Archive for the ‘Prog’ Category

Zombi @ the Black Cat

Thursday, April 12th, 2007

A couple nights ago I saw Zombi, opening for Trans Am, who I did not stick around for. I’m feeling lazy so I’ll just paste in what I posted to ProgressiveEars a little while ago.

Saw Zombi last night at the kick-off show in DC. I didn’t stick around for Trans Am - after listening to Sex Change a couple times I didn’t find much to like about it, which surprised me given the reviews it’s gotten so far. (I still like Futureworld a lot, but that’s from 1999, and they’ve definitely moved on in some senses…)

Zombi was solid… extremely loud, but solid. The bassist didn’t play much bass, instead sticking mostly to keys, which meant he wasn’t all that exciting to watch, which meant naturally the bulk of the audience’s attention was directed to the drummer. He was a beast. But sometimes I felt like I was just watching a drum solo, because the keyboard textures were relatively simplistic.

For whatever reason I liked them better when I saw them last year and wasn’t familiar with their recordings. Oh well. I’d still recommend that anyone who digs Surface to Air go see them.

Crowd was ok, but I was expecting more considering that Trans Am is from DC. Maybe they all showed up late…

Tomorrow night I am heading to Baltimore to check out the Red Room, a new venue for me — Peter Brötzmann is playing there with a trio of his I’ve never heard, but whose record garnered a rave review over at Outer Space Gamelan. Seriously, that review all on its own made me want to drive an hour to go see these guys. Can’t wait!

Progcrit boneheads

Tuesday, March 27th, 2007

It doesn’t seem particularly appropriate for me to identify myself anymore as a “prog fan” in the sense of a fan with a single genre focus — that stopped being true four or five years ago. Yet I still perk up whenever I see prog mentioned in non-prog media, and such was the case when, in reading the new issue of Signal to Noise, I ran across a very provocative review by Mark S. Tucker of Ed Macan’s new book, The Endless Enigma: A Musical Biography of Emerson, Lake and Palmer. This is a fun review that includes things like this:

[Macan's] Rocking the Classics offered much-needed relief from silly magazinic “What is prog?” maunderings and it alone may explain why authors like Jerry Lucky and sites like Gnosis have remained completely irrelevant… as a platform from which to consider aesthetic questions, Endless Enigma is hardly being touched by progcrit boneheads… The book is a high-water mark in progrock literature, and I’m afriad we’ll see little of its like in the future.

It’s an article about prog in a non-prog publication, so there has to be some dissing going on. But Tucker isn’t poking a stick at prog fans per se, the way most non-prog media does, so much as he is doing so at prog critics. “Progcrit boneheads” is a pretty great phrase that I wish I could use as a Ground & Sky subtitle; but alas, I think Tucker might actually like this website, or at least applaud our general refusal to treat with the whole “what is prog” nonsense. Other than that one thing, actually, it’s not really clear why he considers prog critics to be “boneheads” and “completely irrelevant,” but tossing around such perjoratives sure does make his article more fun to read.

Of course, the rub is that Tucker is actually a pretty “true” prog fan, whatever that means, having written for such publications as, uh, Exposé and Progression (what makes these magazines more “relevant” than sites like Gnosis is unclear to me). In this article he namedrops Porcupine Tree, Univers Zero, and Henry Cow, and in reviews elsewhere in this issue of Signal to Noise alone he mentions Tasvallan Presidentti and 5uu’s. This makes his critique of prog critics, such as it is, much more interesting than it would be if it had come from a total outsider. In any case, he spends a lot of column-inches lauding Macan’s analytical style mostly through trashing progcrit boneheads (and Chris Cutler and Dave Kerman for their “weirdly perjorative” takes on prog as a genre), and pulls off a near-miracle in getting me actually interested in reading this book. Considering that I hate ELP with a passion and basically regard them as concretizing everything I don’t like about prog, that’s quite an achievement.

John Kelman (AllAboutJazz) on Soft Machine

Monday, March 19th, 2007

Good reading: John Kelman’s reviews of all the Soft Machine remasters at AllAboutJazz. Believe it or not, when I recently bought the new remasters of Fourth through Seven, it was the first time I’d heard any of these albums. The first three I’d heard, as well as a couple of the archives, but nothing after Third. So far, I’ve only managed to give Fourth the attention it deserves, and I dig it, but a single cursory listen to Fifth makes me think I’ll like it more. Funny how that Fender Rhodes really makes the sound much more immediately accessible for me. Anyway, I’m looking forward to familiarizing myself closely with all of these albums. I think my experience with listening to jazz over the past several years has probably made them much more palatable to me than they would have been before.

Sleepytime Gorilla Museum @ the Black Cat

Saturday, March 17th, 2007

Despite awful weather — a 40-degree drop from Thursday to Friday and a dramatic shift from cloudless sun to icy sleet — Sleepytime Gorilla Museum and Secret Chiefs 3 made it to Washington, DC last night to play at the Black Cat. Secret Chiefs actually didn’t get in until very late, so SGM played first, starting at around 10:15 (doors were supposed to open at 9, but I guess they were doing their soundcheck because the club made people stand out in the cold until almost 9:45). They played almost exclusively new material, with only “Phthisis” somewhere in the middle and then closing with a crowd-pleasing “Sleep is Wrong.” They opened with a song I recognized from when they played here two years ago that reminds me of Idiot Flesh — maybe this one is called “Companions”? But then they played something that absolutely blew everyone away, a chunky odd-time instrumental with Kihlstedt flailing away on violin against a dual-guitar attack, that really sounded like SGM’s version of “Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, Part 2.” Seriously, this was a blistering piece that will likely be on the next album, out in late May.

The rest of the set was good but not transcendent. Nils was in full performance mode throughout, but also made time to banter a bit with the crowd. I dug most of the new songs, but am looking forward to hearing the studio versions; the sound in the club was surprisingly good (much better than the last time they were here), but most of the nuance got washed out by the odd-time heavy-metal riffing that seemed to dominate everything. The crowd absolutely ate it up though; there was a great turnout despite the weather, and band seemed to feel so good about their set and the audience that they did a clearly unplanned encore of “1997,” which I always thought was a vastly overrated song but which of course drove the crowd to a frenzy.

It’s nice to see that this band has evidently developed quite a devoted following. I think they’re one of the most innovative current bands out there, and the fact that they’ve made such a name for themselves pretty much by touring incessantly is great. Sadly, since they didn’t finish until 11:45, I didn’t stick around for Secret Chiefs 3, which apparently is my loss. Hopefully I’ll get a chance to catch them again in the near future, but as it was, I was happy enough just seeing SGM again.

DVDs: Magma, Los Jaivas, Joanna Newsom

Friday, January 12th, 2007

I’m not generally a huge fan of music DVDs. Over the years I’ve developed a certain way of listening to music that allows me to multitask while still listening fairly actively. This is good and bad, because while it means I can listen to a LOT of music, it also means that the amount of time I spend doing nothing but listening to music has decreased — at some point I would like to go back to doing what I did at one point, dedicating an hour every night to doing nothing but close listening. But back to the DVDs thing: I can’t multitask when watching a music DVD (or any music with a video element). Sadly, this has become a pretty strong disincentive. That said, I’ve watched a few music films lately that completely engrossed me.

A while back I got the new Magma DVD, Epok II, with performances of Wurdah Ïtah, MDK and “De Futura” from Üdü Wüdü. A few nights ago I finally got around to watching part of it — just the Wurdah Ïtah performance. It was excellent — not jaw-dropping, but perhaps the rest of the film will floor me. I really loved the Trilogie DVD from a few years ago (wow, was it really over five years ago when that came out?), so I have high hopes for these new Epok DVDs. Still have not gotten my hands on the first one though, which I need to do as it sounds like folks generally are thinking the first is better than the second.

Yesterday I got the Los Jaivas Alturas de Macchu Picchu DVD, in which they “perform” the entirety of their most famous album at Macchu Picchu itself. The scare quotes are there because this is so obviously faked: the musicians are shown in various settings in Macchu Picchu playing sans any amplification or microphones, so clearly there’s some serious dubbing going on. I have not A/B’ed the DVD with the actual album, but I think (and I could very much be wrong) that it’s not a direct transfer of the album songs onto the DVD. There are some parts which sound slightly different to me, although this is very minor — it is likely a remix rather than a completely different performance.

As befits a DVD produced by the Peruvian government in 1981, the overall look of this DVD is very 80s; a bit fuzzy and definitely a little cheesy by today’s standards, but there are still some breathtaking moments. Also nice are the little bits interspersed between songs where the viewer is given some basic history of Pablo Neruda and Macchu Picchu. All this stuff is in Spanish of course, but reasonably accurate English subtitles are available, and in a nice touch, the song lyrics are also subtitled as they are sung. I didn’t watch too many of the extras last night, but it didn’t look like there are any subtitles for those.

The whole DVD feels like something a lazy teacher would show his students in order to take a day off from working. I’m not sure it’s worth the $25 or so that it seems to be going for from most places, but I’m glad I got to see it regardless.

Finally, and best of all, I downloaded from Dimeadozen a 90-minute amateur video of Joanna Newsom’s performance in Philadelphia this past November. This was a seated show and the camera must have been tripod-mounted as the view is very stable (though the panning is clearly amateurish). More importantly, the sound quality is fantastic and so is the performance. It’s a real treat to see Newsom sitting behind her harp with a mike pressed close in, and watching her fingers fly while her voice works overtime. I feel that on her albums, The Milk-Eyed Mender especially, some of her beautiful harp playing gets trampled by her rather attention-grabbing vocals. Actually seeing her play the harp remedies that to a certain extent, and she is quite a fabulous harpist. She is also, in this show, charmingly genuine, mouthing “wow” at the adoration of the crowd and giggling through her vocals during the encore when the audience cheers wildly at the beginning of a familiar song. Like Ys, this video brought a smile to my face and I watched the whole thing straight through with no lapse in attention. Many, many thanks to the taper and seeder; this is one of the best things I’ve downloaded from Dime in a long time.

Musea now available at eMusic

Friday, October 13th, 2006

Alert for prog fans: albums on the prolific Musea label are beginning to show up at eMusic. There’s already some great stuff up, including both Carpe Diem albums, Weidorje’s only album, a couple Wapassou albums, and so on. If you haven’t taken the plunge, maybe now is the time. For me, the Musea catalog is a perfect match for my eMusic downloading habits, as many of their releases are albums I’d probably enjoy but would never spend a full $16-$18 on. Now everyone’s happy: Musea is getting a little bit of money from me, and I’m getting a bunch of music I would never have otherwise heard.

A little while ago there was a discussion on the ReRmegacorp Yahoo! group about the merits of electronic distribution. That Mike Borella was a proponent of releasing all future ReR releases electronically is no surprise to anyone who follows his Avant Music News blog — apparently he now buys all his music electronically and has not purchased a CD in two years. A few months ago, I made my first tentative steps into the world of downloading legal MP3s; now I’m pretty much sold. I still buy a lot of music on CD, but only music I can’t otherwise get online. I realized that when I get a CD, the first thing I do is rip it into a high-quality MP3 so I can listen at my computer (which I have hooked up to my stereo) or on my portable player. Most of the time I don’t even really look at the liner notes.

Besides, with eMusic so ridiculously cheap, why pay $15 for a CD when I can have it for less than a dollar? Under the iTunes model, buying CDs is still economically justifiable, but under the eMusic model it’s lunacy. Given how little the end user pays, I would be very, very interested to hear the details of how exactly the artists and labels make enough money to justify hosting their albums at eMusic.

Birdsongs of the Mesozoic live video

Thursday, September 21st, 2006

Fans of this Cuneiform band might want to check out free streaming video of a full Birdsongs of the Mesozoic performance from back in 2003. This was at the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage — a sweet venue with a free concert at 6pm literally every day. Last year I saw Los Jaivas there, and they regularly get interesting world, folk, Americana, etc sorts of bands there. Virtually all the old shows are archived in the video database, too — although I can’t get the Los Jaivas video to work and have e-mailed them about it.

Incidentally, I went to a show there on Tuesday (Gjallarhorn), but more on that later.

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.

Popol Vuh at eMusic!

Friday, June 16th, 2006

Big news for those of us who do the legal-downloading thing: eMusic has put some of the SPV catalog up, including 19 (count ‘em) Popol Vuh releases! Pretty awesome news — I’ll use this to fill in the gaps in my Popol Vuh collection, like the lesser-praised albums that I wasn’t planning on buying on CD anyway.

Also, Alex Temple has begun updating his blog again — his project of writing about all of the albums in his collection in alphabetical order. As for my own similar project, well, I’ve slowed down, but I’m still working on it slowly but surely. I wanted to try to post what I’ve done so far, but I’m having trouble getting the PDF to look right. I’m going to put it up soon though, as soon as I figure out the problem, just so folks can see what I’ve been up to.