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592016 SOUNDTRACK: PETER FRAMPTON-Tiny Desk Concert #525 (April 27, 2016).

framptonI’ve never been a big fan of Frampton.  Never disliked him, just never got into him.  It always made me laugh that Frampton Comes Alive was so huge and yet I only ever knew two songs from it.  And in my head the only thing he was known for was that voice guitar thing.

So it’s interesting to see him now, considerably older with much less hair. Indeed he changes the lyrics to the first song “All I Want To Be (Is By Your Side)” to “I don’t care now that I’ve…lost some hair.”  For this song it’s just him playing an acoustic guitar and singing–no effects.  (This is all in tour of his new Acoustic Classics album).  It’s interesting to hear him playing such a folkie song (which sounds a bit like Eric Clapton).  But the more important thing is that his voice sounds great.  Many singers his age simply don’t have the voice anymore, but he certainly does.  He hasn’t lost anything.

For the second song, “Lines On My Face,” he is joined by Gordon Kennedy.  Kennedy has been his writing partner for decades.  Together they wrote some of Frampton’s classics as well as a song for Eric Clapton and Bonnie Raitts’ new single “Gypsy in Me.”  He says that this song is something he wrote a long time ago and it’s still a favorite.  While Kenendy plays acoustic backing chords, Frampton plays some good solos on that acoustic guitar.

For being Peter Frampton, he was actually very humble and self-effacing and rather funny.  There’s a good moment when he says he didn’t expect quite this many people.  “You hear like “clap clap clap….”

Of course, I know “Baby, I Love Your Way.”  I’m not exactly sick of it, but I don’t go out of my way to listen to it.  However, in this new acoustic format I really got to listen to the song anew.  It’s really quite a nice song.  And when the crowd spontaneously chimes in and sings along he seems genuinely pleased and it makes the song t hat much better.

This Tiny Desk made me appreciate Peter Frampton in a way I never thought I would.

[READ: June 10, 2016] “Three Short Moments in a Long Life”

I enjoy when a story has Parts.  This one has three and they all connect, which is even better than three discrete parts.  But this story, which covers a man’s life from childhood to old age is really quite a downer.  It speaks volumes about the futility of life without actually ever saying anything about it.

Part 1 is called The Spy (although I’m not entirely sure why).  In it, the narrator talks about Beverly LaPlante.  He and Beverly were in second grade together.  She was very shy and cried a lot.  They both hated recess and he was afraid to get lumped in with–the kids made fun of her a lot.  Midway through the year she left the school and that was that.

Third grade meant a new teacher and he had a crush on her.  Then one day during dodge ball he noticed that there was a new girl.  And her name was Beverly LaPlante.  But there was no way she was the same girl, right?  She wasn’t shy at all, in fact, she ended the dodgeball game by cursing out some of the losers.  He was upset that he sweet teacher didn’t yell at her.  When she finally said something to the girl, Beverly shouted “Jesus Christ and shit, piss, fuck!”

The narrator prayed that night–he prayed that Beverly would die.  He immediately took it back but it was too late.

Part 2 is called The Writer.

In this brief part the boy is grown up.  He is a writer, and has written several books which no one cared about.  While he was thinking about writing, there was a knock at the door.  He opened it and there was Jesus: “he had long blond hair and those eyes that follow you around the room.”  Except of course it wasn’t Jesus, right?  It was a just a guy looking for work or change.

Part 3 is called The Substance of Things Hoped For.

As the section opens the man is now eighty–lying on his bed unable to move.  We learn that he has Parkinson’s and is being taken to the hospital for pneumonia.

He has felt like a burden to his wife and some time ago tried to kill himself. It failed obviously but she told him if he ever did that again she’d kill him herself: “She’s a genuine saint, the real thing, without any pious crap, so she’s not always easy to live with.”

He is in the hospital for a while, marveling at the attendants and how young they seem.  He wonders if and when he is going to die.

This last part seemed really extraneous and not very meaningful.  I realize that it was meant to wrap everything up but I would have preferred to have the two parts together and let me imagine the third.

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augSOUNDTRACK: GAELYNN LEA-Tiny Desk Concert #513 (March 11, 2016).

graeGaelynn Lea won the Tiny Desk Contest and within a few days she was ready to appear for her formal Tiny Desk Concert.

She began her set with the prize winner, “Someday We’ll Linger In The Sun.”  The song was beautiful and haunting in the video, and it sounded just as good live.  She joked that with a loop pedal you have to be perfect, and it was.  Watching her play these notes is even more interesting than hearing them.

Gaelynn is clearly a little nervous, but she is still charming as she tells us how she got started in the music world.  She started fiddling because she had a crush on a boy who fiddled.  Simple as that.  She had been in a number of bands in Minnesota.  Then someone gave her a looping pedal and that changed everything for her.

She says that she began experimenting with the old and the new, and that the looping pedal allowed her to do things like play “Southwind.”  The song is 100 years old.  She loops a beautiful melody and then plays an excellent solo over the top it.  I think there’s something about the way she plays–her bowing seems to make her violin sound more like a cello or something–that makes her notes sound more haunting than another violinist might.

After the first two songs, Bob comes out to introduce Gaelynn.  He explains that she is a violin teacher and she has been playing for years and years.  And then he explains that she’s going to have accompaniment for the next two songs–Alan Sparhawk from Low!

Here’s how they met.  Gaelynn was playing at a farmer’s market with a guitar player.  Alan Sparhwawk who is also based in Duluth, MN, heard her playing.  Some time later, he called her (while she was at a wedding) and asked if she’d want to work on a project with him.  They made musis for a silent film and then formed the band The Murder of Crows.

And so Alan joins her for the last two songs.

“Bird” is an upbeat song with a lively lopped violin riff.  Alan plays slow guitars which flesh out the low end.  And then Gaelynn sings as the violin loops and Alan plays low notes.  Alan takes the second verse and then Gaelynn sings a round over the top of his voice.  It’s quite lovely.

She says she never wrote any songs until she met him, and she’s very grateful.

The final song is “Moment of Bliss.”  I really like the melody and vocal line of this song.  And again, the lyrics are really thoughtful.  Sparhawk’s slow guitar and low harmony voice really add depth to this lovely five minute song.  When she plays a looped solo at the end, it’s really beautiful.

[READ: January 25, 2016] “Leap Day”

I don’t think I’ve read too many stories where the plot of a movie is as instrumental to the story as it was in this one.

And when I say that that movie is Brokeback Mountain, it gives you a ton of context clues.

The story is a simple one.  Ernie Boettner is climbing up a grain silo in February.  And then we find out why.

Ernie is a farmer.  The townspeople of Park City, Illinois noticed that he seemed to get a lot of visits from the veterinarian Chester Bradbury.  There was nothing wrong with that per se, but it seemed like sometimes the vet’s truck was there over night.  Which seemed unusual. (more…)

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aug24SOUNDTRACK: IVAN & ALYOSHA-Tiny Desk concert #109 (February 7, 2011).

ivanIvan & Alyosha are a five piece (no one is named Ivan or Aloysha) consisting of Tim Wilson (lead vocals) Ryan Carbary (guitars) Pete Wilson, (Tim’s brother), Tim Kim (acoustic and electric guitars) and drummer Cole Mauro).  They play bouncy folk (I assume that their non-Tiny Desk sound is bigger than two acoustic guitars and a tambourine).

“Beautiful Lie” is the first song.  The lead singer has a gentle falsetto and the other guys add nice harmonies (especially during the oooooooohs).

As they introduce “Easy to Love” Wilson says they recorded it at 2AM in their last half hour at the studio.  And it wound up being the song people like most.  It’s easy to like, with a fun clap-along and a simple electric guitar solo.  Again, I assume the actual song is bigger than this.

“I Was Born To Love Her” is a good jam (their words).  It completes that folks sound with two guitars and lovely harmonies.  They’d be a great opener for Band of Horses.  I’d see that tour.

Incidentally, the band name comes from Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov.

[READ: February 3, 2016] “These Short, Dark Days”

I was planning on saving this story to put it sequentially with the other New Yorker stories that I’ll be posting in the weeks to come.  But this story is set on February 3, so why not post it on that short, dark day, since it is that day, anyhow.

This story begins with a suicide.  A man sees his wife out the door, then covers the windows and door gaps, pulls the gas hose off the stove and brings it with him into the bedroom (who knew the hose would be that long).

The next section of the story jumps to much later as we see a nun, Sister St. Savior, walking down the street.  She is tired and aching from begging all day. But she smells the smell of an extinguished fire and she knows in her heart that she must go there and help.  I love that when she arrives, everyone defers to her.  One of the men even acts as if he has sent for her, when clearly she came of her own design. (more…)

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novSOUNDTRACK: LIZZ WRIGHT-Tiny Desk Concert #116 (March 14, 2011).

lizz Lizz Wright is a gospel singer with a lovely voice.   For some reason she only has two songs here (the editing makes it seem like she does at least one more).

I don’t know Wright at all, but the blurb gives context: Raised on church music in Georgia, Wright is well-versed in the freedom songs of Sweet Honey in the Rock, without whom none of the music here would exist; “I Remember, I Believe” is by that group’s leader, the great Bernice Johnson Reagon, whose daughter Toshi Reagon (Wright’s best friend) co-wrote “Hit the Ground.”

“Hit the Ground” is upbeat and lively.  Whereas “I Remember, I Believe” is far more powerful, but much slower.

Sadly for me, I don’t really like gospel music, especially the slower songs like the second one here.  So I didn’t love this Tiny Desk, but I can certainly appreciate how good a singer she is.

[READ: January 15, 2015] “Williamsburg Bridge”

I don’t know anything else by John Edgar Wideman, so I didn’t really know what to expect with this story.

I certainly did not expect a long (rather dull) story about a man on the Williamsburg Bridge contemplating suicide.

There were some beautiful passages and phrasings here, especially the reflections on Sonny Rollins, but man, this thing just seemed to go on and on. (more…)

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kurt-cobain-montage-of-heck-psterSOUNDTRACK: FOO FIGHTERS-Foo Fighters (1995).

ffDave Grohl was like the anti-Kurt Cobain.  How many photos do you see of him with a big stupid grin on his face.  He seems to be silly and fun all the time (despite some apparent angst in his life).  And how surprising was it to find out that not only could he bang the hell out of the drums, he could also write songs (and play guitar).  Of course we all looked for songs “about” Kurt, on this record, but I realize that Dave only knew Kurt for a couple of years, he likely didn’t even really know him that well.  Dave has other things on his mind.

And somehow, despite the really aggressive often heavy metal feel  of Foo Fighters albums, they are always popular.  Foo Fighters have gotten so big, it’s easy to forget that Grohl was even in Nirvana, which is saying something.

The Foo Fighters debut album was written and performed entirely by Dave Grohl.  I remember when it came out (well, after it was revealed to be Grohls’ album–it was a secret for a little while) listening to it in an apartment in Boston.  I must have listened to it a lot because I know the whole thing so well.

Grohl uses some of the loud/quite format of Nirvana, but mostly he just writes songs with simple lyrics (easy to sing along to even if you don’t know what he’s saying (bridge to “I’ll Stick Around” anyone?) and big catchy choruses.

If you like loud rocking songs, this album is fantastic.  “This is a Call” and “I’ll Stick Around” are super catchy heavy songs.  “Alone + Easy Target” is a bit less catchy, although the chorus has a very cool riff in it.  “Good Grief” is super heavy with an aggressive chorus.

But it’s also git some sweet songs.  “Big Me” is quite tender and it makes me laugh because the drums are so incredibly simple and gentle for a basher like Grohl.  “Floaty” is a really pretty song with some cool fuzzy guitars and a cool riff that goes from bridge to chorus.  The chorus has an aggressive punk riff which complements the rest of the song in an interesting way.

“Weenie Beenie” (I had no idea that’s what the song was called) is loud and aggressive with a massively distorted vocal. It’s kind of a throwaway but shows Grohl’s love of punk.  “Watershed” is a similarly fast punk track and is only 2 minutes.

“Oh, George” is a mid tempo song, with some very catchy moments and a classic rock style guitar solo.  “For All the Cows” opens with a kind of jazzy guitar and drum sound and then really rocks out.  It was released as a single but never did anything, which is a shame because it seems like a joke but is actually quite good.

Even though Grohl did everything on the album, he had a little help from Greg Dulli who played guitar on “X-Static.”  I would never have noticed it was Dulli, although knowing that it’s someone else playing, you can hear a different style in the guitar.  The disc ends with “Exhausted,” a song which sets a kind of trend of longish more meandering songs near the end of Foo Fighters albums.  I don’t love it but its a fine ending.

So many things could have been wrong with this album–a drummer writing songs, and an ex-famous drummer at that.  He even initially wanted to record it with Krist Novoselic, but was afraid that people would think it was a Nirvana band (and he’s very right about that).  Despite all of that, it turned out to be pretty great.  And it was the start of something of a phenomenon.

[READ: May 20, 2015] Montage of Heck

So I was a huge fan of Nirvana (like the rest of the world) when they came crashing forth on my speakers.  And yes, I knew that they saved rock.  But by the time Kurt killed himself, I was bummed but not distraught.  I was never going to have a poster of him on my wall or anything like that.

I was intrigued when I heard this documentary was coming out. But I didn’t have any plans to see it.  And then NPR played an audio excerpt from the movie in which a drugged up Kurt is getting yelled at by Courtney while their infant baby is lying next to them.  And I decided I didn’t need to see that film–it was brutal just to listen to.

Then I saw this book at work and thought it might be an easier dosage than the film.  (Although my friend Eugenie has seen it and says it’s excellent).

It turns out the book has a lot more stuff that the film does (although I can’t say what as I haven’t seen the film).  It consists entirely of interviews and illustrations (very cool ones by Hisko Hulsing and very creepy ones from Stefan Nadelman.   There’s lots of photos and a few excerpts from Kurt’ diaries and the like.

The interview subjects are listed on the page 18-19 spread of the book.  Each has a photo.  There’s Don Cobain and Jenny Cobain (Kurt’s father and stepmother).  Then there’s Wendy O’Connor, Kurt’s mom and she looks exactly like Courtney Love WHAT IS UP WITH THAT?  In her early younger photos she doesn’t.  It is creepy. (more…)

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may4SOUNDTRACK: THE ANTLERS- Tiny Desk Concert #51 (March 15, 2010).

antlersThe Antlers is one of those bands that is critically lauded and whom many people really like but whom I just can’t get into.  (I always think I do, but I believe it’s because I’m thinking of other similarly named bands, because when I listen to a Antlers song, I immediately think, oh it’s that band.)

The band, to be blunt, sings really depressing songs.  (Their then new album was called Hospice, for god’s sake).  And that’s just not my thing.  The music is beautiful, it’s just not for me.

The songs (elegies to a dying friend full of grief and longing) are quite lovely and singer Peter Silberman has a pretty amazing falsetto and the songs feel so fragile that they may fall apart at any minute (and they nearly do a few times at the Tiny Desk).

They play three songs: “Bear,” “Atrophy,” and “Sylvia.”  It’s just three of them.  Silberman on super quiet atmospheric guitar and Michael Lerner and Darby Cicci on drums and keys (not sure who is who).   The drums are simply a snare and a shaker.  And the keyboard is one of those hilariously tiny Korg two octave jobs that is basically like a laptop (I love that he can make so many different sounds with that).

This Tiny Desk is very nice.  The songs are really pretty (I like “Bear” especially with the lyric: “All the while I’ll know we’re fucked and not getting unfucked soon”).   “Atrophy” is similarly fragile with keening falsettos and lyrics like “I’d happily take all those bullets inside you and put them inside of myself.”  When Silberman starts actually playing the guitar at the end the sound is nearly broken.  The final song “Sylvia” is also delicate.  Although the drum is played with mallets (and is rather martial) the song is not any louder.  Indeed, with lyrics like, “Sylvia, get your head out of the oven. Go back to screaming, and cursing, remind me again how everyone betrayed you,” it’s not going to get too crazy.

The band doesn’t talk to the audience.  They play their three songs, seemingly wrapped in a cocoon of their own making.  It’s really quite lovely, just something I wouldn’t want to get involved in too often.

In the notes, it says that the band can really rock out live.  These songs are pretty mellow, so I can’t exactly imagine them rocking out, but I’d be curious to hear what they do as a rocking band.  And, I will admit that after listening to the show twice, I did start to like it a lot more. I’m just not sure I need more music that’s going to make me cry.

[READ: May 10, 2015] “The Apologizer”

I’m not sure why I surprised to see Kundera in the New Yorker.  I guess I don’t think of him as writing much anymore (based on utterly nothing, although I see that his last novel was in 1999) or maybe of not writing short stories (he has but one collection).  So it was a surprise for me  to see his name here.

Regardless, I really enjoyed the way this story was set up.  There were many different small sections that seemed unrelated but then united in a rather unusual way.

The first section: “Alain Meditates on the Navel” was wonderful itself.  Alain notices how all the young girls walk around with their navels showing and he wonders about the seductiveness of the navel.  He compares the navel to the thighs as a center of desire (long thighs indicate the long road towards pleasure) or the buttocks (signifying brutality, the shortest road to the goal) or breasts (the center of female seductive power).  But what of the navel?

Then he reflects back on the last time he saw his mother.  He was ten years old, she touched his navel, maybe gave him a kiss and was gone. (more…)

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ampsSOUNDTRACK: MISSY MAZZOLI-Vespers For A New Dark Age (2015).

missymazzoli_sq-80d1109aad30ab9a4bfe1a45d5c82d99354bc079-s400-c85Missy Mazzoli’s Vespers for a New Dark Age, is a 30-minute suite for singers, chamber ensemble and electronics. The piece was commissioned by Carnegie Hall for the 2014 Ecstatic Music Festival.

It’s a fascinating mix of traditional and contemporary instruments.  And there’s a surprise musician as well: Martha Cluver and Virginia Warnken Kelsey from Roomful of Teeth, provide operatic soprano voices.  Mazzoli’s own ensemble Victoire, provides the music while Wilco drummer Glenn Kotche adds percussion and thunderous pounding.

As the suite opens, electronic chimes sound before the beautifully soaring voices come in (I don’t know who is who).  The instrumentation is complex and the vocals are often in English (but operatic and not always obvious to hear). There’s some great rising and falling notes from various instruments.

The first piece is called “Wayward Free Radical Dreams” and I like the surprise of the simple English phrase “Come on, come on come on” A bell ringing is the segue into part 2, “Hello Lord.”  Over a lonely flute and some synths, the vocalist sings a poem by Matthew Zapruder for lines like: “hello lord / sorry I woke you / because my plans / are important to me / and I need things / no one can buy / and don’t even know / what they are / I know I belong / in this new dark age.”

I love the rising and falling notes of “Interlude 1″ over the fast violin moments.  “Come On All You” opens with some ticking hi-hats and squeaky violins.  There’s a lot of drums in this song—some punctuate the melody until the soprano voice takes over and then around 4 minutes into the section, the drums burst to life.  “New Dark Age” has some moody synths under the soaring voices and “Interlude 2” opens with the sound of big deep bells.

“Machine” has a mechanical staccato feel in both strings and voices.  When it returns to “Come on Come on” refrain (this time with two voices), it’s very cool.  The “Postlude” ends the piece with moody strings and distorted mechanical sounds that overwhelm the voices at times.   The piece ends on an up note but not in an overwhelmingly happy feeling.

The final piece on the disc is not part of the suite, although it fits in sonically.  It is called “A Thousand Tongues (Lorna Dune Remix)” and it has echoing pianos and overlapping synths.  While this piece is pretty it is probably the least interesting of the disc.  Perhaps because there are fewer voices and more synth melodies.  Perhaps because it is a remix.  The song feels fine, but not as compelling as the suite.

I was happy to discover his disc, which really explores different classical motifs.

[READ: March 15, 2015] All My Puny Sorrows

As with many books, but especially those published by McSweeney’s, which I always read, I didn’t really know what this was about.  I can pretty much guarantee it would not have been high on my list had anyone told me it was about dealing with a suicidal sibling.

But what’s great about the McSweeney’s imprint is that they gather such a wide variety of books and most of them are of such good quality that I know I won’t be disappointed.  And this book not only didn’t disappoint, I found it really fantastic.

The story is fairly simple, although from my perspective it was also fairly exotic.  The main action of the book takes place in present day Winnipeg.  But there are flashbacks to the main characters’ childhood in 1979.  And the way it opens–with the family watching as the house that their father built is put on the back of a truck and driven away is one of the more memorable opening passages of a book that I’ve read.

The family consists of the narrator  Yolandi, her older sister Elfrieda and their parents.  And, perhaps most exotic to me they are Mennonites.  Their family is not entirely pious in the tradition in their town–they are seen as somewhat less than observant.  Things were made even worse by the deliberately provocative nature of Elf.  She was creative, she loved to read and she had a real sense of outrage.  The church pastor once accused her of “luxuriating in the afflictions of he own wanton emotions.”  She embraced poetry, particularly the line “all my puny sorrows” and decided it would be her slogan.  So she began spray paining AMPS all over the town. (more…)

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