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Archive for the ‘War’ Category

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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SOUNDTRACK: SPIKE JONES-Let’s Sing a Song of Christmas (1994).

I like Spike Jones’ comedy music.  I feel like my dad was a fan.  I know he knew a lot of Spike’s songs, whether or not he knew they were from Spike, I don;t know.  So when I was looking for non-traditional Christmas music, I saw this and thought it would be a zany collection of songs.

Well, it is not.  In fact I remember being really disappointed at the time because it’s pretty straightforward.  Although now, some 14 years later, I listened to it again and realized it’s a lovely collection of Christmas music.  There are some “funny” songs, but they’re more traditionally funny and not so zany.

This is a collection of twenty songs and my version has pretty much no information about the songs.  But the recording is top-notch if you like mid-50s, big band, “very white” (my term) singers.  The City Slickers and the City Slicker Juniors along with The Jud Conlon Singers take on all of these classics:

Jingle Bells Medley: Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town / The Christmas Song / Jingle Bells; Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer; Silent Night; Sleigh Ride;  Snow Medley: The First Snow Fall / Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow; Deck The Halls Medley: Deck The Halls With Holly / Away In A Manger / It Came Upon A Midnight Clear / The First Noel; White Christmas Medley: Winter Wonderland / Silver Bells / White Christmas; Hark Medley: Hark, The Herald Angels Sing / O, Little Town Of Bethlehem / Joy To The World / O, Come All Ye Faithful; Christmas Alphabet Medley: Christmas Alphabet / Merry Christmas Polka / Christmas In America; Victor Young Medley: It’s Christmas Time / Sleep Well, Little Children and What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?

They also do a couple of songs with the Saint Victor’s Boys Choir:  The Night Before Christmas Song and Christmas Cradle Song.

Interspersed with these songs are the ones featuring George Rock.  Rock is the quintessential voice of “All I Want For Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth.”  You know the one where it’s clearly an adult, but somehow he sounds like a tiny kid.  Well, that was George Rock.  And Rock has a pretty fascinating history himself.

A large man, he attended Wesleyan University on a football scholarship, before turning pro as a musician at the age of 20. His first national exposure was in the Freddie Fisher’s Schnickelfritz Band. In 1944 he signed up with the Spike Jones Band.

It must have been fun to see the large guy singing like a little kid.  This collection includes, “Two Front Teeth” as well as “My Birthday Comes On Christmas,” and “(I’m The) The Angel In The Christmas Play.”  They also had a few songs sung by actual kids, The City Slicker Juniors.  They perform “Nuttin’ For Christmas,” “Frosty the Snowman” and “Here Comes Santa Claus.”

None of these songs are particularly funny, but I think people laughed a lot easier back then.  Nonetheless, if you’re not freaked out by the voice (or wondering why anyone would WANT to say “Sister Susie sitting on a thistle,” these songs should raise a smile.

This collection would work well on random with all the modern Christmas songs at your holiday festivity (as long as the volume is mixed loud enough).

Interestingly, I can’t find the cover of my CD version (only a cassette version of it).  So I must have a less popular version that the one that’s above.

[READ: December 3, 2018] “Endless City”

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.

This story comes from Mason’s The Lost Books of the Odyssey (apparently it was printed in the first, small-press edition, but not the second major-press edition, which seems weird).

So, this is, as the book title notes, a side story of Odysseus .  What a weird, thankless project it seems to add to The Odyssey. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: GORDI-“Can We Work It Out” (Night Owl, November 20, 2018).

I wanted to finish out November with one more live recording.  Turns out NPR was there to help out.  They have a new feature called Night Owl.

Every so often, late at night over the past couple years, a team of NPR Music video producers has been toting approximately 80 pounds of audio/video equipment and a statue of a golden owl to the far reaches of American cities. The owl is our Night Owl, and it’s the totem that has presided over nearly every episode of a show that goes by the same name. Night Owl is our chance to get out into the field, put some of our musicians somewhere unexpected and see what magic may arise.

They have released a bunch of these videos on YouTube.

I picked one from an artist I didn’t know yet, Gordi.

I’ve heard of her, of course, but I think this was my first exposure to her.  She has a lovely (slightly rough) voice as she sits at the piano singing this pretty, ache-filled song.

[READ: February 8, 2018] “Wars in Distant Lands”

This story was translated from the Arabic by Raymond Stock.

At first I really enjoyed this, it felt very contemporary and compelling.   And then it just got weird and war-based.

The narrator pulled Teresa’s postcard from the mailbox.  She was arriving on a train at 7PM on June 16.  The end said, this is being mailed from Havana and will probably arrive the same day as her, which it did. (more…)

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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: ST. VINCENT-Masseduction (2018).

St. Vincent’s latest album seemed like a radical departure for Annie Clark.  It seemed to be all synth–a transgression from her guitar prowess.  But in fact it was a continuation of the sound that Clark generates with her guitar.

Her albums have always used synths.  And her albums have always used effects on her guitars to create different sounds.  They have just moved further along on this album.

“Hang on Me” opens the disc with drums and sound effects.  The guitar comes in but it sounds like synths (like most of the album).  Her voice is up front  (It would have been very cool if it sounded like she was whispering in your ears).  The song builds with more and more sounds.  The processed guitar still sounds nothing like a guitar but you can tell from the way it is played that it is a guitar–which is pretty cool.

“Pills” is almost all dance–lots of drums and synth sounds (which may be guitar, who can tell).  It’s the chorus, (the repeated pills pills pills) that really grabs you.  The guitars that come through have a very Prince-like feel (and the sexual connection–pills to fuck) even when the roaring fuzzed out guitar solo comes blasting through it’s not unlike something Prince would have done.  When the second part of the song comes in–absolutely quiet compared to the chaos that came before (S. assumed it was a different song) it has a beautiful melody and really showcases Annie’s voice nicely.  The two parts are so very different and yet both are really catchy in their own way.

“Masseduction” is the most poppy song on the record (and probably of her career).  It starts again with drums and Annie’s whispered vocal (again mixing her right in your ears would have been very intense).  Then comes there’s the big chorus of echoed vocals singing “mass seduction” with roaring guitars underscoring everything (even though this album feels very un-guitar there are noisy guitars galore on it, they’re just buried underneath everything).

Chanted vocals and programmed synth open up the fast-moving “Sugarboy.”  I love that the riff from “Los Ageless” is presented her in much faster and more staccato and mechanical way.  This song has a great, catchy chorus.

“Los Ageless” was the second single off the album and the dancey beat and synth sounds were quite a shock when the song came out.  For this one, her voice is mixed right in the middle of your head, which is very cool.  But it’s the “how can anybody have you” part that is so incredibly catchy and wonderful.  There’s not a lot of guitar on this song until the third verse in which all the synths drop out and you get a nasty guitar playing behind the verse–once again so inorganic but so interesting.

“Happy Birthday Johnny” is a beautiful piano ballad that showcases a great melody and lovely vocal from Annie.

“Savior” features a slinky guitar line with bits of wah-wah on it (slighty porn-y to be sure, especially given the topic of the song).  The bridge picks things up and with each subsequent verse more and more is added (backing vocals, big drums and sound effects).  It’s when the song gets to the third part, the ‘pleeeease” that it totally soars.

“New York” is another piano song, this one with more dance beats in it and the rather graphic “you’re the only motherfucker in the city who can stand me” for a chorus (odd choice for first single).  The bridge “I have lost a hero” just soars out of the piano section in a very cool way–the juxtaposition is outstanding.

After the quite ending of New York the noise and electronica of “Fear the Future” comes as quite a shock.  It’s practically a wall of noise before and abrupt ending

“Young Lover” is quieter and sounds a lot more like early St. Vincent songs.  The music is spare–thumping drums and washes of music.  But that first chorus grows very loud–crashing electronic drums and soaring vocals.  The amazing part comes toward the end as Annie hits some incredibly high notes and then caps it off with a high note that gives me chills every time I hear it.  The fact that she duplicated it live was just staggering.

“Dancing with a Ghost” is 46 seconds of waves of synths (or guitars) that I never quite realized was its own song.  It almost segues into “Slow Disco” which is a quiet song with strings and Annie singing.  When the harmony vocals come in it builds the song nicely.   Then someone (Annie?) sings a recurring motif of “don’t it beat a slow dance to death.”  It’s my least favorite song on the album and the one she has now made two (slower) remixes of.

That feels like it should end the album, but there is one more song, the dramatic “Smoking Section.”  With a husky voice Annie sings of getting stomped out and screaming “let it happen, let it happen, let it happen.”  The strings build dramatically until a loud three note riff introduces the second part of the song.

This album is pretty polarizing, even though it is St. Vincent through and through.

[READ: October 3, 2018] “The Rise and Rise of Annie Clark”

The previous story that I read by John L’Heureux was also about the Catholic church.  That one was the story of Jesuit Priesthood, circa 1954, and a man trying to join.

This one is also based around the Catholic church circa 1950.  The subject is very different, but with the same questioning attitude.

Annie Clark is a middle-aged woman in the 1950’s .  I’m unclear where this is set.  At first I thought France, but that is unlikely. so somewhere in the States, but I have no idea where.

Since the end of WWII, Annie knows that women were the real winners–women are taking charge of their lives.

But Annie is Catholic and must proceed slowly. (more…)

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