23 December 2006

ATSS on Hiatus

ATSS will be on hiatus while the Queen of Sheba is in Ghana learning Dagomba drumming. We will return to our regularly scheduled program 18 January; in the meantime, check out these cool people.

Bradley's Almanac
:: clicky clicky ::
The Giant Panther
Hello Gina
On The Download @ Boston Phoenix
Onward Charles

21 December 2006

Non-Favorites of 2006

There're musicians much beloved in the blogosphere, that I just don't get. Why is there such massive swooning over Beirut, Sufjan Stevens, Destroyer, and Joanna Newsom? I couldn't say. Most of them do have the occasional nice song--but aside from that, I don't want to listen to them!

Can we please get over Joanna Newsom (Cosmia), collectively? It's interesting, I'll grant that; but it's music-major music, and not in a good way: it reminds me of atonal music in its unevenness and occasional beautiful phrasing. Her voice is so pinched out of shape, and her sense of meter is so odd--it's like Björk without the power or compelling sweep.

Yes, it is amazing that Zach Conden of Beirut (The Gulag Orkester) is only twenty; but does that mean that a full CD of Eastern European brass is amazing music? It does not. And yet I've heard "amazing" so much about this CD that you'd think I'd been listening to Tom Cruise.

Sufjan Stevens (All The Trees of the Field Will Clap Their Hands): This one, I just don't get; it must be a cultural phenomenon, but I am so tired of twee and sensitive and sluggish. Sufjan more than the others has the occasional successful song, and I understand that his shows are Flaming Lips-esque in their theatricality, but really, can we be done now?

It's not that I hate Destroyer (Your Blood) exactly; it's enjoyable in a jangly, raffish-hobo kinda way, but . . . why is it on everyone's list of bests? There's shrieking and howling, and guitar strings that sound like cats; it's not brilliant.

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18 December 2006

Best Songs of 2006

Okay! Finally, somebody did a best-of that I could emulate. Best songs is just so much easier than best albums; the tricky question of whether to assess the album as an artistic whole, or based on the quality of the individual songs therein, doesn't arise. At first this makes the task seem more manageable than a best albums list, which it isn't, since technically the possible entries have just been multiplied by--how many tracks do albums have these days?--somewhere between one and fifty-six.

In no particular order, because I can't possibly do that. . .

Regina Spektor - On the Radio: The contrast between its flowing verses and staccato chorus is well done; and try as I might to convince myself that the verses are trite and hackneyed, they still sound wise and lovely in a refreshingly simple way.

Amy Millan - Baby I: You knew her voice was going to be a pleasure; what you didn't know is that her songwriting was going to be so strong. Or maybe that's just me. It's the perfect breakup song, swinging between bravado and clear-eyed melancholy.

Final Fantasy - Song Song Song: Who would have thought one violin and one dude would be so layered and dynamic?

KT Tunstall - Under the Weather: It's not her breakout hit "Cherry Tree," but in some ways it's better: what Norah Jones might have been with a little more creativity and energy.

Gothic Archies - Scream and Run Away: Okay, so it's a bit of a gimmick; it's still brilliantly addictive electropop.

Emily Haines - Nothing & Nowhere: Emily Haines as part of Metric does some of the sharpest, most elegant rock around, so it's a bit of a surprise to hear such deep sentiment; but it never crosses the line into saccharide.

Neko Case - Margaret vs Pauline: This one is practically obligatory--although the album as a whole is no weaker than this song. That's remarkable.

The Never - Cavity: The lyrics and the desperate catchiness of the song give it depth and persistence; what else could you want?

Casey Dienel - Everything: Tough call between this and Doctor Monroe for Casey; but Everything won out for its sweetly-toned jumpiness--which, come to think of it, reminds me of Regina Spektor.

Up Next: Music Conspicuously Not Featured--Beirut, Sufjan Stevens, Destroyer, Joanna Newsom.

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R.E.M. Bootleg

There's a very impressive R.E.M. bootleg from 1981 at rbally--it's a nice opportunity to hear R.E.M. from an era when Michael Stipe hadn't yet endorsed the cancer-patient look and R.E.M. hadn't yet morphed into mellow sweetrock. My favorite track's gotta be Gardening at Night, partially because of the title, and partially because of the intervals of vocal harmony, which contrast nicely with the drive of the rest of the song.

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15 December 2006


There are things I know make me more likely to enjoy music--although they don't necessarily make it better; just techniques for which I have a soft spot.

First: Vocal harmony (Kings of Convenience, say, Gold In the Air of Summer). Maybe this comes from listening to classical music and medieval antiphonal chants as a kid, but I am a dead sucker for vocal harmony.

Second: Strings in electronica (Her Space Holiday - Tech Romance). Putting strings in an electronica context just seems to make the timbre of both that much clearer, more distinct, sweeter; and since electronica is usually safe from being saccharine, it keeps the strings from going over that line, too.

Third: Cyclical instrumentation (The Low-lows-Dear Flies, Love, Spider; anything by Tool). This, I just like: it's power that doesn't need to shout to make itself compelling. It's the easiest of the three to make into a cheap trick, I think.

None of them necessarily make the music creative, but it does generally make it something I want to listen to; and it's interesting to try and think about techniques that I enjoy as separate from the quality of the music. It's sort of the opposite of Cassandra Wilson--I approve of her wholeheartedly, she's very cool: I just don't enjoy her music; these techniques are enjoyable, but alone, they don't make the music in which they feature anything other than enjoyable.

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14 December 2006

Kaki King @ Club Passim

Bora Yoon opened up last night, with a performance-arty, loop-heavy set; her use of found sound was creative, but didn't always work--cell phones yes, windchimes no. There were some very lovely and meticulously layered constructions, and some unsuccessful theatricality; but overall she was a good opener, as they often are at Passim.

Kaki King was an interesting show. Her vocal style is one I can't often take happily song after song: whispery, silky and wispy as babyhair. Given the amount of cooing and fluting in indie music right now, I wouldn't be surprised if she did well despite that; it doesn't hurt that her stage presence is effortless, wry, offbeat, and charming, either. In this show at least, she wisely focused more on instrumental numbers. An Elliot Smith cover seemed a logical choice, as they're whispery kin; the vocals on Yellowcake (off of the new Until We Felt Red) somehow work, too, maybe because the rolling, lush guitar contrasts to the wispy vocals. She's an interesting and compelling guitarist, particularly on the dobero, although some instrumental numbers seem like they'd be lackluster recorded, when the counterintuitive technical tricks are invisible. Overall it seems like thinking music--not pensive, but showing practical creativity, an inventive mind working with dextrous hands.

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10 December 2006

Sonya Kitchell & Ben Taylor @ Paradise

Sonya Kitchell was second opener for Ben Taylor at Paradise last night, and an unfortunate opener she was. Something about her vocal style is flat--maybe her vocal dynamics, maybe her hesitancy to enter into a melodic phrase--and she has neither the stage presence nor the musical chops to handle the classical stylings she takes on.

This is particularly unfortunate juxtaposed with Taylor, who has the songwriting skill as well as the pipes to go up against nearly anyone. Even when he doesn't write the songs, he chooses well; a cover of Mos Def's Favorite Nitemarewas one of his most effective songs, with its lovely, unsettling flow complementing Taylor's smooth, reedy voice. Enjoyable live tricks like singing harmony to his own, ellipsized melody make it clear that he's a comfortable, mature vocalist, and his stage presence is remarkable--one of the few performers I've seen able to induce quiet in the club crowd for a sweeter, unrollicking tune, and effortlessly no less.

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09 December 2006

Flotsam & Jetsam

There's an interview with Richard Edwards of Margot & the Nuclear So-and-So's over at Things I'd Rather Be Doing; like most interviews about music or with musicians, it suffers from the dancing about architecture problem, and solves this by talking about things peripheral to the actual music: the band's living arrangements, the band's name, and "scarf rock." It's certainly not a bad interview, but I'm not sure it's about music.

Explosions in the Sky is touring later this winter--tickets for the March Boston show went on sale three days ago. Am I wrong, or is that an unusually long lead time for the Middle East Down?

Largehearted Boy has a list of lists: the best-of-2006 from everywhere. I'm no good at remembering the difference between the music that happened to me this year, and the music that happened this year; if I get inspired maybe I'll make a best-of for that.

It seems that Stephen Colbert has counter-challenged the Decemberists? I may have to make an effort and watch that.

Not music-related, but the on-beyond-superlative comic Preacher is finally to be made into an HBO series; I don't know if I'm ecstatic, or terrified. Both, I suppose; if it's bad, I'll have to hunt down and kill Mark Steven Johnson--or get in line to, anyway.

Imogen Heap has done a bit about what she's listening to now on NYT.

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Earworm: Emily Haines - Our Hell

Devastating, gentle, heartsick, graceful, equivocal, regretful: Our Hell is a blow to the chest, disguised as the first track on Knives Don't Have Your Back. How does she manage to sound so sad without being sentimental?

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07 December 2006

Virtuoso Performance: Regina Spektor

Okay, I give up entirely; I'm going to have to retitle this blog All Regina All the Damn Time; I find her such a compelling, versatile, expressive performer, at once sweet and acidic, vintage and sharply new, that, well, let's just say I'm running out of new images to use. Recently found a live performance from The Cabaret Voltaire in Edinburgh, on Good Weather for Airstrikes, and Consequence of Sound from the unfortunately unfindable Songs has just bowled me over. It's a virtuoso performance: angular and graceful by turns, syncopated and strange as Bjork contrasting with interludes of velvety flowing piano phrases, dexterous and funny. She'd best hang around and give us some more--and somebody had best bring out another run of Songs.

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Earworm: Primus - My Name is Mud

I'm not the Primus fanatic several of my friends are. I don't declare Les Claypool a god--but I will declare him a remarkably talented bassist. Most of Primus is not too my taste, but My Name is Mud, with its wooden baseline, gets Earworm status pretty regularly.

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04 December 2006

Daytrotter Free Song Set: William Elliot Whitmore

William Elliot Whitmore is one of those (numerous) artists I keep meaning to keep up with, and now Daytrotter's done it for me with one of their free sets.

Maybe it was the number of names, or the names themselves, or their oddly mellifluous quality, but I expected something quite different--subdued colors and gleaming whites like a Whistler painting, but what I found was dust, stubble, and banjo strings. Once I got used to what I found, I liked it--Dry is unquestionably my favorite, both musically and because of his comment about it:

I’m really proud of this song too. I wrote this when I first started working on my cabin. I was cold and disoriented every morning in my freaky, silver trailer. There were these blackbirds that have this real unorthodox song. It started penetrating my dreams. It’s a crazy song, but it’s beautiful too. The bluebird can sing, but the crow’s got the soul.

His new CD is Song of the Blackbird, and Chariot is my favorite there--an odd mixture of the grisly darkness of sound that Tom Waits has traded on, and the swaying, uplifting vibe of a revival chorus. It's nice to find somebody that uses the traditions of Southern music intelligently and clearly, instead of jumping on the (admittedly appealing!) alt-country bandwagon.

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01 December 2006

Earworm: Rogue Wave - Publish My Love

I remember that my brother, as a small boy, got his head stuck between porch railings; I think my mother used butter to get him out.

This song is stuck like that.

Rogue Wave - Publish My Love from Descended Like Vultures

Rogue Wave has a particularly pressing claim on your money, too: Pat Spurgeon needs a new kidney. Hear it direct from the kidney in an interview with Lemony Snickett/Daniel Handler, and then donate.

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Trend: Sharp Girlrock

I'm sure it's my selection bias, but I keep running into sharp, elegant girlrock these days. It started out with Metric, but now Roh Delikat is joining up, and I can only approve--and wish they'd tour together.

Roh Delikat's 10 Brand is every bit as stylish, bombastic and addictive, with echoing, cyclic interludes that sound almost like Tool; Laudanum is hazier, less focused, less aggressive, gathering momentum as it goes and then starts releasing suddenly and sweetly. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go buy Sunny . . .

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