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Posts Tagged ‘Wilco’


Tuesday, January 5th, 2010

Anyone who reads this blog knows that I like Joanna Newsom, like, a lot, and I missed her tour way back in 2006 because I didn’t think she could possibly sell out the 700ish-capacity Black Cat mainstage. Well, after years of no news, she’s finally up to something, after that teaser of a “secret show” last year. Playing a mini-tour of seven cities in the U.S. this spring, including a date in DC on March 22 at Sixth & I Historic Synagogue. I’m so there. This WILL sell out fast as Newsom’s legend has grown mightily since that last tour, and Sixth & I’s capacity is only a couple hundred more than the Black Cat.

Also, there is yet another Wilco tour, which is hardly news since these guys seem to be practically Jucifer-like in their capacity for living on the road. But, the press release says that the tour will consist of “extended, varied sets exploring material from each of the accomplished Chicago sextet’s seven studio albums.” Since I don’t like the past couple albums very much, this is pretty great news. DC date is at Strathmore on March 30.

Other shows I am really psyched to see this spring: Atomic, Epica, Between the Buried and Me headlining with Cynic supporting. Also very curious to see how the Scion Rock Fest lineup shakes out this year - it’s apparently scheduled for March 13 but I can’t get much in the way of confirmation on that date.

Wilco @ Merriweather Post Pavilion: old is great, new is boring

Friday, June 22nd, 2007

Last night, several jazz musicians I really like were active on the east coast: Tim Berne playing with his Hard Cell trio at the Vision Festival in New York, Slava Ganelin with his Ganelin Trio Priority at An Die Musik in Baltimore, and Nels Cline with… Wilco at Merriweather Post Pavilion in suburban Maryland. I went to see the latter, because it was closest (if Berne had been closer he would have been the choice), I had friends going, and ever since Cline joined the band I’ve been a bit of a Wilco fanboy.

This was my fourth Wilco show in five years, so I more or less knew what to expect, and the band delivered. They were pretty on, and for a large venue the sound was pretty good. The wild card was the new material: as I mentioned before, I’m not much of a fan of the Sky Blue Sky songs, and I was hoping that seeing them live would improve my appreciation. Sadly, the opposite happened: when contrasted with their older material, the new songs came off even more lame and stilted than before. Half the fun of Wilco for me is the contrast between beautiful pop melody and all-out joyful noisemaking (Cline in particular adds a lot to this aspect of their sound, of course). Sky Blue Sky’s songs have a complete dearth of the latter, and a lot of them lack the former as well. The most telling transition was one between “Via Chicago” (a perfect example of an effective meshing of melody and noise) and one of the new songs. My heart was thumping and I was grinning during “Via Chicago,” but then once the next song started, I sat down and quickly lost interest.

Oddly enough, then, my favorite song in the set was actually one of the new ones: “Impossible Germany.” This is the one that so surprised me last year, when Chris compared it to The Allman Brothers. Then, and on record, the three-guitar jam that makes up the second half of the song was nicely melodic, if completely inoffensive. But at this show, while Tweedy and Sansone played the interlocking melody straight-up, Cline went and fucked it all up, playing the kind of noisy solo that would have fit much more comfortably on Downpour (his free-improv set with Andrea Parkins and Tom Rainey from FIMAV last year) than Sky Blue Sky. The result was phenomenal, an instrumental passage that combined the white-knuckle tension of the best free jazz solos with the consummate melodicism that marks so much of Wilco’s earlier work.

The other highlight was “Poor Places,” whose noisy denouement transitioned smoothly into the motorik beat of “Spiders (Kidsmoke).” I was shocked and delighted that they would play the latter song at all, given how it’s 180 degrees away from their new material. Sadly it wasn’t as tight as I hoped; the delicious tension of the song comes in large part from Tweedy’s ability to take the core guitar melody and play around with it considerably while still leaving in tantalizingly recognizable bits, but this time around it seemed like he got away from that melody and was kind of aimless. Still, I do love that song, and its Krautrockish foundation has a trancelike effect in concert.

One other thing of note was that Tweedy was, with the exception of “Spiders,” relegated almost exclusively to rhythm guitar, allowing Cline to really take the spotlight and show off his abilities. This certainly added to my enjoyment of the show, as I spend most of my time at Wilco concerts watching him anyway (though the rest of the band are certainly no slouches, this guy is just really entertaining to watch).

The lame Sky Blue Sky songs aside, this was a good concert, and per their norm, they played a long set, including three encores, coming in at somewhere between two and two and a half hours. I have never seen these guys put on anything less than a really good show. The crowd was interesting to me — instead of the slew of hipsters I saw at all the previous shows, this time it seemed like a frat-boy crowd of the sort that would go to see the Dave Matthews Band. Still, they all seemed like big fans and knew all the songs, so I wonder if it was just the difference in venue or location that was the cause. But somehow I don’t think Wilco was much of a frat-boy band until very recently. After all, it was just a few short years (and one Grammy) ago that mainstream music fans at Yale called the show Wilco played there a “disappointing display of musical mediocrity” full of “monotonous melodies.” What a difference four years makes!

What’s spinning, June 18 edition

Monday, June 18th, 2007

If you’ve actually been following the 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.

Favorite shows of 2006

Sunday, December 31st, 2006

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

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

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

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

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

Three fantastic 9:30 Club shows

Monday, October 23rd, 2006

Thanks to the thoughtfulness of a friend (many thanks, Chris), I was, in the end, able to go to Wilco last Thursday despite striking out resoundingly in my earlier efforts to secure a ticket. The show sold out in minutes, so naturally the house was packed with plenty of enthusiastic and apparently experienced fans. Chris and I caught a decent chunk of Melomane, the opening band, whose set ranged from ordinary to awful. Their last song in particular sported some of the worst, most heavy-handed “political” lyrics ever penned — “you’re a pacifist/but sometimes you get pissed,” and something about assassinating the president and killing the people on the Hill. Right.

All was forgiven once Nels Cline and company, I mean Jeff Tweedy and company, took the stage. They chose a peculiar song to open with, “Radio Cure,” but overall played a great set with a good amount of energy. They didn’t come close to matching the show of theirs I saw last year, but that was also a show on a long tour and the second of two nights they played in DC. Then, they played for two and a half hour with a ton of interaction between Tweedy and the crowd; this time around, Tweedy was relatively quiet and the band played for a still-considerable two hours. Also, then was the first time I ever heard Cline with the band, and I was just blown away by his stuff; this time around I knew what to expect.

Oddly enough, the highlight of the show for me was a new song (probably called “Impossible Germany”) about which Chris said, “sounds like The Allman Brothers” with a somewhat incredulous look on his face. This song featured a three-guitar jam that was just beautiful, and was so unexpected that I was grinning through the whole thing. It was also at this point that I really realized, as if I hadn’t known before, that I am a total Nels Cline fanboy. He played beautifully on this song and pretty much every other one as well, for the most part adopting a smooth, high tone over which he had complete control. Of course, he was also quite adept at making a shitload of noise, but that should be no surprise to anyone.

Good show then, although I just ran across this great live review at PopMatters that makes this one pale in comparison.

Also, I failed to report on the two shows I saw a few weeks ago at the same place (the 9:30 Club, which has most remarkably clean and clear sound quality of any dingy club I’ve ever been to): Yo La Tengo and Massive Attack. They were both excellent, and the former was close to transcendent. Ira Kaplan has to be one of the absolute best in the business at making, as Robert Fripp would say, “a lot of noise with one guitar,” sounding like he’s always almost about to completely lose control, but always bringing it back down to earth and making his noise sound melodic and beautiful (I’ll stop short of “accessible,” but it’s close). His guitar work really made the Yo La Tengo show a visceral experience — their rhythm section is rather staid and static, but that’s always been their style.

Massive Attack was a completely different experience, a sensual concert with an elaborate light show that at times made me feel like I was at a dance club rather than a rock club. The band had their full complement of guest vocalists on tour with them, which was awesome, and their slow beats, gradual buildups, repetitive themes, and oppressive sexual tension translated really well into the live environment. It didn’t hurt that the inevitable rock-outs at strategic points in each song were invariably headbang-worthy. In particular, they really make “Safe From Harm” — my favorite Massive Attack song already — into a tour de force, stretching it out into the ten-minute territory with a long, loud, cleansing jam.

The Yale Herald hates Wilco

Friday, February 25th, 2005

One last Wilco post. I found this gem in the Yale Herald, Yale’s weekly student newspaper, regarding the selection of the band that was to play at Yale’s Spring Fling in 2004, following Wilco’s performance in 2003:

Following a lengthy selection process, last Friday’s announcement of the band that will be playing at Spring Fling came as a welcome sign that this year’s finale will be far and away the best act that we have had in a long time. After last year’s disappointing display of musical mediocrity by Wilco, Third Eye Blind’s performance is bound to lift our spirits and restore our trust in the Yale College Council’s ability to entertain the student body… Four guys with a reputation of strutting their stuff on stage to cheering crowds will hopefully provide a refreshing contrast to last year’s painful attempts by thousands of students to forget Wilco’s monotonous melodies by imbibing early and often.

Third Eye Blind. Ha!

Wilco @ the 9:30 Club

Friday, February 25th, 2005

So I saw Wilco last night at the 9:30 Club here in DC. I think this might be the first time I’ve seen a Grammy Award-winning band in concert. Ha.

In any case, being a Grammy Award-winning band automatically means that the makeup of your audience is going to change slightly. In this case, it seemed to me that the audience was more annoying than usual for the 9:30 (at least compared to shows I’ve been to) - there were a lot of folks talking loudly during songs and stuff. Or maybe it was just the asshole next to me. Hmm.

Anyway, I was watching Nels Cline a lot. He was outstanding. For a large part of the show - half or more of the main set - he was the lead guitarist, with bandleader Jeff Tweedy playing rhythm. His leads were clean and beautiful for the most part - the man plays with a lot of feeling. I was a little disappointed that some of the wilder freakout sections were led by Tweedy - don’t get me wrong, I love Tweedy’s soloing, and it’s pretty out there on its own; I just wanted to hear what Cline would do given the freedom to completely let loose. It never quite seemed as if he had that freedom, but I guess that shouldn’t be surprising given that, fundamentally, despite all their weirdness, Wilco is a pop-rock band, not a free jazz combo. Cline seemed like he was really into it and having a great time; I was wondering if there would be hints of restlessness as his being a mere sideman in a pop band, but I didn’t see any.

Amusingly, for the first half of the show it almost seemed like Wilco was fucking with their new fans. They were steadfastly refusing to play the big poppy hits like “Heavy metal drummer” (though they did play “Hummingbird” fairly early, and man was it weird to see Cline play a saccharine pop song like that one!), instead focusing on making lots of noise with their guitars and electronics. By the time the encores (two of ‘em) rolled around, though, the band was in crowd-pleasing mode. That said, “Misunderstood,” the only remaining mega-hit from Being There, ends on a distinctly anti-pop note, with Tweedy screaming “Nothing!” over and over and over and over again (as part of the refrain “I’d like to thank you all for nothing at all”). I love this part of the song, if only because it goes on and on and on to the point of discomfort, and it’s fascinating to see how different people react to it. It’s the kind of thing that’s intentionally tailored towards alienating an audience, but the funny thing is that Wilco has become so popular that even that intentional alienation isn’t enough to keep fans from cheering wildly.

The closer of the main set was also the best song the band played - “Spiders (Kidsmoke)” from A Ghost is Born. This is a ten-minute Krautrock freakout which basically gives Tweedy an excuse to flail wildly on his guitar. The studio cut is a bit tame and therefore seems over-long sometimes, but I still enjoy it. Live, it’s a different thing altogether. Tweedy was shredding, and Cline - though disappointingly mostly playing rhythm - also had a few moments of complete, blissful sonic violence. Holy crap, this piece was a fucking beast. The soloing was noisy and amelodic, but so intense and passionate that everyone in the club seemed ecstatic. Great moment.

Those thoughts were pretty scattered, but suffice it to say it was a good show. They played for a long time - two and a half hours or so. I came away very impressed by Nels Cline - I would really like to see him in a jazz context now. I’m not sure I liked the show as much as the one I saw at Yale a couple years ago, but that might have been because I knew more of what to expect this time around. Two years ago, I knew to expect something a little out of the ordinary, but the avant elements of Wilco’s sound took me totally by surprise back then. This time, I might have been anticipating those avant elements (especially given Cline’s presence) a little too much.

Incidentally, the show was streamed on NPR and is still available on their website, if you’re interested.

Nels Cline in Guitar Player

Thursday, February 10th, 2005

Somehow Nels Cline - avant-jazz guitarist and relatively new member of Wilco - has found himself on the cover of an upcoming issue of Guitar Player, and the feature article is an interview with him by none other than Barry Cleveland. The interview’s been posted online, and it’s a good one. There’s a little bit of talk about Cline’s The Giant Pin, with his amusingly misnamed trio The Nels Cline Singers; this is a fantastic album that really straddles the rock/jazz line more effectively than a lot of the stuff I’ve heard lately (and I’ve heard a lot of stuff lately that tries exactly that).

Most interesting in this interview is when Cleveland asks what Cline would like the next Wilco album to sound like:

My take would be based on something Jeff has already suggested—which is a lot of beautifully wrought, interlaced guitar work where we’re highly involved with each other’s parts, and yet there’s still plenty of room for the keyboards. I’m completely into the overtones created by stringed instruments being played together, because, inherently, they’re going to be a little out of tune, and I think that microtonality is part of the glory of a rock band. To plumb that concept further—possibly with some extreme use of effects for balance—would make for an inspiring-sounding record.

That sounds pretty awesome to me. I’m going to see these guys in concert on February 24th here in DC - I’m incredibly excited. I’ll be sure to report.

It’s about that time: top 10 of 2002

Saturday, December 6th, 2003

Alright, so people on other forums are starting to post their Top 10 lists for 2003, which means it’s about time for me to post my Top 10 list for 2002. I started doing this last year - I think top 10 lists for the current year are dumb, because (1) the year’s not over yet, (2) there’s no way I already have many of the great releases from this year yet, and (3) a lot of great CDs have long gestation periods before I really start to like them (I’m looking at the new Thinking Plague here).

Without further ado, my top 10 favorite releases (not limited to prog, as will become obvious) of 2002 are as follows, in some kind of rough order:

  1. Wilco - Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
    I’m one with the indie critics here: this was the best album of the year. When I reviewed it I was taken by its meshing of catchy melodies with slightly skewed instrumental tendencies, and its charm has yet to falter. Anyone interested in somewhat “out” pop-indie should check this out.
  2. Anti-Pop Consortium - Arrhythmia
    The biggest shame of 2002 was the dissolution of this group, one of the most innovative rap groups of the past decade. Arrhythmia has all the usual Anti-Pop trimmings: dazzling, abstract wordplay, production from an alien planet, and even some killer beats. For the cutting edge of hip-hop, look no further.
  3. 5uu’s - Abandonship
    This one made a huge splash in the prog/RIO world, and with good reason, marking a triumphant return to Hunger’s Teeth form. Best prog album of the year, easily.
  4. Shalabi Effect - The Trial of St-Orange
    This was the pleasant surprise of the year for me; I didn’t expect to like this kind of abstract psychedelia so much, but these guys are good enough at what they do that they make it accessible to anyone. There are some amazing moments of beauty swimming around the ambient haze here.
  5. NeBeLNeST - Nova Express
    Grandly portentous instrumental prog, full of imposing riffs and sinister, rumbling bass: epic “space-zeuhl” at its best. The closing title track on this album is simply a treat.
  6. Satoko Fujii and Tatsuya Yoshida - Toh-Kichi
    This is just about as weird and whimsical as you might expect from the pairing of Yoshida with a free-jazz pianist (in an improv setting no less), and amazingly, it works. By turns stunning, amusing, and fucking hilarious.
  7. Do Make Say Think - & Yet & Yet
    In a year with a dearth of good new post-rock, this album was a saving grace. Jazzy, atmospheric instrumental noodling that never gets too unfocused and yet always takes its sweet time getting to the point. Luckily, the journey is an enticing one.
  8. The Flying Luttenbachers - Infection and Decline
    Okay, I admit it: this one is on the list solely for the utterly blazing cover of “De Futura” (from Magma’s Üdü Wüdü), which takes the funk out of the equation and replaces it with pure, unmitigated aggression. The original pieces here are also capable of blowing your head off.
  9. Opeth - Deliverance
    Many a fan of this group panned this album, and indeed it offers little variation on a well-established formula. But for me, it perfects said formula, mixing perfectly its death-metal aggression and vocals with more leisurely (and accessibly melodic) passages. This actually might be my favorite Opeth album.
  10. The Roots - Phrenology
    This one’s just a lot of fun. Perfectly accessibly hip-hop with just a touch of experimental tendencies, particularly on the track “Water”, which has been called “prog-hop”. More importantly, this thing grooves, and has some great melodies to boot.

Barely missing the cut were Beck’s Sea Change, Missy Elliott’s Under Construction, Broken Social Scene’s You Forgot It In People, Uzva’s Niittoaika, and even PaatosTimeloss (solely on the strength of its closing track). Some mildly surprising omissions include ( ) by Sigur Rós, which simply didn’t have the staying power I expected it to have, and Univers Zero’s Rhythmix, which I liked at first but really pales in comparison to the band’s older work, IMHO.

Overall, despite everything I just wrote, I think 2002 was a pretty disappointing year. There are a lot of pretty good albums listed above, but only the top few on the list really blew me away. As preliminary as it is, I can already say that 2003 has been a much better year for music.

Wilco @ Yale’s Spring Fling

Monday, April 28th, 2003

Is it just me, or does releasing a double live CD/DVD combo after only one studio album seem a bit… excessive? (I’m referring, of course, to the new live release from Star One, Arjen Lucassen’s latest project.)

I recently got back from a live show by Wilco, who played at Yale’s annual (and usually really lame) Spring Fling. They were pretty freakin great. I only have two of their albums, Being There and Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (well, and the new EP that they released on their website). I got the former many years ago and hated it, and haven’t listened to it since; but the latter was last year’s indie-critic darling, and with good reason. Wilco’s music is often termed “alt-country”, which I understand (possibly incorrectly) to mean that they have some roots in country music, but have extended their style to include rock and other elements. On Yankee Hotel Foxtrot their melancholy yet catchy tunes are offset by a fair amount of experimentation and even outright noise, so I was curious to see how the Yale crowd would react.

Well, there are a lot of indie-rockers at Yale (and all of them work at the radio station). So there was a sizable and fairly enthusiastic crowd. And even after some of the lengthier instrumental freakouts - some of which I thought were awesome, especially one particularly out-there guitar solo - there was a good amount of applause. I was moderately surprised, and glad that people seemed to be enjoying the show as much as I was. I liked the set a lot - they played for quite a while, almost two hours, and did most of the songs off of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, a few from the new EP, and some older stuff that I didn’t recognize (except for the one song I seem to remember not disliking from Being There, “Misunderstood”). Good stuff.

A friend of mine here is a huge Wilco fan. She sent out some lyrics through e-mail before the show, and I’m glad she did. I’d never really heard them before, despite liking the song, which is a shame, because they’re beautiful -

don’t cry
you can rely on me honey
you can come by any time you want
i’ll be around
you were right about the stars
each one is a setting sun

tall buildings shake
voices escape singing sad sad songs
tuned to chords strung down your cheeks
bitter melodies turning your orbit around

Wilco, “Jesus, etc.”

I don’t have much to say about them, I just agree that they’re worth sharing…