Archive for the ‘Trees’ Category


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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CV1_TNY_McCall_HorseCarriage.inddSOUNDTRACK: AGES AND AGES-Tiny Desk Concert #358 (May 20, 2014).

ages I knew one song from Ages And Ages so far (the wonderful song “Divisionary (Do The Right Thing)”), and I was interested to hear what else the band did.  Well, they open this Tiny Desk Concert with a great burst of multiple harmonies and fugues—when you have 8 people in your band you can really showcase diversity in vocals (there’s only 6 here at the Tiny Desk and there’s 7 in the band photo but NPR says 8 so, your guess is as good as mine). “Light Goes Out” has that great opening and then it turns into a pretty quick indie rock song.  I really enjoy the way the different vocalists (and three guitars and one piano) really pile on the sounds.  Even the percussion elements add something to this joyful song.

“Divisionary (Do The Right Thing)” sound great in this context—the way the women play with harmonies is just fantastic.  It starts slowly, with a strummed acoustic guitar, then more and more voices join the mix.  The harmonies that the women sing (which I don’t think are on the record sound great).  “No Nostalgia” has a traditional folk sound (with that shaker as a cool percussive element).  It’s probably the most traditional sounding song of the bunch, but again those many voices of harmonies sound great.

They are one of the few bands to stretch out to 4 songs on a recent Tiny Desk, and their fourth is “Our Demons” a great song with more great voices coming in.

If I was unsure just how good Ages and Ages is, this tiny Desk Concert sold me.

[READ: June 1, 2014] “The Man in the Woods”

This is the second of a group of recently uncovered stories from Shirley Jackson’s papers which the New Yorker has published.

Even though this story is timeless–there is really no indication of when it is set, and any clues seem to be more mythological than real–when reading it I assumed it was written a while ago.  There’s something about the language that just reads “not contemporary.”  And I think that’s interesting in and of itself.

But as I said, this story feels timeless–it has a mythological/fairy tale mystique about it which starts right off the bat when we see the main character, Christopher, walking in a very deep, very dark forest.  He has been walking for countless days and the forest has been getting more and more close–as if the trees were leaning in on him.  He is all alone until a cat starts following him “trotting along in the casual acceptance of human company that cats exhibit when they are frightened.”  And thus, the two continue deeper into the woods with Christopher saying to the cat that the path must lead somewhere.

And it does, an hour or so later, they come upon a bend in the path which leads to a small house.  He approaches cautiously but is quickly welcomed by the young “not so young as he would have liked, but too young, seemingly, to be living in the heart of a forest” lady named Phyllis.  There is another lady called Circe who is making food.  The warmth of the cabin and the smell of the food warms Christopher to his core.  And the cat makes himself at home quickly as well.  But the ladies are a little odd, and Christopher dare not make himself too comfortable.  Especially when they call out the head of the house. (more…)

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walrusjulySOUNDTRACK: POKEY LAFARGE-Live on Mountain Stage (2012).

pokey2I really only know Pokey LaFarge from NPR (they’ve embraced them, but I haven’t heard them anywhere else).  Pokey and his band plays a mix of early string-band music, ragtime, country blues and Western swing, in a completely un-ironic way (they dress the part as well).  Like Squirrel Nut Zippers, but even more so.

Interestingly, I know the first song “La La Blues” from a previous performance (on a Tiny Desk Concert) and I actually liked that version better than this one.  This entire performance feels a little too loose.  Which is weird because the music is designed to be loose, but in the previous performances there was a little more structure which made the songs jump out a little more (or maybe the recording just isn’t loud enough).

There’s 5 songs in total: 4 originals include “Central Time,” “Drinkin’ Whiskey Tonight,” and “Won’tcha Please Don’t Do It.”  And a Jimmie Rogers song called “Peach Pickin’ Time in Georgia.”  This final song feels more authentically of the time than LaFarge’s originals but only barely, just barely (perhaps its the “gal pickin’ time” line).  And yet “Won’tch Please Don’t Do It” sounds just right too.

The best joke in the set is when Pokey says they have 78 RPM records for sale (they really do).  But that they don’t have any that night because they are sold out!

LaFarge is an engaging live performer (even if the crowd seems subdued here).  And while I don’t see myself buying any of his records, I would like to see him live–it seems like a fun show.  Check it out here.

[READ: July 15, 2013] “Somewhere, a Long Happy Life Probably Awaits You”

The prefatory paragraph that precedes up this story seems so light-hearted: “Manfred met Elizabeth when she interviewed for a position at his fortune cookie company.  She was a greeting card writer looking to branch out.”  That is an actual quote from the story, but in the story, it is a flashback after the main action of the story has begun.

When the story begins, Elizabeth is trying to protect a tree in her front yard.  It has gotten Dutch Elm disease and is to be cut down this summer.  She would like to know when, but she is only told between may and September.  While she is not going to go crazy protecting this tree, she would like some actual notification, so she can be there to say goodbye.

Going crazy, it turns out is an important thing to note, though.  Because Elizabeth from time to time goes on “safaris.”  These safaris can last an indeterminate amount of time, and in some cases may even require Manfred to track her down.  Like when she was protesting the war in front of a building (where no one else was) or, as in one case, when she was frolicking in a sprinkler in her underwear. (more…)

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