Archive for the ‘Lists’ Category

What’s spinning, individual songs edition

Tuesday, September 26th, 2006

I’ve recently been listening to some albums with clear standout tracks and as a result have been trying to compile a kind of greatest-hits CD with the music that’s been spinning in my room for the past month or two. There’s a mix of new and not particularly new, and it’s a generally genre-less affair. The songs I have chosen so far (in no particular order):

  • Yo La Tengo - “The Story of Yo La Tango” (I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass): Classic epic noisy stuff from these guys that I’m going to see live tonight. Great way to end a pretty great new album.
  • Mastodon - “Sleeping Giant” (Blood Mountain): The obvious highlight on this album that I’m otherwise still a bit lukewarm about. Some unforgettably majestic guitar melodies here.
  • Christina Aguilera - “Still Dirrty” (Back to Basics): Dumb lyrics (actually not the norm on this album, at least on the first disc — but let’s not talk about the atrocious second disc) mitigated by a seriously bumpin’ production job.
  • Espers - “Moon Occults the Sun” (II): Melancholy, dignified indie-folk that should appeal to a lot of prog fans with their adventurous arrangements and crystal-clear, seductive vocals (both male and female). Another great album closer of a song.
  • Final Fantasy - “This Lamb Sells Condos” (He Poos Clouds): The album title is awful and some of the songs are, too. This is a hugely (over-)hyped album, but on this song at least they get it right.
  • Amon Tobin - “Sordid” (Permutation): Not new at all, but a barn-burner of a breakbeat song thrown into Tobin’s otherwise pretty jazzy sophomore album. Funny, I first got into Tobin through, of all things, a Coke TV ad (that used “Deo” from the next album).
  • Black Bonzo - “Brave Young Soldier” (Lady of the Light): This stuff isn’t generally my thing — this album was a perfect eMusic download rather than CD purchase for me — but there’s some cool stuff going on in this song.
  • Ephel Duath - “The Unpoetic Circle” (The Painter’s Palette): Any band that reminds me by turns of Cynic, Opeth and Pan-Thy-Monium can’t be anything but stone-cold awesome. This is one of the more accessible tracks from what is IMHO their best album.
  • The Coup - “My Favorite Mutiny” (Pick a Bigger Weapon): Disappointing album overall; I think Boots Riley and co. are really losing it. But this would have been a great song even on their old classic records.
  • Tim Berne’s Hard Cell - “BG uh-oh” (Feign): One of the more hyper-kinetic tracks on this album, and one that I was lucky enough to see live (performed by a slightly different ensemble). Berne is still one of my absolute favorite currently active “jazz” artists.
  • Boris - “Pink” (Pink): The title track from this album is one of the more aggressive tracks on a very aggressive record. Sludgy metal at its finest, with a touch of Japanese noise-rock zaniness.

Upcoming concerts in the DC area

Thursday, January 26th, 2006

Here’s a look at some of the interesting shows coming up in the DC area in the next few months. This post is as much for me as for anyone else, though folks in the area may find something they like. Note that I’ve omitted some obvious prog-centric shows, like Rick Wakeman, The Carl Palmer Band, Niacin, Mahavishnu Project, Spock’s Beard, etc., since I’m not personally interested in them.

  • Alec K. Redfearn and the Eyesores at The Warehouse Nextdoor, January 27 — Hey, that’s tomorrow. I missed these guys the last time they were in DC, and still haven’t heard their album on Cuneiform, but I may well check them out in this venue anyway. Weirdly, this show is listed at the Warehouse website but not the Warehouse Nextdoor site, so I’ll have to call to confirm that it’s actually happening…
  • The Vandermark 5 at Iota, February 3 — Nice; I didn’t even know these guys were on tour. One of my favorite contemporary avant-jazz ensembles. I’m seriously thinking about plonking down the cash for their 12-CD live box set; maybe I should actually go see them live before I make that call!
  • Low at The Black Cat, February 4 — I haven’t heard any of these guys’ recent output, but I like what I do have (namely The Curtain Hits the Cast) and for $13, I might check out their live show.
  • Nile at Jaxx, February 8 — They’re touring in support of Annihilation of the Wicked, one of metal fans’ highlights of 2005. I haven’t quite gotten into that record as much as many others, but maybe I’ll make it out to Springfield for this show to see what I’m missing.
  • Formanek/Berne Quartet at An Die Musik (Baltimore), February 11 — Ever since I first got into saxophonist Tim Berne, I’ve been waiting for him to play a live date somewhere near me, with any one of his numerous bands. He plays incessantly, but generally only in the New York area. This is my first chance to see him (and with Tom Rainey, perhaps my favorite current jazz drummer)!
  • The Wu-Tang Clan at The 9:30 Club, February 13 — I’d be interested in seeing these hip-hop godfathers, even if I find live hip-hop more miss than hit, but tickets are $50. No thanks. I’m not really surprised that they already sold out one set even at those prices, though.
  • Flogging Molly at The 9:30 Club, February 22 — I used to be a big fan of these guys, but I’ve kind of tired of their Celtic-punk gimmick. I might go anyway, except for the fact that I just bought tickets for a vacation to Ecuador leaving on the 22nd. Next time, maybe.
  • Belle & Sebastian at The 9:30 Club, March 5 & 6 — Both shows already sold out; wow. I saw these guys a couple years ago and it was a lot of fun, even if their live sound is pretty much exactly the same as their studio sound.
  • Charming Hostess at Busboys & Poets, March 7 — The a cappella trio version of the band is going strong: three women singing Jewish and other folk-influenced stuff, with a unique feminist/leftish/something sort of bent. I’ll definitely be at this show; cool venue too.
  • Mogwai at Sonar (Baltimore), March 7 — I wish they were coming closer to DC, and I wish they didn’t conflict with Charming Hostess. This being a weeknight I’ll probably opt for the closer show; maybe they’ll schedule a date closer to DC as the time nears. Sure hope so; when I saw them at the 9:30 a couple years ago, they were awesome.
  • Orthrelm at Talking Head (Baltimore), March 16 — Given that OV is possibly my favorite record of 2005, and I can’t imagine how it could possibly be pulled off live, seeing Orthrelm is a must for me. But since they’re from DC, surely they’ll be playing closer than this sometime in the near future. Might wait til then.
  • Grey Eye Glances at Jammin’ Java, March 18 — They rarely seem to play outside of New England, so I’m pretty excited that these folk-rockers will be coming down to Virginia again. I saw them in Boston, though sans Brett Kull (Echolyn, who along with Ray Weston has been an integral part of the band for a while now), and they were great. I’m there.
  • The Gathering at Jaxx, March 19 — If I have it in me to trek out to suburban NOVA two nights in a row, this should be a fun show; melodic goth-metal band that I’ve reliably enjoyed since their mid-90s output. Apparently one of only 6 shows they’re playing in the U.S.
  • Animal Collective at The Black Cat, March 21 — This avant-folk band has been getting rave reviews from people I respect, but I haven’t heard any of their stuff yet. If they’re as good as everyone says though, I’ll be at this show.
  • Cyro Baptista at Lisner Auditorium, March 25 — I’ve only heard Baptista in the context of John Zorn-related projects (like Electric Masada, where he is a beast). Here he’s performing with his Beat the Donkey band, which the Lisner website describes as “hilarious fusion overload” with “all the impact of a Brazilian carnival.” How can I miss that?
  • Green Carnation at Jaxx, March 29 — Well, I think these guys have been pretty lame since Light of Day, Day of Darkness, but they’re the kind of band that I bet would be pretty fun to see live. Might make it out to this one.
  • Isis, Dälek and Zombi at The Black Cat, April 30 — WOW what a lineup! The band that released my favorite album of 2004, Panopticon; one of the most forward-looking, avant-garde hip-hop groups there is, who have collaborated with Faust in the past; and a group I haven’t heard yet that is most often compared to Goblin. This is easily the most-anticipated show on my list here. Can’t wait!

Also, Mono and Pelican are touring this summer along with who knows who else. Looks like this could be a strong year for live music. I think I may make more of an effort to go to shows than I have in the past, if I can afford to do so (and if I can convince some friends to join me for some of these).

Things to be psyched about in 2006

Wednesday, December 28th, 2005

Looking ahead to 2006, here are some things coming down the pipeline that I’m excited about. In no particular order, although the stream-of-consciousness organization might reveal something about what’s foremost on my mind.

  • Magma — a rumored four (!!!) new DVD releases drawn from the 2005 shows at Les Tritonales
  • Univers ZeroLive
  • NeBeLNeSTZePTo
  • DFA — new one
  • Tim Berne with David Torn, Craig Taborn, Tom Rainey — debut release
  • AhleuchatistasWhat You Will
  • ZaarZaar
  • MastodonThe Workhorse Chronicles DVD
  • White Willow — new one
  • Guapo — new one, maybe?
  • Yugen — debut release
  • French TV#9
  • TanakhArdent Fevers
  • MujicianThere’s No Going Back Now
  • Aghora — new one
  • Karnataka (new incarnation with Alquimia) — The Gathering Light
  • MogwaiMr. Beast
  • Beans (with William Parker & Hamid Drake) — new one
  • Matthew ShippOne
  • The Nels Cline Singers — new one
  • The CoupPick a Bigger Weapon
  • MonoYou Are There

And some reissues and archivals:

  • Conventum — both studio albums
  • ManeigeNi Vent… Ni Nouvelle and Libre Service
  • Secret OysterSea Son and 2 others
  • This Heat — comprehensive box set
  • Miles Davis — 3CD “1956 Legendary Quintet Sessions” box set
  • Keith JarrettConcerts (Bregenz/München) and Tokyo Solo 2002

If most or all of these things are actually released in 2006, and they live up to their promise, it looks like it could be another banner year for music I like. Between Miles box sets and four Magma DVDs from Seventh Records, of course, it could also be a painful year for my wallet…

Best of an amazing 2004!

Thursday, December 15th, 2005

It’s past time for my latest best-of-year list. I’ve been procrastinating a bit, see, because 2004 was such an amazingly brilliant year for new music that I would have a hard time making a top-20 list, much less my customary top 10. Nevertheless, here’s my best shot. For the newer readers, note that this is a best of 2004, not 2005 — the extra year allows for a bit more perspective as well as a chance to catch up on releases that passed me by originally.

  1. Isis - Panopticon
    I think I might be biased in favor of this one since it was my first real encounter with this kind of post-rock/metal hybrid. Nevertheless, Panopticon is epic, sweeping, majestic, and absolutely gorgeous: all while being balls-to-the-wall heavy. That’s quite an accomplishment in my book.
  2. Magma - K.A
    When I first heard this, I couldn’t believe how good it was. Now, after having heard some live recordings of Magma from the past few years, I have no trouble believing it. These guys still have it — incredibly, after 35 years they really are still at the top of their game. An instant zeuhl classic, made even better by the fact that it boasts easily the best production and sound quality of any Magma album ever.
  3. Sleepytime Gorilla Museum - Of Natural History
    One of the most promising new bands out there, and if their live shows are any indication, even an album as coherent and powerful as this one doesn’t come close to fulfilling that promise. No sophomore slump here — Of Natural History, especially its first half, pretty much blows me away — but I’d wager that the best is yet to come from these guys.
  4. Electric Masada - 50th Birthday Celebration Volume 4
    This is the record that spurred my tentative exploration of John Zorn-related projects into a frenzy. Dense and intense fusion in the best sense of the term; like Bitches Brew-era Miles that rocks harder and sounds, well, a lot more Jewish. My review hypes it up a bit more than is necessary, but this is still a sterling release and a must for fusion fans.
  5. Zu & Spaceways Inc. - Radiale
    Combine the brutal intensity of Italian free-jazzers Zu and the funky inclinations of Ken Vandermark’s Spaceways Inc., and the result is… one of the best albums of 2004. The first half features some wickedly heavy fuzz bass that would do any upstart zeuhl band proud; the second half opens things up a bit and has some killer covers of Funkadelic and Sun Ra. I prefer the less claustrophic and funkier latter half, but both are fantastic in their own right.
  6. Guapo - Five Suns
    I’m a bit off on my review of this one, harping a bit too much on Guapo’s overt Magma influences. True, those influences are there, but man do they know how to use those influences to make something pretty stellar. The 45-minute titular suite is a hard-driving, nonstop instrumental beat-down that’s hurt only by the fact that it’s front-loaded, opening with its best and most creative 5 minutes.
  7. Kruzenshtern & Parohod - Songs
    Where the hell did these guys come from? Wild punk-jazz klezmer, with an upbeat melodic sense tempered with a healthy penchant for all-out noise. And vocals that you’ll find either annoying as hell or unbelievably hilarious (I love ‘em). Definitely the most unique item on this list; I hope there will be a follow-up coming soon.
  8. Tanakh - Dieu Deuil
    Smoky indie-rock featuring some of the most haunting, beautiful melodies of the year. Jesse Poe’s lyrics and rich vocals combine with many interesting, slow-paced instrumental interludes to make one of the more distinctive indie-rock efforts I’ve heard recently. One of those records that transports you into a different world while you’re listening.
  9. Thinking Plague - Upon Both Your Houses
    This live recording from NEARfest 2000 is essential for fans of this contemporary American RIO band, mostly for its hard-edged, focused takes on tracks like “Warheads” and “Kingdom Come.” This is a rare, valuable document of a top band in top form, and one that rarely performs live.
  10. Mastodon - Leviathan
    I really think I prefer the thrashier, dirtier Remission, but for some reason I keep coming back to this one. If “progressive metal” didn’t mean “symphonic prog with cheesily heavy guitars and even cheesier squealing vocalists,” Mastodon would be the ultimate progressive metal band. Instead, they’re just a kick-ass metal band with lots of proggy tendencies, and nowhere are those tendencies more evident than on this album.

This list, more than any other best-of-year list I’ve done, is likely to change practically daily. Any number of albums could pop into the top 10. Just a few honorable mentions, as I browse my alphabetically-ordered list: Amarok’s Quentadharkën, Tim Berne’s Acoustic and Electric Hard Cell Live, Anthony CurtisBook of the Key, The DecemberistsThe Tain, The Dillinger Escape Plan’s Miss Machine, El-P’s High Water, Faun FablesFamily Album, Satoko Fujii’s Zephyros, Receptor Sight’s Cycles and Connections, Univers Zero’s Implosion, Wilco’s A Ghost is Born

The list could go on, but I think I’ve made my point. And the really shocking thing? The really shocking thing is that 2005 hasn’t been a disappointment after the awesomeness of 2004. Probably not quite as strong overall, but there’s been some amazing music released this year as well. Over at Pitchfork, in his review of Koenjihyakkei’s new Angherr Shisspa, ex-Ground and Sky reviewer Dominique Leone makes the bold claim that “In 2005, rock-based progressive music is bubbling below the surface with almost as much vigor as it did in the late 60s, just before it hit the pop charts in the early 70s during the heyday of Yes and ELP.” Based on the above list and my projected list for 2005, I’d have to agree. It’s a good time to be a fan of progressive music (with a lowercase, not a capital, P).

Note: you can also see my continually-updated top 10 lists from 1997 through 2005.

What’s spinning, November 13 edition

Sunday, November 13th, 2005

For some reason, September and October were two of the most prolific CD-purchasing months I’ve ever had. I’m still struggling to keep pace in terms of listening to and digesting all the new stuff I’ve gotten in the past couple months — and I’m failing, and thus trying to cut back on new purchases in the near future. (This is aided by the fact that my purchase rate for the past couple months has been entirely unsustainable.) But, here are a few quick thoughts on some of the things that I’ve been hooked on. Most of these are new acquisitions I got in the past couple months, but some are older things that just happened to catch my ear recently.

  • Cos - Viva Boma
    Canterbury-styled fusion has never really done much for me; something about the light, breezy nature of things and the wispy keyboard tones has always turned me off a bit. But Viva Boma gets it right: it’s breezy Canterbury-esque fusion all right, but the band isn’t afraid to rock out at times, and a really strong, almost funky electric bass presence and some rather seductive female vocals definitely help. Definitely need to explore these guys further — conveniently, Musea appears to be reissuing a lot of their albums that were previously out of print.
  • Grits - Rare Birds
    And here we go again: if not quite as clearly Canterbury-influenced, Grits’ jams on this live album are definitely “breezy fusion.” The heavy Rhodes presence makes it palatable to me, along with the fact that the melodies are just really tasty. I remember Steve Feigenbaum griping on rec.music.progressive years ago about how the Grits albums were going out of print. I sure wish I’d picked them up way back then; I’m definitely happy I got my hands on this now. Fantastic stuff aside from a couple really embarrassing poppy vocal tunes, and now a feverish search for As the World Grits is about to start.
  • Ensemble Nimbus - Key Figures
    Another brand of prog/RIO that is kind of hit-or-miss with me is the sort of fusionish avant-rock of the sort practiced by Zamla Mammas Manna, Miriodor, The Muffins and so on. Key Figures falls into that category, but like Viva Boma I am lovin’ this shit. Not implying it’s as good as the Cos album, but this is fun stuff, and I even like the programmed drums. Glad I have this one, as it’s on the long-defunct APM label and, like everything else on APM, has disappeared without a trace in recent years.
  • Heldon - Stand By
    Would you believe that this is the first Heldon album I’ve ever heard? As a serious King Crimson fan it’s always been evident to me that I need to hear this band. And especially after hearing Richard Pinhas’ work in other contexts (such as Fossil Culture with Peter Frohmader), I knew I’d like this stuff. Yet somehow I’ve just never gotten around to buying any Heldon, until now. And now, I know I need all their albums, because this is great stuff.
  • Cecil Taylor - Conquistador!
    And another “would you believe?!” This is the first Cecil Taylor I’ve heard! And while this is a bit mind-bending and challenging to digest, especially consisting as it does of two 20-minute tracks (but hell, if I can handle Tim Berne’s sprawling compositions, I can handle this, or so I tell myself), Taylor’s playing is phenomenal and I can enjoy it even when all I’m doing is just letting the sheer intensity of it wash over me. Must get more… I seem to be writing that a lot, which bodes poorly for my wallet…
  • Enslaved - Isa
    If you like what Opeth is doing but kind of think they’re a bunch of proggy pansies who need to toughen up their metal cred a bit, maybe this is the band to turn to. Accessible, melodic black metal that caught my ear from the first listen, unlike much extreme metal which tends to take a while to sink in with me. And yet another band whose back catalog I still need to explore!
  • The Beta Band - The Best of the Beta Band
    Considering that I have all of this band’s releases, it might seem at first that purchasing their new greatest-hits album is a bit perverse. But it has a bonus CD with a full live performance on it, and I always thought these guys were much better live than on record. Still, it seems like a very odd marketing strategy to pair a greatest hits collection and a live album on one release. Presumably greatest hits albums appeal to casual or new fans, while live albums appeal only to die-hard fans and completists. Maybe they were hoping to snare both audiences. Well, it worked on me, at least. (By the way, the live album is excellent. I haven’t bothered to listen to the greatest hits disc yet, and don’t really expect to.)
  • Nil - Nil Novo Sub Sole
    I’ll be reviewing this one in the near future. I got this a few months ago and was really surprised when it kept finding its way back into my CD player. As a rule, I’m pretty jaded when it comes to symphonic rock, but something about the moodiness and dark edginess of this album has been keeping me not just interested, but even enthralled. I’m not really taken with all of the album, but a couple of the songs are just tremendous. Always a pleasant (and rare) surprise to find new symphonic prog that can push my buttons.
  • Zs - Zs
    I wrote about this one a couple months ago, but it never really sunk in until now. Dual saxes, dual guitars, and dual drums sure sounds like a helluva fun lineup, but what these guys do often seems like it’s as annoying as it is fun. But once I started paying more attention, my jaw basically dropped to the floor at the tightness of this ensemble and the complexity of their compositions. I would love to see these guys live, I can’t imagine how visceral it must be. On record they come off as pretty much entirely academic.
  • Tim Hodgkinson - Each in Our Own Thoughts
    Here’s one that I keep expecting to floor me, but it just never has. I bought it for “Hold to the Zero Burn” (aka “Erk Gah”), which was originally a Henry Cow piece and has been described as the missing link between “Living in the Heart of the Beast” (for the me absolute definitive Henry Cow composition) and Western Culture (my favorite Henry Cow album, overall). So far, though, I haven’t found the visceral appeal of the former or the intellectual delight of the latter in “Hold to the Zero Burn,” and in fact the whole album seems a tad bit anemic to me. It’s so highly-rated by people whose tastes correspond to mine, though, that I keep trying and I don’t intend to give up anytime soon.

More lists!

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2005

I present to you my top 10 lists from 1997 through 2005. Feel free to leave your flames in the comments for this post, but be aware that the lists are dynamic, and they will change on a regular basis as my tastes change and expand (and as I keep getting more CDs, especially from the more recent years).

What’s spinning, July 17 edition

Sunday, July 17th, 2005

It’s list time, because I’m insomniatic. I am currently discovering or rediscovering:

  • Aka Moon - Guitars
    pleasant, accessible Belgian avant(ish) jazz, the basic sax/bass/drums trio plus three guitarists, that hasn’t quite sunk in with me yet
  • Scott Amendola Band - Cry
    less pleasant but still accessible West Coast US avant jazz built around a cover of a Bob Dylan song (that is actually my least favorite piece on this album)
  • Il Berlione - Il Berlione
    crazy Japanese prog/fusion occupying a middle ground somewhere between Happy Family and Tipographica in terms of complexity and wacked-outness
  • Dälek - From Filthy Tongue of Gods and Griots
    aggressive avant/underground hip-hop on Mike Patton’s Ipecac label, with a seriously abrasive 12-minute noise experiment right in the middle of the song order
  • Daniel Denis - Les Eaux Troubles
    second solo album from the Univers Zero bandleader. Better than Sirius and the Ghosts, his first, with a more fully fleshed-out sound
  • Dungen - Ta det Lugnt
    fuzzed-out ’70s airy-fairy Swedish psych album from… 2004. Neo-prog for hipsters!
  • Faun Fables - Family Album
    schizophrenically eclectic “folk” with SGM frontman Nils Frykdahl, fronted by an impressively powerful and versatile female vocalist
  • The Flying Luttenbachers - Systems Emerge From Complete Disorder
    love the title… brutal prog at its noisiest; definitely less accessible than Infection and Decline, but maybe that’s just because there’s no Magma cover this time around
  • Hail - Kirk
    as Alex Temple once said… Susanne Lewis (Thinking Plague) makes a lo-fi indie-rock record
  • Nazca - Nazca
    like Univers Zero circa 1313, only from Mexico, all acoustic, and not as good; this bored the crap out of me when I first heard it, but it’s finally growing on me
  • Various - Unsettled Scores
    two-disc compilation of Cuneiform artists covering material by other Cuneiform artists… neat!
  • Zs - Zs
    dual sax, dual guitar, dual drums attack, not nearly as aggressive as you might expect given its brutal-prog heritage; often has very much of a somewhat dry chamber-classical feel

I’ve been on a CD-buying binge and some the fruits of it are above. Others listed above are albums I’ve had for a while but just haven’t quite connected with. Some reviews will result, to be sure. Right now I’m particularly taken with Il Berlione and From Filthy Tongue of Gods and Griots. The latter is a hip-hop album so be warned, although it is definitely notable that Dälek is one of the more experimental underground hip-hop artists out there, and last year released a collaborative album with none other than Faust — an album that I have not yet heard, but remedying that is a priority.

What’s spinning, March 9 edition

Wednesday, March 9th, 2005

Here’s a wonderful lineup of a dozen CDs (old and new) just waiting to be listened to. I’ve gotten to maybe half of them. I like most. Book of the Key and Soundtracks for Imaginary Movies in particular; I didn’t think much of Frances the Mute at first, but it’s growing on me (though I still don’t think I like it as much as De-Loused in the Comatorium).

Actually, the Shub-Niggurath never made it to CD as far as I know. My copy is a cassette tape I got off of eBay (for as much as a CD would have cost). Worth it? I don’t know - I haven’t listened to it yet.

What’s spinning, January 28 edition

Friday, January 28th, 2005

Mike Prete asks the question: What have you been listening to lately? Well, okay, he didn’t really ask it that explicitly, but I feel like answering anyway. I’ve been unemployed for the past two months - quit my job at the beginning of December - so I’ve had plenty of time on my hands to listen to good stuff (and catch up on some promos that I was sent long ago).

Currently spinning is free-jazz alto saxophonist Tim Berne’s The Sublime And. - a totally brilliant live album from his Science Friction band - Berne on sax, plus his usual sidemen on guitar (the inimitable Marc Ducret - I’m trying to track down his Qui parle?), drums, and keys/electronics. This stuff totally rips. I’ve definitely been on a kick lately exploring some of the more out-there modern jazz - the downtown scene, the Blue Series stuff, lots of the better stuff on Tzadik, etc. Berne’s work may be edging closer to my favorite among it all, though knocking off Electric Masada’s 50th Birthday Celebration disc might be a tall order.

Otherwise, well, a lot of the stuff I’ve been listening to has been the stuff I’ve reviewed recently. For a while I was back to metal, listening to Amorphis and Dissection and the like - and right now I’m trying to find myself a copy of Gorguts‘ followup to the absolutely brilliant Obscura, From Wisdom to Hate. The release of K.A had me revisiting a lot of my old Magma - I think K.A may eventually become my favorite Magma album, because it’s got all the ingenuity of the old stuff, but with way, way better production and sound.

And I found some tapes of my old radio show, “In Praise of Listening,” that I did for one semester my sophomore year at WYBC, Yale’s radio station, before their Internet stream went down for something ridiculous like an entire year. Listening to that brought back some pretty neat memories, and reminded me of a lot of old stuff I haven’t even thought about recently - like, say, that great surprise from Rockenfield/Speer, Hells Canyon.

The neat thing about my listening style is that I now listen almost entirely to MP3s. When I get a new CD, I rip it immediately to MP3 - I have a 160-gigabyte hard drive dedicated entirely to music, and a 40-gigabyte portable MP3 player (the Creative Nomad Zen Xtra - a slightly clunky and considerably cheaper iPod clone). Because of this, I have ready access to practically my entire music library whenever I want. No hunting around for CDs, no having to switch CDs every time I want to listen to something different. Sometimes this is bad, because I get all ADD. But most of the time it’s great, because it means that I listen to a much more diverse range of stuff than I would otherwise, and I’m much more likely to, say, listen to old stuff that I haven’t pulled out in years. I don’t have enough inclination to go get my old Pink Floyd CDs, but sometimes I have enough to scroll down to the Ps and click on “Echoes”. I was a little afraid my listening habits would go completely bonkers with this newfound freedom when I made the switch to MP3s, but I think the real effect has been almost entirely positive.

But I digress. How about stuff I’m looking forward to? Let’s see - the Naked City box, the new Present (oh man), the new Mars Volta (I think it’s either going to be really, really awful or really good), the new Silver Mt. Zion. That’s some good stuff. But I would be pretty surprised if 2005 turns out to be a better year for new music than 2004; last year was really, really good in my opinion. I think it’s going to be hard to keep my best of 2004 list down to ten albums, in fact, especially if I accumulate much more from 2004 over the next 11 months before I write the list.

In short, though, most of what I’m doing right now is trying to restrain myself from buying shitloads of new jazz CDs until after I get a job and have some cash flow again. Oooh, it’s hard sometimes.

My top ten albums of 2003

Friday, December 3rd, 2004

It’s about that time: my Top Ten of last year (2003, not 2004). It was a pretty good year, but mostly because there were a lot of pretty good albums released. There were none that really blew me away, but I had a hard time narrowing my list down to ten (much less putting it in some kind of order that I’m satisfied with) because there were so many great-but-not-transcendent releases. In any case, here’s my stab at it.

  1. Alamaailman Vasarat - Käärmelautakunta
    While this album didn’t initially strike me as a huge step forward from AV’s debut album, it has steadily grown on me to the point that it’s easily my favorite from 2003. The band mixes moods and tempos to wonderful effect, and really hammers out a unique niche. What other band blends klezmer, metal, jazz, folk, and rock? What other band makes that not only seem natural, but fun?
  2. A Perfect Circle - Thirteenth Step
    This was a real pleasant surprise. I like this one better than any Tool album - it’s dark, well-paced, heavy when heavy is called for, and very much a unified whole that’s greater than any of its parts. A great alternative rock album (with its fair share of proggy touches) at a time when “alternative” is a synonym for “stale.”
  3. Anti-Pop Consortium - Anti-Pop Consortium Vs. Matthew Shipp
    A more effective meshing of jazz and hip-hop does not yet exist. And it’s just our luck that two of the most cutting-edge artists in either genre chose to work together. The only negative is that this was Anti-Pop’s last recorded output - making it little more than a teasing glance at what could have been.
  4. The Postal Service - Give Up
    Probably the most purely poppy album we’ve reviewed here, but damn is it good. This duo of electronica wizard and emo vocalist has become the indie-rock darling of the moment, achieving success and even a deal with the real U.S. Postal Service. Heart-wrenching melodies and masterful production.
  5. Spring Heel Jack - Live
    Another electronica duo, but of an entirely different stripe; on this album, Spring Heel Jack collaborate with a free-jazz band featuring Matthew Shipp among others. The result is alternately a relaxing ambient soundscape and a monstrous beast on a violent rampage. One of the best - and certainly the most raw - electronica/jazz meshings I’ve yet heard.
  6. Explosions in the Sky - The Earth is Not a Cold Dead Place
    With this album, Texas’ premiere post-rock band finds peace. This is a surprisingly upbeat, pleasant, quietly hopeful work that offers the first glimpse at a brand of post-rock that isn’t all doom and gloom. Melodic and enchanting.
  7. Outkast - Speakerboxxx
    The first half of Outkast’s double album is utter brilliance - innovative and fun hip-hop. The second half, The Love Below, is more experimental but far less coherent, to the point of seemingly kind of stiffly stupid at times. But the whole thing is well worth it for Speakerboxxx’s irrepressible energy.
  8. Do Make Say Think - Winter Hymn Country Hymn Secret Hymn
    These guys just keep getting better. Probably the loosest and jazziest of the big-name post-rock bands, DMST are close to transcending the genre altogether. Their latest effort is lovely and entrancing, but not afraid to go for the jugular when the time is right.
  9. Sufjan Stevens - Greetings from Michigan: The Great Lakes State
    Perhaps the most purely beautiful album on this list. This album is a heartfelt paean to Stevens’ home state of Michigan and runs the musical gamut from twisted Glassian minimalism to folksy solo banjo strumming, all of it anchored by Stevens’ arresting vocals.
  10. The Silver Mt. Zion Orchestra… - “This is Our Punk Rock”…
    I have been getting skeptical of these guys, especially as Godspeed You Black Emperor! seems to be running in place, but they really came through with this one. It’s still the same melodramatically bleak, gloomy, spacious post-rock as before, but so well done that it can’t be faulted.

So what missed the cut? A bunch of albums that could have been swapped in pretty easily, depending on my mood, for the last few on the list above: Mogwai’s Happy Songs for Happy People, The DecemberistsHer Majesty the Decemberists, Azigza’s Kriya, Death Cab for Cutie’s Transatlanticism, Sunn O)))’s White1, the Non-ProphetsHope, Dissection’s Live Legacy, MatmosThe Civil War, Bone Structure by Bendian/Liebig/Gunther/Stinson… the list goes on and on. It was a good year, but again, nothing that really seemed absolutely timeless.

One thing that jumps out at me is how little of my list would be considered “prog” by most folks. I do have a fair amount of albums from 2003 that are prog, but few of them really hit me. I’ve known for a while that my tastes are shifting, but it’s interesting to see it happen so dramatically. Although, interestingly enough, quite a few of my favorite albums from 2004 thus far would fall under the prog category, so who knows.