Cosmo Lee consistently has the best soundbites of any music writer out there these days, or at least it seems like it to me, because I keep linking to him. Today in Invisible Oranges, he throws out a review of Epica’s new record (which he’s only reviewing because he basically wrote a post saying “Please don’t make me review the new Epica record,” and so of course everyone asked him to review the new Epica record).
The whole brief review is worth a read but the meat is right here: “But everything is loud and dramatic, which means that nothing is loud and dramatic. I call this ‘Carmina Burana metal.’ It’s like if Dethklok weren’t a joke.”
And yet I still like this stuff. Which, I suppose, would make it pretty hard for me to get all soapboxy about, say, neo-prog, if I were still into doing that kind of thing.
I have some photos posted over at the Washington City Paper, where I’ve continued to contribute regularly, but don’t expect much other than fog, silhouettes, and red light.
Today the Baltimore City Paper posted a review of the show by Bret McCabe that’s pretty over-written (”It’s still metal about metal, though, bringing death to false metal through deconstructionist meta”) but also pretty hilarious, and pretty much says what I would have said about the show in far fewer words (and far fewer laughs).
This weekend Faust is in town for the Sonic Circuits festival, and I’m missing it because I’m going out of town. (I’m also missing Mono, Tim Hecker, Jandek, Evan Parker & Ned Rothenberg, Janel & Anthony and more. Ouch.) But, in a couple weeks I’ll get to see Anti-Pop Consortium, whom I never thought would reunite, much less tour, and that pretty much makes up for a lot.
Well, not really, but I’m going to talk about both of them in one blog post, and that’s probably as close as they should ever get to each other. Mostly I just read two excellent pieces of music journalism and wanted to share excerpts.
In this New Yorker piece on Lady Gaga, the pop singer who, as the article points out, breaks the norm by being influenced more by European techno than American hip-hop:
Call it The Question of Endurance. You and your friends are talking about music, and the conversation turns to a popular band. You express support. A friend voices her opinion, maybe as favorable as yours, but appends a qualifier: “I like them, but will they be around in ten years?” You may feel compelled to defend whomever it is you’re talking about, covering the present moment and the future with your positive take. After trying this approach, though, you realize that pop music has no Constitution and doesn’t operate like a de-facto Supreme Court: precedent is not always established, and isn’t even necessary. Pop rarely accretes in a tidy, serial manner—it zigs, zags, eats itself, and falls over its shoelaces.
Even better is Cosmo Lee’s Pitchfork review of Agorapocalypse. This dude also writes for Decibel and runs the excellent Invisible Oranges blog, so he knows his metal. That said, I disagree with his review here, but it’s still a great piece of writing.
As plastic percussion flailed away below thrash and death metal riffs, the various vocalists of Agoraphobic Nosebleed extolled drugs, guns, and fucking. It was the sound of civilization’s decline, sold at Toys “R” Us with hazardous metal parts… This aesthetic culminated in 2003’s Altered States of America, which crammed 100 songs into 20 minutes. It was not an album so much as a temper tantrum.
He concludes that “Agorapocalypse is disappointingly listenable,” a sentiment I understand. I just think he’s off base.
…where I was expecting something related to indie rock, I ended up watching a virtuoso harpist and band play a unique blend of folk music, classical sophistication and modern song stylings. Vocally she reminds me quite a bit of a nascent Alanis Morrisette although a Morrisette infected by some old Appalachian folk singer. It’s clear she’s a prodigy and while I was warned about her voice, which must have spawned from the fact she hadn’t started singing until recently, I found her style to be warm and intimate. Her harp playing is another matter, it at least seems masterful, an adjective I’m hesitant to use being that I can count the harpists I know on one hand. But this is skill, just watching her two hands, as independent as a good drummer’s, play counter melodies and rhythms, often changing or doubling tempos within an overall 4 beat itself, was mesmerizing. It’s kind of baffling she has the popularity she does, although her combination of accessible songcraft with virtuoso musicianship is a rare one.
Yes: the joy of this video is getting to see Newsom play harp. Wow. Oh hey, and the torrent is still (barely) alive at Dimeadozen, amazingly enough. Go fetch if you’re a fan, you won’t regret it.
EDIT: Please click through to the comments for a direct download of the video. Thanks to Will Davis!
Pitchfork reviews The Hazards of Love and gives it a lowly 5.7. In the summary blurb, the phrases “stoner metal sludge” and “prog-folk” are invoked. On the other hand, while PopMatters’ review starts with the ominous phrase “There have been signs that this was coming” and compares the album to Genesis‘ Lamb (usually a kiss of death in a mainstream publication these days), the review ends up being very positive indeed. All this makes me feel cautiously optimistic about how I might like this one. I haven’t bothered listening to the low-bitrate version that leaked a couple weeks ago, so I’m looking forward to hearing the release with fresh ears.
Also reviewed today at Pitchfork: Kylesa’s new one, Static Tensions. Kylesa are a hip sludgy metal group with at times very distinct Pink Floyd influences, two drummers, and a rotating cast of vocalists (though the chief screamer is guitarist Laura Pleasants, who rocks). Pitchfork gave it a good review, and I agree: this is a good ‘un.
First off, in the Washington Post music blog, Post Rock, comes a scathingly amusing dismantling of the new album by indie-pop sensation Jenny Lewis (of Rilo Kiley fame): “If you were wondering why you couldn’t find a review of the album in today’s paper, it’s because all the potential reviewers either fell asleep or forced themselves to sleep via a hammer to the cranium by the 43rd time Lewis moaned “black sand” on the album’s bore of an opening track.” Ouch!
Secondly, this video, which is hilarious and painful and embarrassing all at once:
You might imagine that all the metal blogs have been sneering at this. A lot.
Finally, thanks to those who have been asking — yes, I’ll be writing reviews of some of the recent shows I’ve seen, including Extra Life and Mogwai. In the meantime, check out my photos and brief recaps of a couple shows over at Black Plastic Bag: one of a great show by Sigh and Unexpect, and one of the aformentionedMogwai show.
Speaking of Mogwai, looks like they’ve had to cancel the remainder of their U.S. tour because their drummer started having problems with his pacemaker. Bummer for them and the fans, best wishes to the drummer for a quick and full recovery. I’ll particularly miss the updates to the band’s USA tour diary that they’ve been posting on their website — it has been absolutely hysterical. Some choice excerpts:
“People loved Fuck Buttons’ set and it made me wonder how brutally strong the LSD must be in this city. I mean, some guy shouting into a children’s toy while another mentally ill person screams monkey noises into a cheap effects pedal really just isn’t enjoyable unless you’ve been fed an heroic dose of hallucinogenic drugs.”
“The show was really quite good in San Francisco apart from the usual idiots who are afraid to keep their mouth shut for 10 seconds in case they start having an introspective tour of duty into their own minds and then nervous breakdown… [the next] show was a bit of a stinker we thought and the tourettes victims were out in force. One exceptionally stupid man shouted for a song he happened to like halfway through a song we were playing. I do wonder what he thought this would achieve…… let’s stop playing this and start doing requests.”
“Washington D.C. SHOWTIME! Here we are in what is hopefully not going to become Sarah Palin’s new hometown. I suppose there’s a real chance of her becoming VP seeing as the Americans had a cocaine and alcohol cowboy in the whitehouse for the last 8 years.”
PopMatters has a very nice review of the reissue of Mogwai’s classic debut, Young Team, but it includes this statement with which I am extremely uncomfortable, and for me colors the reviewer’s credibility quite a bit:
Take the epochal “Mogwai Fear Satan”, still one of the few real epics modern music has produced… [emphasis mine]
Making a blanket statement like that strikes me as… well, absolutely ridiculous.
Some news on my front: I am going to be periodically writing for the Washington City Paper’s music blog, Black Plastic Bag. I’ve followed this blog since it got started just about a year ago. They cover a wide range of stuff, much more than your typical catch-all music blog that ignores anything on the fringes. They had a post all about Cuneiform Records a while back, and one on (the now sadly defunct) Transparent Productions, and they regularly cover metal and out-jazz to a certain extent as well. So I’m happy to get on board and contribute my own skewed perspective to the blog. My first post was a brief blurb on the Boris show reviewed below.
I don’t imagine this will impact Ground & Sky very much, as most of the writing I’ll do for the Bag will be DC-centric. Just wanted anyone reading to know!
Wow, absolutely classic mismatch of reviewer and reviewed: PopMatters’ Filmore Mescalito Holmes, who normally seems to review electronica, drum ‘n’ bass and the like, tackles Ocrilim’s new one, Annwn. Not surprisingly, he can’t make heads or tails of this stuff, and the result is an amusingly clueless couple of paragraphs that say little more than “this guy’s just wanking, you might as well listen to a jackhammer.” (To which I say: don’t ever hand this guy an Einstürzende Neubauten album.)
In all honesty, this is the kind of review that makes me more interested to hear this than I would have been otherwise (I like Ocrilim’s first, Anoint, but not enough to make me go get this one sight unseen).
From a review of Joanna Newsom’s The Milk-Eyed Mender at rateyourmusic: “This sounds the way it feels when you grate your fingers along with the cheese, leaving clots of blood and sliced nuggets of skin on your creamy white pile of mozzarella… Abrasive.”
Yikes! I don’t agree with it, but that’s a pretty awesome, concise review right there.