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Been inactive here, sorry. Have not been inactive in general. The latest thing I did was a review of Shub Niggurath’s Introduction over at the Washington City Paper (it’s in this week’s print edition as well). To go along with that review, I also did a Q&A with Udi Koomran, who is responsible for remastering the original tape, and who also got me a copy of his early remaster so that I could review it for this site a few years ago. The review here is geared towards someone familiar with the RIO/avant-prog axis; the review at the City Paper is more for laypeople.
Readers of this site will be interested in the question I ask Udi, towards the end of the Q&A, about what he’s been working on lately. Bands like Present, Guapo and Eskaton are involved.
Also in that same question, be sure to check out the link to Udi’s contribution to the Radio Village Nomade soundscape project - a lot like Chris Cutler’s Twice Around the Earth project. Very cool stuff.
So this eMusic business is way worse than I thought it was. As part of the PR rollout for the new pricing structure and the major label additions, eMusic was pimping the fact that you could download albums with more than 12 tracks but only get charged for 12 tracks. What they didn’t tell anyone (as far as I can tell, at least) is that you also get charged 12 tracks for downloading a lot of albums that are less than 12 tracks. I went to grab a Cecil Taylor record that has 2 tracks; in the good old days that would have cost me 2 downloads. Now, I have to spend 12.
This change doesn’t appear to affect all albums with fewer than 12 tracks, but it does seem to affect a solid percentage of them in a quick random check I did, including those on indie labels. This effectively completely destroys eMusic’s price competitiveness over iTunes and Amazon, as far as I’m concerned. I was definitely going to re-up my subscription when my current plan expires in October, despite all the controversy, but this might be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. I am really disappointed. Fuck.
In theory I’m an aesthetic relativist and I don’t particularly believe in the idea of absolute standards for judging art. However, I occasionally encounter something that makes me think, “this is complete and utter shit and anyone who likes it is brainwashed, an idiot, or both.”
Case in point: Brokencyde, whose “screamo/crunk” garbage should really just be called “date-rape-core.” Their crap has been all over the internet lately, but if you’ve been fortunate enough to avoid it thus far, here I am to burst your bubble.
Other awesomely terrible songs by this band: “Get Crunk,” “Bree Bree” (my favorite, and it’s even worse live if that’s possible). “Bree bree,” of course, is how folks refer derogatively to the metalcore vocal styling known as “pig squealing.” The hilarious thing is that the Brokencyde dudes can’t even do a proper pig squeal. They’re appropriating a derogatory term and then bungling the execution. Comedy gold! (Also, best Youtube comment ever: “ha, the world is a strange place & white people are funny.”)
Another case in point, pretty much anything on Rise Records, like this utterly hilarious Autotuned crap from Attack Attack! (be sure to make it to the 2:46 mark for maximum amusement). Worth noting that these guys are ridiculously, shamelessly awful even in their name, as they were founded a year after Welsh band Attack! Attack!
If I were the type to declare things as harbingers of the decline of Western civilization, the popularity of this kind of stuff would probably make the list.
I love going back and listening to great albums I haven’t touched in years. “Laahustaja” makes me bang my head as much as any metal album has in recent memory. Alamaailman Vasarat has some great cello lines, but the one in “Laahustaja” is pretty much untouchable.
I still remember the performance that Höyry-kone put on at ProgDay 2000; definitely one of the best live sets I’ve ever seen. I have an image in my head of a bunch of solemn dudes in black suits onstage, except the cellist looked like he could have been in a punk band, and the singer had this huge beard and a tophat and sounded like he should have been fronting an opera. That image could be completely fabricated, but I like it.
eMusic recently announced that it is finally partnering with some major labels, first off all Sony, to bring some of their older back-catalogue releases to the download service. Sounds great, right? Except there’s a hitch: “minor price increases” which turn out to be not so minor at all, especially for folks who have old plans grandfathered in. Myself, for example: I currently pay $143.90 per year for 65 downloads each month. After my current plan expires, I’ll have to pay $171.99 per year for a measly 35 downloads each month. That’s something like a 220% price increase per track. Ouch. Ultimately, I will keep downloading almost exclusively stuff from indie labels, which means that the higher prices are effectively me subsidizing major labels even though I’m not benefitting from their new presence on eMusic.
So that kind of sucks (no: that totally sucks), but if it means that eMusic’s business model becomes more sustainable, I guess I can’t really complain too much. But Swindleeeee!!!!! thought of another interesting potential negative scenario:
I think the major downside other than the price increases is that people will be very mistrustful of having a repeat of the Rolling Stones fiasco. That apparently wasn’t eMusic’s fault, but if Bruce Stringsteen or whoever decides that they don’t like their music being cheapened by being sold at eMusic prices and is successful in getting it pulled, or if Sony upper management gets cold feet and decides to kill the entire deal, that’s going to leave a pretty sour taste in the mouths of eMusic subscribers, especially given that the new higher prices will likely remain in effect.
I would love it if eMusic introduced a price plan that restricted access to major label downloads but kept prices where they currently are (or with a much more modest increase). I’d sign up for that in a heartbeat.
So far I am seeing a pretty big backlash from diehard eMusic fans at places like 17 dots and, more locally, the 9:30 Club boards, with lots of folks saying they’ll cancel their subscriptions when the new pricing structure begins to affect their accounts. Wonder if it’ll be a big enough backlash to cause eMusic to reconsider?
I’ve been AWOL for a while because I’ve been dealing with my own personal version of swine flu. Worse than any flu I can remember having, but not THE swine flu. Anyway, I’m more or less back, my head has recovered to the point that listening to music no longer makes me want to plug my ears while grimacing in agony, and I’ll be posting again.
Tomorrow I go see Mastodon, Kylesa and Intronaut. Really I’m most interested in Kylesa. The more I listen to the new Mastodon the more I sigh in sadness at how they’ve changed. Cosmo Lee pretty much sums up my feelings: “After only a minute, I was violently allergic. That singing - ouch. I felt as if an old friend had showed up in a shiny new Hummer. Something had changed irreparably.”
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.