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Archive for November, 2001

Weird music takes over your brain

Wednesday, November 28th, 2001

My roommates were talking yesterday about how my music creeps into their subconscious. One of my suitemates complained that over Thanksgiving break he had the beat to The Coup’s “Everythang” stuck in his head, without knowing any of the lyrics. More amusingly, my other suitemate said that he will always associated his early-semester Chinese Literature reading with “Sleep is Wrong” by Sleepytime Gorilla Museum. Ha!

Sun Ra, though, is still the best for eliciting bewildered comments. “Holy shit, this music takes the cake,” was all my roommate had to say when he was greeted by the squealing horns that open When Angels Speak of Love.

We’re too young to know anything

Tuesday, November 27th, 2001

An interesting philosophical point that seems to get raised pretty often is that of reviewer qualifications. There’s a dude over at ProgressiveEars who seems to dislike this site because our reviewers are young and relatively new to prog (i.e., they haven’t been listening to it since the 1970s heyday). While I’m sure those who have been fans since the 70s may be able to offer more in the way of comparison and personal experience and the like, I think there’s an advantage to being a younger reviewer as well. We have a different perspective on prog, one that may well be more in tune with the current cultural context. I know there are exceptions - there are plenty of older fans that are perfectly able to contextualize prog in the modern world - but as a whole younger fans are less likely to get stuck in a rut of cultural irrelevance. Whether or not this is reflected in reviews or review choice is a different matter, of course, but I think the idea that one has to be a grizzled veteran of prog in order to have valuable opinions about it is bunk.

This segues nicely into my most recent acquisition, which is decidedly non-prog, but which I’d like to talk about a bit. It’s the newest album produced by Dan “the Automator” Nakamura - Lovage: Music to Make Love to Your Old Lady By. No one can ever fault this guy for resting on his laurels: every single album I have of his is, stylistically, entirely different from the others. Well, except maybe Dr. Octagonecologyst is somewhat similar to A Much Better Tomorrow, but that’s because they were produced in the same period of time. Deltron 3030 is different from those, So… How’s Your Girl is totally different, and then of course there’s the Gorillaz project. And now there’s Lovage.

This is a hip-hop album, but not a rap album. There’s nary a rap to be found, but Nakamura’s beats are as hip-hop as ever, and there’s quite a bit of scratching by Deltron 3030 alumnus Kid Koala - in fact, “Everyone Has a Summer” sounds exactly like what his solo album Carpal Tunnel Syndrome would have sounded like with a producer (in my opinion, what it should have sounded like). Instead of MCs, what we get is Mike Patton (yes, that Mike Patton) and Jennifer Charles singing. I was first exposed to Charles’ voice on DJ Logic’s “Spider Dance”, and loved it - sensual and evocative. Her voice fits perfectly here, and the juxtaposition with Patton’s low growl is a delight.

The Onion calls this album “a cheeky detour into foppish pop, tongue-in-cheek trip-hop, and conceptual silliness”. There’s a focus on all things romantic and sexual, though it’s all a bit twisted. My favorites are “Book of the Month”, which masterfully contrasts the two vocalists over Nakamura’s beat and accompanying mournful cello loop, and “Sex (I’m A)”, a cover of the Berlin song. The latter is simply stunning - I wouldn’t have thought even Dan the Automator could have gotten anything good out of that song, but with the addition of a simple guitar part, a sultry beat, and the over-the-top-sexy voices of Patton and Charles (complete with strategically placed sighs and gasps), he’s somehow created a darkly sensual masterpiece.

Lovage has its weak points; some of the songs strike me as differentiated from pedestrian pop only by the Automator’s beats. But its high points are as good as anything Nakamura has put out so far.

Interesting upcoming shows I’m indifferent to

Sunday, November 25th, 2001

Later this week, Steve Morse and the Dixie Dregs are playing right here in good ol’ New Haven, CT… but I don’t really have any desire to see them. I have Night of the Living Dregs and the King Biscuit live album, and both are nice, but obviously not good enough to make me really interested. Besides, I saw the Dregs open for Dream Theater a couple years ago at this very same venue, so I know what I’m missing.

Similarly, King Crimson is playing here and in New York, but oddly enough, I also don’t have much inclination to go see them. Back when things were simpler and I could name a “favorite band”, King Crimson was definitely it - if I’d had the opportunity to see them live three or four years ago, I would have ponied up a hundred dollars to do it. Now I’m balking at the $35-$65 ticket price. The fact that the recent Crimson releases haven’t done much for me are likely a big cause of this. Oh well.

Dismemberment Plan @ The Bowery Ballroom

Monday, November 19th, 2001

So last Wednesday night I went once more to the Bowery Ballroom, this time to see The Dismemberment Plan. This was one of those shows that I’d been anticipating so greatly that I almost managed to be disappointed just because my expectations were so high. Nevertheless, they put on a fantastic show and I left quite satisfied. They played a ton of stuff from Change - all of the last four songs, which all kick ass, as well as “Superpowers” and “Come Home”; and a lot from Emergency & I - all of the last six songs except “8 1/2 Minutes”, plus “What Do You Want Me To Say”. They also played a bit of earlier stuff - “The Ice of Boston”, “Bra”, “OK, Joke’s Over”, “Onward, Fat Girl”, as well as “The Dismemberment Plan Gets Rich”. Good stuff.

The crowd seemed to be much more satisfied with the earlier, more punk-ish pieces - the reaction to “Bra” was astonishing - but I was particularly taken with the new stuff from Change. “Following Through” and especially “The Other Side” were really high-powered and well-played. The band was clearly having a great time, with bassist Eric grinning foolishly for half the show and frontman Travis joking with the crowd between songs. A fabulous show, marred only by the terrible opening band (Need New Body, who seemed to be more about gimmicks than music) and a second act that I was rather disappointed by (Ted Leo and the Pharmacists).

I’ve seized with the ice cold rage of a lover betrayed, half a million miles away
I’ve cried so hard for hours and not known why, I never do
I’ve been knocked down flat by joy that makes my face pulse like a sugar high
I’ve been cornered by the screams of a body as it freed itself of its mind
Dismemberment Plan, “Superpowers”

Of course I made my standard stop by Other Music, intending only to pick up the Múm album, Yesterday Was Dramatic - Today is OK; I did, but I also ran across the new Present (which is on a Belgian label! - bless Other Music) and convinced myself to also drop eight bucks on eight minutes of Magma - the single, Floe Essi / Ektah.

The Múm I got because it’s been getting insanely high praise and has been recommended widely to fans of Sigur Rós. I think the latter is just because they’re also from Iceland, because aside from the pretty melodies I can’t see any relation at all, musically. Múm plays a very sparse form of electronica, and have a pretty neat knack for making very brittle rhythms sound soothing and attractive. It’s not at all what I was expecting, but I quite like it. But of the three purchases, the new Present, High Infidelity, is definitely my favorite. I’ve only heard the Cuneiform twofer that has Triskaidekaphobie and Le Poison, so I was quite surprised by the very different feeling of this new one. It’s moved away from the “Univers Zero with guitar” style of those early albums, and has a much more aggressive sound to it now, helped on by some loud bass and Dave Kerman’s drumming, which is less atmospheric and more tear-your-head-off than Daniel Denis’ ever was. I dig it.

About that unfortunate The Coup cover art…

Tuesday, November 13th, 2001

Hunger’s Teeth is friggin’ awesome. And Susanne Lewis’ voice is priceless. How did I live without this thing? I only have one other 5uu’s album, Regarding Purgatories, which I didn’t find nearly as interesting… but Sean claims that the upcoming album, Abandonship, is great - I’m definitely looking forward to it.

I heard some Oysterhead this weekend on a long car ride, and liked some of it. From what I heard, Trey’s guitar sounds a bit more heavy and aggressive than his work with Phish, but the bass is pure Primus. Neither is a bad thing.

The hip-hop group The Coup, whom I really like and who just moved to the 75 Ark label, just released their new album Party Music. This album’s main claim to fame is that its planned cover featured an exploding World Trade Center; the cover was pulled after September 11th, obviously, just before it went to the printer. The Coup have an anti-capitalist stance, inviting lots of criticism from people who disagree with their politics as well as people who can’t stand rap music. This is a totally incoherent rant about The Coup and their new album that I think is really funny. An excerpt:

The Coup Leader/Rapper Boots Riley says: “The intent of the cover was to use the World Trade Center to symbolize capitalism, but there is an uncanny similarity to the events of Tuesday. All life is precious and this tremendous tragedy is by no means taken lightly by The Coup. This is a very unfortunate coincidence and my condolences go out to the families and friends of the victims.”

Make no mistake here, friends. These people made their vulgar, stupid rap album with the intent of slandering and destroying the American way of life. Like the worthless evil sneaky scum they are, they hide behind “artistry” saying they only made their statement to point out the folly of capitalism, not to hurt anyone or advocate violence. “All life is precious” the rapper says after indefensible evidence of the violent nature of his music is uncovered. In the true spirit of artistic freedom, the leftist rap group’s new album art will be something less offensive, maybe they’ll have the Virgin Mary and Jesus of Nazareth as porn stars listening to Party Music!

After this misinterpretation in which the author basically accuses Boots of lying and being a murderous scoundrel, based solely on his political views, the article goes on to mention Dream Theater and the original cover of Live Scenes From New York, which features the NYC skyline - including the World Trade Center towers - aflame. The author claims that this cover is not as “vulgar” or offensive because “none of [the Dream Theater members] are avowed anti-capitalists bent on the destruction of America’s imperialism like rappers in The Coup”. Finally, he concludes that “Sons, daughters, nephews, nieces, friends, whomever asks for a CD of hardcore rap should be denied on the basis that it is overwhelmingly vulgar and un-American” and ends the article with a somewhat out-of-place, obviously rote recital of “Terror from anywhere against America will never destroy the American people. God bless America!”

Ignorance and intolerance masquerading as patriotism and compassion: God bless America indeed.

(I await the hate mail accusing me of being a pro-mass-murder terrorist sympathizer.)

Long delayed acquisition

Wednesday, November 7th, 2001

Oh happy day: I finally got a copy of Hunger’s Teeth.

A while back Cuneiform mailed me some promo CDs, one of them the new Picchio dal Pozzo, Camere Zimmer Rooms. I’ve been listening to this for quite some time, and I really like it, but I can’t seem to put my finger on it enough to write a review yet. I hate it when this happens. So, for now, my review is one word: recommended.

Prog fans: Rap is a sign of societal decay

Thursday, November 1st, 2001

Grrr… sometimes I can’t stand prog fans. I’ll probably offend a bunch of people who read this (”never bite the hand that feeds you” and all that), but fergodsakes, why are some prog fans so goddamned snobby and narrow-minded? I suppose this criticism applies to die-hard fans of any genre, but for some reason it seems that much more egregious when it’s prog fans. Maybe it’s because many prog fans pride themselves on being open-minded to experimental, “difficult” music, so it’s that much more disappointing when it turns out that this vaunted open-mindedness only applies to a very narrow genre.

This stems from a somewhat distressing conversation I managed to get suckered into at Progressive Ears. Some samples of statements that inflamed me:

Why would anyone be a rap fan? Where can it possibly go? It seems like even rap has begun to realize that having musicians and singers is a vital necessity. Eventually rap should be forgotten….people in my age group are doing our part to fill our childrens’ ears with music…. I hope that the standards will soon be higher.
Even the stuff on radio that involves musicians seldom yields a guitar solo, certainly never a drum or keyboard solo.

If it involves scratching records, I do not deem it musical. Give me a break. Consider what we all listen to and think of it as decay.

Bootom line C(Rap) isnt worthy of being defended or even disscussed in a prog forum. Scatching records and a beat box played to shity ass lyrics dont make it music.It bottom line sucks ass hard.Its the cat fish of the musical lake strickly bottom feeders.

C(RAP) is completly valueless and the music I listen to does indeed far surpass any hip hop rap trip hop or any other lable it wants to go by.

Prog is a Rolls-Royce: not too many made, but each with impeccable quality that only a select few can appreciate.

“I do not deem it musical.” You’ve got to be kidding me - that’s got to be the most overtly snotty statement I’ve heard since the thread “Our Children and Music”. And the thing about solos just cracks me up - yeah, all forms of music should be judged on their instrumental solos. There were some sane voices in the conversation, particularly the guy who said “Don’t let [rap] get to you so much. I don’t like poison oak, but I try to stay away from it.” and then went on to basically summarize my point of view very well:

Art, in whatever medium, is a thing that connects with the human spirit. Once it does that, no matter how simple or studied, it cannot be refuted with technical terms; it has already succeeded in its purpose. The study of art is to study why things succeed in this way, rather than the comparitive study of why one thing might be “better” than another.

I’m skeptical of the commercial tie-ins here, and it has nothing to do with music, but nevertheless it’s cool that the New York Times has posted their reviews of the Lord of the Rings trilogy (from the mid-fifties) as well as of The Hobbit (from 1938). Notably, two of the reviews are by W.H. Auden.