in Your Mind” which is a three-minute jam based around a guitar solo.  The tone has changed slightly, but only slightly.  The solo features the main melody from “The Streets of Cairo or The Little Country Maid” (which we in the States think of as the Egyptian song or the snake charmer song because it was in every cartoon from the 1950s). The end of the song features a bass rumble which segues into the intro to the classic KGATLW song “Cellophane” (where the lyrics are nearly all nonsense singing and the word “cellophane”–catchy as anything).  The quartet returns to the opening song with the reprise called “I’m in Your Mind Fuzz.”   The same guitar melody and tempo resume with a similar-sounding chorus.

A click opens the next song, “Empty,” which halts the fast-paced bass and drums and grows much slower.  With a new rhythm and a more staccato delivery, this song maintains the fuzzy sound and distorted vocals and adds, I believe, a flute.  It’s followed by the wonderful “Hot Water.”  It’s an uptempo song with muted delivery in the vocals and guitars.   It’s also got the simple chanted chorus of “Hot Water” all surrounding this cool 70s sounding melody.

“Am I in Heaven” begins as a folkie acoustic song.  It’s pretty gentle for about 45 seconds until it turns into a screaming and thumping rocker with all kinds of wailing—guitars, vocals, harmonica.  Then at 3 minutes it returns briefly to that original folkie melody until, once again, the loud rocking just overtakes the whole thing with psychedelic soloing.

“Slow Jam 1” slows things down a lot. “I need to slow my mind down” is the lyrical opening.   It is slow and hazy for a few gentle minutes.  “Satan Speeds Up” sounds like it might be an old lost psychedelic/metal song–a cool vibrato guitar riff and flutes play this excellent opening.  The verses are gentle–falsetto singing as the band chills out around it.

“Her and I (Slow Jam 2)” returns to that acoustic mellow sound, this time with some extra fuzzy notes sprinkled around the song.  After about a minute and a half (of the 8 minute song), the tempo picks up and there’s a cool guitar solo which returns a couple of times by the end adding harmonica and wah wah guitar.

This is a very cool album that really shows what KGATLW is all about.  At least until their next release.

[READ: February 18, 2019] “White Out”

This issue of Harper’s had two stories and I didn’t really enjoy either one.

This first one was written in Korean and was translated by Deborah Smith.  What I didn’t like about it was that I wasn’t sure if these nine short pieces were sections of a big story or individual (somewhat) connected stories.  Either way the blocks of text were all quite short and not always complete.

Frost
This tells us that she was born on a day of frost but her father chose seol, snow, as one of the characters for his daughter’s name.  I found that pretty interesting and would have liked to know more about that. (more…)

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