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Archive for the ‘Yuck!’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: NEGATIVLAND-Negativland (1980).

Negativland was (is?) a weird “band” who released absurdist sound collages.  Their purpose was culture jamming and they created quite a stor throughout their “career.”    The band was more or less created by David Wills (born 1954) also known as “The Weatherman”.. He was a cable repairman when he joined the group with a then-teenage Mark Hosler (1962) and Richard Lyons (1959-2016) also known as Dick Vaughn, Dick Goodbody, and Pastor Richard Seeland.

Their first record came out in 1980 and had twenty untitled tracks.  The “songs” were mostly sound effects, radio broadcasts and home recordings. There was some original guitar and drum machine, but mostly it is just collage.

About the tracks:

[SIDE 1]

1. You can hear a spoken word news announcer in the background as a guitar line comes in followed by a drum machine.  Then comes a woman (David’s mother, I believe ) reciting “This is Negativland.”

2. A ticking clock with a pretty guitar melody and then increasingly loud table saws (one in each ear)

3. A drum machine with a spoken word announcer.  This blurb comes from a fan on YouTube:

The man speaking, Mitch Werbell, worked for U.S. covert operations. At the time, (late 70s) there was a big problem with urban terrorism in Argentina. They had threatened to kidnap Coca-Cola reps in Buenos Aires. Werbell is explaining (on the ABC TV show 20/20) what he told the terrorists would happen if they tried, when he was hired to go help the executives escape the area.

4. Horns playing single notes.  It abruptly ends with ringing alarms

5. Guitars (electric and acoustic) playing and echoing.  This is the longest track at almost 5 minutes. Lots of spoken words among the trippy sounds and boopers.

6. Drum machines and noises and then after a violin line comes the most famous early phrase from NegativalndL “Seat Be Sate” (Play Black Sabbath at 78).  The “poem” is soon taken over by noise and a looped spoken word.

7. A menacing static noise and very sci-f sound effects couple with a German language instruction tape.

8. Static noises and de-tuned acoustic guitar strumming as someone sings a bit

9 A looping string of interesting sounds–booper, waves of sound and a clip o kids singing and then Don’s family speaking, all looped into a rhythm.  Finally a classroom rule about silent E

10. Drum machine with a whispered singing vocal and a catchy guitar riff with (of course) lots of distorted noises.

The lyrics:

Cara mia, why
Must we say goodbye
Each time we part
My heart wants to die
Darling, hear my prayer
Cara mia fair
Here are my arms
You alone will share

All I want is you
Forever more
To have, to hold
To love, adore
Cara mia mine
Say those words divine
I’ll be your love
Till the end of time

My cara mia
My cara mia
My cara mia

[SIDE 2]

11. French speaking and the an a loop of an older man saying “everything’s going fine, no trouble just get set and get going. Amen.

12. Warbled distorted vocals of a man and woman reciting the Hail Mary.

13. A family scene with people talking over a news broadcast (WCBS news time).  You can hear David saying “It’s not alive, Drew.”

14. Some more kids talking with all kinds of jammer sounds over them.  The final line has a woman saying “Reading the book by the seamen within would be very helpful.”

15.  Blues on an acoustic guitar (pretty well played) although by the end the solo is out of tune and crazy.

16. Boopers and outer space sounds.  Multiple radio broadcasts overlapping including one about a bedpans in hospitals.  And a joke ( I can’t guess the comedian, but he sounds a bit like Bob Goldthwait or Les Claypool, but it obviously isn’t) “I wouldn’t marry you if you were the last man on earth.”  The punchline is obscured then the laughter come in.

17. A slow drum beat and random noises on a guitar

18. A family scene David’s mother talking about the affordability of buying meat by the pound.

19. A low deep siren sound followed by this dire message from the Emergency Broadcast Network: “The office of civil defense has issued the following message “this is an attack warning” this is an attack warning.  An attack warning means an actual attack against this country has been detected.  Then there’s David inviting Everett to a barbecue that afternoon.  It’s followed by some audio from the American Airlines 191 plane crash from 1979.  This segues into a family scene where the dad is telling a joke about cannibals.  A man walked among cannibals with cases of Pepsi.  The cannibals drank the Pepsi and ate the man.  All except his thing.  When they were later asked why they didn’t eat his thing, they sang, “Things go better with Coke.”

20. The final track states, “Now hear how a real parakeet should sound.”  Then a woman says good morning and then a crazy raspy voice repeats here.  The album ends with this oscillator sound that my parents had in the 1970s–a kind of looping really fake bird chirping.  No idea why they had it.

This actual release of this record was accomapnied by all kinds of original magazine clippings and artwork. And the CD came with pins and other cool things.  It’s a weird artifact from the dawn of culture jamming.

[READ: April 20, 2019] “The Glass House”

I decided it would be interesting to go back to the year 2000 and to read all of the New Yorker stories up to the present.  I think as of now I have read through 2005.  By the time I have finished (next year, I’m sure) I’ll have 20 years of stories read.

This story is set during the Civil War.  The main character, Will, has just enlisted.  His brother, Sam, was killed at Bull Run and Will came to take his place.  His Captain was very happy to have him because Sam was a brave and well-liked man.  But Will, as he himself would admit, was neither of those things.

After Sam’s death, the Captain intended to go to Sam’s house personally to pay his regards to their family.  Had Sam’s mother seen the Captain, she would have spit on him.  But before that could happen, Will decided to enlist.  He forged his mother’s signature and didn’t tell anyone when he left. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RHYE-Live at Massey Hall (March 5, 2018).

Rhye opens with the sweetest story about Massey Hall thus far–“My parents’ first date was at Massey Hall.”  He also says the first show he saw there was Sigur Rós, which must have been amazing.  (They played there 6 times, so I’m not sure which one).

He knew that he had to play there…somehow.  Setting a big goal makes you subconsciously have to do it.

Rhye is a Canadian R&B act created by Mike Milosh.  As such (the R&B, not the Canadian part), I don’t enjoy this show all that much.  Although Milosh has a wonderful high-pitched voice and a  second listen got me to come around to a lot of what he was doing.

Prior to Rhye, Milosh had a band called Milosh and they released two albums.  But these songs are form the two Rhye albums.

His band is made up of organic and electronic instruments.  He’s got horns and strings as well as synths.

The first song is “3 Days” and despite all of the live instruments the entire middle of the songs is overtaken by a weirdly cheesy keyboard solo (performed by Theresa Womack ).  The key board sound they chose is so unpleasant.   But I do like the way the solo ends in utter chaos.  During the solo Milosh plays a small drum kit (there is already a drummer, Zacahary Morillo) which he plays harder during the crescendo.   I really enjoy the crescendos of his songs.

“Waste” is a gentle song with cello from Claire Courchene and Milosh gently singing.  It’s quite a pretty melody and ends with a cool trombone solo (also from Claire Courchene!).

“Please” continues in the same mellow vein.  As with the other songs, the bass (from Itai Shapira) sounds great throughout.  The middle gets loud with a clap-along “give me all of that sugar cane, one more time.”

For “Count to Five” Milosh removes his jacket and gets back on the tiny snare and high hat.  This song is much funkier than the others.   By the middle of the song, the guitars (Patrick Bailey and Paul Pfisterer) kick in full–the keys soaring and the bowed upright bass roars along.  It’s a shame it doesn’t last longer, but it does act for a nice dramatic middle section.

“Song for You” opens with a quiet keyboard melody and gently strummed guitars.  The trombone comes back adding some nice washes of sound.  The gentle trilling of strings works really nicely along with Milosh’s quieter and quieter singing.  For the end of the song he steps away from the mic and up to the front row as he sings along.  This whole denouement goes on for about four minutes of intimacy.

“Taste” gets things moving again with a clap-along into and a funky bass line.  And indeed this turns out to be a dance song “I’m dancing with my eyes closed” and even throws in a disco bass line during the rather wailing guitar solo.  It’s my favorite song of the set.  The song is quite long and the dance part segues into a pretty piano based denouement for the show.

Rhye’s not my thing, but I did enjoy this show.

[READ: April 10, 2019] “Monster”

This story won The 1999 Esquire Fiction Competition.  I have no idea what the criteria were for that competition–previously unpublished? No idea, although she doesn’t seem to have written anything else that I can easily discern.

This story opens by telling us that a motorcycle is definitely in the town’s pond.  It has been there as long as anyone can remember.  But no one can remember whose it was.  And no one owns the pond.  So it just sits there.

Seventeen year old Dale Roberts would go almost daily to the pond with his little brother Davey,  Their father said there was no bike down there–it was more likely a monster.  This excited Dave more than the motorcycle.

Dale imagined that motorcycle under him.  He imagined riding fast, riding the hell away from here.  Dale’s father has a motorcycle and Dale is forbidden from touching it.  He said the only place Dale was going “was juvey hall if he didn’t straighten up and fly right.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KING GIZZARD AND THE LIZARD WIZARD-Live from Gizzfest (December 1, 2018).

King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard are such a big deal in their native Australia, that they have created their own festival called, naturally, Gizzfest.  It began in 2015 as a touring festival with a dozen or so bands.  2018’s festival was only one day (in Melbourne) and some kind soul recorded it and posted the KGATLW set online.

The set lasted for about an hour and 40 minutes and touched on nearly every release.  It even included a few never before played live tracks from Eyes Like the Sky!

The recording quality isn’t great and you can hear a lot of people talking through the set.  It sounds like it might be pretty far away from the speakers as well.  Having said that, the music isn’t hard to hear (it’s not like it was recorded at a low level) it’s just not very clean.  Having said THAT, it’s not like KGATLW are an especially clean band, since they are often shrouded in fuzz, echo, distortion and more.

The songs are not chronologically played.  In fact, they start right in the middle with I’m in Your Mind Fuzz.  They play the first two tracks, “I’m in Your Mind” and “I’m Not in Your Mind” seamlessly together, including the nifty solos throughout “Not.”

But they do not play the third song (which segues on the album).  Rather, they jump right to Murder of the Universe with “The Balrog.”  It’s an intense start to the show and after a little breather they play the far slower and very delightful “Stressin'” from Oddments.  Unfortunately, the recording is very quiet and more muddy for this song.  Not sure what happened there.

But things get much louder very quickly, as they jump to their then newest album Gumboot Soup.  They play only one song from the record, the totally rocking “The Great Chain of Being.”  To much celebration, they jump into Polygonswannaland’s “Crumbling Castle.”  All the elements are there and they sound great playing it (even if the audio quality isn’t great).  The song segues perfectly into the album’s final track, “The Fourth Colour.”

After all of that rocking, they slow things down but stick with Polygondwannaland with the groovy “Deserted Dunes Welcome Weary Feet” which segues into the middle section of that albums’s “Castle in the Air.”

Ambrose gets to the mic to say they’re gonna to do some silly stuff now.

“Dead-Beat” goes all the way back to their first EP, Willoughby’s Beach.  The really dumb lyrics “pull my finger and punch my face” are so much clearer here than on the album.  I wish I could hear if people are singing along.  Then they play a track from their first album 12 Bar Bruise “Cut Throat Boogie.”  This one is sung by Ambrose and features lots of his wailing harmonica.  Ambrose gets another lead vocal on another old-school one, Float Along–Fill Your Lung‘s “Let Me Mend the Past.”  It’s a respite of slower rock n roll with some nice piano accompaniment.

They play a surprising “Tezeta” from Mild High Club.  It’s slow and groovy with nice clear sound, although I can’t hear if there are any groovy backing vocals or not.

After these slower moments the band roars back with a wild “Rattlesnake” from Flying Microtonal Banana which whips the crowd into a sing-along frenzy.

And then they pause to introduce their special guest: Ambrose Kenny-Smith’s dad, Broderick Smith, writer and narrator of the Eyes Like the Sky album. Broderick does a great recitation and the band plays these rarely played Western songs perfectly: “Eyes Like the Sky,” “The Year of Our Lord” and “The Raid.”

They jump in with the opening to the jazzy wonderfulness of Quarters‘ “The River,” but they only play about 3 minutes of it, because as the band is quieting down during the slow bit (down down down) with the falsetto “a river” backing vocals, Stu starts singing the lyrics to “Wah Wah.”  For a few beats, the “a river” backing vocals continue, which is pretty cool.  “Wah Wah” rips louder and louder and as the song starts feedbacking out, the super fast drums of “Road Train” begin.  For this is the Nonagon Infinity portion of the show.    “Road Train” is the last song on Nonagon infinity so its fun that they do some nonagon infinity chants and then continue with “Robot Stop,” the first song of the infinite loop album.   It’s full of that spiraling guitar and wild harmonica solos.  But rather than seguing into the next song on the record they jump to the super catchy “Gamma Knife.”

The concert more or less ends with “Some Context,” the 46 second riff that’s a transitional piece on Murder.  That’s how they ended the show when I saw them.  It’s a great riff, too.  But they weren’t quite ready to end the show.

After some quiet, they began their 16 minute epic “Head On/Pill”  This version is certainly slower than the record, but it is still trippy.  It’s still got those soaring riffs and chanted vocals.  Things quiet down to almost a whisper around three minutes in, but by 4 minutes, the whole band kicks in for a truly rocking jam.  After nine minutes, they start a medley that begins with a rather quiet “Alter Me” which is more of a jam than the song.  Some more jamming leads to the opening of “Am I in Heaven?”  They end more or less with “Cellophane” which everyone can chant along to.

It’s basically a career spanning set in which they play songs from all of their fourteen releases (in FIVE YEARS), except for their folky Paper Mâché Dream Balloon.

Although the sound quality isn’t great, this is a fantastic show in front of a very happy hometown crowd.  When I saw them back in 2018 they focused primarily on the five albums they had released the year before with six songs from Murder of the Universe, 4 from Polygondwannaland, and 3 each  from Gumboot Soup and Flying Microtonal Banana.  I love that they can play such diverse sets–playing new songs for people who haven’t heard any of them and then playing a whole career’s worth for the locals.

How their sets can stay under two hours when they have that much music is still a mystery.  And yet no one leaves disappointed.

[READ: March 1, 2019] Spill Zone 2

I enjoyed Book 1 but I really didn’t like this part.  For some reason I thought this book had at least three parts.  But it seems that it has ended with book two which makes it all the more disappointing.

I didn’t even find the art to be evocative or charming.  It just felt kind of ugly an over the top.

As the book opens Addison goes to her art dealer and gets a million dollars. Of course she went to the buyer directly, cutting out the sketchy middleman.  And he is not happy about that, so he goes to the North Koreans with some information about Addison and her pictures.  Of course they have no time for bit players like him.

Meanwhile back in North Korea, Don Jae had entered the Spill Zone there and was having visions about the one in America.  He knew he had to go there.  He winds up visting the art buyer.  He gives her some of the radioactive dust so she can truly see what’s going on in the pictures she’s buying. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KING GIZZARD AND THE LIZARD WIZARD-Murder of the Universe (2017)

Every KGATLW album is different.  Including this one.  Murder of the Universe is their second album of 2017.  It is narrative concept album split into three separate stories, each containing elements of spoken word to carry a narrative. The first two chapters feature Leah Senior’s narration, while NaturalReader’s “UK, Charles” text-to-speech application narrates the final chapter.  And it totally rocks.  There’s great riff, distorted guitars and harmonicas and lots of whooping vocals.

There are, essentially three stories on this disc.  The first chapter, The Tale of the Altered Beast, is about a human who stumbles on a mystical human/beast hybrid.  The narration is quite long and deadpan and tells a fairly complex story, which starts:

As soon as the dust settles, you can see
A new world in place of where the old one had been
Your skin is crawling with dry, crusted mud
And your naked feet are wet in a pool of blood
And the whistle of the wind in your ears is so loud
That your memories have blown up in a mushroom cloud
And as your eyes accommodate
There appears by the meadow
A brute like a bear with a long, dark shadow
And you violently shake over what you have seen
As you remember the tale of the Altered Beast

Nearly each of the nine tracks has narration interspersed with singing.  There’s a lot of repeated sections, but more as a thematic choice rather than as repetition.  The titles of the songs are indicative of this: Altered Beast I, II, III and IV and Alter Me I, II and III.  But those parts are not simply repeats.  Rather, they allude to each other with repeated riffs and words.  But even though parts are repeated there are plenty of original riffs throughout.

The third part of “Alter Me” has a cool 80’s sci-fi keyboard sound, which works perfectly before the noisy harmonica returns.

The “Altered Beast” story is the longest part of the story at 19 minutes.  And the final “Altered Beast” part has a very nifty fast section that I believe is in 11/4.

The last track “Life/Death” is very different–keyboard-fueled and almost poppy sounding, this final minute of the story is not a happy one.

The second chapter, The Lord of Lightning vs. Balrog, focuses on a battle between the forces of light of darkness.   And the segue between the two, called “Some Context” references “People-Vultures” from Nonagon Infinity.

It opens with guitarist Joey Walker’s Mongolian throat singing behind the narration on some of the tracks.  This adds an extra sense of ominousness to the story.

So the main story is a battle between The Lord of Lightning and Balrog and  they each get a song:

When the songs proper start, “The Lord of Lightning’s” theme is somewhat proggy with all kinds of ostinato (to use a term form the narration).  In addition to keyboard parts and some heavy rocking parts, there’s a callback to the chorus of “Nonagon Infinity.”  The music for this chapter is very complicated with fits and starts and various drum lines.

While the interstitials in the first chapter were done with an interesting guitar riff, the interstitials in this part come with a fast rumbling bass line.  “Balrog” has a lot of chanting befits a KGATLW song.

The war comes to a head in the Floating Fire which has more throat singing and a martial beat and its aftermath “The Acrid Corpse” … but which one is the corpse?

The third and final chapter, Han-Tyumi & The Murder of the Universe, is about a cyborg in a digital world who gains consciousness and decides to strive only for what a cyborg cannot do: vomit and die.  How very King Gizzard.  There’s a lot about vomit in this song. Maybe it was just fun hearing the robotic voice say vomit?

He decides to create a creature dubbed the “Soy-Protein Munt Machine” whose only purpose is to vomit. When the creature rejects his love, Han-Tyumi decides to merge with the machine, which causes it to lose control. This machine explodes and infinitely expels vomit, which eventually engulfs the entire universe: and so the universe is murdered.

It opens with keyboard swirls, like the opening credits a sci-fi soap opera

This is a much heavier bunch of songs, like the thumping (with extra drums) on “Digital Black.”  Over a futuristic keyboard section Han-Tyumi recites his problem:

I am bereft of two human things
Two things that a cyborg can never do
Two things that I strive for
Two things between myself and mankind
Death
And
To vomit

This story is bonkers.  But it totally rocks and it leads to the really catchy song (which they played live when I saw them called, what else, “Vomit Coffin.”  The final song is a tour de force of instrumental power while HanTyumi talks of vomiting and getting bigger and bigger until he destroys the universe.  Gross and hilarious and totally rocking.  Destroying the Universe never sounded so good.

[READ: February 28, 2019] Castle in the Stars 2

This gorgeous graphic novel was originally published in French and was translated by Anne and Owen Smith.

Part two continues with the beautiful look of his book.  I am really fascinated at the way these characters can look at time cartoonish and at times almost photo-realistic (in soft focus).

At the end of the last book our team escaped from certain danger by jumping aboard an aethership.  The crew is Seraphin (whose mother has been lost in the aether when she took a ship there and never returned), Seraphim’s father as well as Seraphim’s friend Sophie (a girl!) and her half-brother Hans (the very cartoony looking character). They are joined by King Ludwig whom we are told at the begiinning of the story just wanted to leave everything behind. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KING GIZZARD AND THE LIZARD WIZARD-Flying Microtonal Banana (2017).

2017 was a massive year for KGATLW as they pledged (and kept that pledge) to release five albums in the year.  This was the first.

Flying Microtonal Banana starts with the same sort of relentless frenzy that Nonagon Infinity had.  Just witness the stomping, grooving repetition of “Rattlesnake,” a catchy, 7 minute song whose lyrics are primarily “rattlesnake.”

The difference comes in the title of the record.  It’s not banana, it’s microtonal.  The banana in question is the yellow microtonal guitar that Stu Mackenzie uses on the album (and live).  It’s a custom-made guitar modified for microtonal tuning, which allows for intervals smaller than the semitones of Western music.  Since the new guitar could only be played with similarly tuned instruments, the rest of the band got their gear tricked out with microtonal capabilities.

This gives many of the songs a distinctly Middle-Eastern sound.  As does the inclusion of the zurna, a wind instrument which is almost constantly loud, high-pitched, sharp, and piercing.  Not an inviting description, but the instrument adds some interesting sounds and textures to the disc.  “Rattlesnake” is so catchy, though, that the zurna just feels like one more component.

“Melting” lets up the intensity with a wonderful guitar/vocal melody and some great synth accents.  As the song grooves along there’s some cool sounds and textures throughout the vocals and background sounds.  The solo comes from a slightly distorted synth–the ever-rising melody is catchy but leaves you wanting more.  The microtones really come out in the middle of the song, where the guitar/vocal melody experiments with all the various microtones that their instruments could achieve.

“Open Water” has a ringing guitar melody and a sinister chorus about open water.

Open water
Where’s the shore gone?
How’d I falter?
Open water
Height of the sea
Will bury me
And all I see is
Open water

There’s a very cool microtonal guitar solo throughout the middle of the song.   When the zurna comes in it brings a whole new kind of tension.

The rest of the album is made up of shorter songs.  They don’t exactly segue into each other, but they do feel like a suite of sorts.  Except that each one focuses on a different style (not at all unusual for KGATLW).

“Sleep Drifter” is sung in a near whisper, almost comforting, as it follows the nifty rising chorus melody.  The interstitial guitar riff is really cool, too.  “Billabong Valley” returns to their Western style from earlier albums.  It is sung by Ambrose in his very different vocal style.  There’s a staccato piano and an interesting western-inspired microtonal riff.  “Anoxia” slows things down with a twisty guitar.  The zurna contributes to a trippy ending.

“Doom City” sounds like early Black Sabbath with deep notes and a strangely hippie tone with lots of echo.  Then it picks up speed and adds some wild zurna tones.  There’s even some high-pitched laughs giving an even weirder feel.  I love that the speed jumps between slow and ponderous and speedy and hurried. “Nuclear Fusion” has a staccato rhythm.  For this one, not only does the lead vocal follow the interesting guitar melody, but there’s a deep harmony voice following along as well.   I always love when they add organ sounds to the song, like this one.  And the deep voices as the beginning and end are pretty awesome.

The final track is the instrumental title song.  It explores all manner of microtonal solos both on guitar and zurna.  It opens with bongos and congos and just takes off from there with the screeching zurna melody.  It’s catchy and weird like t he rest of the album and it ends with the winds blowing things away.

That’s the banana itself on the right.

[READ: January 2019] Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore

I was attracted to this book because of the title.  I knew literally nothing about it, but the blurb called it a smart, twisty crime novel.  I typically don’t read crime novels, but I’ve had pretty good luck with books set in bookstores, so it seemed worth taking a chance.

And, wow, what a delightfully convoluted story.  It was absolutely full of surprises and puzzles.  In the past I would have tried to figure out he puzzles myself, but since the answers to the puzzles were given right after the puzzles were shown, I got lazy and let the book do the work for me.   And what a fascinating bunch of characters Sullivan has created.

Lydia Smith works at the Bright Ideas Bookshop in Denver.  She has been there for a while, but she’s keeping a low profile.  She grew up in Denver and had a reasonably good childhood.  Then, suddenly something horrific happened and she and her father moved into a remote cabin outside of Denver where neighbors were nowhere near.  Her father, who was once a loving librarian too a job at a county prison and became a hardened policeman.

The event is hinted at in the beginning.  In the middle we get a vivid description of her perception of the event.  The rest of the story unpacks it.

After living in the woods, Lydia left her father, without saying a word.  She returned to Denver and hadn’t spoken to him for years.

She loves the security of the Bright Ideas Bookstore.  The store is populated by the Book Frogs, old men mostly, who spend hours and hours here browsing books.  They are all eccentric in some respect, but they are harmless–and most are thoughtful.

But as the book opens, one of the younger Book Frogs, Joey Molina, her favorite one, hangs himself–right upstairs in Western History.  She tried to take him down, to save him, to do something.  But she was too late.  As she was trying be helpful, she saw that he had a picture in his hand.  It was a picture of her when she was a little girl.  A picture she had never seen before.

What a great opening chapter! (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BLOOD ORANGE-Tiny Desk Concert #820 (January 29, 2019).

One night when I was going to a concert at the small club The Foundry, the main stage Fillmore had sold out for someone called Blood Orange, whom I’d never heard of.

And now he is at a Tiny Desk Concert.  From the name (and the popularity) I assumed it was an intense dance show.  I don’t know what Blood Orange normally sounds like but nothing could be further from loud dance music than this Concert.

Devonté Hynes is the main man behind Blood Orange.  He is “a groundbreaking producer and songwriter” and “a composer who fits as comfortably in the worlds of R&B, gospel and electronics as he does in the classical world of someone like Philip Glass.”

Blood Orange addresses

themes of identity, both sexual and racial, through the eyes of a black East Londoner (now living in New York).

For me the most powerful song was the first one, “By Ourselves.”  I don’t love the saxophone sound, but it’s the words that are so moving.

The opening song at the Tiny Desk, “By Ourselves,” features Dev Hynes on piano, Jason Arce on saxophone, Eva Tolkin and Ian Isiah on vocals along with a powerful spoken word performance by Ashlee Haze. Ashlee’s story is a tale of finding herself and her identity in the words and music of Missy Elliott when she was, in Ashlee’s own words, an eight-year old, “fat black girl from Chicago” who discovered “she could dance until she felt pretty” and “be a woman playing a man’s game.”

Her spoken word is amazing–moving, powerful and inclusive in many ways.  It will resonate, I hope.  And Hynes’ piano playing at the end is just lovely.

Ian sings the opening melody with a gorgeous falsetto.

“Jewelry,” the second song performed, welcomes Mikey Freedom Hart on piano while Dev moves on to electric guitar and vocals reminiscent of a languid Jimi Hendrix, with soul-baring lyrics of pride.

Hynes switches between spoken word (with his great deep, accented voice) and delicate singing.  Then the song shifts gears entirely as he starts playing a gentle echoed guitar.  I don’t hear Jimi Hendrix (maybe in his echoed guitar playing), I hear more of a Prince vibe.

The group then offers a rendition of “Holy Will,” inspired by the Detroit gospel group The Clark Sisters, as singer Ian Isiah takes this song of praise to a whole new level.

Introducing the song he says, “This song, my family Ian Isiah is gonna… tear the fuck up.  Can you swear on this?  You put the thing before hand that says explicit language, right?”  And Isiah does tear it the fuck up.  It’s a quiet song but Isiah’s voice (especially when paired with Eva Tolkin) is almost otherworldly.

For the final song, “Dagenham Dream” everyone but Ian and Eva leave.

Dev Hynes works an organ sound while singing about being beaten and bullied as a school kid in his hometown of Dagenham in east London.

I love the cool organ sounds and the way the seem to rise out of the deep darkness into a bright note of hope.

The power of each of these songs is magnified by the way Blood Orange has woven this performance together. He’s a rich, rare and caring talent we first met 11 years ago in a grassy field in Austin, Texas back when he still used the moniker Lightspeed Champion. Now his thoughts are deeper, his message of finding one’s place in this world more deep-seated, with a clarity few artists ever achieve.

[READ: November 2, 2018] “Friday Black”

I’m not sure how many Esquire issues have a short story in them.  I thought about going back to previous issues and seeing just how many stories there are over the course of 85 years.  But it’s a little hard to read their website when it comes to what’s actually fiction and what just talks about fiction.

So, I’ll be content with stories like this one, which I loved.

The story opens with ravenous humans howling at a gate.  The narrator explains that he is sitting on a cabin roof with an eight-foot metal pole.  He uses it to grab hangers off the highest racks and to smack down Friday heads.  For this is a zombie story about Black Friday.

(more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: WHITEHORSE-Live at Massey Hall (December 8, 2017).

I saw Whitehorse open for Barenaked Ladies a few years ago and they blew me away.  I really want to see them again.

When I saw them it was just the two of them and the magic of their interplay was what really impressed me the most.  For this special Massey Hall show, they have a full band.  But as Melissa McClelland explains:

This is the first time playing the Massey stage with a full band.  We wanted to … finally invite some friends on stage with us and play music.

Those friends include John Obereian on drums, Ryan Gavel on bass, guitar and backing vocals and on keys and bongos and guitar, the second best singer in this band Gregory MacDonald.  He replies, “Thanks to the second best guitar player in the band.”  I have seen MacDonald on tour with Sloan a bunch of times and he is awesome.

As to why they are a duo, she says

we knew that Whitehorse was always going to be just the two of us and that everyone would know that we are equal partners in the band.  But we didn’t want it to be a folk duo so we started brainstorming and bought looping pedals and a kick drum and a stomp box and we  found new arrangements and once we got it we were like Yeah!

The show opens with hand clapping from the band and the audience and then Melissa’s slinky bass intro to “Baby Whats Wrong.  Then comes Luke Doucet’s echoing Western guitar. Their voices are wonderful together and I love when Doucet sings in that weird telephone microphone.  He also plays a ripping guitar solo.

Luke introduces “Tame as the Wild Ones” by saying they needed to write a sexy song so “Melissa kicked me out and said she’d do it alone.  I go to the bar to get drunk and when I come home, she plays me this song.  And nine months later our son Jimmy was born.”  I love the way the bridge (or is it a chorus) builds and settles–that melody is just gorgeous.

“Pink Kimono” has a simple rocking riff and the two singers singing at the same time.   Doucet’s soloing is on fire in this song.

“Die Alone” is a showstopper.  A slow moody piece in which Melissa sings over a wash of synths.  The music so much build as just unfold as first Luke sings with her and then the band kicks in.  Wow can Melissa belt out a song.

“Downtown” is a celebration of how you can put hundreds of thousands of people in a city and for the most part everyone gets along.  It s got a great throbbing bass and some cool guitar scratching and riffs from Doucet.  It’s a bummer that they interrupt the awesome middle solo section with an interview, even if it is quite interesting.

After Melissa lays out how they wanted the band to sound, Luke says that when people ask him about what it’s like to do Whitehorse, he says

we were solo artists first but we had been involved with each others albums as singer or producer  or touring musician.

So in order to be successful

you have to hang out together for five or six years and play in each others bands and make eight albums together and then you have to go on tour as freelance/hired gun musicians working for Blue Rodeo or Sarah McLachlan and then you have to live together for five or six years and listen to music together and fight and then you have to get married and once you’ve done all these things and listened to 10,000 hours of music and dissected Tom Waits entire catalog and argued about which is the best Beatles record and had fights on stage about who is speeding up or slowing down and once you’ve done all those things together then start a band.

It certainly worked for them.  The only bad thing about this show is that it’s only 30 minutes.

[READ: January 24, 2019] Hits & Misses

It has been a while since Simon Rich published a collection of his stories.  This one was pretty enjoyable.  Overall, not as much fun as some of his previous collections, but still a lot to laugh at.  Rich tends to write what he knows, which is often a very good sign.  However, sometimes what he knows is limited to writing and filming, which tends to miss the everyman silliness of his earlier pieces.

Having said that there are still some hilarious pieces that anyone can enjoy and some pieces about writers that are very funny.

A few of these pieces appeared in the New Yorker, and I indicate as much, with a link to my longer review.

“The Baby.”  This was a highlight.  A sonogram reveals that their baby is holding a pen–he is going to be a writer!  But when word gets out that the baby is already getting a reputation AND representation, well, that baby’s writer father is pretty damned jealous.  Wonderful absurdity based on reality taken to its extremes. (more…)

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