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Archive for the ‘Surreal’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: CLOUD CULT-“That Man Jumped Out the Window” (Field Recordings, September 12, 2012).

I feel like I know the name Cloud Cult, but this song sounded entirely alien to me.  This was an other Field Recording [Cloud Cult: A Moment Of Serenity] set backstage at Sasquatch! Music Festival.

I love the drama that they set up with this blurb

We were about to call it. The band was running late, our phone service wasn’t working well backstage in the remoteness of the Sasquatch Music Festival in rural Washington state, and the next band was about to begin on the main stage nearby — thus making the prospect of a Field Recording impossible. Then, suddenly, a white van rolled up, straight from the main gate, and out popped six musicians with stringed and brass instruments. Within minutes, they’d set up, sound-checked and performed a jaw-dropping rendition of “That Man Jumped Out the Window” (from 2005’s Advice From the Happy Hippopotamus) with no practice whatsoever.

I enjoy the orchestral nature of this song–reminding me of many other bigger bands that I like quite a lot.

It took me a couple of listens to “get” this song–there’s a lot of different vocal parts, almost as responses to the main part.

It opens with an acoustic guitar and is accompanied by strings and a French horn.  But the main verse is all acoustic guitar and cello (with stark backing vocals–the vocals are not really pretty exactly (they’re not un-pretty either), just powerful).

I’m not sure that this song is all that memorable for me, but I love reading this about the band:

More a family than a band, the Minneapolis collective does everything with purpose, talent and conviction, from its environmentally conscious lifestyle — in which it self-produces and releases albums from its geothermal-powered organic farm — to its charitable efforts to its emotive, even cathartic songwriting.

The song is quite pretty–although I wonder if it would be more so in a fuller setting.  But as It ended, I found myself enjoying it and wanting to hear it again.  Someone asks if they should do another take.

Then, just as the song ended and the band members finally had a chance to view the majestic natural scenery around them — and as we prepared to record another take, just in case — the festival roared back to life. But for those few minutes, we were able to stop, breathe and take in the emotional significance of a moment of serenity. At which point Cloud Cult piled back into the van and rode off to its next gig.

[READ: April 7, 2016] “Indianapolis (Highway 74)”

This story was published in the New Yorker just eight weeks after the previous Sam Shepard story.  I had to look him up and it is the same Shepard who has been writing since forever.  But he is not especially known for his noir books.  His style has changed over the years although he does often write about rootless characters and absurdist ideas.

So this story is about a rootless character, “I’ve been crisscrossing the country again, without much reason.”  This character drives all over the place for long stretches of time.  On this particular night with a blizzard heading into town, he pulls into a Holiday Inn (more for its familiar green logo and predictability than anything else).

But when he asks for a room, they are booked.  There is some kind of hot rod convention in town–which he thinks is odd for the winter, but whatever.

The concierge tells him that there is one room that might be available–the people haven’t shown up and are going to call to confirm whether the weather will prevent them from showing up.

So he waits. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ALISA WEILERSTEIN-“Prelude from Bach’s Suite No. 5” (Field Recordings, February 16, 2012).

One thing I love about the Field Recordings series is the wonderfully unexpected places they have the performers play.  Like this Field Recording [Alisa Weilerstein: Playing Bach With The Fishes] which is set at the National Aquarium in Baltimore.

Strategically positioned above a tank full of stingrays, Weilerstein unpacked her cello to serenade the sea creatures — and dozens of pleasantly surprised aquarium visitors — with music by Johann Sebastian Bach. She chose the Prelude from Bach’s Suite No. 5 for unaccompanied cello. The music’s tranquil power and meandering melodies became an extraordinary soundtrack to the majestic rays as they roamed through the water, rising occasionally to catch a note or two.

The music is sublime–sad and powerful but ever so fluid.  And the setting is just perfect–you can almost see the fish appreciate it.

[READ: February 2, 2018] “Four Fictions”

Breytenbach confounds me with his stories.  This is a collection of four really short pieces and while I enjoyed parts of some of them, overall they were a big huh?

Race
This appears to be a race through the sea?  On foot?  A tractor charges into the waves and a Jeep follows. The route will take them through the sea to Germany and back to Stockholm.  Their friend Sven is running in the race (he’s from Lapland).  When the race is over he still has to run through the house to the balcony.  When they gather for the results , how many drowned, etc, the story ends with another man removing his top hat and his hair looking sunken and dry.

What? (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: WILD NOTHING-“This Chain Won’t Break” (Field Recordings, May 31, 2013).

I cannot get over how disconcerting the opening of this Field Recording [Wild Nothing: Nuanced Pop At 8,500 Feet] is.

The band Wild Nothing, whom I do not know, is shown climbing a mountain, with the caption that they are climbing to more than 8,500 feet above sea level (on a tram).

The band is out in the middle (well actually on top) of nowhere.  They are in a beautiful location on top of a mountain.  And the first thing you hear is a cheesy electronic drumbeat.  How disappointing!  Especially since you see they have a makeshift shaker on hand.

But lets enjoy the view.

When most people think of Palm Springs, visions of softly baked desert landscapes come to mind. However, upon arriving at the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, we were warned that the temperature differential between the desert and the top cliff of the Chino Canyon was about 30 degrees — cold enough that it would require warm clothing and an adventurous spirit. But Wild Nothing singer-songwriter Jack Tatum and his tour players were game to load onto the rotating tram car and ascend to more than 8,500 feet above sea level.

Abandoning extraneous gear at the Tramway landing, both the band and our crew hiked down into the San Bernardino National Forest and then up onto a side of the Mount San Jacinto peak. With rapidly freezing hands, the band performed its song “This Chain Won’t Break” for this Field Recording with a stripped-down assortment of instruments (two guitars, an amplified iPad, a bunch of dried tree pods turned into a makeshift shaker), giving this ode to a challenged relationship a much more nuanced, somber feel.

Despite the electronic percussion, the song itself is quite lovely.  The chord changes are nice and the their vocals meld nicely.

Once our feet were solidly back on the desert floor, the members of Wild Nothing were surprised to come across a group of fans who’d recognized the band from its recent Coachella performance. We toasted the chance meeting with some local wine and a random piece of sheet cake — and took the requisite Instagram pictures — before setting out for warmer climes.

[READ: January 7, 2017] “Who Will Greet You at Home”

I have no idea what the cultural significance of this story is.  I don’t know if some people could relate tho this, but I certainly couldn’t.

Ogechi is a woman who works a lousy job in a hair salon.  She had a fight with her mother and has not seen her in about a year.

And she has just made a baby out of yarn.

The yarn baby made cooing gurgles and other sounds until Ogechi caught it on a nail and it unraveled.

She knew that a yarn baby was risky, but she made one out of yarn anyway,

When she got to work, Mama, the owner of the hair salon demanded payment.  For it was Mama who blessed the yarn baby into existence.  But they both knew that Ogechi couldn’t pay her with money, so instead, Mama took some of Ogechi’s joy. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MUDHONEY-“Halloween” (1988).

Mudhoney recorded a cover of Sonic Youth’s “Halloween” just two years after the original was released.

Mudhoney, a deliberately noisy and abrasive band recorded a deliberately noisy and abrasive version of this song.  And yet at the same time, it doesn’t hold a candle to Sonic Youth;s version for deliberate noise and chaos.

On the other hand, in many respects the Mudhoney version is better.  It feels more like a “real song” with the guitar, bass and drums all playing along fairly conventionally.  It follows the same musical patterns as the original, with that same cool riff, but it just feels…more.

Mark Arm sing/speaks the lyrics more aggressively and less sensuously than Kim Gordon did.  In some way it helps to understand the original song a little more, as if they translated it from Sonic Youth-land into a somewhat more mainstream version.  Although it is hardly mainstream what with the noise and fuzz, the cursing and the fact that it lasts 6 minutes.

It feels like Mark emphasizes these lyrics more than the others although it may just be that the songs builds more naturally to them:

And you’re fucking me
Yeah, you’re fucking with me
You’re fucking with me
As you slither up, slither up to me
Your lips are slipping, twisting up my insides
Sing along and just a swinging man
Singing your song
Now I don’t know what you want
But you’re looking at me
And you’re falling on the ground
And you’re twisting around
Fucking with my, my mind
And I don’t know what’s going on

Happy Halloween

[READ: October 24, 2018] “From A to Z, in the Chocolate Alphabet”

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

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:

The Ghost Box returns, like a mummy or a batman, to once again make your pupils dilate and the hair on your arms stand straight up—it’s another collection of individually bound scary stories, edited and introduced by comedian and spooky specialist Patton Oswalt.

There is no explicit “order” to these books; however, Patton Oswalt will be reviewing a book a day on his Facebook page.

Much respect to Oswalt, but I will not be following his order.  So there. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: TWEEDY-“High As Hello” (Field Recordings, August 7, 2014).

This Field Recording [Tweedy And Son Take To The Tunnels, Friends In Tow] is another one from the 2014 Newport Folk Festival.  Much like with the Jazz Festival, it was raining during the folk festival.  This means the musicians had to play in a that by now familiar tunnel–away from the elements.

These musicians were NPR favorite Jeff Tweedy and his then new project, Tweedy.  The project features Jeff’s then 18 year-old son Spencer on drums.  Jeff and Spencer are accompanied by Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig from Lucius (who don’t get to really show off their pipes, but do provide great backing vocals).

With the rain, it was not possible to shuffle drums, so

Spencer Tweedy’s drums are made from found trash and objects lying around the fort, including a cardboard box and some boxes of gum. Still, magic happened.

I can’t help but remark (again) on the wonderful sound equipment.  The band sounds terrific and you can hear all of the guitars (a full band list isn’t given).  Somehow Spencer’s drums don’t sound like cardboard boxes.

This recording is from 4 years ago either before Jeff started wearing the ubiquitous cowboy hat or he didn’t want to wear it in a tunnel.

“High as Hello” is a slow song with great backing vocals and solos from at least one of the three guitars.

[READ: September 18, 2018] “Poor Girl”

This story was translated by Anna Friedrich and is about a woman trapped in a situation she hates.

What’s interesting is that it’s unclear if the title refers to the young mother or her daughter (as they are both poor in different ways).

The opening line is quite surprising:

The wretched mother could easily have lost her sanity watching her husband love their daughter….

What an odd thing to be upset about.  Until…

the way he stroked the child when she was falling asleep or waking up, his blissful expression when they touched, the fact that he bathed her himself, believing it to be his right and his responsibility.

So, the woman, Irina, raises some red flags, although it’s not always clear if she is being reasonable about them. (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: DEE DEE BRIDGEWATER-Tiny Desk Concert #725 (April 2, 2018).

It’s fascinating to read about singers who have been around for a long time about whose names I have never heard before.

Dee Dee Bridgewtaer is such a singer.  Sadly, this blurb, while very informative, doesn’t say anything about her career.  So I don’t know how long she has been singing or what she actually sings.  Although it does say what her new record is about.

When she was just three years old, her family moved from Memphis, Tennessee, to Flint, Michigan. Years later, Bridgewater could still hear the soul sounds of Memphis on WDIA, the first radio station in America programmed entirely by African-Americans for African-Americans. She recalled, “I could catch it when I was in Flint as a teenager and I would listen to it after 11:00 at night, because that was the only time I could get it — when all the other stations were off the air. I know it was real, ’cause I went through it and these were all songs I heard on WDIA.”

Bridgewater, now 67, brought three of these songs to the Tiny Desk: First, is the celebrated blues hit, “Hound Dog,” first recorded by not by Elvis Presley but by Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton in 1952. What makes this presentation special is not only Bridgewater’s sultry and soulful interpretation, but her adorable Daisy, perhaps the cutest “Hound Dog” to ever bless this song.

Bridgewater’s version is great and really puts a different spin on the song if you’re used to the Elvis version.  It’s much more sassy and gives you a sense of what the song was really about a lot more than the standard version.  There’s a cool slide guitar solo too.

Before the next song, she says, “I’ve watched the Tiny Desk before but I’ve never seen this many people.”

Then she explains what this song is about:

The first lines of the next tune will quite actually send chills down your spine. Bridgewater and backup singers Sharisse Norman and Shontelle Norman-Beatty’s close harmonic voicings add a spiritual dimension to the already hallowed song. “Why (Am I Treated So Bad)?” was written by Roebuck “Pops” Staples in response to the harassment of the Little Rock Nine, brave students who decided they had the right to attend an all-white Arkansas high school in 1957.

Their version is excellent and powerful.  The backing vocalists add so much to this song.  There’s also a cool keyboard solo that’s kind of under-documented.

Last here is “B.A.B.Y.” Bridgewater recorded this song and the entire album in Memphis’ historic Royal Studios and told NPR this story, “I stepped outside of the studio right after they started mixing ‘B.A.B.Y.’ and I said a prayer. I said, ‘God I need a sign, that I’m moving in the right direction because I am stepping completely away from jazz music.'” Before Bridgewater could get back into the studio to record the next track she got a surprise visit from Carla Thomas, the Memphis soul queen herself and daughter of Rufus Thomas, influential entertainer, singer-songwriter and former WDIA radio DJ. It was a true return to her Memphis roots, a memorable and beautiful moment for Bridgewater.

The song has a sweet soul sound with the addition of horns.  Bridgewater’s voice is perfect for this song and the other songs, too.  I don’t know what Bridgewater’s other songs sound like but she seems perfectly suited to these.

[READ: April 12, 2016] “Visitation”

This is the story of a man, Loomis, who has made many bad relationship choices and who is now stuck realizing that he is not only not a great father but also stuck in a horrible situation with regard to his son.

Loomis and his wife separated and she moved with their son to Southern California.  Since then, he’d flown out (it doesn’t say from where) every three weeks.  He would go for three to five days and stay in the same hotel each time.  He hated the crappy hotel but his son liked it, so he continued to go there, even as he noticed it got worse with each visit.

His wife and son lived in the basement of an ex-marine’s house.  The marine hated him even though they had never been introduced.  Whenever he would visit, his wife would be sure to not be around.

Their hotel stay is pretty bad.  The boy watches anime while Loomis fixes himself a drink. (more…)

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