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Archive for the ‘Waterfalls’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: BLACK UHURU-Tiny Desk Concert #916 (November 29, 2019).

I don’t have a very good overall feeling about reggae.  As a person who listens to a lot of music that people have said “all sounds the same,” I can’t help but admit that to me all reggae sounds the same.

Or, perhaps all of Bob Marley’s reggae sounds the same and that’s the only reggae I’ve really been exposed to.

Because this Black Uhuru concert is clearly reggae, but it sounds new and exciting to me (even if the band has been around for 40 years).

I’ve been aware of Black Uhuru forever–they always seemed to be in the Columbia House 20 albums for a penny ads back in the day (along with Boz Scaggs, another artist I’ve heard of since I was a kid but have never actually heard a note from).

Considering the state of global politics, there’s never been a better time to get reacquainted with the righteousness of Black Uhuru. The iconic reggae band, whose name means “Black Freedom” in Swahili, is still going strong after more than 40 years, and they brought their much-needed songs of solidarity to the Tiny Desk. Fittingly, the set begins with “Here Comes Black Uhuru,” a telling and literal re-introduction to the group’s legacy for audiences that may be unfamiliar with their extensive catalogue.

This song is clearly one that I needed, as I didn’t know anything about their music.

While most-known for their late-’70s and early-’80s classics — years defined by a game of musical chairs within the group as played by founding members and/or collaborators Michael Rose, Garth Dennis, Don Carlos, Sandra “Puma” Jones, Sly Dunbar, Robbie Shakespeare and even Junior Reid — this incarnation of Black Uhuru, with frontman and co-lead Andrew Bees, has been touring and recording since about 1997 or so, longer than any of the configurations that precede it.

“Here Comes Black Uhuru” has some groovy bass from Daniel “Axemon” Thomson (who plays a white five-string Steinberger).  The verses feature some cool synth sounds from Horace “King Hopeton” Campbell and the drums are chock full of fun percussion from Rolando “Phanso” Wilson.  The biggest surprise to me was the ripping guitar sound from Frank Stepanek.

The vocals are shared between Derrick “Duckie” Simpson and Andrew Bees, with additional backing vocals from Elsa Marie Green.

This song has simple but catchy riff and it ends with a big powerful rocking sound.

“As The World Turns” comes from their new album of the same name.  “As The World Turns, is an album that was mired in issues around its master recordings, was finally released in 2018 — six years after it was recorded — and earned a Grammy nomination for best reggae album.” The song opens with the stereotypical Egyptian riff while Duckie and Elsa Marie Green sing the main verses.   I love that there’s spacey effects from the keys and Stepanek plays a blistering solo (twice).

“I See You,” is a love song “led by Derrick “Duckie” Simpson, a co-founder and the only steady member of the group since its beginnings in the early ’70s.”  It has the most conventional reggae sound and I like the way Andrew Bees works as a kind of hype man in this song,

“What Is Life” is their most well-known song.  It

explores the hopelessness endemic to those who are economically and socially disadvantaged, and explores the complexities of the human experience — what life could be, versus what it is. Despite being written and recorded in 1984, you can probably recognize the endurance of its themes.

Andrew Bees sings lead which adds a very different tone to the song.

While I really liked the first two songs, the second two weren’t quite as exciting to me.  Maybe I don’t need more reggae in my life, but I’m glad that there are different style out there.

[READ: February 1, 2020] DPR Korea Tour

I was really surprised to see this book at work.  I didn’t realize that North Korea sent propaganda to English-speaking countries  I assume this isn’t meant for American eyes specifically, more likely to European eyes, but who knows.

The book is written in English, Chinese and Cyrillic, but the writing is all just captions for the photos.

And I have to say that the landscape of North Korea is absolutely gorgeous.  I had no idea their land was so lovely.

Mt Paektu shrouded in clouds is striking.  And Lake Chon underneath the mountain is crystal clear and beautiful.  Taehwa Peak on Masikryong Pass has chair lifts that look like they are thousands of feet in the air (no people on them in the picture though).  It is a large skiing mountain–I didn’t know they skied there.

There are also wondrous waterfalls like the Hyongje Falls at Mt Paektu and the Rimyongsu Falls with a mansion atop them. Isonnam Falls is peaceful and serene while the Saja Falls are roaring (its hard to get a sense of scale though).  I’m also very impressed by Kuryong Pool and Eight Pools Under It. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: TAYLOR SWIFT-Tiny Desk Concert #901 (October 16, 2019).

Most Tiny Desk Concerts are from musicians that few people have heard of.

Not this one!

It’s hard to imagine exactly how it happened that Tiny Desk Concert managed to get Taylor Swift to play.  And to play with just a acoustic guitar and piano.  “It’s just me. There’s no dancers, unfortunately,” she quipped.

I have seen people already complain that Tiny Desk is supposed to be for unknown artists blah blah blah.  But I think it’s pretty awesome that a) Taylor Swift is a fan of NPR and Tiny Desk and b) that this show will bring more notoriety to Tiny Desk and potentially other bands.

Plus–I had no idea that Taylor Swift was not a studio creation–that she’s actually a real and thoughtful person who wrote her own music.

She talks confidently and casually about songwriting and she seems pretty genuinely pleased to be there.

As she settled in for her Tiny Desk, she looked out at the 300-plus NPR employees and guests. “Wow! This is a lot of people in a tiny office!” she said. “I love it!”

She delightfully says, “It’s great to be in DC.  You guys had anything exciting going on in the last couple of weeks?  Any possible changes in play?”

And, hey, she writes good songs, too.

I’ve never really listened to her music–although I love “Shake It Off.”  I haven’t actually heard anything of her new album so this was all new to me.

After introducing herself, she explained her objective: “I just decided to take this as an opportunity to show you guys how the songs sounded when I first wrote them.”

She talks a lot about each song and why she wrote them.

Opening with an acoustic rendition of “The Man,” from her 2019 album Lover, Swift delivered a critique of gender double-standards with a sense of humor (and a perfectly deployed hair toss), Leonardo DiCaprio name-check and all.

She says she has been thinking about the topic for many years and it was something she wanted to write about conceptually for a very long time because we have a bit of double standard issue in our society.  She wondered if there was a concise and catchy way to write a song about this?  So she decided to imagine what her life would be like if she said and did all the same things but if she was a man.

While not an original idea, she tackles it really well.  And I like that she’s using her platform to address the issue

I would be complex
I would be cool
They’d say I played the field before
I found someone to commit to
And that would be okay
For me to do
Every conquest I had made
Would make me more of a boss to you
I’d be a fearless leader
I’d be an alpha type
When everyone believes ya…
What’s that like?

And it’s really catchy too.

At the end of the song she gives her pick to a little one in the audience (to a room full of awws).  Then she switches instruments.

She talks about the process of writing songs–when something comes and its easy, that’s wonderful.  But most days you show up… and the idea doesn’t.  Then you have to know the craft of songwriting–you’re not always going to be inspired and that’s okay.

Turning to the piano for Lover‘s title track, with a smile, she explained the guitar-string scars of the song’s bridge.

She says that she has scars on her hands from playing guitar when she was young–when she played until her fingers bled or when a string snapped and cut her.  In your life you received all kinds of scars–emotional and physical and if someone is going to take your hand, they’d better take your hand scars and all.

It’s a pretty piano ballad and her voice is really pure.

After the song she removes her blazer to reveal a velvet top (she must have been very hot).  “You guys ever had costume changes at Tiny Desk?” She then finds three more guitar picks to give to three other kids, one of whom you can quickly see is pretty darn excited.

Picking up the guitar again for “Death by a Thousand Cuts,” Swift confronted a question that she says has haunted her career: What will you ever do if you get happy?

She receives this question over and over that “has the potential to seriously deteriorate my mental health.”  “What will you ever do if you get happy?  Will you just never be able to write a song again?    She says she used to reply that she started off when she was 12, she was writing songs about things she had no idea what she was talking about.  She wrote songs about heartbreak based on movies and books and character studies.  So she would say, “If stuff is going on in the world maybe she could hey inspiration from that.

But then she really asked herself that question.  “Would I not be able to write break up songs?  I love break up songs!  They’re so fun to write.”  She says she had friends going through breakups and she was watching movie and reading books about breakups and these ideas came to her.  She woke up with heartbreak lyrics in her head and realized “It’s still here!”

Across the song’s run-on thoughts and relentless searching, Swift offered an answer: She’ll continue to excel at crafting superb story-songs.

I rather like her songs on acoustic guitar–even if I’m not much of a fan of break up songs.

Before the final song, “All to Well,” she talks about how she never googles herself–she recommends you not do it either.  But her dad does.  He sends her links to lists that people rank her songs (she finds it very nice that people care enough to do that).  When the Red album came out, she said there’s a song and “I’m the only one who loves this song this much–because it happens to me and its personal.”  But it turns out that this song tops everyone’s favorite list.  “I’m happy that my opinion lines up with your opinion on that.”

I actually didn’t know this song at all–I guess I am really isolated from pop music.

She says, “here’s a sad song about fall.”  It’s very pretty on piano and once again her voice is really great.  I really like the way the words unfold and then reflect back on themselves.  It’s a really wonderfully crafted song.

This Tiny Desk Concert may not introduce Taylor Swift to a lot of people, but it pretty much did introduce me to her music.  And I was really impressed.

[READ: August 19, 2019] Lost Empress

I loved Sergio De la Pava’s A Naked Singularity. It was complicated and funny and clever and bizarre and thoroughly engaging.

Lost Empress is even better.

There’s a story about a woman running a football team–and being overlooked because she is a woman.

There is a storyline about 911 operators, and the guy who transcribes them.

The third story is about a tough, smart guy who is in jail.  He is his own defense for trying to get out.  And he hatches a plan that involves stealing artwork, the Paterson Falls and the Super Bowl.

I enjoyed it in part because much of it is set in Paterson, NJ.  I grew up next to Paterson and the city has for most of my life been in a state of decline.  Despite all of the great things it has to offer (like the Paterson Falls! which get a shout out in this book), Paterson gets no respect.  This book doesn’t exactly aim to correct that, but it does give the city something cool–a football team.

It also jokes about “what the hell is up with Paterson?”  The city had once tried to rebrand itself in which they staged a contest  for “an official slogan for the troubled city.”  Proposals emerged: “the verifiably untrue, the unintentionally insulting/intentionally insulating, the so vague that sense fails to be created, the rhyme or alliteration for its own sake, and the technically true but not even conceivably relevant.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KATE CARR-“The Ladder Is Always There” (2018).

At the end of every year publications and sites post year end lists.  I like to look at them to see if I missed any albums of significance.  But my favorite year end list comes from Lars Gottrich at NPR.  For the past ten years, Viking’s Choice has posted a list of obscure and often overlooked bands.  Gottrich also has one of the broadest tastes of anyone I know (myself included–he likes a lot of genres I don’t).  

Since I’m behind on my posts at the beginning of this year, I’m taking this opportunity to highlight the bands that he mentions on this year’s list.  I’m only listening to the one song unless I’m inspired to listen to more.

Kate Carr creates Field Recordings.  But she then manipulates them into soundscapes.  This track, “The Ladder Is Always There,” has an incredibly sinister tone–and that title doesn’t help.  The recording was done on or under the water and the sounds I hear include a tuned radio (or something), a vacuum cleaner going back and forth (clearly not), electronic receptors beeping, birds modified (or maybe recorded from underwater), dripping water, breathing, clanging, seagulls and waves crashing.

Gottrich describes whats she does as “not only mapping bodies of water and landscapes in field recordings, but engaging with the environment as an active participant.

It is certainly strange to listen to something that you could (in theory, but not in actuality) go out side and hear for yourself.  Even if you could go outside and hear this, there’s no way it would be curated in this way.  So while this is indeed listening to nature, Carr has sculpted nature into an aural exercise that’s really engaging.

I’ve listened to a few more pieces on this disc and while none are quite as engaging as “the ladder” none are dull either.  I can’t decide when I would most enjoy listening to this.  Sitting a lone in my car at lunch time with my eyes closed or in bed by myself later at night.  Even listening at work is strangely intoxicating.

You can hear the whole disc and more at her bandcamp site.

[READ: December 29, 2018] “Plante’s Ferry”

Apparently, I’ve read a bunch by Jess Walter although I don’t have much recollection of his stories.

This one is set in an unnamed place in the unspecified past.

The narrator explains that Bonin liberated the Scots’ pelts and then the two of them rode the lower trail until they arrived where the Frenchman ran a ferry across the river.

He hopes they were not followed, but they are not going to slow down.  They must get across the river.

The ferry is not cheap and since they are being chased because of Bonin’s action, the narrator wordlessly insists that Bonin pays his fare too. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKNAP EYES-Whine of the Mystic (2015).

Nap Eyes opened for Alvvays and although we only caught half of their set, I really enjoyed it.  Lead singer Nigel Chapman, had a kind of deadpan Lou Reed spoken delivery (with an extra affectation–perhaps something to do with being from Halifax?).  The drums were thumping and spare and the guitar played a mixture of pretty melodies and squalling feedback.

The songs are pretty minimal musically.   Bassist Josh Salter and drummer Seamus Dalton keep the rhythm steady with occasional grace notes from Salter.  It’s really the work of guitarist Brad Loughead that stands out–in addition to Chapman’s lyrics of course.

A comment on the lyrics from the bandcamp site:

Throughout the record, workaday details punctuate (and puncture) cosmic concerns, as Nigel wrestles with air and angels, struggling (and often failing) to reconcile the Romantic rifts, both real and imagined, that define our lives: between chaos and order (or wilderness and paradise, as in “Tribal Thoughts”); solipsism and fellowship (“Dreaming Solo” vs. “Oh My Friends”); the anxiety of social (dis)orders both big and small (“The Night of the First Show”; “No Man Needs to Care”); and the various intersections and oppositions of religion, art, and science (“Dark Creedence” and “Make Something.”) 

This first album (after several EPs with great song titles) pretty much plays that template right out of the gate–the guitars do squall with feedback,but it is kind of low on the mix–disturbing the silence but not overwhelming it.

“Dark Credence” is pretty much the same thing repeated for four minutes but the way it builds with more intense drumming and ever noisier guitar feedback is great.  “Make Something” is a slower song that adds some interesting lead guitar notes as the song nears its end.

“Tribal Thoughts” is the first song that really stands out.  It’s faster paced, with a spirited, plucked melody.  Chapman is a bit more emotive and by the end the lead guitar has really taken off.  There’s some interesting lyrics in this song too, imagine singing slowly in deadpan: “I hear the beat against the slow lines / The lines i wrote / I never write them down anymore / fuck iiiiiiiiiiiiiiitttttttttt

“Delirium and Persecution Paranoia” is a 7 minute drone of a song that really doesn’t change much.  It makes you focus on the impenetrable words:

Round the inner core rocks / the outer core flows / but while the outer core cools / the inner core grows / the loaded sun sends out heat and light and deadly magnetic radiation  /  What you gonna do / the human race / when the solar wind through the magnetosphere is breaking  / Most of us down here lying down for years / sleeping the night away / some of us try but never survive /  stay up whole night and day  //  My friend once told me about a rare insomniac’s condition / sleeps not one minute a day but feels 20 minutes of pain and blurry vision.

And I just love the amusingly desperate end:

Oh baby, all I need is another second chance
Oh baby, all I need is another twenty-five second chance
Oh baby, all I need is another two-hundred and fifty-second chance
Oh baby, all I need is another two-hundred and fifty thousand second chance

“No Man Needs to Care” is a faster song with a nice circular guitar riff.  What does no man need to care about? “No man needs to care about another man’s hair.”

“Dreaming Solo” slows things down again, and then there’s two shorter somewhat poppier (but still angsty) songs.  “The Night of the First Show” is a delightful dark (lyrically) but perky (musically) take about what I gather was the first Nap Eyes show.  “Oh My Friends” is another slow, short song.  The short ones are so different from the droning quality of the longer ones.  Like the album closer “No Fear of Hellfire,” another 7-minute song.  It opens with ringing guitars and propulsive bass.  “Sunday morning only comes around once, these days.”  And the chorus: No feel of hellfire makes me feel good.”

[READ: November 15, 2017] “Chasing Waterfalls”

This is the second story I’ve read by Krasznahorkai (this Hungarian story was translated by John Batki).

Of his previous story I wrote:

This is the kind of story that makes me wonder why someone would write about the things they do.  Not because it’s bad or not worth writing about, I just can’t imagine where the idea came from.

This was a challenging story for me to read because there are no paragraph breaks (and I love my paragraph breaks).  It is just an endless stream of prose.

This one isn’t quite as out-of-thin-air, but it’s a pretty peculiar story nonetheless. (more…)

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