Archive for January, 2008

The Hard Sell

Friday, January 25th, 2008

I have a couple interesting things to write about (thoughts on a couple books, mainly), but wanted to report on the second show of 2008 for me, which was last night at the 9:30 ClubDJ Shadow and Cut Chemist. I’ll betray my total ignorance here: this was the first time I’ve ever seen a show like this before. In fact, the only time I’ve ever seen a live turntablist was when I saw The Beta Band, who at times indulged in some scratching. I do have a couple DJ Shadow albums, and I have an early album by opener Kid Koala, and have heard him on records like Deltron 3030 as well.

With this minimal experience in mind, I had a lot of fun last night. Each performer used four turntables; Kid Koala’s solo act might actually have been my favorite. He really took his set above and beyond the source material he used, including one rather jaw-dropping section where he lifted up the stylus and placed it on different parts of a spinning record, in succession, creating a melody not unlike some of those that appear on the aforementioned Deltron 3030 (I think towards the end of “Things You Can Do” is a good example, but that’s offhand and I’m not sure my memory is right).

On the other hand, DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist’s performance seemed a lot less coherent, and more dependent on the source material. They used a really wide variety of 7″ records, but the whole thing was just a bit too pastichey for me. Still, their talent was undeniable (Cut Chemist in particular showed off some pretty ridiculous chops) and their closing gimmick — imitating the hyperspeed guitar riffing from Metallica’s “One” — was hilarious and awesome. These guys might not be “musicians” in the traditional sense, but they absolutely are artists, working in a particularly postmodern field.

This is going to be a common theme throughout the year — I took some photos. SLRs (for the uninitiated, this basically means professional cameras, though not exactly) were not allowed, so I was using a cheap point & shoot digital camera, but here they are anyway.

Unexpect minus violin: still fun

Thursday, January 17th, 2008

Last night I saw my first show of the year — Unexpect at Jaxx in Virginia. I really like their latest album, In a Flesh Aquarium, although I think folks are blowing its “avant-garde-ness” way out of proportion. Just because it’s pastichey and schizophrenic and draws from a wide variety of styles doesn’t make it avant-garde. But I digress: it’s a very good album regardless, and I was excited to see these guys pull off some of these all-over-the-map compositions in a live setting.

Sadly, the band was missing their violinist for this tour. As far as I could tell, they didn’t so much compensate for that lack so much as just play over it; there was no rearranging of parts and no transcribing of the violin parts to keyboard or guitar. This actually turned out fine. There were a few places where I really missed the violin melody, but for the most part the music didn’t suffer the loss much at all. A lot of that can be attributed to the band’s sheer energy level, which was through the roof, and their enthusiasm for playing their material. This was an extremely entertaining show, to say the least. My favorite piece live is also my favorite on In a Flesh Aquarium, “Desert Urbania,” which has a totally crushing sludgy riff towards the end that was the highlight of the show.

I took my camera to this show, as I’m embarking on a project this year to take as many photographs as possible. So despite the reservations I have about concert photography, I spent the whole concert taking photos and came away with a bunch that I’m pretty happy with. These are up at Flickr and sampled below. Thanks to the band for letting me shoot and for being extremely warm and friendly in general.

Music books!

Monday, January 7th, 2008

I got a bunch of music-related books from my brother for Christmas: Improvisation: Its Nature and Practice in Music by Derek Bailey, A Love Supreme: The Story of John Coltrane’s Signature Album by Ashley Kahn, and (perhaps most excitingly) Music and the Creative Spirit by Lloyd Peterson. I’m about halfway through Bailey’s book and, after finding it a bit of a slow starter (the sections on improvisation in Indian music and flamenco are interesting, but coming as they do at the very beginning of the book, it was a little unclear to me how they fit into a larger thesis), am starting to get really engaged. I’ll have more comments once I’m done with the book, but the ideas that Bailey presents about the effect of formalized notation on the history of music are fascinating. There is also some interesting material about how the systematized version of improvisation present in “traditional” jazz essentially kills the improvisation’s vitality and capacity for progress — this is where the sections on Indian music and flamenco come in, as Bailey stresses in these sections that there is absolutely no way to learn improvisation “by the book” in the context of these musics, as opposed to in trad-jazz.

On another book-related note, a few months ago I read Lords of Chaos: The Bloody Rise of the Satanic Metal Underground by Michael Moynihan, but forgot to write anything about it here. In short, I found some of it a fun read, but it doesn’t read so much like a book about music as it does a true-crime kind of book. In fact, there’s a pretty disappointing lack of analysis about black metal itself, and instead the author chooses to talk endlessly about the twisted ideologies of the major players in the Norweigian black metal scene. I suppose the title should have warned me about that, but I was let down nevertheless. I guess I’m going to have to pick up a copy of Albert Mudrian’s Choosing Death: The Improbable History of Death Metal and Grindcore and hope that it does a better job of sating my appetite for intelligent commentary on the actual music being made in these extreme-metal scenes.

Gross

Friday, January 4th, 2008

From a review of Joanna Newsom’s The Milk-Eyed Mender at rateyourmusic: “This sounds the way it feels when you grate your fingers along with the cheese, leaving clots of blood and sliced nuggets of skin on your creamy white pile of mozzarella… Abrasive.”

Yikes! I don’t agree with it, but that’s a pretty awesome, concise review right there.

Great reissues from 2007

Wednesday, January 2nd, 2008

Happy New Year dear reader! Although I obviously won’t be doing a best of 2007 list just yet, I figure one thing I can do is talk about a few 2007 reissues I thought were great — since I don’t include reissues in my best-of-year lists. I don’t really follow reissues the same way I do new releases, so this list is even more personal than some of my other ones, but anyway, here are some highlights.

Kevin Drumm’s Sheer Hellish Miasma is a 2002 noise recording, reissued this year with an extra track. This was a revelation for me — an electronic apocalypse from a guy I only knew at the time from a similarly cacophonous collobration with Weasel Walter (Flying Luttenbachers) and Fred Lonberg-Holm. Drumm is also active in the eai world, but this stuff is about as far as it gets from the so-quiet-you-can-barely-hear-it end of that genre: though arguably minimalistic, the noise on this record is punishingly brutal. And oh so fucking awesome. Might review this one in the near future; the one thing stopping me is a total lack of reference points or vocabulary to talk about it.

Baby Grandmothersself-titled release — technically this is an archival release and not a reissue, since this stuff was never actually published as far as I know. As far as early Swedish psych-rock goes, this is some of the best I’ve heard. Read my review for more.

I got John Coltrane’s Live in ‘60, ‘61 and ‘65 DVD for Christmas, which was a few days after Oscar Peterson’s death. Peterson is featured on a song or two from the 1961 session here, and I thought it a fitting tribute to get to enjoy footage of one of his inimitable solos. Also it was neat to see Reggie Workman, a bassist whom I have seen perform a few times in the Baltimore/DC area in recent years, playing 45+ years ago yet looking strikingly similar to how he does now. Otherwise, the highlight of the set is a 1965 performance of “My Favorite Things” that stretches for nearly half an hour and reaches some dizzying heights.

Peter Brötzmann’s Complete Machine Gun Sessions is a very nice reissue package of a classic free-jazz blowout. The only problem is that the original “Machine Gun” is so intense and draining that I can barely stand to listen to anything more along the same lines after sitting through it once. I’ve taken to listening to the bonus tracks separately from the original, which seems to work okay. Sometimes I’m a bit of a wimp.

Finally, one that I have, but haven’t actually gotten around to, is Sun Ra’s Strange Strings, which is getting raves from many corners of the Internet, and not just the dark corners populated by crazies. This is an album where the whole Arkestra plays string instruments, which kind of sounds like a downright frightening prospect to me, but what do I know? I haven’t listened to it yet.

Dream Theater: still sucks

Wednesday, January 2nd, 2008

Wow, the “new” Dream Theater album, Systematic Chaos (which I just picked up because it was super-cheap and I am a masochist), is really pretty terrible. Not in the same way that Train of Thought was aggressively awful, but more in a I’m-bored-out-of-my-mind kind of way. I sort of feel bad reviewing their albums these days (even though Octavarium was really okay, nothing too bad) since it’s a bit like poking a stick in the eyes of fanboys around the Internet, but I’ll probably review this one anyway for the sake of comprehensiveness. In the meantime, feast on this amusing review of it at PopMatters.