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Archive for January, 2006

Upcoming concerts in the DC area

Thursday, January 26th, 2006

Here’s a look at some of the interesting shows coming up in the DC area in the next few months. This post is as much for me as for anyone else, though folks in the area may find something they like. Note that I’ve omitted some obvious prog-centric shows, like Rick Wakeman, The Carl Palmer Band, Niacin, Mahavishnu Project, Spock’s Beard, etc., since I’m not personally interested in them.

  • Alec K. Redfearn and the Eyesores at The Warehouse Nextdoor, January 27 — Hey, that’s tomorrow. I missed these guys the last time they were in DC, and still haven’t heard their album on Cuneiform, but I may well check them out in this venue anyway. Weirdly, this show is listed at the Warehouse website but not the Warehouse Nextdoor site, so I’ll have to call to confirm that it’s actually happening…
  • The Vandermark 5 at Iota, February 3 — Nice; I didn’t even know these guys were on tour. One of my favorite contemporary avant-jazz ensembles. I’m seriously thinking about plonking down the cash for their 12-CD live box set; maybe I should actually go see them live before I make that call!
  • Low at The Black Cat, February 4 — I haven’t heard any of these guys’ recent output, but I like what I do have (namely The Curtain Hits the Cast) and for $13, I might check out their live show.
  • Nile at Jaxx, February 8 — They’re touring in support of Annihilation of the Wicked, one of metal fans’ highlights of 2005. I haven’t quite gotten into that record as much as many others, but maybe I’ll make it out to Springfield for this show to see what I’m missing.
  • Formanek/Berne Quartet at An Die Musik (Baltimore), February 11 — Ever since I first got into saxophonist Tim Berne, I’ve been waiting for him to play a live date somewhere near me, with any one of his numerous bands. He plays incessantly, but generally only in the New York area. This is my first chance to see him (and with Tom Rainey, perhaps my favorite current jazz drummer)!
  • The Wu-Tang Clan at The 9:30 Club, February 13 — I’d be interested in seeing these hip-hop godfathers, even if I find live hip-hop more miss than hit, but tickets are $50. No thanks. I’m not really surprised that they already sold out one set even at those prices, though.
  • Flogging Molly at The 9:30 Club, February 22 — I used to be a big fan of these guys, but I’ve kind of tired of their Celtic-punk gimmick. I might go anyway, except for the fact that I just bought tickets for a vacation to Ecuador leaving on the 22nd. Next time, maybe.
  • Belle & Sebastian at The 9:30 Club, March 5 & 6 — Both shows already sold out; wow. I saw these guys a couple years ago and it was a lot of fun, even if their live sound is pretty much exactly the same as their studio sound.
  • Charming Hostess at Busboys & Poets, March 7 — The a cappella trio version of the band is going strong: three women singing Jewish and other folk-influenced stuff, with a unique feminist/leftish/something sort of bent. I’ll definitely be at this show; cool venue too.
  • Mogwai at Sonar (Baltimore), March 7 — I wish they were coming closer to DC, and I wish they didn’t conflict with Charming Hostess. This being a weeknight I’ll probably opt for the closer show; maybe they’ll schedule a date closer to DC as the time nears. Sure hope so; when I saw them at the 9:30 a couple years ago, they were awesome.
  • Orthrelm at Talking Head (Baltimore), March 16 — Given that OV is possibly my favorite record of 2005, and I can’t imagine how it could possibly be pulled off live, seeing Orthrelm is a must for me. But since they’re from DC, surely they’ll be playing closer than this sometime in the near future. Might wait til then.
  • Grey Eye Glances at Jammin’ Java, March 18 — They rarely seem to play outside of New England, so I’m pretty excited that these folk-rockers will be coming down to Virginia again. I saw them in Boston, though sans Brett Kull (Echolyn, who along with Ray Weston has been an integral part of the band for a while now), and they were great. I’m there.
  • The Gathering at Jaxx, March 19 — If I have it in me to trek out to suburban NOVA two nights in a row, this should be a fun show; melodic goth-metal band that I’ve reliably enjoyed since their mid-90s output. Apparently one of only 6 shows they’re playing in the U.S.
  • Animal Collective at The Black Cat, March 21 — This avant-folk band has been getting rave reviews from people I respect, but I haven’t heard any of their stuff yet. If they’re as good as everyone says though, I’ll be at this show.
  • Cyro Baptista at Lisner Auditorium, March 25 — I’ve only heard Baptista in the context of John Zorn-related projects (like Electric Masada, where he is a beast). Here he’s performing with his Beat the Donkey band, which the Lisner website describes as “hilarious fusion overload” with “all the impact of a Brazilian carnival.” How can I miss that?
  • Green Carnation at Jaxx, March 29 — Well, I think these guys have been pretty lame since Light of Day, Day of Darkness, but they’re the kind of band that I bet would be pretty fun to see live. Might make it out to this one.
  • Isis, Dälek and Zombi at The Black Cat, April 30 — WOW what a lineup! The band that released my favorite album of 2004, Panopticon; one of the most forward-looking, avant-garde hip-hop groups there is, who have collaborated with Faust in the past; and a group I haven’t heard yet that is most often compared to Goblin. This is easily the most-anticipated show on my list here. Can’t wait!

Also, Mono and Pelican are touring this summer along with who knows who else. Looks like this could be a strong year for live music. I think I may make more of an effort to go to shows than I have in the past, if I can afford to do so (and if I can convince some friends to join me for some of these).

Writing something about everything

Wednesday, January 25th, 2006

A quick follow-up to my January 6th post regarding the digression of Ground & Sky from some of its original aims. I have started undertaking what is probably an absurdly ambitious project (though it’s considerably less ambitious than Ground & Sky was when it started) — I’m creating a document in which I write a paragraph about every single album I own. Not necessarily a “review” per se, just anything interesting I can think of about each album. I have the framework put together and even with just a small percentage of the blurbs written, it’s already over 100 pages long. I expect the final thing will be 300-400 pages of crap no one except me will ever want to read.

Understanding why the hell I would embark on such an apparent waste of time requires going back to the first reason I cited in my January 6th post regarding why I decided to start Ground & Sky. That is: writing about an album forces me to understand that album, at least in theory. Since I’ve been reviewing on Ground & Sky far too selectively for the past five years or so for that to work, I decided to open another outlet for my music writing, one that would allow me to write just a quick blurb without having to research a full review. Thus, this project. I don’t know what I’ll do with it when I’m “done” (though I guess it’ll never be done, so long as I keep buying new CDs). Probably post it somewhere onsite, I guess, though who would actually be interested is up for grabs. But then, that’s not the point; it’s a purely introspective exercise.

Of course, I expect that Ground & Sky will benefit in that I’ll have more reviews to write as I become more familiar with the albums in my collection. We’ll see. Should be an interesting experiment, anyway.

Terrible band names

Thursday, January 19th, 2006

I nominate Presto Ballet for Worst English-Language Band Name Ever. And really, are there any other serious contenders? No? I didn’t think so.

Stylus’ guide to extreme metal

Friday, January 13th, 2006

For those who are interested, Stylus Magazine has a pretty cool Beginner’s Guide to Metal feature. They cover death, black, grindcore, and doom metal, offering lists of classics in each subgenre. This is the serious shit — you won’t find any Metallica or Dream Theater in here. As someone who came to these forms of extreme metal pretty recently (2003 or so), I find these lists of earlier albums useful. I do, though, tend to get turned off by the gritty, thin production quality of a lot of early metal albums, but I’ll have to try out a few of these that I haven’t yet heard.

On an unrelated note (or not, depending on how close you think this band falls to metal), this concert review has one of the best descriptions I’ve ever read of Sleepytime Gorilla Museum’s music and spectacle. Kudos to that writer.

“Not bad, but not good either”

Tuesday, January 10th, 2006

Wow, talk about an enthusiastic review: check out this one of Xcarnation’s Grounded at Sea of Tranquility. The reviewer’s concluding paragraph is, “This is an adventurous album that slowly leaves an impression. I hated it the first time I heard it; now I don’t.” Now there’s a ringing endorsement.

Bill Martin is not a very good writer

Monday, January 9th, 2006

Amazon finally delivered my copy of Bill Martin’s book Avant Rock: Experimental Music from the Beatles to Björk, which I mentioned buying in an earlier entry. I’m about 50 pages into it and while it’s not exactly compellingly readable, it’s interesting to me thanks to my insatiable interest in the subject. Martin’s writing style is awful, though — the organization of this book is pretty much impossible to follow (if indeed there’s any rhyme or reason to it at all), and he has an annoying habit of name-dropping esoteric Western philosophers at literally every turn. While I am enough of an academic at heart to be interested in how avant-rock relates to Derrida, this is just a little much. I almost get the feeling that Martin just included every single connection between music and philosophy that came to his mind while writing (let’s not even start on his weird chess analogies). This guy needs an editor, bad.

None of this is stopping me from reading, of course. Just… be warned if you’re expecting an easy-to-read overview of avant-rock, because this sure isn’t it. Avant Rock makes Chris Cutler’s File Under Popular look like a children’s book.

Ground & Sky: not meeting its original aims

Friday, January 6th, 2006

In the spirit of the new year, here are a few thoughts on how Ground & Sky is inadequate in many different ways.

Originally, the intent of Ground & Sky was twofold: one, to offer me (and others whom I recruited to write for the site) an outlet for writing about my CDs, and thus to help me in understanding them better. The idea being, of course, that in order to write about a CD, you have to listen to it, and listen to it not just casually, but attentively. Secondly, Ground & Sky was intended to be a comprehensive database of progressive rock albums of all eras, a la the GEPR, but with more information.

Obviously the second goal has proven impossible. It could be possible with a far, far more focused effort to review everything and a far larger reviewer staff. However, it’s even strayed from the first goal, at least for me. In the beginning, Ground & Sky reviews were short capsule reviews, basically a paragraph where I (or another reviewer) would give a brief opinion about the album. Period. Now, Ground & Sky reviews tend to be longer affairs, and I at least put a fair amount of research and careful thought into each of mine. This is fine, except it precludes me, for the simple reason of limitations on free time, from writing about all of the CDs I’d like to write about. Thus, there are lots of CDs that I’d like to write about, but I don’t have enough time to dedicate to listening that carefully to them or researching them deeply enough in order to write full-length reviews of all of them.

(Interjection: interestingly, this shift in style from capsule review to full-length review, so to speak, was completely unintentional. It does not represent any conscious shift in mentality, only a gradual, structural change. I could write an entire article on how and why this happened.)

Another way in which Ground & Sky is “inadequate,” per se, is that the entire idea of a music review is a fundamentally synchronic one. This is not how music is experienced. By posting a review of an album, the message is that the experience of an album is a one-time thing, and that one’s attitude towards that album never changes. Obviously this is false; the experience of music is a diachronic one, with feelings, opinions, and understandings changing over time with further listening. Therefore any review site offers a distorted view of how music is experienced. Certainly most of the reviews I wrote a year ago (to say nothing of those I wrote five years ago) are not necessarily accurate of how I feel about the albums in question now.

I think Mike McLatchey, with his private Other Music Diary, is on to a better model of writing about music: an ongoing, thinking-out-loud blog of sorts, in which he and other participants post brief paragraphs about what they listen to each day. Gradually, and especially as albums are written about over and over again each time they are listened to, this offers a more accurate picture of how a listener’s experience of a given piece of music is constructed.

I have other thoughts, but that’s enough for now. However, a disclaimer is probably in order: I still believe that Ground & Sky does fulfill certain important needs, for myself personally and hopefully for our reviewers and even more hopefully for some nebulous general public of regular readers who get something out of our writings. This is merely an effort to reveal some of my underlying feelings about the site and the way that it is presented.

Socialism and Fläsket Brinner

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2006

Happy new year!

One of my most recent acquisitions, which has quickly become a prized possession, is the 2003 box set of Fläsket Brinner’s Swedish Radio Recordings, 1970-1975. It is amazing that such a thing exists: four discs of top-notch performances from this obscure (outside Sweden, at least — but I imagine they are hardly mainstream material even in their native country) psych-prog group. Perhaps the best of these is the final disc, from 1975, in which two members of Älgarnas Trädgård joined the band, giving a much spacier and more “out” feel to the jams. But it’s all fantastic stuff and highly recommended. The packaging is gorgeous, and the little note in the booklet confirms my suspicions as to why: “This project was supported by the Swedish Council for Cultural Affairs.”

The Swedish system of social democracy at its best: public grants supporting boundary-pushing artists in the interests of advancing the state of modern music. Well, Fläsket Brinner was “boundary-pushing” 30 years ago, at least. Still, I’m not complaining.