Monday, January 28, 2008
caught some interesting shows this weekend, which i will run down for you in speed-demonly manner...
Miracle Condition, whom i previewed for Time Out, sounded pretty suave at Union Pool this night. this unit includes two guys--guitarist Mark Shippy and drummer Pat Samson--who used to play together in the admirably fucked U.S. Maple. tonight's show was supposed to be a collaboration between MC, plus this "sound artist" (cough) Jeffrey R. Robinson and one David Yow. crazily, though, we were told before the gig that Yow was hospitalized with a collapsed lung. was pretty bummed about that, though the Miracles hit a nice stride in their first two songs--expansive, droney two-guitars-and-drums pieces, driven by Samson's absolutely sick/slick swinging pocket. the dude's playing was just hugely funky and molten. Shippy and the other guitarist had some nice atmospherics happening too--almost reminded me of a more abstract Battles at times. things got a little "eh" once some video projections started and Robinson joined in tho. didn't have the stamina for the whole set, but i'm really psyched i got to hear Samson.
speaking of Battles (as i did above), i was reminded o' them during Saturday's Cornelius show at Webster too. (i knew nothing of Cornelius going in; it might be helpful to think of him as something like a Japanese cross between Bjork and Moby) my bud Tony had heard that his new Sensuous Synchronized Show tour was something to see and so we checked it out. it was definitely Sensuous, with huge video projections, seizure-ish LEDs streaming across the stage and the music itself, which was like state-of-the-art Muzak or something. really sort of dancey, broadly enjoyable pieces ranging from an electronica sort of vibe to playful thrash metal, reggae and funk. the musicianship was pretty much astonishing. live, a four piece band was recreating all the stuff that 'Nelius had done via samplers and synths and stuff on the record and it was amazingly robotic--they were playing these art-funk sort of pieces that were way, way complex, like "Discipline"-era King Crimson or something like that. really funky too, though. the band was just insanely locked in. was pretty psyched on the pot fumes in Webster Hall and the general vibe of fun and enjoyment. it's good to be reminded every once in a while that not everyone goes to shows to be Challenged (as i often do for sure). fun stuff and the new record, "Sensuous," is definitely worth checking out.
hit up Benjamin Britten's Peter Grimes opera on Friday at this beautiful church in Brooklyn Heights. a strange experience--it was "semi-staged," which meant that the actor/singers were sort of wedged in between the orchestra and the audience, with no stage to speak of. overall, the effect was sort of noncommital, i.e., i wish i had seen a fuller production. the opera was strange--it's basically about a British fishing village turning against this fisherman for his brutish ways. you sympathize with this dude being persecuted even though he's kind of a monster in a sense. anyway, i had read about this one in Alex Ross's "The Rest Is Noise" and had been very psyched to check it out, but in some ways i enjoyed reading about it more than hearing it. there were definitely some wrenching and beautiful moments, but i find it pretty hard to reckon with bel canto, honestly. sometimes i wish that opera didn't have to be sung like opera--like i have no problem with the narrative aspect, but it seems to me that you're sacrificing so much grit and emotion by restricting vocals to these incredibly pure and vibrato-laden deliveries. anyway, i saw past that at times and enjoyed the work's complexities--esp. these sort of virtuoso choral passages where the town's beration of Grimes took on an elaborate grandness--but overall, the whole thing felt a bit too long to me and again, i just had trouble FEELING the story. maybe me and opera have a future, but i'm not so sure...
lastly, the new Mick Barr album (Ocrilim - ANNWN) is fucking astonishing. his most majestic, heartwrenching work yet. i definitely FEEL more for this one than any other--very vibrant and emotional. preview it here. comes out early February on Hydra Head.
Friday, January 25, 2008
Laal and i caught Mastodon and Neurosis at Brooklyn Masonic last night. a fun and happy if rather boomy show. hung out with many cool folks, including dudes from the awesome Warmth, the ever-awesome Emily K and an old friend from far back whom i sort of never thought i'd see again.
anyway, the show! it was absolutely freezing out and due to some crowd-control mishap, we had to stand outside for a good while even though the show had already started and we already had tickets. i hadn't brought my jacket, so that ended up being really, really fun.
so we missed a bit of the Mastodon set, arriving just as they were ripping into "The Wolf Is Loose." it was jam-packed and really shitty sounding on the floor, so we made our way up to the balcony where there were these awesome bleacher-type seats that were excellent for mosh-pit gawking. the hall was large, old and pretty gorgeous--it had kind of a grittiness to it, kind of like a VFW hall or like Warsaw if you've ever been there. nothing too ornate, but it was elegant nonetheless.
Mastodon live pretty much does what they do. i'd say their last show i saw (at Webster Hall w/ Converge right around the time "Blood Mountain" came out) was a bit better in terms of energy and vibe--and certainly overall sound--but they are always really fun to watch. they're pretty workmanlike, just churning out songs--the sound was so boomy it was almost like they were playing in the next room. the overall effect of checking out their set for me was like a parade of familiar awesome riffs. i know ALL Mastodon's riffs from the past few albums, but i'm always at a loss to ID which ones come from which songs and in what order they appear. maybe that's a knock on their songwriting cohesiveness, but it also makes for a fun, surprising time seeing them live b/c all of a sudden one of your favorite riffs will pop out of nowhere and you'll be like "hell yeah!" (setlist-wise, i heard no new stuff, as was rumored; just favorites from all three recent albums. no "Colony of Birchmen" or "Bladecatcher," unless they played them before i got there, which was a bummer...)
only caught a bit of Neurosis. have never been a huge fan and have always sorta felt that they're a band people like to namedrop more than listen to. plus, the bands they're said to have influenced (Isis, etc.), i'm really not into at all. that said, what i saw of their set i thought was really solid. first off, the sound was 100 times better for them than for Mastodon. the music was pretty much what i expected: dire, abrasive doom sprinkled with atmospheric passages, but they sounded pretty goddamn massive. i was pretty blown away by the power of Scott Kelly's vocals--really soulful and gritty bellowing. the vox and the overall sound reminded me a lot of this incredible band Stay Fucked played w/ on tour: The Felon Wind, from Atlanta. (i actually like the Felon Wind a lot better than Neurosis! one reason being that their drummer swings like hell...) anyway, Neurosis took forever to set up, but i guess it was worth it since they had this big-ass projection screen behind them--videos of flowers blooming, wolves running, etc. etc. pretty standard-issue "avant-metal" visuals, but it was easy on the eyes.
on the way out, i beheld an amazing sight: the Masonic Temple's calendar of events for January, which listed "NEUROSIS/MASTODON" amid members' birthday parties and baby showers!
must say i'm pretty thrilled with the Mosaic solo Andrew Hill set i ordered. i was starting to get scared that i'd never listen to a jazz CD that wasn't Tyshawn Sorey's "that/not" (man, that's a sick record), but these discs quickly supplanted that.
Hill solo is such a complete trip. this stuff feels really sumptuous and even wistful at times, but there's this extremely strange sense of choppiness at play too. Hill's movement across the keys can feel extremely smooth one second and then halting and almost unsure the next. he demands total engagement. his dynamics are very strange too, like sometimes he'll be playing extremely softly and this just bash out these big blocky chords. there's a kind of cubist feeling of constantly changing directions, but it always feels completely intutive.
the experience of checking this stuff out is totally different than group Hill, b/c with nothing tying him down, he sounds so much more intensely abstract, but also so much more romantic. some of this stuff has a sense of swooning. all the titles describe California cities, and you get the feeling that he's very taken with the sunlight and such. three CDs worth of pieces that all kind of sound the same--reflective, eccentric, balladlike, fractured--and it's such a treasure, just constant surprise. btw, 2/3 of this stuff is previously unreleased. pick it up--it's a great way to remember the master.
Friday, January 18, 2008
had a good time at last night's Wordless Music Series concert, despite being sort of skeptical about the idea of the series in the past. from what i gather, WMS has been all about trying to expand the classical audience by booking classical music alongside rock acts, or classical pieces with rock appeal. from what i've seen of the lineups, the endeavor feels a little self-congratulatory and NPRish--the rock bands that have been chosen (Beirut, Grizzly Bear, etc.) are all pretty colossal in the indie world, and they seem more chosen for their ability to pack a room with hipsters than to actually stimulate an audience.
Radiohead is even more of a sure sell, of course, so last night's show--featuring the premier of 'Head ax-guy Jonny Greenwood's orchestral piece from "There Will Be Blood"--was jammed. it was a good piece. i enjoyed it more live than i did in the movie: lots of weird fluttering dissonance and primitive string-thumping. it was very well-paced and clocked in at a nice, manageable 20 minutes or so. in the movie, the "modern dissonant drone" thing felt gimmicky to me just b/c it was so anachronistic vis a vis the setting of the film, but live it came across as really logical and coherent and even subtle.
i also dug the Gavin Bryars piece that opened the show. it was a longish musical depiction of the sinking of the Titanic. i'm really wary of such literal-minded stuff--and there was a fair amount of beat-you-over-the-head programmatic material like taped excerpts of interviews w/ Titanic survivors and whatnot--but this piece managed to break free from all that, mainly by being just flat out gorgeous. it didn't really have sections; it was just this kind of sumptuous, wistful melodic haze, hanging in the air. Bryars said he was trying to simulate the effect of music in water, how it would just dissipate and dissipate. there was definitely that diffusion effect: it was very dreamy and unabashedly gorgeous, and reminded me--and this is going to sound ridiculous--of how beautiful classical music can be. especially live and especially in such an intense cathedral-like space. there wasn't really an element of challenge in listening to this piece. it just sounded beautiful.
i was really bummed by the short John Adams piece in the middle, "Christian Zeal and Activity." i really can't even remember what the music sounded like, only that, a few minutes in, a tape recording of a preacher came on: "Jesus is in the Holy Spirit, Satan blah blah blah." in a fraction of a millisecond, you were like, "Oh, wow, another unsophisticated critique of evangelical furor." and it just kept going and going, drowning out the music. not only is it a really obvious and played-out topic, it just felt insulting to have him lay the theme on so thick. it's like, "Isn't the title enough of an indication of where you're coming from?"
it made me think about this whole modern classical convention of the use of "tapes," like pieces scored "for orchestra and tapes" or "for clarinet and tapes," which always seems to confer like an avant-garde mystique on the proceedings. the thing nobody wants to mention is that "tapes" almost always means "heavy-handed extramusical garbage whose only purpose is to spell out for you EXACTLY how you're supposed to be interpreting whatever you're hearing or EXACTLY what political or psychological message the composer is otherwise failing to convey." program notes describing programmatic intent are one thing (Bryars's were really well-written), but do we really need the imaginative assistance of extramusical chatter and sound effects? i don't like it on "Dark Side of the Moon" and i don't need to hear it in classical music.
anyway, interesting concert. i don't see enough classical. if you ever have a chance to get up to this church for a show, you gotta; it's breathtaking. 60th and Columbus.
have been on this Tyshawn Sorey kick that seems never to exhaust itself, but i'm feeling drawn to solo Andrew Hill, i.e., "Verona Rag" and that Mosaic Select box of '70s stuff that came out recently. was reminded of the fact that i haven't dug this stuff enough when i read/played along with the pianist Vijay Iyer's awesome blindfold test from the Jazztimes website. it's really amazing b/c the way they have it set up, you can take the test along with the artist by listening to mystery mp3s and forming your own opinions before hearing theirs. and there's a ton of these archived on there! really great site. i'm very into Vijay's commentary too--he's got great taste. need to check out his music more. now that i've gotten so into Tyshawn, i'm really psyched about the forthcoming Fieldwork record (Iyer and Sorey and saxist Steve Lehman). that band plays this sort of ultracomplex math-jazz--really advanced and NOW.
Saturday, January 12, 2008
my favorite recordings right now are ones that don't seem to give up their mystery.
have been spinning Tyshawn Sorey's that/not nonstop recently and i feel constantly magnetized by it, though i never really feel like i'm exhausting any of its weirdness. such a strange record, really. i put it on my top ten of 2007 for Time Out NY at the last minute and i'm really glad i did.
Sorey is a young drummer-pianist-composer from NYC. he talks in the liner notes of that/not about how he wants to defy the expectation that his record will feature his drumming in particular. instead he goes way, way in the opposite direction. it's a mood record; if it's about anything, it's about staying still, holding back, etc. most of the two-disc is scored for trombone, piano, bass and drums and Sorey includes all these really slow, enigmatic pieces that just sort of drift along. they're beautiful, but also unsettling. the music is so subtle that it just completely slips by if you don't listen close. it's jazz-related, but strikes me more as some really eccentric sort of chamber-pop at times: stately, ominous, grand in a really muted way.
themes flow in and out of improv. the record can seem static and then comes some moment of brilliant architecture. Sorey's incredibly patient drumming steers the whole thing with unfathomable calm, often w/ just one dry ride cymbal tracing a super intricate arc. the stillness of this thing is just so luxurious and unusual. you imagine score sheets that are miles long, the entire band playing in a trance, in a black room, the lights dim. space-trance-slow-prog-jazz-pop with a strange, untraceable flavor of moody electronica; somber yet droll and stylized and futuristic. it's a new thing entirely, i think.
Carbonized is that super strange and eclectic Swedish avant-metal band i mentioned a while back. finally got a track uploaded here:
Carbonized - Night Shadows
this is from the Disharmonization album, another disc that doesn't stop not making sense. in this track, crunchy, ham-fisted death-thrash moves into lo-fi prog like Voivod meets SST, which then meets otherworldly lounge music and bare-bones psych. intensely eclectic, but not at all "clever" or gimmicky. it's a logical composition and just a really purely experimental document. whole album is sick if you can find it.
i also wanna say that great things are afoot w/ two of my friends' bands. Yukon has just closed a chapter, documenting the last insanely intricate and gorgeous math-world-prog-pop songs penned w/ sadly departed guitarist Denny Bowen, and Dysrhythmia--Stay Fucked's billmates at Cake Shop th'other night—- has written some blast-off new stuff. vanguard progressive heaviness. please support both organizations.
also Veedon Fleece by Van continues to amaze. have relished sharing that w/ Laal...
Wednesday, January 02, 2008
in my haste to recap the tour on here, i made a major omission. i guess it makes sense that i would leave out the most significant musico-emotional discovery of the experience--maybe subconsciously i knew that it merited its own entry.
driving down Sunset in early December, it came on the radio. placid, jazzy, almost Yacht Rock-ish, but with deeply yearning, almost Peter Cetera-esque hooks that instantly seemed familiar. "I am the eye in the sky / Looking at you / I can read your mind." what the hell was it, all in the car wondered? i quickly jotted down all the lyrics i could make out.
googling around at our destination, i quickly nailed it: "Eye in the Sky" by the Alan Parsons Project. shortly afterward, i found the band's greatest hits on the budget tape wall at Amoeba, and we were equipped. no single song received more play in the van.
it was everything i remembered. a slow, gently trippy first verse with squarely "hip" jazz chords. a presumably cuckolded man telling off his mate for the last time:
"Don't think sorry's easily said
Don't try turning tables instead
You've taken lots of chances before
But I'm not gonna give anymore"
there's a calm, almost nerdy resolve in the delivery--the "I'm fed up" doesn't bite as much as it should. after another verse, though, the tension bursts, and you didn't even realize how much had built up. the harmonies soar, cold light rushes in:
"I am the eye in the sky
Looking at you
I can read your mind
I am the maker of rules
Dealing with fools
I can cheat you blind"
even if you've heard that last stanza a million times, nothing prepares you for its sheer vicious egoism. it's a totally creepy, godplaying statement; it's not an exaggeration to say that it sounds like the outburst of an insane person. it's one thing to tell your woman you've had enough, but it's quite another to cast yourself as a kind of unmerciful god, capable of "cheating [her] blind."
there's something very special about a pop song that goes to these sorts of scary emotional lengths. the extremity of the sentiment, its power to shock, reminds me of the rawness and emotional desperation that Steely Dan can touch on, but this Parsons tune doesn't give you the comfort of irony. it creeps along and then it bites. its placid resolve is terrifying.
we would play this tape in the van after shows. in a way i felt like i was unwinding, but i don't know if that's what it was--i just craved the weird mindset of this song. i remember one night drive down a misty highway in Houston. i was going faster than i was comfortable with, trying to keep up with the guy who was leading us to where we were going to crash. the drive had a Michael Mann feeling--that on-the-outskirts-of-the-city brooding--with hazy lights and speed and soft, spare, overproduced music that spelled "cool," or some mythological version of cool, and made you feel like you were in some kind of urban cocoon. the drive was key, but i think the song alone can get you most of the way to that place of sublime postmodern solitude:
The Alan Parsons Project - Eye in the Sky (1982)