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Archive for the ‘Short Story’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: VIOLENTS & MONICA MARTIN-Tiny Desk Concert #625 (June 5, 2017).

I don’t really understand why Jeremy Larson chose the name Violents.  His music is anything but–pretty piano melodies with (in this show) really nice string arrangements.  I love the way the strings really dramatize the pop song elements.

About the strings, (who go by the Rootstock Republic),he says “they saved our lives this week–because even though a solo vocal performance with her would be amazing…,”

“Equal Powers” has such beautiful melodies.   I really like the way Martin’s voice plays off of the piano.  The chorus melody line is perfect and the high notes “I know I know” are like a perfect icing topper.  I like this lyrical construct:

lean in, let me feel your breath on my skin/I know, I know
lean in, liquor on your breath/ I’m tasting, I know, I know

Her voice has a lovely delicate straining to it that is really pretty.

So who is Martin?  The last time we saw singer Monica Martin at the Tiny Desk she was singing with Phox, her folky, poppy band based in Madison, Wisconsin. But, while that band is on hiatus, Martin took time to walk into the world of Violents, the project of pianist, string arranger and songwriter Jeremy Larson. Larson and Martin make a lovely pair and have created a subtle, soulful record — Awake And Pretty Much Sober — that benefits greatly from Larson’s classical training.  It’s the first full-length Jeremy Larson has released as Violents, a project that, generally, sees him joined by a different singer each outing, resulting in an EP.

“Unraveling” has a pretty, slow piano melody.  It’s more of a ballad.  Once again the chorus is gorgeous–especially the way Martin hits some of those notes in the ooooh section.

and again her voice hits some lovely notes and her ooohs are delightful against the strings.

Before introducing “Spark” he says playing the Tiny Desk is “a bucket list kind of thing.”  He says they’re gonna do one more song.  We were supposed to do a different one but this one’s a bit more appropriate for a smaller setting its called “Spark.”  It has a simpler melody and is certainly a ballad.  It is not as powerful but it’s still quite lovely.

The Rootstock Republic is Juliette Jones (violin); Jessica McJunkins (violin); Kristine Kruta (cello); Jarvis Benson (viola).

 [READ: May 3, 2017] “On the Street Where You Live”

I have really enjoyed Yiyun Li’s stories of late, although i didn’t fully enjoy this one.  I found the location of it a little hard to follow and then it seemed to be about something but was then about something else.

It begins in China, with Bella and Peter walking down the street.  Bella and Peter are friends and have been for 25 years.  They met in Boston.

Bella is Chinese by birth but moved to the USA to study.  They are in China because Bella and Peter always talked of going there.  And it turns out that Peter’s boyfriend Adrian is doing research on his ancestors from China.  So they decided to use it as a chance to travel together.

This was kind of mistake.  (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ROYAL THUNDER-Tiny Desk Concert #623 (May 30, 2017).

Royal Thunder is a loud rock band that is stripped down in this Tiny Desk Concert to just two acoustic guitars and a snare drum.  But that’s fine because the real power of this band is in singer Mlny Parsonz’s voice.

Mlny Parsonz’s bluesy belt has been the grounding force of Royal Thunder’s stirring hard-rock for almost a decade now, and on the band’s third album, Wick, the songs all knot and unravel with psychedelic power. True to its name, volume and a small army of effects pedals play a large role in Royal Thunder. But what happens when we ask the Atlanta band to unplug that… thunder?

From the first note, you could hear Parsonz’s sandpaper soul blasting down the hallways of NPR. Both “Anchor” and “April Showers” are slow-burners, built up from the complex guitar interplay of Josh Weaver and Will Fiore; the acoustic treatments here turn them into proggy blues hollers. The band closes with the emotionally wracked “Plans,” featuring just Fiore and Parsonz. The performance is absolutely raw — Parsonz screams and beats her chest as her voice cracks, drawing power from a desperate vulnerability.

Interestingly, I listened to these songs on the album and I prefer this stripped down version–there’s too much production and things going on during the album.  But here it’s just her voice and their guitars.  And it is far more powerful.

As “Anchor” starts, you can hear how engaging Mlny Parzonz powerful strained-sounding voice is.  It sounds honest and pained and really emotional.  The song is surprisingly catchy, especially when the “round ad round” section kicks in–wow, it really grabs you.  Josh Weaver plays the lead guitar solo on this song, and there’s some interesting little guitar notes in the middle of the song as well.  After belting that out, she quietly says “Thanks y’all, thank you” with the Southern charm of the Indigo Girls or even Ben Folds.

“April Showers” opens with a cool separate guitar and bass lines (played on acoustic guitar).  Fiore plays the “lead” intro notes whereas Weaver plays the bass notes I’m not really sure what’s going on in this song, but it’s pretty dark: “you were never really innocent but you were given the gun.”  And later: “then my father found suicide.”  Again, though her voice is so powerful and engaging that you feel the pain in her lyrics.

Before the final song, “Plans,” Weaver and drummer Evan Diprima say “we’re checking out.”  She jokes, “You quit?”   Then she looks at Fiore and says, you have any “Plans” boom-chi.  This song is much slower (interestingly on the record the drums are really loud, so it’s especially surprising that they ‘re not here).  And you can really hear the power and ache in her voice as she sings, “I thought I did the right thing / coming back for you / it was the right thing at the wrong time / I really loved you.”  The way her voice strains as she sings “You ripped out my heart / It’s really emotional.  And after all of that she shrugs and admits, “sorta forgot the words on that one…sorry.”

I’ll give their album another listen , but I really much prefer this rawer iteration.

[READ: April 24, 2017] “Two Ruminations on a Homeless Brother”

I have read a few things by Means and never been all that impressed by them.  Add this to that list.

The word “ruminations” is quite apt in this title as this story is really just a series of thoughts about two men.

The first one is titled Sviatoslav Richter, but is actually about a homeless man wandering the streets of whichever city this is set.  The man walks the same pattern every day searching through garbage.  But rather than delving into this man, this story delves into the people who see the man.  And it covers all possible reactions–most of which you have probably guessed already–from guilt to anger.   This is followed of course by the inevitable fear that we may one day become like this poor soul. (more…)

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 SOUNDTRACK: NICK GRANT-Tiny Desk Concert #624 (June 2, 2017).

I had never heard of Nick Grant either.  And I wasn’t that impressed on an initial listen.  However, it says he’s got a bit of a flu, so kudos to him for pushing on.

In general, though, low-key rap shows are kind of weird.  They are mostly about hype, but its hard to hype a few dozen people.  But Grant is certainly game.

[Grant hails ]from a region where rap’s young guns and lil innovators tend to defy tradition, the South Carolina-by-way-of-Atlanta native proves being a purist is not just for the old heads.

Being cut from a vintage cloth has kept him in good company. He groomed himself on high school freestyle battles before working his way up to become the first signee to Culture Republic.  He’s a sly reminder that, contrary to popular opinion, the South still has a mouthful to say — and it doesn’t always have to be yelled, gurgled or Auto-Tuned to death. Sometimes it can be conveyed coolly, from a seated position, while backed by Washington D.C.’s soul garage band Black Alley, and still cut through all the noise.

I really like the live band, Black Alley.  The percussionist (Walter Clark) is particularly interesting with his congas and an electronic “plate” that plays all kinds of effects.  The bass (Joshua Cameron) is also great and the guitarist (Andrew White) plays a lot of interesting sounds.  I also like how muscular th keyboardist is playing simple chords.  And the drummer is pretty bad ass too.

The first song “Return of the Cool” (feat. B. Hess–not sure what the B. Hess is all about, I think he’s sampled in the chorus).  And that chorus is especially weird because the other singer is recorded and Grant is sort of quietly over the top of it.  It’s the smallness of the audience that makes the whole “hands side to side” part seem kind of weird.  Although it’s funny when he says, “you ain’t got your hands up.”  When it’s over he says “Give yourselves a round of applause.”  Before the next song starts he says “flu is killing me.”

It’s also strange to me in a lot of hip hop that the rappers feel the need to state who they are and where they are and sometimes when they are.  It’s been going on for decades now, but it’s odd .  So when he says “Nick Grant.  Tiny Desk.  NPR.”  it’s just what you do.  About the second song “Drug Lord Couture” he says that “street life wasn’t for me but I was fascinated with the fashion and the material things that came with being a drug dealer being in the streets.”  He says, “it wasn’t for me I found out quickly.”

He introduces the final song, “Luxury Vintage Rap” by saying that you “must be strong, have a lyrical ability to be #1.”  This song is faster with some good lyrics: “I don’t believe the devil would come as a snake / why would he come as something you would actually hate?”   There’s a cool dark end section with a funky riff.  His lyrics turn rather explicit with the startling line “sugar on a clit / that’s a sweet lick.”  As the songs sort of ends, he tells everyone, “Don’t stop.  Keep (the arm waving) going.

Grant won me over by the end.  And as the screen goes to black you can hear him saw, “Flawless….  Flawless any questions?”

[READ: April 22, 2017] “Deaf and Blind”

Vapnyar had a story in this same issue one year and a day ago.

This is the story of a young woman’s mother and her mother’s friend.  The friend was named Olga.  Olga and her mother had met at a fertility clinic.  The narrator’s mother had a child (obviously) while Olga did not.

But they bonded over their collective unhappiness. Olga said her husband loved her like crazy but that she never felt much for him–she always wanted to love someone with every fiber of her being.  The narrator’s mother was just the opposite: she loved her husband but was fairly sure he didn’t love her back.  She hoped a child would bring her husband back.

It didn’t.  And Olga didn’t get pregnant either. (more…)

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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: TROKER-Tiny Desk Concert #620 May 19, 2017).

Troker has instantly jumped to being my favorite jazz band.  And why is that?  because they have a turntablist and he is outstanding.  He adds sound effects, solos and all kinds of great additions to their jazzy fare and elevates it to someplace exciting.

Which is not to stay that their jazz is poor, because it’s not at  all.  There’s a groovy keyboard sound, a sax, a trumpet and a fantastic bassist

“Principe Charro” begins with some fun keys (from Christian Jimenez) and a high bass line (from Samo Gonzalez) before the band enter the main horn riffs (all with a groovy bass line underneath).  But it’s those turntables (from DJ Sonicko) that really stand out.  I feel like in many songs you can’t always tell when a turntable is active, but it’s really apparent in this set.  Check out around the 1:15 mark while there’s a solo and the turntable is doing a solo of its own–or adding effects to the end of the solos.   And there’s a great moment around 2:30 where the turntable and trumpeter (Chay Flores) have a duel–all with a very cool, deep bassline underneath.  There’s a sensational break with a great cheer before the song starts again–with the crowd fully behind them now.

“One Thousand Million Eyes” is normally an instrumental song (as most of their songs are), but they have a vocalist Solange Prat to sing lyrics.  It’s interesting that the lyrics are in English since the band is from Guadalajara, Mexico and they speak only in Spanish (with subtitles!).   There’s some outstanding turntable  effects on this song–cool spacey sounds and what not.  I like Prat’s voice, but I’m digging the instrumental side more.

I love the way the music starts out with some cool sounds from the turntable.  And that thumping bass.

“Chapala Blues” is about a lake that’s near where they live.  It’s got a great bass riff to open–slow and loping-with some great atmospheric sounds from the turntable.  There’s even whale songs.  The middle of the song has a great drum “solo” (from Frankie Mares) which isn’t really a solo, just the drummer having a ball while the horns are playing quieter music.   Midway through, it gets very atmospheric with some cool synth sounds and a lone sax (from Chay Flores).

“Tequila Death” begins with some ticking clock sounds and a somewhat menacing, but then funky, bass line with a cool fuzzy effect on it).  Like the other songs it is fun and dancabale.  During the breaks they sample (on the turntable) the “one, two, tres, quatro” from “Wooly Bully” by Sam the Sham & the Pharaohs.  It’s a great set and I really hope I can see them live sometime.

 

[READ: April 3, 2017] “Signal

I enjoyed Lanchester’s previous story which was also about a very rich person in London.  In this story it’s not the protagonist who is rich, rather it is his old, dear friend. Although, “Michael wasn’t my oldest friend and he wasn’t my closest friend, but he was older than any of the ones who were closer and closer than any of the ones who were older, so he had a special status, as part of the furniture of my life, the kind of friend who when you’re asked how you met you have to think for a while to remember.”  I love that.

But the crux was that Michael was his richest friend–by a long shot.  The story begins with the narrator telling his children “You aren’t allowed to ask for the Wi-Fi password before you say hello,”  The kids point out that Uncle Mike is nice and won’t care.  And the dad says, “that that is true, it’s just not what you do.”  “You chat for a bit, and then you ask for the Wi-Fi password.  It’s just one of the rules.”

I love also that the narrator doesn’t exactly seem to know why Michael is so rich.  “He’d drifted through Cambridge doing something scientific–engineering or maths, I think it was.”  And then after “going off to try something a bit different…he had ascended to some new stratosphere of international wealth.”

And, since he and his family were genuine friends of Michael, they reaped the rewards of that lifestyle whenever they hung out. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: TIM DARCY-Tiny Desk Concert #619 (May 15, 2017).

I really like Darcy’s band Ought, but I don’t really like this solo concert.  In Ought, I find his voice contrasts nicely with the punky music (and his arch delivery of the kind-of-spoken-words if entertaining to me).  But here he’s singing some pretty straightforward songs and I find his affected delivery to be kind of annoying.  The blurb name checks Roy Orbison and I’ve never liked Orbison’s voice either.  So I guess that makes sense

Darcy plays four songs–he’s on guitar for three of them.

“Still Waking Up” is first. He says that “Joan Pt. 1, 2” is more of a rocker on the record but he’s taking it down–wonder if I’d like it more as a rocker?  Musically I like the way it switches gears for Part 2 and I like his voice a lot more for this second part.  “Sledgehammer And The Rose” is a new one.  I like the slinky guitar lines at the end of each verse. For the final song, “What’d You Release?” Toronto songwriter Charlotte Cornfield plays piano (with no guitar).  His voice is a bit deeper on this one and it works pretty well with the slowness of the piano.

But I gather I’d prefer him with his band.

[READ: March 22 2017] “Herman Melville, Volume 1”

The previous Lodato story that I read concerned a young meth addict.  This one concerns a twenty year old homeless girl.

She remains unnamed throughout the story and we learn snippets of her past.  Her father apparently committed suicide recently and she has nobody else.  Her only thought about him is that she hopes someone is watering the grapefruit tree in his backyard.

She had been experimenting with running away–she gathered a lot of her stuff and some money and would head to the Greyhound station.  She would hang out there for a while and then ultimately go home. Then one day Evan was there.  He smiled at her and commented on her skateboard and banjo.  She began to cry and he held her and they have been togetehr for the past seven months.  He has even proposed to her (although nether one has mentioned in since, so who knows if it meant anything).

(more…)

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