September 30, 2008

Wayne Shorter: "Adam's Apple".

Wayne Shorter's release of Adam's Apple in 1966 coincided with many other soon-to-be classics, including John Coltrane's Ascension and Larry Young's wonderful organ-jazz album Unity, but I've got a feeling (and you may know it well) that this six-song album takes "Best Jazz Album of 1966" in my book. I thought I'd never find anything harder-bopping than Speak No Evil, but I gave in and sent off for this LP, and have been convinced ever since; truly a collection completer.

Adam's Apple collected pianist Herbie Hancock, bassist Reggie Workman and drummer Joe Chambers, and was Shorter's fifth release on Blue Note records.

The record opens up, with some reservation, to its audience with Workman's bass plodding the hefty, low hum of our eponymously-titled first track "Adam's Apple", and Chambers ticks his way in on the ride, Hancock just behind him, saving plenty of room for Shorter's delicate-to-shrill dynamic mastery. As he creeps in, the tune fleshes up and becomes the very essence of simplicity disguised in complexity (or perhaps the other way around). "502 Blues (Drinkin' and Drivin')" concretes my appreciation for Hancock's delicate touch he so flawlessly lends to nearly every project he's associated with, and it becomes evident that his influence has been noted by Shorter through the song's atonality. "El Gaucho" is my personal favorite track off the album, introducing a bossa beat and some delectable solo spots between Shorter and Hancock, as well as that absolutely inimitable bass and piano breakdown succeeding chorus key shifts.

If you're spinning the LP, you're qeueing side B now. B sides get such a bad rap, and here's proof: "Footprints", perhaps Shorter's most widely-recognized hit, slowly rises to life like a chill Autumn breeze, and I'm now trying to decide how I could have ever claimed "El Gaucho" over "Footprints". I did, in fact, purchase the album for the song, having fallen head over heels in love after hearing the song only once. It's uniqueness is unprecedented. "Teru" lulls our weary souls away from the stabbing pressures of the day and into a soft, comforting mentality - and one we at once realize we couldn't easily pursue without assistance; think of it as a road map to, of all places, the place we truly call home, whether it be a childhood memory or a secluded scenic retreat.

The 1966 classic finishes with one more hard-bopper in "Chief Crazy Horse", allowing the record a total running time of 47:58.

For the Shorterholic and the novice alike, Adam's Apple remains an immensely enjoyable soundscape, and a soothing glimpse into a day and age when men still poured their heart and soul into the music they crafted.

September 29, 2008

Pram: "North Pole Radio Station".

Pram is the Darth Vader to Stereolab's Luke Skywalker, and North Pole Radio Station is even more blatantly in opposition to the Groop's always-sunny, honey-dipped electro-grooves, in the title alone. "Omnichord" presents us with this lovely antithesis right away, containing Rosie Cuckston's ominous, crooning whisper, and plenty of evil-sounding Fisher-Price keyboards. The atmosphere and scenery have changed much since the band's nearly light hearted (in comparison) Sargasso Sea, laying the foundation for the future icy sonic structures and eerie, muzaky melodies Pram would come to embrace. "El Topo" melds a krauty beat with an Eastern-influenced melody, and "Bathysphere" loops a chimey sample around our necks for nearly three minutes. "Fallen Snow" creates a kind of Parisian bossa nova that is best described as the result if Stereolab covered The Sea and Cake's "Darkest Night". In fact, I think the reason I love Pram's sound so much is because it rings of the same jazzy, krauty, lo-fi creativity that The Sea and Cake mastered in the mid-nineties, and it's evident on this and their previous release, Sargasso Sea. Any TSAC fan will undoubtedly love Pram. The second half of the album sees a break in the clouds, and even some sunshine, in "Sleepy Sweet", and two more creepy instrumentals in "The Clockwork Lighthouse" and "Cow Ghosts". "The Doors of Empty Cupboards" finishes the album with a bittersweet mystery - "The sound of the wind, or the sound of my voice crying out?" Yes?

>>Link to my original review on rateyourmusic.com.

Random Guy: "Pretty Good guys!"; Sam: "Pretty Good Arch."

It's 7:40 pm, and we're a magnificent mile south of where my favorite musical enclave will be performing in just twenty minutes; we're suddenly winding through a seemingly strategically-placed barricade of street-walkers like ourselves, save for the complete lack of urgency between them and their destinations. I'm twisting and turning through this human labyrinth with a sleeping child in a stroller, hoping desperately that he continues sleeping/I don't nip someone's heels/we get to the concert before the band takes the stage. Finally, at 7:56, we're two blocks from the Chicago Symphony Center, directly across from the Art Institute of Chicago, and it isn't until I find myself inside the lobby glimpsing Sam Prekop's Candy Apple Red Fender Telecaster through the double doors to the concert hall that I realize, this is finally it; we made it.

With only a couple minutes to spare, I sigh a huge, restful sigh of relief as I survey the comfortably-occupied concert hall, thinking to myself, "how perfect is it that this band's turnout is as laid-back as their musical style?" Before my inner-monolgue has a chance to escalate any higher, the band is being introduced and Eric Claridge comes clomping on stage, followed by Ryan Rapsys (sitting in on drums for John McEntire), Archer Prewitt (wearing his black signature Jerry Jones single-cutaway) and Sam Prekop. The guys buzz and click away on stage, getting their instruments plugged in and tuned up. Sam's awkward introversion stains his address to the audience as he mumbles, in a very talent show-esque manner, "Hello...how are you...all", breaking away from the mic mid-greeting to twiddle the knobs on one of his processor pedals. Watching these guys chitter chat at each other behind two live vocal mics, as Eric Claridge taps his fingers on the body of his honey-blonde bass, would be rather repugnant if they were any act other than The Sea and Cake. Their clumsy nonchalance fits the eccentric, jazz-enfused post-rock they produce, and the blue-collar bohemian-chic they emanate is wholly natural, and settles in over the crowd even before the first note is played.

The first note, however, just happened to be the rocking first note to the rocking first track "Aerial", off the rocking new album Car Alarm, due out in late October. It's a bit of a continuation of 2007's Everybody, which saw a return to the band's simpler rock structures of the pre-Fawn era, with only a tasteful electronic tidbit here and there. Sam announces "Crossing Line" next, the single off of 2007's Everybody, and I'm singing "Do-oo-oo yeah" along with Sam and Arch. The band's off-beat humor adds one more layer of eclecticism to the already-abounding list of slightly-anecdotal descriptors surrounding them, yet not once do I ever get the impression that they're nervous or superficial. We're led through every full-length to date, from The Biz's "The Biz" to Oui's "Midtown", and when the band finally says goodnight, the audience cheers them back on stage for the ultimate encore performance of "Parasol" off 1995's Nassau. The dance-pit reassembles off stage-left in the aisle, and a good night - hell, the best night I can remember in a good long time - comes to a jovial end.

Guys, I'll be there Novemeber 15 at 7 pm. Bring your dancing shoes!

September 26, 2008

Wire: "Pink Flag".

Punk rock has only one vice: itself.

Almost as quickly as it emerged, punk was known by anything other than punk, becoming one of the first genres to be successfully outweighed and overshadowed by the number of sub-genres it contained. While Oi! was an attempt at punk unity, it seems post-punk was a healthy acknowledgment that it was merely a stepping-stone to something better.

Wire's 1977 post-punk classic Pink Flag was widely-influential upon the sub-genre, appearing a year before the earthquake that officially devoured punk rock forever, set off by Joy Division's Unknown Pleasures. Wire stuck a little more to the formula, keeping the 'punk' in post-punk, but all that would change with their 1978 follow-up album, Chairs Missing.

Pink Flag is a death knoll, rung furiously by the emergent sub-genre that followed all too closely on the heels of punk rock. It's the soundtrack that voraciously springs to life after Clint Eastwood pulls the trigger on his unloaded .44 Magnum in Dirty Harry. It's just what you get for asking, "I gotta' know." Though highly influential on the alternative genre still to come, Pink Flag was poorly-received by the DIY punk scenes of New York and the UK, mainly as it was released on the major British label EMI. The album also relied heavily on a classic rock structure to it's 21-song barrage, and saw some of the first hints of a dance-punk integration, which shortly after became a sub-genre itself.

In other words...Pink Flag isn't as much a brick in the wall of punk rock as it is the pariah that cast the first stone into the establishment for anti-establishment. You've got to ask yourself one question - do I feel lucky?

Well, do ya', punk?

September 23, 2008

Low: "Songs For A Dead Pilot".

Here's a classic, if you could call it such; my very first review. Enjoy.

One can't help but think "death-cult" when one sees or hears Low for the first time...their music is the kind that trails along behind rainy funeral processions, or lonely and suicidal societal rejects taking their last breaths; the kind of thing one hears in detached and segmented images from a dream; yet, the ethereal harmonies manage to interrelate with one's personal sense of nostalgia, allowing each song a warm, sentimental attachment to its listener, in whatever way they choose to assimilate those feelings. Low pushes slowcore to its sardonic extreme in their extended-play masterpiece, Songs for a Dead Pilot.

The delicate, breathy ambience of the first three minutes of this stunning, and haunting, EP take you to a place altogether otherworldy, yet absolutely finite and somewhat confined. You may find yourself sitting right next to Alan in "Condescend" as he clumsily strums his bland, trebly guitar to the syncopated tap of Mimi's snare head, but you will definitely find yourself in shocked silence at the power behind such a soft, yet nonetheless emotive, voice as Mimi anti-belts out those beautifully depressing lyrics - "To a point, you will fail/So I condescend". Next is over nine minutes of Alan's two-chorded nightmare ballad, "Born By The Wires", followed by the eerie organ-saturated drone, "Be There", featuring the amazing harmonizing voices of Alan and Mimi. "Landlord" will have you thinking the end of the world came and you somehow managed to sleep right through it...it's also one of the only songs where I consider Zak an actual member of the band; and who can forget, the chillingly gorgeous outro "Hey Chicago", where the band somehow manages to speak to the city they owe their credibility to as a friend on the street, or a stranger on the bus...one who needs cheering, of course, since Low is so good at lifting those rainy-day blues. You can always count on Low to make a good thing...and make it slower.

September 22, 2008

Anoice: "Remmings".

Here's another one from my alter-alter RYM ego iij.

Walls of delay soaked in decay; the (unassuming?) representation of some obscure emotional experience we've all had at one point or another in our lives; the soft and subtle dynamic swells of a backwards guitar, and a light tinkling of piano for the illusion of classical musical training; it's all there - the tried and true formula to a great Post-Rock record, as explained in the instruction manual handed down to us by musical extraterrestrial genius' Talk Talk in Spirit of Eden and Laughing Stock, and yet so far, Anoice seems to have a little better grip on the fundamentals than all those experimental/Post-Rock iconoclasts (ie Red Sparowes, This Will Destroy You, God Is An Astronaut, By The End of Tonight, etc...not to name drop or anything). The question then becomes: do Anoice offer anything new to bite into? Let's get into it.

"Untitled 1" begins this Japanese sextet's musical foray into the often-tragic realms of modern mainstream experimental music (I'm trying to call the genre anything other than "Post-Rock" at this point), and it isn't a bust, necessarily; there is a very subtle melody floating within the ambience. "Aspirin Music" begins as a dual between a backwards guitar riff and a violin, and soon a fairly funky bass and glitchy percussive element join in. Not far behind them all is the "rat-tat-tat" of the battle-snare, and a soothing start-stop romp through a room built out of noise follows. The front door creaks open around the four-minute mark. "Untitled 2" is some salvaged track from Aoki Takamasa's archive of unusable/filler material; in other words, hardly impressive. "Kyoto" could be the opening track to the new Mono record (by the way - aren't they due for a new album?), and is a lovely piece of ear-candy in any setting, in any mood. The dissonance is tasteful and expertly crafted, and the track favors a classical sound rather than the stylings of the chug-along genre itself. "Untitled 3" is a swirling mixture of piano and phased-out pad, but the instrument is in good hands, and the emotional value comes across as intended. "Liange" marks my first impression that the album might not be fully-realized; we started out with a full band, and now we're floating off into some neighboring galaxy...although the sentiment in such an experience far outweighs and overpowers the illusion of an unaccomplished goal. "Untitled 4" features an airy acoustic bit overtop a backdrop of electronic bubbles and synth swells. "The Three-Days Blow" garners the same classical feel we marinated in during "Liange", yet I don't particularly like it much; I get the impression it was written on the guitar, and it comes across a little more juvenile compared to the piano-driven tunes. Anoice's guitarist is a bit lacking in his technique, it seems. The last "Untitled" piece features a piano adrift amongst another ambient electronic sea.

So, I guess we can conclude one thing: Remmings is not your typical Post-Rock offering. The classical skill of its members lends a little more credibility to the music, and at the same time, the emotional swings are self-evident and inviting to the most casual of listeners. Altogether, Anoice's Remmings is 2006's Would You Rather Be Followed by Forty Ducks for the Rest of Your Life?. Actually, not quite that good.

>>Link to my original review on rateyourmusic.com.

September 21, 2008

My Newest Obsession?

Think of them as a transcript of the behind-the-scenes featurette that should come with every classic album; 33 1/3 features interviews with original group members, facts, history and even some personal insight by each respective author. These books are what you wish would come as the cd insert. Spanning the discography of more than twenty classic albums and artists, there's plenty of selection, and every book in the series is worth reading, just as every album covered is worth owning, or at the very least having heard once or twice.

I just ordered my first 33 1/3, covering Throbbing Gristle's psychotic avant garde classic, 20 Jazz Funk Greats. If you've never had the pleasure of listening to the album, head over to Rhapsody and give it a listen.

Other noteworthy books in this intriguing series include Neil Young's Harvest, Joy Division's Unknown Pleasures, Radiohead's OK Computer, Captain Beefheart's Trout Mask Replica, and The Pixies' Doolittle, among many others. The books range from 110 to 175 pages, and can be purchased new and used for as little as four dollars on Amazon. Here's a link for anyone interested.

>>33 1/3 on amazon.com

September 18, 2008

The Sea and Cake: "The Sea and Cake".

It all began here, with the somewhat hasty musical smatterings offered on TSAC's eponymous debut. I believe, contrary to many sources and fans, that this album is not easily accessible, or a proper introduction to the band's true sound and style. This record was recorded in the wake of the disassembly of Sam and Eric's first band, Shrimp Boat, a post-country/indie-bluegrass ensemble featuring producer Brad Wood. Brad was recruited to record the album, and added saxophone on the funky, slightly out of place "Culabra Cut". Sam and Eric discovered Archer through his work as guitarist of local group The Coctails, and extended the invitation to work on what was really only a studio project at the time. Last in the lineup to join was John, Tortoise multi-instrumentalist/drummer/Soma Studios owner, on drums. He would later record and produce the majority of his band's albums/ep's.

The Sea and Cake(s/t) sounds very much like a late Shrimp Boat record, with a slightly tighter group effort and an obvious post-jazz influence throughout serving as the only stand-out differences. "Jacking the Ball" is the perfect album starter: hard-hitting, high-energy rock riffs and Sam's cool-cat vocal stylings adding the perfect art-snob touch that throws the whole thing in a completely different direction than immediately expected upon first listen. Listening to the rest of the album further solidifies the overwhelming sensation that "there is just something special about these guys...", with the laid-back, feel-good "Polio" and "Flat Lay the Water", as well as the punkier-sounding foot-stomper, "Choice Blanket". Then comes the proof that the act doesn't quite have it all together - the jam band, porn-flick essential, "Culabra Cut". The latter half slacks a bit, but is immediately yanked up out of the well by the slide-happy, slightly overdriven indie/old-school anthem, "Showboat Angel". As if that wasn't quite all they had up their sleeves, they shine their talent down into the lustrous show-stopper, "So Long to the Captain", giving us listeners the inside scoop on just exactly what's to come out of these indie tricksters. Eventually, the group stops pulling the rabbit out of the hat traditionally, the way they seem accustomed to, but The Sea and Cake and the next couple records in line prove why, sonically, music can be new and exciting everytime, even after you know all the tried-and-true ingredients.

Elvis Costello: "This Year's Model".

I own an original first pressing of this record on vinyl, and the rereleased and remastered digipak containing a couple additional tracks. I prefer the vinyl, of course. Another review of a power pop classic from the archives.

Would you like to experience the quaint excitement and sheer splendor of discovering that perfect little record you've heard so much about but initially wrote off to overrated pop snobbery? This Year's Model has a magical power etched right into the vinyl it's trapped in that transforms your drab little day-in day-out, monday-through-friday, work/sleep/work/sleep life into a sparkly night-club scene, fronted by an Elvis who traded his blue suede shoes for black frames and a Jaguar. It's an almost immediate transformation, too - Mr. Costello bombards us right off the bat with his confrontational album starter "No Action", followed by a tune we can readily blame new wave on, though absolutely inimitable by its own right in "This Year's Girl". "The Beat" delivers us a slightly more intimate Costello song that suddenly just becomes the post-punk explosion we'll come to expect from him. "Pump It Up", though initially laughably cliche, is quickly redeemed by its great choppy chord structure and heavy beat, separated by some of the most criminally catchy pop ever unleashed upon the world. "Little Triggers" offers an emotionally-drenched doo-wop ballad, while "You Belong To Me" grabs desperately at a last-chance rock anthem possibility, and just misses.

Side B is not as much a mess as Side A, and yet, as it always goes, lacks the punch Side A never even intends to begin with. "Hand In Hand" has its catchy little this-and-thats, but is very second-rate next to naturals such as "Pump It Up" and "No Action", and once "Lip Service" begins, we're ready to flip the record back over and cue up one of any of the gems contained on Side A...but handclaps always indicate good things to come, like red sails at night, and lo and behold, we receive "Living In Paradise", a happy-go-lucky twee-romp through life as a jealous boyfriend (how many times have we all been there before?). "Lipstick Vogue" is somewhat hard to classify, at times jazz, punk, surf, and hard pop, and leaves us with the classic hit "Radio, Radio". So you'd better do what you are told...you'd better listen to the radio. Actually, scratch that - not everything Elvis tells you is good advice, even if he is the king, reincarnate.

September 17, 2008

Arm Yourselves.



You have to imagine me with two Ruger LCP's. Like this:



Dad and I drove out to Midwest Gun Exchange yesterday looking for the new Ruger LCP .380, which unfortunately was completely sold out at both locations. We're going shooting this weekend, so I'll get some training with his Glock and Walther, but we're pretty certain we're going to have to order a couple LCP's in soon. It sizes in at 5.16", and holds 6 in the magazine plus one in the chamber. A deadly weapon, just a little bigger than an iPod.

All this started for two reasons:

1) As an American citizen, I have the right to bear arms by the Second Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America (while it is still honored). This country was founded with the idea that man was endowed by his creator with certain rights. In the event of a future socialist takeover and infringement of our civil liberties as a free people, I've decided to exercise this right while it is still inherent.
2) I must protect my family and my home with lethal force; otherwise, I completely compromise the lives I have vowed to protect. No one will ever convince me that I am safe with a police force working through the night, or an alarm system to scare off intruders. In the event of a break-in, I am completely helpless in my own home against the attacker that could take the lives of those I love, and mine. No one should ever be willing to compromise the lives of their family - not to any man, woman or government. We must protect ourselves.

The world is not a safe place, and to think that it is only provides a false sense of security until that time comes when you're faced with a potentially dangerous situation. That time may or may not come to each of us, but I'll be ready if it does.

September 16, 2008

Slint: "Spiderland".

In 1991, as My Bloody Valentine* and Talk Talk were causing pop lovers to scratch their heads and exercise their all-too-recently passive opinions, Slint crawled out from under a rock in Louisville, KY and infected the emergent Post-Rock sub-genre with an unprecedented darkness. Spiderland has been dubbed one of the greatest albums in rock music, and Tweez, the band's disturbing first full-length, will always be under-understood and underappreciated. Like a pleasant dream that soon unfolds into a nightmare, Spiderland chimes to life.

"Breadcrumb Trail", oddly enough, harnesses a spaghetti-western style, in that you can almost imagine Brian McMahan in the middle of some Andalusian dual, hand on his Colt and fresh wad of tobacco under his lower lip. I say "almost" because it's hard to imagine this while he's babbling on about some childhood memory of the midway of some dingy carnival, and the fortune teller he befriended. The perfectly-delivered harmonics as the track opens serves as a sort of melodramatic fanfare, announcing, ironically, the arrival of unimportance and paranoia.

It only gets darker from here, friends.

The sludge manages to become the grittiest thing you can imagine coming from a stringed instrument, and McMahan mimics this tone in his crackling vocal rants, creating a tapestry of unfocused, muddled grey and brown, and every other dirty hue you can think of (I'm visualizing those tacky 10x15 rugs that some old bearded veteran displays draped over the side of his 1970-something fatigue-colored VW bus along every urban drag in America). As "Nosferatu Man" creeps to life, our narrator's pensive whisper assures us he has something to hide behind the elusive picture he paints of phantom trains, kings and queens, and medieval castles. What's more unsettling - the subject itself or the fact that our narrator tells it so nonchalantly? Before we can ponder these mysteries, everything evaporates into "Don, Aman"'s hushed tale of social escape and awkwardness, and we have a whole new set of problems as we begin to seriously wonder what Don is about to do to himself. Pajo's grimy guitar blasts through our thoughts and escalates the urgency of what began as an introspective dive, and then it's done. "Washer" is arguably the prettiest song on the album, and "For Dinner..." trails it's delicacy nicely, with a charming depth all it's own. The album comes to completion with it's brooding final track, "Good Morning Captain", which is truly heart-wrenching around the 6 - 7 minute-mark, as McMahan infamously mourns, "I miss you". Don't you wish you had a friend nearby right about now?

You can go on arguing the true birth-album of the entire Post-Rock genre till the cows come home in leather jackets, but I'll contest that, although Spiderland might not be officially the first Post-Rock release on record, this album has major clout in the sub-genre. One thing's for sure: You may never need a bottle of Zoloft and a good long cry like this again.

*I apologize. An MBV reference these days is like overstating your personal wealth at a high school reunion. Please forgive me.

September 15, 2008

Nirvana: "Nevermind".

Another review from the archives. I wrote this back in January, after returning to my Nirvana fascination (it's an annual occurance for me).

Somehow, it's a classic; I guess for a band like Nirvana, having come from podunk Aberdeen and playing cramped record store shows, that's just a little strange. No one really stops to think that Nirvana was at one time as unheard of as Fecal Matter (Kurt's first musical brainstorm), and yet, Nirvana was an understudy of Buzz Osborne and The Melvins for quite some time before breaking out onto the scene. Kurt intuitively fused the hooks commonly found in pop music with sludge metal, almost single-handedly birthing grunge music, or at the very least spearheading its infection upon the world.

What doesn't quite add up is just where this spick and span little post-punk delight came from.

Nevermind is a phase that every teenager inevitably goes through; it's every kid's savior, and it makes sense somehow while at the same time retaining complete obscurity through either intentional or unintentional ambiguity. The only thing that I notice now in hindsight is the eerily professional final mix of the record; why is it that such a grungy, sludgy album, chock full of punk-itude, is so spot-on? It's quite a mystery; every note Cobain plays just seems much too perfect for a punk band, and yet there he is, screaming himself silly: "Gotta' find a way, a better way! When I'm Theeeeere!" I feel that this is why Nirvana is regarded as the pioneers of Alternative rock; they found some loophole where you can play all-out punk rock and make it sound as pristine and polished as you want - and it still works. Hmmph.

It's a fact that the band was not very pleased with the record, partly due to this very quality - it just sounds too produced to be a Nirvana record. Somehow, this little ideosyncracy created quite a following for the Aberdeen three.

I know I am very adament about how wrong it is to apply the "artistic profundity = sonic delivery" formula to each and every album, but sometimes, you find the exception to the rule - and here it is. Nevermind is very important for various reasons, but in the grand scheme of things, Nevermind, to me, set the stage for every Alternative band to come - whether they liked it or not. You cannot argue with a record that sells 400,000 copies a week in the US alone. You have to perk up a bit and take notice; such an album is worth emulating.

I don't necessarily condone such thinking, I merely interpret it through my own personal filter. Nevermind is a force, a law, if you will; it's like Newton's discovery of gravity, or Eintein's discovery of mass warping spacetime - you don't really have to like such things; they're just there, and they're forces to be reckoned with. Nevermind is a great album, but honestly, Nirvana was only truly Nirvana through their dirty, poorly-received (compared with this money-magnet) predecessor "Bleach" and their last record "In Utero", both of which I prefer over Nevermind any day.

>>Link to my original review on rateyourmusic.com.

September 14, 2008

"My Guy Ike".

Newest track off Earthly Styles. I wrote and recorded this song almost completely spontaneously, and it turned out working pretty well for the project. Have a listen.



Deerhunter: "Microcastle".

In celebration of Deerhunter's release of their third full-length Microcastle on iTunes (cd and LP release due out on Kranky records in early October), here's a review I posted under one of my many monikers a while back.

Deerhunter, a self-prescribed "Ambient-Punk" band from Atlanta, GA, have earned themselves the privilege of being reviewed fairly - meaning, all MBV comparisons aside - with their second Kranky release, Microcastle. If Cryptograms was a next step up from Turn It Up Faggot, then it can be rightly concluded that Microcastle is the next step up from the magnificent Fluorescent Grey EP, which saw the band progress away from lengthy ambient acid-trips and steer straight into the heart of darkness as a four-piece pop ensemble (what better way to do battle?). The label decided to package Deerhunter's Kranky debut with its' EP companion, recorded just after the Cryptograms sessions, but I now must contest; how lovely would it have been to package the EP with the new release?

Then again, we might not have received Fluorescent Grey as such a tremendous offering had it been overshadowed by a long-playing collection of similar enough material; the new LP and the previous EP would drown each other out. I must say, however - never have I felt such a strong sense of maturity, structural perfection and completeness from a four-track EP, and I don't see it happening again anytime soon.

All that being said, let me attempt an early review of August 2008's best new release. Microcastle begins with a short introduction, similarly enough to Cryptograms, though this time around we're presented with a neo-shoegazing reworking of the next track on the album, "Agoraphobia", with Bradford Cox's sky-high vocal instrumentation and some tremolo-armed guitar overdrive, all atop a slow, spacey beat that cuts through the subtle ambience. "Agoraphobia" really sets the mood for the rest of the album, which does not wander nearly as much as its predecessor, and Cox sings "Cover me, cover me, comfort me, comfort me" as we all float above the hustle and bustle of daily life to some new pasture amidst the clouds, where we definitely feel safe, yet we don't necessarily expect to stay (I guess this could be a musical representation of that nagging allusion to the reality that has been programmed into our conscious mind; a soaring beauty dipped in pain, the kind of "real" pain that no human being can possibly escape from). "Never Stops" begins as soon as our feet once again (and surely enough) touch the ground, and the group's post-punk roots peek through the clouds of guitar and vocal reminiscences. The innocence of Deerhunter's sound here plays wonderfully with the pitch black they're seemingly always one shade of grey away from. "Little Kids" sounds convincingly as ancient as was intended, like an obscure tune you'd hear on some late-night college radio oldies hour. "Microcastle" fools us all with its' seemingly uninspired stabbings at soft emotional depth, but suddenly kicks us all in the stomach and runs around the house with a Walt Disney smile, smashing dishes and breaking framed pictures over coffee tables (like they did in The Destructors; I never read it, though). "Calvary Scars" references the crucifixion, or a crucifixion, possibly and probably a metaphorical one of Cox (before his closest friends), and "Green Jacket" is his resurrection, once again to that pasture in the sky where time does not dictate reality. It must be said that Deerhunter's talent most definitely outweighs their skill as musicians, but when it's good (and remarkably free of pretense and noodling), what does it matter? "Activa" is more proof of this; Cox's far-off vocal cries blend nicely with a garage sale-sounding acoustic guitar, as it strums a looping succession of power chords through a light mist of background creaks and moans. "Nothing Ever Happened" is Microcastles "Cryptograms" (song), though the lyrical ferocity adds a fresh take on the musical energy from its' predecessor ("Nothing ever happened to me, righteous bastard flash right through me"), and I get the impression Cox's lament is a loaded gun aimed between the eyes of his critics for his dress-wearing, blood-smearing live antics (and quite possibly for attacks on his sexual orientation and blog habits). "Saved by Old Times" could be a Kinks b-side, featuring a very definite classic rock influence and a slow, steady post-punk beat. "These Hands" is the only disappointment of the album, and it sounds more like the guys started putting bits and pieces of their unreleased ideas together than anything else; the drums resemble a military drum-roll, and the guitars just kind of...are. Even Cox's vocals are uninteresting, for once. Luckily, "Twilight at Carbon Lake" makes up for lost steam in the previous track, and is described nicely as equal parts doo-wop and slowcore, adding just a hint of variety and closing out a very strong album on a thoughtful note.

Microcastle is a long-awaited flavor still drooled-over by many devoted fans and critics alike, and though the album leaked already, I've got my money on that shiny piece of etched vinyl due out in early August; I hope you all do too. Until then, we have the mysterious underwood that is Fluorescent Grey and Cryptograms.

>>Link to my original review on rateyourmusic.com.

September 11, 2008

William Basinski: "The Disintegration Loops".

On September 11th, 2001, William Basinski was completing a recording of a number of old tape loops that had curiously begun to disintegrate and disassemble when the first plane, in what would soon become the most horrific act of terrorism in human history, foreign or domestic, hit the World Trade Center North Tower, ripping out a hole nearly half the width of the building. Basinski looked on in terror, like every other American eye that dark day, from his residence overlooking Manhattan, although I'm sure he didn't realize at the time that his dying, self-destructing loops would become the most eerily appropriate, and awe-inspiringly coincidental, soundtrack to that fateful day in early September, when any normal day would include simply the refreshing hint of a cool fall breeze and the golden glow of the impending autumn sun. This day remains a day of mourning, a day of unraveling, a day of slow, torturous demise - and the unconventional beauty and frailty of the life and death cycle that every living thing on the face of the earth inevitably succumbs to.

On this 7th anniversary of 9/11, Basinski's The Disintegration Loops series graces my speakers, as I try to remember the events of what seemed like just yesterday. It's as if I am awakening from a terrible dream to find myself in a complete state of disorientation; the memory of the terror that had so recently plagued my slumber is vanishing bit by bit, leaving only small traces of itself behind for my tired mind to attempt to reassemble. All the other 364 days of the year may pass inconsequentially, but this day needs to be remembered. The memory will never be an uplifting one, but it's those men and women who choose to bury the past that fall asleep in the midst of the return of the enemy. Allow yourself to contemplate even a moment of hesitance or careless self-absorption, and you may wake up one day at the bottom of the well and wonder why you can't remember the fall.

God bless, and keep, the 2,974+ souls lost to the same nameless evil, regardless the nation or ethnicity officially to blame, that has always existed and will continue to exist as long as we inhabit this earth. Be silent, and reflect with intent.



September 10, 2008

Tortoise "Standards" Reissue on red vinyl.

It finally arrived! What a beautiful record. The BEST 13 bucks I've ever spent! Here's some pictures to lust over - I snapped them as soon as I unpackaged this jewel.





September 9, 2008

Seasonal Sonic Sensations: Fall (Part 1)

Fall brings many wonderful things, including pumpkin spice coffee, brilliant maples and warm sweaters; the most comforting element of fall, however, is the music that represents and enlivens the season. I almost always gravitate toward jazz and instrumental rock in early to late fall, namely Guaraldi, Coltrane, GY!BE and Tortoise. For those hungry few who are seeking the perfect fall album this year, look no further; this list can help.

Kenny Wheeler
Gnu High

(1976)

Comprised of trumpetist Kenny Wheeler, pianist Keith Jarrett, legendary bassist Dave Holland, and drummer Jack DeJohnette, Gnu High readily lends itself to both smooth jazz and avant jazz tendencies, as each of these three pieces wind loosely over musical landscapes simultaneously barren and lush, much like the appropriate album cover by Tadayuki Naitoh, depicting a mountainous region of beautifully fading fall foliage.


Herbie Hancock
Speak Lik
e A Child
(1968)

Herbie's atonal masterpiece still stands as one of the most intensely intimate and explorative jazz records ever released, and one that will undoubtedly become saturated in personal memories and elusions to childhood. This is not jazz for a sunny summer's day, nor is it completely a rainy day listen; Speak Like A Child is the last day of summer, that last fragrant evening, when adolescence is most vital; this is the last hour of our youth.


Vince Guaraldi Trio
A Boy Named Charlie Brown

(1964)

If Speak Like A Child is the final hour of our youth, then it stands true that A Boy Named Charlie Brown is the soundtrack that plays continuously throughout every memory, through the innocence and the carefree abatement of the playground we once knew to be life. The great thing about Guaraldi's music is, although childhood naturally diminishes over time, it holds some musical key to the secret lives we once lived as children, and allows them tangibility.


Dave Holland Quartet
Conference Of The Birds
(1973)

Conference Of The Birds came about after Dave Holland found an epiphany in a group of birds that would always gather in his London apartment's small garden at 4 or 5 am in the summers. This classic free jazz ensemble created the music that nature has been crafting, almost completely unnoticed, since history began, and the experience is like none other. If you've ever wondered what all the hype surrounding jazz was about, behold your answer.

September 8, 2008

"Sibling No. 1".

I finished another track for my "Earthly Styles" project. Have a listen.


September 5, 2008

Art Beat '08.

Art Beat was, at best, a misunderstanding on my part; I was imagining a little more artistic substance and a little less arts and crafts. Nonetheless, it was a fairly enjoyable evening, aside from the sea of people that amassed the Century Center/South Bend Regional Museum of Art due to adverse weather. I didn't take any pictures of the Art Beat exhibits, but it has been at least a year since Erika and I visited the Art Museum, and the artists/exhibits on display were very interesting. Julie Farstad's exhibit was especially intriguing. She has quite a way with acrylics, and her artistic process is an involved one, to say the least; you can read more about her and the other artists on display at the South Bend Museum of Art website. I didn't end up taking any pictures of Julie's work, as I was more involved in engaging them visually, so I encourage you to take a look for yourself. Her exhibit will be displayed through September 14th. Below are a few pictures I "iPhoned", gleefully.



September 4, 2008

New Sea and Cake Tour Dates!

It's been nearly a year and a half since Chicago's finest Thrill Jockey artists have returned to the Windy City, and their homebase, to entertain their torrid local fanbase, but I'm very pleased to announce that they will be playing familiar territory this fall; September 27 at the Symphony Center's Macy's Day of Music, a free eight-hour music marathon, plus two shows at the Empty Bottle on Saturday, Novemeber 15. Tickets are $16 a piece, and the band plays at 7pm and 10pm. Mark your calendars - who knows when they'll be back.

This October sees the release of The Sea and Cake's eighth full-length on Thrill Jockey records, Car Alarm, and more than likely some new merch.

The Chicago Symphony Center show will be a sneak peek into TSAC's upcoming album (due out October 21), so I'd recommend it if you're curious. I'll definitely be attending the Empty Bottle show. Come out and see one of the most unique bands you'll ever come across!

The band's website hasn't been updated yet with their full Fall '08 tour schedule, but there's a schedule floating around out there. Here it is, in what appears to be it's entirety.

Information regarding the Chicago shows can be found here:
• For the Sept. 27 Chicago Symphony Center show: Macy's Day of Music
• For the Nov. 15 Empty Bottle shows: Empty Bottle

September 2, 2008

Quasi: "Field Studies".

We've all attempted to outsmart inhibition and inadequacy with optimism and cheerful sarcasm, the forced smile in the face of the drunken, abusive father that life, more often than not, arrives home late to become. Every single one of us knows everything there is to know about rejection and heartache, and the human propensity towards the apathetic disdain that inevitably stems from an over abundance of it, in our own lives; Sam Coomes and Janet Weiss (crazed, villainous keyboardist, vocalist and multi-instrumentalist, and Sleater-Kinney drummer-girl extraordinaire, respectively) have simply put it to music, in the unpredictable form of overdriven organ pop, sounding something akin to Brian Wilson's funeral procession along Redondo Beach one beautiful SoCal afternoon. Instead of sitting around in their bedroom gaining weight and getting blown, Quasi crafts an album of sunshine indie pop that calibrates the next generation of hedonistic social inepts against Wilson's formulaically-tormented soul, preserving the obfuscation of psychiatric evaluation on into the new millennium.

What is most disconcertingly unclear is just how much of the content and subject matter of Sam and Janet's smiley-dirges is harbored as truth within their own devilishly ambivalent minds and how much is meant only for a quick laugh in the face of misfortune (one is almost always inclined to believe the latter, and in that case the album is brilliant and powerful). As is at once perceivable in the opening track to 1999's Field Studies, "All The Same" offers Quasi's jaded pop in abundance, as Sam sings "I'm not going to give it up for free anymore, and I don't really care if you label me a whore", setting the stage quite well for the nearly-disgruntled tunes to follow; "The Golden Egg", "The Star You Left Behind" and "A Fable With No Moral", among many others. "Under A Cloud" is one of the best examples of Quasi's true talent when it comes to song crafting and infectious hooks, and "It Don't Mean Nothing" is unoubtedly Field Studies' "Ape Self Prevails In Me Still" (off 1998's Featuring "Birds"). Needless to say, whether you're an indie hipster or Beach Boys aficionado, or both, you'll only benefit from owning a copy of Field Studies.

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