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Archive for the ‘War’ Category

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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SOUNDTRACK: LOCAL NATIVES-“Fountain of Youth” (Field Recordings, October 5, 2016). 

I know and like Local Natives, although I didn’t know this song.

In 2010, Local Natives came clattering into the indie firmament with the U.S. release of Gorilla Manor, an irresistible blend of in-vogue sonic signifiers like Afropop guitars, rich harmonies and the hint of a folk sensibility. In 2016, the band’s run has continued with the synth-heavy Sunlit Youth.

For their Field Recording, Local Natives played one of the singles off that album, “Fountain of Youth.” Though the recorded version is lush and electronic, Local Natives stripped the song to a driving core. The band played, and then it was off again — guitars in hand, headed for the evening’s show elsewhere in Brooklyn.

They sound great stripped to just two guitars and a tambourine standing on the water’s edge. [Local Natives Strips Down Its Sound For A Riverside Show].  I love this introduction:

The East River Ferry is a very fast boat. Local Natives came hurtling toward our crew up the river one overcast evening this summer, shouting three-part harmonies over roaring engines for a surprised clutch of fans. When the ferry docked, three of the band’s members hurried over to our pier off WNYC Transmitter Park to play this Field Recording.

I’m not sure which of the five Natives these are, but they harmonize wonderfully. And I really like that the main singer is playing his guitar while the second guitar is silent until later in the song when his higher notes are used as an excellent accent.

[READ: January 15, 2018] “Kinderscenen”

This was a fascinating story because of how much detail was given and how little plot there was.

This is the story of a boy, Toby.  It is written in a kind of childish third person, almost by a benevolent guardian.

Sentences like:

What he does know is how Daddy’s cigarette looks in the evening when sitting on a wicker chair with the other grown-ups softly talking in a row, he flips it away its red star tracing lopsided loops before shattering into sparks on the bricks.

In his heart he knows that this is the best town in the world.

In the story, Toby helps his mother garden (by lifting the prickery bushes “holding up the bushes’ skirts” which has a naughty sound that nevertheless doesn’t make it fun. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JAPANDROIDS-Live at Massey Hall (October 4, 2017).

Japandroids are one of the most energetic bands around.  Is that because there are only two of them and they need to do even more?

Well, whatever the case, they rock Massey Hall.

They are playing four nights in a row at Boot & Saddle in Philly in a couple of weeks.  The shows sold out almost instantly, but I got a ticket for the second night.  And this video has gotten me really psyched to see them again.

The show opens with David Prowse, the drummer talking about Massey Hall.  It’s by far the most legendary venue in all of Canada.  There’s a lot of emotion tied up in playing this room–equal parts terrifying and inspiring.  It’s an honor just to be asked to play here.  We couldn’t pass up the opportunity but it’s large boots to fill.

The show opens with Prowse’s very fast snare drums and Brian King eking out feedback from his guitar.

And from there it’s 35 minutes of nonstop energy from both the band and the crowd. The guitars are fast and the drumming in maniacal.   It’s amazing.

What’s so especially interesting to me about this band is that there’s two of them and they don;t rally do guitar solos.  This all seems like a recipe for short songs. But no, most of their songs are about 4 minutes long and live they tend to jam them out a bit, too.

So in this show except you don;t get a lot of songs, but you get a lot of music.

“Near to the wild Heart of Life” plays for nearly five minutes before it is interrupted so Brian can talk about playing Massey Hall and how Toronto has always been good to them.

It’s followed by some great, really exciting versions of these songs: “Fire’s Highway,” “Heart Sweats” and “Younger Us” covering all three of their albums.

Brian thanks then all for coming out and spending a school night with them.

Introducing “North East South West” Brian says, there happens to be a Toronto reference in this song.  Its 10% more fun to play when we play here.  Be sure to sing it out if you know it.  It’s the one glorious moment on tour when we get to hear people in Toronto sing Toronto.

After the song they interview: the participatory nature of our shows makes you feel so connected with a roomful of strangers and we’ve both become quiet addicted to that feeling of connection.  It’s so visceral and it’s a big part of why we tour so much.

Our audience is part of the show.  Their energy is part of the show.  Sometimes it’s just as fun watching the audience as it is watching the band

“No Known Drink or Drug” and “The House Than Heaven Built” end the show in incredible fashion.  There’s even some stage divers (in Massey Hall!) which makes them laugh while singing.

Seeing Brian climb on the bass drum at the end of the set is a great moment.  I’m psyched for next week.

[READ: April 14, 2014] “Rat Beach”

William Styron is a pretty legendary writer, although I have never read him.  I don’t even know what he typically writes about.  This story is about Marines awaiting their next move as they wait on the Shore of Japan in WWII.

The narrator says that if he was a year older he would have been in the Iwo Jima bloodbath. Rather he and his troop were waiting on the island of Saipan.

He says he was “so fucking scared,” but it seemed the others would never let on just how scared they were (he wouldn’t either, of course). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BORN RUFFIANS-Live at Massey Hall (October 14, 2017).

Born Ruffians are a trio who plays fairly punky music but with a surprisingly high-pitched singer Luke Lalonde.

When the show opens, he says I don’t think I ever considered that I would play here–it wasn’t even something …it seemed out of the realm of possibility.  Look at all the people who have played here (waves at pictures) Bassist Mitch Derosier says that these are employees of the month.  And t here is silence.  Drummer Steve Hamelin says do we have to laugh for that?  Mitch: I wanted someone to.

Lalonde says “it feels cool as hell when you’re on that stage.”  Hamelin: “hopefully it is the first of more.”

“Ocean’s Deep” has a loping bass and mostly high chords until the chorus when they burst forth more.  Lalonde’s guitar is almost rockabilly sounding (because it is a hollowed body?)  The drums totally pound (and Hamelin is up front facing the other two).

“Don’t Live Up” has an interesting guitar melody with rather unexpected notes

“& On & On & On” has a cool bass line and a catchy oh oh oh oh oh oh verse melody.  Then he tells the crowd that they just recorded a record and its out soon so they’re going to play some songs off it. (Which this last song was but he next song isn’t).

“Fade to Black” has punchy drums and a fast punky bass. The chanted backing vocals give it a real punk edge.”  After the song someone shouts, “you guys fucking rock, man,” to which Mitch responds: “that was my mom.”

“Miss You” has a great call and response punk feel “with your head held high–with your head  held high” it sounds great.

“Love Too Soon” opens with gentle echoed guitars a weird-sounding whistle from Luke–echoed or processed and rather eerie, but very compelling.

“Forget Me” is a song about dying.  It starts acoustically followed by a kick drum with Hamelin encouraging everyone t clap along with him.  The song dramatically changes pace midway through–slowing down with big thumps until it slowly speeds up again.

Lalonde switches to electric guitar with a heavy echo for “Needle”.  This was my favorite song and I wondered if I’d heard it before, the vocal melody was very familiar and catchy.

The final song, We Made It” has some cool fast plucked guitar chords (from bass and guitar) and some great triplets on the drums.  It’s a powerful punky thrasher with a big, loud, crashing (very satisfying) false ending.

[READ: February 2, 2018] “Patrols”

I really enjoyed the way this story began.

Marty Mason was staying at a place which housed a dog, Murphy.  Each night the dog left his owner’s room, snuffled around and came to settle by Marty.  He would settle by Marty’s bed, alert, for the night.  If Marty looked at the dog, it would slap its tail against the floor.  If he tried to lock the dog out it would scratch and whine.

This prevented Marty from sleeping, but also prevented him from getting up.

Then the story flashes back to a military scene and I kind of lost focus. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKTHE WEATHER STATION-Live at Massey Hall (February 5, 2016).

I know of The Weather Station from All Songs Considered.  The Weather Station is Tamara Lindeman and she has been making music under this name for many years.

But as her profile rises, she says that she has been moving from small clubs to bigger venues:

“So many things I’ve learned, like how to perform on a big stage and make sure people pay attention to you and hear your words.”

The larger venues are odd because her songs are “thoughtful and philosophical not full of showmanship” but you don’t really have a choice you’re in that situation–step up and be confident

The set opens with “Tapes” which is very quiet and soft with lovely backing vocal oohs and a pedal steel guitar.

“Floodplain” is a bit more upbeat but there’s some  interesting guitar work and a nice juxtaposition with the bass.

I love the titles of “Almost Carless” and “Shy Women.”  About “Shy Women” she says it’s about a particularity conversation but it could apply to 1,000 conversations.  It’s my favorite song with some great moments of backing vocals and chord changes

On “All of It was Me” she sounds a bit like Aimee Mann. She says “Loyalty” is also about a conversation.

She talks about evolving as a performer, playing electric guitar on “Personal Eclipse.”  She talks about how on a big stage you have to expand to fit the space you are given and so “Know It To See It,” finally rocks out–the drums and bass really adding something to her music.  The show ends with “Way It Is, Way It Could Be.”

She was joined by Ben Whiteley, Ian Kehoe,  Adrian Cook, Ivy Mairi and Misha Bower.

[READ: February 4, 2018] “Sick Soldier at Your Door”

Reading all of these excerpts in Harper’s has really brought to my attention just how much fiction is written about war.  It’s not a genre I like, so I had no idea it was so popular. This is an excerpt from a then forthcoming novel.

Anse Burden is apparently the main character. He says he has found six soldiers from the ’91 desert war with Iraq.

He talks about how he was on Percordan and Dexedrine when he was shot down.  Others believe he shot himself down (is that even possible?  I guess so.) He was found babbling incoherently.  There’s a great description of him being in the surf with his parachute attached looking like a dirty white whale rising up and down. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKCŒUR DE PIRATE-Live at Massey Hall (July 8, 2014).

I known of Cœur de Pirate more from reputation than her music.  But everything I’ve heard I’ve enjoyed.  Cœur de Pirate is Beatrice Martin a Francophone singer from Montreal who sings almost entirely in French.  And yet despite that, she sells out to Anglophone audiences because her music is so darn catchy.

In the opening she notes that it’s crazy that she’s a French-speaking artists singing in french selling out a venue like Massey Hall.  She feels special and can’t wait to hear what it sounds like.

The first song is “Le Long du Large.”  She is playing piano with a great band behind her.  The song grooves along smoothly–it has a great catchy chorus with terrific backing vocals.  There’s an acoustic guitar (Renaud Bastien), a lead guitar (Emmanuel Éthier), bass (Alexandre Gauthier) and drums (Julien Blais).

On “Francis” it’s just her on piano.  The song has a very Regina Spektor vibe in her playing style and singing delivery.

“Ensemble” is bouncy and upbeat, just super fun.

Golden Baby” opens with a melody like “Come on Eileen” but as soon as the electric guitar soars over, it is a very different song.   I love that she sounds like she smiling throughout.

It surprised me that she did an encore so soon in the show, but there’s clearly a reason for that.

Before the encore, she plays “Adieu”  our “last song.”  Shes off the piano on this one, only singing.  It’s got a heavy rocking beat and guitar and it’s really great.

When she comes back for the encore she sits at the piano and asks “More songs?”

“Place de la République” starts as solo piano and it sounds lovely.  After a verse or so, they add a bowed bass and strummed acoustic guitar  which builds the songs nicely.  Half way through, drums come in to give it even more power.  It’s a terrific song.

She is quite sweet saying that “it makes no sense that a French Canadian girl could sell out Massey Hall…. just got to hold it together.”

She invites everyone to sing along. If you don’t know French, just pretend.  It works too.  This is the last song.  Make it fun make it magical.  She says that the song, “Comme des enfants” is being taught in French classes.  It was a huge hit and the audience sings part the last verse.  It’s a wonderful moment and always cool to see an artist overwhelmed by her fans base.

[READ: March 28, 2018] Cici’s Journal

The book (there are two books in this volume) opens with Cici talking about her journal.  We meet Cici and her mom.  We learn that Cici hangs out a lot with the neighbor Mrs Flores, a writer.  Her mom doesn’t love that she hangs out with am older lady, but Mrs Flores is pretty cool.

Cici’s two best friends are Lena and Erica  The pair knew each other since they were babies;  Cici moved to the neighborhood when they were all little.  They have been best friends ever since.

I give Carol Klio Burrell a real thumbs up on this translation. I didn’t realize that it was a translation until well into the second book.  But I didn’t love a few aspects of the story.  The problem here I think comes with the friends.  Lena is sweet and has the soul of an artist.  Meanwhile, Erica “complains constantly, but she has a good heart.”  That’s not a very complex or desirably character trait.  And that aspect of her comes out a lot in the second book, which is kind of annoying. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: “WEIRD AL” YANKOVIC-“The Hamilton Polka” (2016). 

Lin-Manuel Miranda has declared his love and respect for “Weird Al” on many occasions.  So it makes perfect sense that he would ask Al to contribute to the online Hamilton project known as HamilDrops.  The Decemberists’ “Ben Franklin’s Song” is amazing too.

But seriously, how could Al parody a more or less biographical story of a historical figure (that’s two hours long)?.  By not parodying it at all.

Rather, he makes one of his polka mashups which he’s been doing hilariously since his second album.  They are often a highlight of each new album.  This song compresses (almost) the entire musical into 5 minutes.

“The Hamilton Polka,” provides what’s essentially a CliffsNotes-style run-through of the musical’s hooks and highlights — just enough to get the entire musical stuck in your head all over again.

I love the way in the original, the third sister, poor Peggy, is sort of musically dissed whereas Al is just explicit about it.  And of course, how could he refuse to include some actual gun shots for “Not Throwing Away My Shot?”

So they cram in 

Alexander Hamilton
Wait For It
The Schuyler Sisters
Yorktown
You’ll Be Back
The Room Where It Happens
Guns and Ships
Washington On Your Side
Non-Stop
History Has Its Eyes On You
My Shot

And Al can really sing and rap some of those lyrics quickly.  It’s a really fun mashup.

[READ: January 11, 2018] Alexander Hamilton: The Graphic History of an American Founding Father

Before the musical, most people’s familiarity with Alexander Hamilton probably came from this (awesome) commercial (even if none of us could remember what it was ultimately for).

Actually, my father worked for (and owned for a time) Alexander Hamilton Printing in Paterson, NJ, so Alexander Hamilton has always been a part of my life.  Although I had no idea why.  Not really.

There’s a new reason why people know about Alexander Hamilton (can you even say his name without singing it?).

And I’m sure that reason has something to do with the creation and publication of this book.  But Hennessey is not just jumping on the Hamilton bandwagon.  Well, maybe he is, but he has two other historical graphic novels out already: The United States Constitution: A Graphic Adaptation (2008) and The Gettysburg Address: A Graphic Adaptation (2012).  He also has books called The Comic Book Story of Beer, and The Comic Book Story of Video Games so he’s not all stuffy.

The musical is far more catchy than this book–far more steamy.  But this book is really chock full of details that the musical skips (for various reasons, obviously).  The book is a lot less interested in the romantic dalliances of the founding father, although it certainly does acknowledge them.

Indeed, the book is 176 fully illustrated pages jam-packed with information.  It reads a little, if not dull, then certainly more academic.  That’s because there’s a lot of text and a lot of history. (more…)

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