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Archive for the ‘Unlikable main character’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: CARLA MORRISON-“Falta De Respeto” (Field Recordings, October 18, 2012)

This Field Recording [Carla Morrison: Out Of The Past, Into The City] is set in a New York City park, my idea of a Field Recording.  She has an audience (who are appreciative at the end) and everything.

The opening is so beautiful–the ooohs just soar and the accompaniment of guitarist Andres Landon (who has excellent harmony vocals) and percussionist Miguel Sandoval fill this out perfectly.

“Eres tan moderno, que mis caricias ya son anticuadas,” Mexican singer Carla Morrison croons to an indifferent lover in “Falta De Respeto” (“Disrespect”). That beautiful line — which translates as “You are so modern that my caresses are antiquated” — captures Morrison’s essence. Part tragic heroine, part bold feminist, she’s always a pining romantic, yet she won’t sit pretty in a corner and wait to be swept off her feet. She’ll get in your face and tell you just how much she loves you.

It’s an absolutely lovely song even if you don;t know what the words mean.

[READ: November 27, 2017] “The Lost Troop”

This is the second military story from Mackin in 2017.  While the previous story had some interesting aspects to it, this one painted a bad portrait of the soldiers and wasn’t really all that interesting.

It was December in Logar.  And it was slow.  It was like peace had broken out and no one had told them.  But they knew the war wasn’t over.

So instead they keep themselves busy.  They think back to the graveyard that looked like a used car lot.  One of them thinks they need to go back there because it might have been fake.   They take helicopters only to discover that there is nothing there. (more…)

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  SOUNDTRACK: THE RADIO DEPT.-Clinging to a Scheme (2010).

In this final book, Karl Ove mentions buying a record on a whim by The Radio Dept.  Given the timing of the book, I assume it’s this record.  So I’m going to give it a listen too.

I really enjoyed this record which has a feeling of a delicate My Bloody Valentine fronted by The Stone Roses.  The key word in all of this is delicate.  It’s a very soft and gentle record (except for one song).  It hits all the buttons of 90s Britpop and to me is just infectious.

“Domestic Scene” opens the disc with pretty guitars intertwining with an electronic thumping.  After the first listen I was sure the whole record was synthy, but this track has no synths at all, just like five or six guitar lines overdubbing–each opener just as pretty as the others.  The voice sound a lot the guys from The Stone Roses on the more delicate tracks.

“Heaven’s on Fire” opens with bouncy synths and a sampled (from where?) exchange:

People see rock n roll as youth culture.  When youth culture becomes monopolized by big business what are the youth to do.  Do you have any idea?
I think we should destroy the bogus capitalist process that is destroying youth culture.

Then come the jangling guitars and the introduction of synths.

“This Time Around” has a cool high bass line (and what sounds like a second bass line). I love the overlapping instruments on this record.  I couldn’t decide if it was a solo album or a huge group, so I was surprised to find it’s a trio.

“Never Follow Suit” continues this style but in the middle it adds a recorded voice of someone speaking about writing.

“A Token of Gratitude” has some lovely guitars swirling around and a percussion that sounds like a ping-pong ball or a tap dancer.   The last half of the song is a soothing gentle My Bloody Valentine-sque series of washes and melody.

“The Video Dept.” is full of jangly guitars and gentle blurry vocals while “Memory Loss” has some muted guitar notes pizzicatoing along and then what sounds like a muted melodica.

David is the one song that sounds different from the rest.  It has strings and synth stabs and drums that are way too loud.  Most of the songs don’t have drums at all, but these are deliberately recorded too loud and are almost painful.

The final two songs include “Four Months in the Shade” which is an instrumental.  It is just under 2 minutes of pulsing electronics that segues into the delicate album closer “You Stopped Making Sense.”  This song continues with the melody and gentleness of the previous songs and concludes the album perfectly.

I really enjoyed this record a lot.  It’s not groundbreaking at all, but it melds some genres and styles into a remarkably enjoyable collection.

[READ: September and October 2018] My Struggle Book Six

Here is the final book in this massive series.  It was funny to think that it was anticlimactic because it’s not like anything else was climactic in the series either.  But just like the other books, I absolutely could not put this down (possibly because I knew it was due back at the library soon).

I found this book to be very much like the others in that I really loved when he was talking conversationally, but I found his philosophical musings to be a bit slower going–and sometimes quite dull.

But the inexplicable center of this book is a 400 plus page musing on Hitler.  I’ll mention that more later, but I found the whole section absolutely fascinating because he dared to actually read Mein Kampf and to talk about it at length.  I’m sure this is because he named his series the same name in Norwegian.  He tangentially compares Hitler to himself as well–but only in the way that a failed person could do unspeakable things.

But in this essay, he humanizes Hitler without making him any less of an evil man.  His whole point is that in order to fully appreciate/understand Hitler’s evil, you have to realize that he was once an ordinary person.  A teenager who had dreams about becoming an artist, a boy who was afraid of sex and germs.  If you try to make him the inherent embodiment of evil, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that he was a child, a teen, a young man who was not always evil.

Why Karl Ove does this is a bit of a mystery especially contextually, but it was still a fascinating read especially when you see how many things gibe with trump and how he acts and behaves–especially his use of propaganda.  It’s easy to see how people could be swayed by evil ideas (and this was written before trump was even a candidate). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SILK ROAD ENSEMBLE–“Briel” (Field Recordings, March 26, 2014).

There have been many fun Field Recordings, but this one [Welcome to Yo-Yo’s Playhouse] is surely the most fun. The countless members of Silk Road Ensemble were taken to ACME Studio, a theatrical props warehouse in Brooklyn.  They were given pretty much free reign to put on costumes, to bring out mannequins, to do whatever they wanted and that makes this session seem even bigger than it already is (and it’s already pretty big).

That’s all not to mention that the Silk Road Ensemble is a pretty amazing group of musicians:

cellist Yo-Yo Ma and some of the world’s premiere instrumentalists and composers, including members of Brooklyn Rider, Chinese pipa virtuoso Wu Man, Iranian kamancheh virtuoso Kayhan Kalhor, Spanish bagpiper Cristina Pato, American percussionist Shane Shanahan and clarinetist Kinan Azmeh from Syria.

As we’ve had the opportunity to forge those bonds over time [many of these performers have done Tiny Desk Concerts], we’ve gotten to know the warm, generous-spirited personalities that come along with these immense talents. We thought that setting them loose in a props house, where they could pick and choose among the curiosities for little elements to bring into the camera frame, would bring those aspects of their personalities into sharper focus. What we wound up with was a magical afternoon of play in all senses of the word — not just having the chance to record these virtuosos and their instruments in a spirited performance of John Zorn’s Briel, here arranged by Shanir Ezra Blumenkranz, but also to capture them (and us) having an immense amount of fun.

I had no idea this was a John Zorn piece.  It sounded like a Hebrew composition and now I understand why.  But in the best world music tradition, this piece is arranged for musicians from all over the world–percussion, strings, brass and reed.  There’s a bagpipe solo, a kamancheh solo and a field of percussion.  The song is just way too short.

But to watch Yo-Yo Ma play the cello while holding a mannequin that looks like George Harrison is just one of the many highlights.

[READ: April 2018] Loner

Everything about the look of this book appealed to me.  The title, the crappy cover, the backwards type, the size, it all just seemed like a light, funny story.

Perhaps something about it should have read “creepy” too.

David Federman is a New Jersey native.  He went to Garret Hobart High School (named for New Jersey’s only vice president) He’s smart (he was accepted in to Harvard) but dull and, as we get to know him, pretty unlikable.  He imagines that Harvard will be a place where he (and other geeks like him) will flourish and kick ass.

He’s not wrong in thinking that–everyone he meets  seems to want to change.  But no one wants to change by hanging out with David.

David winds up in a freshman group that he hates–the Matthews Marauders (who are anything but).  In fact, nothing is going very well until he sees Veronica Wells.  She is everything he desires–a sophisticated New Yorker with money, intelligence and beauty. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ALYSON GREENFIELD-“Mama Said Knock You Out” (2011).

I found this song about 4 years ago and meant to post about it but never did.  I just saw it in my notes and decided to check it out again.

Alyson Greenfield is a pianist.  She sings (and plays) a bit like earlier Tori Amos.  And, like Tori, she takes an unlikley song to make an interesting cover.

The basis of this song is a wonderfully busy and complicated piano.  She doesn’t rap the verses exactly, but she does recite them quite quickly.

She is verbally dexterous, all while she’s playing a complex and beautiful arrangement on the piano.

The second chorus quiets down completely with a gentle piano melody and her singing softly but not un-menacingly.

It’s a fairly radical reinterpretation of the song.  There is no music in the original–just a sample of a simple musical motif), so everything that she plays is rather interesting and inspired.

I honestly don’t remember how I found this song.  But I have just looked her up and I see that it comes from an EP of covers of this ilk. The other songs include “Bad Boys” (a song I never had to hear again, even in her version).  “All That She Wants” which aside from being on piano instead of dance doesn’t sound all that different.  “Milkshake,” which I ‘d never heard of and “Gangsta’s Paradise” played on glockenspiel.

None of these covers is especially interesting because they lack the awesome musicality of “Mama.”

Since putting out that EP she released a one-off goof song called ‘Michael Cera C​*​ckblocked Me at SXSW,” and a song called “Uncharted Places,” which is kind of interesting–dancey but with toy instruments.  Her voice certainly sounds good in a poppy way.

But that was four years ago.  I’ve no idea what she’s up to.

[READ: January 5, 2018] “Blueprint for St. Louis”

I printed out this story from the web.  But apparently I missed the first page.  I was delighted that the story started with no introduction. I thought it was really cool that the first line was just:

What consumed them both right now was the situation in St. Louis.

What a wild opening.

It was said that in St. Louis there were thirty dead souls, but everyone knew that that number was low.  By a couple of decimal points. There had been a bombing and it was big.  It emerged that the explosives had been buried in the foundation of the building when it was being built two years earlier.

Terrorism wasn’t really the term anymore.  “Tax” seemed more like it.  This time it was levied on St Louis.  It was New Orleans the previous year.  Tuscon three years ago.  A tax on comfort and safety.  You learned not to be surprised.

It was Roy and Ida’s job to honor the site, honor the dead.  They designed large public graves where people could gather and maybe cool food trucks would park. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: LAWRENCE BROWNLEE AND JASON MORAN-“There’s A Man Going ‘Round Taking Names” (Field Recordings, February 17, 2016). 

I know of Brownlee from a Tiny Desk Concert.  But this is a whole other order of magnitude.  He and pianist Jason Moran are playing a spiritual about death in an active crypt.

Brownlee’s voice is powerful and soaring, but full of anguish.  And Moran’s piano is so intense, especially at the end.  He plays the melody but he allows for a lot of overtones and echo to nearly overpower the music.

At the very end, he plays some high notes by literally chopping at the keys like a karate chop–powerful, sharp and dissonant.

Here’s the blurb for more context:

Opera singer Lawrence Brownlee is known for portraying kings and princes. But lately he’s been thinking about real people: Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and Freddie Gray, to name a few.

He’s been thinking about the Black Lives Matter movement and an old spiritual called “There’s a Man Going ‘Round Taking Names.” Decades ago, singers like Paul Robeson and Lead Belly recorded it. Brownlee, with jazz pianist Jason Moran, revives the old song to tell a new story for the 21st century.

“Jason and I chose this song because we felt it accurately captures a growing sentiment that’s in society today,” Brownlee says. “So many senseless deaths of young African-American men.”

A crypt, they thought, would be an appropriate setting to perform their version of the song. So we took our cameras and microphones — and a lovely piano — deep into the active crypt below the historic Church of the Intercession in Harlem. The 1915 structure at 155th Street and Broadway is a New York City landmark and a dramatic setting for occasional concerts, including a December 2015 recital by Brownlee.

“I know that the ashes of the parishioners of this church are here in this crypt,” Brownlee explains. “You can feel the weight of death, you can feel the sting. It adequately captures the atmosphere, the somber mood that we are trying to capture with this song.”

In this arrangement, an already solemn song becomes even more dark and agitated.

“What [Jason] has done with the piano part has made it build, and you feel the unrest, the turmoil, the tension that is underneath,” Brownlee says. “This is something that is painful and difficult to deal with.”

Woah.

[READ: January 31, 2018] “Self-Portrait with Beach”

This is the story of an older couple who have been together for a while.

They go to the beach, she removes her top and asks “Is the body the house for the soul or are body and soul and one and inseparable.?”  He looks at her and says, “Your body is my soul.”

She laughs that his soul is bound for decay but he continues, ‘Nothing of you will decay as long as I am alive.”

Out of nowhere a man in white comes and offers his homemade beverages.  He says they have unique powers. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: PJ MORTON-Tiny Desk Concert (July 2, 2018).

I have never heard of PJ Morton.  So the opening of this show made me smile a little

So many people didn’t want me to be myself.  But I decided I was going to be PJ not natter what people told me.

Commendable, to be sure, but I had a hard time believing anybody cared what he did.  But I absolutely love the way this became the chorus:

They’d say PJ you’re not mainstream enough /Would you considers us changing some stuff or everything about who you are / No offense but were just trying to make you a star.

And then this awesome chorus:

But I must admit I’m claustrophobic / I have a hard time trying to fit into your small mind.

That’s fantastic (the song is called “Claustrophobic”).

Staying true to his own musical vision has always come first for PJ Morton. So when he expressed his desire to squeeze a 10-piece string section behind the Tiny Desk for his three-song performance, we were more than happy to oblige him.

Morton showed off the soulful Fender Rhodes chops that helped him earn a mentor in Stevie Wonder and membership to Maroon 5, while backed by percussion, bass and the same Matt Jones Orchestra that accompanies him on his soulful solo releases, Gumboand Gumbo Unplugged.  That’s: Matt Jones (Matt Jones Orchestra Conductor), Clayton Penrose-Whitmore (Violin), Arianne Urban (Violin), Olya Prohorova (Violin), Alexandria Hill (Violin), Danielle Taylor (Violin), Istvan Loga (Viola), Caitlin Adamson (Viola), Seth Woods (Cello), Malik Johnson (Cello), Victor Ray Holms (Bass),

That’s all well and good but who is he?

Well,

The preacher’s kid with the gospel roots wound up collecting two 2018 Grammy nominations for music from Gumbo, his fourth studio LP. Ironically, those industry accolades came as a direct result of Morton choosing to go his own way.

And what did people want him to do that was un PJ?

One record exec interested in signing him even suggested pairing Morton with popular West Coast hip-hop producer DJ Mustard. “It was so far off base,” he told NPR’s Michel Martin last January. Instead, he started his independent music label, Morton Records, with the vision of creating a new Motown in his hometown.

“Go Thru Your Phone” has a real Stevie Wonder vibes, particularly in the way he sings the end.  For this invites his girls The Amours (Jakiya Ayanna, Shaina Aisha) to sing with him.  In addition, we get Brian Cockerham (bass) and Ed Clark (percussion) playing some groovy funk.

He says the song is about “going through phones.”  It also has gentle pizzicato strings.  I don;t love his singing voice, but there is a great melody in the chorus.

He ends with “First Began.”  Again I don’t love his voice (there’s a Stevie Wonder thing going on again) in the verses but the sounds when the orchestra kick in are wonderful (including that low note and the wood block).   And yes, his Fender Rhodes is right on.

I am certainly interested in hearing his studio album.

[READ: January 8, 2017] “The Fugitive”

I have recently come around completely to Boyle’s writing  I’ve really enjoyed just about everything that I’ve read from him (and he gets published a lot).

But this one reminded me a lot of Rachel Kushner’s “Fifty-Seven” in that the main character does some horrible things.  He makes terrible decisions that impact other people. And while the circumstances of his initial trouble are unfortunate, I can’t feel bad for him and I’m not sure if I’m supposed to.

This is the story of a (legal) Mexican immigrant with little English (perfect for July 4th). He had contracted a very strong strain of tuberculosis.  He was told to take pills every day and come in for shots–that was the only way to cure it.  This could have gone on for up to 3 years.  But after three months, he was feeling better and quit taking the medicine.

Now he’s back, with Health Services.  They tell him that his condition has gotten worse and he is heavily contagious.  He must wear a mask in public as well as take medicine every day and come in for a daily injection.  This could also last for three years.  He agrees to it.  But the moment he gets off the bus, he goes into a bar, takes off his mask and drinks several beers, coughing all the while.

He has a job–doing gardening work–and he is treated fairly well on the job. But the medicine is wearing him down.

There’s an interesting parallel in the story in that part of his gardening job was to catch critters that damage the lawns. The first time he caught a live raccoon (the homeowners didn’t want to use poison), it was up to him to kill it.  “What are you going to do, take it home and train it to walk on a leash?”  And, yes, he is not unlike a trapped animal as well.

But still, if he follows the procedures he has a chance of getting better.  If he doesn’t, he could infect the rest of the population.  So, when he deliberately doesn’t do what he’s supposed to do and then fights back against the agents when they try to bring him in again, it’s hard to have sympathy–even if you feel bad for what happened.

If I was supposed to feel sympathy for him, it failed.

 

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[LISTENED TO: Summer 2017] Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life

I might be one of the few people in America to have never read anything by James Patterson.  Well, C. really enjoyed this series (and his other books for young readers) so we decided to listen to this on a car ride. (Both kids had seen the film already, although I hadn’t).

I have to say that right off the bat I was turned off by the introduction of this book because there was this hard rocking guitar that they played through about 3 minutes of opening text.  And it was too loud!  It was really hard to hear the narrator.  I kind of tuned out because I feared that the whole book would feature this (it doesn’t).  And while I won’t say I was confused by what I missed, I did wonder if I’d missed some things that were revealed later (also, some of the main character’s motivation).

Rafe Khatchadorian is starting Hills Village Middle School.  It’s a new school (sixth grade).  Rafe seems to have a hard to succeeding in school in general.  There’s also a lot going on at home.  His mom has been dating a jerk named Bear.  Bear is unemployed, and living with them while Rafe’s mom is working two jobs and is hardly ever home.

The only person who seems to help Rafe cope with things is his friend Leo the Silent.  Leo doesn’t talk much, but he is an awesome artist.  And he also encourages Rafe to do things that maybe he shouldn’t.

When Rafe arrives at school, he is given a rule book with over 100 rules that he must follow.  Given the possibility of hanging out, being good and following the rules or having fun and enjoying school, he and Leo make a choice.  And they come up with “Operation R.A.F.E.” (which stands for Rules Aren’t For Everyone).  The operation is set up like a video game.  Rafe is going to try to break every rule in the handbook. Leo will award him points.  But he will also only have three “lives,” which he will lose if he gets caught or otherwise fails in his quest. (more…)

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