Posts Tagged ‘Zs’

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.

One I like and one I don’t

Friday, July 11th, 2008

I recently picked up DFA’s much-heralded new album, 4th. A long long time ago, I gave Duty Free Area, their last studio album, quite the rave review. When this new one came out, it immediately started garnering very very positive comments in the usual circles, so I was pretty psyched to spin it for the first time. I did, and… I was bored out of my mind. Have my tastes really changed this much in the past eight years? I suppose it’s quite possible. I’ll be giving 4th a few more spins in the hopes that my first impression was a situational fluke, but we’ll see.

Instead, I’ve become totally enamored with Secular Works by Extra Life, which is a band led by Charlie Looker, the guitarist/keyboardist who recently left Zs. This stuff is was more accessible than his old band, though — imagine complex math-rock superimposed on early music and monophonic medieval chants, and you have a very rough idea of what this sounds like. The opening track, “Blackmail Blues,” is completely amazing and one of the coolest things I’ve heard in a long time. Listen to it at Myspace.

In which Zs make my brain hurt

Friday, June 20th, 2008

Zs 2

On Tuesday night, I went to the Velvet Lounge to see a pretty great quadruple bill of avant/experimental-minded groups: New York-based Zs, who have been one of my favorite avant-rock groups for a couple years now; DC’s Caution Curves, El Paso’s zeuhl-heads Corima; and DC’s FFFFs.

FFFFs 1

FFFFs opened things up, at a typically (for Velvet Lounge) late hour of around 10pm. This is a solo act of a dude named Sean Peoples (pictured above); when I saw him last year opening for Zs, he played very calm, pretty ambient stuff - which is also what’s found on the one recording I have of his, Tree Epic. This time around, though, things were very different; Sean crouched behind his laptop for his brief set and bombarded the audience with some thumping beats and a much more aggressive brand of electronic music. The ambient stuff is more up my alley, I have to say, but perhaps this more bombastic material was more in line with the bands to come.

Corima 6

Corima were one of the reasons I was excited about the show; any band that lists Magma and Koenjihyakkei as prime influences has my attention. Additionally, I was forwarded an email about them from one of the bands that they had played with earlier on their tour, in which the words “fucking amazing” appeared prominently. And, to be sure, these guys were all fucking amazing musicians. They are a very young trio - drums, keys, and bass - whose music is almost a straight-up homage to the aforementioned zeuhl bands. Seriously, it was like if Ruins or Koenjihyakkei wrote 20-minute-long songs. It was the most bombastic, over-the-top performance I’ve seen since… well, Dream Theater, but let’s not go there.

If that description sounds exhausting, well, that’s what it was. Corima definitely had some awesome, jaw-dropping moments - the lightning-fast, dissonant keyboard solos in particular tickled my aural pleasure centers, and drummer Sergio Sanchez did a pretty credible Yoshida/Vander act - but the compositions were so long and disjointed that they lost me within minutes. They played three pieces and by the end I was fried. Really, really enjoyed parts of the set, and I hope they tighten up their writing - this is a group with pretty huge potential. Did I mention the musicianship was pretty jaw-dropping?

Caution Curves 2

Now, if Corima were wild and exhausting, at least I had all the right reference points to understand what they were trying to do. When The Caution Curves came on, it was immediately clear to me that this wasn’t the case for this band. They are a duo, one member on drums and percussion, the other on laptop and reeds, and both are vocalists. But not vocalists in any traditional sense; rather, their voices were used in a kind of babbling, speaking-in-tongues style, or just to make random noises. The overall feeling was one of total discombobulation. There isn’t much out there these days that makes me think, am I really listening to music or just noise? But this did, and that’s not a bad thing. I’m not sure I enjoyed the set, but it was provocative to say the least.

Day 169: Zs 3

And then it was finally time for the headliners. Zs lost a member recently and are down to a trio of guitar, sax and drums, with the drummer also triggering some electronics that are new since I last saw them. Ben, the guitarist, responded in the affirmative when I asked him if their material had changed substantially as a result, saying, “I think you’ll like it.”

The band ended up playing a single lengthy piece. Zs have always made some of the most bracingly ugly music I’ve ever heard, and that certainly hadn’t changed. The saxophonist spent most of the composition blowing long, extremely high notes, and if there was melody there it was stretched out over such a long period of time that it was imperceptible to me. The piece was fairly slow-moving and deliberate, with thematic and rhythmic changes coming at unpredictable intervals, using generous amounts of repetition as a compositional element. I enjoyed it, but it wasn’t something I’d be able to digest without having a recording of it and settling in with it for some time - it lacked the visceral thrill of some of the older, fast-paced, Discipline-era-King-Crimson-on-steroids (sorry, that’s overly glib) stuff.

Photographically, it was a nightmare. The Velvet Lounge, while my favorite local venue in terms of the acts that they book, is one of my least favorite places to photograph. The lights are always static and generally dim (and most problematically, the front spotlights are blocked by big speakers mounted from the ceiling). Tonight was worse than it’s ever been, with the lights turned lower than I’ve ever seen them. I probably should have gone back and asked the guy controlling the lights to turn them up a little, but, er, I didn’t. In any case, my resulting settings looked like this: ISO HI 1.0 (6400), f/1.8, 1/40 to 1/80 second. Ouch. Definitely pushing the limits of my D300 there.

Needless to say, these are not my best photos ever, and the noise is distracting in some of them. That’s what I get for liking all this obscure music, I suppose; it’s not like I’m ever likely to get the chance to shoot Zs with a huge light show or anything. These are the challenges that come with the territory.

Full set at Flickr, of course.

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

Here it is! Best of 2006

Sunday, December 9th, 2007

This best of 2006 list was extremely challenging to come up with, if only because I’ve begun listening to new music at an even greater rate, and I just had a lot more to choose from this time around. The list below is one that, perhaps more than any other best-of-year list I’ve done, I feel could be significantly different a year, a month, or even a week from now. That said, I am definitely glad I waited a year to do this one, as I hadn’t even heard 40% of these albums by the end of 2006.

Before we get started, if you’re curious, my best-of lists for 2005, 2004, 2003, 2002, and 2001 are also available on this blog. Now for the main attraction:

  1. Newsom, Joanna - Ys
    Head and shoulders above the rest, Ys could be my favorite album of the decade, not just the year. Newsom’s voice, lyrics, compositions and harp playing are bewitching, and I’ve been listening to Ys regularly for the past year and never get tired of it. I expect this to be a long-lasting classic, and unlike many critics, I don’t use that word lightly.
  2. Tanakh - Ardent Fevers
    I’ve become fairly indifferent to most new indie-rock out there, but this group plays an endlessly interesting meshing of styles that transcends genres. There’s post-rock and ambient music influences as well as straight-ahead melodic songwriting, and there are some wicked scorched-earth guitar solos to boot. Music that’s difficult to describe and pigeonhole is often very appealing to me, and Ardent Fevers is a perfect example.
  3. Zs - Buck
    Perhaps the most interesting avant-rock band operating today, this live album shows the power that a telepathically tight ensemble playing formally composed, wickedly difficult music can have. A must for anyone interested in dissonant, rhythmically complex modern music.
  4. Decapitated - Organic Hallucinosis
    Speaking of rhythmically difficult, this band’s nerdy death metal is occasionally jaw-dropping in its technicality, which makes the recent death of their drummer in a car crash all the more tragic. I was all stoked to see these guys live, but the death of their drummer and hospitalization of their guitarist was too much for the band to handle and they promptly disbanded. One of the saddest stories in music all year (2007, to be clear). RIP Witold “Vitek” Kieltyka.
  5. NeBeLNeST - ZePTO
    I guess I do still like prog. ZePTO is the only original prog album on this top 10 list, though admittedly it’s no namby-pamby symphonic fairy tale. This album sees the French quartet dip into avant-garde waters; their music has always been dark, dissonant and amorphous, but never quite to this extent.
  6. Univers Zero - Live
    Notable for many reasons, not least that it’s the first official live release for this 30-year-old band, but also because the performances are simply top-notch. “Xenantaya” especially absolutely comes alive compared to the studio version, and the inclusion of older pieces like the classic “Toujours Plus à l’Est” is a wonderful surprise.
  7. Om - Conference of the Birds
    There’s only one transcendent song on this album, but then there are only two songs total. The 16-minute “At Giza” is an absolute triumph of repetitive, trancey, spiritual metal, still the best thing this band has ever done. In concert, three separate people exclaimed after this song that it was a “religious experience.” They may be overstating the case, but not by too much.
  8. Yo La Tengo - I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass
    Everyone’s favorite noisy indie-rock band gets back to the noise! The opening and closing epics on this album are the classic feedback-drenched workouts that, as much as their poppy vocal numbers, helped give this band their reputation. The best thing they’ve recorded since the glory days in the mid-90s.
  9. Espers - II
    I was a latecomer to this acid-folk group, and this was my introduction to their music. Greg Weeks, formerly of New Sonic Architecture fame, and Meg Baird combine to make some of the most evocatively edgy folk music I’ve heard. Mellow Candle comes to mind; these guys possess an equally formidable melodic sense (and their vocal duets are equally as wonderful), but their vision is way darker.
  10. Satoko Fujii & Natsuki Tamura - In Krakow In November
    I love Fujii’s quartet albums and like her orchestra works, but it’s in a solo and duo setting that, in my opinion, she really shines. Her melodic sensibility is simply beautiful, and that really comes through in this recording with trumpeter/husband Tamura. “Morning Mist” is pure distilled beauty, but the whole record is a delight.

I seem to say this every year, but 2006 was a pretty damn good year. I suspect this will be true for every year as long as I continue keeping up with a wide depth and breadth of new music. Certainly 2007 — in which I bought more albums released this year than ever before — is shaping up to be fantastic. It’s certainly a good time to be a fan of underground, experimental music.

Just to prove the point — and this is probably a bit excessive — here are a bunch of other albums from 2006 that I really liked. Four or five of these could easily have been in the top 10 if I’d been in a slightly different mood.

  • AghoraFormless
  • Christina AguileraBack to Basics
  • Amon AmarthWith Oden On Our Side
  • AtomicHappy New Ears!
  • Michaël AttiasCredo
  • Tim BerneLivein Cognito
  • Iva BittováSuperchameleon (DVD)
  • BorisPink
  • Peter Brötzmann, Marino Pliakas & Michael WertmüllerFull Blast
  • BurialBurial
  • Nels ClineNew Monastery
  • The CoreBlue Sky
  • The CoupPick a Bigger Weapon
  • DamselDistressed
  • The DecemberistsThe Crane Wife
  • EnslavedRuun
  • From a Second Story WindowDelenda
  • Nelly FurtadoLoose
  • Genghis TronDead Mountain Mouth
  • IsisIn the Absence of Truth
  • IsisClearing the Eye (DVD)
  • Isis & AereogrammeIn the Fishtank 14
  • Glenn KotcheMobile
  • MagmaEpok II (DVD)
  • Loreena McKennittAn Ancient Muse
  • MogwaiMr. Beast
  • Simon Nabotov & Tom RaineySteady Now
  • NightwishEnd of an Era (DVD)
  • NIMBYSongs For Adults
  • One ShotEwaz Vader
  • Peeping TomPeeping Tom
  • Radio Massacre InternationalSeptentrional
  • Sunn O))) & BorisAltar
  • Justin TimberlakeFutureSex/LoveSounds
  • UnexpectIn a Flesh Aquarium
  • UzvaUoma
  • The Vandermark 5A Discontinuous Line
  • YakuzaSamsara
  • Dhafer YoussefDivine Shadows
  • ZaarZaar

There you have it. I’m planning a couple other posts, coming towards the end of the month, recapping my 2007 without actually doing a top 10 albums list, since, of course, that’ll be coming in a year. But I do want to talk about my favorite concerts of the year, as well as discuss the continuing evolution of my music tastes (in this case, this year saw me listening to more extreme metal and free improv than ever).

The new Zs fucking rocks.

Friday, November 16th, 2007

I got the new Zs album, Arms, recently, and my only thought so far is: fuck yeah, this stuff is great.

I think this is one of the most vital bands in the avant-rock scene these days. I’m kind of tiring of avant-rock a bit, at least in the RIO/avant-prog form, but Zs push all the right buttons for me, even if it’s really hard to explain why they appeal to me so much. “Uh, well, see, they play these repetitive semi-melodies, like, really fast, in unison, sometimes in crazy time signatures, yeah. And it’s all really UGLY and would annoy the shit out of 99% of the world’s population. And it rocks!” Good thing I’m not the one writing their promotional copy.

Zs live was a total revelation.

Tuesday, February 27th, 2007

New York’s Zs played last night in a little hole in the wall near what DC comically calls a Chinatown. I know of these folks from their debut album on Troubleman Unlimited (home of such pretty, happy music as The Flying Luttenbachers) and their 2005 EP on DC’s Planaria Recordings, Karate Bump. They are an aggressively ugly, wilfully repetitive, brain-achingly mathy chamber ensemble of sorts, in this instance boasting a lineup of guitar/sax/drums and one guy who alternated between guitar, bass and keyboards. I was at this show with Steve F. and another friend and wondered out loud about their setup, in which they were arranged in a square with the musicians facing inwards, such that the audience could not see all of them at a time. It soon became evident that this setup was efficacious because it allowed all four of the musicians to see each other at all times.

To make a long story short, Zs were crazy fun to watch because they were superhumanly tight. They were playing some seriously knotty compositions, rhythms shifting so fast they were practically impossible to keep up with, but somehow the band never missed a beat (literally). The drummer was the one I had the best view of, and for me he was especially fun to watch because you could tell that he was concentrating with all his might. And despite playing sick, intricate compositions, they managed to rock out in the process as well. The first song was absolutely brilliant, and Steve turned to me and said, “that must have been what it was like to see the Philip Glass Ensemble in 1970.” There was a song with vocals that I didn’t find quite so compelling — though the vocals themselves were, of course, a unison chant in some incomprehensible shifting meter — but then the last song was tremendous, sounding kind of like “Bump” off of Karate Bump, substituting the drums with hand claps and the whispering saxes with subtle guitar picking.

I should mention that Zs‘ music is eminently hatable. That is, they make almost no concessions to melody and absolutely none to consonance. If the classic minimalist composers raise your hackles a bit, these guys will make you want to kill someone. That said, while I dig their albums, I pretty much just adored them in a live setting. Getting to see them play these absurd compositions in the flesh was a real treat.

I bought their recent live release at the show and will be reviewing it shortly, so for more words about this fucking ridiculous band, stay tuned.

I should also mention one of the openers, FFFFs. This is a solo guitar/electronics project of Sean Peoples, who is a member of bands decently known in the DC underground like Hand Fed Babies and Big Cats. I saw Big Cats last year and basically they were three guitarists making a shitload of noise, so I was pleasantly surprised when, as FFFFs, Peoples instead played some pretty nice, soothing ambient stuff. Ambient music in a live setting has never really been my thing, but this was good stuff. It was a good night all around.

What’s spinning, November 13 edition

Sunday, November 13th, 2005

For some reason, September and October were two of the most prolific CD-purchasing months I’ve ever had. I’m still struggling to keep pace in terms of listening to and digesting all the new stuff I’ve gotten in the past couple months — and I’m failing, and thus trying to cut back on new purchases in the near future. (This is aided by the fact that my purchase rate for the past couple months has been entirely unsustainable.) But, here are a few quick thoughts on some of the things that I’ve been hooked on. Most of these are new acquisitions I got in the past couple months, but some are older things that just happened to catch my ear recently.

  • Cos - Viva Boma
    Canterbury-styled fusion has never really done much for me; something about the light, breezy nature of things and the wispy keyboard tones has always turned me off a bit. But Viva Boma gets it right: it’s breezy Canterbury-esque fusion all right, but the band isn’t afraid to rock out at times, and a really strong, almost funky electric bass presence and some rather seductive female vocals definitely help. Definitely need to explore these guys further — conveniently, Musea appears to be reissuing a lot of their albums that were previously out of print.
  • Grits - Rare Birds
    And here we go again: if not quite as clearly Canterbury-influenced, Grits’ jams on this live album are definitely “breezy fusion.” The heavy Rhodes presence makes it palatable to me, along with the fact that the melodies are just really tasty. I remember Steve Feigenbaum griping on rec.music.progressive years ago about how the Grits albums were going out of print. I sure wish I’d picked them up way back then; I’m definitely happy I got my hands on this now. Fantastic stuff aside from a couple really embarrassing poppy vocal tunes, and now a feverish search for As the World Grits is about to start.
  • Ensemble Nimbus - Key Figures
    Another brand of prog/RIO that is kind of hit-or-miss with me is the sort of fusionish avant-rock of the sort practiced by Zamla Mammas Manna, Miriodor, The Muffins and so on. Key Figures falls into that category, but like Viva Boma I am lovin’ this shit. Not implying it’s as good as the Cos album, but this is fun stuff, and I even like the programmed drums. Glad I have this one, as it’s on the long-defunct APM label and, like everything else on APM, has disappeared without a trace in recent years.
  • Heldon - Stand By
    Would you believe that this is the first Heldon album I’ve ever heard? As a serious King Crimson fan it’s always been evident to me that I need to hear this band. And especially after hearing Richard Pinhas’ work in other contexts (such as Fossil Culture with Peter Frohmader), I knew I’d like this stuff. Yet somehow I’ve just never gotten around to buying any Heldon, until now. And now, I know I need all their albums, because this is great stuff.
  • Cecil Taylor - Conquistador!
    And another “would you believe?!” This is the first Cecil Taylor I’ve heard! And while this is a bit mind-bending and challenging to digest, especially consisting as it does of two 20-minute tracks (but hell, if I can handle Tim Berne’s sprawling compositions, I can handle this, or so I tell myself), Taylor’s playing is phenomenal and I can enjoy it even when all I’m doing is just letting the sheer intensity of it wash over me. Must get more… I seem to be writing that a lot, which bodes poorly for my wallet…
  • Enslaved - Isa
    If you like what Opeth is doing but kind of think they’re a bunch of proggy pansies who need to toughen up their metal cred a bit, maybe this is the band to turn to. Accessible, melodic black metal that caught my ear from the first listen, unlike much extreme metal which tends to take a while to sink in with me. And yet another band whose back catalog I still need to explore!
  • The Beta Band - The Best of the Beta Band
    Considering that I have all of this band’s releases, it might seem at first that purchasing their new greatest-hits album is a bit perverse. But it has a bonus CD with a full live performance on it, and I always thought these guys were much better live than on record. Still, it seems like a very odd marketing strategy to pair a greatest hits collection and a live album on one release. Presumably greatest hits albums appeal to casual or new fans, while live albums appeal only to die-hard fans and completists. Maybe they were hoping to snare both audiences. Well, it worked on me, at least. (By the way, the live album is excellent. I haven’t bothered to listen to the greatest hits disc yet, and don’t really expect to.)
  • Nil - Nil Novo Sub Sole
    I’ll be reviewing this one in the near future. I got this a few months ago and was really surprised when it kept finding its way back into my CD player. As a rule, I’m pretty jaded when it comes to symphonic rock, but something about the moodiness and dark edginess of this album has been keeping me not just interested, but even enthralled. I’m not really taken with all of the album, but a couple of the songs are just tremendous. Always a pleasant (and rare) surprise to find new symphonic prog that can push my buttons.
  • Zs - Zs
    I wrote about this one a couple months ago, but it never really sunk in until now. Dual saxes, dual guitars, and dual drums sure sounds like a helluva fun lineup, but what these guys do often seems like it’s as annoying as it is fun. But once I started paying more attention, my jaw basically dropped to the floor at the tightness of this ensemble and the complexity of their compositions. I would love to see these guys live, I can’t imagine how visceral it must be. On record they come off as pretty much entirely academic.
  • Tim Hodgkinson - Each in Our Own Thoughts
    Here’s one that I keep expecting to floor me, but it just never has. I bought it for “Hold to the Zero Burn” (aka “Erk Gah”), which was originally a Henry Cow piece and has been described as the missing link between “Living in the Heart of the Beast” (for the me absolute definitive Henry Cow composition) and Western Culture (my favorite Henry Cow album, overall). So far, though, I haven’t found the visceral appeal of the former or the intellectual delight of the latter in “Hold to the Zero Burn,” and in fact the whole album seems a tad bit anemic to me. It’s so highly-rated by people whose tastes correspond to mine, though, that I keep trying and I don’t intend to give up anytime soon.

What’s spinning, July 17 edition

Sunday, July 17th, 2005

It’s list time, because I’m insomniatic. I am currently discovering or rediscovering:

  • Aka Moon - Guitars
    pleasant, accessible Belgian avant(ish) jazz, the basic sax/bass/drums trio plus three guitarists, that hasn’t quite sunk in with me yet
  • Scott Amendola Band - Cry
    less pleasant but still accessible West Coast US avant jazz built around a cover of a Bob Dylan song (that is actually my least favorite piece on this album)
  • Il Berlione - Il Berlione
    crazy Japanese prog/fusion occupying a middle ground somewhere between Happy Family and Tipographica in terms of complexity and wacked-outness
  • Dälek - From Filthy Tongue of Gods and Griots
    aggressive avant/underground hip-hop on Mike Patton’s Ipecac label, with a seriously abrasive 12-minute noise experiment right in the middle of the song order
  • Daniel Denis - Les Eaux Troubles
    second solo album from the Univers Zero bandleader. Better than Sirius and the Ghosts, his first, with a more fully fleshed-out sound
  • Dungen - Ta det Lugnt
    fuzzed-out ’70s airy-fairy Swedish psych album from… 2004. Neo-prog for hipsters!
  • Faun Fables - Family Album
    schizophrenically eclectic “folk” with SGM frontman Nils Frykdahl, fronted by an impressively powerful and versatile female vocalist
  • The Flying Luttenbachers - Systems Emerge From Complete Disorder
    love the title… brutal prog at its noisiest; definitely less accessible than Infection and Decline, but maybe that’s just because there’s no Magma cover this time around
  • Hail - Kirk
    as Alex Temple once said… Susanne Lewis (Thinking Plague) makes a lo-fi indie-rock record
  • Nazca - Nazca
    like Univers Zero circa 1313, only from Mexico, all acoustic, and not as good; this bored the crap out of me when I first heard it, but it’s finally growing on me
  • Various - Unsettled Scores
    two-disc compilation of Cuneiform artists covering material by other Cuneiform artists… neat!
  • Zs - Zs
    dual sax, dual guitar, dual drums attack, not nearly as aggressive as you might expect given its brutal-prog heritage; often has very much of a somewhat dry chamber-classical feel

I’ve been on a CD-buying binge and some the fruits of it are above. Others listed above are albums I’ve had for a while but just haven’t quite connected with. Some reviews will result, to be sure. Right now I’m particularly taken with Il Berlione and From Filthy Tongue of Gods and Griots. The latter is a hip-hop album so be warned, although it is definitely notable that Dälek is one of the more experimental underground hip-hop artists out there, and last year released a collaborative album with none other than Faust — an album that I have not yet heard, but remedying that is a priority.