Archive for December, 2005

Sometimes Pitchfork sucks

Thursday, December 29th, 2005

Stupid Useless Gimmick Reviews, Exhibit A.

I really like this album, by the way (Simpatico by The Vandermark 5 for those of you not interested enough to follow the link). “STHLM,” dedicated to Mats Gustafsson, is one of my favorite pieces by this prolific group. A barn-burner.

Things to be psyched about in 2006

Wednesday, December 28th, 2005

Looking ahead to 2006, here are some things coming down the pipeline that I’m excited about. In no particular order, although the stream-of-consciousness organization might reveal something about what’s foremost on my mind.

  • Magma — a rumored four (!!!) new DVD releases drawn from the 2005 shows at Les Tritonales
  • Univers ZeroLive
  • NeBeLNeSTZePTo
  • DFA — new one
  • Tim Berne with David Torn, Craig Taborn, Tom Rainey — debut release
  • AhleuchatistasWhat You Will
  • ZaarZaar
  • MastodonThe Workhorse Chronicles DVD
  • White Willow — new one
  • Guapo — new one, maybe?
  • Yugen — debut release
  • French TV#9
  • TanakhArdent Fevers
  • MujicianThere’s No Going Back Now
  • Aghora — new one
  • Karnataka (new incarnation with Alquimia) — The Gathering Light
  • MogwaiMr. Beast
  • Beans (with William Parker & Hamid Drake) — new one
  • Matthew ShippOne
  • The Nels Cline Singers — new one
  • The CoupPick a Bigger Weapon
  • MonoYou Are There

And some reissues and archivals:

  • Conventum — both studio albums
  • ManeigeNi Vent… Ni Nouvelle and Libre Service
  • Secret OysterSea Son and 2 others
  • This Heat — comprehensive box set
  • Miles Davis — 3CD “1956 Legendary Quintet Sessions” box set
  • Keith JarrettConcerts (Bregenz/München) and Tokyo Solo 2002

If most or all of these things are actually released in 2006, and they live up to their promise, it looks like it could be another banner year for music I like. Between Miles box sets and four Magma DVDs from Seventh Records, of course, it could also be a painful year for my wallet…

France to legalize file-sharing?

Thursday, December 22nd, 2005

Wow: according to this Bloomberg article, the French Parliament voted to legalize file-sharing with regards to music and movies. Not really sure what to think of that. I’m all for the replacement of the current music industry business model with something sustainable given the utter ease of digital duplication and distribution these days, but is this really the right answer?

Probably a half-step would be better: don’t let industry thugs like the RIAA get away with suing grandmothers and pre-teens for downloading, but at the same time, don’t just let people copy whatever they want whenever they want. How to find (and how, technologically, to implement) a middle-ground measure is awfully tricky to imagine, though. What the ethical basis for such a compromise would be is also a bit hard to see.

Jazz as “the opposite of business”

Wednesday, December 21st, 2005

Nice ending paragraph from an article in today’s New York Times about the 2005 releases of a 1957 Thelonius Monk Quartet archival on Blue Note, and Coltrane’s One Down, One Up (which is at the top of my wish list).

This is how jazz works. It is not a volume business. (Its essence is the opposite of business.) Its greatest experiences are given away cheaply, to rooms of 50 to 200 people. Literature and visual art are both so different: the creator stands back, judges a fixed object, then refines or discards before letting the words go to print, or putting images to walls. A posthumously found Hemingway novel is never as good as what he judged to be his best work. But in jazz there is always the promise that the art’s greatest examples - even by those long dead - may still be found.

If this is the case, then, and I say this because I have Tzadik on the brain thanks to eMusic, John Zorn and company are following the right model — releasing scads of great live recordings alongside (or, in the case of bands like Electric Masada, in lieu of) relatively contemporaneous studio recordings. Tim Berne is another great example, as his Screwgun releases are often basically just high-quality audience DAT recordings packaged onto CDs.

On that topic, I’m currently most enthralled with the latest 50th Birthday release, Painkiller’s. This series has been a real goldmine for me, although I’ve been avoiding the non-band stuff (Zorn solo and with guests) except for Volume 5, the duo with Fred Frith, because I know that stuff will just grate on me more than anything else. But the stuff I do have is fantastic, including this one (Volume 12).

Best of an amazing 2004!

Thursday, December 15th, 2005

It’s past time for my latest best-of-year list. I’ve been procrastinating a bit, see, because 2004 was such an amazingly brilliant year for new music that I would have a hard time making a top-20 list, much less my customary top 10. Nevertheless, here’s my best shot. For the newer readers, note that this is a best of 2004, not 2005 — the extra year allows for a bit more perspective as well as a chance to catch up on releases that passed me by originally.

  1. Isis - Panopticon
    I think I might be biased in favor of this one since it was my first real encounter with this kind of post-rock/metal hybrid. Nevertheless, Panopticon is epic, sweeping, majestic, and absolutely gorgeous: all while being balls-to-the-wall heavy. That’s quite an accomplishment in my book.
  2. Magma - K.A
    When I first heard this, I couldn’t believe how good it was. Now, after having heard some live recordings of Magma from the past few years, I have no trouble believing it. These guys still have it — incredibly, after 35 years they really are still at the top of their game. An instant zeuhl classic, made even better by the fact that it boasts easily the best production and sound quality of any Magma album ever.
  3. Sleepytime Gorilla Museum - Of Natural History
    One of the most promising new bands out there, and if their live shows are any indication, even an album as coherent and powerful as this one doesn’t come close to fulfilling that promise. No sophomore slump here — Of Natural History, especially its first half, pretty much blows me away — but I’d wager that the best is yet to come from these guys.
  4. Electric Masada - 50th Birthday Celebration Volume 4
    This is the record that spurred my tentative exploration of John Zorn-related projects into a frenzy. Dense and intense fusion in the best sense of the term; like Bitches Brew-era Miles that rocks harder and sounds, well, a lot more Jewish. My review hypes it up a bit more than is necessary, but this is still a sterling release and a must for fusion fans.
  5. Zu & Spaceways Inc. - Radiale
    Combine the brutal intensity of Italian free-jazzers Zu and the funky inclinations of Ken Vandermark’s Spaceways Inc., and the result is… one of the best albums of 2004. The first half features some wickedly heavy fuzz bass that would do any upstart zeuhl band proud; the second half opens things up a bit and has some killer covers of Funkadelic and Sun Ra. I prefer the less claustrophic and funkier latter half, but both are fantastic in their own right.
  6. Guapo - Five Suns
    I’m a bit off on my review of this one, harping a bit too much on Guapo’s overt Magma influences. True, those influences are there, but man do they know how to use those influences to make something pretty stellar. The 45-minute titular suite is a hard-driving, nonstop instrumental beat-down that’s hurt only by the fact that it’s front-loaded, opening with its best and most creative 5 minutes.
  7. Kruzenshtern & Parohod - Songs
    Where the hell did these guys come from? Wild punk-jazz klezmer, with an upbeat melodic sense tempered with a healthy penchant for all-out noise. And vocals that you’ll find either annoying as hell or unbelievably hilarious (I love ‘em). Definitely the most unique item on this list; I hope there will be a follow-up coming soon.
  8. Tanakh - Dieu Deuil
    Smoky indie-rock featuring some of the most haunting, beautiful melodies of the year. Jesse Poe’s lyrics and rich vocals combine with many interesting, slow-paced instrumental interludes to make one of the more distinctive indie-rock efforts I’ve heard recently. One of those records that transports you into a different world while you’re listening.
  9. Thinking Plague - Upon Both Your Houses
    This live recording from NEARfest 2000 is essential for fans of this contemporary American RIO band, mostly for its hard-edged, focused takes on tracks like “Warheads” and “Kingdom Come.” This is a rare, valuable document of a top band in top form, and one that rarely performs live.
  10. Mastodon - Leviathan
    I really think I prefer the thrashier, dirtier Remission, but for some reason I keep coming back to this one. If “progressive metal” didn’t mean “symphonic prog with cheesily heavy guitars and even cheesier squealing vocalists,” Mastodon would be the ultimate progressive metal band. Instead, they’re just a kick-ass metal band with lots of proggy tendencies, and nowhere are those tendencies more evident than on this album.

This list, more than any other best-of-year list I’ve done, is likely to change practically daily. Any number of albums could pop into the top 10. Just a few honorable mentions, as I browse my alphabetically-ordered list: Amarok’s Quentadharkën, Tim Berne’s Acoustic and Electric Hard Cell Live, Anthony CurtisBook of the Key, The DecemberistsThe Tain, The Dillinger Escape Plan’s Miss Machine, El-P’s High Water, Faun FablesFamily Album, Satoko Fujii’s Zephyros, Receptor Sight’s Cycles and Connections, Univers Zero’s Implosion, Wilco’s A Ghost is Born

The list could go on, but I think I’ve made my point. And the really shocking thing? The really shocking thing is that 2005 hasn’t been a disappointment after the awesomeness of 2004. Probably not quite as strong overall, but there’s been some amazing music released this year as well. Over at Pitchfork, in his review of Koenjihyakkei’s new Angherr Shisspa, ex-Ground and Sky reviewer Dominique Leone makes the bold claim that “In 2005, rock-based progressive music is bubbling below the surface with almost as much vigor as it did in the late 60s, just before it hit the pop charts in the early 70s during the heyday of Yes and ELP.” Based on the above list and my projected list for 2005, I’d have to agree. It’s a good time to be a fan of progressive music (with a lowercase, not a capital, P).

Note: you can also see my continually-updated top 10 lists from 1997 through 2005.

I joined eMusic

Wednesday, December 7th, 2005

Yesterday I signed up for eMusic.com after posting the below entry, to get my 50 free downloads. Sure enough, it’s on a purely track-by-track basis, so I downloaded the entirety of FantômasDelìrium Cordìa, all 74 minutes and one track of it, and still had 49 tracks left to download. Hmm.

I also discovered that while Tzadik has nearly 400 albums up on eMusic, it’s equally if not more exciting to find that both ReR and Atavistic have some 125 albums each up there as well. This is alongside plenty of indie labels, jazz labels, metal labels, and so on — eMusic is strong in all those areas, weaker in classic 70s music, mainstream prog, and, actually, contemporary mainstream rock and pop.

I also may have to rethink what I posted yesterday about exclusively using eMusic as a kind of scouting service. It does seem a little silly to pass up on what is essentially an enormous amount of incredibly cheap music. Still, I’m not quite sure what my approach will be. Most of the things I really like I’ll probably still buy on CD, but for other things I might just settle for the MP3s.

I’m thinking about joining eMusic

Tuesday, December 6th, 2005

Most everyone who’s been paying attention knows by now that Tzadik has put their entire discography, nearly 400 albums, online at eMusic.com. I think this is unbelievably awesome, and is going to result in Zorn’s label getting a lot of money out of me at least. However, I’m only using emusic for the unfortunately brief (30-second) free previews, figuring out what I like, and then going to a real record store to buy the actual CDs. I’ll probably sign up eventually for $10 a month just to download a full track from each album that sounds promising, and make more informed decisions based on that.

Call me old-fashioned, maybe, but the true reason behind this decision to buy actual CDs isn’t necessarily that I like having a real CD with real packaging — although that is also true. The real reason is that emusic is kind of behind the times and only offers downloads as lossy MP3s. If they offered FLACs, I might rethink. Still, this is extremely cool, and who knows — I might download full albums I might not like quite enough to buy the actual CD of.

Also, another eMusic flaw is that they seem to charge by track — you pay a certain amount to be able to download a specific number of tracks per month. They don’t seem to have a download-by-album option, so you pay a lot more for an album that has 20 short tracks as opposed to 3 long tracks. Maybe once you sign up a solution to this problem becomes apparent. It does seem like a pretty major issue.

You can browse Tzadik’s catalog at emusic from this starting point.