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First off, in the Washington Post music blog, Post Rock, comes a scathingly amusing dismantling of the new album by indie-pop sensation Jenny Lewis (of Rilo Kiley fame): “If you were wondering why you couldn’t find a review of the album in today’s paper, it’s because all the potential reviewers either fell asleep or forced themselves to sleep via a hammer to the cranium by the 43rd time Lewis moaned “black sand” on the album’s bore of an opening track.” Ouch!
Secondly, this video, which is hilarious and painful and embarrassing all at once:
You might imagine that all the metal blogs have been sneering at this. A lot.
Finally, thanks to those who have been asking — yes, I’ll be writing reviews of some of the recent shows I’ve seen, including Extra Life and Mogwai. In the meantime, check out my photos and brief recaps of a couple shows over at Black Plastic Bag: one of a great show by Sigh and Unexpect, and one of the aformentionedMogwai show.
Speaking of Mogwai, looks like they’ve had to cancel the remainder of their U.S. tour because their drummer started having problems with his pacemaker. Bummer for them and the fans, best wishes to the drummer for a quick and full recovery. I’ll particularly miss the updates to the band’s USA tour diary that they’ve been posting on their website — it has been absolutely hysterical. Some choice excerpts:
“People loved Fuck Buttons’ set and it made me wonder how brutally strong the LSD must be in this city. I mean, some guy shouting into a children’s toy while another mentally ill person screams monkey noises into a cheap effects pedal really just isn’t enjoyable unless you’ve been fed an heroic dose of hallucinogenic drugs.”
“The show was really quite good in San Francisco apart from the usual idiots who are afraid to keep their mouth shut for 10 seconds in case they start having an introspective tour of duty into their own minds and then nervous breakdown… [the next] show was a bit of a stinker we thought and the tourettes victims were out in force. One exceptionally stupid man shouted for a song he happened to like halfway through a song we were playing. I do wonder what he thought this would achieve…… let’s stop playing this and start doing requests.”
“Washington D.C. SHOWTIME! Here we are in what is hopefully not going to become Sarah Palin’s new hometown. I suppose there’s a real chance of her becoming VP seeing as the Americans had a cocaine and alcohol cowboy in the whitehouse for the last 8 years.”
PopMatters has a very nice review of the reissue of Mogwai’s classic debut, Young Team, but it includes this statement with which I am extremely uncomfortable, and for me colors the reviewer’s credibility quite a bit:
Take the epochal “Mogwai Fear Satan”, still one of the few real epics modern music has produced… [emphasis mine]
Making a blanket statement like that strikes me as… well, absolutely ridiculous.
ChrisX’s comment on my previous post, urging me to invest in some earplugs because I seem to go to a lot of loud shows, is excellent and timely. Last night I saw Mogwai, a band renowned for their crushingly loud shows, at the 9:30 Club. I saw them a couple years ago at the same venue and they didn’t quite live up to that rep, but this time they were plenty loud. It was a more controlled loud than last Sunday’s show, though, which just suffered from idiotic mixing, but it still left my ears ringing. Today, however, I received a pair of Etymotic earplugs, just in time for tonight’s Mono/Pelican show which also promises to feature massive volume levels. I’ve had my eye on the Etymotics for some time — a few years ago I invested in a pair of their ER-6 isolating headphones, which are excellent, so I know they make a good product. Thanks Chris for giving me the little nudge I needed to finally go ahead and order those earplugs…
As for the Mogwai show, it was pretty good. The thing about this band’s recent output is that while it’s all very good, it’s also sort of anonymous. Most of their newer songs just aren’t as memorable as a lot of their older material — it’s still just as exciting and beautiful (and predictable), but it just doesn’t linger quite as long. So I couldn’t identify a lot of the songs the band played, which hurt my enjoyment a bit, but not much. The highlights were “Friend of the Night” — easily my favorite track from the new Mr. Beast — and the surprising selections of “Yes! I am a long way from home” from Young Team and “Christmas Steps” from Come On Die Young. The latter was an absolute killer and the high point of the show. Now, if only they would go back to playing “Mogwai Fear Satan” regularly at their shows…
A couple nights ago I got to see Charming Hostess live. They performed for about an hour, singing songs almost exclusively from Trilectic and Sarajevo Blues. I like the big-band version of this group better (who doesn’t?), but they were certainly an incredibly entertaining trio to watch even just a cappella. They call themselves “nerdy-sexy-commie-girlie music” or something like that, but it wasn’t until I saw their live performance that I realized just how nerdy they really are. This is something that really appealed to me: Jewlia introduced every single song, regaling the audience with background details on the songs’ subject matters (which tended to the esoteric: a 1920s love affair between a Marxist revolutionary and a German philosopher, or the siege of Sarajevo). It was nice to see all three performers really get into the songs — clearly, even though they sing in multiple languages, they really know what all their lyrics mean, and they feel them as they sing them. Fun show.
A quick roundup of some interesting reading from the indie-rock sites recently…
There’s an excellent live review of Masada at Pitchfork that includes a broader discussion of John Zorn generally.
There’s a small thread going on at ProgressiveEars asking for recommendations of Univers Zero’s music. I posted a quick response, basically saying that I like all of their albums (thus making mine an entirely unhelpful contribution to the discussion), though for different reasons. I really don’t think there’s a weak spot in their entire discography — some 10 albums as of the release of Live last month. Some I like less than others, sure (their first two “reunion” albums are a notch below the rest of their body of work IMHO), but it’s all quite good, with each album subtly different from the ones that came before and after.
I can’t really think of any other band about which I feel this way. There are some bands out there that I like all of their albums, of course, but none with the long history and large discography of Univers Zero. There are plenty of bands who have a great discography but who have released a clunker or two, or at least a couple albums that I’m lukewarm about. There are some non-prog bands, like Cowboy Junkies, Mogwai or The Decemberists, whose discographies I like front to back, following along with their subtle stylistic changes as they evolved, but I don’t like them with the same passion that I have for Univers Zero.
I don’t know. Henry Cow comes close, but they have fewer albums and I’m not a huge fan of the Canterbury-centric sound of Legend. I guess King Crimson comes relatively close as well; I adore a lot of their albums, but I’m not a huge fan of their 80s period and they’ve just released so much material (and I have so much of it) that I’m just not as well-acquainted with a lot of their stuff, compared to how well I know all of UZ’s releases. Perhaps Daniel Denis’ infamous perfectionism, and refusal to release live albums until this new one, pays off in the form of a more concise and lovable discography.
I think I’m rambling a bit, but I think the point is this: there are very, very few bands out there who can say that they’ve released a bunch of albums in a recognizably distinct style, all of excellent quality, yet all of which show enough progression and development such that they don’t all sound alike. I mean, some people probably love all of the Ozric Tentacles‘ or Djam Karet’s albums, but to me they’re all too similar to each other. Univers Zero have avoided that rut, doing something a bit different every time (although arguably the reunion version of the band shows less progression between albums than the classic version) such that every album, despite being in the same overall style, is a unique work that stands well on its own merits. And this is without exception — no clunkers in their history at all!
If I think of another band about which I can say this, I’ll follow up, but I don’t think I will. Univers Zero isn’t my favorite band — I think a decent number of bands have reached greater heights — but perhaps no one in my experience, particularly in the rock music field, has been as consistently good as they have.
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).
So, as anyone who reads this blog on a fairly consistent basis (insofar as it’s consistently updated, at least) knows, I do my best-of-year lists a year after the fact to correct for a number of errors, most obviously the fact that I can’t possibly hear or buy all the great albums released in a year all that quickly. The folks over at The Turntable - the blog associated with Stylus - do a similar cool thing, which is go back and draw up a new “best of year” list a year after the fact, and compare it with their old lists. The differences are interesting at least. So here: I’ll do the same thing - here is my Best of 2001 as I would have it today. Note that I made this up without looking back at the original Best of 2001 list I posted in December of 2002.
Some other great albums released in 2001: Femi Kuti’s Fight to Win, System of a Down’s Toxicity, Djam Karet’s Ascension, Explosions in the Sky’s Those Who Tell the Truth…, Avant Garden’s Maelstrom, Bob Drake’s The Skull Mailbox, Cannibal Ox’s The Cold Vein, and John Coltrane’s The Olatunji Concert. Whew. It was a good year, apparently. Oh, and the best surprise of the year was Dream Theater’s Live Scenes From New York, which was actually really good - light-years better than their previous live album (though that’s damning with faint praise, I suppose). The Coup’s Party Music was pretty good, but a little disappointing.
You may note that Krakatoa’s Togetherness disappeared from my list (from #4 originally). I still think it’s a great album, but I just haven’t been inclined to pull it out very often for the past couple years. Same goes for their other albums, including the newer one on Cuneiform, which never really grabbed me that well in the first place. Hmm.
Also, High Infidelity took a huge leap from #7 to #1, and after peeking back at the archives, four of the ten items on the list above were not on the old one at all. Still, the top few more or less remained constant, which is cool.
I saw Mogwai today. Very mixed feelings about the show. It was fucking awesome, on the one hand - they opened with “Yes! I Am a Long Way From Home”, and I was instantly in a state of total bliss; and they did a shortened version of “Mogwai Fear Satan” that was absolutely blazing; and they closed with “Ratts of the Capital” from the new album, which was similarly ass-kicking. The band’s famed use of dynamics - beautiful, quiet melodies contrasted with brutal distorted noise - translates surprisingly well into a live setting. The crowd was nearly as quiet as the crowds at Godspeed You Black Emperor shows, allowing the quieter sections to really shine.
The only real problem was, the set they played was only like 70 minutes long. Pretty fucking shitty, if you ask me. And most of the songs they played were on the short side, no more than 5-6 minutes for the most part; even “Mogwai Fear Satan” was truncated big-time. And there was no “My Father, My King” to close things out, which I was really hoping for. No “Christmas Steps”… not even “Like Herod”, which I’m told is a concert staple. These aren’t really legitimate complaints I suppose, especially since I really like the band’s latest two albums, Rock Action and Happy Songs for Happy People, from which much of the show was drawn. Still, I couldn’t help but be very disappointed with the lack of length, both in terms of individual songs and of the set as a whole.
Here’s another list - my top 10 releases of 2001. No, that’s not a typo. I think it’s silly to be doing a top ten list for 2002 already, since the year’s not even over yet. Besides, I always take a while to catch up on new releases, so undoubtedly a top ten for 2002 will be much more accurate if I do it a year from now. Anyway - my favorite CDs released in 2001 were, in (very) rough order of kick-ass-ness:
The Dismemberment Plan - Change
My favorite album of the year, no question. Great indie-rock, a little less energetic than its predecessor Emergency & I, but more melodic and still possessing some absolutely killer grooves.
Magma - Theusz Hamtaakh Trilogie
Unbelievably good live set. Who would have thought that these guys could kick so much ass thirty years down the road? There’s so much energy here, and the band is so tight, that I’ll probably never listen to the studio versions again.
Mogwai - Rock Action
Mogwai’s most beautiful album yet. Lacks the sheer power of some of their other material, but makes up for it in majesty. What’s more, it’s probably the most consistent Mogwai album yet in terms of quality all the way through.
Krakatoa - Togetherness
Whimsical, eclectic, and utterly unique. Definitely the best original prog album of the year.
Sleepytime Gorilla Museum - Grand Opening and Closing
Again, utterly unique, and the best tracks on this album are just fucking awesome. The album as a whole is a bit inconsistent, but the sheer power of “Ambugaton” and “Powerless” alone sold me at first listen.
The Beta Band - Hot Shots II
Sleepy and contemplative indie-rock that defies any further categorization, and that is transformed into incredibly energetic and groove-filled stuff in concert. The Beta Band just might be my favorite live band ever.
Present - High Infidelity
A dark slab of accessible avant-prog. Best played at massive volumes!
King Crimson - VROOOM VROOOM
Somehow King Crimson keeps releasing live albums, I keep buying them, and I keep loving them. This one doesn’t disappoint, even though I’ve already heard eight bajillion versions of all the songs on here already. It’s a testament either to the band’s brilliance or to my utter fanboyishness that I enjoy all their live material, even when it starts getting redundant to the tenth power.
Tarentel - The Order of Things
Solid post-rock entry, although I preferred the debut album to this one. However, the first half is prime-time stuff.
Avant Garden - Maelstrom
These guys have a seemingly unlimited reserve of energy. Ass-kickingly intense all the way through, sometimes to the point that it’s tough to get through it all in one sitting. Great debut nevertheless.
Some honorable mentions include Bob Drake’s Skull Mailbox, Explosions in the Sky’s Those Who Tell the Truth…, Radiohead’s Amnesiac, Silver Mt. Zion’s Born Into Trouble as the Sparks Fly Upward, and After Crying’s Bootleg Symphony (which was a pleasant surprise, as I wasn’t expecting much at all). All in all it was a pretty good year, I think. Certainly I can rave on and on about the top five or six in that top ten list… and as with any year there are undoubtedly some undiscovered gems from 2001 that I haven’t gotten around to picking up yet.
It is now 4:45 am. I’m currently sitting at a computer lab computer trying to bang out a 20-page paper in one day and one night. I’ve been listening to music on headphones using the computer’s CD-ROM drive. I have no idea what the sound card and audio hardware on this machine is, but something weird is going on with it. When I listen to my music, especially CDs with strong stereo separation, certain parts of the mix get highlighted whereas others go really quiet. I’m hearing percussion in some songs on Kid A that I’ve never heard before, for instance. On the one hand, this is sort of annoying, but on the other, it’s actually kind of enlightening. Either way, though, it’s distracting me from the work I should be doing. Hmm.
My primary form of procrastination has been the popmatters.com reviews archive - I’ve found some pretty interesting stuff in there. Like, for instance, the only really really negative review of Mogwai’s My Father My King that I’ve yet read. Or, a review of a Sigur Rós concert that I think captures the awe and wonder of a good live show by that band - yeah, it’s gushingly positive and over the top, but that’s appropriate, I think. Or maybe my opinion of Sigur Rós is just way overinflated (but I knew that already). There’s also weird stuff like the statement that Sunny Day Real Estate’s The Rising Tide “would have been right at home alongside classic albums by Rush, Marillion or Kansas.” Umm… maybe. But not really.
Hehe: the new Pitchfork review of Radiohead’s I Might Be Wrong makes a point - over and over again - of calling the album an EP. A little bitter?