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Archive for the ‘Trees’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: MEREBA-Tiny Desk Concert #919 (November 27, 2019).

Who the heck is Mereba?

Very few artists get to return to the Tiny Desk, and fewer still return twice in the same year. But after contributing background vocals behind the desk for Dreamville artist Bas in early 2019, we invited Mereba back for a solo set that puts her eclectic, major-label debut The Jungle Is The Only Way Out into sharp focus.

As with many singers I’ve never heard of, I’m not sure if these songs sound like this on the record or if they are more dancey.  I do quite like the simple, organic sounds that accompany these songs.

The stripped-down soundscape Mereba achieves live with her four-piece band is equally dreamlike here, drawing from influences as wide-ranging as the many places she’s called home (Alabama, Philly, North Carolina, Atlanta, Ethiopia). As she pulls from genres as seemingly disparate as folk, rap and spoken word, her set reflects the years she spent perfecting her craft on live stages in Atlanta cafes and clubs, where she attracted the attention of the indie creative collective Spillage Village  before joining them in 2014.

She sings three songs and recites a poem (all on the album).

When “Black Truck” started I thought she sounded exactly like Alanis Morissette.  The way she says “and I said world would you please have some mercy on me” sounds very uncannily like her.  The song is a quiet, mellow piece that starts with a simple bass line (including some harmonics) from Chris James and guitar washes that turn into a nice picked melody from Sam Hoffman.  After a minute or so, Aisha Gaillard plays a simple drum beat and the song kicks into higher gear.

Through all of this, the backing vocals from Olivia Walker were just beautiful.  The end of the song turns into a kind of rap as the guitar and bass fade out.  I say kind of a rap because Mereba is also a poet and she has more of a poet’s delivery than a rapper’s delivery.

For “Stay Tru” the guys switch instruments and the bass takes on a slightly more lead role.  But this song is also very mellow.  Mereba’s vocals sound a bit more Jamaican in his song.  Midway through, James switches to violin and Mereba plays keys which adds a whole new texture.  I didn’t like this song as much because the chorus is kinda lame with a lot of repeating of “cut the bullshit, this time” sung in a sweet voice.  It also seems to drag on for a really long time (although it is very pretty).

“Dodging The Devil” is a poem she wrote when things just didn’t seem to be going right.  After a couple of verses, a quiet guitar line fills in the background.

On the last song, “Kinfolk,” Mereba plays the main guitar line while Sam plays single soaring notes.  The song kicks into gear with a simple guitar riff and some prominent bass.

I really enjoyed this set.  I thought the music was beautifully restrained and her voice distinct enough in each song to show such a range of sounds.  It’s always nice to be surprised by a new musician.

[READ: November 15, 2019] Cursed

I saw this book in the new YA section at the library.  I was attracted by the cover and fascinated by the “soon to be a Netflix Original Series” sticker.

I have known of Frank Miller for years.  I’m sure I’ve read graphic novels by him, although I don’t know if I’ve read Sin City (maybe a long time ago?).  Mostly he drew superhero comics which is not my thing.  Turns out I really don’t like his artistic style in this book (at least for the way he draws the heroine–I rather like the way the bad guys are drawn).  If the series was in any way designed to look like the art in the book I don’t think I’d watch it.

But the story itself is petty darn good.  It took me a while to read it for some reason. I guess maybe the opening was a little slow because there’s so much going on it takes awhile to really get settled in this universe.

But the description of the story is pretty intriguing: Whosoever wields the sword of power shall be the one true king.  But what if the sword has chosen a queen?

For this is a story of Arthurian legend with many many twists.  My knowledge of Arthurian legend is surprisingly minimal.  I love the story and I know the main participants, but there is a lot of information in here that I didn’t know about–or even how much Wheeler is making up. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE SULTANS OF PING FC-“Wheres Me Jumper?” (1992).

The Sultans of Ping were, of course, named after the Dire Straits song.  They were named when “it was sacrilege to say anything whatsoever funny or nasty about Dire Straits.”

This song (or 30 seconds of it) was used as the opening  to the TV show Moone Boy.

The song was an unexpected, presumably novelty, hit in 1992.  It’s stupidly catchy and amusingly nonsensical and your appreciation for it is pretty much entirely dependent on your appreciation for Niall O’Flaherty’s voice which is comical and rather shrill in this song.  The other songs on the record are somewhat less so, but are still delivered in his speak-singing style.

I get a sense of them being like Ireland’s answer to The Dead Milkmen with a sprinkle of John Lydon on vocals–a fun punk band that flaunted a silly side.  Of course, I wasn’t in Ireland at the time, so perhaps they’re more akin to the Ramones in punk legacy.

The Sultans of Ping (later named The Sultans) were (a subconscious at least) predecessor to bands like Fontaines D.C.

But whereas Fontaines D.C. tackles existential life in Dublin, this song tackles a more urgent and pressing concern:

Dancing in the disco, bumper to bumper
Wait a minute:
“Where’s me jumper?

It’s all right to say things can only get better
If you haven’t just lost your brand new sweater
I know I had it on when I had my tea
And I’m sure I had it on in the lavatory
Dancing in the disco, go go go
Dancing in the disco, oh no, oh no
Dancing in the disco, bumper to bumper
Wait a minute:
Where’s me jumper?…

[READ: Summer 2019] Moone Boy

Chris O’Dowd is an Irish actor (we love him from the IT Crowd, and he has since been all over the place).  In 2012, he created Moone Boy as a sitcom based on his own childhood growing up in Boyle, County Roscommon, Ireland.

The show was a hit and they made three six-episode seasons.  This book came out around the time of the second season.

The story focuses on Martin Moone, a 12 year-old boy growing up in Boyle.  His friend Pádraic has an imaginary friend and Pádraic encourages him to get an imaginary friend (IF) of his own.  The rest of the book follows the exploits of Martin and his first (and second) imaginary friend.

But the book begins with some absurdist comedy.  Turns out he book is written from the point of view of the imaginary friend (we don’t really learn that until later) and he starts off with this:

Before we begin, I need to carry out a quick survey,

Are you reading this book because:

A. You have a scientific interest in the moon.
B. You have a scientific interest in the misspelling of the word “moon.”
C. You want to find out how quick and easy it is to obtain an imaginary friend that you’ll cherish for life.
D. You’ll read anything  You’re just like that.

If your answer is A or B, then I’m afraid you’re going to be disappointed.  There’s very little moon action in this story, apart from the brief appearance of a wrestler’s wrinkly bum.

If your answer is C, then you’ll be equally disappointed.  I suggest you pick up a copy of Imaginary Friends – The Quick and Easy Guide to Forever Friendship by a former colleague of mine, Customer Service Representative 263748.

If your answer is D, the good for you!  You’re my kind of reader.  I’m glad we got rid of that other bunch of idiots who picked A, B and C.

(more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: Y LA BAMBA-NONCOMM 2019 (May 14, 2019).

I have been hearing a lot about Y La Bamba lately and for some reason I didn’t realize that they sang in Spanish (which is why I thought it was an odd name for an English-speaking band).  I know WXPN has been playing some of their songs, perhaps I only heard “My Death” and “Orca” which are in English and which they did not play at NonComm.

But they do sing in Spanish and they bring a wonderfully diverse sound to these Spanish lyrics.  And they are not simply casually Spanish either, as their mission statement explains “BEING A CHICANA, MEXICAN AMERICAN HAS BEEN AND WILL CONTINUE TO BE A STRENGTHENING JOURNEY. I AM LEARNING HOW TO CELEBRATE MY BEAUTY, HISTORY, BE AND HEAL FROM WITHIN IT.”  Nor are they exclusively Spanish. “I WRITE IN SPANISH BECAUSE IT WANTS TO BE SUNG, I WRITE IN ENGLISH BECAUSE IT WANTS TO BE SAID.”

Lead singer, guitarist and songwriter Luz Elena Mendoza is the daughter of immigrants from Michoacán, and she has channeled into her music her Mexican-American heritage and her many frustrations with American culture.

And she demands the audience’s respect.  I would have found this particular set very uncomfortable as Mendoza, called out talkers in the back of the room, demanded silence and respect.  I’m all for silence and respect for bands during shows.  In fact I wish more bands would demand it, but this was really uncomfortable to listen to and I wasn’t even there.

Demanding silence form the drinkers at the bar, she said “I don’t come here to waste my time, […] you hear me?” She waited for the crowd’s attention. “You hear me? […] OK. Because that’s real. I’m not here to be cool, to give you something that you think might be cool. I’m here to give you my parents’ story.”

This is all pretty awesome, but since nearly all of the songs they sang were in Spanish, I’m not sure how much the audience really got out of what she was singing.

The blurb describes their music as a “mix of indie-punk, música mexicana and raw emotional storytelling” while Mendoza sings and raps in Spanish and English, railing against misogyny, patriarchy, and white ignorance.

Y La Bamba were at their most intense last night when Mendoza rapped in unison with keyboardist Julia Mendiolea, including on their fiery opener, “Paloma Negra”(“Black Pigeon”).

There’s some gentle echoing guitars (Ryan Oxford) and some bouncy synths underneath their very fast rapping.

As the raging “Paloma Negra” concluded, drummer Miguel Jimenez-Cruz instantly slid into a sly tresillo groove that marked the introduction to “Boca Llena,”

Later, “Bruja de Brujas” introduced all kinds of cool sounds in the bass (Zack Teran) and the percussion.  It was funky and fun.  The song ended with a

a wash of echoing cymbals and guitars that finally coalesced into the arrival of “Cuatro Crazy,”

This was the first (and only) song sung in English.  It was quiet with the two singers singing in a gentle falsetto over washes of guitar.

A blend of phasers, distortion and delay lines infused the band’s guitar and vocal sounds with an electric energy, and helped Mendiolea’s synth provide a brooding ambient backdrop for the spoken-word “Santa Sal.”  This was spoken in English, but it had some echoing and it was a little hard to follow.

It was during the introduction to “Una Letra” that Mendoza started to get angry with the crowd.

As she introduced the ballad “Una Letra,” Mendoza explained to the crowd, “It’s about domestic violence. It’s about my mom writing a letter to me, wishing […] for me to have the good things that she couldn’t have. And if those don’t want to hear this story, and you’re here to listen, then I don’t know what you’re doing here.”  Mendoza and her bandmates gently repeated, “No se sabe. No se sabe, se comprende.” — “You don’t know. You don’t know and you don’t understand.”

Again, she has every right to be annoyed that she’s telling these personal stories and people are apparently ignoring her.  But again, it’s hard to “hear the story” if you don’t understand the language.

This is when she launched into her “I don’t come here to waste my time, […] you hear me?”  tirade.  But It felt a little better when she sent her anger to someone who should know better.

“I’m very disappointed in Morrissey,” she went on to refer to a 2018 interview that Fiona Dodwell conducted with the former Smiths frontman, for which he has received intense backlash. In the interview, Morrissey aligned himself with a UK political movement known as For Britain and dismissed the many critics who have deemed the movement extremist and racist.  Morrissey performed at NonCOMM just a few hours before Y La Bamba on Tuesday night, before a crowd that presumably included some of the same listeners who attended the Y La Bamba set.  “I’ve been a huge fan of Morrissey and I just heard him talk,” Mendoza continued, “He thinks that ‘racism’ is just a childish word that we use against one another. He’s a white man with so much privilege! I am so disappointed!”

I had wondered if anyone would allude to Morrissey’s recent politics statements and thought no one had.  But Mendoza did not hold back.

I don’t know if Morrissey had anything to do with the next song but “Soñadora” shimmied ans swayed and Mendoza’s voice soared to new heights. “Corazón, corazón,” she and her bandmates chanted.

What is particularly unsettling is that on the recording, people sound respectful, but apparently she is unhappy with the crowd.

Before a gentle solo rendition of “Entre Los Dos,” she said

“I politely ask for everyone’s silence,” she said. But as the bar and the back the room remained noisy, she continued, “Because what are we doing here? … People wanna have their drinks, but I’m really asking — just giving benefit of the doubt — just everyone’s silence. To actually listen to what’s happening….  If you saw, ‘Y La Bamba is playing,’ and you saw what record I put out, and you got to read the story — you got to hear that it’s for women.” This prompted shouts of approval from several voices in the room, but Mendoza seemed intent on getting the attention of even more of the crowd. “You know? Right? Right? Isn’t that what we’re here for? … Let’s remember that, OK? Come on, we’re not children anymore. You know what I’m saying?”

She strummed her guitar softly and continued on with the song, but stopped singing again at one point to remind the room, “I’m not gonna play my song until everyone gets the point … I’m making my point, and I’m gonna make my point everywhere I go. It’s not really about like, you know, hearing me sing, it’s about listening. Like, yeah, if I get to sing, cool. But it’s about listening … and it’s really hard. Like, nobody even knows what I’m talking about back there. No one.” She then addressed those closest to the stage. “But I see you! I see those who are in the front. I see you. I hear you, with your heart.”

Of all of the comment she made, I though this was the most powerful and could be used in any context

After Mendoza completed “Entre Los Dos”, Jimenez-Cruz began a low drum roll and Oxford’s electric guitar shuddered back to life. Before the band began their final two numbers, Mendoza looked to front row of the crowd with resolve. “You guys wanna help me sing this song?”

“When I show up here, it starts right here.  When I ask for silence I really wanna be taken seriously.  When I am out there walking out on the street, I am not going to count on it. “

That’s pretty powerful and reasonable thing to say.  But she seems so pissed when she says it that it’ hard to know how to respond to her request that everyone sing a long to a pretty melody of “dadada da da da”  “Riosueltos” is a great rocking rap-filled song.  It was my favorite of the set, with its cool bass and guitar.

The set ends with “De Lejos”an upbeat dancey number with some great wild guitar work.

Before this show I was curious about Y La Bamba, but I can tell they are not a band I need to see live–I wonder if she’ll demand the same respect at XPNFest, when people are not there just to see them.

[READ: May 3, 2019] “Green Ash Tree”

The July/August issue of The Walrus is the Summer Reading issue.  This year’s issue had three short stories and three poems as special features.

I don’t normally write about poems.  Certainly not ones that appear in magazines (this blog would be all poetry if  did that).  But for a summer reading issue that features three poets, since I wrote about the other two, I figured I should include this one as well.

Of the three, I feel like I “got” this one the least.

A tree never dies
except in our neighborhood.  Green ash,
stripped in old age, all branches
cleanly lopped by saws: a torso standing

Upon being aware of this poor specimen (more…)

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imperiumSOUNDTRACK: PAT BENATAR & NEIL GIRALDO-Tiny Desk Concert #407 (November 24, 2014).

benatarI never liked Pat Benatar.  Back in the day she was all over MTV (and even in Fast Time at Ridgemont High) and I just didn’t like her.  I’m not sure why, although I was particularly bitter about “Hell is for Children” (being a child myself).  Of course, I still know all of her singles really well.

But I haven’t thought about her in probably a decade.  And then  around 2014 that she was playing with Neil Giraldo in some kind of acoustic tour.  I recognized his name but didn’t know they were married or anything like that.

And so here they are doing a Tiny Desk Concert–all acoustic–with him playing guitar and contributing backing vocals.  Over the decades, Benatar’s voice has changed a bit–she sounds gruffer and it really suits her. (more…)

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dragonsbewareSOUNDTRACK: GIVERS-Tiny Desk Concert #144 (June 22, 2011).

giversGivers play a light on poppy tropical kind of music.  Their music feels summery and light.  Between the sorta reggae guitar and the tons of percussion, the songs are fun and danceable.

As “Meantime” opened the show, I was really struck by the bass.  The bass plays a lot of high notes and some seamless riffs.  It’s really the lead instrument.  And there’s also percussion all over the place.  The sound the great is really full for so few instruments.  Of course, it really comes as no surprise to hear there’s a flute solo, even though it wasn’t apparent that anyone had a flute–it’s as if a wandering flute minstrel happened by just at the right time.

The band has two singers, Taylor Guarisco and Tiffany Lamson.  On “Up Up Up” the two duet in the beginning and then switch off vocal lines.  Taylor’s voice is higher, while Tiffany’s is deeper, raspy and interesting (although I’m not quite sure it works with their sweet music, or perhaps she’s just not loud enough).  There’s more fun bass lines in this song (I’m intrigued that he switches from a pick to pickless playing).  This song features some xylophone which also sounds perfect with their music.  Perhaps it’s the way he sings the “up up up” part but it definitely gives the song a reggae feel (especially with that afropop bass).  I really like this song, especially the surprise ending of one, two, three, four-xylophone slide-five.

For the final song, “Atlantic” there’s much switching around.  Tyler and the bassist switch instruments and Tiffany picks up a large ukulele.  She sings lead and you can really hear her raspy voice (again, not loud enough).  This song is mellow and as such the bass isn’t quite as fun (although Tyler does have a similar bass sensibility).  I’m curious to hear what they sound like when they are not unplugged.

Although frankly, I can do without Tyler’s crazy faces.

[READ: March 27, 2016] Dragons Beware

After the successes of Claudette in Giants Beware, everyone is back (with a new problem created by Claudette) in Dragons Beware.

As the book opens, Claudette is telling the story of a great sword made by the great blacksmith Augustine (her father).  The sword was called Breaker and no magic could defeat it.  One day Augustine went to fight the fearsome dragon Azra the Atrocious.  Sadly for him, the dragon is the one who did the damage that we saw in the first book (missing an arm and a leg..and the dragon swallowed the sword too).

When she finishes the story, she says that she can go fight Azra herself, with her own little wooden sword.

In the next scene we see that the evil Grombach is amassing an army–he has been magically converting ravens into giant walking gargoyles.  So although Claudette has invented a problem to solve, the village has a real problem coming their way. (more…)

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bewareSOUNDTRACK: YACHT-Tiny Desk Concert #136 (June 22, 2011).

yachtYacht is a synthy band with a dramatic and charismatic lead singer–Claire Evans.

There are tons of synth and funky synth sounds on “Dystopia (The Earth is On Fire)”.  But what really sound great are the excellent harmony vocals.  There is some guitar but it’s pretty overshadowed by the synth (and synth drums).  I don’t love the line “The earth is on fire.  We don’t have no daughter.  Let the mother father burn.”  But I’m willing to accept it because the synth solo is pretty cool.

The keyboardist and programmer switch places for “Psychic City (Voodoo City).”  The guitar is more prominent in this song primarily because the song is practically a capella–the chorus is principally Aye Yi Yah Yah HOOH, Aye Yi Yah Yah HO HO, which would probably be a lot of fun to sing along to live, but feels a little tedious here.

After this song it is revealed–horrors–that there was gum under Bob’s desk and Jona Bechtolt gets some on his nice pants.  There is talking of sending them the dry cleaning bill, but Claire grimaces and says “too soon.”

“Shangri-La” opens with an interesting synth riff (and the guys in back switch places).  The chorus “If I can’t get to heaven let me go to L.A.” is pretty funny.

I’m not sure what the band sounds like when it is not stripped down (the blurb talks about how long it took them to get settled), but I feel like their lyrics don’t support the stripped down sound.

[READ: February 17, 2015] Giants Beware

This is a First Second children’s graphic novel.  It is quite long for a children’s book (200 pages) but it’s a lot of fun and the design is fantastic.

The story opens with an old storyteller telling a story to a bunch of kids.  It’s the story of the Baby Feet Eating Giant.  The giant liked to eat the feet of all the babies in the village.  No one was safe until the brave leadership of the great Marquis Pierre the XXXII. He chased the giant into the mountains and built a wall around the village to keep it secure.

The end.

Except, as the young girl on the cover of the book says…  Well?  How did he kill the giant?  Did they “tell the evil giant a pointless story and he died of boredom?”  This is Claudette; she wants to hear action.  She wants to hear about giant slaying.  She thinks that leaving the giant outside and simply building a wall around the city is irresponsible.

As the story teller walks away he mumbles that she is just like her father and look where that got him. (more…)

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jun9SOUNDTRACK: FOXYGEN-We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic (2013).

foxyI had no idea this was Foxygen’s third album (they have a new album out this week as well).  I had only heard of this because of NPR.  And I was delighted with the band’s utterly retro feel and sound–so much retro that it is almost too much.  But they do it with such flair that it works.  Indeed, the whole feeling of this album is one of sampling all of recent music history–with elements thrown in haphazardly (but effectively) and really celebrating a whole 60s/70s vibe with a sprinkling of modern technology.

“In the Darkness” is a 2 minute piano heavy track with horns, big swelling vocals chorals and all kinds of joy.  “No Destruction” though is where the retro sound really shines.  Sounding like a Velvet Underground track with a sweeter singer (who is no less blase).  Except that the chorus rises into a glorious hippie happiness.  It also features funny lines like the deadpan, “There’s no need to be an assshole you’re not in Brooklyn anymore.”

“On Blue Mountain” opens with a kind of Flaming Lips vibe (deep morphing voices counting down), but Sam France has a much higher pitched voice as he sings the slow intro.  Once the song kicks in faster, the real hippy vibe (combined with some Rolling Stones and some girlie backing vocals) kick in.  There’s even a big friendly chorus (that reminds me of “Suspicious Minds”).  After almost 4 minutes, the song shifts gears entirely into a raucous sing along  (with what sounds like a children’s choir).

After the manic intensity of “Mountain,” “San Francisco” emerges as a sweet delicate flute filled hippie song.  This was the first song I heard by them and I loved it immediately–the simple melody, the delicate (funny) female responses, the swelling strings. it was delightful.  “Bowling Trophies” is a weird little less than two-minute instrumental that leads to the glorious “Shuggie.”  “Shuggie” is the least hippie song on the album and screams more of a kind of French disco pop, with some wonderful lyrics.  The chorus is just a rollicking good time and the wah wah synth solo is terrific.  At three and a half minutes the song is just way too short, although it seems that anything that last longer than 4 minutes will shift gears into something else eventually anyway.

“Oh Yeah” brings in a staggered kind of sound, with some interesting breaks and stops.  It also inserts some doo-wop into it.  I love how the end once again shifts gears into a “freak out” with a wild guitar solo and fast drums.  The title song is fuzzy and distorted (the vocals are nearly inaudible).  It’s fast paced but still very retro sounding (Jefferson Airplane?) except for the modern electronic and guitar breaks.  And of course, the last minute is entirely different from the rest of the song, as well.

The album ends with “Oh No 2,” a five-minute track that begins as a slow swelling almost soundtrack song.  Indeed, when the spoken word part (“I was standing on the bed, birds were landing on my head”) emerges later on, it comes close to The Rocky Horror Picture Show (which is not a bad thing), including the piano outro (with slightly out of tune voice).

This whole album could just be an obnoxious rip off of old timey sounds, but instead it’s more like a fun reference point for those who know the music and just a fun good time for those who don’t.  And at something like 35 minutes, it never overstays its welcome.

[READ: September 17, 2014] “The Bad Graft”

This year’s Summer Fiction issue of the New Yorker was subtitled Love Stories.  In addition to all of the shorter pieces that were included in this issue, there were also four fiction contributions.

This was the final story in this issue and, sadly for me, it was the one I liked least.  It has three sections: I. Germination; II. Emergence; III. Establishment.  And while I enjoyed (mostly) section I., I really didn’t enjoy the turn the story took once it entered section II and the “plot” emerged.

The story opens with two young (actually not that young) lovers traveling towards Joshua Tree.  This couple is madly in love and are basically eloping.  Except, of course, that they don’t want to ever get married, so it is a symbolic elopement.  On their first date they had decided to run away together.  They left their homes in Pennsylvania more or less unannounced, took all their money and drove to the desert.

Andy and Angie, for that is what their names are, prepared well with Andy having, among other things a large knife (note to Chekovians).  After a few days they are startled to discover how expensive this road trip is.  But they are undaunted because they are in love.  Of course, they are also exhausted and perhaps a little on edge.

When they arrive at Joshua Tree, it is 106 degrees.  The park ranger informs them that they have arrived in time to see the yucca moths do their magic with the trees.  he calls it, the ‘pulse event.”  The entire range of Joshuas is in bloom and the moths are smitten.  This sounds exciting but it is also sad, as the Joshua Teees may be on the brink of extinction and this massive blossoming is like a distress call.

With all of this set up, it is a total surprise when half way through the section, the story informs is that “This is where the bad graft occurs.” (more…)

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