Archive for the ‘Music Criticism’ Category

PopMatters on Isis

Thursday, November 30th, 2006

PopMatters redeems itself with this, the best one-sentence summary of what’s going on with Isis that I’ve yet read: “Even though Isis’s musical progression is cautious at best, the band is still miles ahead of its peers.”

That about sums it up, I think. I found In the Absence of Truth a bit disappointing and “more of the same,” but it’s still a pretty excellent work in its own right, and this is a band that has never really let me down.

PopMatters gets all confused and shit

Wednesday, November 29th, 2006

There’s a very strange review posted today at PopMatters, of The Jeff Gauthier Goatette’s One and the Same, in which the reviewer basically pans the album because he doesn’t know how to categorize it. At least, that’s the way it comes off. I suppose his message is kind of that his review, in its utter incoherency, is analogous to how he perceives the album — which on the one hand is a neat trick but on the other hand is a total cop-out and a convenient way to avoid having to actually think and write a real review that’s useful to anyone.

I suspect Cryptogramophone recordings often get this treatment from listeners — their stuff is generally not easily pigeonholed as jazz, nor is it rock, nor is it classical; so it seems likely that people will be befuddled by it and, if forced to write about it, will find it easiest to disparage the music instead of anything else. I don’t want to make the infamous “if you don’t like it you must not understand it” argument (because that pisses me off as much as it does the next guy), but really, this seems like journalistic laziness to me. Shame on PopMatters, which usually avoids this kind of thing.

Musique Machine: good reading

Thursday, September 14th, 2006

A recent discovery of mine is Musique Machine, a website with a large archive of short but very well-written reviews, covering all kinds of avant-rock, indie-rock, jazz, metal, and some prog and even prog metal. They seem to review almost all Cuneiform and lots of Tzadik releases, among other stuff of interest. Cool articles too, with some unexpected stuff like an interview with Ron Jarzombek of Spastic Ink, in which the interviewer actually asks good questions and holds his ground when Jarzombek disagrees with him on stuff like the artistic merits of hip-hop. Highly recommended browsing and one of my new favorite music sites.

Also recommended reading is Julian Cope’s Krautrock book from 1995, Krautrocksampler. But wait, you say, it’s long out of print and impossible to find! Well, true. Except I just found that the vast realm of the Internet happens to include in its domain a freakin’ scanned PDF of the entire book! I don’t condone intellectual property theft (for the most part; don’t ask me about pharmaceutical patents!), but if it’s literally the only way to get your hands on it…

Jem Godfrey to prog critics: “Enrol on a writing course”

Thursday, September 14th, 2006

This morning I wasted nearly an hour of my life (and my workday) trying in vain to buy tickets to the just-announced Wilco show next month at the 9:30 Club here in DC. Wilco was one of the absolute best shows I saw last year; I got lucky and snagged a ticket then while all my friends ran into a brick wall (damn thing sold out in just a few minutes). Well, I didn’t get lucky this year. Oh well. Nels Cline is playing a solo/duo show with fellow Wilco drummer Glenn Kotche the month before, so I’ll let myself be satisfied with that.

Someone at ProgressiveEars posted an amusing rant by Jem Godfrey of Frost* about the quality of prog reviews. If I understand correctly, Godfrey is a pop musician who consciously decided he wanted to make a “prog” album. Not surprisingly, the result (Milliontown) sounds, uh, self-consciously “proggy” and is pretty much like 90% of the other utterly forgettable stuff on the InsideOut label: competent but ultimately inconsequential (even though it all garners rave reviews at your usual prog sites). But that aside, Godfrey’s criticism of prog reviewers is actually pretty much spot-on. Basically, he takes prog reviewers to task for not being good writers like the pros are: prog reviews, he says, read like absolutely dull, lifeless “shopping lists.” They lack wit and color.

To which I would point to a few of the reviewers on this site for the sake of counter-argument; but they are the exception. I myself often feel like my own reviewing is totally uninspired and dull. Most of the time when I read reviews on other prog sites, I feel the same. The fact is, these are all amateur writers — they are not professionals and expecting them to be as engaging as professional journalists is a little unreasonable. I don’t get paid to write music reviews and there’s probably a good reason for that. (Which doesn’t mean I’m not trying to improve my writing, of course.)

Then there’s his closing paragraph:

To these people I implore you: buy a Dictionary. Buy a Thesaurus. Enrol on a writing course. Anything to prove you deserve to do this thing that you’re very serious about and would do a lot more of if it wasn’t for the football, the wife, the kids, the dog, the dayjob, the pub, your mates, the TV…

Then you can call me names and I can take you seriously.

Aside from the rather funny “enrol on a writing course” thing, to which a snarky ProgressiveEars poster responded, “Physician, heal thyself,” this conclusion seems all wrong after an otherwise good rant. Just because someone isn’t a professional writer, his or her opinions aren’t worth taking seriously? Just because the average prog reviewer has, you know, a life, doesn’t mean he or she is worth listening to? Kind of smells like Godfrey is sitting on a high horse looking down at this scene because he’s more than just a prog musician, he’s a pop musician and is used to getting reviews from the big boys. This amateurish prog underground thing isn’t good enough for him.

Well, his slick, professional music strikes me as awfully boring, so I guess we’re all square. Anyways, he still deserves kudos for urging prog reviewers to learn to write. It’s true… there’s plenty of them out there who can’t.

The Mars Volta, soaked in piss

Tuesday, September 12th, 2006

Surprise, surprise: Pitchfork’s favorite punching bag, The Mars Volta, get an over-the-top bad review for their new album, Amputechture! The first sentence alone contains the phrases “piss-soaked indulgence” (piss-soaked? really) and “bombastic, mouth-foaming performances.” Pitchfork’s attitude towards this band borders on the comical, and I’m happy to see that the tradition continues in fine form.

I’m pretty excited to hear Amputechture myself, having heard that it’s a long way from the, uh, piss-soaked indulgence of last year’s crappy live album.

On a more positive note, this Sunday’s New York Times had a long article about Mastodon, another exciting modern band with a new album coming out. There’s lots of name-dropping of 70s prog bands and early metal groups.

And finally (links galore today), Dusted just published a feature-length article about the This Heat box, Out of Cold Storage, that I still need to get my hands on.

New Yorker: “Does anything need bringing back less than sexy?”

Wednesday, August 30th, 2006

I’ve been on a pretty severe music-buying hiatus for a couple months now; the only CDs I’ve bought in recent memory were in a gift-certificate funded order from amazon.com that included, incongruously, Boris‘ sludge/doom-metal epic Pink and Christina Aguilera’s new double album Back to Basics. Most of this is a function of the fact that I took a pretty expensive vacation this month (also explaining the infrequency of site updates).

In any case, in searching around for reviews of these two albums that I bought, I came across a review of Back to Basics and the new Justin Timberlake album (which I have not heard) in The New Yorker, which is typically, for that publication, well-written and amusing:

Justin Timberlake is under an equally strange impression on “SexyBack,” the first single from his modest but satisfying new album, “FutureSex / LoveSounds,” where he bafflingly claims to be “bringing sexy back.” Does anything need bringing back less than sexy? It’s like proposing to bring back petroleum, or the N.F.L.

In one of the songs on Back to Basics — which is premised as a kind of tribute to old-school R&B and jazz artists — Aguilera name-drops like crazy, giving props to James Brown, Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong, Otis Redding, Marvin Gaye, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and on and on… the last name made me imagine a Coltrane sheets-of-sound solo inserted ungracefully into a modern hip-hop-based pop song. I actually think that could be pretty awesome: a heavy, hypnotic beat dropping out to make room for a ferocious Coltrane tenor solo? Maybe I’ll go download some mash-up software and make it happen.

Reviews that manage to say nothing

Monday, July 31st, 2006

Sea of Tranquility recently published a review of the 6-CD This Heat box set, Out of Cold Storage. I have yet to purchase this box (but I will get around to it eventually), and have only heard the self-titled first album by this band. Yet it occurs to me that I probably could have written this review without having ever heard any music by the band. I know it’s hard to review avant-garde music in general, and even harder to review an entire box set of such stuff, but this is a little ridiculous.

Besides, until the third paragraph, the “theory” that is espoused in the review is pretty much aimless and circular. In any case, I’m not sure why I felt inspired to write about this thing, but somehow reviews like this, which say a lot without really saying anything (and which seem to actively avoid trying to talk about the music itself) really grate on me.

Hrmph.

NYT Mag writes up Sunn O))) - seriously

Friday, June 2nd, 2006

Another couple links: first is this fantastic article in the New York Times Magazine (!) about Sunn O))) and avant-metal. Centered around some illuminating interviews with both members of the band, this is a respectful, even admiring article about some of the most out-there metal going on today.

Second is Bagatellen’s I Hate Music forum, which is generally populated by the sorts of people who like seriously avant-garde music but also dig indie rock (and, more rarely, prog-rock). This is a great forum on which I’ve been lurking for the past few months and learning a lot about a shit-ton of artists I’ve never heard of before. If you’ve more or less tapped out the knowledge base of, say, ProgressiveEars (or if, like me, your tastes have shifted away from the sorts of stuff regularly discussed there), I Hate Music might be the next stop.

(This is not to be confused with this “I Hate Music,” which is amusing but hardly edifying.)

Other music blogs

Friday, June 2nd, 2006

As I tend to post here rather sporadically, here are a couple other music blogs I like that are relatively new to me. First is one that’s even more sporadic than mine, but readers of this site should follow it with a lot of interest: ex-Progweed reviewer Alex Temple’s indelicately titled “Revisting all my CDs in alphabetical order,” in which he does just that, giving each CD a pretty in-depth treatment. So far he’s almost through the A’s but hasn’t updated for over a month. I’ll give him a little nudge soon because I find his perspective invariably interesting.

Second is something called Outer Space Gamelan, which has more to do with space rock than Indonesian classical music but most often has nothing to do with either. This is another pretty new blog, but so far it’s updated pretty much daily with a new CD review. The writer seems interested in the darker, heavier side of independent rock, up to and including post-rock and metal. For those of you down with this particular niche, the list of reviewed labels is indicative and includes labels like Ipecac, Staubgold, Hydra Head and alien8. All good stuff that sometimes get reviewed in the bigger indie-rock sites but just as often gets overlooked.

Finally, today’s trio of reviews at Dusted features a batch of CDs that should also be of serious interest to readers of this website: Cluster’s Cluster 71 (also reviewed onsite by Matt), the new Faun Fables album, The Transit Rider, and the new Zombi album, Surface to Air. This latter I have, and it’s pretty good, though Zombi live definitely dwarfs Zombi on record (as prog fans will soon find out, as they’re going to be touring with Guapo this summer!). The Transit Rider sounds great, considering how much I liked Family Album, and I’m going to have to pick it up sometime.

On an Island: “resounding bore”?

Wednesday, April 12th, 2006

PopMatters’ review of David Gilmour’s new On an Island is probably the best thing I’ve read there for a while, in that I agree with it pretty much 100%.

On an Island sounds exactly like an album by a 60-year-old, semi-retried [sic], Upper Class British multimillionaire guitar legend, recorded with his famous friends—and the wife—on his floating houseboat studio anchored on the River Thames. It’s laid back beyond measure, sparse, leisurely, unforced—that last trait arguably missing from the pair of Gilmour-led Floyd albums. Whether all this results in Gilmour’s most personal, genuine musical statement or a resounding bore is a matter of perspective and personal taste.

Yup. I’m closer to the “resounding bore” side of things, but I do like the album and feel like it might appeal to me more as time goes on. Most of all, though, I echo this reviewer’s sentiment that, though we can criticize the album for being too laid-back, “thank Heaven Gilmour didn’t decide to ‘rawk’”. No shit.