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Archive for the ‘Supernatural’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: LAWRENCE BROWNLEE AND JASON MORAN-“There’s A Man Going ‘Round Taking Names” (Field Recordings, February 17, 2016). 

I know of Brownlee from a Tiny Desk Concert.  But this is a whole other order of magnitude.  He and pianist Jason Moran are playing a spiritual about death in an active crypt.

Brownlee’s voice is powerful and soaring, but full of anguish.  And Moran’s piano is so intense, especially at the end.  He plays the melody but he allows for a lot of overtones and echo to nearly overpower the music.

At the very end, he plays some high notes by literally chopping at the keys like a karate chop–powerful, sharp and dissonant.

Here’s the blurb for more context:

Opera singer Lawrence Brownlee is known for portraying kings and princes. But lately he’s been thinking about real people: Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and Freddie Gray, to name a few.

He’s been thinking about the Black Lives Matter movement and an old spiritual called “There’s a Man Going ‘Round Taking Names.” Decades ago, singers like Paul Robeson and Lead Belly recorded it. Brownlee, with jazz pianist Jason Moran, revives the old song to tell a new story for the 21st century.

“Jason and I chose this song because we felt it accurately captures a growing sentiment that’s in society today,” Brownlee says. “So many senseless deaths of young African-American men.”

A crypt, they thought, would be an appropriate setting to perform their version of the song. So we took our cameras and microphones — and a lovely piano — deep into the active crypt below the historic Church of the Intercession in Harlem. The 1915 structure at 155th Street and Broadway is a New York City landmark and a dramatic setting for occasional concerts, including a December 2015 recital by Brownlee.

“I know that the ashes of the parishioners of this church are here in this crypt,” Brownlee explains. “You can feel the weight of death, you can feel the sting. It adequately captures the atmosphere, the somber mood that we are trying to capture with this song.”

In this arrangement, an already solemn song becomes even more dark and agitated.

“What [Jason] has done with the piano part has made it build, and you feel the unrest, the turmoil, the tension that is underneath,” Brownlee says. “This is something that is painful and difficult to deal with.”

Woah.

[READ: January 31, 2018] “Self-Portrait with Beach”

This is the story of an older couple who have been together for a while.

They go to the beach, she removes her top and asks “Is the body the house for the soul or are body and soul and one and inseparable.?”  He looks at her and says, “Your body is my soul.”

She laughs that his soul is bound for decay but he continues, ‘Nothing of you will decay as long as I am alive.”

Out of nowhere a man in white comes and offers his homemade beverages.  He says they have unique powers. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SUFJAN STEVENS, BRYCE DESSNER, NICO MUHLY-“Mercury” (Field Recordings, June 8, 2017).

I love Sufjan’s Steven’s voice.  And this song, from the Planetarium project is just beautiful.  [Watch Sufjan Stevens, Nico Muhly And Bryce Dessner Play ‘Planetarium’ Track ‘Mercury’]  It opens with just the simple repeating piano melody and Stevens’ singing.  Eventually a guitar is added, playing complimentary melody.

Steven’s voice remains pure and powerful in this live recording. The viola from Nadia Sirota adds a lovely counterpoint to this song and leads it into the middle part which is minor keys and stings.

“Mercury” is the closing track off Planetarium, a song cycle about the planets by Stevens, Dessner, Muhly and James McAlister. The work was originally composed on commission for the Dutch concert hall Muziekgebouw Eindhoven, and first performed there in 2012. Five turns around the sun later, Planetarium will arrive in recorded form on June 9 via 4AD. “Mercury” is one of the most intimate songs on the record, a quality that’s emphasized by its spot just after the 15-minute, ambient, electronic epic, “Earth.” Where the record’s other songs foreground synthesizers and spastic electric drum samples reminiscent of 2010’s The Age of Adz, “Mercury” largely rests on Muhly’s gentle piano work and Stevens’ beautiful vocal. Where once, in the original live performances, the song swelled to a cinematic rush on the order of Illinois, it’s now spare and elegant. Its warm intimacy is all the more apparent in the group’s live performance, which features Dessner of The National lightly doubling on guitar Stevens’ wordless refrain at the song’s close. Like many of the pieces on the record, its lyrics are a constellation of the cosmic, the personal and the mythological. The song, named for the messenger god, is a perfect musical setting for the feeling of having something dear carried away from you. “All that I’ve known to be of life / and I am gentle,” Stevens sings. “

I love hearing his voice live, because it’s so perfect on record and while this is in no way imperfect, it lets us see a bit of humanity.  Even if this recording isn’t in a field or even an unconventional space, it’s still quite lovely.

[READ: January 3, 2015] “Little Man”

I feel like it takes a lot if chutzpah to recreate a story that is familiar to everyone.  This is the story of Rumpelstiltskin as told from the point of view of the little man himself.

But the twist on it is that Rumpelstiltskin isn’t a strange psycho bent on stealing children.  Rather, he is a lonely man, with no hope of finding love or having a child of his own.  Indeed, the first section is taken up with the man’s desire to have a child and his belief that having a child is not like ordering a pizza, which is how many couples seems to take it.

The story is written in second person (you), so it is meant to be even more intimate. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: PALEHOUND-A Place I’ll Always Go (2017).

Ellen Kempner’s voice is a bit louder in the mix so you can really hear the words despite the fact that she is still singing mostly in a whisper.

It’s a logical step from her previous album and every thing sounds a bit bigger and a bit better.

“Hunter’s Gun” is slow and a little creepy with the echo on her vocals and her whispered lyrics.  There’s also some great weird effects floating around in the background–especially by the end as the echo more or less takes over.

“Carnations” starts simply enough with a quiet chugging riff.  But the chorus is a wonderful–louder guitar with the guitar and vocals doing the same catchy melody.  It also has some great lyrics

They’re still in love with their ex
And I’m not feeling my best
This is a bad combination

‘Cause I’ve been dreaming I might
Just up and bail on this plight
And maybe go on vacation

Pack up my shit in the dark
And if the car doesn’t start
It spares us both conversations

“Room” is slower more acoustic-feeling.  It’s a sweetly romantic song with the lovely chorus line “She keeps me…  at night.”

“If You Met Her” starts out kind of sinister musically, but it has a really catchy chorus as well  It’s a wonderful song about breakup and new love perfectly summed up with this ending line

I’m with someone new
And I know that you would love her if you met her

The set up of rocker followed by slower song continues with  “Silver Toaster,” a loose, acoustic song that reminds of a snarky/simple Nirvana song (with a banjo solo!)

“Turning 21” has a big shoegaze guitar sound and a wonderfully catchy melody in the bridge.

“Flowing Over” mixes some good guitar lines and a rocking mid bridge section but its the oh oh oh oh section and the way it changes throughout the song that is the major hook.

“Backseat” opens with pulsing keys.  It’s a dark mediation that segues into the beautiful guitar of “Feeling Fruit, ” a pedestrian-seeming lyric that is much deeper and quite moving.

“At Night I’m Alright With You.” is a quiet moody song with a real Twin Peaks vibe.

These two releases are great but to really get to see how amazing Ellen is, check her out live.

[READ: January 23, 2018] “A Change in Fashion”

When I read this recently it sounded really familiar.  Clearly I had read it back in 2006 and it was so striking that I remembered it 12 years later.

And indeed, it is a memorable story, even if it’s not especially profound or funny–it’s mildly amusing and thoughtful.

Basically, this is an account of the way fashions changed after the Age of Revelation.  Girls and women were happily showing off their thongs but it was as if, after a half a century of reckless exposure, a weariness had overcome women…a disenchantment to invite a bold male gaze.

At first girls were opposed to it–it reminded them of old photographs in boring albums.  But soon it became stylish to wear dresses that brushed the floor–wearing lambskin gloves and rising collars. (more…)

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nyoct20

SOUNDTRACK: MOBY-One Song, Two Days, Three Versions (Project Song: May 4, 2010).

Project Song was a nifty little show that NPR Music created.  The premise was that NPR would give a musician some prompts and a recording studio.  They then had two days to write and record a song.  I don’t know how much of the process was to be filmed, but presumably most of it. Then it would be edited down to a fifteen minute show.  The results are pretty cool and it’s a shame they only made five of them.

The fifth and (presumably) final one they did was about six months after the previous one.  This Project was offered to Moby.

Moby generally works alone in his New York apartment, but for Project Song, we asked him to bring along a collaborator. He picked Kelli Scarr, a Brooklyn-based singer and songwriter with a breathtaking voice. They arrived at NPR, a bit nervous and eager.

It takes weeks, even years, to write a song. NPR Music’s Project Song challenges musicians to do it in just two days. And every Project Song participant has worked right up to the last-minute — that is, until Moby.

He and collaborator Kelli Scarr finished their song in a little more than a single day. In fact, they had so much time left over, they recorded a second version of the song. And after that, they gave a small concert for the staff at NPR.

I kicked off the songwriting process by showing them a series of photographs and words. The surreal images came from New York artist Phil Toledano; you can see more of his work at NPR’s Picture Show blog. Moby and Scarr are both drawn to an image of a man in the woods wearing a trenchcoat. [Moby: “A disconcerting loneliness that I really like”].  There’s a brown briefcase on the earthen floor beside him, and his head looks like a glowing storm cloud.

Next, I gave them a series of words to choose from. Moby picked the word “flight.” Scarr chose “Sunday,” which Moby calls “the most depressing day of the week.”

Not too long after, Moby puts the card with the word “Sunday” printed on it, along with the photograph, on a nearby chair. He picks up a bass guitar and immediately starts playing a riff in the key of E. Turns out, this hastily played bass line would become the bedrock for their new song.

Just six hours later, the first of three versions of “Gone to Sleep” was recorded.

When he arrives he says he thought about cheating with chords ahead of time, but he likes the idea of jumping headlong into a project.  And as the blurb says, within minutes he’s got a bass line, some synths and drums.  Then a guitar line and more keyboard sounds.

Then they work on lyrics.  Moby says, “My favorite type of unsettling art is art that isn’t immediately unsettling.”  he cites the classic example of “Mack the Knife.”  You first hear it and it’s happy and then you listen to the lyrics and its terrifying.

The end of the video clip plays the whole song, guitar and piano and atmospheric.  Then over the closing credits they play a somewhat less atmospheric, gentler version of the song.  And then there’s the Tiny Desk which is altogether different.

It’s like Moby broke Project Song by making it seem too easy.

[READ: July 27, 2017] “Christina the Astonishing (1150-1224)”

I’ve read a few things by Vladez Quade, but this one is quite different from anything else.  It’s actually quite different form anything else I’ve read, period.  The closest author this reminded me of would be Brendan Connell, who likes to thoroughly investigate a historical character (real or imagined).

But this story is based on an actual; person:

St. Christina the Astonishing has been recognized as a saint since the 12th century. She was placed in the calendar of the saints by at least two bishops of the Catholic Church in two different centuries (17th & 19th) that also recognized her life in a religious order and preservation of her relics.

The story tells of her life from the point of view of her older sister and is written in a rather formal, almost canonical, style with section headings in an old style: “How She was Led Forth from the Body and How She Lived Again.”

The narrator, Mara, tells us that Christina lay dead in her coffin, a grave awaiting her.  Mara is sad, she loved Christina, “I see this now.  She was difficult, unknowable but I loved her.”

But at the same time she says that perhaps if they had hastened, outrun the melody.  If we’d only got those last words out, “He might have spared us our miracle.”

For indeed, the dead Christina not only rose bodily from her coffin, she levitated to the rafters. The narrator and her sister Gertrude clutched each other in fear. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: GUSTER-Lost and Gone Forever Live (2014).

In 2014, Guster released three CDs of them playing their early CDs live in their entirety (excluding for some reason their second disc Goldfly).  This is their third CD ‘Lost and Gone Forever’ recorded live in concert, ten years after its release.

I’m not sure why they don’t say what show it is from, unless they picked the best recordings from a tour?  He does mention Boston at one point, but not sure if the whole show was recorded there.

As with the other two releases, the sound is great.  On “Barrel of a Gun” you can really hear the bongos.

There are a few more guests, which again, makes me think it’s different shows.  Ryan says “We’re inviting a bunch of people to help with instrumentation. Donnie and Amy are going to play strings” [on “Either Way”].  And later, “Fa Fa” has an amazing horn section.

For “All the Way Up to Heaven,” Ryan introduces, “Alright snow kitty bring up the children. It’s 10 o’clock.  It’s late.  Did you teach them the big rock move at the end?  That’s the most important part of the song.”

Like the other discs, they thank everyone for coming out and supporting this album.  He talks about how when they first started playing in 1991 they were all skinnier and had more hair.  They had no idea that so many years later they would still be together and be selling out shows.  “It’s a humbling experience.”

Incidentally when they announced this tenth anniversary tour, they made a video announcement.

[READ: May 31, 2018] “Silver Tiger”

This story involves realism and magical realism.

The narrator Ah Yang, is an adult looking back on his childhood when he lived with Deaf Granny.  He was sent to her early and only rarely saw his parents.

He first saw the titular Silver Tiger near a well pond by Deaf Granny’s house.   Well ponds are an ancient water storage system in China.  They are shaped like pools but are the depth of wells.  It was always off-limits to him  Deaf Granny feared that if he fell in there’d be no saving him (not unreasonable).  But that’s all he wanted to do after he first saw it.

It became even more enticing when a local boy found a turtle in a neighbor’s well pond.  Oh how the narrator wanted his own turtle. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: GUSTER-Parachute Live from Brooklyn Bowl (2013).

In 2014, Guster released three CDs of them playing their early CDs live in their entirety (excluding for some reason their second disc Goldfly).  So this is a recording of their first album ‘Parachute’ performed and recorded live in concert at Brooklyn Bowl on December 1, 2013.

This album sounds quite different from the other Guster albums.  I don’t really understand what the difference is.  It sounds like Guster, but not exactly.  Is it that they both sing in harmony through most of the songs?  Is it that Ryan sings “better?”  Are the songs just more folkie?

Whatever the case, even after several albums that don’t sound like this album and nearly twenty years, the band jumps right back into it (the harmonies on “Window” are perfect, for example).

They aren’t the same three-piece they were back in 1994 (they have drums now for instance), but it all works very well.  They also aren’t terribly funny between songs.  Usually Ryan is pretty silly in a show, but they seemed to take it more or less seriously.

After “Dissolve” Ryan says, “we’re playing in a bowling alley I just realized.  Cool.”  You can hear someone in the crowd shout “steeerike.”

I know the guys have made jokes about their song “Happy Frappy” a few times when I’ve seen them, so it’s no surprise that before the song, Ryan shouts, “Alright its ‘Happy Frappy’ time, stoners.”  Although I have no idea what the song is actually about.

When the disc is over Ryan shouts, “Parachute the album–19 and a half years old!”

I think it sounds even better than the original.

[READ: June 2, 2018] “Orange World”

I love when a title gives you an idea but it is totally not the idea of what  the story means–and the new idea is even better than what you had imagined.

“Orange World” conjured up many things to me, but not the devil, not a woman nursing the devil and not a woman nursing the devil every night because the evil saved her baby’s life.

When Rae was pregnant she was worried about a lot of things: ABNORMAL RESULT, HIGH RISK, CLINICAL OUTCOME UNKNOWN.  When the third test came back, she started begging for anything to save her baby from the unknown.

Between 4 and 5 A.M. one night something answered and it promised the baby would be okay.

So what does this have to do worth orange world?  Well, “Orange World is where most of us live.”  It is a nest of tangled electric cords and open drawers filled with steak knives.  It’s a used crib  It’s compromises that could hurt the safety of your baby.  You take a shower with your baby and suddenly….

“Green World” is a fantasy realm of soft corners and infinite attention. The Educator say that Green World is ideal but Orange World is the reality.  Next week’s class is “Red World” and Rae doesn’t want to think about it.

Rae takes the baby doll.  Its head falls off and she steps on the blanket.  Sneaker bacteria: Orange World; decapitation: Red World.  The educator encourages her to go to new moms group. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: GREAT LAKE SWIMMERS-Live at Massey Hall (July 8, 2014).

I don’t know all that much about the Great Lake Swimmers.  I have heard of them (for years), but never actually heard them, I guess.

They are a five piece who play thoughtful folk songs.  Their tempo is varied with some upbeat songs and a few slower ones.

The lead singer is Tony Dekker and when he is joined by violinist Miranda Mulholland on vocals their harmonies are quite lovely.

“Think That You Might Be Wrong” is a slower song with a kind of sad violin and great harmonies.

“Put There By the Land” has a kind of fun build up with everybody “warming up” making strange sounds especially the guitar and drums, before the song kicks in properly.  The addition of the pizzicato violin really elevates the song.  I love the way in ended kind of noisily with some thundering drums as it segues into “Pulling on a Line.”

“Your Rocky Spine” opens with a banjo (Erik Arnesen) and changes the tone of the music–Dekker’s voice seems a bit higher too.

“Everything is Moving So Fast” opens with a cool mini drum solo (Joshua Van Tassel)–not a show off solo just a cool rhythmic exploration that leads to the quiet thoughtful lyrics.   There’s some wonderful harmony vocals from Miranda at the end as well as a little upright bass solo (Bret Higgins).

They brought in a string quartet to play with them, although I can’t tell if it make much of a difference since they already have a violin.

They end with “I am Part of a Large Family” which opens with another “warming up intro” which is fun.  It’s builds to a wild and fun climax with a ripping violin solo.  An excellent show ender.

These guys should certainly be in heavier rotation on folk shows.

[READ: March 20, 2018] Evil Librarian

Sarah was reading the sequel to this book (Revenge of the Evil Librarian) and I thought it sounded pretty funny.  So she encouraged me to read the first one.

I really enjoyed the combination of teen romance and demonic villianry.  There’s an obvious antecedent in Buffy, but this goes in very different directions.

I also enjoyed the way the story was paced.  The book felt very long–which I know is a contradiction–and could have been a lot shorter.  But I think the stuff that fleshed it out was what made it so much fun, so I’m glad it wasn’t shorter

It opens on our heroine Cynthia.  She is crushing hard on Ryan.  Ryan is like TV sitcom architect/kindergarten teacher–jobs that people have that work well in sitcoms but that no one really has in real life).  He is a jock who loves musical theater.  He hangs out with all of his jock friends.  But he has an amazing voice and is the lead in the school’s upcoming production of Sweeney Todd.

And he’s single! (more…)

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