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Archive for May, 2006

Petition to Änglagård: Release the NEARfest ‘03 performance on CD!

Wednesday, May 24th, 2006

As someone who does a bit of grassroots online organizing as a small part of my job, I know something about online petitions. Generally they are more useful for building an organization’s list of supporters than for actually influencing what they claim to be trying to influence. That said, I actually feel that this petition to Änglagård to release their NEARfest 2003 performance on CD has a chance at achieving its goal. At the very least it’s worth signing to show the band how many fans they still have out there, despite the fact that no new material has been released for a dozen years now.

Satoko Fujii & Natsuki Tamura: best show I’ve seen for a while

Wednesday, May 24th, 2006

Saw a couple Transparent Productions shows the past two nights. On Monday, Rashanim, a rock trio who have played interpretations of John Zorn’s Masada songbook, played as part of the Washington Jewish Music Festival. I went with a couple friends (who happened to be Jewish) who absolutely loved them. They played Masada songs that didn’t sound very much like Masada, or very Jewish either for that matter. It was, as Steve Feigenbaum said, all quite jam-bandish. I liked them well enough — it was a fun show, very accessible, and the band went through their set playing a pretty wide variety of styles, from rock and jazz to surf to funk. They were really fun to watch as well. I wish they’d stretched out a bit more and gotten more “out,” but on the other hand my favorites of what they played were the slower, more nuanced and melodic material.

Tuesday night was Satoko Fujii & Natsuki Tamura. Fujii is one of my absolute favorite jazz musicians active today. In the interest of brevity, I often call her an “avant-jazz pianist,” but in the wake of last night’s show this is clearly a totally inadequate description. While she’s known for jazz, she’s classically trained, and this came through in a big way last night. A lot of what she played had as much to do with Western classical music as it did with anything that swung or was jazzy in any sense. She has an amazing knack for going off on intense, Cecil Taylorish tangents and then returning, suddenly and delightfully, to slow, contemplative, beautiful melodies. Tamura was also a revelation on trumpet, playing with feeling and a wide variety of tones and styles. I generally prefer Fujii’s compositions to her husband’s, but his trumpet playing is definitely nothing to sneeze at.

The show was quite demanding, attention-wise, as the two played for over an hour straight, with no breaks in between pieces; I recognized a bunch of the themes but it was often difficult to tell when they had moved from one “song” to another. The music was generally unpredictable, but in a tantalizing way: Fujii in particular would hover over almost-melodies, but instead of playing them out, she would veer off onto different melodies that, often as not, were even more delightful than what came before.

A “difficult” show, and one that generally focused on a more abstract side of Fujii’s than what I’ve heard from either her Orchestra or Quartet lineups, but a fantastic one. I’m thankful that they came to DC to play for an tiny audience of about 15 dedicated folks.

eMusic carving out their no-DRM niche

Tuesday, May 23rd, 2006

Great, great article at ArsTechnica (an excellent computer-geekery site), regarding the rise of eMusic thanks to their business model eschewing cumbersome digital rights management (DRM) copy protection schemes. The problem with this model is that none of the major labels are willing to distribute their product electronically without DRM, so eMusic has to “settle” for indie labels.

Well, turns out this isn’t a huge problem after all. In an encouraging sign for the state of music today, apparently eMusic has a 12% market share of digital music downloads — and if the article is right, there’s plenty of room for growth, as the “bands found on the site account for almost 30 percent of sales in the US music market” — all this despite the fact that not one major-label release is anywhere to be found. I think that’s pretty great. And, equally amazingly given the ridiculous cheapness of eMusic downloads (you can literally get full albums for 25 cents), apparently their business model is making money.

On a side note, I find it fascinating, and pretty shocking, that the average age of eMusic’s customer base is… drumroll… 39! Really? I wonder what the average age of an iTunes customer is — or for that matter, the average age of anyone that downloads (legal) music. Probably at least a decade younger.

Mogwai and decibel levels

Thursday, May 11th, 2006

ChrisX’s comment on my previous post, urging me to invest in some earplugs because I seem to go to a lot of loud shows, is excellent and timely. Last night I saw Mogwai, a band renowned for their crushingly loud shows, at the 9:30 Club. I saw them a couple years ago at the same venue and they didn’t quite live up to that rep, but this time they were plenty loud. It was a more controlled loud than last Sunday’s show, though, which just suffered from idiotic mixing, but it still left my ears ringing. Today, however, I received a pair of Etymotic earplugs, just in time for tonight’s Mono/Pelican show which also promises to feature massive volume levels. I’ve had my eye on the Etymotics for some time — a few years ago I invested in a pair of their ER-6 isolating headphones, which are excellent, so I know they make a good product. Thanks Chris for giving me the little nudge I needed to finally go ahead and order those earplugs…

As for the Mogwai show, it was pretty good. The thing about this band’s recent output is that while it’s all very good, it’s also sort of anonymous. Most of their newer songs just aren’t as memorable as a lot of their older material — it’s still just as exciting and beautiful (and predictable), but it just doesn’t linger quite as long. So I couldn’t identify a lot of the songs the band played, which hurt my enjoyment a bit, but not much. The highlights were “Friend of the Night” — easily my favorite track from the new Mr. Beast — and the surprising selections of “Yes! I am a long way from home” from Young Team and “Christmas Steps” from Come On Die Young. The latter was an absolute killer and the high point of the show. Now, if only they would go back to playing “Mogwai Fear Satan” regularly at their shows…

Isis, Dälek & Zombi: too damn loud

Tuesday, May 2nd, 2006

On Sunday night I saw what should have been an absolutely astonishingly good show: Isis, Dälek, and Zombi. This unlikely but inspired combination of bands — a metal band, a hip-hop group, and a soundtracky electronic music duo — was the one single show lineup I have been most excited about seeing all year. Isis in particular is one of my absolute favorite modern bands, and I think Dälek’s Absence is one of the best hip-hop albums in recent years. Zombi I had heard compared to the likes of Goblin, and the clips I heard sounded promising.

The bands themselves didn’t really disappoint. I missed some of Zombi’s set, but what I heard sounded interesting — throbbing laptop beats with killer live drumming and the occasional blistering live bass. Definitely less soundtracky and more heavy electronica than I expected, but very cool. Dälek was absolutely killer; the dense, brutal industrial soundscapes that are so abrasive on record are absolutely crushing live. And Dälek (the MC) has an interesting stage presence, all anger and contempt and vitriol, glaring at everything and everyone while spitting his raps into the microphone or nodding his head to the beat. The producer’s rig went out on him at one point, forcing Dälek to freestyle for a bit; he was less than convincing in this respect, but every other part of his set was killer.

Finally, Isis was… pretty much exactly what I expected them to be. They didn’t deviate much from their studio compositions, but they didn’t need to. Their abrupt jumps from headbanging extreme metal to evocative soundscaping were so effective live that audience members were actually laughing in gleeful delight at some of their more powerful transitions. These guys take what Mogwai does best and one-ups them in a big way. Absolutely awesome.

So what went wrong? First, the sound in the club was just stupid loud. My ears were still ringing this morning, some 36 hours after the end of the show. You know how sometimes at shows you can feel the sound making the bottoms of the legs of your pants vibrate a little? Well, at this show all my clothing was vibrating noticeably, all the time. This was definitely the fault of the club and not the bands, as even the filler music player between sets was ridiculously loud, almost at the volume level of what a band at a normal show would be playing at. The end result was that, for Zombi, the live bass lines were so distorted as to be imperceptible; for Dälek, the electronics made Dälek’s rapping all but inaudible; and for Isis, the quieter moments were nearly overcome by what should have been subtle feedback and effects but ended up being overbearingly loud.

Second, I was just too tired. This is the first time that this has happened to me since NEARfest 2000 — I was so tired that it actually affected my enjoyment of the bands. Too bad.

Nevertheless, despite these drawbacks, I have ridiculously fond memories of the show (once my ears recovered). Isis and Dälek were both, despite the volume issues, pretty unforgettably powerful. I can’t wait until these guys come around here again.