Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: RED BARAAT-“100+ BPM” (Live in front of the Brooklyn Public Library) (June 2, 2014).

Continuing with the fun that is Red Baraat, I stumbled upon this recording from the NPR studios.

As part of the Make Music New York Festival, NPR commissioned new music from Red Baraat and Sunny Jain created “100+ BPM.”  And as the blurb informs us:

“We put out a call and they came — by the hundreds. When we invited wind, brass and percussion players to join us yesterday in Brooklyn to perform a world premiere by Red Baraat‘s Sunny Jain for the annual Make Music New York festival, we were hoping that lots of different kinds of musicians would join us. And boy, did they ever.

On this absolutely gorgeous Saturday afternoon, about 350 musicians assembled on the steps of the Brooklyn Public Library to play Jain’s 100+ BPM. Young, older, professional drumlines, community marching bands, seasoned jazz players, Indian wedding band musicians, Brazilian samba drummers and scads of amateur players came out to play. It was just incredible.

I don’t know how they managed to record the music so perfectly, but it sounds fantastic.  You can really hear the different instruments (well, except maybe the poor violins and that piccolo) as they zoom in on one section or another.

The whole group plays along perfectly.  And there’s even some great sax solos (how did they decide who got to solo?) an excellent trombone solo and lots and lots of drums and percussion.

I love that after the wild soloing everybody joins back in for that great melody once again.

At 6:15, the song stops (and you get to see how psyched Sunny is).  Then after a short pause he starts clapping and selects which group of instruments will keep the beat going.  First it’s drums, then percussion, then the tubas and then the brass comes into play a new staccato riff that is fun and catchy and easy to speed up. Which it does.

He drops out the drums and selective instruments until it’s just the tuba and percussion.  Then the drums come back in and he starts picking up the tempo of that riff again.  Faster and faster do they get to 100BPM? According to this excellent free BPM counter, they make it to 106/107 BPM during the main part.

Then after a breather it’s time to keep going, faster and faster until they reach 126 BPM by the end and Sunny gives an exultant leap to end the song.

What an excellent way to spend a Saturday afternoon.

[READ: February 26, 2018] “Pardon the Intrusion”

Lydia Davis stories are usually really short–a paragraph or two or three.

This one is very different.

It is a series of posts–requests and thanks for various items.  And that’s it.

It’s hard to tell if a story can be constructed from these requests–at times it seems like you can follow a narrative.  But mostly it just seems to be people requesting goods and services. (more…)


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This album was also produced by Mike Mogis, who did The Lion’s Roar.  And with each new album, the “duo” of Klara and Johanna Söderberg grows bigger and bigger.  This album adds a full string section as well as a mellotron, vibraphone and lap dulcimer (these last three all thanks to Mogis.

“My Silver Lining” is an incredibly catchy, swinging song.  In addition to the cool strings and the lovely oooh melody, it’s that big bold “Woah oh” that really sells the song.  I also love the whispered vocals at the end the “try to keep on keeping on” is really cool and a very different sound for them.

“Master Pretender” has some interesting instrumentation–a bass clarinet in the first verse, fiddles and pedal steel in the second verse and striking lap dulcimer in the chorus.  It’s also the first instance of them cursing I think, “I always thought that you’d be here / But shit gets fucked up and people just disappear.”

“Stay Gold” a beautiful chorus sets this song apart, the melody is really great.  “Cedar Lane” is a slower song that focuses on the sisters’ harmonies in the beginning but the chorus inspires with those soaring falsetto notes.  But the biggest and best surprise of this song comes nearly 4 minutes in when the song shifts to an intense refrain of “how could I break away from you?”

“Shattered & Hollow” is a slower, more mellow song with an interesting percussion.  “The Bell” has some unexpected melody lines but soaring vocals, but it all coalesces wonderfully in the last minute “Can you hear the bell?” in great harmony.

“Waitress Song” is so wonderfully down to earth (if not depressing):

I could move to a small town / And become a waitress / Say my name was Stacy / And I was figuring things out / See, my baby, he left me / And I don’t feel like staying here tonight

I also love the way they sing this line in the folky style of the song despite referencing a very different type of song:

I remember the music / From the down stair’s bar: Girls, they just want to have fun

The way the ending of this song redeems itself with the cool lap steel and their ooohs as well as an uplifting ending makes this a surprisingly powerful track:

I could drive out to the ocean / And just stare in awe / I could walk across the beaches / And sleep under the stars / Our love would seem trivial and obscure / Now and never feel lost anymore

“Fleeting One” This song moves along really nicely with some amazing high notes in harmony.  “Heaven Knows” is their by-now familiar autoharp song.  Except that it also combines the rocking elements of the previous albums’ “King of the World” a shuffling guitar, stomping drums and great good fun. And while the last album had them shout FIRE! in the middle of Conor Oberst’s verse, this time they up the ante further by slowing things down and sing

Tell me what’s your story / do you think it’ll ever sell / and what’ll you do if it comes down to it / and it all goes…. STRAIGHT TO HELL!

“A Long Time Ago” ends the album as a dramatic piano ballad.  It sounds really quite different for them.

So this album builds on everything they’ve been working on, adding more and more sounds and getting their voices to sound somehow even better.

[READ: January 30, 2018] “The Boundary”

This story is from the point of view of a young girl whose family looks after a small cottage.  The cottage is in the Italian countryside.  Her family is not Italian (they are from very far away), and when they moved to Italy they first lived in the city.  The countryside is about as alien to them as they can imagine  And they don’t especially like it.

Every Saturday a new family comes to stay in the cottage.  And those people love the countryside, can’t stop talking about how great it is.

The girl who looks after the cottage is familiar with the routine.

There’s usually four of them–two parents two kids. The girl shows them around, shows them the mouse poison and tells them to kill the flies at night because their buzzing will wake them up in the morning.

As the guests settle in, she pretends to ignore them, but she always watches–especially when they leave the screen doors open.  Since the cottage is so close, she can hear everything the family says. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: NADA SURF-Live in Brussels (2010).

This album was recorded while Nada Surf was touring their Let Go album.  This particular show was recorded at the AB Club in Brussels 31st March 2003.

This is a great live recording–the band Matthew Caws on guitar/vocals, Daniel Lorca on bass and Ira Elliot on drums–sounds terrific and the recording quality is excellent.  They added a keyboard for “Blonde and Blonde” but otherwise it’s just the trio.

They play nine songs from Let Go (not in sequence).  Those are mixed with four from Proximity Effect and three (including “Popular”) from their debut.

There’s some mild distortion on the guitars but the bass and drums are very clean.  Caws’ voice might be a tad loud in the mix, but since his voice sounds great, it’s fine.  They don’t deviate too much from the recorded versions–a few drums fills here and there near the ends of songs.

The most notable differences are on the songs from high/low which sounded a bit different from their “newer” sound.  “Stalemate, for instance, is far more up tempo, but less heavy.  The biggest surprise comes during this song when they seamlessly shift into a verse and chorus of (a very mellow) “Love Will Tear Us Apart.”

*from Let Go, **from Proximity Effect % from high/low

*”Blizzard of ’77”       *”Killian’s Red”              **”Bacardi”
*”Treading Water”     *”Hi-Speed Soul”         %”Stalemate”
%”Icebox”                   *”Happy Kid”               **”Robot”
**”Amateur”           *”Fruit Fly”      *”Blonde on Blonde”
*”Inside of Love”         **”80 Windows”         %”Popular”
.                                                                  *”The Way You
Wear Your Head”

Caws speaks rather good French (I guess) and does all of his announcements in French.  I enjoyed that before “Popular” he says the song is “tres, tres, tres sarcastique.”  I’m only mildly surprised they didn’t play “Là Pour Ça.”

I was amused at how “rushed” or “weird” “Popular” sounded.  Then I saw in the liner notes (the advantage to mp3s) that Caws says, during a previous performance in Brussels, “on a lark, we invited whoever wanted to get up onstage and join us at the end of the show.  Apparently, some members of that audience were a this AB show and decided to do it again during ‘Popular.’  We apologize for our slightly abstract performance of that song and the one after it.”

I have tickets to see them in March and I’m really excited about it.

[READ: March 25, 2016] “The Beach Boy”

I found this story to be very engaging and somewhat surprising.

It begins with friends meeting for dinner.  They are in Manhattan and there are three couples.  One of the couples–the protagonists–have just come back from a vacation celebrating their twenty-ninth anniversary.  They were at an (unspecified) island and everyone is asking them all about it.  Was it safe?  Was it worth it?

Marcia says the beaches were beautiful and the sunsets were better than any painting.  But then she speaks of the political situation and the beggars.  And there were the prostitutes–male prostitutes, called Beach Boys.  The women wanted to know about the beach boys–what they looked like and what they said.

Then they talked about the feral monkeys (and the one who stole John’s pen). (more…)


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This EP is a collection of some B-sides and Outtakes from their fantastic album Birds Say.  There are five songs, included a stunning cover of Smashing Pumpkins’ “1979.”

The other four songs are the lovely “Whippoorwill” punctuated by scratches from the mandolin and guitar at the end of each line.  Lead vocals seem to be from Auyon, but there’s very rarely one lead vocalist here.  And just when you think the song is a pretty folk song, the end gets bigger, with a cool bass line and louder harmonies.

“Fourth of July” is all about harmonies and a propulsive chorus.  And “Open Door” is almost a capella.  The only music for a time is the scratching of Harris Paseltine’s guitar strings as a rhythm while all four sing beautifully.  This song is faster than many of their others and even features a whistling solo.  There is some minimal violin on this track but it really feels fully a capella.

“Blow the House Down” is an old song (from their debut–when they had a drummer!) reissued here as a foursome.  What’s notable about it is that vocals are supplied almost exclusively by bassist David Senft.  Rather interesting humming bass backing vocals are supplied by everyone else.  It ends with a wailing (for them) noisy solo from Don Mitchell’s electric guitar and Auyon’s violin (it’s even more intense live).

The final song is their terrific cover of “1979.”  I’ve always thought the music for this song was wonderful.  But hearing their version of it I realized how much Corgan’s voice kinda ruins the song.  Hearing these guys harmonize the verse is pretty great.  But hearing them sing full-out on the chorus “I don’t even care” is utterly gorgeous.  Their version is the gold standard for this song now.  It’s a great EP (and three of the guys signed it for me!).

[READ: November 5, 2017] Castle in the Stars

This gorgeous graphic novel was originally published in French and was translated by Anne and Owen Smith.

The title is an intriguing one and while initially confusing, it makes perfect scene when you realize the book is about ballooning: “1868: The Age of Progress, an era of industry… beyond the blue of the sky, where the cold freezes the breath, where the air disappears…the mysetry begins.”

For this story is not just about ballooning, it is about The Secret of Aether.

The story is about young Seraphin. As the book opens, his mother is going into the balloon. His father is yelling at her that she is crazy to go up in the is weather (gorgeous ominous clouds fill the full page). He tries to guilt her into not going.  But her balloon is equipped with a bulb that will light when it gets to the aether, which is her quest.  Then she is up in the air writing in her journal.

She rises to 12,000 meters but… nothing. She’s about to give up when at 12,900 meters the bulb shines brightly and then explodes.  She found it! And she is never seen again. (more…)


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SOUNDTRACK: IMAGENE PEISE-Atlas Eets Christmas (2014).

This is a terrific lost album created by Iraqi jazz piano prodigy Image Peise.  The record states that most of what is known [about Peise] is shrouded in clouds of legend and smoke of myth.”  She is “rumored to have committed suicide in 1978.”

She is playing mostly traditional Christmas songs, with a couple of originals added on to the mix.  She is accompanied by:

Imagene Peise – Piano
Ominog Bangh – Laughing/Crying Glider Synthesizer
Shineyu Bhupal – Drones, Sitar, and Baritone Tambura

The album has a consistent feel throughout.  Lots of jazzy piano and then some interesting Middle Eastern and/or psychedelic sounds that are sprinkled on top (primarily from the sitar and the glider synth).  Whether she is messing with the beauty or just manipulating it is up to the listener.

“Winter Wonderland” opens with a crackling record sound and some interesting Middle Eastern instruments and drones.  And then the lovely traditional jazzy piano version of the classic.  The trippy synth thing comes back up from time to time.

“Silver Bells” opens with a middle eastern synth that sounds nothing like the song.  But once again when the piano comes in it’s really lovely and traditional with hints of psychedelia.

“Christmas Laughing Waltz (Jingle Bells)” has some laughing-like sounds from the voice/synth thing.  Midway through the song, which has been mostly trippy, it resolves itself into “Jingle Bells” on piano with some cool sounds added.

“Silent Night” opens in a not at all peaceful way with some crazy sounds.  It’s a little disconcerting if you know what song it is supposed to be.  But the piano eventually finds the melody and plays it straight and nice.

The first original peace is the delightful if mournful, “Atlas Eets Christmas.”  It’s a series of washes and piano chords until finally a solitary piano melody plays  its mournful melody.  There’ s vocal line where you hear the pronunciation “At last it’s Christmas.”  The voice is pretty far in the background making it kind of hard to hear.  It fits in with the record but stands out because of the voice.  But the sentiment is quite nice.

“Do You Hear What I Hear” is the first really dissonant sounds on the disc.  They come in the form of echoed piano chords.  It feels sinister and kind of kills the mood of the song. The vocal melody is played on that glider thing with dissonant piano behind it.  It feels kind of wobbly and unsettled.

“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” returns to the more traditional style and once again, it’s very pretty.

“White Christmas” has a real feel of longing to it.  After a bout 2 minute it kind of builds with drums and upright bass but it never really gets into a more traditional feel.  It sort of hints at the song until the very end where the melody is more pronounced.

“Frosteeeee”is of course, “Frosty the Snowman.”  It opens with melody played on the piano.  But then it switches off melody lines with that voice/synth thing.  It’s sort of a duet between the two instruments.

“Christmas Kindness Song” is the other original.  It sounds like the other in spirit but this one has highly processed vocals.  Presumably they are by Steven Drodz, but I’m not sure if he sis supposed to sound like an Iraqi woman (how far is the ‘joke’ gong?), but he clearly doesn’t.

“The Christmas Song” returns to the jazzy traditional song with some sprinkling so psychedelia on top.

Depending on your tolerance for oddity, this is either a great, fun addition to a Christmas collection (it will make people prick up their ears to hear whats going on), or it’s just too disruptive to the holiday spirit.

And yes, in the “Christmas Kindness Song” I mentioned Stephen Drodz because this is an album by The Flaming Lips.  I gather that the music was created by Steven Drodz and the mythology of Imagene was created by Wayne Coyne.

Oh and the disc ends with some 30 minutes of what sounds like an album clicking at the end of locked groove.

[READ: June 21, 2017] Sorry to Disrupt the Peace

This is one of a new(ish) batch of McSweeney’s books.  I was intrigued by the title and the cover  and some snippets of reviews sounded promising.

There were things I liked about he story but overall I was mixed on it.

The story is about Helen Moran.  She is a 32-year-old Korean woman.  She was adopted by white parents when she was a baby. As was her adoptive brother (who is also Korean but is not related to her).  Throughout the story she refers to her parents as “my adoptive parents” and her brother as “my adoptive brother” easily 100 times each.  I realize that that is a true statement and description, and it is important to her to keep this distinction, but it makes for irritating reading.  It makes your main character seem really ungrateful.

And maybe that’s it.  Helen is a pretty unlikable character.  She works with at risk youth but does some pretty risky things with them.  She’s even currently under investigation at her work for doing suspicious things.  She says she is called Sister Reliability but its unclear to me if they are doing it to mock her, if they are not doing it at all or if they are actually doing it because she is reliable (which I doubt).  She has also written a pamphlet called How to Survive in New York City on Little to Nothing which she handed out to people.  She wears garbage and discarded clothes and eats whatever–and that’s her advice to the poor.

But that’s not what the story is about.  The story is about what happens after she hears from her uncle that her adoptive brother is dead.  For reasons we never find out her adoptive parents do not make the call, it is done by her uncle.  Weird. (more…)


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SOUNDTRACK: JOHN ZORN’s A Dreamer’s Christmas (2011).

You can never say with certainty what kind of music you will get with a John Zorn record.  It could be beautiful; it could be scary.  It could be chaotic; it could be traditional.  There’s could be death metal or gentle jazz.  There could be vocals or not.

Some time in 2008, Zorn started yet another project.  This one was called The Dreamers and it proved to be on the mellow, jazzy side of his spectrum.

The members have been Cyro Baptista − percussion; Joey Baron − drums; Trevor Dunn − acoustic and electric Bass; Marc Ribot − guitars; Jamie Saft − keyboards and Kenny Wollesen − vibes, chimes, glockenspiel.  For A Dreamer’s Christmas, Mike Patton (notorious for making a racket) sings some delightful vocals on 2 songs.

The album contains eight tracks: six traditional and two original Zorn compositions.

“Winter Wonderland” is played on vibes.  There’s a cool repeating bass signature that bounces the song along and a groovy jazzy keyboard background before the electric guitar comes in to play the main riff.

“Snowfall” is just lovely with more vibes and a delicate guitar and twinkling piano.  There’s even some hand drums to add some cool percussive effects.  the songs is primarily a lovely piano instrumental.  I don’t understand why I don’t know this song.  Why isn’t it on other Christmas albums?  It’s lovely.

“Christmastime is Here” is, indeed, the song from The Peanuts movie.  The main melody is guitar and vibes and this version is possibly more entertaining than the original.

“Santa’s Workshop” is a John Zorn composition.  It’s faster and a bit more upbeat than the others, but with a really groovy riff and some fun vibes to match it.  There’s also a fun keyboard solo.  This song first in perfectly with the others.

“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”  begins with a quiet and somber piano playing the melody.  It’s a lovely piece with some fun piano noodling.

“Let It Snow” starts with a bell and a rather funky bass line.  After a minute or so the guitar takes over to play the main melody.  There’s some weird and wacky 70s keys playing around in the background that you don’t really notice right away.

“Santa Claus is Coming to Town” is the first odd-sounding track on the disc.  The guitar is plucked and the percussion seems to be all kinds of small wooden things clattering around.  I assume someone is playing the rims of glasses as well.  That goes on for a minute before the piano comes in and it gets very jazzy (with an upright bass).  It sounds a lot like the kind of piano playing featured in Charlie Brown.  The end of the song features a kind of whispered, slightly sinister take on the lyric by Patton.

“Magical Sleigh Ride” is the second Zorn original.  It is a swift-moving treat–fluid bass, repeated guitar licks and solos, and a fast percussion beat before the melody kicks in.  After about 2 minutes there’s a pretty wild and rollicking guitar solo.  It’s the most intense thing on the record (which isn’t very intense really) but all along the jazzy pianos and percussion remains.  Its followed by a similarly exuberant vibes solo.  It’s another great Christmas song and fits in perfectly with the others.

“The Christmas Song” returns to the traditional with a lovely, quiet piano rendition of the song and a nice vocal delivery from Mike Patton.  Patton is in perfectly deep-voiced crooner mode and it suits everything perfectly.  There’s a lengthy piano solo in the middle and then Patton finishes the song.

The disc ends with everyone wishing us a Merry Christmas.

It is a surprising and wonderful Christmas album worthy of addition to everyone’s collection.

[READ: November 26, 2017] The Crown of Fire

This is the fourth and final book in the Copernicus series.  There is no third or fourth mini book (I wonder why there wasn’t at least at third one).

I found this book to be exhausting and depressing.   And that’s because for the most part that’s how the characters felt–exhausted and depressed.  I also felt more exhausted by the series than I apparently felt after book three.  I thought I had stopped because I was burnt out on the series, but that’s not the impression I get from reading my post.  But this book did get very dark for most of its 500+ pages.

Lily and Darrell are together by themselves and they are fleeing once again.  They eventually find someone who will help them leave the country in a cargo ship–two weeks in a tiny hold by themselves.  Even Darrell who is still crazy about Lily finds it a bit much.

Back in the other part of the world, Becca Wade and Sara have just gotten a message from Roald.  But it turns out to be a trap. (more…)


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SOUNDTRACK: TED LEO-Tiny Desk Concert #680 (December 4, 2017).

Up until now, I have more or less missed Ted Leo and all of his phases.  The blurb notes:

How you listen to Leo depends on when his work came into your life. If you’re a back-in-the-day type you might rep for Chisel, his ’90s punk outfit born on the Notre Dame campus and bred in Washington, D.C. If you’re just tuning in, you may have witnessed his understated comedy chops in arenas like The Best Show on WFMU and a highly enjoyable Twitter feed. At the center of this bell curve are those who found Leo at the dawn of the 2000s — when, at the helm of what’s most commonly called Ted Leo and the Pharmacists (shout-out to the typographical variants still mucking up iTunes libraries), he kicked off a run of five stellar albums in just under 10 years, each one urgently attuned to its political context and yet defiant in its ideas of what punk could sound like and whose stories it could aim to tell. Fans will tell you the songs about eating disorders and missing old ska bands felt just as vital to their moment as those that explicitly took on Sept. 11 and the Iraq War.

I know Ted Leo from when he played with Aimee Mann as The Both (they did a Tiny Desk show) and I am aware of Ted Leo + Pharmacists (the above mentioned typographical variant), but I somehow never really heard him/them.  I didn’t even know he was a Jersey guy.  (My friend Al is a big fan, I recently learned).

Recently, WXPN has been playing his new song “Can’t Go Back” which is wonderfully poppy and catchy and which I sing along to each morning.  Leaning more about him (and how funny he is in the Tiny Desk show) makes me want to see what I’ve been missing.

I obviously had no idea about his punk past, so I was pretty surprised to hear the feedback and heavy guitar of the first song here “Moon Out of Phase.”  Leo sings pretty hard on this song, too.  It’s fairly simple musically, but there’s a bunch going on lyrically that’s fun to pick out.

[After] the bone-rattling slow burn “Moon Out of Phase,” he smiled and explained the song was perhaps “a little heavy for noon — but, practically speaking, it helps me get the cobwebs out.”

“Can’t Go Back” couldn’t be more different. It’s catchy and not at all heavy.  It has backing vocals (provided by Leo himself) and just swings along.

 It’s a bit faster than on record, and as the blurb notes:

By the time he hit the first chorus of “Can’t Go Back,” a danceable bop about accepting that the life you have isn’t quite the one you planned for, any remaining cobwebs had been scattered to the wind.

Interestingly for being such a guitar based guy, there;s no solos on the songs (and yet they’re not short either, the first and third songs are about 4 minutes long).  Rather than a solo on “Can’t Get Back,” there’s a cool guitar chord progression.

He seems unsure of the quality of that song (not sure why–because he doesn’t hit those high notes perfectly?)  But then says he’ll finish off with a request.  “I’m a Ghost” is an old song that he doesn’t usually play solo, but figured he would because of the time of year (guess this was recorded around Halloween).

He tells an amusing story about someone asking about the first line: “I’m ghost and I wanted you to know its taking all of my strength to make this toast.”  The person asked if the toast was “a toast” or a ghost pressing the lever down on a toaster and “the hand of the frosty apparition is just going through the thing.”  He says it was originally “a toast” but now it is absolutely about the toaster, that’s the greatest metaphor for so many things.”

It’s really about “alienation from the political process.” It’s more rocking, like the first song, but with a catchy chorus like the second song.  This is a fun set and a good, long-overdue introduction to Ted Leo.

[READ: April 6, 2017] The Golden Vendetta

This is the third full-sized book in the Copernicus series.  It follows the mini-book about Becca.

I enjoyed this book more than the second one.  I enjoy the sections where they have some downtime and aren’t just running around.  And there was more downtime in this book.  I was also really intrigued by the way it began.

The families had been reunited and them separated.  So Darrell and Wade and the adults Kaplans were living in a hotel under an assumed name.  And Lily and Becca were also together under assumed names–but they were not allowed to contact the boys.  This went on for two months.

In that time Galina Krause had been inactive.  We learn that she had been in a coma, but the good guys never find that out, they’re just in the dark for months.

Until Galina wakes up and is on the move again.  And then everyone is on the move.

The families travel under assumed names but are still followed relentlessly by the bad guys. (more…)


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