29 September 2006

Broken Social Scene: A Meditation on Supergroups

Okay, I give up. I like Broken Social Scene. I guess that was inevitable, given recent obsessions with Amy Millan and Emily Haines, and slightly longer-ago obsessions with Feist. But I don't like it as much as I like any of its various members. Is this inevitable? I don't know what I think of supergroups. They sound like an inarguably good thing in theory, but they never quite seem to work out that way--it's the opposite of synergy. Maybe you get synergy in the shows? Recorded, at least, I think they're pretty weak--the best song on You Forgot It In People is Shampoo Suicide, a laid-back, directionless jam that I'd more readily associate with something like Bonobo.

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28 September 2006

Innocence Mission

Damn. I've had Innocence Mission's lullabye CD Now the Day Is Over on my list forever; I was really thinking I was going to like it, but I don't. Karen Peris has all the twee cuteness of Joanna Newsom or Björk, without any of the former's technical creativity (pronounced craziness in her case) or the latter's unique vocal power. The instrumentals are hard to notice.

Why would you listen to this--unless you're a hipster parent desperate for non-Barney kiddie music? They're sweet, I guess, but they're not particularly good. There are some that aren't bad--Wonderful World and Moon River stand out--but they're still not something anybody not specifically in search of lullabyes needs. It's a pity, because the songs are a well-chosen mix of familiar acoustic songs, old hymns (which might have made very stately lullabyes), and the like, but the annoying vocal manner overcomes any credit the smart song choices might have gotten.

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27 September 2006

Joanna Newsom @ MFA's College Night, tomorrow!

Joanna Newsom is headlining the MFA's College Night--it's tomorrow and it's free with a college ID. (No word on how much without one.)

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Metromix Interview with Amy Millan

Since Amy Millan is my morning's earworm, and I'm newly obsessed with her Broken Social sibling Emily Haines, it's fitting that Metromix has got an interview with Amy.

Do you and the other female vocalists from Broken Social Scene, Leslie Feist and Emily Haines, ever have sing-offs?

We do have sing-offs. The best Broken shows are when the three of us are doing them together. Whenever Emily and Leslie and I are together, we always talk about how when we ever get five seconds we're gonna make a record together. But we have our whole lives to make music together; that's one of the beauties of this band. I have this feeling that the best Broken record that will ever be made will be made about 10 years from now. I have this fantasy that when we're in our 40s, we'll end up at a farm all together for four or five weeks and we'll make just an outstanding piece of work. That's my dream anyway.

That would indeed be a hell of a show with all three of them. If Feist stays off all the drugs.

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26 September 2006

every speed on our knees is crawling

Last.fm has had Metric on my recommendation charts for-bloody-ever, and I just got around to listening to it in the past week or so--since Emily Haines' solo CD is out today, it seems like a good time to mention both. I like: Jimmy Shaw's guitar lines are compelling--they'd probably steal the show (song?) from a vocalist less powerful than Emily Haines, whose voice reminds me a bit of Amy Millan in its gauzy dreaminess, but it's occasionally harsh or husky, too. Persistent earworms from their 2005 CD Live It Out are Glass Ceiling and "Too Little, Too Late" (streaming below); their tracks have a clear shape and sharpness to them that makes them immediately appealing, but unlike a lot of immediately appealing music, there's substance there too.

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25 September 2006

MySpace Rundown: Hannah Speller, Dave Lewis, Get Set Go, Most Bitter, Lindi Ortega

Another one of the bits on musicians/bands who randomly friend me on Myspace; I wait until they reach critical mass, which seems to take about two weeks. (Wow, this crop has it together; nobody who desperately needs instrumental or vocal training.)

Hannah Speller: Strong voice, dynamic, competent instrumentation, and lyrics that are a litte interesting. Should the lyrics of Never Gonna (I don't need love/ I don't need love/ I do not dream of you) meant to be taken straight, or is it a Methinks the Lady Doth sorta situation? "Hush Hush" is . . . a little blunt, a little too genre-shaped, too easy to pigeonhole; same for "Here Comes the Rain." Togetherness: A-. Creativity: B/B+.

Dave Lewis: Pleasant if wandering instrumentals, less proggy, more jazzy than Mogwai or Mars Volta. The vocals, when they show up, are sort of. . . pointless? shapeless? It's not quite Muzak--but not far away. Togetherness: A-. Creativity: C+.

Get Set Go: Well, they win points for starting off with a bouncy song called "I Hate Everyone." The contrast between the nasty lyrics and the cheerful, enjoyable music reminds me of old-school Guster. Fortunately, they seem to understand that band cannot live on bile alone, so the rest of the songs are varied--although the sweet, happy sound is consistent. Good music to listen to when you're pissed or miserable but not wanting to mope--it's happily bitter bubble gum. Togetherness: A-. Creativity: B+.

Most Bitter: Quite odd. Buzzing, cheap-sound instrumentals and arhythmic almost-spoken-word vocals. Sort of reminds me of Magnetic Fields, without the drive, humor, and beauty. Togetherness: B. Creativity: B+.

Lindi Ortega: Wow, she sounds like a young, less-aggressive Kristin Hersh . . . but the songs aren't very interesting, country-inflected ballads and breakup songs. Not bad, but no real substance. Togetherness: A-. Creativity: C.

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24 September 2006

Cuckoo Canoe, Can You?

Given the drubbing I occasionally hand out to Myspace bands or bands that email me seeking reviews, I'm a little surprised I still get those emails; but they come, and I like the opportunity they give me to think and write about music I'm not necessarily crazy about.

Cuckoo Canoe is a bit bewildering; they've got three working songs up on their Myspace, and they don't really seem to go together, although they're all rather nice. Ofrah and Me is an acoustic, drawling, strummy piece about aimless time spent with somebody called Ofrah--and in the little picture bit next to the song listings, there's a picture of Oprah. I don't know what to make of that, but as a song it's appealing. "Alaska Wolf Slay" is more usual indie-rock type stuff, with just a touch of drawl left, uptempo and well-done if not ground-breaking. "You Sunk My Battleship," on the other hand, is an initially more electronic and overall less drawling song that reminds me pretty strongly of someone more mainstream--but I'm damned if I can remember who.

Overall, I like 'em; if they were on one of the Myspace Rundowns, I'd give an A for togetherness (they sound quite professional and well-put-together for Myspace), and maybe a B or B+ for creativity.

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21 September 2006

Chan Marshall and Neko

Kwaya Na Kisser has a great pair of live sets from Chan and Neko on KCRW up. Get 'em while they're hot! Chan wins me over by covering of Nina Simone songs, one really hers (Wild is the Wind) and one only covered by her to great effect (House of the Rising Sun)--but I'm still not going to see her live; trainwrecks aren't my idea of a good show.

Neko doesn't have to win me over, but apparently nobody's told her this, because she does my favorite song anyway.

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20 September 2006

The Importance of Being Not Postal, But Growing Old Is

MTV News has got an article about how the purported Postal Service track The Importance of Being, er, isn't. Track first showed up at Good Weather For Airstrikes (whose title artwork is gorgeous), but it's not actually the work of Ben Gibbard, Jimmy Tamborello, or Jenny Lewis, and nobody seems to know whose work it is. Interesting.

It's good to know more than just me want another Postal Service LP. And it's also good to know that The Postal Service have done a cover of Lennon's "Grow Old With Me" as a fundraiser for Amnesty International's Make Some Noise project; you can listen to it and buy it here, although aggravatingly only with IE, and unfortunately using the annoying MSN music store. I'm curious to see how the files that come out of it will be limited, and already aggravated with Amnesty International: couldn't they have done a better, more spare setup that wouldn't be a deal with the devil?

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19 September 2006

Soundtrack to Jennifer Banash's Hollywoodland

Hollywoodland doesn't sound particularly interesting to me; but it is interesting that Jennifer Banash has thought enough about the music in the book to write something as extensive and interesting as this.

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The New Dumb

The New Dumb sure is proud of being loud--their bio mentions earplugs and being loud an awful lot. This is, as their name suggests, dumb--loud requires no skill, and gets no credit. Their name and their website's tagline--"charming is the new dumb"--remind me of a mock-interview with Björk I once read, wherein she declares that ham sandwiches are the new black. After that, X is the new Y is impossible to take seriously. I don't think The New Dumb are aiming to be taken seriously (Cross-Eyed Bear suggests otherwise, somehow); ironic and loud indie post-punk might be enough for a fun show, but for listening music . . . there's no draw, nothing this band offers that many others don't do as well or better.

They are, however, having a show at P.A.'s Lounge in Somerville on 30 September. If anybody reading this goes, I'd be interested to hear if the live show is compelling.

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18 September 2006

Earworm: Bishop Allen - Bellingham

This one has stuck for a good three days now.

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Electricity as Sound: Christina Kubisch

Weekend America had a story about Christina Kubisch. She's a "sound artist" that uses magnetic induction to make the interaction of electrical fields into audible sounds (using special headphones). She develops exhibits she calls electrical walks by mapping the hotspots of cities, and handing out maps and special headphones; one commentator described it as seeing in infrared, only for your ears. It's surprising to me how these sounds, unlike more usual sounds, aren't made by shapes (there's no string or hammer or membrane or key), but still sound like shapes: the neon sign sounds like a tightly looped rubber band, taut and round. It's a cool idea--I wish she'd do Boston.

The NPR piece is here.

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16 September 2006

Interviews/Articles: Amy Millan, Sufjan Stevens, Owen Pallet

Some interesting bits out. . .

Amy Millan at Victoria News:

Honey From the Tomb, released earlier this year, takes a darker approach than her work with Broken Social Scene and Stars, delving into heartbreak and the end of life. "I don't necessarily see death as a negative thing. I just got finished doing a photoshoot in a graveyard where I was having a picnic. I think death is a part of all of our lives. And death of relationships, death between people."

Sufjan Stevens at Explorefaith.org:
As an Episcopalian who is a bit embarrassed by the institutionalization and commodification of most church culture, Stevens stands in line with artists like Dorothy Sayers and Flannery O’Conner, who considered excellence at their craft the primary discipline of a Christian. One gets the impression that Stevens doesn’t want to be a mouthpiece or a preacher, but rather that he wants to be someone who lives and looks for God in the doubts, the stories and the musical movements of the Spirit.
Since Sufjan has been very reticent about his faith (and good for him), this is a pretty speculative piece. Wonder what he thinks of it.

Owen Pallet at Gauntlet:
"I had the idea that I was going to make a string quartet album before I made [Final Fantasy's first album] Has a Good Home," Pallett explains. "It was just taking a lot of work, a lot of reading and research. I wanted the string quartet to be the basis of the album, not the superfluous earrings of the album. In order to do that, I had to make sure my writing was idiosyncratic with correct string writing."
The superficial earrings of the album.

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15 September 2006

The Never and their Picturemusic Book, Antartica

Heard about this awhile ago, but haven't managed to write about it until now. The Never, a Chapel Hill band, has done a CD that comes with a picturebook. It's called Antartica, and the image above is one of its pages (click on the image to see it larger). It's the story of a little boy who finds an atom bomb, and the songs fit with the narration sort of like the ubiquitous childhood readalong books.

I like it; concept albums are always a bit precious, but this one works. The music is good, and fits well with the story: Cavity in particular shows the moral imperative of the situation (how do you do right with an atom bomb?) and the uncompromising outlook of childhood in its lyrics: get it right the first time / or you'll be alone.

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Gawker's new music blog Idolator is finally up--it seems to be premised on music blogs sucking? It's got a little more variety than most music blogs (it doesn't cover just music but music hardware, too), and it's got the Gawker Media connections going for it so it'll probably come up with its fair share of scoops, but . . . so far at least, it's neither unique or interesting. I think I'm subscribing to Johnny Triangles' aversion to snark: is saying all the music blogs suck just the hipster-ironic excuse for jumping on the bandwagon and starting one? Unless it means you start one that's somehow non-sucky, it doesn't actually help.

Which brings me back to the question I ask periodically: what's the point of a music blog? Still don't have a good answer; most of 'em are sort of a circle-jerk thing.

And, because I'm listening to it, and because Jenny Lewis and Styrofoam don't suck, here's the Styrofoam remix of Nothing Better. I want another Postal Service CD.

Also, on a completely irrelevant note, Wikipedia has a list of the exclamations used by Captain Haddock. This is lovely. But what I really want is a list of the words used in the original French books, and the translated Flemish books. Translating those can't have been easy.

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14 September 2006

Myspace Rundown: The Triple Threat, December Remember, Daroe, Since November, Rob Gezschman

The intermittent rundown of bands or musicians that randomly friend me on MySpace--an exercise in maintaining critical balance. MySpace bands are definitely graded on a curve--an A- on MySpace is probably a B or so for music encountered commercially.

The Triple Threat: Sweet, and distinctly pleasant, but unexceptional. B.

December Remember: Oh god. This is like a mix of Bright Eyes, Joanna Newsom, and really, really bad. Possibly the most confused music I've heard; I can't tell if it's on purpose or not (is he off-key and off-beat deliberately? is it some complex mathematical manipulation of either or both?), but I don't care. C-? D?

Daroe: One of the more together bands that've featured on Myspace Rundown; they're on-beat and maybe even a bit interesting. Skillful instrumentals and vocals, but "Slaves" is lame. B- (without considering the self-conscious grunge lyrics of "Slaves," B+)

Since November: The publicity photo is atrocious--very Scandinavian, mouth-open, smash-banged foolishness. I like the music, though; a nice mix of acoustic instrumentals and distorted vocals. I'm a sucker for juxtaposing very acoustic layers and very electronic layers. A--.

Rob Getzschman: I wish it to be understood that bad acoustic covers of Postal Service songs win nobody points. Amanda Palmer can pull it off; Rob Getzschman can't. Following it up with subgenre in-joke "Anti-Folk Is Dead" doesn't get any points either, actually. The dude seems competent but incapable of doing a non-derivative song. Why showcase those two, really? C-.

I may split Myspace grades into two aspects, which are I think togetherness and creativity. Sometimes bands that are not very interesting get rated highly, because they can keep time and find their way around their instruments without getting obviously lost; some bands aim higher than they can fly. I'd like to take both into account.

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13 September 2006

Earworm: Dead Man's Will

Iron & Wine doesn't get much respect from me; they're generally sweet but contourless to my ear--it's beard music like Kings of Convenience, without the beauty. But their collaboration with Calexico is worthy of apotheosis, no doubts. The sparkle and twang that Calexico brings to the deal obscures Iron & Wine's vocal anemia and showcases their lovely harmony. For the dreamy songs they are, they're unusually sticky, and Dead Man's Will is the one that stuck today; but each track is as luminous as the next.

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Ooh!: Bishop Allen - August

Bishop Allen's August EP is out, and about triple the previous sizes, because it's the Middle East show recorded! One of the sample songs is The Flood, which I liked particularly during the show.

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Learning to Listen (and Play) Polyrhythmic

I've started doing an African drum ensemble this year; the first thing we're doing (besides trying to get used to a polyrhythmic setup) is Ewe music, then we'll go to Dagbanli next semester. Learning how to function in a polyrhythmic ensemble is a cognitive challenge--we spend maybe a third of our time talking about where the one is and what the basic beat is (it isn't the same to an African ear as to a Western). It's pretty obvious who the proper musicians are and aren't in the group (I'm sure not, dammit).

I'd gotten the Kronos Quartet's Pieces of Africa a while ago, listened to it, and didn't quite know what to make of it. Listening to it now is quite different, having a conceptual base for it. Kutambarara is my favorite track at the moment, because it's the most similar to what we're playing. It sounds damned different when you're sitting in the middle of the whole thing and trying not to lose your beat or encroach on your neighbor's; I'll always wonder how it sounds different to a native listener, though.

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11 September 2006

Earworm: O Rubor Sanguinis/Koyaanisqatsi

Since I'm writing up a couple of experiments right now, and I've found music with lyrics (in languages I can keep up with auditorily) interfere with writing, I'm mostly listening to a tremendous playlist of music with no lyrics, or lyrics in languages I can't understand as auditory input, right now; it's all kinds: jazz, classical, medieval antiphonal chants, neo-classical instrumental pieces (no Schoenberg, he's distracting period) and Mogwai/Explosions in the Sky/Kinski-type prog-rock instrumental stuff. I'm enjoying how the very old (Anonymous4 singing Hildegard von Bingen's Chants for the Feast of St Ursula) and the really quite new (Phillip Glass's earth-shaking Koyaanisqatsi piece from the movie of the same name) do when side-by-side.

These two, selected by Winamp randomized, make a nice counterpoint; it's easy to hear that they both have quite different sensibilities from most pop music (even defining pop music as broadly as possible).

O Rubor Sanguinis is a solemn but glad chant, which would've been considered appropriate for its subject of divine redeeming blood. Hildegard was a remarkable polymath of the twelfth century, but because she was a woman her education was considerably different from that of her contemporaries; when contemporary music was primarily concerned with regularly scanning, rhyming verse, Hildegard's lyrics are unpredictable, and similarly her melodies make unexpected leaps, and considerable use of modal irregularities.

Koyaanisqatsi is an equally remarkable piece, composed for Geoffrey Reggio's Qatsi film series. It's just a bass chorus, repeating one word in Hopi that means "life out of balance," backed most of the time by a fairly simple chord progression on an organ. Subtle dynamic changes and an organ solo give the repetition some shape, but mostly the piece turns on its repetition. The severity of the gravid and almost sluggish melodic line (if it can even be called that) is as inescapable as the grandeur of the chorus, and it's the tension between these two elements that gives the piece its power.

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09 September 2006

Earworm: Gustav Holst - Jupiter, Bringer of Jollity

Somehow I am very fond of Gustav Holst's Planet cycle, and I suspect most of that comes from the Jupiter movement. Jupiter is the Bringer of Jollity--which is fair enough, except to the actual Roman/Greek character of the god, who was not likely to bring anything so nice as jollity. Regardless, the themes of the Jupiter movement sound of ponderous sweetness to me, and remind me of my grandfather, a ponderously sweet man if I ever saw one, and my affection for him.

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07 September 2006

Weirdest Earworm Ever: Cieco, Cieco

All right, so I watched Belleville Rendez-vous again the other day--does that mean I deserve to have this in my head all day? I suspect it starts out in more or less real Italian, but at some point the lyrics feature striking keywords Jimmy Hoffa/cosa nostra sung and then echoed in exemplary, operatic vibrato--so it can't make too much sense.

And now I have found the real thing: the lyrics, in Italian and English! I shouldn't be surprised that they make no sense--the French songs from the movie certainly don't.

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06 September 2006

Meltdown Reports: Chan Marshall & Nickel Creek

Well, so much for Chan Marshall's vaunted new stability--her show last night was a classic stage meltdown-cum-trainwreck where she obsessed over sound, the sound guy, and unsuccessfully tuning the guitar, broke off songs to go pee. . . damn. I'm sorry it happened, but glad I didn't go. Wonder if her stage issues will get in the way of her recording career? Seems like they'd have to, but she's been around for a few years and not gone away yet--no way of telling where she'd be now if she could reliably handle a live set, I guess.

Nickel Creek has officially melted down to its components; Billboard's running an interview with them in which we learn that song-writing feels less natural than it has for the group, and that Sean will focus on movie-scoring, Sara on collaboration, and Chris on a solo record. Chris' solo CD is called How to Grow a Woman from the Ground--the first time I read about it, it had been mis-written as "How to Grow a Woman from a Gourd." I might like the wrong title better. I liked them very well a few years ago, but lost track of them when I left the country. Too bad, though--even beside Chris' remarkable mandolin virtuosity, Sara's voice was the main draw for me at the time; now I suspect I might find it too sugary and twee. No new material to let me find out, anyway!

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Mutual Appreciation

Mutual Appreciation, starring Justin Rice of Bishop Allen, opens 13 September at the Brattle and 22 September at Coolidge Corner. Since it's about a band trying to make it in New York etc, there's a fair amount of music in it, and it's all Bishop Allen.

Bits and pieces (the trailer, the opening scene, a painful performance of Quarter to Three at a painfully under-attended show) are up on iFilm. I don't know if Justin is a good actor, but he seems to be playing himself, or at least his stage manner. I suspect the movie'll either be quite good, or horribly self-indulgent and pointless. I hope it's good, partially because I intend to go see it and partially because I am morally required to wish the writer of Penitentiary Bound success in all endeavors. (As I don't know if Penitentiary Bound is relevant to the movie, it's Quarter to Three streaming below.)

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05 September 2006

Myspace to Sell Music

Now this is interesting; MySpace is going to let unsigned bands sell their music without any DRM (SnoCap is doing the technical stuff). The agreement includes "performance-based warrants" for purchasing stock in SnoCap, although I don't know what that means. MySpace gets to buy stock in SnoCap if the deal works out?

Many, many questions about this. What'll happen to signed bands on Myspace? Will the interface be as damned ugly as MySpace's setup? Of course I hope it embiggens the snoball (hah) towards eMusic-style clean downloads, and it can only be a good thing for unsigned bands. Very curious to see what it looks like. . .

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01 September 2006

New Song from Newsom, Joanna

Joanna Newsom is an odd bird; I like the idea of her music, but I rarely want to hear it--except for The Book of Right-On, which I adore without qualifier.

So she has a new CD, called Ys, which is apparently pronounced ees--comes out in mid-November. There's a track from Ys called Cosmia floating around in the ether.

Damnably, I'm not sure I can like this CD any better than The Milk-Eyed Mender, if this track is a fair representation. It's clearly good--her voice shows through in shouts and clear notes, and the harpwork is dextrous--but it's not something I really . . . want to listen to.

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