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Ground and Sky » 2009 » April
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for April, 2009.
First in what might or might not be a consistent series, in which I talk briefly about a specific song I can’t stop listening to.
Over the Rhine are a low-key husband-and-wife folk ensemble whose music incorporates elements of jazz, rock, and soul in equal and sometimes unpredictable measure. “Lifelong Fling” appears on what is widely considered their flagship release, 2003’s double album Ohio. The band’s R&B inflections come to the fore here, as Karin Bergquist’s vocals are oddly slurred, incredibly soulful, and absolutely bewitching. Some oblique slide guitar solos and a smoky, jazzy piano melody round out what has become my favorite Over the Rhine song. Just gorgeous stuff.
Also, the song opens with the line “The moon blindsided the sky again,” which is easily one of the more artful lyrics about nightfall that I can think of.
Except that it actually was, during Avant Fairfax last Saturday (my brief writeup and photos are at the City Paper). This is literally the only time I have ever laughed at someone yelling “Freebird” at a concert. Every other time I want to hunt down the culprit and do something violent to him or her.
Towards the beginning of Cheer Accident’s headlining set, someone yelled out “More cowbell!” Thymme Jones (above, singing) made some disparaging remark in his general direction, something like, “Next thing you’re going to be yelling ‘Freebird’.” I appreciated the takedown. Thymme rambled on a bit more, some more music was played (they were pretty great btw, if a little disjointed), and then the Avant Fairfax organizers gave C-A the bad news: they would have to cut their set short because it was 2am, long past the time the show was supposed to have been over. They were given ten more minutes to finish up.
Thymme hemmed and hawed and asked no one in partiuclar, “what can we do in ten minutes?”
Well, not really, but I’m going to talk about both of them in one blog post, and that’s probably as close as they should ever get to each other. Mostly I just read two excellent pieces of music journalism and wanted to share excerpts.
In this New Yorker piece on Lady Gaga, the pop singer who, as the article points out, breaks the norm by being influenced more by European techno than American hip-hop:
Call it The Question of Endurance. You and your friends are talking about music, and the conversation turns to a popular band. You express support. A friend voices her opinion, maybe as favorable as yours, but appends a qualifier: “I like them, but will they be around in ten years?” You may feel compelled to defend whomever it is you’re talking about, covering the present moment and the future with your positive take. After trying this approach, though, you realize that pop music has no Constitution and doesn’t operate like a de-facto Supreme Court: precedent is not always established, and isn’t even necessary. Pop rarely accretes in a tidy, serial manner—it zigs, zags, eats itself, and falls over its shoelaces.
Even better is Cosmo Lee’s Pitchfork review of Agorapocalypse. This dude also writes for Decibel and runs the excellent Invisible Oranges blog, so he knows his metal. That said, I disagree with his review here, but it’s still a great piece of writing.
As plastic percussion flailed away below thrash and death metal riffs, the various vocalists of Agoraphobic Nosebleed extolled drugs, guns, and fucking. It was the sound of civilization’s decline, sold at Toys “R” Us with hazardous metal parts… This aesthetic culminated in 2003’s Altered States of America, which crammed 100 songs into 20 minutes. It was not an album so much as a temper tantrum.
He concludes that “Agorapocalypse is disappointingly listenable,” a sentiment I understand. I just think he’s off base.
Last week I went up to Baltimore to photograph the Music as a Weapon IV tour. This is a tour headlined by hard-rock/metal band Disturbed, whom I don’t particularly have much interest in, but the three opening bands had varying levels of appeal for me - Killswitch Engage, Lacuna Coil and Chimaira. Of these I’m most familiar with Lacuna Coil; I like Comalies, am largely indifferent to Karmacode, and haven’t but would like to hear their earlier material. Mostly I think Cristina Scabbia has a very strong voice.
I got the opportunity to interview Scabbia before the show (thanks Shum @ Riot Rock Management). The results are here at Black Plastic Bag. I haven’t done any interviews for quite some time (you can see some really old ones here), but Scabbia was pretty much the easiest subject ever: friendly, talkative, and generous with her time. I was originally told that I would have ten minutes with her after some other publicity event and before a 6pm meet and greet. I guess the meet and greet didn’t happen, because when I told her I wasn’t sure how much time we had left, she shrugged and said, “it doesn’t matter.” I ended up running out of things to ask after half an hour. In fact, the full interview transcript is kind of choppy because I planned my questions around having 10 minutes, and when I ended up having 20 more than I expected, I had to jump around asking different things as they came to mind. Oh well.
Anyway, there’s nothing there for anyone not interested in Lacuna Coil, but I’ve written about plenty of female-fronted metal on this site so some of you will probably get something out of it. Enjoy.
Via Downtown Music Gallery’s invaluable newsletter comes info about this release, which I hadn’t known anything about at all, until now. Ducret, the avant-jazz guitarist whom I know and love through his work with Tim Berne, has apparently put together an 11-piece group (instrumentation: guitar, bass, drums, keys, sampler, vibes, 3x reeds, trumpet, trombone) and recorded an album called Le Sens de la Marche, about which Bruce Lee Gallanter of DMG gushes:
This is most likely the largest ensemble (11 piece) that Marc Ducret has led, certainly on record it is. It would seem that Marc has taken some time to compose this adventurous music and whip this ensemble into shape. No easy feat since the music is complex and the group is super-tight and obviously inspired… “Total Machine” starts with Ducret’s distinctive sleek guitar tone with some twisted yet funky horns in counterpoint (great bari in there). When that marimba soon enters and the horns play those intricate arrangements it feels we have entered Zappa-land via The Grand Wazoo. I dig the way the band is broken into a few different layered and inter-connected parts simultaneously, another great trick that us Zappa fans savor. The first smokin’ sax solo comes from Hugues Mayot, with the rest of the band in splendid form around him cheering him on. This piece ends with a suspense-filled minimalist dreamscape that is surprising but works perfectly to let us down slowly back to the planet earth. “Tapage” is another Grand Wazoo-like piece with an ominous marching beat, layers of horns, superb vibes solo and some incredibly tight and complex rhythm team work. The interplay between the guitar and clavinet is especially snazzy. Although “Le Menteur Dans L’Annexe” starts with a calm, thoughtful intro we soon find our way into an intense, crazed el. guitar and Fender Rhodes duo, then back to some ‘Waka Jawaka’-like wackiness with layers of goofy spoken word vocals in the background. At nearly 73 minutes, this treasure has to be one of the best and most ample progressive/jazz-rock discs of this year or any other year in recent memory.
…is now over at the Washington City Paper, print version out tomorrow. I liked the album. Some of the diehard grindcore freaks on the Internets are already all pissed off because Agorapocalypse isn’t, well, pissed-off enough, but I have a feeling they’ll be in the minority. It’s a good record.
Things that didn’t make that review due to a pretty strict word limit:
The album starts off all thrashy and grindy, but then seems to slow down as a whole by track 5.
“Question of Integrity” ends with a drum solo, which is implicitly hilarious since all the drums on the album are programmed.
Those programmed drums sound really good. In the past they clearly didn’t sound real, although that wasn’t really a problem since it almost seemed intentional (after all the band was going for unrealistic bpm heights).
Kat’s vocals fucking slay. I think her voice might annoy some of the old fans, but as a fan coming from as much a death metal as a grindcore background, I love what she adds to ANb’s sound.
“Moral Distortion” ends with the quote, “My National Enquirer says that musicians cannot play a single note unless they eat drugs first!” Which I just find really hilarious for some reason.
That’s all. Fun album. Out next Tuesday, and the vinyl version contains a bonus track apparently.
The above is a clip from a DVD I grabbed from Dimeadozen a couple days ago, filmed at Zu’s release show for their new album Carboniferous. It’s representative of the quality of the DVD - excellent audience recording, steady camera, pretty good sound. About an hour long, which, like any of Zu’s actual albums, teeters right on the edge of being too exhausting to get through in one sitting. This band is a rhythm-and-noise monster, with few melodies to divert attention from the pummeling beats and the unfathomable sounds that Luca Mai (bari sax) and Massimo Pupillo (bass) manage to squeeze out of their instruments.
Maybe it’s just the camera angle, but Mai in particular is a looming beast, shrieking, squawking and skronking his way through the Carboniferous songs in a way that’s just mesmerizing. I love how he beats on his sax when he’s not playing - the sound on this recording isn’t quite good enough for me to tell if it’s actually to add another percussive layer to the sound, or if he’s just in a performative trance, tapping out the rhythm absent-mindedly as he waits his turn to tear shit up.
So Baltimore hosts a crazy death metal festival every year since 2003… the lineup has never really caught my eye that much, until this year. There are a ton of bands I want to see this time around, so I’m going to Saturday and Sunday (missing Friday for work reasons and to see St. Vincent here in DC).
Here are the bands that will be there. The ones in boldface are the ones I know and like and plan to see, but many of the others I’ve never heard (there are only a couple I’ve heard and dislike). If you know anything about any of these bands that I don’t, make a recommendation!
I also posted this to the extreme metal private thread at ProgressiveEars, and from recommendations there so far, I’m going to be checking out Maruta and Rotten Sound in addition to what’s highlighted below…
Saturday, May 23rd: Bolt Thrower, Atheist, Napalm Death, Brutal Truth, Immolation, Hail of Bullets, General Surgery, Phobia, Birdflesh, Pig Destroyer, Wolves in the Throne Room, Misery Index, Rotten Sound, Flesh Parade, Unearthly Trance, Pretty Little Flower, Crowpath, Man Must Die, Weekend Nachos, Maruta, Drugs of Faith
Sunday, May 24th:
Pestilence, Abscess, Destroyer 666, Aura Noir, Absu, Sigh, Devourment, The Red Chord, Trap Them, Despise You, Antigama, Yakuza, Krallice, Splitter, Kill the Client, Catheter, Lair of the Minotaur, Magrudergrind, The Endless Blockade, Complete Failure
I’m most excited about Crowpath by a long shot, but also really psyched to see Yakuza, Pig Destroyer and Kill the Client. This is going to be awesome. Even if I have a monstrous, pounding headache when all is said and done.
…where I was expecting something related to indie rock, I ended up watching a virtuoso harpist and band play a unique blend of folk music, classical sophistication and modern song stylings. Vocally she reminds me quite a bit of a nascent Alanis Morrisette although a Morrisette infected by some old Appalachian folk singer. It’s clear she’s a prodigy and while I was warned about her voice, which must have spawned from the fact she hadn’t started singing until recently, I found her style to be warm and intimate. Her harp playing is another matter, it at least seems masterful, an adjective I’m hesitant to use being that I can count the harpists I know on one hand. But this is skill, just watching her two hands, as independent as a good drummer’s, play counter melodies and rhythms, often changing or doubling tempos within an overall 4 beat itself, was mesmerizing. It’s kind of baffling she has the popularity she does, although her combination of accessible songcraft with virtuoso musicianship is a rare one.
Yes: the joy of this video is getting to see Newsom play harp. Wow. Oh hey, and the torrent is still (barely) alive at Dimeadozen, amazingly enough. Go fetch if you’re a fan, you won’t regret it.
EDIT: Please click through to the comments for a direct download of the video. Thanks to Will Davis!