Archive for July, 2008

Statements of ignorance

Thursday, July 17th, 2008

PopMatters has a very nice review of the reissue of Mogwai’s classic debut, Young Team, but it includes this statement with which I am extremely uncomfortable, and for me colors the reviewer’s credibility quite a bit:

Take the epochal “Mogwai Fear Satan”, still one of the few real epics modern music has produced… [emphasis mine]

Making a blanket statement like that strikes me as… well, absolutely ridiculous.

eMusic + Web 2.0

Wednesday, July 16th, 2008

Some good eMusic news — lots of interesting things in this piece. The juicy bits are:

Let’s say you are a fan of Arcade Fire. You can already read quite a bit about the critically-acclaimed Canadian cult band on its eMusic album pages. Now eMusic will add a wealth of content from the Web 2.0 universe: the band’s Wikipedia entry, pictures from Flickr, and videos of Arcade Fire concerts from YouTube. None of this is available on iTunes or the Amazon digital music store.

eMusic will also allow members to share these pages with friends on popular social media sites like Facebook, Digg, Del.icio.us and Twitter. “These are the things that we know our customers are already doing with the music they love,” says eMusic CEO David Pakman.

This is great, because eMusic is way behind the curve in user experience. It’s nice that there are user reviews and reviews pulled from AllMusic, but the user interface is terrible and there are things like the eMusic discussion boards that might as well be on a totally different site. I’m psyched about this integration with Web 2.0 entities, should make browsing a lot more fun.

But the other thing that really caught my eye in this article was this:

Jesse McCann, digital operations manager for Allegro Media Group, a music distribution company in Portland, Ore., says his company makes about the same amount of money selling songs on eMusic as it does on iTunes: “I’d say our eMusic check is about the same as our iTunes check.”

Given eMusic’s absurd cheapness, this is one hell of a statement.

Vialka: French avant-folk-prog in DC

Wednesday, July 16th, 2008

Vialka 9

Vialka, a French husband-and-wife duo of drums and baritone guitar, played at the Velvet Lounge on Tuesday night. I previewed the show at Black Plastic Bag, complete with plenty of hype and one wildly inaccurate comparison (no, these guys do not sound anything like Ruins).

The show definitely lived up to my expectations. As I wrote in my preview, the band describe themselves, glibly, as a “turbo folk micro-orchestra,” whatever the hell that means. But what they really are is prog, albeit prog in the Etron Fou sense more than anything else, minus a bit of the dadaism. They played a number of lengthy compositions that flitted whimsically through two to three seemingly unrelated themes, most of them involving tricky but somehow bouncy rhythms, gratuitously sung/screamed/declaimed vocals (all in French), and a hell of a lot of fancy guitar fretwork.

Vialka 6

Vialka combine the manic, stop-start spasticity characteristic of so much proggy avant-rock with a melodic sense that draws straight from Eastern European folk and what I ignorantly categorize in my head as “French music.” There’s a sense of whimsy that’s very un-American going on in their writing, which probably makes them sound ridiculous to some of the more jaded types out there, but gives them a certain irrepressible charm for me.

In concert, all the quirkiness embedded in the compositions came out in the open. I got a chance to chat with both band members - Eric Boros, the guitarist, and Marylise Frecheville, the drummer - before and after the show, and my very enjoyable conversations with them gave no hint of their stage personalities. When the show began, Eric donned a shiny metallic shirt and Marylise a sequined spaghetti strap top and the quirkiness just kept going from there. They danced around a lot - Marylise leapt up from behind her kit to dance in the middle of the crowd on two occasions, and Eric was bouncing around with a huge grin on his face the whole time - but more than that, their personalities just seemed to shine through in the vocals and the sometimes hilariously disjointed rhythms.

The reception was quite good, and they sold a few CDs, always nice to see with a band likely so far outside the experience of your average American concertgoer (even one who frequents the Velvet Lounge). Good times.

Vialka 1

There are a few more photos in the full Flickr set - mostly of Marylise as the lighting was almost nonexistent on Eric.

One I like and one I don’t

Friday, July 11th, 2008

I recently picked up DFA’s much-heralded new album, 4th. A long long time ago, I gave Duty Free Area, their last studio album, quite the rave review. When this new one came out, it immediately started garnering very very positive comments in the usual circles, so I was pretty psyched to spin it for the first time. I did, and… I was bored out of my mind. Have my tastes really changed this much in the past eight years? I suppose it’s quite possible. I’ll be giving 4th a few more spins in the hopes that my first impression was a situational fluke, but we’ll see.

Instead, I’ve become totally enamored with Secular Works by Extra Life, which is a band led by Charlie Looker, the guitarist/keyboardist who recently left Zs. This stuff is was more accessible than his old band, though — imagine complex math-rock superimposed on early music and monophonic medieval chants, and you have a very rough idea of what this sounds like. The opening track, “Blackmail Blues,” is completely amazing and one of the coolest things I’ve heard in a long time. Listen to it at Myspace.

Japanese stoner-metal: Boris @ the Black Cat

Thursday, July 10th, 2008

Boris 11

On Tuesday night at the Black Cat, Boris (pictured above), Torche and Clouds played one of the loudest shows I’ve been to all year, to one of the most raucous crowds I’ve been a part of all year. All three of these bands are very heavy rock bands - many fans would call them “metal” but for their own reasons, I believe Boris and Torche tend to eschew that label. But this was almost as “metal” a show as any I’ve seen so far this year, right down to the mosh pit that exploded during Torche’s set, and the wild stage dive by Boris’ drummer at the end of their set.

Clouds 3

Clouds (above) were first, replacing Wolves in the Throne Room who (very sadly, for me at least) dropped off the tour after being pencilled in as the openers. I’m not familiar with their material at all, but they put on an entertaining set of what seemed to be fairly straightforward sludgy metal. Their new album is on Hydra Head, and if this show was anything to go off of, it seems like their music is just a tad poppier than the norm for that label. Solid opener, but I wasn’t inspired to pick up their album right off the bat.

Torche 3

I saw Torche (above) a couple months ago at Rock & Roll Hotel, where I thought they stole the show from headliners The Sword. These guys play a very catchy brand of metal, with melodic hooks galore embedded in their jackhammering guitar riffs. They’re also not afraid to bring the noise, eschewing the poppy stuff in some songs in favor of pure cathartic brutality. But for the most part, they’re a crowd-pleasing band, and that was in full effect last night, as throughout their set a fairly large (by Black Cat standards at least) mosh pit roiled violently in front of the stage, at times threatening to push those of us in the front row practically up onto the stage itself.

The Torche dudes were loving it, playing to the moshers with huge grins on their faces, and seemingly upping the energy of their performance as compared to the one I saw in May. As before, they put on a hugely enjoyable show, even if the music is a little too straightforward for my tastes on record. Also as before, they closed their set with a monstrous, extended version of the title track from their most recent album, Meanderthal, that absolutely brought the house down. Good times.

Boris 13

Boris took the stage after a 45-minute set change, obscured by fog pumping out from the drum riser, playing the opening strains of their newest album, Smile. Their setlist was actually just Smile in its entirety, played in order, except with “Pink” and “Floor Shaker” inserted into the middle of the set. As such, their set exhibited by far the most dynamic range of any of the three bands performing, ranging from hard-driving stoner metal to meandering, pretty soundscapes to breathtakingly exciting extended jams (the final, set-ending song).

I’m not a huge fan of Boris‘ studio output - as I just mentioned, I generally find stoner metal and stuff like this (I realize Boris is not really easy to pigeonhole in any one genre) a little too simplistic - but like Torche, these guys really shine in a live setting. Something about how they bounce between peaceful melody and merciless pummelling is just really fantastic to witness live. Wata is a beast of a guitarist, but you’d never know it from watching her, as she just stands there, expressionless, barely moving, while cranking out some killer riffs. But Takeshi made up for her stoicism with his manic stage presence, flailing around wildly on his headless double-necked guitar (as in the above photo). Atsuo, if anything, was even crazier, but ensconced behind his drum kit as he was, that never really became obvious until the end of the set. And all the while, guest guitarist Michio Kurihara (”guest” even though he’s been on Boris‘ last couple tours) stood quietly in the corner, barely lit, often completely obscured in fog:

Boris 2

The highlight was the end of the set, which was “You Were Holding an Umbrella” followed by its 16-minute closing section, a spectacular jam that built from a near-ambient beginning into a series of noisy, cathartic crescendoes. Almost post-rock-like, except a couple of the noisy parts tended to come more out of nowhere, giving the piece a much less linear feel than your average post-rock epic.

Towards the end, with guitars wailing and feedback screaming, drummer Atsuo started dismantling his kit, chucking cymbals against the giant gong hanging behind him and generally going apeshit. After he had thrown everything around, he jumped up on his bass drum, arms raised, face upturned, reveling in the glorious noise, and then hopped down onto the stage and dove into the crowd. From what I could tell he crowdsurfed half way back into the heart of the club before climbing back on stage, striking another pose, and exiting backstage with the rest of the band still hammering away. The wall of sound subsided shortly thereafter, leaving the crowd to cheer lustily in the hopes of an encore that did not come.

Boris 15

Also check out another nice review, by someone who’s a much more enthusiastic and knowledgeable fan of Boris than I, here at last.fm.

Full set of my photos, as always, at Flickr.

My music writing, elsewhere

Thursday, July 10th, 2008

Some news on my front: I am going to be periodically writing for the Washington City Paper’s music blog, Black Plastic Bag. I’ve followed this blog since it got started just about a year ago. They cover a wide range of stuff, much more than your typical catch-all music blog that ignores anything on the fringes. They had a post all about Cuneiform Records a while back, and one on (the now sadly defunct) Transparent Productions, and they regularly cover metal and out-jazz to a certain extent as well. So I’m happy to get on board and contribute my own skewed perspective to the blog. My first post was a brief blurb on the Boris show reviewed below.

I don’t imagine this will impact Ground & Sky very much, as most of the writing I’ll do for the Bag will be DC-centric. Just wanted anyone reading to know!

HOLY SHIT

Tuesday, July 8th, 2008

HENRY COW
40th ANNIVERSARY BOX SET Volumes 1 & 2
9 CDs and 1 DVD with 2 substantial books - in two solid Boxes. LIMITED EDITION.

Assembled over 15 years, this collection gives for the first time some idea of the breadth and depth of Henry Cow’s work. Always very much a live band, performance was their metier, and a concert might range far - always driven by an intense dialogue between tightly knit compositions and radically open improvisation. The officially released LPs tell at best only half this story, and one purpose of this definitive collection is to set the work back into its broader context. These are all previously unreleased recordings, that include many compositions and improvisations new to anyone who only knows the official releases, documentation of a number of one-off projects and events and - where different or remarkable enough to justify inclusion - live versions of parts of the LP repertoire. Many of these recordings are high quality radio transcriptions taken directly from the original masters, others are less hi-fi, but justified we think by their historic and musical quality. And everything has been carefully transferred and re-mastered by Bob Drake to the best audio quality that current technology allows without interference or tampering. It’s all a million times better than the terrible bootlegs that are swimming around. Altogether, these 9 CDs embody some extraordinary, and occasionally prescient music. Taking this box together with the officially released albums, it is possible at last to get some impression of the extensive ground Henry Cow covered in it’s 10 short years. Finally, there is the DVD: 80 minutes of the 1976 Cow (with Georgina Born and Dagmar Krause) performing many unreleased pieces as well as Living in the Heart of The Beast, Beautiful as the Moon &c. This is the only known video recording in existence - professionally made, multi camera - and has not been recovered since its original broadcast (just scour U-Tube, HC is conspicuous by its total absence). And last but not least, there is a great deal of written, photographic and textual documentation. Since this will probably be the last and definitive collection, it has to be thorough. For reasons of fairness and cost we have decided to split the set into two boxes - which can be bought separately or together. VOL 1 covers the period 1971 to the 1976 Hamburg radio show which documents John Greaves’ last concert with the band, as well as the extraordinary Trondheim concert from the quartet tour that immediately followed. VOL 2 takes the story through to 1978 and includes more previously undocumented compositions as well as the Bremen radio recording. The Stockholm CD belongs to this second box, which also contains the DVD.

This came from ReR via ProgressiveEars. Supposedly out in September for 99 GBP. (I haven’t been able to find the original, so this is unverified, but I believe it.) To recap: nine CDs and one DVD of live Henry Cow — none of this stuff has been released before, so you’re not paying for 5 CDs of stuff you already have in order to get to the goodies.

Wrnlrd: how’d I miss this one??

Tuesday, July 1st, 2008

Okay, I just found a freakin’ amazing 2008 release that I missed in my lists below. The Washington City Paper of all things alerted me to a new release by Virginia-based Wrnlrd, called Oneiromantical War. Wrnlrd apparently has six albums out and a recent interview at Pitchfork, but I’d never heard of them (him) until reading the review in the City Paper. I went and downloaded Oneiromantical War from eMusic and am now completely obsessed, to the point that I almost immediately went and ordered the band’s three most recent albums preceding this one from their website. This stuff is atmospheric black metal, with vocals infrequent and almost completely buried in the mix underneath gritty buzzsaw guitars. The 20-minute “War” is an epic of fantastic proportions, all claustrophobic and evil and soul-crushing and shit.

So if you need your soul crushed, hop over to eMusic and check this mutha out.