Posts Tagged ‘Sleepytime Gorilla Museum’

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.

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

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.

Sleepytime Gorilla Museum live: I finally got it.

Wednesday, June 6th, 2007

Well, last night Sleepytime Gorilla Museum put on the best show of the three I’ve seen thus far. Maybe it was just that I’m now familiar with all the songs — with very few exceptions they played stuff from In Glorious Times, as they have been doing for the past two years. But despite a surprisingly small crowd (smaller than in 2005, when they didn’t start until nearly midnight, and much smaller than three months ago, when they barely made it to DC thanks to a nasty ice storm), they were really on, both musically and theatrically.

They opened with “The Companions,” which they’ve been doing since I first saw them in 2005. Actually, technically they opened with a gimmick, parading slowly from the back of the club while playing some kind of brassy fanfare, walking straight into the middle of the crowd, finishing the fanfare, and then taking the stage. It was a highly amusing stunt and set the tone for the rest of the night. It’s amazing how these guys can be so creepy one moment and then completely and genuinely funny the next. After “The Companions” — which I found much more enjoyable after hearing it on the album, and I picked out some subtleties I’d never noticed before, like Carla Kihlstedt’s ghostly wordless backing vocals — they brought down the house with “The Widening Eye,” just as they did last time. I described this song last time (which was the first time I ever heard it) as a more metallic take on “Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, Part 2″ — it’s easily my favorite song on the album, and it’s a real crowd-pleaser live.

After playing most of the songs on In Glorious Times, the band surprised me by playing some stuff from Of Natural History — previously I’d only heard them do “Phthisis,” but this time they played “The Freedom Club,” “Hymn to the Morning Star” (Nils’ voice in this song is just astonishing) and “The Donkey-Headed Adversary of Humanity.” All of these songs killed and this reminded me that, as much as I dig the new album, Of Natural History is still easily my favorite of theirs. They did an encore of their new, tripped-out version of “Sleep Is Wrong,” which despite its funkiness I actually don’t like nearly as much as the original version, which is much more lean, mean and heavy.

Theatrically, the whole band was funnier and more animated than I’ve seen them, which is definitely saying something. This is even though the crowd was probably half as big as their last show at the Black Cat, which must have been disappointing.

Openers Stinking Lizaveta I found mildly disappointing; I’ve heard great things about them but aside from a couple songs I thought were great, they mostly played songs consisting of odd-time riff after odd-time riff, and I ended up finding them rather tiresome. Great musicians to be sure, but I just wasn’t a huge fan of the compositions.

Sleepytime Gorilla Museum @ the Black Cat

Saturday, March 17th, 2007

Despite awful weather — a 40-degree drop from Thursday to Friday and a dramatic shift from cloudless sun to icy sleet — Sleepytime Gorilla Museum and Secret Chiefs 3 made it to Washington, DC last night to play at the Black Cat. Secret Chiefs actually didn’t get in until very late, so SGM played first, starting at around 10:15 (doors were supposed to open at 9, but I guess they were doing their soundcheck because the club made people stand out in the cold until almost 9:45). They played almost exclusively new material, with only “Phthisis” somewhere in the middle and then closing with a crowd-pleasing “Sleep is Wrong.” They opened with a song I recognized from when they played here two years ago that reminds me of Idiot Flesh — maybe this one is called “Companions”? But then they played something that absolutely blew everyone away, a chunky odd-time instrumental with Kihlstedt flailing away on violin against a dual-guitar attack, that really sounded like SGM’s version of “Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, Part 2.” Seriously, this was a blistering piece that will likely be on the next album, out in late May.

The rest of the set was good but not transcendent. Nils was in full performance mode throughout, but also made time to banter a bit with the crowd. I dug most of the new songs, but am looking forward to hearing the studio versions; the sound in the club was surprisingly good (much better than the last time they were here), but most of the nuance got washed out by the odd-time heavy-metal riffing that seemed to dominate everything. The crowd absolutely ate it up though; there was a great turnout despite the weather, and band seemed to feel so good about their set and the audience that they did a clearly unplanned encore of “1997,” which I always thought was a vastly overrated song but which of course drove the crowd to a frenzy.

It’s nice to see that this band has evidently developed quite a devoted following. I think they’re one of the most innovative current bands out there, and the fact that they’ve made such a name for themselves pretty much by touring incessantly is great. Sadly, since they didn’t finish until 11:45, I didn’t stick around for Secret Chiefs 3, which apparently is my loss. Hopefully I’ll get a chance to catch them again in the near future, but as it was, I was happy enough just seeing SGM again.

Stylus’ guide to extreme metal

Friday, January 13th, 2006

For those who are interested, Stylus Magazine has a pretty cool Beginner’s Guide to Metal feature. They cover death, black, grindcore, and doom metal, offering lists of classics in each subgenre. This is the serious shit — you won’t find any Metallica or Dream Theater in here. As someone who came to these forms of extreme metal pretty recently (2003 or so), I find these lists of earlier albums useful. I do, though, tend to get turned off by the gritty, thin production quality of a lot of early metal albums, but I’ll have to try out a few of these that I haven’t yet heard.

On an unrelated note (or not, depending on how close you think this band falls to metal), this concert review has one of the best descriptions I’ve ever read of Sleepytime Gorilla Museum’s music and spectacle. Kudos to that writer.

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.

Three great shows in three different cities

Monday, July 11th, 2005

In the past couple weeks I have been lucky enough to see three fantastic live shows — and no, I didn’t make it to NEARfest. A little while ago I saw Sleepytime Gorilla Museum at the Black Cat here in DC. I’ve been told many times that this band is one hell of an experience live, so my expectations were kind of through the roof. Maybe because of that, I ended up a little disappointed, but it was still a great show. Probably based on the kind of younger, punkish audience that the Black Cat brings, SGM played mostly their loud and heavy stuff - the first half of Of Natural History, namely, plus “1997″ from the debut. The performance was fantastic and impassioned, but the sound was awful — maybe because I was standing too close to the stage. I could hardly make out anything aside from the percussion and occasional violin; vocals and guitar especially were way too low. But anyway. The performance-art aspect of the show was neat, and I’ve never enjoyed watch a band set up so much, thanks to all of SGM’s bizarre homemade instruments.

Also, there was one opening band of note, because they were so bad. I forget what they were called, but when they got on stage my interest was piqued thanks to their lineup of five guitarists and a bassist lined up in a semicircle around two drummers. But then they started playing, and damned if they didn’t sound like a pedestrian power trio. Why have five guitarists if they’re all going to play the exact same (boring) riff?

Show number two was a week later, in Pittsburgh’s Garfield Artworks: zany tech-metal band Behold… the Arctopus with new Tzadik signing Time of Orchids. (And a few other bands that I didn’t quite care for.) Behold I went to see on the recommendation of Steve F.; they played an amazingly impressive brand of super-fast complex instrumental metal. Guitarist, drummer, and Warr guitarist, the last of which was clearly the focal point of the band. Pretty incredible talent all around, but it was all a bit too much for me. The way I see it there are two ways to look at a band like this. One: you think Dream Theater is talented? Wait ’til you hear these guys! Or, two: you think Dream Theater is wanky? Wait ’til you hear these guys!

Time of Orchids, on the other hand, I knew from their latest release, Sarcast While. As I state in my review, it’s not an album that I am 100% enamoured with, but I like it a lot and was really excited to see these guys live. They didn’t disappoint. They were alternately powerful and beautiful, looked like they were having fun despite the fact that the audience could have easily fit in my apartment’s walk-in closet, and did a wicked awesome performance of “All You Ever Wish” to close out their brief set. Great stuff — one of those bands I became a bigger fan of after seeing them live.

Show number three was the best of the bunch: Present at Local 506 in Chapel Hill, NC. I had hoped to catch Present in Baltimore and Richmond as well, but as it happened this was the only show I was able to make (though I was sorely tempted to go up to NYC yesterday just to see their show there, but common sense — and financial sense — kicked in, alas). This show was fucking unbelievable. Let me say again: fucking unbelievable. Again, the audience was tiny, 20-30 people tops (though this was considerably larger than at the Behold/Orchids show). But the sound was good and the performance was breathtaking. Right from the beginning I knew I was going to be happy, because they opened their set with “Jack the Ripper” from one of my favorite albums ever, Univers Zero’s Heresie. I hesitate to call it a “cover” since I think Roger Trigaux might have written it — he was still in Univers Zero when Heresie was written. I’ll have to check the liner notes, or someone can tell me in the comments. Anyway, Present’s rendition of this song was tremendous — as one might expect, far more powerful and aggressive than the original.

Otherwise, they played the two long suites from No. 6, both of which were great but especially “Ceux d’en Bas”; two new pieces which sounded a little different from the rest of the band’s material — I don’t remember precisely how, but maybe a little less repetitive, with a few more symphonic flourishes; and closed the set with “Promenade au Fond d’un Canal” from the debut album. This closer was particularly stunning — the addition of the cello and reedist really fleshed out the sound of this piece, which sounds kind of spartan on the studio album.

Of particular note was Keith Macksoud on bass, who was just a total monster. He had a couple jaw-dropping solos and was always just huge. He actually broke a string on his bass twice (to go along with the cellist completely shredding his bow during “Jack the Ripper”). Also impressive was keyboardist Pierre Chevalier, who was playing repetitive themes with metronomic precision but also had some great freakouts and solos. Of course Dave Kerman was up to his usual tricks, bringing back the Barbie doll schtick I remember from NEARfest 2000 with Thinking Plague.

Really, the band was just the tightest, most powerful live beast I might have ever seen. Their show was easily the best I’ve witnessed thus far this year, next to Nels Cline and Wilco’s performance back in February (though that, of course, was a completely different game). I’m gratified to hear that they blew people away at NEARfest as well, and I hope the other shows they played were better-attended than the Chapel Hill gig. Truly, truly astounding stuff.

Finally: it was nice to get an opportunity to chat with various members of the aforementioned bands — Nils from SGM, Chuck and Jesse from Time of Orchids, and Udi from Present. All stand-up folks it seems, even as they play music that’s mean as hell!

Sleepytime Gorilla Museum != Paatos

Friday, June 3rd, 2005

I’m all for the technique of comparing an album or band to another album or band in a review. It’s a useful supplement to straight-up description, especially since describing music is so damn hard to do anyway. The best reviewers use comparisons liberally but accurately. On the other hand, sometimes you get comparisons that just seem totally off-base or even misleading. For instance: in a new review of Sleepytime Gorilla Museum’s Of Natural History at ProgressiveWorld, the song “Phthisis” is compared to Paatos.

Paatos??! The only similarity whatsoever is the fact that Carla Kihlstedt sings on “Phthisis,” and like Petronella Nettermalm, who sings for Paatos, she is female. There is no other possible comparison. I just don’t see it.

Comparison can make a reviewer seem remarkably insightful or totally clueless. This particular comparison doesn’t seem very insightful to me, but then again maybe I’m the clueless one here. If anyone understands a similarity here that I’m totally missing, please fill me in. I’m not holding my breath, though.

Best of 2001, revisited

Wednesday, February 25th, 2004

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.

  1. Present - High Infidelity
  2. The Dismemberment Plan - Change
  3. Magma - Theusz Hamtaakh Trilogie
  4. Mogwai - Rock Action
  5. Miles Davis - Live at the Fillmore East: It’s About That Time
  6. Sleepytime Gorilla Museum - Grand Opening and Closing
  7. The Beta Band - Hot Shots II
  8. Green Carnation - Light of Day, Day of Darkness
  9. Outkast - Stankonia
  10. Satoko Fujii Quartet - Vulcan

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.