Archive for the ‘Music Criticism’ Category

On guilty pleasures

Wednesday, December 5th, 2007

Two things today. One, another review of interest at PopMatters, in which Will Layman takes a sledgehammer to prog rock indulgence and bashes ELP’s Brain Salad Surgery. While normally I’m in support of anyone ridiculing this ridiculous band, Layman’s review, which comes on the occasion of the latest reissue of this “classic” album, isn’t exactly praiseworthy. He basically admits to liking this in his youth, still kind of liking it now, but he’s completely caught up in the “guilty pleasure” concept and his tone is all, “I can’t believe I actually enjoy this crap — it might be fun, but it’s still crap.” And then he gives it a rating of 3 out of 10.

Who the fuck cares how silly or stupid something is if you enjoy it? I mean, I understand the whole “guilty pleasure” thing. But I’ve been trying to actively rid myself of the notion (this is still very much a work in progress). That’s why I give positive reviews to cheesy symphonic power metal bands like Within Temptation, and it’s why I write about seeing Christina Aguilera and Nelly Furtado on this blog. If you enjoy something, it deserves a positive review, regardless of whether or not you’re ashamed of your feelings.

That said, I think Brain Salad Surgery is about as appealing as a steaming dog turd. So I could have written a much better 3-stars-out-of-ten review than Layman.

Item #2: OffOnOff, a new trio of Paal Nilssen-Love, Terrie Ex, and Massimo Pupillo (of Zu). With that lineup you know there are going to be fireworks. There’s an eight-minute song on their Myspace page that reminds me of Scorch Trio with a much heavier bass presence, which makes sense — Pupillo’s fuzzed-out bass playing is way more aggressive than Ingebrigt Håker-Flaten’s style, while there are similarities between Terrie Ex and Raoul Bjorkenheim’s post-Sharrock guitar pyrotechnics. I cannot wait to get my hands on this stuff.

Goodbye Stylus

Wednesday, October 31st, 2007

An appreciative farewell to Stylus Magazine, which for a while now has been one of the several music websites I check daily for insights into new listening fodder, and which is closing its doors today. Sometimes I found their writing a little too meandering and personal, but overall I enjoyed the site a lot and particularly liked some of the offbeat lists and features they came up with. It’s always sad to see a source of good music writing disappear, and Stylus follows in the footsteps of the likes of Progweed, Splendid and Paris Transatlantic in terms of online publications that I’ve been sorry to see go, and continue to miss.

Going deeper into the world of metal

Tuesday, October 30th, 2007

On a whim, and because lately I’ve found myself listening to more and more metal of all kinds, I just subscribed to Decibel Magazine. I’ve never actually even read a single issue, but I know Adrien Begrand writes for them and I like his work, so there was at least some inkling that I might like this publication. Also it was way cheaper than paying import rates for Terrorizer. Anyone a fan (or not) of this magazine?

More concert reports will be coming soon; I still need to write about Yo La Tengo, and last night I saw Robert Fripp, and tonight I’m going to see Alarm Will Sound (a 20-piece chamber group that plays interpretations of, among other things, some techno artist that named a song after a Mr. Bungle piece, Aphex Twin, and more expected things like compositions by Ligeti and John Adams), and tomorrow I’m going to see Bill Frisell. Whew!

One quick note about my current listening: the new Om album, Pilgrimage, is completely and utterly kicking my ass. Doom/stoner metal at its best. Can’t wait to see them live with Grails — I’m more excited about that show than I have been about anything I’ve seen in the past few months.

What are some intelligent metal review sites?

Friday, October 5th, 2007

A very thoughtful review of Nightwish’s new album, Dark Passion Play, got posted today at PopMatters. I’ve given this one a few listens, enough to form a brief opinion about it, but I’ll save most of my thoughts for a proper review. In short, I pretty much agree with the PopMatters review. What this all brings to mind is something of a tangent: why are there so few metal review sites that are worth a damn? Anytime I read a review at Metal Observer, Metal Storm, or any of those sites, I never feel like I’ve come away feeling like I know whether or not the given album is any good. Part of that is uneven or downright bad writing; part of it is that all of these sites seem to give positive reviews to practically everything.

For the record, there are a few metal sites that I find quite valuable, but few of these really keep up with new releases on a regular basis: Satan Stole My Teddybear and The Dark Legions Archive both boast good writing, intelligent musical commentary, and useful critical viewpoints, and Encyclopedia Metallum has a ton of user-written reviews that are actually of generally good quality. The upstart avantgarde-metal.com looks interesting, but so far the quality of writing is very uneven. Outside of those, I haven’t found too much, especially in terms of sites that are willing to review the more extreme forms of metal (very few of them, even those that write about death and black metal, seem to do much in the way of grindcore and the various death/grind hybrids out there). Any suggestions?

ProgDay in the news

Thursday, September 6th, 2007

A Triangle area, NC paper had a really nice writeup of last weekend’s ProgDay yesterday — figured I’d share it as it’s one of the very few mainstream articles on prog that completely avoids poking fun of the scene in any way. Either the writer is a fan or he demonstrates admirable restraint. Hell, if I wrote that article, there’d be more poking. For one thing, the writer calls prog “a stable stone in the rushing river of mainstream trends,” which is sort of ironic given the much-maligned “progressive” nomenclature. I probably couldn’t resist making that dig, at least.

Farewell Paris Transatlantic

Thursday, July 19th, 2007

Sad news: the slightly overdue July issue of Paris Transatlantic includes a lead-in indicating that it will likely not be publishing regularly anymore. It seems Dan Warburton has run into that problem that so many dedicated music lovers encounter sooner or later, which can be oversimplified as “too much music, not enough time.” At almost 20 years younger than Dan — sans wife and son — and boasting a music collection of 30% the size, I already feel the weight of this problem coming on to me. Turns out you don’t need 8,000 albums and a family to have too much music and not enough time. Two thousand albums and a full-time job (and some friends) is enough.

I keep telling myself that at some point I’m going to stop buying new music, or even sell off a big portion of my collection, and just spend a solid chunk of time just listening to what I already have (or decide to keep), getting to know it better, and writing about it more. The idea of reviewing every single album I own (well, maybe not quite every one — I’ll spare you my thoughts on, you know, the old ska albums I have left over from middle school) on this website has a certain appeal, but I’ve already failed on a much smaller-scale experiment of that sort, when I tried writing just a paragraph on each of my CDs and got bogged down less than halfway through. But at some point I have to draw a line in the sand, to borrow a quote from Dan borrowed from The Big Lebowski. Whether that line comes at 2,500 CDs and an intensified workload at my job, or further down the road at 4,000 albums and a family or something, remains to be seen.

But all that is beside the point. While Paris Transatlantic has always been a little too esoteric for me, mining the outer edges of an avant-garde that I am only a year or two into exploring, I always appreciated its mind-expanding interviews and reviews, like a more accessible and content-rich version of I Hate Music or a free (and often more thoughtful) version of The Wire. It will be missed.

77BOADRUM review

Monday, July 9th, 2007

Over at 17 Dots, the eMusic staff blog, there is just about the awesomest concert review ever, a recounting of this weekend’s ridiculous 77-drummer stunt pulled off in New York City by the Boredoms. Wish I could have been there.

New music blog at the Washington City Paper

Thursday, July 5th, 2007

For the active DC music fan, the Washington City Paper recently launched Black Plastic Bag, a music blog that appears to aspire to being more than just another indie-rocker’s blog. They’ve just gotten off the ground, but already there is a big post about Transparent Productions‘ 10th anniversary, so this seems promising. Could be a great addition to the lackluster DC music blog “scene” (is there a scene at all? I guess I only really follow DCist, whose popular music coverage is somewhat limited to generic indie-rock and indie-pop and a smattering of rather straightforward jazz).

Mike Borella: Musicianship is obsolete

Tuesday, July 3rd, 2007

Sheer musical ability is one of the traits that die-hard prog fans often lord over other genres: for many, a defining element of prog is consummate musicianship. These prog fans in particular, then, will find Mike Borella’s latest opinion piece at Avant Music News rather, er, provocative, as he makes the case that musicianship is becoming obsolete in the face of advancing technology. I’m not sure this is entirely true, it seems to me that it’s more a case of the definitions and parameters of musical talent changing than said talent becoming irrelevant. Still, a very interesting little essay on a topic that’s well-worn in some circles (say, EAI) but definitely not in prog or even rock circles more generally.

New Out Music column at Pitchfork

Tuesday, June 5th, 2007

Dominique Leone’s latest Out Music column was published today in Pitchfork, including reviews of the new Sleepytime Gorilla Museum and Alamaailman Vasarat albums.

I’m seeing the former band tonight, for the second time already this year (do they ever stop touring?!). After digesting In Glorious Times for a week, I’m very, very excited.