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SOUNDTRACK: VIOLENTS & MONICA MARTIN-Tiny Desk Concert #625 (June 5, 2017).

I don’t really understand why Jeremy Larson chose the name Violents.  His music is anything but–pretty piano melodies with (in this show) really nice string arrangements.  I love the way the strings really dramatize the pop song elements.

About the strings, (who go by the Rootstock Republic),he says “they saved our lives this week–because even though a solo vocal performance with her would be amazing…,”

“Equal Powers” has such beautiful melodies.   I really like the way Martin’s voice plays off of the piano.  The chorus melody line is perfect and the high notes “I know I know” are like a perfect icing topper.  I like this lyrical construct:

lean in, let me feel your breath on my skin/I know, I know
lean in, liquor on your breath/ I’m tasting, I know, I know

Her voice has a lovely delicate straining to it that is really pretty.

So who is Martin?  The last time we saw singer Monica Martin at the Tiny Desk she was singing with Phox, her folky, poppy band based in Madison, Wisconsin. But, while that band is on hiatus, Martin took time to walk into the world of Violents, the project of pianist, string arranger and songwriter Jeremy Larson. Larson and Martin make a lovely pair and have created a subtle, soulful record — Awake And Pretty Much Sober — that benefits greatly from Larson’s classical training.  It’s the first full-length Jeremy Larson has released as Violents, a project that, generally, sees him joined by a different singer each outing, resulting in an EP.

“Unraveling” has a pretty, slow piano melody.  It’s more of a ballad.  Once again the chorus is gorgeous–especially the way Martin hits some of those notes in the ooooh section.

and again her voice hits some lovely notes and her ooohs are delightful against the strings.

Before introducing “Spark” he says playing the Tiny Desk is “a bucket list kind of thing.”  He says they’re gonna do one more song.  We were supposed to do a different one but this one’s a bit more appropriate for a smaller setting its called “Spark.”  It has a simpler melody and is certainly a ballad.  It is not as powerful but it’s still quite lovely.

The Rootstock Republic is Juliette Jones (violin); Jessica McJunkins (violin); Kristine Kruta (cello); Jarvis Benson (viola).

 [READ: May 3, 2017] “On the Street Where You Live”

I have really enjoyed Yiyun Li’s stories of late, although i didn’t fully enjoy this one.  I found the location of it a little hard to follow and then it seemed to be about something but was then about something else.

It begins in China, with Bella and Peter walking down the street.  Bella and Peter are friends and have been for 25 years.  They met in Boston.

Bella is Chinese by birth but moved to the USA to study.  They are in China because Bella and Peter always talked of going there.  And it turns out that Peter’s boyfriend Adrian is doing research on his ancestors from China.  So they decided to use it as a chance to travel together.

This was kind of mistake.  (more…)

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 SOUNDTRACK: GABRIEL GARZÓN MONTANO Tiny Desk Concert # 622 (May 26, 2017)

I have no idea who Gabriel Garzón Montano is.  The blurb suggests that even if I don’t know, others certainly do.

I was, admittedly, thrown for a loop when Gabriel Garzón-Montano told me that he wanted to perform unaccompanied, just him and a piano. The meticulousness of his work is clear on his debut album, Jardin, a three-year creative process in which Gabriel plays most of the instruments, tracking them to two-inch tape, layering its overall sound. Jardin takes its title as an umbrella; fruits, bugs and other plants are the driving metaphors tying together this dense work, which blooms over successive listens. Garzón-Montano doesn’t necessarily wear his heart on his sleeve — he forces you to listen and peel the layers back.

Garzón-Montano’s career trajectory veers wide — living with Philip Glass for a year while his late mother played in the composer’s ensemble, sitting under the minimal maestro’s piano as he practiced; Lenny Kravitz making possible his first tour experience; while Drake exposed Gabriel’s sound to the masses.

That decision to go it alone at the Tiny Desk made sense, though, the moment he started to play; his talent is left elegantly exposed in this unadorned performance. He says his visit to the Tiny Desk “with just piano and vocal reminds me of what is lost when a song is fully produced and arranged — it was an exciting and vulnerable experience. I was nervous for this one.”

Here then, are three songs from Jardin, along with the song that introduced Gabriel to the world… laid bare.

When I listened to this the first time I thought he played 2 longish songs but indeed, there are 4 shortish songs.

I really love the piano sound he gets but the r&b style of pop singing is not my thing and so many “babys.”

I singled out a few things in the songs.  The line in “My Balloon” “I’ll get back on my balloon and meet my baby on the moon” I find endearing even if it is kinda dumb.  I enjoyed the way “Long Ears” came seamlessly from the first song.  It starts with a high note and falsetto vocals. It’s much more interesting than the first song.  And the second half of “Long Ears” is quite interesting, almost dissonant–although I could do without the you you you section.

I thought the first line of “6 8” was “fuck me real slowly,” which was disconcerting.  Especially since a later line was “I’m just like a baby drooling over you.”  But I believe it is “rock me real slowly.”  It segues cleanly into the final song, “Crawl.”  I think he stars in the same falsetto but then switches to a deeper voice.  I love the bouncy middle section that sounds like a musical.  Although once again there’s too much oo ooo ooo ooo.

All of those vocalizings sound especially flat during an under produced occasion such as this.

[READ: April 26, 2017] “You Are Happy?”

This story was fairly straightforward, but it opened up a cultural aspect that I had no idea about.

The main character is Laskshman, an Indian boy living in the United States.  As the story opens, we see Lakshman’s grandmother telling Lakshman’s father that he should break his wife’s arms and legs to prevent her from getting to the bottle.

Lakshman’s mother is an alcoholic, and, apparently, there is no greater disgrace for an Indian woman.  At parties–parties that were usually segregated–she often joined the men and drank and gave her opinions, to the disgust of all present.

She had begun drinking was Lakshman was 8 and they moved to America.   But by the time he was 9 she was drinking during dinner.  When he turned 11 she was drinking during the day.  His father had had enough.  He stated matter of factly that she was a drunkard.  Their marriage had been arranged and they never grew to love one another.  This certainly didn’t help. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: TIM DARCY-Tiny Desk Concert #619 (May 15, 2017).

I really like Darcy’s band Ought, but I don’t really like this solo concert.  In Ought, I find his voice contrasts nicely with the punky music (and his arch delivery of the kind-of-spoken-words if entertaining to me).  But here he’s singing some pretty straightforward songs and I find his affected delivery to be kind of annoying.  The blurb name checks Roy Orbison and I’ve never liked Orbison’s voice either.  So I guess that makes sense

Darcy plays four songs–he’s on guitar for three of them.

“Still Waking Up” is first. He says that “Joan Pt. 1, 2” is more of a rocker on the record but he’s taking it down–wonder if I’d like it more as a rocker?  Musically I like the way it switches gears for Part 2 and I like his voice a lot more for this second part.  “Sledgehammer And The Rose” is a new one.  I like the slinky guitar lines at the end of each verse. For the final song, “What’d You Release?” Toronto songwriter Charlotte Cornfield plays piano (with no guitar).  His voice is a bit deeper on this one and it works pretty well with the slowness of the piano.

But I gather I’d prefer him with his band.

[READ: March 22 2017] “Herman Melville, Volume 1”

The previous Lodato story that I read concerned a young meth addict.  This one concerns a twenty year old homeless girl.

She remains unnamed throughout the story and we learn snippets of her past.  Her father apparently committed suicide recently and she has nobody else.  Her only thought about him is that she hopes someone is watering the grapefruit tree in his backyard.

She had been experimenting with running away–she gathered a lot of her stuff and some money and would head to the Greyhound station.  She would hang out there for a while and then ultimately go home. Then one day Evan was there.  He smiled at her and commented on her skateboard and banjo.  She began to cry and he held her and they have been togetehr for the past seven months.  He has even proposed to her (although nether one has mentioned in since, so who knows if it meant anything).

(more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SAMPHA-Tiny Desk Concert #605 (March 21, 2017).

The name Sampha sounded sorta familiar.  I see that he is a producer to the stars (Kayne, Drake).  He’s also a musician in his own right.  The blurb says “Sampha’s music is more feel everything than feel good, which is why his fans hold him so close to their hearts.”

Sampha plays three songs:

The vulnerability on his debut, Process, isn’t hard to dissect, but can be downright agonizing to digest; his immediate family has been riddled with disease and ailments, with both his parents succumbing to cancer. Process finds Sampha interpreting this complicated emotional prism — and confronting his own mortality through it.

Sampha stopped by the NPR offices to perform 3 tracks from Process. The result is a Tiny Desk Concert as intimate as it gets (and that’s saying something). It’s just him, a piano and these heart-wrenching songs that we reckon double as coping mechanisms.

“Plastic 100°C” is played on the keyboard with all kinds of trippy sounds introducing the main song.  I like the main riff, which is full of interesting minor key notes.  I’m not really sold on his voice though, which is kind of nebulous here.  I’m not sure what his recording sounds like, but the starkness of this song makes me surprised that it is popular.  It’s quite long as well–almost 7 minutes.

The final two songs are on piano

“(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano” is an ode to the piano and his reflecting on how important his mother was in his life.  “Blood On Me” is an intense song with some intense singing.  Neither one strikes me as being particularly poppy or marketable, but he clearly has found his audience.

[READ: January 20, 2017] “Quarantine”

The story was so interesting, both in content and pacing.  I really enjoyed it a lot…until the end.

The story follows Bridget.  As it opens, we learn that she lived in Barcelona fora year.  She stayed with college friends, then she sublet from a guy named Marco.  She slept with Bernadette and her roommate Laurie–but not at the same time–although the thing with Laurie upset Bernadette happy.  Then she did something stupid in Marco’s apartment and got kicked out of there as well.  She moved to a cheap hotel until her co-worker Angela rescued her.

Angela was from Vancouver, “and some dewy freshness that Bridget associated with the West Coast seemed to cling to her always, even when she was sleep-deprived or drunk.”  Bridget is also from Canada. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: TANK AND THE BANGAS-Tiny Desk Concert #603 (March 10, 2017).

Tank and the Bangas won this year’s Tiny Desk Contest.  And here is their official Tiny Desk Concert.

There is something so alive and fun about Tank and the Bangas.  I definitely get their appeal and how much fun they are live.  There are seven members–five musicians and two singers.  The musicians are top-notch–and almost never stop, they seem to keep the groove going even between songs while Tank hangs with the audience.

And then there’s the two singers.  Jelly is an amazing hype woman.  Her voice is terrific wit ha great deal of range and delivery style.  And then there’s Tank, versatile, emotional, funny and sweet but not to be trifled with.

I really like a lot about them.  I just wish I liked their music a little more.

“Boxes And Squares” opens with a groovy riff and a great flute intro.  Tank begins by speaking in a strangely childish voice “I like that, Albert [the flautist], but it’s missing something.  It’s missing you [the audience], can I get a snap?”  She switches to some deeper voices as she sings/recites/raps the lyrics.  Tank is adorable and fun with her huge hair pulled off to thee side and spiked with purple.

I have no idea what she’s going on about in the beginning of the song–I would have been the milk, I would have been the sup etc.  Then she switches to a kind of rapping style.  Then she interacts with Jelly: “You are like a loop.”  “A what?”  “You are like a loop.”  “A what, girl?”  “You don’t understand me?” “I don’t understand what you’re saying.” “You are like a loop a hoop.  Like I’m going round and round with you like the o’s in my soup.”  There’s much laughter and fun.

I really do like the way Tank and Jelly play off of each other with the staccato riffing about whatever it is they are singing about “you…you…you”

The end of the song is a funny improv of her being excited that she won Tiny Desk.  It’s fun and funky with some great synth and bass underneath (her vocal delivery is crazy diverse).

“Quick” was their winning entry, which sounds pretty different from their contest version (I find this version to be far more dynamic and the sounds to be really cool).  But once again the focus of this song is on the two front women who are fun and vibrant and have great vocal range.

I really like the chanting: “who who who gonna save me now? (points to the audience).”    “I don’t know.” “I don’t know.”

They have a ton of fun introducing the band–singing the band members names and joking with each other.  The music pretty much never stops.

Even as they segue into the final song, “Rollercoasters.”  In New Orleans, there’s a theme park that still says “will open after storm.”  She asks “why people rode those big roller coasters.  The feeling of throwing up gave them some type of excitement that they did not receive on a regular day.”

But the song is about when she finally did ride a rollercoaster–the butterflies and fireflies fighting in my stomach.  The song is quite emotional–she even seems to be crying during the delivery.  “Jelly sings over and over fly fly fly (in a falsetto) and then oh oh oh oh in a deep voice–very cool.  I’m not sure how much of the song is improv or what’s normally there.  Rollercoasters are for people like me who have never been in love–who want to know how it feels to just fall.”  When the song ends, Tanks mumbles, “Shit, I’m such a crybaby).

Here’s a bit more detail about the band from the blurb:

Out of over 6,000 entries — more submissions than we’ve ever received — Tank And The Bangas won, unanimously, this year’s Tiny Desk Contest. I fully expected their victory performance here at NPR headquarters in D.C. to be celebratory. I didn’t know we’d all end up in tears.

This band [Tarriona Tank Ball (vocals); Jelly Joseph (vocals); Merell Burkett Jr. (keys); Norman Spence II (keys); Joshua Johnson (drums); Jonathan Johnson (bass); Albert Allenback (saxophone)] combines R&B with hip-hop’s poetry and rollercoaster storytelling, with a flair and alchemy that could only come from New Orleans. Their winning song, “Quick,” mixes liquor and revenge — a sort of modern day take on a great folk tale, but peppered with their own idiosyncratic flair and humor. What I couldn’t see, until they took over my desk, was the depth of their lyricism and the versatility of their players. At one moment fun-filled funk, the next laid-back jazz, rhythm-driven blues — and it all flows seamlessly. And it’s fun to watch: There’s a magic kinship between Tarriona “Tank” Ball and Anjelika “Jelly” Joseph as they share singing roles, like two best friends finishing one another’s sentences.

So yes, i wish I liked them a little better.  But I’ll clarify.  I enjoyed this and watched it a few times.  I wouldn’t  go out of my way to see them live, but I’ll bet it would be a lot of fun.  And I’m petty excited for them that they won.

[READ: January 11, 2017] “Chairman Spaceman”

I see that I have enjoyed a bunch of stories by Thomas Pierce.  And I enjoyed this one as well.

Don Whipple, the notorious corporate raider had given away his entire fortune–everything–houses, cars, cash–to a religion.  The religion is called God’s Plan for Space and his money has earned him a one way trip to a distant, habitable planet.  He will be frozen–and not aging–for the duration of the flight.

They wish to establish a more egalitarian society on another planet and to spread the message of God’s love to e unexplored solar systems.

The story opens on his going away party–he is leaving in a day or two. All kinds of wealthy people are there to see him off  And he was happy to never see them again.  But he was also attempting to make amends with as many people as he could. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RENÉ MARIE-Tiny Desk Concert #556 (August 12, 2016).

René Marie has a classic jazz singer’s voice.  She has the tones and bounce perfectly.  In fact, her entire performance is timeless–one would be hard press to guess when this was recorded (if you didn’t know).

Her first song “Colorado River Song” was inspired by an NPR coincidence:

René Marie was answering phones at Denver’s jazz radio station KUVO when she sat down across from a fellow volunteer fundraiser. He would soon invite her on a canoeing trip and, without yet having seen the eponymous river, she wrote the giddy “Colorado River Song” on the way there.

She said had never been canoeing before and she was so excited that wrote this song on the way to the river.

Her voice sounds great, especially when she does some mild scatting in the middle of the song.  There’s a great jazzy piano solo, too.  She accompanied by her Experiment In Truth band (John Chin on piano, Elias Bailey on bass, Quentin Baxter on drums).

“This is (Not) a Protest Song” covers serious topics, but sing in a gentle and caring way.   She sings of her homeless brother and her crazy Aunt who fell through the health care cracks (not sure if these are actual relatives, but it doesn’t matter).  This song is a bit less jazzy (although it has some cool jazzy bass lines).  It’s a surprisingly upbeat song although none of it is in a hurry to get anywhere, it just sounds great.

“Sound Of Red” is a bit faster with a pretty wild (relatively) piano solo. She also has a lot of fun teaching everyone to do her dance moves–put your weight on it.

And the sweet canoeing trip has a very sweet ending:

In the audience [for this Tiny Desk Concert] was the bold KUVO volunteer from that day 10 years ago. His name is Jesse, and they’re now married and live in her home state of Virginia;

[READ: April 1, 2016] Sunny Side Up

The Holms siblings are responsible for the Babymouse series.  It took me a little while to get used to their artistic style in such realistic story (no mice or amoebas), but it doesn’t detract from the story at all.

I especially loved this story because it reflected my childhood in the settings (although not the story).  I loved seeing the images from the 1970s (like Tab in the soda machine and going to the iron-on T-shirt store down at the shore).  There’s even a Polaroid camera!

The story is told in flashbacks, and I have to say that if I hadn’t been told that there was a sad element to the story, I wouldn’t have guessed that at first.  But once I knew there was a sad section, my anticipation of the sadness proved to be worse than what the actual sad part was, so phew. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: OK GO-Tiny Desk Concert #278 (June 3, 2013).

I love OK Go’s music videos.  They are stupendous. I have watched all of them several times.  And yet I can’t remember a single song.  But that doesn’t diminish my appreciation for them.

When NPR was moving offices, they made a “Tiny Desk Concert” of the band proceeding from their old location to the new one.  And in OK Go fashion, they made a great video to go with it.  The music is live (I believe), even though they must have shot the footage hundreds of times.  It’s sort of a stop motion video, except that it’s not single frames but short 2 second clips spliced together.

You can watch as the old office is dismantled, as they walk through the halls to the moving truck.   As they play on the truck in the streets of D.C. and then as they enter the new building.  There are cameos from NPR colleagues: Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, David Greene, Guy Raz, Scott Simon, Alix Spiegel, Susan Stamberg and more.  There’s a hilarious moment with Karl Kassel who gives them a dirty look.  And then they march through the offices, the news room and into the new Tiny Desk location where they finish the song.

The song is fun and catchy and even has new lyrics that reference the NPR move.  It has to be seen to be appreciated.

And if you like figures here are some details from the shoot:

  • Number of video takes: 223
  • Number of seconds Carl Kasell spent in the elevator with OK Go: 98
  • Number of times Ari Shapiro played the tubular bells: 15
  • Number of days it took to shoot: 2
  • Number of cameras: 1

Incidentally, NPR and I are out of sync with our counting of Tiny Desk Concerts.  I can’t figure out what happened.  The reason mine is correct is because I have written down every concert and numbered them.  So I feel that for them one doesn’t count?  They say this was number 277.  Someday they’ll read this and we’ll get to the  bottom of everything.

[READ: April 1, 2016] No Mercy Vol. 1

Because of the way books are being handled at my work now, I don’t get to see as many books as I used to. So i was pretty delighted to get this graphic novel on my desk.  Even if I didn’t quite know what it was about, I wanted to read it.  And boy did I enjoy it.

I had no idea that the cast was a group of aspiring Princeton University students on a per-freshman trip to an underprivileged county (I like the t-shirts that say Building Bridges Helping Hands with a kinda Princeton P on the front.

We meet the cast in a cool way–each one steeping forward a bit in the crowd and giving a bit of information about themselves…mostly through text messages. Oh and I loved the way the opening colophon pages looked just like Facebook (or whatever) with a timeline photo and then on the right side–sponsored images with drawings of the author and the illustrators and an ad for an other Image comic by Alex de Campi called Valentine–genius layout idea.

There’s also a comment under the photo which says “OMG how sad, they were also young.”  So you know something bad is going to happen these poor kids. (more…)

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