Posts Tagged ‘Isis’

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.

Isis @ the 9:30 Club: unlistenable

Wednesday, March 14th, 2007

Last Sunday night, Isis appeared at the 9:30 Club to play for a mostly sedate crowd of post-rock and nerd-metal types. I was among them, and suffice it to say I was disappointed at best and angry at worst. Here’s what I posted to Bob’s ProgAndOther list:

I saw them last Sunday in DC and was really, really disappointed. Glad the show in Philly had good (if loud) sound - the DC show was ridiculous. I think there was a monkey behind the soundboard; the bass was so boomy it overwhelmed everything else, and the kick drum was equally bad - if not worse because it was so loud it took all the subtlety out of the “quiet” parts. I could barely hear the guitars at all, and even though Isis is one of my favorite bands and I know all their material, there were a couple songs I couldn’t recognize because I literally couldn’t tell what they were playing. I was pretty seriously annoyed at the sound guys and left after 45 minutes or so.

I saw them put on a great show last year, so I pretty much blame this fiasco entirely on the club’s crappy sound. Oh well - at least I did manage to snag that Live 4 CD :)

I hate it when idiot soundmen ruin otherwise great performances. And this is the second time this has happened to me lately at the 9:30; Mastodon a little while back was similarly unlistenable. Thankfully, most of the rock bands that pique my interest these days are playing at smaller venues with slightly saner volume levels.

Favorite shows of 2006

Sunday, December 31st, 2006

Well, there’s one last end-of-year list that I want to do: best shows I saw this year. I made a sort of new year’s resolution at the beginning of the year to see more live music — in the past I have generally been pretty lazy and not bothered leaving the house to make it out to shows other than obvious must-sees (like Los Jaivas, or Present, etc). This year, I made a conscious effort to overcome my inertia and make the effort to get out and see/hear more. I was moderately successful; I think I saw 25 shows over the course of the year, although I might be forgetting one or two. In any case, here are some highlights, in chronological order.

  • The Vandermark 5 at Iota, February 3 (blog entry) — I never got to see this band with Jeb Bishop, which I regret, but Fred Lonberg-Holm was a revelation, a total wildcard. Super high-energy, awesomely tight, these guys played a wide-ranging set that was the first great show I saw this year.
  • The Claudia Quintet at Twins Jazz, March 14 (blog entry) — I’m not a huge fan of their studio albums, but live, they were a joy to watch; John Hollenbeck’s busy drumming style was a treat and Matt Moran on vibes was a whirling dervish. But the star of the show for me was Chris Speed, who blew up with one absolutely thrilling tenor sax solo and a lot of other highlights.
  • Stórsveit Nix Noltes at The Black Cat, March 21 (blog entry) — This one was a total surprise; I went to this show for the headliners, Animal Collective, but these guys stole the show. A nine-piece band from Iceland playing rocked-up Eastern European folk music? Sounds right up my alley, and it was. High energy and big fun.
  • Isis, Dälek & Zombi at The Black Cat, April 30 (blog entry) — The rare bill where I know and like all three of the bands, and none of them disappointed. I was too tired and it was too loud for me to enjoy this show to its fullest, but all three of the bands put on a great show. It may have been Dälek who left the biggest impression on me, with his militant stage presence and aggressive wall-of-sound production.
  • Satoko Fujii/Natsuki Tamura at George Washington University, May 23 (blog entry) — Transparent Productions brought these Japanese avant-jazz masters to DC to play in front of an audience of maybe 15, and they did not disappoint. Probably my favorite show all year. Very challenging; the two of them played for an hour straight with no breaks, and it was hard to tell what was improvised and what was composed. As much classical influence as jazz, and Fujii had a way of keeping me mesmerized that I won’t soon forget.
  • Berne/Carroll/Formanek/Rainey at An Die Musik Live, July 29 — For some reason I never wrote about this show, which is weird because Berne is probably my #1 favorite current jazz artist, and Rainey just might be my alltime favorite drummer. For the first of the two sets I was seated front row right in front of Rainey, and I barely noticed anything but his playing, he was so good. He used a very basic drum kit but eked a huge variety of sounds from it, using all kinds of techniques. The second set I actually enjoyed even more; they played more stuff I recognized, like a couple tunes from Feign, and seemed a little tighter. Great stuff, hope I get to see Berne again sometime in 2007.
  • Nels Cline/Glenn Kotche at The Black Cat, September 20 (blog entry) — Another nice surprise; I came for Cline but I might have actually liked Kotche more. Cline was in full-bore noise mode, wringing loud squalls of feedback from his effects-laden guitar; he was fun to watch but a little hard to listen to. Kotche was equally inventive but more accessible; the idea of a solo percussion set had me a little apprehensive, but his stuff was melodic and fun. The two of them played together to close out their set, and that was my favorite part of the show. A memorable performance from two great improvisors.
  • Yo La Tengo at the 9:30 Club, September 26 (blog entry) — Man, another pleasant surprise. I guess I kind of knew what to expect here, but I didn’t think they were going to completely blow my head off. Ira Kaplan’s guitar freakouts were delicious, noisy and cacophonous but somehow still melodious, if barely. I’m indifferent towards a lot of this band’s poppier moments (though a lot of them are still very good), but when they “shut up and play their guitars” it’s a wondrous experience.
  • Massive Attack at the 9:30 Club, September 28 (blog entry) — Completely different from any other show I saw this year, these guys brought their full complement of guest vocalists and instrumentalists. I lost count of how many sharply-dressed British folks (pretty much equal proportion of males and females) were sauntering about on stage, backed by the most involved lightshow I’ve ever seen at the 9:30 Club. Their trademark trippy beats and sultry vocals made for quite a sensual concert experience, but that didn’t stop them from also rocking out when they wanted to.
  • Wilco at the 9:30 Club, October 19 (blog entry) — This couldn’t possibly live up to the amazing show I saw them put on last year at the same place, but taken on its own, it was still damn good. Some of the new pieces were a nice surprise; hearing Cline and Tweedy do a melodic classic-rock dual-guitar jam was a surreal highlight. Last year’s show was for the ages; this one was merely great.
  • Maja Ratkje & POING at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, December 17 (blog entry) — Like the Fujii/Tamura show, this one was demanding, required all my attention, and left me tired at the end. It was also a fabulous performance. I saw some pretty out-there avant shows this year (a noisy improv set from Denman Maroney, Jack Wright and Reuben Radding tops the list), but this one was easily the best of them. There was a real method to this madness, and I found it quite compelling. A great way to end the year.

On the opposite end of things, probably the most disappointing show I saw this year was in late January, when Alec K. Redfearn and the Eyesores were supposed to play at the Warehouse Nextdoor, but never showed up. I contented myself with Make a Rising, a Philly band who had gotten good reviews on the avant-progressive list and elsewhere, but they just seemed like a really, really amateurish chamber-rock band to me. Oh well.

The show I am most bummed I missed? By a long shot, Joanna Newsom, who played at the Black Cat in November. I had fallen in love with her new album Ys, but did not think the show would sell out. I mean, she has an immediately hatable voice and she’s pretty obscure. I didn’t expect her to blow up in popularity with Ys (the damn thing is five epic-length songs fergodsakes), but she did. She sold out pretty much all her shows, including the one in DC. Dammit.

Here’s hoping 2007 is as good a year as 2006 was for live music in DC. As Steve Feigenbaum said over at ProgressiveEars, I am endlessly thankful that I live in a place that offers so much great music. Now if only some of those damned New York avant-jazz musicians would journey down here every once in a while…

PopMatters on Isis

Thursday, November 30th, 2006

PopMatters redeems itself with this, the best one-sentence summary of what’s going on with Isis that I’ve yet read: “Even though Isis’s musical progression is cautious at best, the band is still miles ahead of its peers.”

That about sums it up, I think. I found In the Absence of Truth a bit disappointing and “more of the same,” but it’s still a pretty excellent work in its own right, and this is a band that has never really let me down.

Isis, Dälek & Zombi: too damn loud

Tuesday, May 2nd, 2006

On Sunday night I saw what should have been an absolutely astonishingly good show: Isis, Dälek, and Zombi. This unlikely but inspired combination of bands — a metal band, a hip-hop group, and a soundtracky electronic music duo — was the one single show lineup I have been most excited about seeing all year. Isis in particular is one of my absolute favorite modern bands, and I think Dälek’s Absence is one of the best hip-hop albums in recent years. Zombi I had heard compared to the likes of Goblin, and the clips I heard sounded promising.

The bands themselves didn’t really disappoint. I missed some of Zombi’s set, but what I heard sounded interesting — throbbing laptop beats with killer live drumming and the occasional blistering live bass. Definitely less soundtracky and more heavy electronica than I expected, but very cool. Dälek was absolutely killer; the dense, brutal industrial soundscapes that are so abrasive on record are absolutely crushing live. And Dälek (the MC) has an interesting stage presence, all anger and contempt and vitriol, glaring at everything and everyone while spitting his raps into the microphone or nodding his head to the beat. The producer’s rig went out on him at one point, forcing Dälek to freestyle for a bit; he was less than convincing in this respect, but every other part of his set was killer.

Finally, Isis was… pretty much exactly what I expected them to be. They didn’t deviate much from their studio compositions, but they didn’t need to. Their abrupt jumps from headbanging extreme metal to evocative soundscaping were so effective live that audience members were actually laughing in gleeful delight at some of their more powerful transitions. These guys take what Mogwai does best and one-ups them in a big way. Absolutely awesome.

So what went wrong? First, the sound in the club was just stupid loud. My ears were still ringing this morning, some 36 hours after the end of the show. You know how sometimes at shows you can feel the sound making the bottoms of the legs of your pants vibrate a little? Well, at this show all my clothing was vibrating noticeably, all the time. This was definitely the fault of the club and not the bands, as even the filler music player between sets was ridiculously loud, almost at the volume level of what a band at a normal show would be playing at. The end result was that, for Zombi, the live bass lines were so distorted as to be imperceptible; for Dälek, the electronics made Dälek’s rapping all but inaudible; and for Isis, the quieter moments were nearly overcome by what should have been subtle feedback and effects but ended up being overbearingly loud.

Second, I was just too tired. This is the first time that this has happened to me since NEARfest 2000 — I was so tired that it actually affected my enjoyment of the bands. Too bad.

Nevertheless, despite these drawbacks, I have ridiculously fond memories of the show (once my ears recovered). Isis and Dälek were both, despite the volume issues, pretty unforgettably powerful. I can’t wait until these guys come around here again.

Upcoming concerts in the DC area

Thursday, January 26th, 2006

Here’s a look at some of the interesting shows coming up in the DC area in the next few months. This post is as much for me as for anyone else, though folks in the area may find something they like. Note that I’ve omitted some obvious prog-centric shows, like Rick Wakeman, The Carl Palmer Band, Niacin, Mahavishnu Project, Spock’s Beard, etc., since I’m not personally interested in them.

  • Alec K. Redfearn and the Eyesores at The Warehouse Nextdoor, January 27 — Hey, that’s tomorrow. I missed these guys the last time they were in DC, and still haven’t heard their album on Cuneiform, but I may well check them out in this venue anyway. Weirdly, this show is listed at the Warehouse website but not the Warehouse Nextdoor site, so I’ll have to call to confirm that it’s actually happening…
  • The Vandermark 5 at Iota, February 3 — Nice; I didn’t even know these guys were on tour. One of my favorite contemporary avant-jazz ensembles. I’m seriously thinking about plonking down the cash for their 12-CD live box set; maybe I should actually go see them live before I make that call!
  • Low at The Black Cat, February 4 — I haven’t heard any of these guys’ recent output, but I like what I do have (namely The Curtain Hits the Cast) and for $13, I might check out their live show.
  • Nile at Jaxx, February 8 — They’re touring in support of Annihilation of the Wicked, one of metal fans’ highlights of 2005. I haven’t quite gotten into that record as much as many others, but maybe I’ll make it out to Springfield for this show to see what I’m missing.
  • Formanek/Berne Quartet at An Die Musik (Baltimore), February 11 — Ever since I first got into saxophonist Tim Berne, I’ve been waiting for him to play a live date somewhere near me, with any one of his numerous bands. He plays incessantly, but generally only in the New York area. This is my first chance to see him (and with Tom Rainey, perhaps my favorite current jazz drummer)!
  • The Wu-Tang Clan at The 9:30 Club, February 13 — I’d be interested in seeing these hip-hop godfathers, even if I find live hip-hop more miss than hit, but tickets are $50. No thanks. I’m not really surprised that they already sold out one set even at those prices, though.
  • Flogging Molly at The 9:30 Club, February 22 — I used to be a big fan of these guys, but I’ve kind of tired of their Celtic-punk gimmick. I might go anyway, except for the fact that I just bought tickets for a vacation to Ecuador leaving on the 22nd. Next time, maybe.
  • Belle & Sebastian at The 9:30 Club, March 5 & 6 — Both shows already sold out; wow. I saw these guys a couple years ago and it was a lot of fun, even if their live sound is pretty much exactly the same as their studio sound.
  • Charming Hostess at Busboys & Poets, March 7 — The a cappella trio version of the band is going strong: three women singing Jewish and other folk-influenced stuff, with a unique feminist/leftish/something sort of bent. I’ll definitely be at this show; cool venue too.
  • Mogwai at Sonar (Baltimore), March 7 — I wish they were coming closer to DC, and I wish they didn’t conflict with Charming Hostess. This being a weeknight I’ll probably opt for the closer show; maybe they’ll schedule a date closer to DC as the time nears. Sure hope so; when I saw them at the 9:30 a couple years ago, they were awesome.
  • Orthrelm at Talking Head (Baltimore), March 16 — Given that OV is possibly my favorite record of 2005, and I can’t imagine how it could possibly be pulled off live, seeing Orthrelm is a must for me. But since they’re from DC, surely they’ll be playing closer than this sometime in the near future. Might wait til then.
  • Grey Eye Glances at Jammin’ Java, March 18 — They rarely seem to play outside of New England, so I’m pretty excited that these folk-rockers will be coming down to Virginia again. I saw them in Boston, though sans Brett Kull (Echolyn, who along with Ray Weston has been an integral part of the band for a while now), and they were great. I’m there.
  • The Gathering at Jaxx, March 19 — If I have it in me to trek out to suburban NOVA two nights in a row, this should be a fun show; melodic goth-metal band that I’ve reliably enjoyed since their mid-90s output. Apparently one of only 6 shows they’re playing in the U.S.
  • Animal Collective at The Black Cat, March 21 — This avant-folk band has been getting rave reviews from people I respect, but I haven’t heard any of their stuff yet. If they’re as good as everyone says though, I’ll be at this show.
  • Cyro Baptista at Lisner Auditorium, March 25 — I’ve only heard Baptista in the context of John Zorn-related projects (like Electric Masada, where he is a beast). Here he’s performing with his Beat the Donkey band, which the Lisner website describes as “hilarious fusion overload” with “all the impact of a Brazilian carnival.” How can I miss that?
  • Green Carnation at Jaxx, March 29 — Well, I think these guys have been pretty lame since Light of Day, Day of Darkness, but they’re the kind of band that I bet would be pretty fun to see live. Might make it out to this one.
  • Isis, Dälek and Zombi at The Black Cat, April 30 — WOW what a lineup! The band that released my favorite album of 2004, Panopticon; one of the most forward-looking, avant-garde hip-hop groups there is, who have collaborated with Faust in the past; and a group I haven’t heard yet that is most often compared to Goblin. This is easily the most-anticipated show on my list here. Can’t wait!

Also, Mono and Pelican are touring this summer along with who knows who else. Looks like this could be a strong year for live music. I think I may make more of an effort to go to shows than I have in the past, if I can afford to do so (and if I can convince some friends to join me for some of these).

Best of an amazing 2004!

Thursday, December 15th, 2005

It’s past time for my latest best-of-year list. I’ve been procrastinating a bit, see, because 2004 was such an amazingly brilliant year for new music that I would have a hard time making a top-20 list, much less my customary top 10. Nevertheless, here’s my best shot. For the newer readers, note that this is a best of 2004, not 2005 — the extra year allows for a bit more perspective as well as a chance to catch up on releases that passed me by originally.

  1. Isis - Panopticon
    I think I might be biased in favor of this one since it was my first real encounter with this kind of post-rock/metal hybrid. Nevertheless, Panopticon is epic, sweeping, majestic, and absolutely gorgeous: all while being balls-to-the-wall heavy. That’s quite an accomplishment in my book.
  2. Magma - K.A
    When I first heard this, I couldn’t believe how good it was. Now, after having heard some live recordings of Magma from the past few years, I have no trouble believing it. These guys still have it — incredibly, after 35 years they really are still at the top of their game. An instant zeuhl classic, made even better by the fact that it boasts easily the best production and sound quality of any Magma album ever.
  3. Sleepytime Gorilla Museum - Of Natural History
    One of the most promising new bands out there, and if their live shows are any indication, even an album as coherent and powerful as this one doesn’t come close to fulfilling that promise. No sophomore slump here — Of Natural History, especially its first half, pretty much blows me away — but I’d wager that the best is yet to come from these guys.
  4. Electric Masada - 50th Birthday Celebration Volume 4
    This is the record that spurred my tentative exploration of John Zorn-related projects into a frenzy. Dense and intense fusion in the best sense of the term; like Bitches Brew-era Miles that rocks harder and sounds, well, a lot more Jewish. My review hypes it up a bit more than is necessary, but this is still a sterling release and a must for fusion fans.
  5. Zu & Spaceways Inc. - Radiale
    Combine the brutal intensity of Italian free-jazzers Zu and the funky inclinations of Ken Vandermark’s Spaceways Inc., and the result is… one of the best albums of 2004. The first half features some wickedly heavy fuzz bass that would do any upstart zeuhl band proud; the second half opens things up a bit and has some killer covers of Funkadelic and Sun Ra. I prefer the less claustrophic and funkier latter half, but both are fantastic in their own right.
  6. Guapo - Five Suns
    I’m a bit off on my review of this one, harping a bit too much on Guapo’s overt Magma influences. True, those influences are there, but man do they know how to use those influences to make something pretty stellar. The 45-minute titular suite is a hard-driving, nonstop instrumental beat-down that’s hurt only by the fact that it’s front-loaded, opening with its best and most creative 5 minutes.
  7. Kruzenshtern & Parohod - Songs
    Where the hell did these guys come from? Wild punk-jazz klezmer, with an upbeat melodic sense tempered with a healthy penchant for all-out noise. And vocals that you’ll find either annoying as hell or unbelievably hilarious (I love ‘em). Definitely the most unique item on this list; I hope there will be a follow-up coming soon.
  8. Tanakh - Dieu Deuil
    Smoky indie-rock featuring some of the most haunting, beautiful melodies of the year. Jesse Poe’s lyrics and rich vocals combine with many interesting, slow-paced instrumental interludes to make one of the more distinctive indie-rock efforts I’ve heard recently. One of those records that transports you into a different world while you’re listening.
  9. Thinking Plague - Upon Both Your Houses
    This live recording from NEARfest 2000 is essential for fans of this contemporary American RIO band, mostly for its hard-edged, focused takes on tracks like “Warheads” and “Kingdom Come.” This is a rare, valuable document of a top band in top form, and one that rarely performs live.
  10. Mastodon - Leviathan
    I really think I prefer the thrashier, dirtier Remission, but for some reason I keep coming back to this one. If “progressive metal” didn’t mean “symphonic prog with cheesily heavy guitars and even cheesier squealing vocalists,” Mastodon would be the ultimate progressive metal band. Instead, they’re just a kick-ass metal band with lots of proggy tendencies, and nowhere are those tendencies more evident than on this album.

This list, more than any other best-of-year list I’ve done, is likely to change practically daily. Any number of albums could pop into the top 10. Just a few honorable mentions, as I browse my alphabetically-ordered list: Amarok’s Quentadharkën, Tim Berne’s Acoustic and Electric Hard Cell Live, Anthony CurtisBook of the Key, The DecemberistsThe Tain, The Dillinger Escape Plan’s Miss Machine, El-P’s High Water, Faun FablesFamily Album, Satoko Fujii’s Zephyros, Receptor Sight’s Cycles and Connections, Univers Zero’s Implosion, Wilco’s A Ghost is Born

The list could go on, but I think I’ve made my point. And the really shocking thing? The really shocking thing is that 2005 hasn’t been a disappointment after the awesomeness of 2004. Probably not quite as strong overall, but there’s been some amazing music released this year as well. Over at Pitchfork, in his review of Koenjihyakkei’s new Angherr Shisspa, ex-Ground and Sky reviewer Dominique Leone makes the bold claim that “In 2005, rock-based progressive music is bubbling below the surface with almost as much vigor as it did in the late 60s, just before it hit the pop charts in the early 70s during the heyday of Yes and ELP.” Based on the above list and my projected list for 2005, I’d have to agree. It’s a good time to be a fan of progressive music (with a lowercase, not a capital, P).

Note: you can also see my continually-updated top 10 lists from 1997 through 2005.