Archive for March, 2009

Joanna Newsom is back!!

Tuesday, March 31st, 2009

Joanna Newsom news has been scarce ever since her 2007 EP release; she played a couple isolated shows last year but nothing else. She has no real website and no Myspace page. I’ve been stalking her ever since Ys came out, and have been vaguely worried that she got bored with music or something like that. But there’s great news: she debuted about two hours of new music (!) this past weekend, some of which saw her play piano instead of harp.

It’s always an interesting moment when one of your favorite artists takes to the stage to showcase their next evolution of musical progress. However, from the first pluck of her harp through the last note the performance was nothing short of rapturous. The makeup of her new songs combines the strong melodic presence of songs on the Milk-Eyed Mender with her continued instrumentational prowess and maturation beyond Y’s. It was unclear how many of the songs covered in the course of the two and a half hour set would ever be recorded, but there was never a sour note or “should be cut” moment to be heard. If anything a double album here would make perfect sense, and be one of the most enjoyable albums I’ve heard in ages.

Go read the full article. The sentence “after seeing her new material performed live I think it could easily be her strongest, most enjoyable album to date” also appears. So yeah, Ys might be my favorite album of the decade and I’m kind of uncontrollably excited right now.

Hat tip to the ol’ Pitchfork.

So this is the official re-launch

Tuesday, March 31st, 2009

For those of you coming here from the Ground & Sky main site, welcome to the redesigned blog! It’s still a work in progress - the banner at the top will change (until very recently I had the blog on a black background; now that I’ve changed it to make it easier to read, I need a new idea for a banner), and I’m still not quite done tagging and categorizing all the old entries. Lots of the old internal links will not work right now, either.

I’ve ported nearly 10 years’ worth of blog posts into this new platform, but unfortunately have not been able to move the old comments over. That might happen eventually, but not yet.

As for Ground & Sky itself, it is dormant but not completely dead. You’ll notice a few new reviews posted today (thanks Joe!). I will be periodically posting reviews still, but no promises as to frequency of updates. I’m still trying to figure out a good balance between contributing to the Washington City Paper, where I’ve been blogging for a few months as well as writing the occasional review for the print edition, and continuing work on Ground & Sky.

I have had enough people ask “what happened to Ground & Sky?” to convince me that it’s certainly an endeavor worth continuing. Thank you all for your interest. Please subscribe to this feed and keep your eyes open for new stuff at the site!

What’s spinning, March 30 edition

Monday, March 30th, 2009
  • Agoraphobic Nosebleed - Agorapocalypse Now — The new ANb record is going to piss off a lot of old fans: for starters, there are only 13 songs, and two-thirds of them clock in at over 2 minutes. What’s more, the music actually grooves in places, and there’s a female vocalist (growling and screaming; don’t worry, this is no goth-metal band). I think it rocks and it’s already my favorite ANb that I’ve heard… we’ll see how the diehards react.
  • Arnold Schoenberg/Hilary Hahn - Violin Concerto — I wasn’t familiar with Schoenberg’s violin concerto, and this is my first listen to Baltimore’s favorite violinist. My first impressions on both counts: very favorable.
  • Decoder Ring - Fractions — Really pleasant record from this Australian post-rock/electronic band. Lenka Kripac’s ethereal vocals add a ton, and the end result is a moody slab of chilled-out music that has a couple nice surprises up its sleeve.
  • Flower-Corsano Duo - The Four Aims — 50 minutes of free improvisation, a duo of drums/percussion and shahi baaja, a kind of Indian electric mandolin. I wrote a few paragraphs about this one over at the City Paper.
  • Kylesa - Static Tensions — Savannah, Georgia might seem an odd place for a fucking awesome metal band to emerge, but Kylesa are just that, and their latest album is their best yet. On some of these songs (like the absolutely awesome “Running Red”), they sound a bit like Mastodon does now, only heavier and… better.
  • Mastodon - Crack the Skye — Speaking of Mastodon, I just don’t like their new direction. Crack the Skye is a definitely step up from Blood Mountain, but that just means I find most of it boring instead of tasteless.
  • Napalm Death - Time Waits For No Slave — You know, I never really got that much into Napalm Death’s classic stuff. But this new album totally grabbed me. It’s weirdly hooky and groovy, as far as grindcore goes. In that sense it’s kind of like the new ANb: a pretty great, quite accessible surprise.
  • The BBC - WFMU Studios 9/14/2008Tim Berne, Nels Cline and Jim Black as a trio! Berne and Black play with the chemistry you’d expect, but Cline integrates himself quite nicely indeed. This recording, from a live radio session, is incendiary and entertaining, and the interview segment is amusing as hell. This trio is doing a couple shows in Australia soon; here’s hoping they do some shows in the U.S. soon.
  • The Coup - Kill My Landlord — I’ve been looking for this sucker for years, and it’s finally back in print. This is from the early period of the group, along the same lines as Genocide & Juice, which is far and away my favorite album by The Coup. It doesn’t disappoint. This stuff is way better than the more recent releases like Pick a Bigger Weapon and the hugely disappointing Party Music.
  • The Decemberists - The Hazards of Love — Jury’s still out on this one. Definitely a concept album that has to be listened to from start to finish. Only a couple songs really reached out and grabbed me after a couple listens, but I’m willing to put some effort into this one so we’ll see how it pans out for me.

“The elves have finally come home to Rivendell”

Thursday, March 26th, 2009

Damon Fox of Bigelf on getting added to the Progressive Nation Europe tour:

When I first met Mike Portnoy, I felt like we were cut from the same cloth, a brother from another mother. We could talk rock & roll for eons (we probably will on tour, hell yeah!). Being added to the PROGRESSIVE NATION tour feels like the planets have aligned for us and the elves have finally come home to Rivendell.

Haha. Did he really say that? Gee, guess who the proggy-prog band on this tour is?

Actually, this lineup isn’t bad… Dream Theater, Opeth and Unexpect round things out. It’s a lot more along the lines of last year’s Progressive Nation lineup (replace Between the Buried and Me with Unexpect and Three with Bigelf) than this year’s U.S. tour, which I’m pretty unexcited about. Unexpect always puts on an awesomely spastic show - I saw them three times last year and they just kept getting more entertaining.

Deluxe packaging in the digital age

Tuesday, March 24th, 2009

Here’s a nice piece by the Washington Post Express‘ Chris Porter on deluxe/limited edition packaging (specifically regarding the new releases by Lamb of God and Mastodon) in the era of the MP3 download.

I’ve never been one to fetishize the hold-the-vinyl-in-my-hands-while-listening-to-the-album experience, even though I came of age in the LP era, bought super-stacks of wax and like the format just fine. But I’ve long since moved onto CDs and, more recently, MP3s, and now I don’t really think twice about not having physical artwork and lyrics in front of me while listening to music; if I want to see what the album cover looks like, or what dudes are yelling about, I can find the info online. And while I still want a hard copy of the albums I really love (on CD, not even vinyl), like with music people, the majority of the music I listen to these days is in the MP3 format, played on my computer, with no extra-musical doodads influencing my experience.

That about describes my experience as well, except I’m a little younger than Chris and grew up in the dawn of the CD era.

Anyway, I’m not psyched about this new Mastodon, but then I haven’t heard it yet. I was so disappointed by the direction the band went in with Blood Mountain that I’m pretty sure I’m going to dislike Crack the Skye just as much. Seriously, I was shocked that Blood Mountain got such a good critical reception, and now that the new one is getting equally good reviews I don’t really know what to expect. I plan to buy it anyway (the basic CD version for $9.99, not any limited editions) and see what’s what.

Pitchfork & PopMatters on the new Decemberists

Monday, March 23rd, 2009

Pitchfork reviews The Hazards of Love and gives it a lowly 5.7. In the summary blurb, the phrases “stoner metal sludge” and “prog-folk” are invoked. On the other hand, while PopMatters’ review starts with the ominous phrase “There have been signs that this was coming” and compares the album to GenesisLamb (usually a kiss of death in a mainstream publication these days), the review ends up being very positive indeed. All this makes me feel cautiously optimistic about how I might like this one. I haven’t bothered listening to the low-bitrate version that leaked a couple weeks ago, so I’m looking forward to hearing the release with fresh ears.

Also reviewed today at Pitchfork: Kylesa’s new one, Static Tensions. Kylesa are a hip sludgy metal group with at times very distinct Pink Floyd influences, two drummers, and a rotating cast of vocalists (though the chief screamer is guitarist Laura Pleasants, who rocks). Pitchfork gave it a good review, and I agree: this is a good ‘un.

A note on the blog overhaul

Friday, March 20th, 2009

My old blogging “platforms” did not support post titles, per se (the date and time of the post stood in as the title). I am in the process of literally going through every single old post and adding a title (this is as much for my reference, and my entertainment, as anything else). Until I get through with that task, the old posts may look kind of weird in this current layout.

Said layout, also, is likely to change, so don’t get too used to it.

Finally, I am looking into the feasibility of importing all the old comments into the new system. This may or may not be doable with a minimum of pain, and for this particular enterprise I don’t think my pain tolerance is going to be too high.

Until these things are done, this new blog platform won’t officially go live, but I’ve activated Technorati integration etc already, so I know folks will find their way here before then. For those of you: this thing is still in a preliminary stage.

Second blog overhaul in almost 10 years

Friday, March 20th, 2009

It’s kind of amazing to this that this blog contains my scattershot ramblings on music over almost the last decade. Looking back, I’ve written more than my share of asinine and embarrassing crap, but some of this is pretty entertaining.

Anyway, in 1999 this thing started as a static HTML page that I updated manually, on a clunky website using HTML frames (those were the bad old days). By 2002 I had rewritten the entire website to be at least slightly dynamic, using PHP scripts to read data from text files (still no database-driven content), and the blog followed suit. Somewhere around 2005 I kicked around the idea of using PHP and MySQL to recreate the website in a database-driven form, and even started writing my own blogging platform. However, I didn’t have the time or motivation to see it through, and in part I’m glad, because there are now lots of blogging platforms out there far superior to anything I could possibly write.

So after a couple relatively painless hours of work I’ve ported all the content from my blog into this WordPress blog, thus bringing it into the Web 2.0 era. Still got to nail down what look & feel I want (right now this is just the same thing I use for my photography blog), but getting the content moved is a good start. Hopefully this means I’ll actually start writing in this thing again, at least occasionally - looking back over the last 9 years of posts convinced me that this is something worth keeping up.