Articles

  • Cross-genre covers

    17 mai 2012, 6h15m

    It strikes me that Frankie Goes to Hollywood's Two Tribes and Warriors of the Wasteland would actually make pretty good metal tunes. Tom Waits's November (from The Black Rider) would also make a good doom metal track.

    Joan Baez's Diamonds And Rust works as a metal track (as demonstrated by Judas Priest). I think it'd also make a good jazz standard.

    Can anyone think of any other tracks that would work well in a completely different style from the one they were originally written in? I don't mean stylistic mismatches done for laughs like Richard Cheese or Ten Masked Men, but ones that would actually work played straight.
  • Losing a legend

    14 août 2009, 20h36m

    Les Paul, the guitarist best known for inventing the solid-body electric guitar, died of pneumonia on August 13, at age 94. Along with the electric guitar, an invention whose importance should be obvious and can hardly be overstated, he also pioneered overdubbing, multitrack recording, and electronic signal processing effects. Nearly every form of modern popular music is built on these innovations; I think it's safe to say that without Mr. Paul, today's musical landscape would be unrecognizable...and considering the cultural influence of rock, from fashion to mores to the very concept of "rock star", the social and political landscape as well. He's been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the National Inventors Hall of Fame, and the National Broadcasters Hall of Fame.

    A consummate entertainer, he played live regularly well into this year, with a residency at the Iridium Jazz Club in New York, and recorded an album as recently as 2005, despite a broken eardrum and arthritis that paralyzed some fingers on both hands. When he shattered his right elbow in 1948, setting it would freeze it in place, never to bend again...so he had it set at an angle so he could continue to play. His work spanned jazz, country, and rock & roll, playing with everyone from Nat King Cole and Bing Crosby to Eric Clapton, Sting, and Chet Atkins.

    Back when I used to work in a publisher's warehouse, my boss, an old hippie and deadhead, would play music on the stereo as we worked. One day he put on an old bit from the Les Paul and Mary Ford show, in which Les claimed to have just invented the "gas guitar", which turned out to run on laughing gas, leading to a wild drug trip scene in which he hallucinates that they're in a gondola and Mary sings a gondolier song. That was my introduction to Les Paul the musician, rather than Les Paul the name of a model of guitar. Great fun!

    New York Times obituary
    Iridium Jazz Club's obituary

    I recommend reading both. They're very well written.

    RIP Les.
  • Earth, Jesse Sykes @ GAMH, 6/20/08

    23 juin 2008, 7h34m

    Fri 20 Jun – Earth, Jesse Sykes & the Sweet Hereafter

    This was a good change of pace after the last show I went to (Name, Giant Squid, IntrOnaut, Lair of the Minotaur, and The Ocean at Annie's Social Club), where I banged my head so much that my neck was sore for the next two days (no joke). Earth rocks, but in a very, very slow way. I was actually a little worried that I wouldn't be able to make it because of a cold that'd hit me the Monday before, but by the time Friday rolled around it'd been reduced to an intermittently stuffy nose and mildly scratchy throat, so I was in the clear.

    I got there a little into the local opener, Aerial Ruin. The place was still pretty empty at that point. The band was okay, but nothing special. It gave me a chance to get something to drink, and to grab a spot right in front that I managed to keep for the rest of the night.

    After Aerial Ruin came Jesse Sykes & The Sweet Hereafter. I was unfamiliar with this band. They play a sort of singer-songwritery folk-rock with a touch of noise rock. It was good, although I won't be seeking out their albums. The guy behind me was apparently the World's Biggest Jesse Sykes fan, and would shout things like "That was religious!" after each number. At one point the lead guitarist noted that the area was "kinda freaky". He's right; the Great American Music Hall is right in the middle of the Tenderloin district, which is San Francisco's skank central.

    Finally, Earth came on. They were a quartet of guitar, bass, keys (doubling on trombone), and drums. Not sure what happened to Jonas Haskins on baritone. Don McGreevy was playing a white bass with, of all things, a Volvo logo on the back. Weird.

    These guys are incredibly tight live. The performance was flawless, which is pretty impressive when you consider how hard it is to keep the beat at such low tempos. They mainly stuck to material from their new album, The Bees Made Honey in the Lion's Skull. Anything I say wouldn't do it justice, so I'll just post the setlist as I remember it:

    1. Omens and Portents II: Carrion Crow (introduced just as "Carrion Crow")
    2. (can't remember which one this was)
    3. Engine of Ruin
    4. Junkyard Priest, which Dylan said was a bonus track on the vinyl version
    5. The Bees Made Honey in the Lion's Skull
    6. Omens And Portents 1: The Driver (introduced as "the first track")
    7. Rise to Glory


    For the encore they played the classic Coda Maestoso in F (Flat) Minor.

    After the show I walked down to the transbay terminal to catch a bus, since it was after 1am and the BART trains stop at about midnight. Apparently there was some problem or construction on the bridge and everybody had to get off at the first exit, so the bus was ridiculously late. Somewhere in Oakland a drunk young asian guy hurled and managed to get some on an older black guy's shoe. At first the guy was quiet about it, but, partly thanks to the asian guy's idiot white stoner friend trying to "patch things up" while at the same time making excuses, it eventually escalated into the black guy trying to strangle the asian guy. It got broken up, but it delayed the trip considerably. I finally got home a little before four, on a trip that should normally take about 45 minutes.
  • OvO, Estradasphere, & Sleepytime Gorilla Museum @ GAMH, Feb 16

    14 mars 2008, 7h23m

    Sat 16 Feb – Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, Estradasphere

    Yeah, it's taken me forever to get around to writing this review.

    When I went to this concert, I'd just been to another show at the Great American Music Hall a couple of days before (Thu 14 Feb – Buckethead, Kid Beyond), which was both enjoyable and frustrating. I'm not going to write a full review of it, but to sum up: both performances were good, but the mostly metalhead crowd didn't know how to react to Kid Beyond's electronic-inspired beatboxing, and I expected more variety from Buckethead than he provided.

    This show made up for the flaws of the previous one.

    The opening act was OVO (for whatever reason, they weren't in Last.FM's listing). While I was already a big fan of Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, and had heard some tracks by Estradasphere, I was totally unfamiliar with this group. I was very pleasantly surprised.

    This masked Italian duo consists of Bruno Dorella on drums, and Stefania Pedretti on bass and vocals. Bruno stood behind just a floor tom and a single cymbal—not even a full kit. Stefania is deceptively petite. Yet despite their minimal instrumentation, together they produced an impressive wall of sound. Bruno beat out thudering, driving rhythms, at one point carrying his kit out into the crowd to play while surrounded by the audience. Stefania's bass playing was slow and heavy, and she displayed a stunningly versatile voice, ranging from surprisingly deep funeral doom growls and death grunts to black metal screaming to breathy cries and wild ululations. The lyrics, if there were any, were unintelligible, but the raw emotion was clear as a bell.

    For one song, Stefania put her bass down and played her hair with a bow. Or rather, she played the bow with her hair: the sound came from a contact mic attached to the bow. The results were a series of bizarre scraping noises and screeches. It's the sort of experimental stunt that could easily fall flat, but here it fit perfectly.

    Next up was Estradasphere. I had heard and enjoyed some work by this band, but not a lot. Maybe four tracks, tops. They're a fairly large band, consisting of a violinist (doubling on trumpet), guitarist, drummer, bassist (upright and bass guitar), and keyboardist/accordionist. Their appearance gave some impression of their eclecticism and lack of seriousness: the guitarist wore a bright red suit, the violinist/trumpeter was dressed in jeans, button-up shirt, and cowboy hat like a rodeo rider, and the accordionist was dressed only in a towel wrapped around his waist. The lack of seriousness didn't extend to their playing, however, which was very tight. Their style is wide-ranging—Western swing to lounge jazz to metal to polka—and prone to changing directions at the drop of a hat. Imagine a less abrasive, more jokey Naked City: they are perhaps even more directly influenced by Looney Tunes composer Carl Stalling than that band. I wish I was more familiar with their work, so I could say what they played.

    Finally, we had the main event: Sleepytime Gorilla Museum. I had heard that they were a great live act, and prone to unusual stage antics, but until this point I had only heard (and loved) their work on albums, so I was looking forward to seeing them. They did not disappoint.

    The stage was cluttered with instruments both familiar and original. A tall newspaper-covered box sat on a stand in the middle of the stage, flanked on the right by a drum kit and on the left by various percussive objects on stands, including pieces of torn and mangled sheet metal and something that looked like a small flight of stairs of varying sizes. In front, on the right, were stringed instruments built from lumber, piano wire, and pickups, on legs (and, in the case of the largest one, on a hinge that allowed it to be tilted up and out of the way). On the left was a another smaller home-built stringed instrument on a stand.

    The band took the stage dressed in urban primitive clothing, all crudely torn natural fabrics and earth tones, with messy pseudo-tribal makeup, including red stripes down their foreheads. Dan Rathbun, who manned the bass and the contraptions on the right, was sporting an impressive short triple mohawk, with black makeup lines bisecting each of the two bald stripes in his hair. Nils Frykdahl took center stage with his guitar, and Carla Kihlstedt took the left with her violin and the smaller widget. In back, Matthias Bossi sat at the traditional traps, while the junk percussion was handled by (I believe) Moe! Staiano.

    After an opening tune, Nils introduced the theme of the show. They were here, they told us, to show us something that we "probably have never seen, unless you are very old. I can't tell you what it is just yet, but I can give you a hint: you can poke it...with a stick". While he said this, a pair of bare feet poked out from the top of the mysterious box. They then broke into a new song—most of the night's material was for a new album not yet released, and if the show was any indication, it will be at least as good as Of Natural History. They didn't say what the song's title was, but the chorus was "we must know more!". After the song, they began poking through the box (which was just a frame wrapped in paper) as the crowd cheered—Nils: "These things once roamed the plains of this country. Your grandparents may have told you about them." crowd member: "Burn it!" Nils: "Yes, it is flammable, you can burn it."—revealing the contents: a man hanging upside down from a harness, his face wrapped in newspaper.

    They declared him to be the last known surviving example of a species once thought to be extinct: human beings. They then launched into another new song, which I'm guessing is titled "The Last Human Being In The World" ("the last / human being in the world / is alive!"). As they played, the "last human" writhed, eventually tearing away his facial covering and escaping from his harness. At the climax of the song, he snatched away Nils's guitar and started frantically and erratically chugging away at a single chord. The band came to a dead stop when this happened, and Nils gingerly tried to grab his guitar back, shooting occasional helpless looks at the audience. He eventually managed to regain control of his instrument.

    Another song was, I believe, titled "The Dance You Can't Dance", which Nils introduced with an anecdote about a possibly drugged-out woman at a show in Texas shouting "he's dancing the dance you can't dance!". As the band played, the last human danced by twitching awkwardly yet rhythmically while wearing a top hat and swinging a cane. At one point, he even crawled/walked out onto the heads of audience members.

    A further skit was as presented as an episode of the TV show "We Must Know More", with the audience as a "studio audience". The show was about the controversy over the recently discovered last human, and featured a sleazy announcer, two opposing camps of scientists (one named "The Institute of Ruthless Precision"), the ditzy woman who discovered it while camping, and an interruption by a group of animal rights protesters who wanted it put back in the forest where it belongs. One group of scientists maintained that it was really the last human being, and that its head should be dissected ("which should not harm it") to be sure; the other (which included a "Professor Frykdahl", probably Nils's father) asserted that it was not a human being because human beings are, in fact, mythical—due to its preference for hanging upside down, it must be some sort of bat. The woman told the story of how she found it (behind a log), and said that at first she thought it was a salamander. As the host lamely flirted with her, the first group of scientists presented us with various surprising "facts" about human beings: "It's a little-known fact that human beings' brains were actually external to their bodies, and were called 'computers'. They had a symbiotic relationship with mice: the mice would scurry to and fro, carrying messages between the human's body and the computer."

    After a couple more songs, including Old Grey Heron sung by Rathbun, the band briefly left the stage, but returned for an encore of two more familiar songs: 1997 (tonight we're gonna party like it's...) and Sleepytime (Spirit Is a Bone).

    I should note that the long piano-wire-and-pickups instrument, which I believe is the "Thing" as listed on their albums, was played by stopping the strings with a slide and hitting them with mallets, as a sort of tone-bending electric dulcimer. Additional effects were provided by plucking bent pieces of stiff wire sticking out of the wooden block, to create a buzzing noise with a hard attack and long sustain and lots of inharmonic overtones.

    Whoever said that avant-garde music was dry and humorless went to the wrong shows. This was a blast, and all of the acts went the extra mile to engage the audience.

    After that long, high-energy show, I was pretty wiped. I thought I was going to have to walk down to the transbay terminal and wait an hour to catch a bus back home, but daryldarko, who I'd just met, offered to give me a lift, even though it was well out of his way. I don't think I thanked him enough.

    Merch haul: an Estradasphere T-shirt, OvO's album Miastenia and their three-way split EP with Psychofagist and Inferno sci-fi grind'n'roll A Bullet Sounds The Same (In Every Language), Estradasphere's Buck Fever, Moe! Staiano/Moe!chestra's An Inescapable Siren Within Earshot Distance Therein And Other Whereabouts, Lisa Bielawa's A Handful of World (with Carla Kihlstedt), and a collaboration between Carla and a Japanese musician whose name I can't recall and which I can't find at the moment.
  • That insult your top 25 bands meme game thinger

    9 fév. 2008, 7h37m

    I'm bored right now so y'all get a pointless meme to clog band journals.

    1. King Crimson — I understand the whole thing about not becoming a dinosaur act, but refusing to play the old stuff live, period, kinda sucks. Also, Islands was horrible.

    2. Joe Satriani — Please, Joe, do not sing ever again. I thought you'd learned your lesson on Flying In A Blue Dream, but then you put vocals on Is There Love in Space?. Why? Your lyrics are uninspired and your voice is dull. To borrow an album title from Frank Zappa, shut up 'n' play yer guitar!

    3. Magma — Even after all this time, when listening on random shuffle I frequently can't name a track just by hearing it. Also, what's up with the kazoo on Attahk?

    4. Electric Six — Once you tire of the joke of mixing hard rock and disco, there isn't much left.

    5. Battles — Alvin! Simon! Theodore! (Also, BTTLS is a completely boring track)

    6. Oingo Boingo — Whored out tracks to just about every movie made in the '80s, which resulted in some really half-assed work like Bachelor Party.

    7. Sleepytime Gorilla Museum — The songs can be so self-serious it's ludicrous. Also, none of the tracks on In Glorious Times were that memorable.

    8. The Avalanches — Gave up after an EP and an album.

    9. Wolf Parade — Davids Bowie and Byrne called, they want their voices back.

    10. Roky Erickson & the Aliens — "The candles in my candelabra burn hellishly, hellish hell". Ran out of words, eh Roky? Some of the folkier stuff (not on The Evil One) just doesn't work. And Creature With The Atom Brain doesn't work well live, where the characters in the dialogue bits aren't differentiated by vocal effects.

    11. Beastie Boys — The early, punkier stuff sucked. And their later stuff can be really self-indulgent.

    12. Bong-Ra — I've got a core 4 or 5 tracks I listen to, but whenever I try to break out of it what I hear just hasn't grabbed me.

    13. Machinae Supremacy — The lead singer sings through his nose. Sometimes approaches DragonForce levels of cheese.

    14. Matthew Sweet — Even his upbeat songs are downers.

    15. Muse — Easy to OD on them.

    16. Gentle Giant — Their experiments are not always successful. Example: Dog's Life, a song that lurches along and never gets off the ground.

    17. Devo — There's a reason most of their songs never became as popular as Whip It.

    18. Man or Astro-Man? — There's a sameness to a lot of Destroy all Astromen!. Sometimes you can only tell which track you're listening to by which cheesy old sci-fi movie the samples are from.

    18. Primus — Their early stuff is overrated thrash. The Brown Album was just mediocre. Only the three albums in between matter.

    20. DANGERDOOM — MF Doom's monotone flow is the same on every track.

    21. The Minibosses — They have one schtick. When they try to venture outside, the results are uninteresting hardcore punk.

    22. Radiohead — Thom is how old, and his voice is still breaking?

    23. Deerhoof — The lyrics are utter nonsense. Lead singer's voice is so cutesy it almost hurts.

    24. They Might Be Giants — Voices so nasal they practicaly come out of their eustachian tubes.

    25. The Darkest of The Hillside ThicketsYog-Sothoth was just a boring track. And what's with all the Star Wars samples all over Shoggoths Away?
  • Battles @ The Great American Music Hall, Nov 1

    5 nov. 2007, 4h16m

    Thu 1 Nov – Battles, No Age

    No Age, a guitar and drums duo, opened the show. The drummer was also the vocalist, and played on a very stripped-down kit (just a small bass, floor tom, hi-hat, and one cymbal), while the guitarist played with a looper to fill out the sound. While the arrangement was interesting, the music didn't live up to it. The basic pattern followed by each of their songs seemed to be: long, droning guitar loop intro, drummer suddenly starts hammering away at the kit and shouting incomprehensibly (I was wearing earplugs, but since I could hear Battles clearly I don't think that was the problem), band suddenly stops playing, audience takes a minute before applauding because they're not sure if the song is actually over. All of the songs sounded pretty much the same, and the drummer's rhythms, while frantic and intense, weren't very interesting. On the plus side, they were sometimes fun to watch, with the guitarist climbing onto the amps. At one point both of them got down and waded out into the crowd, and during the final number the guitarist threw his axe onto the drum kit, and the drummer just beat on it like it was another drum. That was fun. But musically and overall, it was just not good.

    After an intermission, Battles came on and immediately washed out the bad aftertaste left by No Age. They seemed half rock band, half mad scientists at work in the lab, as they alternated playing instruments and fiddling with equipment. Ian Williams and Tyondai Braxton each had tables stacked with a synth keyboard, a laptop, a looper, and effects boxes bristling with knobs, as well as their guitars. Dave Konopka spent nearly half of the time sitting on the floor twiddling his effects, and when standing frequently turned to the amps and tweaked settings there (including on what I believe may have been a looper of some kind—it had an LED numeric display and didn't seem to be an amp head). John Stanier's drumset was set up so he was practically sitting on the floor, yet had one big crash cymbal set way up high so he had to stretch his arm straight up or stand up to play it, which added an extra element of theatricality to the proceedings.

    Ian and Ty were both highly animated. Ty gestures wildly while singing, and even got the audience to sing along at times (as best we could, since it's hard to tell what he's actually saying through all that distortion and modulation). Ian bounces around constantly, whether swinging his guitar in front to play a riff, or curling over the table to tap out a bell-like melody on his synth and twist some knobs. John brought the thunder with fast, stiff strikes that gave me the impression he must have to buy new drum heads every week, and by the end of the first song was already dripping with sweat (by the end of the night, he and Ian both looked like they'd been pelted with water balloons). Their energy was infectious, and they had much of the front of the crowd bouncing along and pumping their fists to the erratic and odd-metered but very precise beats*. If Battles can't get you to dance, then you probably don't have a pulse.

    They started off with Race: Out. I was surprised that they played their big singles, Atlas and Tonto, fairly early in the set. As expected, they played most of Mirrored, but there were one or two pieces I didn't recognize, which may have been from their earlier EPs (which I still haven't heard) or might have been something new. The playing is clearly live (and partly improvised), but was nearly as tight as it was on record. These are guys with a lot of experience and it shows. The only slip I noticed was in Leyendecker, where the band got slightly out of sync with the looper. But it still sounded great.

    I was slightly disappointed that they didn't play Rainbow, but I'm aware that I'm probably alone in thinking that's one of their best tracks (the long part at the end with the slow vocals reminds me, oddly, of King Crimson, from the Peter Sinfield era or Red, which appeals to me). A guy behind me was disappointed that they didn't play Ddiamondd. And that's just nitpicking. The show was amazing anyway.

    After the show I went to the merch table and dropped way too much money. For some reason the best T-shirt designs (the reflected band name on grey, and the stacks of amps in black on green) were only available in girls' small and medium (huh?). I got the reflected band name on black, a poster for the show, and three albums: the EP C/B EP double disc, and two Japanese imports. Turns out one of the imports was just EP C, so that was kind of redundant. Oh well. The other is a Tyondai Braxton solo album, History That Has No Effect. I still have yet to listen to any of them.

    *I'm aware this partly contradicts my earlier whining about the previous night at the same venue. I offer no apologies.
  • I rocked with a zombie: Roky Erickson @ The Great American Music Hall, Oct 31

    4 nov. 2007, 23h39m

    Wed 31 Oct – Roky Erickson, 1990s

    Last year, Roky Erickson played for the first time in decades in San Francisco, but the show (part of the Noise Pop festival) sold out before I could get tickets. Instead, I saw You're Gonna Miss Me, a documentary on his life. The movie was very good, and cleared up some misconceptions I had thanks to the liner notes for Where the Pyramid Meets the Eye: A Tribute to Roky Erickson), but still, I was kicking myself for missing what could have been a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see one of my favorite rockers play, given his age and, shall we say, notably erratic nature.

    So naturally, when I was checking out the new Last.FM recommended events calendar and saw that Roky Erickson and The Explosives were playing in San Francisco—on Halloween, no less—I leaped at the chance. I went with my friend Joe, who I'd introduced to Roky's music years ago and who has become a big fan since.

    The show did not disappoint. Roky was in fine form and played with gusto, and his backing band, The Explosives, were very tight. They played a good long set, featuring several songs from his best known album, Roky Erickson & the Aliens' The Evil One, including White Faces, Mine Mine Mind, I Think Up Demons, Bloody Hammer (my favorite!), Night Of The Vampire, Don't Shake Me Lucifer, Red Temple Prayer (Two Headed Dog), and Creature With The Atom Brain. He also played a few songs from other albums, including the '50s-'60s-styled love song Starry Eyes, the horror-blues number The Beast, and, as part of the first encore, The Interpreter. He finished up with a second encore, playing, of course, I Walked With A Zombie, the perfect close to a great performance.

    Roky didn't really work the crowd per se, but had a very charismatic stage presence regardless, and seemed genuinely happy to be there playing. After every number, he'd wave and give a hearty shout of "Thank you!" for the applause. The lead guitarist rocked out hard, but still kept Roky in focus, which is how it should be.

    Of course, since it was Halloween, several people came in costume. Beyond a few zombies (naturally), I also saw a girl dressed as Charlie Chaplin, and quite a few foodstuffs (including beer. College crowd, what can I say?). Even the bassist was dressed as Death from The Seventh Seal. I think the drummer may have been in costume too, but from where I was I couldn't see him clearly (Roky and his lead guitarist were in street clothes).

    Only one thing bugged me: the crowd. What is it with hipster crowds and not dancing? Must Maintain Ironic Detachment At All Times, I suppose. Heaven forfend anyone have a visceral reaction to the music! Of course, I can't blame some of the folks in bulky costumes. Still, while it made me a little self-conscious as I rocked out, it wasn't that big of a distraction. Especially since Joe was busy dancing like he'd stuck his finger in an electrical socket, I couldn't feel too out of place.

    Just as a final note, despite the billing, 1990s did not play. I don't know if they were only booked for the previous night, or dropped out, or no-showed, or what, but the show was all Roky. Not that I really minded.
  • Ornette Coleman at SFJAZZ

    29 oct. 2007, 6h56m

    Sun 28 Oct – Ornette Coleman

    A pretty enjoyable concert at the Masonic Center. Ornette Coleman's group is interesting: he was playing (alto sax, but sometimes trumpet and violin) along with his son on drums and THREE bassists—one on upright acoustic, one on an upright acoustic mic'd up and fed through some effects pedals, and one electric (a Fender Bass 6, I think). There was also a second saxophonist who sat in for a few pieces, and who also doubled on a wind instrument I didn't recognize (it had a long straight tube and a funnel-like end, with no keys I could see; it looked sort of like a snake-charmer's flute). At first it seemed the formula was for the first acoustic bassist to play with a bow, and the second to play pizzicato (the usual jazz style), but they switched it up early on. The second bassist had a ball using a bow and the wah-wah pedal to create all sorts of funky basslines.

    I'm not terribly familiar with a lot of Ornette's work, so I couldn't really say what pieces they played. My favorite piece was variations on a theme from Stravinsky's Rite of Spring, which started out on the plain acoustic bass before the other musicians jumped in, and popped up in new forms in various places. Very fun (especially since I love the Rite of Spring). Other pieces included quotations from When The Saints Go Marching In and the Musicians of Bremen. The last piece in the main set (before encores) was a tour de force—the first time I've ever seen an upright bassist play with feedback!

    There were two significant flaws. One was the mix, which was muddy and frequently did not give enough prominence to Ornette himself. The basses overpowered the winds, and Ornette's violin playing was barely audible at all. The electro-acoustic bassist was particularly high in the mix in places, and while his funky wah-wah tricks were fun, it sometimes drowned out what the other guys were doing. The other flaw was the drummer. The younger Coleman wasn't really keeping time, but he wasn't contributing much in the way of ideas either. He pretty much just hammered away with four-on-the-floor rhythms and rolls with little in the way of syncopation, sometimes speeding up and sometimes slowing down (not in response to anything anyone else was doing), basically just in his own little world. He didn't have much dynamic range, playing as loud as he could all the time. It was a little distracting (and really irritated my dad, who used to be a drummer).

    On the whole, I had a good time. Not as good a concert as Dave Brubeck's, perhaps, but one I'm very glad I heard.
  • CD reviews: King Crimson, Four Tet, Ruins, Slough Feg, Tony Levin, Barenaked Ladies,…

    28 oct. 2007, 23h34m

    I bought these CDs a couple of weeks ago, but haven't gotten around to reviewing them until now partly because it took a while to listen to all of them, and partly due to procrastination. Maybe in future I'll buy fewer at a time so I can write up reviews in a timely manner. Anyway, enough of that, it's time for capsule reviews:

    1. Bulletboys: Freakshow — Found this hair metal album combing through the clearance bin at Rasputin's. Normally, I would have just looked at the ridiculous outfits on the back cover, chuckled, and put it back, but I noticed that the first track was titled Hang on St. Christopher. Huh? As in the Tom Waits song Hang On St. Christopher? Done hair metal style? With such a weird combination, I had to pick it up. The results are predictably dire—they really, really wanted by to be Van Halen but didn't have the chops—and the original tunes are totally forgettable. Hang On St. Christopher is a fascinating mess, a totally stylistically wrongheaded cover done without any irony. They also do a similarly pointless cover of John Lee Hooker's Talk to Your Daughter. I may never play this again, but I had a good laugh. At $2, I paid the right price.

    2. Buckshot LeFonque: Music Evolution — Another one from the bargain bin. I didn't pick this one up for the lulz, though. Buckshot LeFonque was Branford Marsalis's acid jazz group. I've always liked Branford (way more than his brother Wynton, whose historical revisionism has always rubbed me the wrong way). This is a pretty uneven album. At best (James Brown (Part I & II)), the jazz and hip-hop elements complement each other perfectly. At worst (Better Than I Am), it descends into generic smooth jazz and R&B. And then there are the weird one-offs: My Way (Doin' It), a sort of pesudo-Rage Against The Machine rap-metal track with a corny voice-over interlude courtesy of Laurence Fishburne, of all people, reminiscent of Orson Welles's intro to Manowar's Defender, and Jungle Grove, a high-energy hybrid of acid jazz and jungle. I'll probably pull this out every once in a while, but not to listen straight through.

    3. Barenaked Ladies: Rock Spectacle — Last one from the bargain bin. My only Barenaked Ladies album was Stunt, and I don't know much about them, but I like If I Had $1000000 and I saw that this had it. Turns out it's a live album. Whoops! No wonder it got stuck in clearance—somebody probably made the same mistake I did. Not bad, but nothing special. Brian Wilson and If I Had $1000000 were the only tracks that made much of an impression. The best part is the bonus track, where they joke about an encounter with a confused and angry old lady and rap about the frontman's Uncle Elwyn.

    4. Ruins: Pallaschtom — I love Yoshida Tatsuya's other project, Koenjihyakkei (高円寺百景), and have for some time, so it's kind of silly that I haven't picked this up before now. The style is basically the same as Koenjihyakkei—furious freakouts in an unknown language—but without the chorus and stripped down to a bass-and-drums combo. The results are just as complex, dissonant, and strange as Koenjihyakkei, but with a more rock-like and less directly Magma-like feel. As a bonus, it ends with a Classical Music Medley, Hard Rock Medley, and Progressive Rock Medley, cramming a bunch of musical quotations into less than 3 minutes each (the Classical medley includes bits of Beethoven, Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, Ravel's Bolero, Handel's Messiah, and more in one 1:15 track). Great stuff.

    5. French Frith Kaiser Thompson: Live, Love, Larf & Loaf — Their second album, Invisible Means, is fantastic, so I expected this, their first, to also be great. I was very disappointed. Invisible Means was playful and frequently funny, but tight and musically interesting. This just sounds like a bunch of guys screwing around in a studio. The only track I liked much at all was their cover of Surfin USA, with a deliberately awkward staccato vocal delivery on the chorus. The rest is a big nothing. A waste of money.

    6. The Avalanches: Since I Left You — I already had some of these tracks in mp3, so I was pretty sure I'd like this album. I was wrong: I love this album. I've enjoyed nearly everything these guys have done since the first time I saw the video for Frontier Psychiatrist, and this is no exception. It's pretty close to perfect. If I had to find a fault, it'd be Avalanche Rock, but since that's a transition less than a minute long between a couple of other tracks, it'd really be nitpicking. They range from demented hip-hop (though with less dadaist rapping as in Rap Fever) and turntablism (Frontier Psychiatrist) to indie pop and everywhere in between, and feature some of the most inventive use of samples you'll find. Now I've got to get their EP...

    7. Four Tet: Remixes — I'd only heard a few tracks by Four Tet before getting this, and really liked them, so I was ready to get an album. This double album—Four Tet remixing other people's songs on disc 1, other people remixing him on disc 2—looked interesting, especially since the artists being remixed include Radiohead, Madvillain, Aphex Twin, and Beth Orton, and the second disc features a remix by Battles. It turned out to be a disappointment. Disc 1 ranges from lame to merely okay, and disc 2 is terrible. Even the Battles track is no great shakes. I may listen to the remix of Radiohead's Skttrbrain, and maybe the Madvillain tracks, but not much else. For completists only.

    8. King Crimson: Beat — Another one of those "why didn't I buy this earlier?" cases. I thought Discipline was a very good album, but for some reason I'd resisted looking into their other '80s albums. In hindsight it seems silly. While this isn't one of my favorite Crimson albums, it's still a very good one and complements Discipline nicely. Neal and Jack and Me and Heartbeat in particular are excellent songs, but all of them are good. A more solid album, I think, than Thrak (which I still like despite the filler and the occasional lameness of the lyrics).

    9. Tony Levin: Resonator — This was filed in the same tray as Beat, so I picked it up. A bit of a disappointment, although not a bad album. Just not on par with his work with King Crimson. The composition is less intricate, and he doesn't have much of a singing voice. You can catch glimpses of some good ideas, but the lyrics don't really pull them off. He does do a fun cover of Khachaturian's Sabre Dance.

    10. The Lord Weird Slough Feg: Twilight of the Idols — Since I started getting into the genre in the last year or so, this has become one of my favorite metal bands. They are indeed a bit weird, though not what I would call progressive metal or avant-garde metal. I've seen it classed as power metal, but they don't go in for high-pitched vocals or fiddly shredding guitar solos; they head into folk metal territory on occasion (The Pangs of Ulster and Brave Connor Mac have clear Celtic elements), but not consistently; and they're not really dark or moody enough to be doom. It's right in the middle of the metal spectrum. Unfortunately, it turns out that the tracks I already had in mp3—Warpspasm, Bi-Polar Disorder (the best Black Sabbath song that band never made), and The Wizard's Vengeance—were some of the best on this album. Fortunately, the rest of it is still damn good. The only bad track is the album closer, We'll Meet Again, which has no verses, just a repeated chorus, and sounds unfinished, like they just hadn't come up with any lyrics by the time they had to record it. All in all, though, a great album.
  • Van Halen, accidentally avant-garde

    20 oct. 2007, 20h09m

    Van Halen closed a concert in Greensboro, NC with their old hit Jump. Except something went horribly, hilariously wrong...



    Apparently the recording of the synth part was played back at the wrong speed, making it considerably sharp. Eddie gamely tries to transpose to match it, but it's sharp by about a semitone and a half, meaning there are no frets for the notes it's playing; Eddie would have to have completely re-tuned his guitar to make it fit. Fortunately, judging by the applause, the audience was too wasted to notice or care.

    Found here via a friend on LiveJournal. The blogger talks some smack about Jump, but I've actually always liked it a lot. That single was the first record I ever owned, and I used to play it all the time on my little plastic Playskool turntable and bounce around the room.