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SOUNDTRACK: THE COMET IS COMING-Tiny Desk Concert #924 (December 13, 2019).

I had recently heard good things about The Comet is Coming.  But when I listened to some of their CD I wasn’t all that interested in them.

As a result I wasn’t really expecting much from this Tiny Desk Concert.

But HOLY CRAP!

This was amazing.  So amazing that I immediately looked to see if they were playing anywhere near me, because I must see them live!

Turns out they played the Foundry in Philly back in March.  I sure wish I had seen that, but am just happy they didn’t play there last week or something, because it means they might be back in a few months!

The musicians are King Shabaka on saxophone; Danalogue on synthesizer and Betamax on drums, and they are each amazing to behold.

I actually thought this might have been one long 20 minute jam, but in fact it is three separate songs from their second album Trust in the Lifeforce of the Deep Mystery.

The set began with a deep drone from keyboardist Dan Leavers, aka Danalogue. It kicked into full gear when he leaped into the air and, on descent, drummer Max Hallett, aka Betamax, whacked the snare drum, setting off a transformative 19-minute concert.

The Comet is Coming is a force of nature. The British trio’s approach to the Tiny Desk was ferocious. Shabaka Hutchings, aka King Shabaka, blew his sax hard while his effects pedal added reverb, expanding not only his sound but altering the office and making it a little eerier.

As soon as Danalogue hit the ground, the drums and sax absolutely take off–fast notes and drum hits as the song intros with sirens and electric bleeps and bloops.  Its hard to even know if the song itself has started or if its just a warm up.  But things mellow out as Danalogue and Betamax slow down.  But just as quickly, that rest is over and the drums and synth are off playing what I assume is now “Super Zodiac.”  King Shabaka plays a wild sax riff and off the song goes.  It’s about five minutes of fast heavy riffage and freeform sax.  There’s even a call and response with the keys and the sax at one point.

Then at around 4 minutes, the beat changes up and things sort of slow down a bit. The song pretty much ends at around 5 minutes, but the synth and drums continue as they begin a slow pounding introduction to the next song.

King Skabaka soon comes in with his sax as the pace picks up.  At around 7 minutes “Summon The Fire” begin with a great saxophone riff.  Moments later, the middle is wild and chaotic fun as King Shabaka gets sweatier and sweatier.  Danalogue must also be super sweaty in his full track suit.  Only Betamax seems calm back there as his arms are flying all over the place.

At 11 minutes, the whole thing comes almost comes to a halt until King Shabaka starts paying the opening riff of “Blood Of The Past.”  The song is more of that great riff making on synth and sax–fast and furious until about half way in when things slow down and there’s a lengthy trippy keyboard solo while the King takes a much-needed breather.

At 16 minutes the set seems like it’s over with rumbling drums and synths but they still have a little energy left– a squealing sax solo followed by Danalogue making all kinds of computer chip and glitch sounds as the set comes to a close.

I had to watch this three times in a row and I am certainly going to give their record another listen on the way home.

[READ: December 23, 2019] “Only Orange”

This was an excellent story to end the year with.  It was so good I saved it for S. to read because there were so many lines I wanted to share with her, I figured she should just read it herself.

The story begins with the narrator, Jeanne, saying to her brother’s girlfriend that she must like beige a lot since she wears it all the time…or maybe oatmeal?

Audrey, the girlfriend is taken aback and says that her pants are green.  And just like that Audrey found out she was color-blind.  She spent the rest of their family vacation asking the color of things.

Her parents thought this was so interesting and really loved talking to her about it but Jeanne thought she was faking–Audrey was twenty-six after all.  Audrey and Lino lived in the U.S. but Jeanne lived in Paris so this family vacation was their first time meeting.  When she asked where Audrey went to school and the answer was “Lewis & Clark,” Jeanne thought she was making it up, thinking fondly of the TV show Lois & Clark.

Jeanne’s brother, Lino, is annoyed at the way she starts acting toward Audrey, but then, he was never nice about Jeanne’s boyfriend Matt.  He only ever said Matt’s name to discuss the qualities of “an average human being” as in “people like Matt don’t care about contemporary theater.”

Jeanne was also jealous of Audrey because she Audrey was adopted:

to be able to look at the people who love you the most and not have to worry that you’ll turn out exactly like them must be amazing, I thought. An endlessly renewable source of relief.

Jeanne is also annoyed about how gullible her mother is being abut Audrey–how could she have read so many novels and still take anything anyone ever said at face value. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KATE BUSH-“Get Out of My House” (1982).

A lot of the music I listen to is weird and probably creepy to other people, but I don’t necessarily think of songs as appropriate for Halloween or not.  So for this year’s Ghost Box stories, I consulted an “expert”: The Esquire list of Halloween songs you’ll play all year long.  The list has 45 songs–most of which I do not like.  So I picked 11 of them to post about.

Most people who know Kate Bush know her songs that have broken the Top Ten.  But if you dig deeper into her catalog, Kate has some really intense and really creepy songs.

I was pretty delighted to see this on Esquire’s list because it’s a pretty deep cut, it seems like a surprising choice and because it gives me chills.

It starts with thumping drums, a plucked string melody (dulcimer?) and a guy making a kind of hee-hawing sound in the distance.

And then the lyrics.  Good old gothic horror:

When you left, the door was
(slamming)
You paused in the doorway
(slamming)
As though a thought stole you away
(slamming)
I watched the world pull you away
(Lock it)
So I run into the hall
(Lock it)
Into the corridor
(Lock it)
There’s a door in the house
(slamming)
I hear the lift descending
(slamming)
I hear it hit the landing
(slamming)
See the hackles on the cat
(standing)
With my key I
(lock it)
With my key I
(lock it up)

The next part has Kate speaking in a funny voice (and in French) in your left ear before the “chorus” (such as it is) features Kate singing the main lyrics quietly and slowly while the recurring refrain is her shrieking and gasping at he top of her lungs (but recorded so it sounds far away) “Get Out of My House!”

The middle of the song gets more frantic.

This house is full of m-m-my mess
(Slamming)
This house is full of m-m-mistakes
(Slamming)
This house is full of m-m-madness
(Slamming)
This house is full of, full of, full of fight
(Slam it)

Midway through the song, while repeating “Get Out of my House!” the dulcimer returns playing a bouncy melody while a man’s voice whispers creepily in your right ear:

“Woman let me in!
Let me bring in the memories!
Woman let me in!
Let me bring in the Devil Dreams!”

Kate replies:

I will not let you in!
Don’t you bring back the reveries
I turn into a bird
Carry further than the word is heard

The man counters:

“Woman let me in!
I turn into the wind.
I blow you a cold kiss,
Stronger than the song’s hit.”

Kate concludes:

I will not let you in
I face towards the wind
I change into the Mule
“I change into the Mule.”

She turns into the Mule and starts braying and hee-hawing, which then transforms into the man who did it at the beginning of the song.

That’s not quite the end, but I’m not even sure what’s going on as the song ends–voices keep muttering something over and over.

It’s five and a half minutes of confusion and creepiness.  Perfect Kate Bush.

[READ: October 23, 2019] “It Feels Better Biting Down”

Just in time for Halloween, from the people who brought me The Short Story Advent Calendar and The Ghost Box. and Ghost Box II. comes Ghost Box III.

This is once again a nifty little box (with a magnetic opening and a ribbon) which contains 11 stories for Halloween.  It is lovingly described thusly:

Oh god, it’s right behind me, isn’t it? There’s no use trying to run from Ghost Box III, the terrifying conclusion to our series of limited-edition horror box sets edited and introduced by Patton Oswalt.

There is no explicit “order” to these books; however, I’m going to read in the order they were stacked.

I don’t know Livia Llewellyn, but if her other stories are anything like this, she must have a wonderfully bizarre body of writing.

This story starts off fairly conventionally.  Twin sisters wake up to the sound of a lawnmower. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE TALLEST MAN ON EARTH-“I’m a Stranger Now” (2019).

I’ve enjoyed The Tallest Man on Earth and I’ve been looking forward to seeing him live for a while.  I’ve actually had really back luck with his tours.  One time something came up on the night I was supposed to see him.  Another time he had to cancel his tour.  But, with luck, I will get to see Kristian Matsson live.

The Tallest Man on Earth sings simple folk songs.  The greatness of his songs comes from his voice and delivery.  There’s something about his voice and his style that is steeped in American folk, but the fact that he’s from Sweden changes his outlook and his accent.

This song from his album I Love You, It’s a Fever Dream follows in the style he is known for–spare, simple melodies and his often wordy lyrics.

Starting with fast acoustic chords (played high on the neck), Kristian begins singing in his familiar but unique style.  The bridge ends with a fast vocal melody that is a pure hook that leads to the singalong titular chorus.

After three minutes, the song slows down to a quiet guitar melody and near-whispered vocals.

[READ: May 1, 2019] The Man on Platform 5

I know Robert Llewellyn from the show Red Dwarf, of which I am a huge fan.

In fact, I didn’t know anything about this story, but I figured if Kryten wrote it, it must be good.  I had read his memoir, the wonderfully titled Thin He Was and Filthy Haired, and I was sure I had read this at the time as well.  But evidently not, because when I started flipping through it I realized I didn’t know a thing about this story.  I also see that he has written quite a lot more in the last two decades.

It seems fairly obvious from the get go that this story is a gender reversing story of Pygmalion or My Fair Lady.  Instead of a man trying to improve a woman, in this story, a woman is trying to “improve” a man.  In some ways it’s very modern and progressive and in other ways it’s pretty stuck in gender stereotypes.  But hey it was the 90’s, before writers were enlightened.

The man who needs bettering is Ian Ringfold.  He is a trainspotter!  (I love that Llewellyn made that his hobby as I have heard of it but never knew exactly what it entailed).  He loves obscure facts, dry goods (he works in a supermarket) and being incredibly dorky.  He is deeply into what he likes and genuinely can’t understand why other people wouldn’t like those things.

Enter Gresham and Eupheme.  They are half-sisters and have spent pretty much their entire lives squabbling.  Their train breaks down on the same platform that Ian is currently trainspotting.  Eupheme, the more humane one of the two, bets Gresham that she can turn this sad “anorak” into a “useful member of society.”  Gresham says it cannot be done.  Eupheme (who is short on funds) says that if she can turn this loser into someone that Gresham would fancy that Gresham would pay her a tidy sum.  (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKWYCLEF JEAN-“Maria Maria Medley” 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.

So this was Wyclef Jean, who I feel has been keeping a low profile but who apparently is always busy,

At this point in his life and career, Wyclef Jean can do just about whatever he wants. He’s sold millions in many configurations: as a leader of The Fugees, as a solo artist, as a featured guest on Shakira’s eternal “Hips Don’t Lie,” as a producer and collaborator on Santana’s Grammy-winning 1999 blockbuster Supernatural and more.

His latest project is an endearing exercise in torch-passing called Wyclef Goes Back to School, an album in which he collaborates with college students he’d scouted in a talent search.  Jean showed up with an electric guitar and a pair of young mentees: Jazzy Amra and Jeremy Torres, the latter of whom joined him for a loose and appropriately smooth take on “Maria Maria.”

As polished as the result sounds once it gets rolling, the performance’s improvisational nature gets stated right upfront for the audience to see: “So Jeremy, what I’m gonna do is, I’m just gonna vibe. And just keep up. OK? Keep up with Uncle Wyclef.”

Jeremy starts playing and Jean says, “Don’t do that, let me go first.”   Jean plays the song simply on the guitar and Jeremy sings some occasional backing notes.  Mid song, Jean starts singing some nonsense sounds and then stops and says, ” Now that’s what you call mumble rap.”

Midway through the song Jeremy takes over and strums and sings his  lyrics “Dominicana, she looks like Rhianna” and turns the song into an ode to a “mujer de Cuba.”  He has a good voice, although it’s a bit whiny to me.

There’s a lot to be said for this project even if I didn’t love the song.

[READ: March 19, 2019] Dear Sister

This story was so cute and so sweet and made me cry a whole bunch.  Which is pretty good for a graphics-heavy Tween book that you can read in twenty minutes.

The brother in the book is a few years older than his new baby sister.  The first page says “Dear Sister, They told me to draw a picture of you for your baby book.”  And on the bottom half of the page is a screaming baby with stuffed animals plugging their ears.

The illustrations by Bluhm are outstanding.

The next page:

Dear Sister,

They told me to write yo ua Three Months Old note for your baby book.

Here you go.

From, Brother

P.S. The reason I signed it from is because I am not sure I love you yet.

(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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SOUNDTRACKAGES AND AGES-“Divisionary (Do the Right Thing)” (Field Recordings, August 28, 2014).

I really like this song.  I’ve heard several recordings of it.  The studio version, the Tiny Desk Concert, the one with the Northwest Children’s Choir and now this one.

Once again, done during the Newport Folk Festival, this Field Recording [Ages And Ages, Singing An Anthem For (And With) Everyone] corrals a band into a small, unused space. In this case, that space seems to be an unused room.  And in that small room, the band is joined by The Berklee Gospel and Roots Choir.

Bob Boilen says:

I’ve seen many magical collaborations at the Newport Folk Festival over the years, as artists band together and create in the Newport spirit. This particular venture was epic, featuring the strongest anthem of the year — by the Portland band Ages and Ages — and the voices of the Berklee Gospel and Roots Choir.

This song always sounds better with a big chorus of singers.  There’s not much to it, but the full body of voices can lift anyone;s spirits.  Especially when they start singing various different melodies on top of each other.  It’s quite lovely.

Ages and Ages played near me recently and I thought about seeing them and then I realized that this is the only song I know by them!

[READ: January 2, 2017] “How Can I Help?”

This is a story about a woman and her sister.  But the way the story is revealed is really wonderful.

It begins: “Consider Hayley, our hire of two months, a relative endurance run.”

The narrator bemoans Hayley’s decisions, like spending $4.25 (roughly 31 minutes of work at her salary) each day on a skim latte coffee from an unnamed retailer even though their office offers the same coffee in-house for free.

In the second paragraph, she says “I like and admire Hayley, she is a team player.  I don’t judge.  But I have of late been tempted to judge.”

And that’s when she reveals that perhaps her objectivity is clouded because Hayley is her sister. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE McCRARY SISTERS AND THE FAIRFIELD FOUR-“Rock My Soul” (Field Recordings, September 20, 2015).

Hearing these eight voices intertwine so beautifully is wonderful (I especially love the bass voice).  Knowing how the voices are connected is pretty cool, too.

The original Fairfield Four was founded nearly 95 years ago in Nashville, and has remained relevant into the present day; many current listeners know the group from its appearance in the Coen Brothers’ 2000 film O, Brother, Where Art Thou? The McCrary Sisters are the daughters of the now-deceased longtime Fairfield Four lead voice, Samuel McCrary; together, they’ve made a major impact as that rare thing in a mostly masculine preserve, a female gospel quartet. To hear these voices perform “Rock My Soul” together is to feel the power of living history and the timelessness of family connection.

“Rock My Soul,” powered by their persistent clapping is just wonderful.  Their voices sound amazing, their harmonies are wonderful. It’s a joyful three minutes.

[READ: August 29, 2018] “The Wind Cave”

This is a somber story from Murakami.

It concerns a boy and the death of his younger sister when she was 12.  She was born with a malfunctioning heart valve and although she was never robust, it was still a surprise that she died so young.

His parents told him to watch over her, to look after her because she was so delicate.  The fact hat he couldn’t save her from death (no one could) has hung over him.

He hated seeing her in the coffin and he grew claustrophobic even thinking about her in that tiny box.  The symptoms didn’t start right away but occurred after he had been locked in a box truck.  He was working a part time job and was accidentally locked into the back of the truck when people wanted to leave early.  (Frankly I would think that might trigger claustrophobia more than anything having to do with his sister).

But now he can no longer ride in elevators or watch movies about submarines. (more…)

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