Posts Tagged ‘Ken Vandermark’

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.

What’s spinning, April 25 edition

Wednesday, April 25th, 2007

The past two months have seen an unprecedented amount of new music cross my path. Here’s what I’ve been listening to lately…

  • Aethenor - Deep In Ocean Sunk the Lamp of Light — Dark ambient stuff by members of Sunn O))) and Guapo (now there’s an inspired combination!). Not surprisingly, this is very creepy stuff, utterly devoid of the structures of the two aforementioned bands.
  • Alamaailman Vasarat - Maahan — Their fourth album harkens back to their earlier material, namely the stuff before the collaboration with Tuomari Nurmio. For most fans, this is a good thing.
  • Michaël Attias - Credo — Very tuneful avant-jazz on Clean Feed. I am starting to really get in to this label, thanks to the prolific amount of material they have on eMusic.
  • Cato Salsa Experience and The Thing with Joe McPhee - Two Bands and a Legend — A free jazz group collaborates with a garage-rock band, and the result is nothing short of awesome. Seriously.
  • Cowboy Junkies - At the End of Paths Taken — Their umpteenth album is, well, kind of boring, despite a new emphasis on electric instruments and some aggressive instrumental passages.
  • Kevin Drumm - Sheer Hellish Miasma — I’m not a huge noise-rock fan, but this stuff is just brutal. Maybe the most balls-to-the-wall intense electronic music I’ve ever heard, this sure is one aptly titled album.
  • Earthless - Rhythms From a Cosmic Sky — Pretty great heavy space/psych-rock, the kind of thing that readers of the Aural Innovations site will go bananas for.
  • The Electrics - Live at Glenn Miller Café — A nice cross between structured avant-jazz and purely sound-based free improv.
  • Lane/Vandermark/Broo/Nilssen-Love - 4 Corners — I am getting seriously addicted to both Vandermark and Nilssen-Love these days, and this is one of the more immediately accessible collaborations of theirs that I’ve heard lately.
  • Loreena McKennitt - Nights at the Alhambra — Wonderful DVD/2CD set for fans of this Celtic/world musician. The CDs are probably redundant for those who own Live in Paris and Toronto, but the DVD is essential.
  • Nadja - Touched — Sludgy doom-metal that, in my opinion, puts Sunn O))) to shame. Maybe it’s just that this stuff is much more accessible and, dare I say it, almost tuneful.
  • (((Powerhouse Sound))) - Oslo/Chicago: Breaks — More Ken Vandermark; this band seems to be trying to go for the Spaceways Inc. avant-jazz/funk crown, but with more noise and more electronics. I dig it.
  • Runaway Totem - Esameron — Everyone’s favorite second-tier zeuhl band releases their new, well, second-tier zeuhl album. To be honest I find this stuff pretty damn annoying, although fans of their other material (or Amygdala’s album) might like it.
  • David Torn - Prezens — Tim Berne fans relax, this is definitely not the new Hard Cell album despite the lineup. More than anything else, this is like Cloud About Mercury, re-envisioned and updated for the 21st century.

Vandermark on touring Europe vs. the US

Monday, February 19th, 2007

One last Ken Vandermark post: I was browsing through his tour notes yesterday and came across this interesting paragraph from his recap of last year’s Vandermark 5 U.S. tour:

People frequently ask if it’s better to tour in Europe and I always say no, that aside from the fact that there’s more money available through government arts support and festivals, in many ways it’s the same. Since there are hardly any festivals in the United States that focus on the kind of music I play, and which have any kind of budget (I need to go to Canada for those North American opportunities), all the music is usually performed in small venues by presenters who don’t receive any funding for the work that they do. This means that I am paid about three times more for comparable work in Europe. Otherwise, aside from festivals, the audience turnouts are almost identical in their numbers and demographics, and if you remove the subsidy money from the equation the net economic result is nearly the same. Another similarity between North America and Europe is that the best gigs are organized by presenters who really care about the music and the players. The experience for the musicians isn’t only based on the size of the city, it’s based on the motivations of the people involved with the concerts.

The Vandermark 5 are better than ever

Saturday, February 17th, 2007

The Vandermark 5 put on a hell of a show last night at Jammin’ Java in Virginia. I’m glad I got to hear the recording of their show in Montreal, because I was better prepared for what was to come: something much more “out” than even their show a year ago (when Fred Lonberg-Holm and his cello madness had already been added to the lineup). It’s clear that after a year and a half or so, Lonberg-Holm has been integrated into the group’s sound seamlessly, and his influence is felt much more now than it was a year ago. The compositions are now further afield from traditional jazz, Lonberg-Holm plays a more central role in the group’s sound, and the quintet now often breaks into mini-ensembles in a really neat way. Also, sometimes Lonberg-Holm just rocks out and plays heavy power-chord riffs that wouldn’t be out of place on a metal album.

In fact, my favorite pieces are when Lonberg-Holm does just that: Vandermark and company opened their second set with “Some, Not All” from A Discontinuous Line, which includes a headbanger’s riff in the middle section over which Dave Rempis goes absolutely nuts on alto. Powerful on the studio album, this piece is not surprisingly even better live, and Rempis’ solo and Lonberg-Holm’s riffing was a thrilling highlight of the show for me. Another highlight was the final piece of the second set, a new one called “Desireless,” a tension-and-no-release affair in which, again, Lonberg-Holm holds down the rhythm with some rock-ready riffing while Vandermark and Rempis run wild over the top. This piece had me ready to leap out of my seat, but instead of ending with a bang, the group carefully winds down towards an anticlimactic finale — the end effect of which was that, for probably half an hour after the show, I was completely wired with pent-up energy. Finally, another new piece called “Compass Shatters Magnet,” which closed the first set, went through a similar high-tension section but gave the audience the luxury of release, building from almost nothing into cathartic soloing, and then finishing up with the band pummelling the club with an anthemic, percussive melody anchored by Vandermark’s unmistakable baritone.

Much of what they played last night was new; of all the band’s previously-released stuff, only “Some, Not All,” “Reciprocal,” and “Convertible” made it to the setlist. It’s interesting to see that they are no longer playing anything written in the pre-Lonberg-Holm era, and very indicative of how the cellist has really been brought into the fold as an essential part of the group’s new sound. In fact, a great new piece was “Further From the Truth,” a ballad that featured Lonberg-Holm playing much more lyrically than usual, atop a walking bassline and a steady pulse from Tim Daisy on the drums.

In every possible way this show was superior to the one I saw these guys put on last year. More out, more adventurous, tighter, with Lonberg-Holm better integrated; and Dave Rempis was just on fire all night. Sadly, the crowd was kind of lame (though decently sizable); I wonder if this group would do better to play a little closer to DC, where there’s probably a slightly larger fan base. Jammin’ Java is half an hour away from the city, and given that I spent half an hour with a friend digging my car out from all the ice that’s been covering the area for the past few days, I imagine some people just didn’t bother to make the trek.

Great live recording of the moment: The Vandermark 5 in Montreal, February 11

Thursday, February 15th, 2007

In an attempt to get myself to actually listen to the myriad live recordings I have (mostly downloaded from Dimeadozen over the past couple years), I am thinking about doing something like highlighting a “live recording of the week” in this space. Of course, I talk about doing things like this all the time and I always flake out sooner or later (generally sooner), so I’m not going to make any promises.

In any case, the live recording I’ve been listening to a lot in the past couple days is a hot-off-the-tape torrent from Dime, an audience recording (mics on stage so it sounds great) of The Vandermark 5 in Montreal last Sunday, February 11, at La Sala Rossa. I’m going to see these guys tomorrow, and this recording is making me more and more excited about that. They certainly seem a little more avant-garde than when I saw them last February; that must be Lonberg-Holm’s influence. Speaking of Lonberg-Holm, his playing on this recording is positively metallic at times, sounding a lot like the pseudo-electric-guitar “rock cello” present in bands like Alamaailman Vasarat or Far Corner. And Vandermark himself sticks mostly to baritone and spends a lot of time holding down the rhythm. So this is definitely aggressive, rhythmic stuff — I dig it. I’ll hold off on saying much more until after I get to see them for myself, but this recording is up on Dime right now and if you’re a fan, I highly recommend grabbing it. My only quibble is that the cello seems a bit under-represented in the sound, but complaining about the sound quality is hardly fair since for an audience recording this one is practically pristine.

The Vandermark 5 @ Iota

Saturday, February 4th, 2006

I saw The Vandermark 5 tonight at the Iota Club in Arlington, VA. Wow, what a show. Those guys were intense and tight. I went with a friend of mine who is a sometime jazz pianist but not much of a fan of the more avant kind of stuff. He seemed to like the show though, especially the couple ballads that they played, and was impressed with the arrangements. I found Fred Lonberg-Holm’s contributions pretty fascinating. His cello playing was quite a distinctive shift, to be sure, from Jeb Bishop’s trombone — he was kind of a musical chameleon, at times doubling the bass or playing the rhythm, at others taking a solo spot, at still others just kind of filling the spaces with an edgy, noisy swirl of bowed, blurry notes. I think his presence gives the quintet a bit more of an “out” feel than they used to have. He was certainly a beast, playing ferociously throughout, but he did occasionally play it straight and melodic, during which times his contributions were beautiful and lyrical. Certainly one heck of a diverse player.

I was surprised at Tim Daisy’s work on the drums — he played straighter than I expected most of the time, to the point that when he locked into a groove, a more jazz-inclined listener might find him a bit stiff. My more rock-oriented background had less of a problem, but I didn’t expect to be nodding my head and tapping my foot quite as much as I was!

Also interesting, I talked briefly with Vandermark and asked him what was up with Spaceways Inc.; apparently that group has some trouble being active given the busy schedule of drummer Hamid Drake, so Vandermark is starting another group. I forget the name of this group and the lineup, but it includes two electric basses and Vandermark said that if I liked Radiale (which I do, very much so), I’d probably like this one — lots of funk in the jazz. Or something like that. Apparently they’ll be recording in the spring. Looking forward to that, for sure.

Sometimes Pitchfork sucks

Thursday, December 29th, 2005

Stupid Useless Gimmick Reviews, Exhibit A.

I really like this album, by the way (Simpatico by The Vandermark 5 for those of you not interested enough to follow the link). “STHLM,” dedicated to Mats Gustafsson, is one of my favorite pieces by this prolific group. A barn-burner.