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SOUNDTRACK: CHRISTMAS AT DOWNTON ABBEY (2014).

We enjoyed Downton Abbey quite a lot, so it seemed natural to get the Christmas CD collection.  Well, it turns out you don’t need to have any appreciation of the TV show to enjoy this CD.

Aside from the opening Downton theme, everything else on the disc is a traditional British Christmas carol–secular and non-secular.

But it’s not an awkward cast recording.  There are a couple of cast members who sing, but they were known for the singing already:

Julian Ovenden who played Charles Blake sings a lot of songs.  Ovenden has sung musical theater with many orchestras.  His voice is great.  Elizabeth McGovern, who played Cora, has also had a singing career.  Between them, they sing six songs–all classic carols.

The rest of the album features The King’s College Choir Of Cambridge on fourteen songs and Kiri Te Kanawa who sings 6 songs.  There is more classical instrumental (and not) music that fills out this 2 CD set (45 tracks in all).

It’s not to say that there is no connection to the show.  Jim Carter (Mr Carson) recites ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas over some music.  It’s quite lovely and he has a great voice for recitation.

As far as tie-ins to TV shows go, this one is fantastic.

But if you like old-fashioned Christmas carols, this is a great album for Christmas.

[READ: December 18, 2018] “Strategies Against Sleeping”

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 loved the way that this story (translated from the Spanish by Miranda France) started as one thing and slowly turned into something else entirely.

Señora Eloísa was in a car getting driven back home.  She was very tired from her travels and wished to just close her eyes and let the soothing engine noise take her away.  She was on the verge of sleep several times, but the driver of the car kept pressing her to stay awake.

She felt compelled to make small talk with the driver, but regretted it instantly.  She felt she had given away too much information.  So when he asked if he could smoke, she allowed allowed it as an act of consiliation.  She regretted not taking the coach.

The driver kept saying how happy he was to have someone to talk to.  He himself was quite tired having not slept very well the night before and he felt that she was keeping him awake.  “Please talk to me” he said.

She talked about the rain and then about an essay she wrote once.  It had to do with beggars–about which she clearly knew very little.  She wrote in her essay that rain was a blessing for beggars–since they live under a blazing sun all day long, they must love the rain.

Even with this, whenever she paused she heard “Please talk to me.”  Annoyed, she pressed on.

She told the story of a woman, possibly a beggar but possibly not–she did have on nice clothes, anyone could see.  The woman was standing in the middle of a traffic jam in the heat.  Señora Eloísa’s husband didn’t see the woman but Señora Eloísa couldn’t take her eyes off of her standing in the street with that heavy baby .

She hadn’t mention the baby at first and the driver was puzzled. She snapped that of course she had mentioned the baby.  She then proceeded to admonish the driver and her (absent) husband for not understanding how hard it is to carry a heavy baby in the heat.

As the driver trues to change the subject, she quickly pulls it back to the heavy baby and the story suddenly changes into something else entirely.

This was a strange story to be sure, and there’s a lot there for one to unpack.

To learn more about this piece, here’s a Q&A with Liliana Heker.

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SOUNDTRACK: DUA LIPA-“Thinking ‘Bout You” (Field Recordings, August 31, 2016). 

The title “Field Recordings” seems to be a catchall for videos that they’re not really sure what to do with.  This video clip is from a show called Noteworthy (which ran all of ten episodes from July 2016-September 2016).

Dua does sing from the balcony [Watch Dua Lipa Perform ‘Thinking Bout You’ On A Balcony In New York City] and the sound is pretty great (I like t hat you can hear sirens at one point).   But the video is apparently clips from the documentary because there’s scenes of her walking around the city.

A day after performing “Hotter Than Hell” on The Tonight Show, rising pop star Dua Lipa performed another one of her songs, “Thinking Bout You,” for a much smaller audience: our Noteworthy video crew. Enjoy this extra from our Noteworthy documentary on Dua Lipa and be sure to watch the entire documentary here.

I can’t imagine why this particular singer whom I have never heard of in any other place has a documentary made about her.

Her voice is fine, a rough edged pop singer. And the song is pleasant enough.

[READ: January 31, 2018] “The Revisionist”

This is an excerpt from Mellis’ novel The Revisionist. And boy what a gloomy depressing book this sounds like.

The narrator’s last assignment was to conduct surveillance of the weather and report that everything was fine.  She was set up outside of the city in a lighthouse. She was tempted to take her own observations, so she did.

Now how about this for a paragraph

I saw a family driving to the country on vacation. Behind them, a bomb went off. Through my headphones, I noted the rushing sound of radiation cruising low across the land. The father, who was driving, saw the mushroom cloud in his rearview mirror. The others didn’t turn around, so they never noticed.

What? (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KING CRIMSON-The Elements Of King Crimson – 2015 Tour Box (2015).

The Elements box set has become a tour staple since the band reformed in 2014.  This is the second set and it contains another fascinating cross section of music from throughout Crimson’s existence.

In addition to the music, these sets contain a booklet that is chock full of pictures and usually an essay that gives context to what you’re about to hear.

It also includes the seven Principles of King Crimson

  1. May King Crimson bring joy to us all. Including me.
  2. If you don’t want to play a part, that’s fine!
  3. Give it to someone else – there’s enough of us.All the music is new, whenever it was written.
  4. If you don’t know your note, hit C#.
  5. If you don’t the time, play in 5. Or 7.
  6. If you don’t know what to play, get more gear.
  7. If you still don’t know what to play, play nothing.

Of the four boxes, I think this is my favorite–although the second disc of 2017 is pretty awesome.  I really enjoy the first half of the first disc.  It’s all instrumental (even tracks that have words are instrumental versions).  It’s a great collection of  sometimes pretty, sometimes not, 70s prog rock.

The eight-minute instrumental version of “Epitaph” (Steven Wilson 2015 instrumental mix) is gorgeous.  Even though I like the words just fine, there’s something really thrilling about removing them on this song.  “Catfood” is (somewhat obviously) a rather goofy lyric, so hearing this complex song without words is also a treat.  “Bolero – The Peacock’s Tale” is listed as a Tony Levin overdub.  I don’t know exactly what that means, as it is taken from the Lizard recording sessions, but the song is lovely.

In addition to longer, complete songs, the Elements sets feature short snippets.  Like the two-minute extract of “Islands” (with oboe).  Or the four-minute jazzy “A Peacemaking Stint Unrolls” which is clearly the foundation for “Lark’s Tongues in Aspic.”

Although the set is largely chronological, there’s an excerpt from the 2014 tour rehearsals in which Fripp discusses how the band knows all of their parts.  They give a mellow example of how he and Jakko will play “Larks’ Tongues in Aspic (Part II)” which is followed by the full 6 minute version from 1974.  It’s followed by an 11 minute live version of “Fracture” from 1974 (the previous box’s version was from 1973).

There’s a “guitar extract” of “One More Red Nightmare” (less than a minute long)  from 1974 followed by a full performance of the song from 2014 which doesn’t feel like a jump of forty years in any way.

The disc jumps to the 1980s era with an extended remix of “Elephant Talk” followed by 1981’s “Absent Lovers.”

1983’s “Larks’ Tongues in Aspic Part III/Sleepless” is staggeringly good.

Disc Two suffers a bit in comparison, which I find surprising as I really like the later era of King Crimson–the more metal sounding stuff is really intense.

I enjoyed the first part–the late 1990s; work.  “Jurassic THRAK” sounds huge, and 2014’s drum solo “The Hell Hounds of Krim” works fine as a connector to the next four songs which highlight the late 90’s abrasive guitars.  It’s about 20 minutes of noisy coolness. “VROOOM,” “Coda: Marine 475” and “ProjeKction” (Performed by ProjeKct Four) all showcase that complicated music really delightfully.

Then things start to slow down somewhat. “Larks’ Tongues in Aspic – Part IV/the construKction of light” suffers in my mind because of the smallness of the band.  With only four members playing, the song doesn’t feel like a huge organism, it feels more like two guitarists playing next to each other.  Mind you, it sounds amazing if you can get away from the fact that it doesn’t feel terribly “full.”  Of course, I may be just spoiled from the great versions of LTIA I’ve seen with the 7-piece band.

Things really slow down and chill out for “Sus-Tayn-Z” (Performed by ProjeKct X), “Power to Believe,” “Ex Uno Patres” and the nine minute exceedingly mellow (with vocals) “The Light of Day.”  I do not love this style of Crimson.  It works as a palette cleanser between heavy songs, but too much is too much.

The “Ba Ba Boom Boom” drum solo and “ATTAKcATHRAK” ramp things up with the kind of noise that segues nicely into the blistering 2014 version of “21st Century Schizoid Man.”

This box set once again demonstrates that King Crimson is a multi-headed beast, liable to go in any direction at any time.

[READ: January 6, 2018] Heroes of the Frontier

Somehow I missed that Eggers had written this book. I saw it in the bookstore recently and immediately grabbed it and devoured it.

I was worried that it was going to be a woman-moves-off-the-grid-and-life-gets-better story, but it’s not that at all.  It’s far more complicated and a bit more unsettling.

Josie is a dentist in Ohio.  But as we meet her, she and her children are riding in a crappy rented RV through the highways of Alaska.

Josie has a large sum of cash with her.  She had been sued by a patient for a sum she could not afford.  Rather than trying to raise th e money to save her practice or giving it over to woman, she sold her practice in total to a dentist friend.  So now, she has the cash and, temporarily, no future.

She was also in a terrible relationship.  Her children’s father, Carl, had taken off on them.  He was always aloof and a loser, but this disappearance to Florida was something else entirely.

She took her kids, Paul (8) and Ana (5) and got outta Dodge.  The children are an interesting pair.  Paul is nurturing and worrying, especially about his sister. He looks after her more closely than their mother ever does.  Ana, meanwhile, is a disaster–she seems to have a natural gift for how to break something–she can find the weak point of any structure or situation and cause havoc wherever she goes–and Paul is happy to fix the situation.

Why Alaska?  Because she has a stepsister (sort of) who lives in Homer.  Sam is independent and successful (which Josie was as well, although she was unhappy). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE LEMON TWIGS-Tiny Desk Concert #694 (January 17, 2018).

I first heard The Lemon Twigs on All Songs Considered and found their albums to be quite a lot of retro pop fun.

So it’s no surprise they wound up  at a Tiny Desk Concert, although this one is in support of an EP which I haven;t heard yet.

Bob Boilen notes: It’s as if brothers Brian (20) and Michael (18) D’Addario fell from the sky, victims of a transporter beam gone awry in 1971, and landed here at my desk with guitars in hand.  It was almost eerie seeing two young adults at my desk who look an awful lot like I and many of my friends did back around 1970. It’s uncanny, almost as if Brian and Michael have been somehow shielded from the 21st century

I really loved the production excess on The Lemon Twigs’ album, so I was a bit taken back at this stripped down version (no drums!).

At this Tiny Desk Concert, the layers of sound found in The Lemon Twigs’ recordings are stripped away, which makes the lyrics more noticeable, words that at times feel destined for a Broadway stage.  It’s fair to say that the strength of The Lemon Twigs is in the songwriting and the way they layer their recordings with their multi-instrumental talents. I love what they do, not as nostalgia but for its explorations of melody, harmony and lyrics that are memorable. Even stripped down, they are a whole lot of fun.

After the surprise of the stripped down sound wore off, I really started to like these songs for what they are.  Amusingly all three songs were written by Brian, which Michael is somewhat snarky about.

“Beautiful” is a delicate ballad with Brain singing and playing acoustic guitar.  The addition of simple electric guitar licks and backing harmony vocals really elevates the song.  Despite the pretty melody, the lyrics are rather dark

He concludes that it all is a dream
Can’t accept that sometimes a life is just destined for pain
I can’t do anything
I am nothing
Our lives are meaningless
Swim in the sunshine

But there’s a surprise twist at the end: I am nothing / I’m no one / It is wonderful

“Why Didn’t You Say That” is far more upbeat with bouncing piano.  It sound s bit fuller with the piano chords and a full electric guitar (chords and a solo).  The addition of some minor chords adds a dramatic twist to this mostly happy sounding song.  I enjoyed him sliding his pick up the strings at the end for an extra bit of noise.

Because their album is called Do Hollywood, I had it in my head that they were from California.  But hearing Michael talk, they are clearly from Long Island.  Especially when he jokes that they’re doing another one of Brian’s songs.  Brian says, “you’re the spokesperson.”  Michael says, “You’re so quiet.  Is something wrong?”  Brain brightly responds, “everything’s right!”  After some silence, Michael says, “No, I’m fine” to much chuckling.

“Light and Love” ends the set back on the acoustic guitar with some nice falsetto vocals.  The ending is a bit sloppy, but in a charming way.

Evidently when they play live, they do have a full band.  I’d be interested in seeing them live, but not as a stripped down project–I like their production too much.

[READ: October 5, 2017] “September All Year Long”

I have enjoyed many stories from Etgar Keret.  This is the first one I’ve seen illustrated.

And to have it illustrated by Novgorodoff  is pretty great too.   She uses her watercolor and pen style to create a feeling of lightness within heaviness.

The story talks about NW: nice weather, the status symbol for wealthy families.  As the ads say:

If you lived in Arctic Greenland and the snow and grayness were driving you crazy, swipe your credit card and they’ll set you up with ‘a perfect autumn day in Cannes’ on your balcony every day of the year

Novgorodoff illustrates this with a man drinking an umbrella drink on his balcony–a ray of sunshine beaming down on him while a blustery cold wind is blowing in the gray night sky. (more…)

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