Posts Tagged ‘Do Make Say Think’

Almost a year late: best of 2007

Thursday, November 19th, 2009

Hey, ok, this was supposed to be done last December, but instead I was busy pulling together a best of 2008 list for the Washington City Paper. But that just means more perspective, right? So no worries. Anyway, as of now, here is my top 10 list of 2007. Next month, I promise, I’ll have my real best of 2008 list posted, on time (a year late as normal, instead of two).

  1. Do Make Say Think - You, You’re a History in Rust
    In which the venerable post-rock band explores glorious noise, rough vocals, and moments of pure beauty amidst chaos. DMST have never stopped evolving and this is easily their best album yet. It’s also to their lasting credit that they are pretty much the only post-rock band that might actually be considered somewhat unpredictable.
  2. Aranis - II
    Largely acoustic, upbeat, highly melodic, sometimes insanely intricate chamber-rock. No drums or percussion, yet this is some of the most head-noddingly rhythmic stuff imaginable. Composer/bassist Joris Vanvinckenroye is a pretty phenomenal talent, and this one is his finest hour so far.
  3. Zs - Arms
    As far as room-clearing records go, parts of this one rank just below Orthrelm’s OV. This may well be the last of Zs’ overtly progged-out records, given their recent lineup change and a shift towards more minimal, less accessible material. So, Arms is likely to remain my favorite studio album by this band, ever.
  4. Dälek - Abandoned Language
    After the brutal, no-holds-barred noise of Absence, this seemed like a letdown at first. In this case, first impressions are deceptive: the relative calm of this album masks a seething anger and hidden intensity that makes Abandoned Language my favorite album by this cutting-edge hip-hop ensemble.
  5. Om - Pilgrimage
    Not too much metal left in this stoner-metal outfit; instead, it’s a spiritual journey with Pink Floyd’s “Set the Controls For the Heart of the Sun” as a guide. Powerful, intense, and moving, this one is short and sweet and leaves me wanting more every time I listen to it.
  6. Despised Icon - The Ills of Modern Man
    Perhaps the pinnacle of the entire deathcore genre, this album is really just awesome death metal with some breakdowns (and pig squeals) thrown in for the moshers. Catchy hooks and killer rhythmic breaks abound, and the dual growling vocalists grab your attention and never let go. Even if you hate deathcore, you might like this record.
  7. St. Vincent - Marry Me
    Understated and weird, this album from a former guitarist for Sufjan Stevens and The Polyphonic Spree took me completely by surprise with a unique, offbeat charm. Annie Clark’s guitar work is wonderful when she lets it rip, but it’s her voice and her bizarre compositional sense that carry this album. It’s indie-rock with a hint of the avant-garde, and it’s one of the more memorable debuts in recent memory.
  8. Sleepytime Gorilla Museum - In Glorious Times
    So, this is a pretty solidly great album from this uniquely theatrical avant-rock band. Somehow, though, it hasn’t been nearly as memorable for me as either of the albums that preceded it. All of SGM’s albums are basically essential for any fan of heavy experimental rock, this one’s just a tiny step lower than the other two.
  9. Nadja - Touched
    I cannot describe this better than a frequent poster on the 5/8 forums: “Listening to Nadja is like swimming in a sea of declawed kittens.” Yes. So much fuzzed out bliss. Especially on this album, which is far and away my favorite of this prolific drone/doom-metal band’s many releases.
  10. Thing with Ken Vandermark, The - Immediate Sound
    This one falls perfectly into that niche of avant-jazz that I like: it’s “out,” with plenty of wild collective improv and unpredictable solos, but it’s also recognizably jazz, anchored in rock-solid grooves and accessible melodies. Also, it rocks. You wouldn’t really expect anything less from this lineup.

As always, this was hard, and lots of great things missed the cut. One of particular note is Epica’s The Divine Conspiracy. I listened to this a ton but couldn’t quite bring myself to put it on the above list. I’m sure I’ll catch some heat for liking this stuff - it’s like warmed-over prog-metal with a combination of death-metal vocals and beautiful female clean vocals. But damn can these guys write a catchy song. I don’t understand why they don’t get more love in the prog world; there’s tons of bombastic keyboards, epic lyrical themes, and general cheesiness, plus a fantastic lead vocalist and really long songs. What’s not to love, prog fans?

More things I liked from 2007:

  • Æthenor - Deep In Ocean Sunk the Lamp of Light
  • Alamaailman Vasarat - Maahan
  • Alcest - Souvenirs D’un Autre Monde
  • Baroness - The Red Album
  • Between the Buried and Me - Colors
  • Car Bomb - Centralia
  • Caspian - The Four Trees
  • Cato Salsa Experience & The Thing with Joe McPhee - Two Bands and a Legend
  • Cephalic Carnage - Xenosapien
  • Cline/Parkins/Rainey - Downpour
  • The Dillinger Escape Plan - Ire Works
  • Feist - The Reminder
  • Grayceon - Grayceon
  • Carla Kihlstedt & Satoko Fujii - Minamo
  • Eric Malmberg - Verklighet & Beat
  • Miasma & the Carousel of Headless Horses - Manfauna
  • The National - Boxer
  • Neurosis - Given to the Rising
  • Original Silence - The First Original Silence
  • Pig Destroyer - Phantom Limb
  • Scorch Trio - Live in Finland
  • Soft Mountain - Soft Mountain
  • Tin Hat - The Sad Machinery of Spring
  • Yakuza - Transmutations

If I think to do it, perhaps a couple “favorite shows” posts will be forthcoming as well (one for 2008, since I forgot to do one last year, and one for 2009). But the top 10 albums of 2008 post is definitely coming soon.

I forgot one!

Thursday, October 22nd, 2009

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.

I was reminded by a review by Brent Burton that appeared in this week’s Washington City Paper. Thanks, Brent.

Speaking of which, I’ll have a review of the new Do Make Say Think in next week’s City Paper… let’s just say my impressions of it changed pretty drastically after I had more than one cursory listen.

UPDATE: Here’s the DMST review.

What’s spinning, October 14 edition

Wednesday, October 14th, 2009

Been a while. What have I been listening to?

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.

New stuff that will probably rock

Friday, October 2nd, 2009

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.)

My favorite shows of 2007

Monday, December 31st, 2007

Well, so this was my year in shows.

If you count NEARfest as two concerts (which seems fair, since it was two days and I saw five shows), then I hit my goal of seeing 52 shows in 2007. There were tons more I wanted to see, but between playing a competitive sport, spending many spring and fall weekends backpacking, and maintaining a long-distance relationship, it was particularly difficult for me to make weekend shows this year. So all in all I think I did pretty well. Here are some of the highlights — I’m just putting these in chronological order, and not necessarily limiting myself to 10 or anything like that.

  • Atomic at Twins Jazz, February 8 (blog entry) — What a great surprise! This quintet plays a very accessible brand of free jazz; it’s really fun to hear Paal Nilssen-Love in particular playing a more straight-ahead style. Twins Jazz was packed with about 80 people who gave Atomic an ecstatic reception. Fantastic, high-energy jazz, a great way to kick off the year.
  • The Vandermark 5 at Jammin’ Java, February 16, $12 (blog entry) — Actually this was along the same lines as Atomic: great, explosive energy jazz, also very accessible (I even took three friends to this show). They were a hundred times better than when I saw them in 2006; Fred Lonberg-Holm went from being an interesting addition to a core part of the group’s sound, pushing them further and further “out.” The crowd was kind of lame but the band nevertheless played two very hot sets.
  • Zs at The Hosiery, February 26, $5 (blog entry) — This show cemented Zs as one of my favorite current avant-rock groups; before, I liked them a lot, but seeing them live really made their brilliance unmistakably clear. The image of four musicians staring intently at each other and their sheet music, while cranking out some of the loudest and most intricate (yet still aggressively rocking) sound imaginable, is permanently burned into my brain.
  • Dälek at Rock and Roll Hotel, March 2, $10 (blog entry) — Speaking of loud… Dälek on record is an intense experience, but Dälek live is something else altogether. This was my second time seeing them, and if anything they were better than the first, if a little less overtly in-your-face.
  • Do Make Say Think at The Black Cat, April 1, $10 (blog entry) — The best rock show I saw all year. DMST played a transcendently beautiful set, and I don’t use those words lightly. I love their take on post-rock, which involves a cacophony of instruments making coherent noise, often with one single instrument (an acoustic guitar, or most often electric violin) rising to the surface with a gorgeous, straightforward melody. One of the most purely joyous concerts I’ve ever had the pleasure of attending.
  • Brötzmann/Pliakas/Wertmüller at The Red Room (Baltimore), April 13, $12 (blog entry) — A legendary free-jazz skronker teamed up with an extreme metal rhythm section? Yeah, this was probably the most unrelentingly intense show I’ve ever seen. Once I managed to figure out how to parse it, though, I found it enthralling, especially Wertmüller’s drumming, which alone could have given me nightmares if I’d been having a bad day.
  • The Dismemberment Plan at The Black Cat, April 28, $15 (blog entry) — DC’s biggest phenomenon since Fugazi reuniting for two shows, four years after their breakup, guaranteed a crazy event, something bigger than just a mere concert. Sure enough, this was something to behold, especially since the band was, bizarrely, at their peak, better than they ever were when they were actually together. I saw better concerts in 2007, I think, but maybe none as memorable.
  • Sleepytime Gorilla Museum at The Black Cat, June 5, $12 (blog entry) — The third time was the charm: the first two times I saw SGM I was actually kind of underwhelmed for some reason, but this time they really brought their A game. Maybe it was just my newfound familiarity with the In Glorious Times material, but it just seemed like the band had really mastered their peculiar meshing of theatricality, creepy beauty, and crushing heaviness.
  • Alarm Will Sound at the Library of Congress, October 30, free (blog entry) — A very intellectual concert that I also found quite viscerally effective, which is a good combination indeed. This 20-piece ensemble played a series of pieces chosen specifically for their rhythmic complexity, and they pulled it off with gusto. There were some avant-rock type moments here, but the real fun was seeing them play live renditions of a couple IDM songs, music that was never meant to be played by humans.
  • Om at Rock and Roll Hotel, November 13, $10 (blog entry) — I guess I must just like really, really intense concerts. This one had it all: incredible feats of tension-building, wonderfully effective individual performances, high-wire drama, and above all, a sense of spiritual searching of the sort that I like to think listeners must have experienced at late-60s Coltrane shows.

Honorable mentions go to Magma, Richard Pinhas, Wilco, Aussie Floyd, Nelly Furtado, Epica, Cowboy Junkies, and Dhafer Youssef, all really great shows but perhaps a tiny step down from the above. The most disappointing show I saw was probably John McLaughlin, but then again I think I just don’t like fusion very much, so maybe I shouldn’t have been that surprised. Isis and Mastodon were also pretty terrible, the former being particularly disappointing as I saw them put on a great show in 2006.

I’m not sure I’m going to try quite as hard to see every concert I possibly can in 2008, for financial reasons if nothing else — but 2006 and 2007 definitely have awakened a certain passion for live music in me that I don’t think is just going to go away. I’ve already started making a list of interesting 2008 shows

Do Make Say Think and the danger of high expectations

Saturday, September 22nd, 2007

This past Monday, I saw my second Do Make Say Think show of the year. The first one was one of the best concerts I’ve seen all year, and their new album, You, You’re a History In Rust, is one of my favorite new records of the year. So needless to say, I was going in with pretty high expectations. Not surprisingly given those sky-high expectations, I was a little bit disappointed.

This time around, despite having exactly the same eight-piece band (I’ve heard that at shows closer to their home base of Montreal, they sometimes play with as many as 12 instrumentalists onstage), they seemed a little sloppy, which especially came through in the new songs with vocals. The singing is pretty rough on the album, but in a charming sort of way; at this show, it was downright bad. Also, they played a lot of older songs that are less compositionally rigorous than the new stuff, and instead focus on establishing a groove or a jazzy rhythm and riding it into the ground. I like that stuff well enough — it has a kind of trancelike effect on me after a while — but it just isn’t quite as compelling as the more song-oriented new material.

The world was set aright, though, after the encore, which consisted of beautiful renditions of three of the best songs from the new album: the gorgeous, acoustically centered “A Tender History in Rust,” the powerful and energetic “The Universe!” and the satisfying denouement “In Mind.” The latter is a perfect example of how Do Make Say Think craft gorgeous melodies and then mess with them just enough to keep you off-balance, but not quite enough to keep you from enjoying the songsmanship (I just made up a word). It starts off beautifully but quickly becomes cacophonous, at first retaining the central melody and even building on it with ecstatic vocals, but then gradually just turning into glorious noise. It’s a fabulous way to close the album and an even better way to end a concert.

So although the bulk of the concert was a little disappointing, the encore made it all worth it. I went with three friends who enjoyed the hell out of the show, and it’s good to see the appeal of this band growing (I’d guess there were 300+ people there that night). Best of all, they seem to be really hard workers, touring incessantly, so hopefully there will be some new material coming sooner than later!

What’s spinning, June 18 edition

Monday, June 18th, 2007

If you’ve actually been following the last.fm widget up there at the top of the blog, you might know some of this, but in any case here is what has been occupying my ears for the past couple weeks.

  • Anekdoten - A Time of Day — Well, it’s better than Gravity, but that’s not exactly high praise. Jury’s still out on this one for me; I could see it being a grower.
  • Cato Salsa Experience & The Thing with Joe McPhee - Two Bands and a Legend — This was on my previous list of this sort, from back in April, and it’s still in heavy rotation. I’ll be reviewing it soon.
  • Do Make Say Think - You, You’re a History in Rust — This one is also a long-lasting pleasure, and will likely end up being one of my favorites of the year. This is post-rock at its most beautiful, yet sacrificing nothing in depth (unlike, say, some of the material by Explosions in the Sky).
  • Dungen - Tio Bitar — My first impressions so far are just that; nothing has really stood out to me. For some reason I get less and less excited about this band as time passes, and I was hoping this album would change that. Hasn’t happened yet.
  • Grails - Burning Off Impurities — This is a really hard band to pigeonhole; they’re somewhere between post-rock and prog and metal and ambient and world music, or something. Previous albums have not really excited me, but this one has some really great moments.
  • Isis - Live.04 — Isis’ latest limited-edition live CD is a mixed bag of cuts mostly from Celestial and Oceanic. Oddly, I like the earlier stuff the best; the band’s raw power really comes through in the live context.
  • King Crimson - Live in Heidelburg 1974 — Highlight of this one is pretty clearly the funky “Heidelburg II” improv, in which Bruford comes through with some of the most agile playing I’ve heard him pull off in a KC improv, and Wetton just levels everything in his path.
  • Joanna Newsom - Joanna Newsom and the Ys Street Band EP — I’m not really that thrilled by the re-recorded versions of “Clam, Crab, Cockle, Cowrie” and “Cosmia,” but the new song “Colleen” is up there with anything else Newsom has yet recorded. I cannot wait for her next release, and I’m even more excited for her next tour.
  • Nightwish - End of an Era — There are so many things I don’t really like about this band — the silly bombast, the terrible male vocals, the lyrics — but somehow in the end I’m always won over by their sheer energy and the obvious joy they get from playing their music. This DVD is addictive, and although there are several throwaway pieces, it’s great fun.
  • Pelican - City of Echoes — Not sure what I think about this one yet; I think I like it better than The Fire In Our Throats Will Beckon the Thaw, but I could be wrong. It definitely seems more dynamic, although the Pitchfork review is dead-on in picking out the drummer as a factor holding the band back from greater heights.
  • Sleepytime Gorilla Museum - In Glorious Times — Well, duh. This has been dominating my speakers for weeks now. My review basically says all I need to say about it: it’s awesome.
  • The Thing - Live at Blå — Basically two half-hour pieces consisting of “covers” of barely recognizable songs strung together by free improv sections. Definitely not the most accessible place to start with this band, and I find myself thinking it definitely has some dead spots that could have used cutting, but it’s an accurate picture of what they do when they play live.
  • Wilco - Sky Blue Sky — Now this is a huge disappointment. Nels Cline and Glenn Kotche are two premier innovators on their respective instruments (and the rest of the band are hardly slouches), but instead of a worthy followup to the skewed indie-pop of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and A Ghost is Born, we get a middle-of-the-road, mostly boring, totally straightforward album of pop-rock that’s to the band’s earlier output as David Gilmour’s On An Island is to Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here. Some reviewers have been saying “but it’s so well-crafted!” but I disagree with that, too — some of Tweedy’s vocal lines and melodies here are nothing short of cringeworthy.

Two great recent shows

Monday, April 2nd, 2007

Over the weekend I saw two big-band concerts: the 10-piece free-improv Instant Composers Pool Orchestra at the Library of Congress, and the 8-piece post-rock collective Do Make Say Think at the Black Cat. These were both excellent shows, albeit very different, of course. I think the latter was good enough that it’s destined to make my top 10 list by the end of the year, easily.

But first things first — ICP Orchestra played this gig of their 40th anniversary tour to a respectably large audience at the Library of Congress’ Coolidge Auditorium. I had never seen any of these guys before, but was familiar with Misha Mengelberg, Ab Baars and of course the ubiquitous Han Bennink. They surprised me by playing very accessible music clearly grounded in the jazz idiom — probably a function of the audience and venue. No need to scare everyone away at a free show, I guess. In any case, Bennink was completely nuts. I had no idea he acted out so much, but the dude was ridiculous. At almost 65 years old, it seemed like he had about three times more energy than the rest of the band combined, and in fact he kind of overpowered them at times with his playing (and his vocalizing would have made Keith Jarrett blush). He sat behind a single snare drum and eked all kinds of noises from it, but didn’t satisfy himself there — on several occasions he leapt out of his seat and played pretty much anything on the stage that struck his fancy, including chairs, music stands, the floor, his foot, and so on and so forth. Entertaining, to say the least.

Oh right, the rest of the band. The other nine were just as fun to watch, if for a totally different reason: it was neat to see their interplay, the little nods and hand signals present at any improv show, the way they would split into little mini-ensembles that would seemingly play in opposition to each other before coming together just as spontaneously. Again, for the most part the improvising stayed in relatively structured and melodic territory (and the harmonies that this large ensemble stumbled upon were often beautiful), but it was a pretty rewarding show nonetheless.

One last note about this show: by total random chance I sat next to the saxophonist from DC Improvisers Collective, whom I’d never spoken to but recognized from the one show of theirs that I attended a month or so ago. We had a very brief interaction in which he mentioned that DCIC might be playing as backup for Joe Lally, ex-bassist for Fugazi, something that sounds very interesting indeed!

Moving on, Sunday’s show at the Black Cat got off to a less-than-promising start, as the openers, death-country group Elliott Brood, cancelled with no explanation. But when Do Make Say Think got on stage, all was forgiven. My brief recap at the ProgAndOther list:

I think DMST are the most interesting current post-rock band, and the only one who doesn’t seem to be rehashing the same formula over and over again (don’t get me wrong, I tend to like that formula, but you know…). I too was struck by the diversity of instrumentation, and their compositions really take advantage of that diversity.

The sound at the DC show was definitely at earplugs-needed levels (I put mine in after the first song), but their soundman was fabulous and even at the high volume levels, little things really came through in the mix - especially the violinist. It seemed like a lot of the band’s modus operandi was to develop a repetitive, trancey beat with subtle ornamentation from the guitars, and then a beautiful melody would surface out of the murk, on violin or horns or gently picked guitar. Really gorgeous stuff.

The diversity of instrumentation I reference comes from the fact that many members of the eight-piece band played two or three different instruments over the course of the show. The “standard” lineup seemed to be two guitars, bass, violin, trumpet, sax, and two drummers (although admittedly the horns were used more for color and ornamentation than for melody or lead lines), but when called for, there’d be a third guitar, or there’d be some keyboard or marimba in the mix, or the guitarists would pick up horns to make a muscular four-piece brass front line. Every one of these guys, but especially the three who rotated on guitars and bass, are impressively accomplished musicians, with some of the more intricate guitar picking a consistent highlight throughout the show. However, it was the violinist who held it all together for me. While the rest of the band was jamming along to trancelike rhythms or blissing out to ear-splitting climaxes (one audience member’s good-natured heckle: “do you guys have any songs with, like, big crescendoes?”), she was more often than not playing gorgeous melodies that, thanks to the skills of the soundman, were clearly audible even above the din.

Highlights of the show for me were all the quieter pieces like “A Tender History in Rust” — no post-rock group does quiet and pretty better than these guys — and the polar opposite, the extroverted and energetic “Horns of a Rabbit,” which absolutely slayed. But the whole set was fabulous, and it ended with a good sign: the guitarist said, “See you in the fall,” seeming to indicate that DMST will in fact be touring again soon. This is one band that I wouldn’t hesitate to see again, as their material is much more memorable live than on record (and I like their records).

Let me tell ya, Christina Aguilera (who yes, I am going to see tonight) has a lot to live up to. :-)

My top ten albums of 2003

Friday, December 3rd, 2004

It’s about that time: my Top Ten of last year (2003, not 2004). It was a pretty good year, but mostly because there were a lot of pretty good albums released. There were none that really blew me away, but I had a hard time narrowing my list down to ten (much less putting it in some kind of order that I’m satisfied with) because there were so many great-but-not-transcendent releases. In any case, here’s my stab at it.

  1. Alamaailman Vasarat - Käärmelautakunta
    While this album didn’t initially strike me as a huge step forward from AV’s debut album, it has steadily grown on me to the point that it’s easily my favorite from 2003. The band mixes moods and tempos to wonderful effect, and really hammers out a unique niche. What other band blends klezmer, metal, jazz, folk, and rock? What other band makes that not only seem natural, but fun?
  2. A Perfect Circle - Thirteenth Step
    This was a real pleasant surprise. I like this one better than any Tool album - it’s dark, well-paced, heavy when heavy is called for, and very much a unified whole that’s greater than any of its parts. A great alternative rock album (with its fair share of proggy touches) at a time when “alternative” is a synonym for “stale.”
  3. Anti-Pop Consortium - Anti-Pop Consortium Vs. Matthew Shipp
    A more effective meshing of jazz and hip-hop does not yet exist. And it’s just our luck that two of the most cutting-edge artists in either genre chose to work together. The only negative is that this was Anti-Pop’s last recorded output - making it little more than a teasing glance at what could have been.
  4. The Postal Service - Give Up
    Probably the most purely poppy album we’ve reviewed here, but damn is it good. This duo of electronica wizard and emo vocalist has become the indie-rock darling of the moment, achieving success and even a deal with the real U.S. Postal Service. Heart-wrenching melodies and masterful production.
  5. Spring Heel Jack - Live
    Another electronica duo, but of an entirely different stripe; on this album, Spring Heel Jack collaborate with a free-jazz band featuring Matthew Shipp among others. The result is alternately a relaxing ambient soundscape and a monstrous beast on a violent rampage. One of the best - and certainly the most raw - electronica/jazz meshings I’ve yet heard.
  6. Explosions in the Sky - The Earth is Not a Cold Dead Place
    With this album, Texas’ premiere post-rock band finds peace. This is a surprisingly upbeat, pleasant, quietly hopeful work that offers the first glimpse at a brand of post-rock that isn’t all doom and gloom. Melodic and enchanting.
  7. Outkast - Speakerboxxx
    The first half of Outkast’s double album is utter brilliance - innovative and fun hip-hop. The second half, The Love Below, is more experimental but far less coherent, to the point of seemingly kind of stiffly stupid at times. But the whole thing is well worth it for Speakerboxxx’s irrepressible energy.
  8. Do Make Say Think - Winter Hymn Country Hymn Secret Hymn
    These guys just keep getting better. Probably the loosest and jazziest of the big-name post-rock bands, DMST are close to transcending the genre altogether. Their latest effort is lovely and entrancing, but not afraid to go for the jugular when the time is right.
  9. Sufjan Stevens - Greetings from Michigan: The Great Lakes State
    Perhaps the most purely beautiful album on this list. This album is a heartfelt paean to Stevens’ home state of Michigan and runs the musical gamut from twisted Glassian minimalism to folksy solo banjo strumming, all of it anchored by Stevens’ arresting vocals.
  10. The Silver Mt. Zion Orchestra… - “This is Our Punk Rock”…
    I have been getting skeptical of these guys, especially as Godspeed You Black Emperor! seems to be running in place, but they really came through with this one. It’s still the same melodramatically bleak, gloomy, spacious post-rock as before, but so well done that it can’t be faulted.

So what missed the cut? A bunch of albums that could have been swapped in pretty easily, depending on my mood, for the last few on the list above: Mogwai’s Happy Songs for Happy People, The DecemberistsHer Majesty the Decemberists, Azigza’s Kriya, Death Cab for Cutie’s Transatlanticism, Sunn O)))’s White1, the Non-ProphetsHope, Dissection’s Live Legacy, MatmosThe Civil War, Bone Structure by Bendian/Liebig/Gunther/Stinson… the list goes on and on. It was a good year, but again, nothing that really seemed absolutely timeless.

One thing that jumps out at me is how little of my list would be considered “prog” by most folks. I do have a fair amount of albums from 2003 that are prog, but few of them really hit me. I’ve known for a while that my tastes are shifting, but it’s interesting to see it happen so dramatically. Although, interestingly enough, quite a few of my favorite albums from 2004 thus far would fall under the prog category, so who knows.

It’s about that time: top 10 of 2002

Saturday, December 6th, 2003

Alright, so people on other forums are starting to post their Top 10 lists for 2003, which means it’s about time for me to post my Top 10 list for 2002. I started doing this last year - I think top 10 lists for the current year are dumb, because (1) the year’s not over yet, (2) there’s no way I already have many of the great releases from this year yet, and (3) a lot of great CDs have long gestation periods before I really start to like them (I’m looking at the new Thinking Plague here).

Without further ado, my top 10 favorite releases (not limited to prog, as will become obvious) of 2002 are as follows, in some kind of rough order:

  1. Wilco - Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
    I’m one with the indie critics here: this was the best album of the year. When I reviewed it I was taken by its meshing of catchy melodies with slightly skewed instrumental tendencies, and its charm has yet to falter. Anyone interested in somewhat “out” pop-indie should check this out.
  2. Anti-Pop Consortium - Arrhythmia
    The biggest shame of 2002 was the dissolution of this group, one of the most innovative rap groups of the past decade. Arrhythmia has all the usual Anti-Pop trimmings: dazzling, abstract wordplay, production from an alien planet, and even some killer beats. For the cutting edge of hip-hop, look no further.
  3. 5uu’s - Abandonship
    This one made a huge splash in the prog/RIO world, and with good reason, marking a triumphant return to Hunger’s Teeth form. Best prog album of the year, easily.
  4. Shalabi Effect - The Trial of St-Orange
    This was the pleasant surprise of the year for me; I didn’t expect to like this kind of abstract psychedelia so much, but these guys are good enough at what they do that they make it accessible to anyone. There are some amazing moments of beauty swimming around the ambient haze here.
  5. NeBeLNeST - Nova Express
    Grandly portentous instrumental prog, full of imposing riffs and sinister, rumbling bass: epic “space-zeuhl” at its best. The closing title track on this album is simply a treat.
  6. Satoko Fujii and Tatsuya Yoshida - Toh-Kichi
    This is just about as weird and whimsical as you might expect from the pairing of Yoshida with a free-jazz pianist (in an improv setting no less), and amazingly, it works. By turns stunning, amusing, and fucking hilarious.
  7. Do Make Say Think - & Yet & Yet
    In a year with a dearth of good new post-rock, this album was a saving grace. Jazzy, atmospheric instrumental noodling that never gets too unfocused and yet always takes its sweet time getting to the point. Luckily, the journey is an enticing one.
  8. The Flying Luttenbachers - Infection and Decline
    Okay, I admit it: this one is on the list solely for the utterly blazing cover of “De Futura” (from Magma’s Üdü Wüdü), which takes the funk out of the equation and replaces it with pure, unmitigated aggression. The original pieces here are also capable of blowing your head off.
  9. Opeth - Deliverance
    Many a fan of this group panned this album, and indeed it offers little variation on a well-established formula. But for me, it perfects said formula, mixing perfectly its death-metal aggression and vocals with more leisurely (and accessibly melodic) passages. This actually might be my favorite Opeth album.
  10. The Roots - Phrenology
    This one’s just a lot of fun. Perfectly accessibly hip-hop with just a touch of experimental tendencies, particularly on the track “Water”, which has been called “prog-hop”. More importantly, this thing grooves, and has some great melodies to boot.

Barely missing the cut were Beck’s Sea Change, Missy Elliott’s Under Construction, Broken Social Scene’s You Forgot It In People, Uzva’s Niittoaika, and even PaatosTimeloss (solely on the strength of its closing track). Some mildly surprising omissions include ( ) by Sigur Rós, which simply didn’t have the staying power I expected it to have, and Univers Zero’s Rhythmix, which I liked at first but really pales in comparison to the band’s older work, IMHO.

Overall, despite everything I just wrote, I think 2002 was a pretty disappointing year. There are a lot of pretty good albums listed above, but only the top few on the list really blew me away. As preliminary as it is, I can already say that 2003 has been a much better year for music.