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Archive for January, 2005

What’s spinning, January 28 edition

Friday, January 28th, 2005

Mike Prete asks the question: What have you been listening to lately? Well, okay, he didn’t really ask it that explicitly, but I feel like answering anyway. I’ve been unemployed for the past two months - quit my job at the beginning of December - so I’ve had plenty of time on my hands to listen to good stuff (and catch up on some promos that I was sent long ago).

Currently spinning is free-jazz alto saxophonist Tim Berne’s The Sublime And. - a totally brilliant live album from his Science Friction band - Berne on sax, plus his usual sidemen on guitar (the inimitable Marc Ducret - I’m trying to track down his Qui parle?), drums, and keys/electronics. This stuff totally rips. I’ve definitely been on a kick lately exploring some of the more out-there modern jazz - the downtown scene, the Blue Series stuff, lots of the better stuff on Tzadik, etc. Berne’s work may be edging closer to my favorite among it all, though knocking off Electric Masada’s 50th Birthday Celebration disc might be a tall order.

Otherwise, well, a lot of the stuff I’ve been listening to has been the stuff I’ve reviewed recently. For a while I was back to metal, listening to Amorphis and Dissection and the like - and right now I’m trying to find myself a copy of Gorguts‘ followup to the absolutely brilliant Obscura, From Wisdom to Hate. The release of K.A had me revisiting a lot of my old Magma - I think K.A may eventually become my favorite Magma album, because it’s got all the ingenuity of the old stuff, but with way, way better production and sound.

And I found some tapes of my old radio show, “In Praise of Listening,” that I did for one semester my sophomore year at WYBC, Yale’s radio station, before their Internet stream went down for something ridiculous like an entire year. Listening to that brought back some pretty neat memories, and reminded me of a lot of old stuff I haven’t even thought about recently - like, say, that great surprise from Rockenfield/Speer, Hells Canyon.

The neat thing about my listening style is that I now listen almost entirely to MP3s. When I get a new CD, I rip it immediately to MP3 - I have a 160-gigabyte hard drive dedicated entirely to music, and a 40-gigabyte portable MP3 player (the Creative Nomad Zen Xtra - a slightly clunky and considerably cheaper iPod clone). Because of this, I have ready access to practically my entire music library whenever I want. No hunting around for CDs, no having to switch CDs every time I want to listen to something different. Sometimes this is bad, because I get all ADD. But most of the time it’s great, because it means that I listen to a much more diverse range of stuff than I would otherwise, and I’m much more likely to, say, listen to old stuff that I haven’t pulled out in years. I don’t have enough inclination to go get my old Pink Floyd CDs, but sometimes I have enough to scroll down to the Ps and click on “Echoes”. I was a little afraid my listening habits would go completely bonkers with this newfound freedom when I made the switch to MP3s, but I think the real effect has been almost entirely positive.

But I digress. How about stuff I’m looking forward to? Let’s see - the Naked City box, the new Present (oh man), the new Mars Volta (I think it’s either going to be really, really awful or really good), the new Silver Mt. Zion. That’s some good stuff. But I would be pretty surprised if 2005 turns out to be a better year for new music than 2004; last year was really, really good in my opinion. I think it’s going to be hard to keep my best of 2004 list down to ten albums, in fact, especially if I accumulate much more from 2004 over the next 11 months before I write the list.

In short, though, most of what I’m doing right now is trying to restrain myself from buying shitloads of new jazz CDs until after I get a job and have some cash flow again. Oooh, it’s hard sometimes.

The weird ideas of Jerry Lucky

Wednesday, January 26th, 2005

Jerry Lucky has a curious article at Ghostland entitled “The Most Popular Subgenre of Prog” in which he discusses the results of a Ghostland poll asking people, well, what their favorite subgenre of prog is. I call it “curious” because he says some stuff that’s utterly ridiculous, but I do think his central point is pretty good, if misguided.

Basically, the Ghostland poll showed that 45% of voters chose symphonic or neo-prog as their favorites, with prog metal second with 20% and most everything else far behind. Jerry acts surprised at this (is anyone at all actually surprised by these results except him?), and uses it as a springboard to attack the straw man he steps up and calls, sweepingly, “the critics”. What really annoyed me about this is that he tries to distance himself from this group (keep in mind that not only has he reviewed for online resources, he’s also published at least two well-known books on progressive rock):

I would never call myself a critic, a reviewer yes but never a critic and I believe there is a distinction that should be made. My Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary says a critic will express what’s good and bad about a creative effort while a reviewer will simply provide an overview of what was done. I prefer to review a piece, provide an overview of what the artist has done, and perhaps in some cases provide a comparison to any of their previous efforts.

Well, one of the frequent complaints about Jerry’s book The Progressive Rock Files is that it’s too descriptive and doesn’t bother to say whether or not anything is any good or not. So maybe he’s right in this, but I still think he’s introducing a false dichotomy. If you’re reviewing music, you’re a critic. How transparently you let your opinion shine through is a difference in degree, not in kind.

Okay, so now that the absurdity is (mostly) out of the way, on to the substantive point. Namely, that “while the general public seems to enjoy listening to Symphonic prog more than any other sub-genre, the critics rarely place it at the top of their listening interests.” The reason, Jerry reasons, is that critics have to listen to so much music that they become jaded. Implicit in this reasoning (although never actually pointed out) is that genres such as symphonic and neo-prog might suffer particularly from what he calls the “jaded-complex” because they’re not original. They are by nature derivative, and so critics are more likely to say “I’ve heard this before. Next!”

Is there any merit to this claim? For some reviewers (critics - same damn thing), sure. Me, for example. It takes a damn good symphonic album to really get my attention (but is this because I’m jaded, or because I just don’t like the style as much as a lot of people?). Luckily, there are still plenty of bands putting out damn good symphonic prog (Uzva, Taal, After Crying until recently, Paatos, to name a few that came to mind immediately). But I certainly have written some reviews that Jerry would call “apologetic” - like my review of Lex Rex, for instance. But I don’t believe it is a claim that has general validity. Many prog critics that I read, on sites like ProgressiveWorld, Sea of Tranquility, and so on - and certainly reviewers on smaller sites I don’t read regularly - love the symphonic and neo-prog stuff coming out these days without shame. I think Jerry is reinventing the tired “prog-snob” complex that seems to be based solely on old flame wars.

Jerry’s suggestion is that reviewers limit themselves to genres they actually like. Good idea. Hardly a new one. I would guess that most publications don’t send RIO albums to neo-only lovers, or neo albums to RIO types. At Ground & Sky, where reviewers review stuff out of their own collection almost exclusively, this happens naturally. And that is why I’m apologetic when I review, for instance, a Lex Rex: because I know that it’s not my thing, and I feel that I have a responsibility to let readers know that as well. This is why you’re more likely to see a review of a Univers Zero album here instead of at DPRP; and conversely, you’re more likely to see a review of an Arena album there than here. All this stuff already happens!

In sum, I agree with a lot of what Jerry has to say, I just don’t really see what there is to complain about. If you’re a symph and neo fan, more power to you. You have plenty of resources to read and - yes - plenty of reviewers that share your tastes. Maybe not necessarily at Ground & Sky (although poke around, you might be surprised), but certainly at plenty of other sites. There’s no question that you have more resources available (in terms of review sites, at least) than someone who’s a fan of RIO and avant-prog.

Two more points. First, the entire basis for Jerry’s little article is pretty flawed since he doesn’t talk at all about the survey itself. I don’t think there’s any question that, if Ground & Sky had run the survey instead of Ghostland, the results would have been very different. He might as well have been trying to generalize from poll results off the e-prog list (by the way - holy CRAP what an obnoxious website). Naturally, he doesn’t mention the possibility of skewed results due to sampling quirks.

The final point is a philosophical one. Jerry seems to believe that reviews should be as objective as possible, and treats the reviewer’s opinion as more of an obstacle than an asset. I take the opposing view. Objectivity is an impossible ideal, and since we’re going to be subjective, we might as well be as honest and transparent about it as possible. That’s why G&S has different reviewers with different tastes, and with profiles online so you can readily figure out what their tastes are and whether or not they match up with yours.

More Jerry Lucky

Wednesday, January 26th, 2005

Okay, so Jerry Lucky has a lot of these “editorials” at Ghostland that I hadn’t read before. I’m not going to go through them now because I can tell I’m going to disagree with him more often than not. In particular, he talks more about his critic/reviewer dichotomy in this article, which I think is utterly, uh… wrong. So it goes.

Gnosis-ing my CD collection

Wednesday, January 19th, 2005

In a fit of boredom waiting at the airport a couple months ago, I went through my database of CDs and rated them on the Gnosis 1-15 scale. The results are actually kind of interesting. I’ve always hated it when folks ask me what my “favorite” bands or albums are, but going through and doing this rating thing has shed some light on what possible answers to those impossible questions might be. For instance, here are the albums that I gave a 15:

As for 14s, there were a few more:

Just based on these lists, it would appear that, if I had to name a “favorite” band, it would have to be either Magma or King Crimson, just based on the number of albums that appear. I suppose I can accept that conclusion.

Autechre’s Chiastic Slide inspires poetry

Thursday, January 13th, 2005

I was combing through the Google Groups archive to get some info on various Autechre albums that I’m interested in exploring (I have a bunch, but I like them enough that my desire to continue exploring their catalog hasn’t diminished at all yet). And I ran across this - definitely one of the best music newsgroup posts I’ve ever read:

there’s no argument from me that autechre’s entire body of work is staggering. all of the albums i’ve heard thus far are spectacular in some size, shape, fashion or form. personally though, i feel _chiastic slide_ is autechre’s best work because it achieves a delicate balance between their earlier, warmer, and more “orthodox” compositions (like _incunabula_) and later, more abstract outputs (such as lp5). to put it simply, _chiastic slide_ is an album that i’ve found mathematically precise and exacting in both form and structure, constructed from media that sounds utterly outside of human (indeed, organic) experience. simultaneously, each and every piece achieves a living, dynamic, HUMAN warmth that does not fail to consistently move me. analogous perhaps to a staggeringly complex equation that, when solved for x, equals a child’s laugh. or finding the nature of god in pi, if you will.

And yes, I have Chiastic Slide; and yes, it’s good.