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Well, concert reviews are no longer something I’m doing for the Washington City Paper (just concert photos), and that actually works out nicely because it means I can write about concerts that inspire me right here at this blog, like I used to. The latest in a long list of enjoyable concerts I’ve seen in 2009 was Shrinebuilder last Friday night at Sonar in Baltimore.
I dig the Shrinebuilder record, although predictably I like the parts that sound like Om and Neurosis the best. Lots of folks have been saying that it’s exactly the sum of its parts, and I basically agree. That said, the song “Pyramid of the Moon” is absolutely incredible and in its case at least, I enjoy the parts so much that the sum of them is pretty immense. It goes from sounding like Neurosis into an intense Om-like mantra part into Wino’s juicy psychedelic lead guitar back to sounding like Om but more fleshed out. This is a recipe for awesomeness. Still, yes, the record as a whole is good, but not quite great. (Say a strong 10 on the Gnosis scale.)
Live is a different story. They were fantastic. They played like a real band, not a cobbled-together supergroup. The best tracks from the album were better live; I particularly liked seeing/hearing Wino and Scott Kelly trade off on vocals. Their vocal styles are so incredibly different, but they fit together perfectly in the live setting (whereas on the record I found Wino’s vocals a tad bit annoying). Their guitar styles are also incredibly different, and seeing them live gave me new perspective to how their guitar lines fit together in the compositions. Getting to see and hear Al Cisneros do his thing in a full-band setting rather than the stripped-down context of Om was a real treat, too. His first “aaaaaaaahhhhh” vocal drone in “Pyramid of the Moon” was as powerful as any moment I’ve seen with Om. And Dale Crover on drums? Sick. Of the four members’ “main” bands, Shrinebuilder sounds the least like Melvins, but Crover definitely puts his personal stamp on the music nonetheless.
I have a hard time with albums or live performances that consist of a single solo instrument (with the exception of solo piano). Acoustic bass in particular is tough for me to handle in a solo setting - I believe I saw improviser Reuben Radding do a solo upright bass set some years ago and truly had difficulty staying awake, even though Radding is a massively talented musician.
So when I received a package in the mail some time ago with the new Aranis album Songs From Mirage (yay!), and a recording of Aranis composer Joris Vanvinckenroye’s works for solo bass (under the band name Basta!), it’s not surprising that I spent some time with the full-band record and, embarrassingly, none at all on the solo bass record. I’m only now getting around to the Basta! disc, Cycles, and that’s a shame, because it’s fantastic.
Cycles has Vanvinckenroye’s stamp all over it, of course, not just in the instrumentation but in the compositions. The 12 pieces on the record are chock-full of the tasty melodies, rhythmic grooves and intriguing counterpoints of Vanvinckenroye’s Aranis compositions. But wait, you say: counterpoints? On a solo record? Yes, there are tons of overdubs going on here. This might as well be a full band recording, if the full band were all playing basses; it’d be impossible to pull off live as a solo show, but who cares? A far cry from an improvised set tossed off as an accompaniment to the new Aranis record, Cycles is a fully realized set of engaging compositions that just might be better than Songs From Mirage.
I’ve given it one and a half listens so far and you can bet that it’ll be getting many more.
I’ve admittedly moved largely to digital music purchases, in an attempt to stop cluttering up my house with more and more CDs (I’m also selling a bunch of CDs, of course, and will be adding hundreds more to the list soon). But I also like to support the vendors that have served so well over the years, so today for the first time in quite a while I placed a big order at Wayside Music.
Jim Black/Alas No Axis - Houseplant
Magma - Emehntehtt-Re
Minamo - Kuroi Kawa~Black River
Opus Avantra - Introspezione
Alec K. Redfearn and the Eyesores - The Blind Spot
Vidna Obmana - Legacy
Wadada Leo Smith - Spiritual Dimensions
Zevious - After the Air Raid
Yes, there’s even an Italian prog album on the list! Can’t remember the last time I bought one of those, ha.
In my list of new stuff that will probably rock, I completely whiffed on one huge release, now out, that I am going to grab ASAP: Shrinebuilder. This is about as super as a supergroup gets, for doom metal fans, with members of bands like St. Vitus, The Melvins, Neurosis and Sleep. I don’t even count myself as a huge doom metal fan, but from hearing the one track that’s up on the group’s Myspace page, I think I’m going to really like this.
The answer is, “not much.” My appetite for new music has taken a pretty steep nose-dive this year as I’ve immersed myself in photography. My appetite for live music has remained unchanged, though, or even increased a bit. But I haven’t bought all that much new music this year. That said, here’s what I’ve been enjoying recently…
Anti-Pop Consortium - Fluorescent Black — Anything new from these guys is welcome; I was never all that taken by any of the side projects since their 2002 breakup (not counting the sublime Antipop Vs. Matthew Shipp). On initial listens, this sounds pretty great although perhaps not quite up to the lofty standards of Tragic Epilogue and Arrhythmia.
Baroness - Blue Record — Just massive, massive praise for this one from metal critics. I’ve listened to it streaming on Myspace a couple times and don’t see it yet. Good stuff but hardly amazing. Red Album - which I loved - seemed more coherent and compelling to me, but perhaps this just needs more listens.
Do Make Say Think - Other Truths — This on the other hand is fantastic. I’ve had one listen to a pre-release copy and it sounds like an absolute must-buy. Four long tracks in the classic DMST mold: laid-back, melodic, slightly repetitive post-rock that is somehow beautiful, sublime, and never boring.
Echoes of Eternity - As Shadows Burn — Female-fronted melodic metal whom I first heard on tour with Unexpect; their first album was absolutely laughable, but this is actually pretty decent. Lots more substance here and Francine Boucher’s voice is integrated into the music instead of floating weirdly on top of it all. Still not anything I would call great, but a quantum leap forward from Forgotten Goddess, which is better left forgotten.
The Faceless - Planetary Duality — Since this young tech-death band has attached itself to seemingly every major U.S. death metal tour of 2009, I’ve already seen them live three times this year. So I figured I’d pick up their record; it’s solid technical metal with a few standout tracks like the amazing “Xenochrist.” Soon enough they’ll be headlining their own tour.
General Surgery - Corpus In Extremis: Analysing Necrocriticism — One of my new discoveries from Maryland Deathfest this year; this is a solid, if unspectacular, record full of slightly grindy gore/death metal. “Solid, if unspectacular” is more than enough to make General Surgery stand out from a sea of utterly mediocre goregrind bands.
The National - Boxer — My main discovery from this year’s Virgin FreeFest. I love their laid-back, tastefully orchestrated take on indie-rock, and vocalist Matt Berninger’s deep croon suits them perfectly and sets them apart a bit.
Om - God Is Good — As it turns out, Om without drummer Chris Hakius is still Om. Pretty solid album spiced up by the appearance of new instruments like tamboura, flute and, in an absolutely genius moment, Mellotron. Check out my review at the City Paper.
Ra Ra Riot - The Rhumb Line — Melodic, slightly sappy indie-pop, helped by some excellent contributions from a cellist and violinist. Like Cloud Cult but with fewer awkward melodies and vocal lines; this is a really promising debut.
Shpongle - Are You Shpongled? — This is hardly new, but I found myself spinning it on a long drive recently. Upbeat electronic music, kind of like if Ozric Tentacles just took the techno-ish parts of The Hidden Step or Waterfall Cities, and made a whole album out of them.
Spunk - Kantarell — I’ve always found Spunk to be one of Maja Ratkje’s more accessible projects. This one is soundscapey, almost relaxing at times, with acoustic instruments peeking in through the electronics at refreshing intervals. I like to imagine that astronauts landing on an alien planet and turning on their radios might hear something like this.
Well, it’s finally here, after years of hard work, and we’re really proud of it. Roger Trigaux’s (ex-Univers Zero) band, PRESENT, returns with a vengeance on this release: a new studio album CD, plus a three-hour DVD. These are compositions that spread out and expand upon the style of the bands latest works, NUMBER 6 and HIGH INFIDELITY, and include the Trigaux duo’s latest epic, VERTGES, as well as Present’s slick version of JACK THE RIPPER, and Pierre Chevalier’s fiery, A LAST DROP. The DVD is comprised of live footage from the band’s two RIO France performances in 2007, and roughly half of the Gouveia Art Rock Festival performance from 2005. As an added bonus, there is archival footage, some of which dates back to the early days of the band, featuring Daniel Denis and Christian Genet. All of this has been exquisitely recorded and mixed by Udi Koomran, with post-video work by Asaf Carmeli, both of whom were out to re-define the parameters of modern-day Rock In Opposition products. The disks come in a spiffy, 8-panel digipack.
Obviously, this sounds amazing. It’s also steeply priced at nearly $40, but I’m sure it’ll be well worth it. In addition to the new piece, I’m really stoked to hear the recording of “Jack the Ripper” - when I saw Present’s show in North Carolina in 2005, one of my absolute favorite moments was when they unexpectedly launched into that classic Univers Zero composition.
I’m excited about all of these upcoming releases for the remainder of 2009:
Anti-Pop Consortium - Fluorescent Black (heard it last night and I already know it rocks)
Baroness - Blue Record
Between the Buried and Me - The Great Misdirect
The Dillinger Escape Plan - Option Paralysis (probably early 2010)
Do Make Say Think - Other Truths
Epica - Design Your Universe (I am a total sucker for this band)
Espers - III
Evangelista - Prince of Truth
Gaza - He Is Never Coming Back
Krallice - Dimensional Bleedthrough
Magma - Emehntet-Re (is this really coming out in November??)
Present - Barbaro (isn’t this supposed to be out already? can’t find it anywhere)
Sajjanu - Pechiku!!
Univers Zero - Clivages (technically January 2010)
Wrnlrd - Myrmidon
Obviously, I have very little idea about what’s going on in the prog world these days. Any other avant-prog releases I should be paying attention to? (Please don’t tell me about the new Transatlantic album, I care even less than I did five years ago.)
Also, and on a more serious note, I really want this: Anti-Pop Consortium’s new one, Fluorescent Black. Will grab from eMusic tonight (before I let my subscription expire this month because eMusic kind of sucks now).
I have some photos posted over at the Washington City Paper, where I’ve continued to contribute regularly, but don’t expect much other than fog, silhouettes, and red light.
Today the Baltimore City Paper posted a review of the show by Bret McCabe that’s pretty over-written (”It’s still metal about metal, though, bringing death to false metal through deconstructionist meta”) but also pretty hilarious, and pretty much says what I would have said about the show in far fewer words (and far fewer laughs).
This weekend Faust is in town for the Sonic Circuits festival, and I’m missing it because I’m going out of town. (I’m also missing Mono, Tim Hecker, Jandek, Evan Parker & Ned Rothenberg, Janel & Anthony and more. Ouch.) But, in a couple weeks I’ll get to see Anti-Pop Consortium, whom I never thought would reunite, much less tour, and that pretty much makes up for a lot.