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Archive for December, 2003

Great song: Beck’s “The Golden Age”

Monday, December 29th, 2003

I have a guilty pleasure of watching Alias, the TV show, on DVD. It arose from my fascination with the moral ambiguity of La Femme Nikita, the cult classic show that ran for five years. Alias is hardly of the same caliber - it replaces moral ambiguity with heavy-handed plot twisting and frankly absurd storylines - but it’s a lot of fun anyway.

In any case, the episode I’m watching now has Beck’s “The Golden Age” playing in the background of one of the scenes. I have no idea what happened in that scene because I was singing along. I might have to watch the whole episode over again, because I completely just shifted my attention to the song. That’s how good it is.

It’s a treacherous road
With a desolated view
There’s distant lights
But here they’re far and few
And the sun don’t shine
Even when its day
You gotta drive all night
Just to feel like you’re ok

Pitchfork’s end-of-year extravaganza

Wednesday, December 17th, 2003

Pitchfork has started its mega-special, “The Year in Music 2003″. Lots and lots of lists, basically - but I like Pitchfork’s lists. Sometimes they try a little too hard to be witty, but it’s nice to be able to see the individual reviewers’ quirks of taste.

Having gone to more bars and clubs in the past week than I usually go to in a month, I can now safely say that the Most Overrated Hip-Hop Song Ever is Outkast’s “The Way You Move” (great opening, then just degenerates into a boring chorus over. and. over. again.), and the Most Overplayed Hip-Hop Song Ever (as well as the runner-up for the Most Overrated Hip-Hop Song Ever) is… Outkast’s “Hey Ya”. Ugh.

And by “ever”, I mean “in the past few months”.

It’s about that time: top 10 of 2002

Saturday, December 6th, 2003

Alright, so people on other forums are starting to post their Top 10 lists for 2003, which means it’s about time for me to post my Top 10 list for 2002. I started doing this last year - I think top 10 lists for the current year are dumb, because (1) the year’s not over yet, (2) there’s no way I already have many of the great releases from this year yet, and (3) a lot of great CDs have long gestation periods before I really start to like them (I’m looking at the new Thinking Plague here).

Without further ado, my top 10 favorite releases (not limited to prog, as will become obvious) of 2002 are as follows, in some kind of rough order:

  1. Wilco - Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
    I’m one with the indie critics here: this was the best album of the year. When I reviewed it I was taken by its meshing of catchy melodies with slightly skewed instrumental tendencies, and its charm has yet to falter. Anyone interested in somewhat “out” pop-indie should check this out.
  2. Anti-Pop Consortium - Arrhythmia
    The biggest shame of 2002 was the dissolution of this group, one of the most innovative rap groups of the past decade. Arrhythmia has all the usual Anti-Pop trimmings: dazzling, abstract wordplay, production from an alien planet, and even some killer beats. For the cutting edge of hip-hop, look no further.
  3. 5uu’s - Abandonship
    This one made a huge splash in the prog/RIO world, and with good reason, marking a triumphant return to Hunger’s Teeth form. Best prog album of the year, easily.
  4. Shalabi Effect - The Trial of St-Orange
    This was the pleasant surprise of the year for me; I didn’t expect to like this kind of abstract psychedelia so much, but these guys are good enough at what they do that they make it accessible to anyone. There are some amazing moments of beauty swimming around the ambient haze here.
  5. NeBeLNeST - Nova Express
    Grandly portentous instrumental prog, full of imposing riffs and sinister, rumbling bass: epic “space-zeuhl” at its best. The closing title track on this album is simply a treat.
  6. Satoko Fujii and Tatsuya Yoshida - Toh-Kichi
    This is just about as weird and whimsical as you might expect from the pairing of Yoshida with a free-jazz pianist (in an improv setting no less), and amazingly, it works. By turns stunning, amusing, and fucking hilarious.
  7. Do Make Say Think - & Yet & Yet
    In a year with a dearth of good new post-rock, this album was a saving grace. Jazzy, atmospheric instrumental noodling that never gets too unfocused and yet always takes its sweet time getting to the point. Luckily, the journey is an enticing one.
  8. The Flying Luttenbachers - Infection and Decline
    Okay, I admit it: this one is on the list solely for the utterly blazing cover of “De Futura” (from Magma’s Üdü Wüdü), which takes the funk out of the equation and replaces it with pure, unmitigated aggression. The original pieces here are also capable of blowing your head off.
  9. Opeth - Deliverance
    Many a fan of this group panned this album, and indeed it offers little variation on a well-established formula. But for me, it perfects said formula, mixing perfectly its death-metal aggression and vocals with more leisurely (and accessibly melodic) passages. This actually might be my favorite Opeth album.
  10. The Roots - Phrenology
    This one’s just a lot of fun. Perfectly accessibly hip-hop with just a touch of experimental tendencies, particularly on the track “Water”, which has been called “prog-hop”. More importantly, this thing grooves, and has some great melodies to boot.

Barely missing the cut were Beck’s Sea Change, Missy Elliott’s Under Construction, Broken Social Scene’s You Forgot It In People, Uzva’s Niittoaika, and even PaatosTimeloss (solely on the strength of its closing track). Some mildly surprising omissions include ( ) by Sigur Rós, which simply didn’t have the staying power I expected it to have, and Univers Zero’s Rhythmix, which I liked at first but really pales in comparison to the band’s older work, IMHO.

Overall, despite everything I just wrote, I think 2002 was a pretty disappointing year. There are a lot of pretty good albums listed above, but only the top few on the list really blew me away. As preliminary as it is, I can already say that 2003 has been a much better year for music.

The singular genius of Miles Davis

Monday, December 1st, 2003

I mentioned this neat little tidbit in a conversation with a friend yesterday, and I was inspired to go look it up: from Paul Tingen’s book Miles Beyond: The Electric Explorations of Miles Davis, 1967-1991 -

The results of this session were compiled… in the first track on Jack Johnson, called “Right Off.” It begins with [guitarist John] McLaughlin, [bassist Michael] Henderson, and [drummer Billy] Cobham grooving along on the “boogie in E,” with McLaughlin’s inspired comping at times bordering on solo guitar. At 1:38 the guitarist takes down the volume, and at 2:11 he modulates to B-flat to heighten the dramatic effect of Miles’ entry. However, Henderson misses McLaughlin’s modulation, and carries on playing in E. In the middle of this clash of tonalities Miles decides to make his entrance, at 2:19. He starts by playing a D-flat (C-sharp), the minor third in B-flat and the major sixth in E. It is an ingenious choice because the note is effective in either key. Miles then plays twelve staccato B-flat notes, phrasing them on the beat to drive the band on, and also as if to nudge Henderson towards the B-flat tonality. Henderson gets the message, comes into line by modulating to B-flat at 2:33, and Miles carries on, giving one of the most commanding solo performances of his career, with fast runs reaching into the higher register, and a loud, full, powerful tone.

Writer Stuart Nicholson rightly called Miles’ entry in “Right Off” “one of the great moments in jazz-rock.” It is also one of the most impressive examples of the “there are no mistakes” adage that Miles learned from Charlie Parker in the 1940s. Most musicians would have regarded the point when Henderson and McLaughlin were clashing with two such incompatible keys at E and B-flat as an embarrassing mistake and would have either stopped the band or instructed to producer to remove the section during editing. Very few would have considered, or have had the courage, to come in at such a moment. And even fewer would have been able to make it into a resounding success.

The passage continues on and cites a common quote usually attributed to Miles: “If you play a note you didn’t intend to play, what determines whether it sounds like a mistake or a moment of inspiration is the note you play after it.”

Incidentally, this is a great book. Tingen gives a great overview of Miles’ fusion output during the latter part of his career, going into great detail about each recording while still managing to keep a momentum throughout that keeps the entire book fascinating. I would easily recommend this book to anyone interested in this phase of Miles’ career - which should be many of you reading this site. I actually meant to post a full review when I initially read it, but it was in the middle of exams last spring and so I never got around to it. If and when I reread the book, I’ll be sure to write about it then.