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Archive for the ‘Short Story’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: MAGOS HERRERA AND BROOKLYN RIDER-Tiny Desk Concert #849 (May 15, 2019).

Brooklyn Rider was on a Tiny Desk nearly a decade ago.  My main take away was how poorly it was lit.  I enjoyed them for their multicultural take on classical music.  For this Tiny Desk, they team up with Mexican singer Magos Herrera (whom I’ve never heard of).

When the intrepid string quartet known as Brooklyn Rider first visited the Tiny Desk nine years ago, no one knew what the musicians might play. They’re as likely to trot out an Asian folk tune as they are a string quartet by Beethoven, or one of their own compositions.

For this visit though, we knew exactly what was on tap. The band, fronted by the smoky-voiced Magos Herrera and backed by percussionist Mathias Kunzli, performed three songs from the album Dreamers, a collection steeped in Latin American traditions.

The versatile Mexican singer, who has never sounded more expressive, notes that these songs emerge from struggle.

She says, “Although there is a lot of light and usually I don’t sing that early, my heart is warm and expanding.”

The first song, Gilberto Gil’s bossa nova-inspired “Eu vim da Bahia” is “a tribute to his home state. He released it in 1965 as Brazil’s military dictatorship took charge.”  I love that between the heart-felt words, there is a gorgeous instrumental passage from the quartet (Johnny Gandelsman and Colin Jacobsen: violins; Nicholas Cords: viola; Michael Nicolas: cello).

She says the songs transcend dark times with the values of their words.  Gil wrote the tune a year before the dictatorship was installed in Brazil

The atmospheric, flamenco-tinged “La Aurora de Nueva York,” composed by Vicente Amigo, has lyrics from a poem written by Federico García Lorca, the Spanish poet who wrote it while he was in residence in New York in the 1920s.  She says “A Poet in New York is my favorite book” and this poem is the most iconic poem from the book.  Her voice is smoky and impassioned.  There’s some wonderful pizzicato from the quartet.  There’s some lovely solo moments from the violins and some spectacular percussion sounds from Mathias Kunzli.

García Lorca, who fell to assassins during the Spanish Civil War in 1936.

The final track “Balderrama,” by the Argentine folk legend Gustavo Leguizamón, ruminates on a café which served as a safe haven for artists to talk about their work.

One of the members of Brooklyn Rider says that when they talked about this project, they wondered which songs to do.  Which would best represent beauty in the face of difficult circumstances–an antidote to cynicism.  What is most precious and beautiful to a culture.

This song and all of them certainly do that.

[READ: May 16, 2019] “The Presentation on Egypt”

I have enjoyed everything I’ve read by Bordas.  And I really enjoyed this one.  A story would have to be good if the apparent main character has your name and–before committing suicide–has to pull the plug on a brain-dead man with your son’s name.  [That was painful to read].

The story opens with Paul telling the wife of the brain-dead man that he is completely brain-dead.  Unlike on TV, he wasn’t going to magically snap out of it.  When the wife finally agreed to pull the plug and the main died, Paul went home, had a cigarette, and hanged himself.

Paul had a wife and a daughter (if either one had my wife or daughter’s name, I would have had to give Bordas a call).  Paul hanged himself in the laundry room, perhaps knowing that his daughter would never go in there. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: OHMME-Tiny Desk Concert #848 (May 9, 2019).

It’s not very often that I have seen a band before I have seen their Tiny Desk Concert (most of the time it’s the Tiny Desk Concert that makes me want to see the band). But I saw OHMME open for Jeff Tweedy last year and they were amazing.

This Tiny Desk captures most of that amazingness with some difference. Like in our show, Sima Cunningham (white guitar) and Macie Stewart (blue guitar) sang and played guitar (intensely fuzzed out guitar).  But at our show, one of them played violin for a few songs, which is not used here, and here they have a drummer, Matt Carroll.

When Sima Cunningham and Macie Stewart fired up their angular guitar sounds during soundcheck at the Tiny Desk, I was thrilled. The shrieking, rhythmic noise these two classically trained musicians make as Ohmme is what made their debut album, Parts, a musical highlight for me in 2018. But hearing them in the office, trading vocals with such ping-pong precision, sent me into euphoria. This is now one of my all-time favorite Tiny Desk concerts.

Sima Cunningham and Macie Stewart, along with drummer Matt Carroll, steer clear of rock music clichés that plague so much of the music I hear these days. Their adventurous spirit is sometimes challenging. But it opens a window on what the voice can be. It also redefines what the guitar can do — at one moment it’s a stuttering percussive instrument, the next it’s a bed of noise with a harsh tone that somehow morphs its way into the melody.

This show has four songs (!)  Yay!  Sixteen minutes of songs from an artist I like.

“Water” is the song that blew my mind when I saw them live.  That amazing buzzy guitar sound, the way the guitars morph and change, the way the bridge is harsh and alienating, the noise-filled “solo” and then of course, the hocketing.  I am frankly shocked that the blurb doesn’t talk about the hocketing:

the rhythmic linear technique using the alternation of notes, pitches, or chords. In medieval practice of hocket, a single melody is shared between two (or occasionally more) voices such that alternately one voice sounds while the other rests.

Both Sima and Macie alternate notes in a beautiful yet disorienting melody.  And the wonderfully noise-filled guitar solo that Macie plays is such a wonderful contrast to the catchy melody of the song.  It’s a stunning song.

“Icon” is a simpler song–on the surface.  The verses are a simple up and down melody–soothing and familiar.  But the chorus just takes off with high notes and an unexpected emphasis on the words “I want a new icon.”

“Parts” has Macie playing a looping guitar line while Sima plays a low bass-ish part.  They sing in harmony with Sima taking some occasional low notes.   This song has some very cool dramatic slow downs and build ups combined with wonderful lyrics.

My bloody Mary had arrived and so I bent into the pain
He can’t believe all the distortions I put my body in
Like an acrobat and banshee decided to inhabit
The same fleshy husk and it’s my job to stand it
A fly with a vengeance kept landing like a dancer
He must have had a grudge for some dead ancestor
I smashed last summer in a fit of rage
I don’t like little things touching my face

Sima also takes very pretty guitar solo on this one.

The final song “Grandmother” goes out to their grandmothers whom they love very much.  After a quiet opening (featuring Sima’s wonderful vocals), the song takes off in a three note rocking motif (with Sima scratching up and down her guitar for interesting sound effects).  Then Macie takes off with a noise-fueled guitar solo that would make any 90s band proud.

They are wonderful live and I can’t wait to see them again.

[READ: May 13, 2019] “Brawler”

I enjoyed Groff’s book of short stories recently, so I was intrigued to read this one as well.  And it features Groff’s unique peculiarities of subject and outlook.

Sara was on the diving team.  As the story opens, Sara is late for the match (but has not missed it).  She was in detention for getting in a fight–her knuckles were bloody and raw.  But she snuck out of detention when the moderator fell asleep.  Her coach called her “Brawler.”

Sara had originally been on the swimming team, but she was caught “brushing the boys’ junk in their Speedos with her hand as they swam by in the next lane.”  Diving suited her more, anyway.

Her dive was a success, even if she had to cover her minor foul with her bloodied knuckles (apparently the back of her head had grazed the board). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: TORO Y MOI-Tiny Desk Concert #845 (April 29, 2019).

I have been hearing about Toro Y Moi for quite some time and yet I never got a sense what he (they) were like.  I also always assumed it was a duo (which apparently it is not).

Chaz Bear, who performs as Toro y Moi, is going to do what he feels. In preparation for his Tiny Desk concert, we were given two possible sound scenarios: aim to recreate the heavily electronic and lustrous aura that birthed his latest LP, Outer Peace or strip away the bells and whistles for an acoustic performance. The game-time decision was the latter and fans were treated to brand new iterations of these songs.

I had assumed that the music was dancey, so this acoustic rendition was a surprise.  Reading that blurb makes more sense.

Toro y Moi’s discography conveys that same unpredictability and showcases his affinity for a wide span of genres. While largely known as an early pioneer of chillwave, Outer Peace is anything but. It’s hard-hitting, funky and directly to the point, as is this Tiny Desk concert.

It’s true.  “Laws of the Universe” is as funky as anything (that bass!–Patrick Jeffords) with the stabs of piano (Tony Ferraro) really bring the melody home.  The drums (Andy Woodward) snap and pop and bring the song to life.  And I love the nod to LCD Soundsystem: “James Murphy is playing in My house.” (we should have all replied “my house”).

Stripping down such heavily produced songs could risk revealing weaknesses. In this case, the rhythms move just the same. Removing the Auto-Tune, synths and effects make way for some insightful songwriting that’s often hard to hear in the recorded version.

Like in “New House” which is “about wanting that gold.”  It comes across as such a simple song with simple but relatable lyrics.

I want a brand new house
Something I can not buy, something I can afford
I ain’t even make it off the jetway now
Phone’s been on blast like all day (Ring)
Why you gotta do this? Try to test me now
Right when I touchdown got anxiety (Fuck)
Follow signs out of the terminal now
JFK is a different animal now
Damn baggage claim is like a warzone now
Glad I packed light clothes, I’m on my own

He has a simple, quite vocal delivery here in this mellow song.

“Freelance” returns that funk in the bass with more nice piano punctuation of melody.  I love this verse:

No more shoes and socks, I only rock sandals
I can’t tell if I’m hip or getting old
I can’t hear you, maybe you could change your tone

For the final song they brought out a special guest (who I didn’t know).

With shaker in tow, Bear sat front and center at a stool to deliver four of my favorites from Outer Peace, including “Ordinary Pleasure,” with bongo assistance from Foots of Foot and Coles.

There is definitely a sameness to the set (are they all in the same chord?)  His quiet delivery and the spare piano are all there.  But each song has a moment that lets it stand out.

Like the funky bass and the insanely catchy chorus of “Ordinary Pleasure.”  The bass and ooohs have a very disco feel to it as you dance along to “Maximize all the pleasure, even with all this weather, nothing can make it better, maximize all the pleasure.”

I have since listened to all four songs and I found the Tiny Desk versions to be more enjoyable each time–except for “Ordinary Pleasure” because the disco is ramped up on the album and it’s impossible not to shake to it.

[READ: April 29, 2019] “Poetry”

There is so much going on in this story, that it’s amazing it keeps its coherence.

James and Celeste are on vacation near a volcano.  Possible rain suggested that Celeste would not enjoy the hike but, “so, frankly, did Celeste’s dislike of hikes.”  But the volcano was there and so they had to climb it.  Celeste could sit out out, of course, but “there was the looming question of marriage and children, after all and of the deeper compatibility of our interests.”

She had once told an acquaintance that he needed harrowing ordeals to prove he’s not on the road to death.

The hike was tough–straight up, it felt–and it did rain.  He hoped they would both hold on to the idea that suffering underwrote a deeper pleasure.  He promised it would be over soon and they would enjoy the taste of prune de Cythère.  (Even though neither one knew what it actually was). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MAJOR HIT-Robert De Niro at the Tony Awards Remix (2018).

Who is Major Hit?  No idea.

Is this remix very good?  Not really.  It’s only a minute or so.

Is it hilarious?  Yes.

Is it satisfying?  Hell Yes.

Will you listen to it more than once?  Probably not.

But will you feel a little bit better about your taxes after hearing this?  Well, probably not.

Actually, it might make you feel a little better.  And you probably find yourself quoting De Niro, too.

 

[READ: April 4, 2019] The Awakening of My Interest in Advanced Tax

Madras Press publishes limited-edition short stories and novella-length booklets and distributes the proceeds to a growing list of non-profit organizations chosen by our authors. For this particular book, proceeds to benefit Proceeds to benefit Granada House.

Originally appearing at the heart of The Pale King, David Foster Wallace’s posthumous semi-novel, this extended monologue brilliantly rambles its way around the circumstances that brought its narrator out of his ‘wastoid’ childhood and into maturity at the IRS. Along the way, he falls under the spell of a fake Jesuit, considers the true meaning of a soap opera station break, and narrowly escapes a gruesome death on the subway.

This is the final Madras Press book that I had left to read.  Since I has already read The Pale King, I was in no hurry to read this one.  But now it’s nice to say that I’ve finished all of the Madras Press books.  And that I could post this just in time for the massive Republican tax scam in which thanks to trump and his evil puppet mcconnell, my tax return dropped over $3,000.  Bastards.   May they all rot in prison.  And then hell.

Interestingly, back when I read this during Pale Summer (2014), this entire section was one week’s reading.  So my post from that week is still relevant.    It is posted almost in its entirety below:

This book is an excerpt from The Pale King.  In the book, it is almost 100 pages of one person’s testimony.  Without the novel for context, this excerpt stands on its own just fine.  It is basically an unnamed person’s introduction.  This narrator is so detail oriented that everything gets the same amount of importance–snowfall, the way to score drugs, the effects of drugs, Christian roommates, his father’s death, his mother’s lesibianism, oh and taxation.

So much of it is “irrelevant,” that I hate to get bogged down in details.  So this is a basic outline of ideas until the more “important” pieces of information surface.

For the most part, this is all inside one man’s head as he talks about his life in college, after college, and into the Service.  Mostly this is simply a wonderful character study, full of neuroses and problems that many people face at some point (to one degree or another).  The interviewee states that “A good bit of it I don’t remember… from what I understand, I’m supposed to explain how I arrived at this career.”

Initially he was something of a nihilist, whose response to everything was “whatever.”  A common name for this kind of nihilist at the time was wastoid.  He drifted in and out of several colleges over the years, taking abstract psychology classes.  He says that his drifting was typical of family dramas in the 1970s–son is feckless, mother sticks up for son, father squeezes sons shoes, etc. They lived in Chicago, his father was a cost systems supervisor for the City of Chicago. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKRHEOSTATICS-Copps Coliseum, Hamilton, ON (December 11, 1996).

This is the 22nd night of the 24 date Canadian Tour opening for The Tragically Hip on their Trouble At The Henhouse Tour.  This is the last date of the tour (so far) for which there are recordings.

The show opens with a great “Midwinter Night’s Dream” followed by a rocking “Fat.”  As the song ends with the “bye byes” Dave save “see you in the next song, Martin.”

“All the Same Eyes” is a rocking good time.  And then, after a little riff, Martin starts “Motorino” which sounds great.

Dave says, “Hi we’re the Rheostatics, not to be confused with The Howl Brothers–they couldn’t make it.  But we’ve got their jackets.”  He mentions that they have a new album out, “get it before its reduced to clear.”

During “Bad Time to Be Poor” after “feeling winter through a crack in the door,” Tim goes brrrrrr.  More Tim on “Claire” with some great soaring harmony vocals before Martin’s rather grunting solo.  Although at the end, instead of spelling C-L-A-I-R-E, Tim seems to be singing Steve L.A. yea yea yea confides in me”

The set ends with two scorching tracks.  A terrific “California Dreamline” and a roaring “Feed Yourself” (with a really intense ending).

As the feedback fades, Dave says, “Thanks to the Tragically Hip.  God bless.”

It’s a nice way to end the tour–but maybe someday we’ll hear those last two shows.

[READ: April 9, 2019] “The Unexpected”

This was a darkly amusing story (yes, it is Joyce Carol Oates) that I had to wonder if it was in any way autobiographical or just horrifyingly possible.

The story is about a writer receiving an honorary doctorate of humane letters from the community college near her home town in update New York.  She left and never came back, but has been writing about her home town for much of her career.

She is awkward from the start, “Thank you for the honor.  I am very–honored.”

She receives applause–not thunderous, but polite, even warm .  But her speech seems to fall flat (if it can even be heard over the fighter jets).  But when she is finished, she pauses and the response is enthusiastic and she wonders “Is there where I belong now?” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: COURTNEY MARIE ANDREWS-Tiny Desk Concert #838 (April 3, 2019).

There is nothing worse than liking an artist and then having another artist with a similar name come along at the same time.

When I first heard of Courtney Marie Andrews, Courtney Barnett was just releasing her latest album.  And so every time I heard the name Courtney, I tuned in to see what Barnett was up to.  When it was followed by Marie Andrews, I was always disappointed.  Especially since I didn’t find this Courtney all that interesting.

Courtney Marie Andrews is part of that incessant tide of country musicians trying to crossover.   Okay technically she’s Americana, but certainly on the country side of Americana.

On the plus side, Courtney has a really powerful voice which is a pretty impressive thing indeed.   But I don’t really care for these three songs all that much.

“May Your Kindness Remain” opens with just keys (Alassane Gregoire Diarra) and her singing.   Even with little accompaniment, her voice is powerful and string.  And the lyrics are interesting:

“And if your money runs out
And your good looks fade
May your kindness remain
Oh, may your kindness remain”

The drums are brushed (William Mapp) and for the most part the song is pretty quiet.  Courtney herself is playing some simple chords and notes.  But as the song (and her voice) build toward the final chorus, she hits a big fuzzy guitar chord which really wakes up the song.

“Rough Around the Edges” opens with piano and bass (Ole Kirkeng) and vocals.  It’s a delicate song that definitely leans more country.

“This House” is dedicated to the best dog who ever lived (it would churlish to mock that the golden retriever is named Tucker–I’m sure it had a red bandanna too).  So yes, dead Tucker is buried near This House and he gets a mention in the lyrics. It’s that kind of song.

[READ: April 3, 2019] “Lulu”

This is a story of twins in China.  The narrator was born first “indignant and squalling,” while Lulu came next –perfectly quiet.  Lulu was precocious, and their parents showed their fondness for that.   She was always reading and easily got honors.  While the narrator… didn’t.  He rebelled against her brilliance by playing lots of video games.

Their parents were workers–their mother in a warehouse, father as a government employee.  They believed in the system and stood fast by it.

When it was time, Lulu scored high enough on exams to earn a place at university.  Their parents were thrilled.  The narrator also went to college, but with far less fanfare.  He says he didn’t really miss her then (he wasn’t old enough to realize it).  Plus Lulu was a huge user of social media.  He was able to find her “anonymous” account pretty easily since he knew so much about her and that’s how he kept tabs on her.

She came to visit when her school was in town for a debate and they had dinner.  They talked mostly about him.  Lulu thought video games were a waste of time but he said “it’s a profession now, you know… you can win big prize money.”

By the end of the night he finally asked Lulu about herself.  She said she was pregnant but would be getting an abortion. The father, Zhangwei, was a good man and they would be staying together: “He’s very noble.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: NAO-Tiny Desk Concert #833 (March 18, 2019).

This was possibly my least favorite Tiny Desk Concert I have seen.  And it was endless.  It kills me when bands I like play short sets (often only three short songs) while shows like this push nearly 20 minutes.

Nao’s voice is a comic book character–underneath that comic book voice there’s a powerful voice, but it’s all wrapped up in this goofy–how can you take it seriously–nasally nonsense–and when she goes deep, it’s even more amusing.  Worse yet, her backing singers sound like bleating goats and sheep in the first two songs–single note: “baaa.”

And yet , clearly I know nothing because the blurb describes “Nao’s sophomore effort and one of 2018’s best albums.”

Just to top it off, the album is about astrology.

In astrology, your Saturn return is the time in life when Saturn goes back to the same spot it was at the time of your birth. As Nao explained during her appearance at NPR’s Tiny Desk, “It’s about leaving adolescence and going into adulthood.” This crossing of the threshold that happens around your late 20s to early 30s is the inspiration for Saturn

Maybe I would like the album more if her voice was drowned out in synths.

While Nao usually performs with synthy, electronic twinkles, her day at the Tiny Desk was stripped down by comparison. At times, her lyrics ring out with just a sparse guitar to carry them. Like a roller coaster of unexpected upheaval, Nao’s distinctive vocal range on this four-song set goes from bellowing and husky to soft and coy, often within the same verse. Be it the breezy, Brazilian funk of “If You Ever,” the hallowed harmony of “Orbit” (complete with prayer hands) or the valiant soul-searching of “Make It Out Alive,” it’s almost as if Nao duets with herself, answering her own questions, settling into her own quirks.

I listened to the show twice to see if I was wrong.  The first song is a bit catchy–I like the guitar lick from Ariel O’Neal.  In fact, focusing on her throughout the show is a highlight.

I also really like the part between the songs when she introduces the band, because she’s not singing–it’s a nice light jam.  I admit that it amuses me that she says “that’s my cousin Samson Jatto on drums–he’s not really my cousin I just wanted to say that.”

If she didn’t do the R&B warble, the opening of “Bad Blood” would be okay.  But the comical vocals just undermine anything serious.  And then the bleating starts.  I’m not sure if only Troi Lauren and Taylor Samuels are making the goat sounds, but it sounds like it’s coming from all around the room.

“Orbit is similarly okay to start with.   “Make It Out Alive” is the fastest song in the show, with some uptempo keys and bass from Joe Price and Henry Guy.

If it were one song on a mixtape, I’d skip it, but 20 minutes was a lot to take.

[READ: March 26, 2019] “Setting the World to Rights”

A powerful opening from this story: “All his life he lived on hatred.  He was a solitary man who hoarded gloom.”

And how about this: “Good people are afraid of hatred, and even tend not to believe in it.  If it appears before their eyes, they generally call it dedication or some such name.”

Those in the kibbutz believed the subject of the story (unnamed) was full of faith and dealt severely with the world–“We invested him with a halo of self-sufficient reticence.”  This halo afforded protection against gossip although the children called him ‘wicked Haman” and pointed fingers at him.

He works with machines and is efficient and hates waste. (more…)

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