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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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SOUNDTRACKJULIA JACKLIN-Tiny Desk Concert #621 (May 22, 2017).

I’d never heard of Julia Jacklin, an Australian singer-songwriter.  But I found her music to be almost painfully slow and laconic–very much like Cowboy Junkies.  It’s quite pretty, but I need a little more pep.

The blurb notes:

Julia Jacklin doesn’t need much accompaniment. Jacklin’s full-length debut, last year’s Don’t Let The Kids Win, knows just when and how to lean in to this simplicity, surrounding her with spare instrumentation that keeps that voice in the center of the frame.

For her Tiny Desk debut, Jacklin reproduces three of that album’s drowsily beautiful ballads with the aid of a backing band so restrained, you can read the effort to keep quiet on their faces.

That’s all very true.  Her music is slow and sometimes it’s so quiet that it’s all about her voice which is pretty (but drowsy).

“Don’t Let The Kids Win” is slow and quiet.  The guitar is so quiet you can hear her pick hitting the strings as she strums.  It’s unclear that Julia is Australian until she sings  “don’t want them growing up thinking three years olds are good at playing basketball” and her accent comes through on basketball).  The song eventually starts to grow a little louder with backing vocals by the end.  And I believe one climactic note from bassist Ben Whiteley (from Toronto)

“Lead Light” has considerably more pep.  The drums (from Ian Kehoe also from Toronto) are quiet but sound like gun shots in this quiet setting.  The song swings slowly with some pretty guitar lines from Eddie Boyd from Australia).

Never has a song sounded less like a pool party than “Pool Party.”  What’s interesting about singers who sing like this is that I love listening to lyrics, and yet when people sing so slowly like this I lose all forward momentum of the lyrics.  So even if they are good, I’m lost them after a verse.

[READ: April 4, 2017] “Northeast Regional”

I feel like the cover to Cline’s book The Girls was iconic in 2016.  I don’t know anything about the book, but that cover was everywhere.  So this is my first exposure to her writing.  And I rather liked it.

The story started a little clunky I thought–it took me a few paragraphs to get the flow.  But once it got going I couldn’t stop.

The story begins with Richard on a train.  He has been riding for close to five hours.  He is heading to his on Rowan’s school and we know that something bad has happened.  He keeps checking his phone.  He gets messages about his son, but nothing from Ana.

Richard has been divorced for 16 years.  His wife has primary and majority custody of their son Rowan who is now at a private school “out in the middle of nowhere.”

Richard has been seeing Ana (part a succession of married women) for some time (the divorce was over a decade ago).  He and Ana had a weekend planned together (it was the first time they would spend the night together), but nothing seemed to be going right.  Everything seemed significant to her, from groceries to clothes to movie choices.  Richard was in a mood; he hated the movie she chose (black and white?  He was only fifty.  Or fifty-one).

And then he got the phone call. (more…)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SINKANE-Tiny Desk Concert #610 (April 10, 2017).

I’ve heard of Sinkane but I didn’t really know much about them.  Not knowing what to expect, it was really fun to watch this show and see such diversity in the band.

Their music kind of defies categorization, which the blurb addresses:

Sinkane is the music of Ahmed Gallab — and such hopeful music it is. He grew up in London and has lived in Sudan and in Ohio and, these days, New York City. His band reflects his own love for music from around the world; you can hear a great New York jazz band in the rhythms of Sinkane, but you can also hear the influence of Bob Marley and the hypnotic repetition of Sudanese desert sounds.

“U’Huh”is the first song.  Ahmed says “You can help us out with this song you just have to say ‘u’huh.'”  The song is fun right from the bat.  The verses are catchy, with each line ending with “u’huh” (although singing partner Amanda Khiri  looks a little intent as she sings that affirmative line).  Ahmed sings with a surprising falsetto–which plays off against the repeated “u’huh.”

The song contains the Arabic phrase “kulu shi tamaam,” which translates to “everything’s great — it’s all going to be all right.”  And when it gets to the chorus, it grabs hold and won’t let go.

I love that there’s kind of reggae guitars (by Johnny Lam) and a surprising amount of acoustic piano (which you don’t hear all that much in reggae) from Elanna Canlas.  I also love that all of s sudden yo become very aware of all of the percussion, like a small triangle and cowbell and other things.  Those are all played by guest percussionist Reggie Pace from No BS! Brass Band.

“Favorite Song” opens with snaps /claps and a slinky guitar riff, a pulsing bass (Ish Montgomery) and a fun piano melody.  No falsetto for most of the main vocal lines and the great chorus “wont you play my favorite song….”

“Deadweight” has a cool dark riff on bass and guitar and the guitar uses a glass slide as well.  The bass and drums (Jason Trammell) are a great rhythm section.  Ahmed and Amanda sing a duet and they sound great together.  Then the whole band sings together.  I love that the piano plays little melodies that seem to be different from the rest of the song and yet work perfectly.  The guitar solo at the end comes as a surprise but it sounds terrific.

This is a fun, uplifting set from a really interesting band.

[READ: February 1, 2017] “Underground”

I really enjoyed this story quite a bit.  Although, as I think about it more, it almost seems like three unrelated episodes and makes me wonder if this is an excerpt from something bigger.

This is the story of Michael Salter.  Michael is forty-seven.  He’s recently divorced and even more recently come out as gay.  He has three distinct portions to his day.

The first is him at home with his most recent “boyfriend” Jeremy, a twenty-something guy he picked up on Grindr.  Michael is old-fashioned and formal.  He dresses beautifully (and has done so ever since he was little–learning to tie his own bow tie in school).  [There’s an odd line here “Mr. Collins, his Latin teacher, had taught him, and after an hour of practice Michael had the knot mastered along with a boner-size bruise on his backside.”  I have several possible ideas about what this means, but the “boner-sized bruise” just doesn’t make literal sense to me.]

Anyhow, Michael is a fancy older guy and Jeremy is a young stud.  Jeremy posts selfies all day and has thousands of followers.  Somehow this is part of his job.  At seven dates, Jeremy had become Michael’s most serious boyfriend.  And yet Michael is constantly checking Grindr, more in sheer amazement at the technology and the ease of cruising than for actually wanting to do anything. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SAN FERMIN-Tiny Desk Concert #315 (October 28, 2013).

When I first heard San Fermin I was immediately grabbed by the female lead voice (the song was “Sonsick”).  It was so powerful and gripping. I didn’t realize then that the female leads were the lead singers of Lucius (who I also didn’t know at the time).  San Fermin is the creation of Ellis Ludwig-Leone.

Since then I have enjoyed other songs by them as well, although I find that the songs sung by Allen Tate to be somewhat less exciting to me– I feel like his voice could one day hit me as amazing but it’s almost a little to understated for me.  And yet musically I love the orchestration and chamber poppiness.  As Bob writes:

San Fermin’s music bursts with ambition, talent and extreme joy. Its self-titled debut is charged with great storytelling and amazing vocals by both Allen Tate and Lucius singers Holly Laessig and Jess Wolfe. Then there are the arrangements: little gems that turn these songs into cinematic vignettes using trumpet, sax, keyboard, violin, guitar and drums.

San Fermin is the musical vision of Ellis Ludwig-Leone, who wrote these songs with Tate’s dark, rich voice in mind. Here at the Tiny Desk, Rae Cassidy makes the album’s female vocal parts her own.

So it’s interesting that the songs were meant for Tate.  I want just some more oomph from him.  especially here in this set.  And that’s because Rae Cassidy absolutely rules this set.

“Oh Darling” begins with a gentle piano and Cassidy’s pretty, delicate voice.  After a verse from her, Tate’s voice comes in and it’s almost comically low and formal (and actually perhaps a bit too quiet).  But when they all come in and sing it is just beautiful–the women in particular.

For “Sonsick” Cassidy sings lead with just drums.  As the song builds there’s a great chorus where the backing vocals (including Tate) sing in falsetto.  This version is quite stripped down compared to the recorded version and it really allows Cassidy’s voice to shine.  When she hits those incredibly high notes with such power, it gives me chills.

In the final song, “Renaissance!” Tate sings lead over a slow piano and violin.  The women sing backing vocals.  I like the way that the song builds in intensity with more instruments, but his voice is a little too flat for me–although he does kick in extra at the end.

There’s a really stunning version of the first two songs with the band singing live in a street and cafe and France.

Incidentally, Cassidy has since left the band and gone solo, and I wish her much success.

[READ: December 28, 2016] Humans of New York Stories

Sarah got me this book for Christmas.  I knew of Humans of New York, of course, but I wasn’t a follower of it.  So while I knew of it I didn’t really know that much about it.

There’s a brief introduction to this book (which is his second HONY book) in which he explains that HONY grew from five years of experimenting.  It evolved from a photography blog to a storytelling blog.  His original inspiration was to photograph 10,000 New Yorkers.  But then he decided to start including quotes from some of them.

He started interviewing people and found their stories became the real heart of the blog.  Of course, he thanks the community of readers and participants, because without them, he has nothing.

The rest of the book–425 pages–collects the photos and the stories. (more…)

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  SOUNDTRACK: BLUE MAN GROUP Tiny Desk Concert #566 (September 26, 2016).

This Tiny Desk Concert is probably the most fun right from th get go.

It opens with three men in blue marching through the NPR offices.  They go through backstage places, grabbing items.  The go through the DJ booth and even interrupt Corva Coleman’s weather forecast.

They even pull Bob away from his desk as they set up.  And then we see the blue men in action.

I remember seeing ads for Blue Man Group when I worked in Manhattan decades ago.  But I never actually saw them (something i regret).  And indeed, I’m not the only one who remembers their humble beginnings:

Josh Rogosin, our engineer for the Tiny Desk, first saw them in their early days, some 25 years ago at New York’s Astor Place Theatre. He told me how the Blue Men would retrofit some of their theatrical magic — including their custom-made instruments, confetti cannons and streamers — to fit this small desk space.  instead of installing their entire signature PVC instrument, what ended up behind the desk was about a third of it. On the right side of the desk, their Shred Mill makes its internet debut: It’s a drum machine triggered by magnets that changes rhythm depending where they are placed on the home-made variable-speed conveyor belt. They also invented something called a Spinulum, whose rhythmic tempo is controlled by rotating a wheel that plucks steel guitar strings.

So the guys, covered in blue (closeup cameras suggests to me that they are wearing gloves and masks?) play a number of home-made instruments (you can read a full description on the instruments below).  In addition to thw home made instruments, there is a Chapman stick bass guitar and a conventional drummer.

And they sure do get some cool sounds out of these items.

“Vortex” has its melody on the PVC pipes with the spinumlum and once the song really gets going in the middle, with the stick playing a cool melody and the cimbalon playing a sweet plucked melody, it’s really quite a pretty song.

For “The Forge,” the stick plays some cool scratchy melodies while two guys play the PVC tubes (I like that there’s a mirror mounted above them so you can see what they’re doing).  The cimbalon is put to good use in more pretty melodies.

“Meditation for Winners” is hilarious.  They play an old scratchy record with a really intense guy doing intense meditation.   They play really catchy music behind it.  They go into the audience and grab people to breathe in and out, and stretch.  Or doing dragon breath.  Then they chant a positive affirmation “I am the best at being relaxed.”  The way the meditation goes from Namaste into something else is pretty great as are the confetti cannons.

This makes me wish I had seen them 25 years ago even more now.

[READ: February 15, 2017] Chew: Volume Twelve

This is the concluding arc to the amazing (and disturbing) series Chew.  It covers issues 56-60 and includes Demon Chicken Poyo.

Chapter 1 begins with an introduction to Tony Chu, Cibopath.  By now we know who he is and what he does–he eats things (or people) and knows the history of whatever he just ate.  We are reminded that the only food that he does not get a psychic sensation from is beets.

The end of the previous book showed the death of Mason and his instruction that in order to save the world Tony must eat him.  Tony does not want to (obviously) but he must.  But the joke is on him because the last thing that Mason ate before killing himself was a big plate of beets–meaning he is totally blocking Tony’s abilities and that Tony will have to suffer through Mason’s long and tedious explanation of everything (this makes Colby crack up, which is quite funny). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: OKKERVIL RIVER-Tiny Desk Concert #311 (October 15, 2013).

I had first heard of Okkeervil River a few years ago, but I never really knew much about them.  I assumed they were a folk band.  Then a few years back I first head “Down Down the Deep River” and loved it.  I had some idea that the band was maybe a duo, so I was surprised to see this rather large 6 piece band–two acoustic guitars, 1 electric guitar, keys, trumpet and drums.

So what’s the deal with this band and the name?

At first blush, Okkervil River is obviously a good rock ‘n’ roll band, but listen closely — especially to its lyrics — and you’ll hear a great rock ‘n’ roll band. The group has been making sharp, thoughtful music since the late ’90s, with the first of its seven albums coming out a dozen years ago.

The songs in this Tiny Desk Concert are from The Silver Gymnasium, a record inspired by the childhood of 37-year-old singer-songwriter Will Sheff; he grew up a bespectacled, crooked-toothed redhead in the small New Hampshire town of Meriden. His lyrics are drenched in specific memories, pop-culture references and youthful insecurity.

The stories pop a bit more in this acoustic set-up for Okkervil River, but they rock plenty hard in concert and on their albums. If you’ve missed the past dozen years of this band, start here and then work your way back through its catalog. The Stage Names is my favorite, but nothing disappoints.

[The band takes its name from a short story by Russian author Tatyana Tolstaya set on the river in St Petersburg].

As it turns out the band is more rocky than folky–even if they are heavily acoustic.

“On a Balcony” a catchy swinging folk rock song.  The addition of the trumpet after averse is really cool.

Before “Pink Slips” Sheff switches guitars with the other guy–then laughs because the strap is set wrong.  Someone says, why not just switch straps?  Which they do.  Bob asks him about the strap correlation and he says: I don’t like the Paul McCartney disconnected cerebral height but I don’t like the grunge-Kurt-Cobain-I-cant-reach-my-guitar thing.  He likes a happy medium.  Then they ask about his shirt–it’s by Winsor McKay, the comic artist.  He says he always loved him, then he saw the Tom Petty “Runnin’ Down a Dream” video which imitates McKay.  It was a like a dream come to life, so he thought he’d make shirts of artists he likes and sells them with his merch.

“Pink Slips” has a kind of slacker melody with a lot of words—and here you can really hear the sophisticated lyrics that Bob talks about.  And the backing vocals sounds terrific.  After the song he says No one has caught the Kevin Costner references in that song. (Waterworld and The Postman).  He also notes that Tom Petty plays himself in The Postman.

“Down Down the Deep River” is so catchy, although this version is very different from the recorded version—more folky less keyboardy.  I really like the keyboard/horn melody and the great backing vocals.  And the claps are super fun.

[READ: July 8, 2016] Chew: Volume Eleven

Book Eleven covers issues 51-55.  And it features the death of two major characters!

Chapter 1 opens with the cryptic panel TWO YEARS LATER.

It shows Chu Chu’s bestselling cookbook being taken out of the best seller display and being replaced by Amelia’s EATERS series.

Then we flash up to heaven where Tony’s deceased sister Toni catches us up to speed briefly before getting called to bed by Abraham Lincoln and Genghis Khan (I love the bed scenes, they are so funny–the way Guillory draws the sheets so snug…).

Next we move to the White House where the annual Easter Egg hunt has been replaced by a Platypus Egg Hunt (with a platypus that looks quite similar to another famous cartoon platypus).  How I wish this was a commentary on the Trump Easter Egg Fiasco #RESIST.

Next we flash to Olive working in the White House kitchen.  It is through Olive’s lightning fast reflexes she is able to stop an assassination attempt of the President.  And their fast work has promoted them to full-fledged agents with the FDA.  Sadly for Olive, she is assigned to work with Ginny who is pretty nutty.  But some flash forwards show just how well they work together.

The next chapter shows the early history of Savoy.  His wife died in the avian flu epidemic which put him on the path to finding the truth about it.  But when he offers his services, a Senator is quick to shut him down–which doesn’t make Savoy very happy. (more…)

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