Archive for the ‘What's Spinning’ Category

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.

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.

What’s spinning, March 26 edition

Wednesday, March 26th, 2003

I’m pretty psyched about some non-prog stuff I’ve gotten lately. Because I don’t really have anything of interest to talk about right now, here’s another list…

  • Cowboy Junkies - Lay It Down
    My favorite of their many studio albums that I’ve recently acquired, this one is just about a perfect meshing of their old-school country roots and their more conventionally rock tendencies. Beautiful and poignant in the music, vocals, and lyrics. Margo Timmins has one of the greatest voices ever.
  • Satoko Fujii Quartet - Vulcan
    After hearing Toh-Kichi, I knew I had to get my hands on this. And it doesn’t disappoint - quite the opposite! Truly fucking awesome - experimental jazz with a rhythm section that absolutely rocks (and has little to do with jazz at all). I also picked up Minerva, the quartet’s second release, but haven’t really listened to it yet as I’ve been digesting Vulcan for the past few days.
  • Kronos Quartet - Nuevo
    Perhaps the best-known avant-gardish string quartet active today performing their versions of traditional and folky Mexican tunes. Extremely - and surprisingly - eclectic, fun, and accessible. Hell, there’s even a dance mix of one of the pieces that closes the album.
  • System of a Down - Toxicity
    Cool pseudo-nu-metal stuff, rather spastic and wacky in exactly the sort of way that really catches my attention, while still being extremely hard-edged and intense. There’s also a nice balance between chugga-chugga metal riffing and more diverse guitar work, and the heavily politicized lyrics and fairly unique vocal stylings don’t hurt either.
  • Wilco - Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
    Yeah, I’m late to get on this bandwagon. The last Wilco I heard was Being There, which I hated so much I don’t think I’ve listened to it since I first bought it on a random whim (based entirely on the cool packaging and the fact that it was $10 for two CDs) five years ago. Maybe I’ll have to go back and give it another chance, cause this album has some pretty great pop music that’s just out-there enough to be interesting while remaining readily accessible.

What’s spinning, December 8 edition

Sunday, December 8th, 2002

In working on Ground & Sky extensively for the past while (well, excepting the last couple days, while I was laid up in bed recovering from a mild concussion), I’ve suddenly rekindled an interest in progressive rock. Just from reading the reviews. That’s pretty cool, and tells me that the reviews we’ve got here are generally pretty good - if they make me want to go and listen to the music, they’re succeeding on some level.

So what have I been listening to the most for the past week or so? Here’s one of those lists I like so much…

  • Agitation Free - Malesch
  • Anti-Pop Consortium - Arrhythmia
  • Belle and Sebastian - The Boy With the Arab Strap
  • The Coup - Steal This Double Album
  • The Cure - Disintegration
  • Deus ex Machina - Cinque
  • Echolyn - Suffocating the Bloom
  • The Flaming Lips - Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots
  • Krakatoa - Togetherness
  • Opeth - Morningrise
  • Shakira - Dónde están los ladrones?
  • Sigur Rós - ( )
  • Univers Zero - Rhythmix

What’s spinning, individual songs edition

Tuesday, January 15th, 2002

Something a bit different: songs (as opposed to albums) that I’m digging.

  • Aksak Maboul, “Palmiers en Pots” (from Un Peu de l’Ame des Bandits)
  • Biota, “Reckoning Falls” (from Object Holder)
  • The Coup, “Hip 2 Tha Skeme” (from Genocide & Juice)
  • DJ Shadow, “Midnight in a Perfect World” (from Endtroducing…)
  • Explosions in the Sky, “Have You Passed Through This Night” (from Those Who Tell the Truth…)
  • 5uu’s, “Noah’s Flame” (from Abandonship)
  • The Gathering, “Morphia’s Waltz” (from if_then_else)
  • Mr. Bungle, “Desert Search for a Techno Allah” (from Disco Volante)
  • Mogwai, “Dial:Revenge” (from Rock Action)
  • Nathaniel Merriweather, “Book of the Month” (from Lovage)
  • NeBeLNeST, “Stimpy Bar” (from Nova Express)

I saw a bunch of movies over Christmas break. One of them was Vanilla Sky. I enjoyed it until the awfully hackneyed sci-fi plot twists during the latter part, which sort of reminded me of Brazil but with a cheesy pseudo-happy-ending. However, I thought the soundtrack was awesome. Radiohead’s “Everything in its Right Place” couldn’t have been used more effectively, and the three Sigur Rós songs were also very well-placed. I recognized a couple other pieces too, but couldn’t name them. Good stuff.

What’s spinning, September 9 edition

Sunday, September 9th, 2001

Yeah, it’s been a while… like, a really long while. So what have I been listening to lately? Here comes another list, this one sans commentary:

The Roots just played a free show here in New Haven. An entire square block was covered in Yale students, New Haven residents, and people from surrounding towns and colleges. I stayed for a bit and they did a good show, but I couldn’t see jack and I’m not familiar with much of their music, so I wasn’t really feeling it. Shame, because what I have heard I’ve really liked. I’m going to have to pick up a couple of their albums at some point.

Although I’m really digging the hip-hop, post-rock, and indie-rock acquisitions that I’ve made in the past few months, I think I’m finally getting back into the swing of progressive rock. The list above has the highest proportion of prog-to-non-prog than any listening list has had for quite some time. This is dangerous for my wallet, but good for this website.

What’s spinning, May 18 edition

Friday, May 18th, 2001

Okay, my impatient readers: here’s an update.

In case my mysterious and virtually total absence from various music-related boards wasn’t enough of a clue, I’ve been away from the music scene for a bit. Oh, I’ve been listening to tons and tons of good music, but I haven’t been buying much, and I haven’t been writing about it much. This is mostly because I’ve finally immersed myself in photography, as I have wanted to do for some time. While it hasn’t replaced music as my consuming passion, it has left a bit less time and far less money for music.

In any case, a list of stuff I’ve been listening to a lot for the past month or so:

  • Arise From Thorns - Before an Audience of Stars
    Acoustic gothic-styled rock with pleasant female vox. Pretty nice stuff; lots of acoustic guitar, which I like, and a dark, moody atmosphere, which I also like. The whole thing is sort of on the level, with few peaks and troughs, but there are a few gorgeous acoustic guitar solos and some cool lyrics.
  • Einstürzende Neubauten - Silence is Sexy
    Still spinning a lot. What a great album, man. See below for comments. I find myself singing the ridiculously catchy “Dingsaller” refrain to myself a lot.
  • Garmarna - God’s Musicians
    Rockified Scandinavian folk music - pretty nifty stuff. I will now demonstrate my utter lack of knowledge about European world/folk music by saying that when I first heard these guys, they reminded me of Capercaillie, the band that plays rockified Celtic music. I was introduced to them by a friend at Yale, who played me a couple tracks from Vengeance, which is next on my list.
  • Karnataka - The Storm
    Sort of like a modern adult contemporary band with good female vox and lots of guitar solos. At their best, they write stuff that’s on par with the most beautiful pieces by, say, October Project. Unfortunately the album is quite uneven, with the best stuff at the beginning and end. Nevertheless, I like it.
  • Colin Masson - Isle of Eight
    Three really long compositions, almost completely instrumental and almost all of it played by multi-instrumentalist Masson. A lot like Mike Oldfield, but with more of an emphasis on the guitar work (mostly electric, with some nice acoustic parts). The textures are cool, with good variation in the thematic material. When the female vox kick in things get much simpler, but at least those parts are quite catchy. A pleasant surprise.
  • Radiohead - Kid A
    I listened to it a bit when I first got it and liked what I heard; now, listening more closely, I still like what I hear. “Idioteque” reminds me strongly of Squarepusher, but then that’s about all the experience I have with that sort of beat-driven music. The opening track couldn’t be more perfect.
  • A Silver Mt. Zion - He Has Left Us Alone…
    This took much longer to grow on me than Godspeed You Black Emperor! albums, but it’s now one of my favorites. Wistfully beautiful stuff, and perfect for road trips or train rides.
  • Spaced Out - Spaced Out
    Fusion. Not my cup of tea, in general - the stuff tends too much towards soloing without much melody. But there’s definitely some good music on this album, particularly the bass playing which is showy and fun. Fusion fans should definitely get a kick out of this one.

I’ve also been listening to a lot of various MP3s. A few Outkast tracks that have convinced me that I need an Outkast album, now. More Garmarna, most of which I actually like better than the stuff on the album of theirs I have. Some tracks from the album of remixed Sigur Rós songs, some of which are really cool and some of which suck a fat one. Univers Zero “Central Belgium in the Dark”, from the Crawling Wind EP - ah, classic stuff from one of my all-time favorite bands.

Stumbled across Brendon Rapp’s music blog. Some interesting reading there. Hi *Legion*.

They say money’s the root of all evil but I can’t tell
You know what I mean - pesos, francs, yens, cowrie shells, dollar bills
Or is it the mind state that’s ill
Creating crime rates to fill the new prisons they build
Over money and religion there’s more blood to spill
The wounds of slaves in cotton fields that never heal
What’s the deal?
Black Star, “Thieves in the Night”

Mos Def, whatever I might think of his solo album, writes some damn fine lyrics. The Black Star album - his collaboration with Talib Kweli - is masterful.

Emerson, Lake & Palmer is dominating the list of “top ten most visited reviews” on the stats page, with no other band having more than one album on the list. Blah. I hate those guys. They’re just so bad. Arr.

What’s spinning, January 11 edition

Thursday, January 11th, 2001

Wow, it’s been a while. Sorry about that. I got a bunch of non-prog Christmas loot and am only now getting back to the genre that this site covers, which is a partial explanation for that little hiatus. The other reason is simply that I like to be lazy over Christmas break.

For anyone interested, I re-designed my personal home page in my spare time. Probably isn’t much there of interest, but I figured I’d mention it.

So anyway, what non-prog stuff have I been listening to the most? Let’s see:

  • Grant Green - Idle Moments - nice, melodic, accessible jazz
  • Massive Attack - Mezzanine - sleepy yet engaging
  • Mogwai - Young Team - the first track is absolutely stunning
  • Mogwai - EP+2 - truly a work of genius
  • Squarepusher - Music is Rotted One Note - eh. Quite interesting, but I prefer the MP3s I have from Hard Normal Daddy.
  • STSI, Musicians of - Music of the Gamelan Gong Kebyar - not the best introduction to Balinese gamelan, but not bad overall
  • Sun Ra - When Angels Speak of Love - “sounds like a train wreck”, one of my friends said. I like it.

Why do I like Mogwai so much? I think it’s their potential energy, as I’d put it: that is, most of the time their music is simmering quietly, seeming very relaxed yet also seeming on the verge of exploding into a powerful wall of noise. What should be sleep-inducing actually keeps me on my toes more than lots of other music, just because it seems like things are about to blow up. Also, it seems Mogwai are one of the few bands that realize that loud-fast and soft-slow aren’t the only ways to make music: there are a lot of loud-slow parts that seem novel to me. Some of the feedback manipulation on EP+2 - the last track has a particularly touching bit - almost makes tears come to my eyes, it’s so effective. I really can’t explain it… it’s just that some of their pieces (”Yes! I am a long way from home” from Young Team, or “Rage:Man” and “Small Children in the Background” from EP+2) are some of the most beautiful things I’ve heard in a long, long time. Funny, I don’t find the same joys in Come On Die Young. I’ll have to give it an extra spin to figure out why.