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Archive for the ‘War’ Category

SOUNDTRACKFRAGILE ROCK-“Smile More” Tiny Desk Family Hour (March 12, 2019).

These next two shows were recorded at NPR’s SXSW Showcase.

The SXSW Music Festival is pleased to announce the first-ever Tiny Desk Family Hour showcase, an evening of music by artists who have played NPR Music’s Tiny Desk Concert, at Central Presbyterian Church on Tuesday, March 12 from 8-11pm.

It’s hard to talk seriously about Fragile Rock since they are a band of puppets.  Literally.

To say that Fragile Rock sent the evening hurtling sideways would be an understatement, as the band unleashed a torrent of faux-grim hilarity and chaos when it wasn’t urging the audience to shout out its prescribed antidepressants or berating fans for grinning along. (“We don’t appreciate your smiles,” seethed Brently Heilbron, in the persona of wounded frontpuppet Milo S. “You wouldn’t do that to Conor Oberst.”

And yet they are a good punk band and their lyrics have become even more pointed.  Especially this one.  They explain:

This is a song that Nick and I wrote reflecting on the #metoo and #timesup movements (that’s right lady in the back snapping your fingers you are correct).

This is a great punk blast and frankly it’s nice to hear a song sung by the female vocalists instead of the Fred Schneider-sounding male lead singer.

For “Smile More,” the spotlight shifted to Emily Cawood (performing as Briex Cocteau) and Megan Thornton (aka Nic Hole), who spent two minutes savaging the patriarchy. “Don’t tell me to smile more, don’t tell me what my mouth is for, from a man who started every war,” Thornton and her puppet shouted in unison. And, see, here’s the secret to Fragile Rock’s raucous, ridiculous charm: Subtract the puppets, the stage antics and the silliness of all, and you’re still left with some pretty damned good songs.

And nice succinct lyrics:

You could have had it all
You blew it didn’t you
I’m gonna watch you fall and
Never ever pity you
You’re purposeless
Your license is expired
Your services are no longer required

Your time has come and gone….time’s up!

All in two minutes.

[READ: March 14, 2019] Florida

When I started reading this book, I instantly remembered reading “Ghosts and Empties” in the New Yorker.  I assumed and was pleased that this was a full novel built out of that story.  Why?  Because nowhere on this book does it say that these are short stories.   Not on the cover, not on the front page, nor the back page.  It’s somewhere on the fly leaf, but since Groff also writes novels, it’s a bit of an oddity to not say “stories” somewhere on it.  I looked at the Table of Contents, obviously, but just assumed those where chapter headings.

I was exited to read the fuller story of the woman who walks at night.  And then I found out that the next “chapter” was a new story.  It turned out to be a fantastic story.  So that’s all good.  I don’t mind reading short stories at all, it was just a surprise.

It also turned out that I have read five of these short stores before (she is often printed in the New Yorker–the other stories were in different journals which I put in brackets after each title).

“Ghosts and Empties” (New Yorker, July 20, 2015)
I see now that I didn’t really enjoy this story the first time I read it (and yet it stayed with me all these years).  But I did enjoy it more this time (I still find it unsatisfying that the opening parental freakout part is never really addressed).  But basically this is a story in which woman walks around her neighborhood every night and observes things changing–for better or worse.  Old nuns dying, new houses being built, neighbors changing.  All in the heat of Florida. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SCOTT MULVAHILL-Tiny Desk Concert #825 (February 18, 2019).

download (18)I had never heard of Scott Mulvahill.  And when I saw him with his big upright bass, I assumed he was a jazz guy.  But I was wrong.  And the reason I’d never heard of him?

Scott Mulvahill has been trying to win the Tiny Desk Contest for each of its four years. He’s always been one of our favorites, though he’s never been our winner. The double bassist entered his song, “Begin Againers” in 2016 and though it wasn’t the winning entry, we all loved it so much, I invited him to my desk to perform his extraordinary song. He opened the Tiny Desk with it, only this time he was joined by bandmates Jesse Isley and Josh Shilling who shared vocal harmonies.

“Begin Againers” is such a delightfully simple song–a cool upright bass melody that runs through the whole song (with an occasional flourish) and three voices.  Scott sings leads and he sounds like a fairly conventional old-school folk singer, but with a bit more punch.  He sings the lead and his two Jesse and Josh add some great harmonies. (who play guitar and keys).

There’s a bit of Jackson Browne [I was thinking James Taylor, but I think Browne is more accurate] in his voice and a bit of Paul Simon shows through in his self-reflective words.

When the song’s over he says, “That was the first song I ever sent into NPR and of course I wanted to play it behind this desk.  Isn’t it beautiful guys?”

For track two, “Gold Plated Lie,” Jesse and Josh switch to (guitar and keys) and two other guys come out to play drums and dobro [Terence Clark: drums; Gabe Scott: dobro].  With a full band, the music sounds fantastic.  The track opens with a zippy keyboard riff which everyone else soon joins in on.  There’s some cool ah ha has in the bridge and then a really stellar big chorus.  By the end the ah has turn into oh hos hos and and the catchy melody edges a bit sinister.  It’s fantastic.

Scott Mulvahill honed his craft touring with the great bluegrass mandolin player Ricky Skaggs. “Playing bluegrass with him is like playing jazz with Miles Davis,” Scott told the Tiny Desk crowd.

He says that it taught him to learn to write on the bass, which led to this new album.  For the title track “Himalayas,” it’s just him and his bass, and his bass writing is very cool.

For the final tune, the title track from his self-released and current album Himalayas, Scott Mulvahill goes solo, brings out a bow for that bass and we hear a spaciousness I don’t often find in the Nashville world he inhabits.

He bows the bass (playing some really deep and some really really high notes).   And when he starts singing, he plays harmonics and slaps the bass for percussion.  After slapping and singing for a bit, he starts bowing again, and even though the song doesn’t change, the new sound really changes the tone of everything.  I love the way he ends the song with such a high bass note.

[READ: February 7, 2019] The New Brighton Archeological Society: Book One

I was immediately attracted to this story because of the drawing style.  There was something really fascinating about these little kids with big heads, dressed like adults. And of course the title was really cool (especially given the fact that the kids has crossbows and there were goblins with them as well).

The story starts 50 years ago as an island stands up out of a lake and walks away.  On the island it looks like fairy marrying a goblin.

It jumps to 50 years later in Antarctica where four people are chasing a lone figure.  The lone figure pulls out a magic lamp with a genie in it.  He says a magic word and the people vanish. Then we cut to the children on the cover. Their parents were the ones who have gone missing (presumed dead) and now the kids are moving in with an older couple in a giant mansion.  Their relationship to the older couple is a bit vague, but they knew the kids’ parents too.

The kids acclimate well, playing together in the fields in all seasons . And then one day they happen upon clubhouse.  A clubhouse that clearly belonged to their parents. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KING GIZZARD AND THE LIZARD WIZARD-Oddments (2014).

After the psychedelia of the previous album, KGATLW released this varied collection of songs.  Indeed, none of the 12 songs sound anything like the others.  It’s hard to say if this is a collection of leftover songs or an attempt to make a varied record.  After all, they had released four and a half albums in three years.

Nothing is really more than 3 minutes except “Work This Time.”  Everything goes by so quickly it’s hard to know what to think.

“Alluda Majaka” opens this record with an instrumental that has every style of music thrown into it–funky bass, organ, Indian music, there’s also sound effects and clips from a movie or two and really loud drums.  It’s a crazy opening for a crazy album.

“Stressin'” slows things down with a falsetto vocal and a gentle groove including a warbly wild guitar solo.  It’s followed by “Vegemite,” a nonsensical ode to vegemite with a great beat and an easy to sing along chorus (sung by Ambrose, I believe): Veg-e-mite…I like.

“It’s Got Old” is slower simple rocker (complete with flute and handclaps) and somehow is followed by the trippy, synthy swirls of “Work This Time.”  It opens with a rumbling wild drum intro and then becomes really gentle with more soft falsetto vocals.

“ABCABcd” is 17 seconds of garage rock nonsense before the sweet rocking acoustic guitars of “Sleepwalker.”

“Hot Wax” sounds like an old(er) KG garage rock song.  There’s creepy vocals from Stu and a simple riff and a chorus that literally repeats chorus from “Surfin Safari” but with their own muffled, fuzzy garage rock chords.  “Crying” has an old soul sound with its simple three note melody.  It even has spoken word parts (the way you act, girl) and everything.

The end of the disc throws in even more craziness in the last five or so minutes.  “Pipe Dream” is a one minute instrumental that doesn’t really do anything except evoke a psychedelic moment.  It fades out just as a riff begins.  But it’s not the riff to “Homeless Man in Addidas” which is a quiet acoustic folk song that sounds an awful lot like “April She Will Come” by Simon & Garfunkel.  The disc ends with “Oddments,” a 25 second piece of silliness that’s like a commercial for the disc which even chants out the disc name.

Unlike their more cohesive albums, this is not a necessity exactly, but it is a fun opportunity to see just how much KGATLW can do in 30 minutes.

[READ: November 2018] Cluetopia

This is a brief history of the crossword puzzle as broken down by year.

David Astle (whose name must be a crossword answer) is a crossword maniac.  What makes this book especially interesting to me is that he is from Australia, which means he has a very different perspective on the crossword puzzle than someone like Will Shortz.  For there is a great American/British (and Australian) divide when it comes to crosswords.

Astle is a huge fan of British-style cryptic puzzles and he really delves into some of the best ones over the last century.

A neat summary of the different types of puzzles comes from Always Puzzling: (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SHAKEY GRAVES-Live at Newport Folk Festival (July 28, 2018).

I really only know Shakey Graves (Alejandro Rose-Garcia) from NPR Music.  I enjoyed his Tiny Desk and have thought he’d be a fun folk rocker to see live.  He’s got a raspy voice and is not afraid to go loud as needed.  He says that with this show, he has now played all four stages at Newport.

He’s going to “Kick this off with a waltz that I wrote years ago that has sadly become more relevant every year I’ve played it.  It’s about not listening to people and listening to people at the same time.  What?  How’s that possible?  It’s called ‘Word of Mouth.'”

This song is just him on his guitar with a kick drum and tambourine (not sure if he’s doing the percussion, but I assume he is).  Midway through, he kicks in the distortion for a loud middle section.  The song is long, about 7 minutes, and in the middle, he says, “And if you can’t handle shit here in the United States you better get the fuck out.  That’s terrible advice, honestly.  You gotta stand your ground and hear yourself out.”

The ending feedback segues into “Foot of Your Bed.”  A full band has evidently joined him as there is now a pedal steel guitar, drums, and a harp (?!).  It’s a quiet song which they segue into the much louder “Cops and Robbers.”

“The Perfect Parts” opens with a complex drum part and then a stomping clap-along with a big dah dah dah dah chorus (that he gets everyone to sing along with).

“Big Bad Wolf” opens with some cool guitar sounds before turning into a song that builds nicely.  “Mansion Door” is my favorite song of the set.  It builds wonderfully with Graves’ rough voice totally soaring. It’s followed by “Can’t Wake Up” which he says is about a “sleepy person, oh so sleepy.  No, it’s about changing things that you’re capable of changing even if they bring you distress.”

“Dining Alone” is the theme song of this fake person Garth Nazarth (all of his songs are about this fictional guy).  Garth hates his job, but all he does is fantasize instead of changing any aspect of it.”  Continuing with the downer aspect is “Counting Sheep.”  He says that the whole new album is about suicide “oh my gosh, not that.”  He says he was never suicidal, but he has gotten letters from people who have mentioned some intense feelings.  So he encoded “don’t die” messages throughout the record.  “Counting Sheep” is “a straightforward ‘don’t die’ song.  If you need a hug, come find me, I’ll give you a hug.”

The band leaves after the rocking “Excuses.”  It’s another great song from this show.

The final two songs are solo renditions of “Bully’s Lament” and “Roll the Bones.”  There’s some great rocking guitar on “Roll the Bones.”  I feel like the energy that Graves creates is what really makes his live shows special.  I hope he plays the Festival this year.

SET LIST:

  • “Word Of Mouth”
  • “Foot Of Your Bed”
  • “Cops And Robbers”
  • “The Perfect Parts”
  • “Big Bad Wolf”
  • “Mansion Door”
  • “Dining Alone”
  • “Counting Sheep”
  • “Excuses”
  • “Bully’s Lament”
  • “Roll The Bones”.

[READ: January 19, 2019] “Do Not Stop”

For some reason I thought that Salvator Scibona was an author I really liked and I was puzzled that I didn’t like this story very much.  Then I figured out that Scibona is not who I was thinking of at all, and that the last story I read by him I didn’t really enjoy that much either.

The first sentence sums up the story pretty well: “Okinawa was a fever dream of mosquitoes and Falstaff beer.”

The whole story, which is a Vietnam war story, is also a confusing fever dream that seems endless.

Vollie is getting shitfaced, but the Marine Corp rule was that they couldn’t put Vollie on the plane to deploy if he was too drunk to walk unassisted.  As he leaves the bar he is assaulted by people selling things, and advertising jingles just compound the alcohol in his head. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: NICK LOWE AND LOS STRAITJACKETS-“Christmas at the Airport” (2014/2013).

I probably like Nick Lowe a lot more than I realize.  I know I like his songwriting more than I realize.  And I love Los Straightjackets.  A perfect pairing.

This is not a moving, treacly holiday song.  And yet neither is it a bitter, what-has-the-season-come-to song.  It’s just one of those things that happens, and he’ll take in (humorous) stride.

It wasn’t until celebrated songsmith Nick Lowe’s 2013 curio, “Christmas at the Airport,” that someone expressed in song what it was like to watch the hopes of holiday cheer fade right before our eyes, on a snow-covered runway in late December. Recorded live in 2014, at Boston’s Paradise Rock Club, backed by Nashville’s neo-surf band Los Straitjackets, Lowe takes us through all the stages of Christmas-time travel grief, one verse at a time.

Stage One: Bemusement. Gazing out the window of his cab upon arrival at the airport, Lowe notices that the place is beginning to look more like the front of a Christmas card than an international travel hub. But even as the tarmac takes on ever-increasing layers of soft, white, wintry down, the full gravity of the situation hasn’t yet sunk in enough to truly unnerve him yet.

Stage Two: Realization. The cold, hard reality of the protagonist’s circumstances suddenly hits home. The fickle finger of fate is pointing at everyone in the airport as if to say, “Nobody’s going anywhere this Christmas. Have you seen that snow outside?” Tempers flaring all around him, Lowe sneaks into a secluded spot for a catnap, maybe hoping things will somehow look better when he awakes.

Stage Three: Transcendence. We’ve all had to buck up sooner or later in this kind of situation, find a way to make a homebound holiday fun. For Lowe, that process entails playing with the TSA equipment in the agents’ absence, turning the baggage carousel into an amusement-park ride, and even scrounging some fast food from the refuse.

And all set to a chipper, surf rock tune.

[READ: December 24, 2018] “Christmas Eve, 1944”

Once again, I have ordered The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This is my third time reading the Calendar (thanks S.).  I never knew about the first one until it was long out of print (sigh).  Here’s what they say this year

Fourth time’s the charm.

After a restful spring, rowdy summer, and pretty reasonable fall, we are officially back at it again with another deluxe box set of 24 individually bound short stories to get you into the yuletide spirit.

The fourth annual Short Story Advent Calendar might be our most ambitious yet, with a range of stories hailing from eight different countries and three different originating languages (don’t worry, we got the English versions). This year’s edition features a special diecut lid and textured case. We also set a new personal best for material that has never before appeared in print.

Want a copy?  Order one here.

Like last year I’m pairing each story with a holiday disc from our personal collection, although this song is an NPR curio.

At first I was concerned because this is a Christmas war story (and those really only go one of two ways).  But in fact it turned out to be awesome.  One of the most moving stories I have read in a long time. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKAMY GRANT-Tiny Desk Concert #813 (December 17, 2018).

Amy Grant is “The queen Christian pop” and as such I have no use for her.

Amusingly this Christmas-themed Tiny Desk Concert was organized by Lars Gotrich who also loved death metal.

Lars explains his connection to Amy:

Growing up in the ’90s, there was never a Christmas without Amy Grant’s music. Home for Christmas, in particular, was a favorite around our household, its string-swept nostalgia wrapped around the family den like a warm blanket and a plate of cookies. So when I invited the Nashville pop singer to perform our annual holiday Tiny Desk, I had to bring my mom.

When I saw she was playing I feared the worst–bland inoffensive pop and offensive Christian music.  But rather, this Concert proves to be bittersweet with two songs about Christmas that welcome Christmas but also know that it’s not always perfect.

“As I’ve gotten older, sometimes I’ve realized the bravest thing you can do at Christmas is go home,” she tells the Tiny Desk audience after performing “To Be Together,” from 2016’s cozy, yet lived-in Tennessee Christmas. “Sometimes the bravest thing you can do is open the door and welcome everybody back.”

Her band sounds tight–piano and acoustic guitar and a cool five string bass.  Her backing singers do a nice job–and while it hovers along the line of too much for me, she reins it in nicely.  And “To Be Together” is really a lovely Christmas song.

And that’s when it all comes home for Amy Grant. “Tennessee Christmas,” written 35 years ago, takes on new meaning here — this was the first time she’s performed the song since her father died this year. You see her eyes glisten, and her voice catch on the final “tender Tennessee Christmas,” everyone feeling that wistful tenderness and offering some back in return.

If you don’t need therapy before Christmas…hang on you’re gonna need it after,

To shake out her sadness, Grant dons reindeer antlers (generously provided by someone at NPR because of course someone at NPR keeps festive wear on hand) and dashes through a delightful version of “Jingle Bells.”

This version of “Jingle Bells” is almost manic in its speed and juxtapositions of slow and fast.  It’s really great.

[READ: December 20, 2018] “Christmas Triptych”

Once again, I have ordered The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This is my third time reading the Calendar (thanks S.).  I never knew about the first one until it was long out of print (sigh).  Here’s what they say this year

Fourth time’s the charm.

After a restful spring, rowdy summer, and pretty reasonable fall, we are officially back at it again with another deluxe box set of 24 individually bound short stories to get you into the yuletide spirit.

The fourth annual Short Story Advent Calendar might be our most ambitious yet, with a range of stories hailing from eight different countries and three different originating languages (don’t worry, we got the English versions). This year’s edition features a special diecut lid and textured case. We also set a new personal best for material that has never before appeared in print.

Want a copy?  Order one here.

Like last year I’m pairing each story with a holiday disc from our personal collection, although I do love to include a Tiny Desk Christmas Concert like this one.

This is an actual Christmas story (or three) by the Canadian master of comedy, Stephen Leacock. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SOUTH PARK-Mr. Hankey’s Christmas Classics (1999).

When this came out in 1999, I was a huge South Park fan and I didn’t celebrate Christmas very much.  So this was a wonderful anti-Christmas celebration.

Now, 19 years later (holy cow), this album is a fun holiday treat–one that can’t be played in front of the kids.  So it has become an adult-only holiday treat when S. and I are driving.  Most of the songs are still hilariously offensive and hold up really well.

“Mr. Hankey The Christmas Poo” by Cowboy Timmy is an intro, nothing special.  But things pick up hugely with song two, “Merry Fucking Christmas” sung by Mr. Garrison.  Hearing it sung in his voice is hilarious and it is so profane.  Thank you, Mr. Hat.  It’s a seasonal highlight.  As is Cartman’s “O Holy Night.”  He gets all the words right in this one and he has a choir behind him.  Even 19 years later, Cartman’s voice is still funny, especially singing this beautiful song.

The next song, “Dead, Dead, Dead” by Juan Schwartz and the South Park Children’s Choir is meant to darkly comic I guess (“someday you’ll be dead”) but really it’s just kind of dull and it feels endless even though it’s barely 2 minutes long.  But Mr. Mackey picks things up with his hilarious rendition of “Carol of the Bells”  Mmmkay.

Kyle’s “The Lonely Jew on Christmas” is pretty funny “And what the f*ck is up with lighting all these f*cking candles, someone tell me please” which is made even better with the appearance of Neil Diamond!  Shelley’s “I Saw Three Ships” is a one-note joke (she has braces and can’t say the letter S).  It feels too long at a minute, although “Shut up, turds!” could become a holiday catchphrase.

I didn’t know that “It Happened in Sun Valley” (sung adorably by Stan and Wendy) was a real song.  I didn’t know why it was funny.  I still don’t know if it is funny (Stan throws up when he talks to her which is kind of funny, but doesn’t really work in a song that is largely solid and enjoyable anyhow).  We like it and just ignore the barf.  Eww.

The next little skit is so offensive as to be utterly  hilarious.  It begins with Hitler singing “O Tannenbaum” and then Satan trying to make him feel better by singing about it being “Christmas Time in Hell.”  We often wonder why the guys chose the celebrities that they did to put in hell.  Did they particularly dislike the named people or were they just trying to upset as many people as possible.

Chef only gets one song on this CD, but his hilarious take on “What Child is This” (called “What the Hell Child is This?”) is amazing.  It’s white so it cannot be mine.

The skit “Santa Claus is on His Way” sung by Mr Hankey is weird because it is taken from the episode and relies on a visual joke that doesn’t translate to the CD.  But again, Cartman is back to redeem everything with the ultimate Christmas song, an ode to Grandma and the “Swiss Colony Beef Log.”

“Hark the Herald Angels Sing” is, I assume a rip on Peanuts with the kids of thee “South Park Children’s Choir” all singing it (badly).

Parker and Stone showed their amazing musical genius (ultimately put on display with Book of Mormon) with “Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel” sung by The Broflofskis with Eric Cartman and Stan Marsh.  Basing the melody around the Dreidel song, they add four or five people singing at the same time and it sounds fantastic.  Cartman’s lyric is stunningly perfect “I have a little drediel, I made it out of clay, but I’m not gonna play with it cause dreidel’s fucking gay”) fits so perfectly rhythmically that its uncanny.  Stan’s dad’s love for Courtney Cox which you hear clearly at the end is in fact the only thing he sings throughout the song which is also genius.

“The Most Offensive Song Ever” is pretty offensive.  Perhaps it’s after 19 years of listening, but it seems more and more obvious what all of Kenny’s mumbled words are.  Mary!

I don’t understand the joke with “We Three Kings” by Mr. Ose. Is it just that he’s Chinese?  It’s less than a minute but is pretty irritating.  The disc’s closing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” sung by Mr. Hankey with Stan, Kyle and Cartman is a fun ending but it only helps you realize how short the disc actually is (especially if you skip those three or four lame tracks).

Merry Christmas everyone.  When you’re old enough.

[READ: December 2, 2018] “Sunflowers”

Once again, I have ordered The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This is my third time reading the Calendar (thanks S.).  I never knew about the first one until it was long out of print (sigh).  Here’s what they say this year

Fourth time’s the charm.

After a restful spring, rowdy summer, and pretty reasonable fall, we are officially back at it again with another deluxe box set of 24 individually bound short stories to get you into the yuletide spirit.

The fourth annual Short Story Advent Calendar might be our most ambitious yet, with a range of stories hailing from eight different countries and three different originating languages (don’t worry, we got the English versions). This year’s edition features a special diecut lid and textured case. We also set a new personal best for material that has never before appeared in print.

Want a copy?  Order one here.

Like last year I’m pairing each story with a holiday disc from our personal collection.

I typically dislike war stories.  They’re probably great for soldiers, but not for me.  Both because I think war is awful and because soldier stories are usually all the same: lots of boredom (for them) and then something horrible happens. (more…)

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