Posts Tagged ‘The Decemberists’

What’s spinning, March 30 edition

Monday, March 30th, 2009
  • Agoraphobic Nosebleed - Agorapocalypse Now — The new ANb record is going to piss off a lot of old fans: for starters, there are only 13 songs, and two-thirds of them clock in at over 2 minutes. What’s more, the music actually grooves in places, and there’s a female vocalist (growling and screaming; don’t worry, this is no goth-metal band). I think it rocks and it’s already my favorite ANb that I’ve heard… we’ll see how the diehards react.
  • Arnold Schoenberg/Hilary Hahn - Violin Concerto — I wasn’t familiar with Schoenberg’s violin concerto, and this is my first listen to Baltimore’s favorite violinist. My first impressions on both counts: very favorable.
  • Decoder Ring - Fractions — Really pleasant record from this Australian post-rock/electronic band. Lenka Kripac’s ethereal vocals add a ton, and the end result is a moody slab of chilled-out music that has a couple nice surprises up its sleeve.
  • Flower-Corsano Duo - The Four Aims — 50 minutes of free improvisation, a duo of drums/percussion and shahi baaja, a kind of Indian electric mandolin. I wrote a few paragraphs about this one over at the City Paper.
  • Kylesa - Static Tensions — Savannah, Georgia might seem an odd place for a fucking awesome metal band to emerge, but Kylesa are just that, and their latest album is their best yet. On some of these songs (like the absolutely awesome “Running Red”), they sound a bit like Mastodon does now, only heavier and… better.
  • Mastodon - Crack the Skye — Speaking of Mastodon, I just don’t like their new direction. Crack the Skye is a definitely step up from Blood Mountain, but that just means I find most of it boring instead of tasteless.
  • Napalm Death - Time Waits For No Slave — You know, I never really got that much into Napalm Death’s classic stuff. But this new album totally grabbed me. It’s weirdly hooky and groovy, as far as grindcore goes. In that sense it’s kind of like the new ANb: a pretty great, quite accessible surprise.
  • The BBC - WFMU Studios 9/14/2008Tim Berne, Nels Cline and Jim Black as a trio! Berne and Black play with the chemistry you’d expect, but Cline integrates himself quite nicely indeed. This recording, from a live radio session, is incendiary and entertaining, and the interview segment is amusing as hell. This trio is doing a couple shows in Australia soon; here’s hoping they do some shows in the U.S. soon.
  • The Coup - Kill My Landlord — I’ve been looking for this sucker for years, and it’s finally back in print. This is from the early period of the group, along the same lines as Genocide & Juice, which is far and away my favorite album by The Coup. It doesn’t disappoint. This stuff is way better than the more recent releases like Pick a Bigger Weapon and the hugely disappointing Party Music.
  • The Decemberists - The Hazards of Love — Jury’s still out on this one. Definitely a concept album that has to be listened to from start to finish. Only a couple songs really reached out and grabbed me after a couple listens, but I’m willing to put some effort into this one so we’ll see how it pans out for me.

Pitchfork & PopMatters on the new Decemberists

Monday, March 23rd, 2009

Pitchfork reviews The Hazards of Love and gives it a lowly 5.7. In the summary blurb, the phrases “stoner metal sludge” and “prog-folk” are invoked. On the other hand, while PopMatters’ review starts with the ominous phrase “There have been signs that this was coming” and compares the album to GenesisLamb (usually a kiss of death in a mainstream publication these days), the review ends up being very positive indeed. All this makes me feel cautiously optimistic about how I might like this one. I haven’t bothered listening to the low-bitrate version that leaked a couple weeks ago, so I’m looking forward to hearing the release with fresh ears.

Also reviewed today at Pitchfork: Kylesa’s new one, Static Tensions. Kylesa are a hip sludgy metal group with at times very distinct Pink Floyd influences, two drummers, and a rotating cast of vocalists (though the chief screamer is guitarist Laura Pleasants, who rocks). Pitchfork gave it a good review, and I agree: this is a good ‘un.

The Decemberists @ Strathmore

Tuesday, March 27th, 2007

Last night The Decemberists played a $40 show at the Strathmore out in suburban Maryland. I have a friend who really wanted to see them, so I tagged along. I wouldn’t have gone otherwise — their show two years ago actually kind of put me off of their music for a while, and as a result I skipped them last year when they did two nights at the 9:30 Club — but I’m glad I let myself be talked into it, even considering the rather surprising price tag.

These guys are consummate entertainers, and they were pretty hilarious throughout the show. The Strathmore is a very grandiose theater-style seated venue, and I was wondering how the band would react to it. Aside from several jokes about the audience being calmly seated during the entire set, they took it all in stride and, if anything, were even weirder and wackier than usual, cracking jokes left and right, doing their whole audience participation thing (standard stuff that hasn’t changed since I saw them two years ago), bumbling around the stage, etc. Two years ago I didn’t buy their schtick for whatever reason, but this time they had me sold, and the crowd was completely enthralled. They just seemed very unforced, and it showed in their music as well.

They focused mostly on last year’s The Crane Wife, but having already toured extensively in support of it, they had a noticeable comfort level with the material and stretched out a bit, adding in small guitar riffs and mini-solos here and there to pretty great effect. Their setlist was also interesting, curiously enough opening with the low-key “Oceanside” from the Five Songs EP, and then including a couple songs from each of their older albums. The band’s epic side was in full effect last night: they played almost all of their “big” songs, including “The Island,” “The Crane Wife,” the “California One” medley, and the inevitable, crowd-pleasing “Mariner’s Revenge Song.” Really, all that was missing was “The Tain” and they would have played every one of their grand-scale epics in one show. Nice.

My complaint is kind of funny coming from someone who curates a prog review site: I thought the keys were way too low. The fat chords in “The Island” didn’t shine through enough, and in several other songs some of the subtle flourishes were lost as well. On the upside, Chris Funk broke out a hurdy-gurdy for all of twenty seconds in “Eli the Barrow Boy,” which was awesome.

Two years ago I came away from a Decemberists show not really wanting to listen to their music again for quite some time. This time around, I had the opposite reaction — I went home and listened to a couple songs from Her Majesty the Decemberists, which is probably my favorite of their works (might just be the primacy effect though, they are all pretty damn good). Kudos to those guys for playing in what must have been a pretty unfamiliar venue type for them, and pulling it off better than I would ever have expected.

The Decemberists

Saturday, February 3rd, 2007

DPRP posted a week or so ago a very long-winded, genre-obsessed review of The DecemberistsThe Crane Wife. I am always interested in reading prog sites’ reviews of non-prog albums, although often as not I come away frustrated with the naiveté that is inevitable when reviewers write about an album that is not quite within their area of expertise (of course, I myself do this all the time — and if I start reviewing the contemporary classical music I’ve been listening to lately, watch out!). Anyway, as far as these things go, this is actually quite a good review.

Speaking of The Decemberists, a friend really wanted to see them, so I plonked down a cool $45 for their upcoming show in the DC area, at the Strathmore, a large, swanky (this is the kind of place where you can have “afternoon tea”… to the tune of $18) seated venue. I’m excited, but a little leery — the last time I saw these guys live, it actually kind of turned me off from their music for a few months. I’m not sure why, and I think that’s the only time something like that has ever happened. Maybe it was the impossibly stereotypical hipster/indie-kid appearance of bandleader Colin Meloy (not to mention a large plurality of the audience). Maybe it was the audience participation that I just found forced and silly. Maybe it was the attempt at an improv that was pretty much just awful. Not sure, but hopefully it won’t happen again. Hopefully it won’t happen again with any band — it was a distinctly weird feeling, especially since all in all, I did enjoy the show.

Wonder if this has happened to anyone else? You go to a show you’re excited about but you come away actually feeling more negatively about the band than you did before?

Three great shows I failed to see

Friday, November 3rd, 2006

This has been a week of missed shows: The Decemberists, Kayo Dot, and Vialka all played in DC between Monday and yesterday, and I missed them all. I was especially disappointed to miss Vialka, a French avant-folk duo that recently did a split CD with Kruzenshtern & Parohod that I hope to review in the near future. The Decemberists show was broadcast, in typically excellent quality, by NPR’s All Songs Considered, and is worth a listen just for the live performance of “I Was Meant For the Stage” that ends with an instrumental freakout that is oh-so-rare from these guys. Oh, and the new songs from The Crane Wife sound great. One of my friends went to the Sunday show (the NPR broadcast is from their Monday show) and said that the fans there were going crazy for “The Island,” the uber-proggy cut from the new album. “How many of these fans have ever even heard of King Crimson?” he wondered.

What bands have NO weak albums?

Monday, February 6th, 2006

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.

Help save Tonic

Friday, February 4th, 2005

Two things, one important, one not. First, if you live in or around the NYC area and like avant-garde music of all shades, you’re probably aware of Tonic, somewhere off Delancey St on the Lower East Side if I remember (I haven’t been there in a couple years). It’s a great club, I’ve been there a few times, I think I saw Sigur Rós there the first time, actually. They also hosted the big Zorn/Tzadik 50th birthday celebration. Anyway, they’re in financial trouble that sounds like it has more to do with real estate and associated expenses in NYC than anything else, so they’re asking for help. I implore folks to check out their website and make a contribution if you feel so inclined - especially if you’ve been there before or see shows on their calendar that you’re interested in (Tim Berne’s Acoustic Hard Cell band is playing soon, as is Masada String Trio…).

The other thing is frivolous: to add to my list in the previous post, another upcoming new release I’m watching for is The Decemberists‘ new one, Picaresque, which I believe is due out March 22. These guys are an indie-rock group that excels at a sort of heavily orchestrated, lushly produced, melodic folk sound; but most prominent are the lyrics, which are well-read, almost literary, and which invariably tell great stories. Their latest release is an EP, The Tain, consisting of a single 20-minute epic that completely rocks. In any case, most of the comments I’m reading about Picaresque now indicate that it’s their best album yet, which is saying something since I don’t think they’re released anything that I would rate as less than “very good”.