Archive for the ‘War’ Category


The South X Lullaby is a really fun way to get to know a new (or familiar, but mostly new) artist in an intimate live setting.  I had heard one of Stella Donnelly’s songs before, but this Lullaby presented her by herself (with a very cool backdrop) with an amazingly clear recording of her voice and guitar.

Stella Donnelly has only one EP to her name, but that’s been enough to make her sharp wit come through in sweet, quiet songs that rage loudly. The Australian singer-songwriter’s Thrush Metal EP was recently reissued in the U.S. with a bonus track, “Talking,” which she performs here surrounded by video of wires, a weaving machine and woolen yarns.

Her voice is clear with big open vowels (you can kind of hear the Australian accent, but it’s somewhat indeterminate).  Despite it being just her electric guitar, she plays a in a couple of slightly different styles throughout the song which adds a lot of texture to the piece.

For the end of the song she really unleashes her voice even as the guitar doesn’t alter all that much.  It’s pretty intense.

I wish you could see the art installation a bit more (I realize this is a video for her, but the installation is pretty neat).  At least they hold the pull-back screen at the end a little long so you can see what’s going on.

Donnelly played “Talking” in Conductors and Resistance, an art installation by the Israeli artist Ronen Sharabani that’s on display as part of the SXSW Art Program. Like Donnelly’s direct and feminist folk songs, Sharabani confronts the viewer to increase action in areas of high resistance, the only way to ensure a strong reaction.

[READ: April 13, 2016] “A Soldier Home”

Back in June of 2009, The New Yorker had their annual summer fiction issue.  Included in that issue were three short essays under the heading of “Summer Reading.”  I knew all three authors, so I decided to include them here.

This essay was about Yiyun Li’s growing up in China.

And I was astonished by the first line: “The summer after my year of involuntary service in the Chinese army….”  I didn’t know that women were made to be in it.  She says that after that summer, she read Hemingway compulsively. (more…)


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Becca Mancari plays a pretty acosutic guitar melody while Blake’s effects-laden pedal steel guitar soars and echoes around her.

I don’t know the original, but according to the blurb, “Mancari removes the clicking pulse of the studio version to underline the song’s lonely atmospherics.”

The song is simple–one that speaks to a relationship: “‘I can’t face myself,’ Mancari repeats the line like a broken admission spoken through a pinhole camera, a whispered truth so potent it can’t be looked right in the eye. “

At 2:41, the guitarist hits a great effect that turns the soaring pedal steel guitar into a buzzy rocking guitar solo while Becca strums on.  It’s a great interlude that really sells this song.

I also love that the final 30 seconds is just the sound of the guitar(s) fading out.

There are moments in this video where the Nashville-based singer-songwriter turns away from the many faces of the Life Underground installation by Hervé Cohen, which is part of the SXSW Art Program and supported by the Cultural Services of the French Embassy in the United States. What’s being projected onto the screens in the room are interviews with subway passengers from around the world who share their stories and dreams. The installation’s notion is that empathy often comes by just asking a few questions, which, maybe for “Dirty Dishes,” is just too damn hard right now.

[READ: April 12, 2016] “The Tiger’s Wife”

Téa Obreht took the literary world by storm with her debut novel The Tiger’s Wife.  I’ve had a copy of it on my bedside I guess now for 8 years.  I’ve been meaning to read it but other things always jump in first.

So finally I got around to reading this excerpt from the novel.

The excerpt is, I assume, the first few sections of the novel since they are numbered and begin with 1.

The first part is called The Tiger and it talks all about the titular tiger.  The tiger was in a zoo (or a circus) in 1941 when the Germans began bombing the city for three straight days.

The tiger should have died in the concussion and rubble, but he managed to escape and wandered to the village. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ANNA MEREDITH-Tiny Desk Concert #713 (March 2, 2018).

I have never heard anything like this.  From sound to melody, to intensity, to instrumentation, this whole thing just rocked my world.

The melody for “Nautilus” is just so unexpected.  It opens with an echoed horn sound repeating.  And then the melody progresses up a scale, but not a scale, a kind of modified scale that seems off kilter just as it seems familiar.  The cello plays it, the guitar plays it, the sousaphone (!) plays it.  And it continues on in like fashion until only the high notes remain and then a menacing low riff on sousaphone cello and guitar breaks through–a great villain soundtrack if ever there was.  While everyone plays this riff, Anna returns to the keys to play the modified scale.

Meanwhile, the drummer has looked like he’s asleep behind his small kit.  And then 3 anda half minutes in he wakes up and starts playing a loud but slow rhythm.  The guitar begins soloing and as it fades out that main riff begins, now with a simple drum beat–not matching what anyone else is playing, mind you.  The sousaphone (which must have an echo on it or something and the cello pick up the low menace and it seems like everybody is doing his and her own thing.  But it all works amazingly.

So just who is Anna Meredith?

Anna Meredith was a former BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra Composer in Residence. Two of the three songs performed here come from her 2016 release called Varmints.

Bob Boilen was also impressed when he first saw Anna Meredith live:

I first saw this British composer a year ago, in a stunning performance at the SXSW musical festival. It was one of the best concerts of my life. The music I heard sent me into a state of reverie. If music could levitate my body, this is how it would sound. It carried me away and thrilled my soul. I was giddy for days.

Now, I know this isn’t music for everyone. … But if you know and love the music of Philip Glass, King Crimson or Steve Reich — music that’s electrifying, challenging and sonically soars and ripples through your body — then crank this up.

Lest you worry that she couldn’t translate it to the Tiny Desk (she says they normally have 23 suitcases full of crap so this has been an exciting challenge to squeeze in here)

Out of nearly 700 performances at the Tiny Desk, this is simply the most exhilarating one I’ve experienced. The instrumentation is unusual, with pulsing bass sounds produced by a wonderful combination of cello, tuba and electronics. It’s all rhythmically propelled by an astonishing drummer and Meredith pounding a pair of floor toms. And much of the repetitive melody is keyboard-and-guitar-driven that morphs and erupt with earth-shaking fervor.

The second song, “Ribbons” is quieter.  It’s and new song and it has vocals.  Her vocals aren’t great (“hard when you’ve got the voice of a five-year old boy”) but the melody she builds around it shows that her  voice is just one more instrument (albeit saying interesting words).  Actually, that’s not fair, they are just so different from the noise of the other two songs that it feels very faint in comparison.

It opens with a quiet guitar and electronic drum.  And slowly everyone else joins in.  A nice string accompaniment from the cello (Maddie Cutter), bass notes on the sousaphone (Tom Kelly) and even backing vocals from everyone.  By the third go around the drummer (Sam Wilson) is playing the glockenspiel.  By that time the song has built into a beautiful round and the quietness of her voice makes complete sense.  As the song nears its end, Sam has switches to a very fast but quiet rhythm on the floor tom.

She introduces the band and wishes a happy birthday to guitarist Jack Ross.  She says this is a great present as “so far all we’ve gotten him is an apple corer, the gifts have been a bit low grade.”

They make some gear switches, “we have a bit of a logistics problem with all our gear we can’t quite afford to bring enough glockenspiels, we pass the pure crap glockenspiel  around ans everyone gets to go ‘my turn!'”

“The Vapours” opens with a wonderfully wild guitar riff–fast and high-pitched and repeated over and over.  Anna Meredith adds waves of synths and then in comes the sousaphone and plucked cello.  Then fast thumping on the floor tom propels the song along.  The song slows a bit a Anna plays the clarinet (!).  The song dramatically shifts to some complicated time signature while Anna plays glockenspiel.  After a few rounds, while this complex guitar riff continues the drum and sousaphone start playing a pretty standard beat the contradicts everything else that’s going on and then Anna just starts pounding the crap out of some more toms.

All through this there are electronic sounds adding to the chaos and I have no idea who is triggering them, but it’s really cool.

The end is almost circusy with the big sousaphone notes and yet it’s like no circus anyone has every heard.  When the camera pulls back and you can see everyone working so hard and yet smiling ear to ear (especially Maddie), you know this is some great stuff.

The end of the song winds up with a hugely complicated tapping melody on the guitar and everyone else working up a huge sweat.

I couldn’t get over how much I loved this.  I immediately ordered Varmints and checked her touring schedule.

How disappointed was I to see that Anna Meredith had played Philly just last month and has now gone back to Europe!  I do hope she comes back soon.

[READ: August 30, 2017] McSweeney’s 48

For some reason, I find the prospect of reading McSweeney’s daunting.  I think it’s because I like to post about every story in them, so I know I’m in for a lot of work when I undertake it.

And yet I pretty much always enjoy every piece in each issue.  Well, that explains why it took me some three years to read this issue (although I did read Boots Riley’s screenplay in under a year).

This issue promised: “dazzling new work; a screenplay from Boots Riley with a septet of stories from Croatia.”


GARY RUDOREN writes about using the Giellete Fusion Platinum Razor every day for 18 days and how things were good but have gotten a little ugly.  On day 24 he had a four-inch gash under his nose.  Later on Day 38 it was even worse–a face full of bloody tissue squares.  By day 67 he is writing to thank McSweeney’s for whatever they did perhaps it was the medical marijuana but now his face is baby butt smooth even without shaving.  He wants to change the slogan to Gilette Fusion the shave that lasts forever. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: VAGABON-Tiny Desk Concert #710 (February 23, 2018).

It’s always my favorite artists who play the shortest Tiny Desk Concerts.  August Greene was okay and it went 36 minutes but Vagabon didn’t even manage ten.  Neverthless, there’s something magical about Vagabon.  Her voice is unique, she brings a new perspective to indie rock and she seems pretty nice too.

Laetitia Tamko, the artist known as Vagabon, is a 25-year-old, Cameroon-born musician with a big, tenor voice just bursting with new musical ideas. Though all the songs here are about love, Vagabon also speaks proudly to black women on her 2017 album, Infinite Worlds. There aren’t a lot of black women in this bedroom studio community of independents, a community that, especially in New York, has welcomed her and where she mostly found stimulus and guidance.

Her pride shines bright in her smile and as well it should. For someone self-taught and who’s been playing for only the past four years, her arrangements are adept and thoughtful in an independent rock music scene that can often be lyrically lazy and texturally tepid.

Her album is quite big with loud guitars and crashing drums.  But in this Tiny Desk, it’s just her and her equipment (and a stellar bassist on the second and third songs).

For the first song “Fear & Force,” she plays electric guitar.  There’s some lovely picking and great chords before she sings in her unique voice–whispered and deep (so much deeper than her speaking voice).  I love that she is still picking as she uses her left hand to start the electronic drum machine that makes the song sound so big.  The album version gets really big in the middle but she keeps things quiet here.  The chorus is wonderfully powerful and elliptical.

“Freddy come back, I know you love where you are, but I think I changed my mind.”

I love the abrupt ending too.

We were also treated to a new song during this Tiny Desk performance called “Full Moon In Gemini,” which, coincidentally, was performed on the day of a total lunar eclipse in Leo – she warned us all to “watch yourselves.

It’s amazing to hear her sing so powerfully after her delicate speaking voice.  She introduces Evan Lawrence on bass and his live bass is a tremendous addition.  He plays great lines that really flesh out her playing.  I love the way the song ends.  She sings “I lay in my bed with you it fees so …  so … good,” and the drums and bass continue for ten seconds before she shuts it all down (having already grabbed her mug and taken a sip).

Before the final song she explains that she taught herself how to play these instruments about four years ago.  Since then she’s been “hauling ass.”

Vagabon’s poetry speaks to love. You can hear it in “Cold Apartment.” While she closes the Tiny Desk set with it, it was the first song she ever wrote and one that came to her during a difficult time in her life.

“And we sat on my cold apartment floor
Where we thought we would stay in love
Stay in love”

She says she finds it very gratifying to share it in this powerful way.  The song has a terrific guitar melody with an outstanding accompany bass.  This is all especially true during the bridge/chorus when the bass gets really low and works perfectly with what she’s playing.  I find it actually works even better than on record where the drums are terrific but kind of drown out the bass.

I really hope she comes back around for a tour soon.

[READ: December 30, 2017] Beyond the Western Deep 

Tabby brought this book home and thought I’d enjoy it.  Which I did.

It’s a story of war with rather cute animals drawn by Bennett

It opens with some story telling about the history of this land.  It looks almost like cave drawings chaos and endless nights of war.  Eventually a treaty was signed and the land was divided into four places.

The Ermehn were driven from ancestral lands and made to live in the Northern Wastes (they’re not happy about it).
The Canid established the Kingdom of Aisling and has the strongest army in the land.  They are ruthless and humorless.
The Felis built the crowing achievement city of Gair.
The Vulpin live in the desert kingdon of Navran.
Sungrove is ruled jointly by the Lutren and Tamian races

The seafaring Polcan are poised to invade Sunsgrove.

Confused? Me too. It’s a heck of a lot of backstory for what is a fairly short and simple first part. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: AHI-Tiny Desk Concert #693 (January 16, 2018).

AHI is apparently, inexplicably pronounced “eye.”  He is an Ontario-based singer.  There’s nothing strikingly original about his sound, but his songs are pretty and thoughtful and his voice has a pleasing rough edge.

Bob says,

AHI’s gruff but sweet voice and openly honest words were my gateway to this young Ontario-based singer. AHI says he sings Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come,” at the end of every set with a sense of hope. It was powerfully moving, without a note that felt clichéd or overly nostalgic. At that moment, I knew he needed to play a Tiny Desk Concert.

With a tasteful band comprised of Frank Carter Rische on electric guitar, Robbie Crowell on bass guitar and Shawn Killaly (a man of a million faces) on drums, AHI put his heart into three songs in just about 11 minutes, all from his debut album We Made It Through The Wreckage, which came out a year ago this week.

“Alive Again” builds slowly, but by the time the chorus comes around and he adds some whoops, the song really moves. I’m quite intrigued at the constant soloing from guitarist Frank Carter Rische.  It’s virtually nonstop and really seems to propel the song along.  It’s a catchy and fun song the way each round seems to make the song bigger and bigger.

About “Closer (From a Distance)” he says, we all have relationships.  Some are good; some are bad and some are just awful.  You may care about someone with your whole heart only to realize that you care about that person more than they care about themselves.  No matter how strong you are your strengths may not be as strong as their weaknesses.  Sometimes the only way to save the relationship is to walk away–“maybe we’ll be closer from a distance.”   This is a really heartbreaking song.  The lyrics are clearly very personal and quite powerful.  And the soloing throughout the song is really quiet and beautiful.

“Ol’ Sweet Day” is bouncy and catchy with a propulsive acoustic guitar and lovely licks on the lead acoustic guitar.  The drums are fun on this song as Killaly plays the wall and uses his elbow to change the sound of the drum at the end of the song.

The burning question that is never addressed is way he is wearing a helmet –motorcycle? horse riding?  It stays on the whole time.  At one point he even seems to “tip” his hat.  How peculiar.

[READ: December 8, 2017] Glorious and or Free

The Beaverton is a satirical news source based in Canada.  It began as a website in 2010 and then added a TV Show in 2016 (now in its second season).  To celebrate 2017, the creators made this book.

They have divided the history of Canada into 13 sections.  As with many satirical history books, you can learn a lot about a country or a time from the kinds of jokes made.  Obviously the joke of each article is fake, but they are all based in something.  Historical figures are accurate and their stereotypes and broadsides certainly give a picture of the person.

Some of the humor is dependent upon knowing at least a little about the topic, but some of the other articles are just broadly funny whether you know anything about it or not.

When we made this book our goal was to transport readers back to grade school to remember what they were taught n Canadian history class.  And so what if your teacher was hungover most of the time?

~30,000 Years of History in About Four Page (3,200,000,000 BCE – 1496)

“What the hell is that?”  –God after forgetting he made beavers. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JULIEN BAKER-Tiny Desk Concert #690 (January 10, 2018).

Julien Baker joins a handful of artists who have now made a second appearance at a Tiny Desk Concert.  (If they start inviting artists back regularly, they’ll never get ANY work done at the NPR offices).

I was quite enamored with Baker when I watched her first Tiny Desk Concert.  And I was totally smitten with her when I saw her open for The Decemberists.

Julien plays three songs here.  I’m intrigued that in the blurb Bob says “I reached out to ask if she would be willing to do something different this time around.”

It makes it sound as if she’s going to do some kind of dance/electronica show.  But I guess the difference is that last time, she just played electric guitar and this time she mixes up instrumentation and adds a violinist.

The first two songs, “Hurt Less” and “Even,” were accompanied by Camille Faulkner, with Julien on piano for the opening tune and acoustic guitar on the second.

If Julien Baker sounds delicate with just her electric guitar, she’s twice as delicate on piano.  But her voice sounds exquisite–powerful, honest and a little raspy, adding a slight edge.

I love seeing her sticker-covered acoustic guitar as she sings on “Even”:

Putting my fist through the plaster in the bathroom of a Motel 6 / I must have pictured it all a thousand times / I swear to God I think I’m gonna die / I know you were right / I can’t be fixed, so help me

She tends to play her guitar a little louder than the piano, so this one is a bit more dynamic.  The violin adds some aching sounds over the top.

I love that she plays each song in a very different style:

For the final song, Julien put together an arrangement of “Appointments” that begins on electric guitar, which then was looped as a backdrop to her on piano and voice.

It’s always fun watching someone loop guitar melodies.  And I like that she continues to loop long after it seems like the looping is done.  This allows for some of her gorgeous ringing chords.  They continue to ring out as she plays the piano.  It’s even cooler that she can stop parts of the guitar looping while she is completing the song.

All along her voice, which seems so delicate when she starts proves to be really powerful, especially during “Appointments” when she builds to a powerful high.    When I saw her live, she held a really long note that was quite impressive.  Don’t be fooled by the quietness of her music, Julien Baker rocks.

[READ: October 27,2017] Threads of Blue

This is the sequel to Beautiful Blue World, a book I really enjoyed.

In the first book, Mathilde’s country of Sofarende was being attacked by Tyssia.  She was sent to a special location to work on the war effort–they needed precocious children and she was picked for her empathy.  As the book ended, Mathilde followed her empathy and, while their encampment was under siege, released a teenaged prisoner of war because she felt that he was a good person who was just caught up in the war.

This act caused her to leave her group (and her best friend Megs) and to miss the conveyance to safety.

As this book opens, Mathilde wakes up on a boat that is bringing her to the country of Eilean.  She has secret documents and an order to be secretive.

The book picks up right where the previous one left off (I could have used a slight refresher, honestly). (more…)

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I was anticipating watching Forsyth at the end of last year but the show sold out on me.  (Note: he is playing nearby this Friday).

I heard about him from a stellar Tiny Desk Concert and was totally psyched to hear this four-song full length album.

The disc opens with the 11 minute History & Science-Fiction that starts with a slow bass line and lots of percussion.  After a short intro the guitar comes in with whammy bar’d chords.  It resolves into a really catchy “chorus” and then a slow down that reminds me of a softer “Marquee Moon.”  But instead of turning into a rocking solo section, it totally mellows out, with keyboards and cymbals and a pretty guitar melody.  It slowly builds out of that by switching from organ to sax.

“Have We Mistaken the Bottle for the Whiskey Inside” is the only song with words.  Of the four it’s my least favorite, but that’s only because I like his guitar playing better than his singing.  It’s a fairly simple riff–kind of Crazy Horse-ish with Forsyth’s deep spoken-singing asking the title question.  After about 3 and a half minutes, the song starts to pick up speed and turns into a huge freak out of noise and chaos. 
“Dreaming in the Non-Dream” begins as a simple picked guitar line repeating.  Throw in some a steady drum beat and some buzzy synths and the song starts to build. And then Forsyth’s soloing makes an appearance.  At first he is just playing harmony notes alongside the lower notes but at the 2 minute mark, the full throttle wah-wah guitar soloing takes off (the backing guitar also throws in some cool wah-wah, too).  And the song runs as a full instrumental for over 15 glorious minutes.  But it is not just a 15 minute guitar solo.  The whole band gets involved–the rest of the band is fully present and there’s a synth solo.  But it’s all within that catchy melody line.  Fifteen minutes never went by so fast.
 “Two Minutes Love” is a beautiful two-minute song.  Gentle guitars interweaving over lush bass lines and twining with the other guitar.  It’s a nice delicate end to that spiraling CD.

[READ: December 27, 2017] Obama: An Intimate Portrait

Sarah got me this book for Christmas and it is awesome.  I wanted to spend 2018 looking forward, getting past the dumpster fire of 2017 and hoping we can move past what we are bogged down with.  #ITMFA #RESIST

But this book was just an amazing look back and something that gives me hope that we can move forward past what we have now.

Pete Souza is a tremendous photographer and this collection offers amazing access to a President who was full of gravitas and thoughtfulness.

We were concerned that reading this would be too depressing given the State of our country and the Embarrassment in Chief.  And in some ways it was depressing.  But in many ways it was what it was intended to be: inspirational.

It’s hard to believe that before our Chief Idiot was bumbling his way through life and giving literally zero thought to anything except his own ego, we as a country had 8 years of a leader who, these pictures show, put serious thought and concern into (almost) everything he did.  Obama was never quick to do anything–he was often mocked for his slow speech patterns–but this is a job where rushing to judgment never does anyone any good.  And you can see the pressures of the world weighing on him.

But this book is not all about pressure.  There are delightful moments of joy–with his daughters, with delightful citizens, with staff and of course with Michele. (more…)

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