Saturday, May 31, 2008

New Grails Record

There is a new Grails record. It took me by surprise. Just thought I'd mention it, for anyone who, by chance, looked at this site. "Burning Off Impurities," their last one, was so damn good, I can't imagine how they have progressed now.

This one is called "Take Refuge In Clean Living" which is some kind of reference to Jesus making beds and tables, I think. You know: How Jesus made beds (he was a carpenter?) that, for the first time, were off the ground, so we didn't sleep in the cockroaches and germs, the squalor. Same with tables and our meals. I dunno. that's what i thought of first. And with their Eastern tinges coloring their music, I imagine this could be the reference. Doesn't matter. Maybe all Grails are saying is, Brush your teeth.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Jean-Francois Laporte - "Soundmatters"

It's hard to talk about an album like this without smelling of pretension. Beholding a series of sound pieces that are as physical and minimal as these leaves words looking suspicious and unnecessary. But this album is just so cathartic. You must hear it.

Jean-Francois Laporte
is a French-Canadian. What does that have to do with anything? Not much, except that it helps me bone up on my French while I peruse liner notes. This man works with drones, but not like a lot of these artists who use computers. All of Laporte's source material is live instrumentation or "machine coaxing," like on the epic 26-minute "Mantra" which is a recording of this man miking an air compressor on an ice rink and subtly altering valves and piping or placing metal discs over vents to create these sick-ass timbres. And just to make sure it's not as easy as putting a microphone next to your lawnmower, this guy did over 200 takes just to get it right.

The result is divine, really. So relaxing. You know how sometimes you notice that your fridge is actually singing, and has been all its life? Sometimes it gets on your nerves, but what if you put that refrigerator in a cavernous space like an ice rink? It could sound pretty good. Laporte suggests that the machines of our post-industrial era create constant mantras that surround us, and when listened to in a revised perspective they can actually achieve transformative and meditative properties.

Jean-Francois doesn't merely play the prepared air compressor, no. The first track on this album is all wind recordings from an ice storm in Montreal. The second is really pretty, in that post-industrialization way. The third track "Dans Le Ventre Du Dragon" has him using a self-made instrument that has a series of car alarms and trumpet bells all controlled with foot pedals (that are attached to the bits that do the blowing). The idea is that one can blow a horn for an indeterminate amount of time and really let it ring out. To demonstrate how awesome this can sound, Laporte recorded this track in the hull of an abandoned ocean tanker. Where does one book an empty ocean liner to record? Dude's got connections. I actually used this track in a film to accentuate the awesome mass of the Giant Sand Dunes in Colorado. The echoes and rich, bellowing tones are just awesome to listen to.

The album takes pieces recorded between 1997 and 2005, all of which seemed to have won "prizes" at different music conventions around the world. I guess that means this music is "serious music." When you create a foot pedal horn entourage machine and can win worldly competitions, you are definitely serious. The album is beyond all of this talk talk. It is entirely meditative. I just listened to it in my living room at a good volume and I was totally into it. I sometimes imagine someone breaking into my house, only to enter and hear magnificent sounds such as these, thus confusing him long enough to club him in the head with my crowbar.

Jean-Francoise Laporte's music can help you nab burglars. That's what I'm saying. If you're curious what other "serious music" sounds like. Check out the label this album is on: 23five. Among the other artists are Francisco Lopez, Coelacanth and Steve Roden. There's a ton more you've never heard of, doing things no one has thought of. Pretty fascinating and Nerd-O-rama.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Portishead - "Third"

This record is way better than I thought it would be. First off, the fact that this band exists rings of phenomenon. I can't believe there were nay-sayers on this album. Thoughtless drivel, it most certainly was.

Each song on this album is so different from the last, which is an automatic distinction from previous records. And yet, it maintains a very Portishead aroma throughout, while taking me places we've never gone together. It's a bit "less polished," and Portishead sounds like a real band in an actual place, playing music. The bland album title and cover and lack of lyrics were all forgiven once I delved into the music. Enshrouded in that familiar sea-green, smokey Portishead gossamer, Third is macabre carnival, folk song revival, 8-bit ballad, dominatrix dancehall and that tasteful, dreamy gloom that makes this band so special.

It's the adventurous variation from song to song that makes this such an exciting listen. I get chills often, and from completely different kinds of songs. "Machinegun" was the single, which is amazing considering the very un-mom-friendly, blown out, off-kilter drum machining that dominates the song. The video is actually cool to watch if you're into hypnosis, as we get to see Adrian Utley pound drum pads with drum sticks. Once I got past the gatekeeper that is the beat of this song (and it does challenge one's perception of "Portishead song") I was totally hypnotized. The other video for "The Rip" is amazing, fully animated pencil drawings. There's a higher quality version on the Portishead site, but it requires registration, and you can see it here:

Even after all the experimentation and seemingly random musical twists, there are several songs that are vintage Portishead, mostly . . . kind of. They cast that night sky glow, but then there's some strange visitor in the form of either a blown-out guitar line for four seconds or a turntable wah-wah-grind that keeps you on your guard. I think this record is definitely darker, even for Portishead, and it is showcased in the lyrics and guitar lines. But each element, even the raw-sounding ones, are placed just right, and after my initial listen I was anticipating those "ugly" parts to come in that one glorious time. The album makes me think of drinking bitters and tea on the roof of a skyscraper at sunrise, while smoke from riots the night before is dissipating. Third's songs are the folkish stories from some apocalyptic menage.

There's a great interview with the two dudes in Portishead (Adrian and Geoff Barrow, the guitar player) at Pitchfork. They have a sensibility that my friends and I share about making music. So it's "great" in that they think like us.

Radio Head Games and Douchebags

Julia and I were really poor for a few weeks. Our contractor at the Children's Hospital was over a month overdue in paying us. We were fortunate to get a healthy tax break back from Canada this Spring, otherwise we'd be borrowing money right now or dipping into savings. During this drought, as I try to become Canadian and have a baby, I learned of Radiohead's coming to town. I didn't have any money for these pricey tickets. But now that I do, I'm surfing craigslist. This was my first attempt a couple days ago:

He was initially offering for $50 or best offer. I don't know what I did wrong. All I know is that Julia will kill me if I die before seeing Radiohead play. She's having a baby and insisting I see the band. So I continue my search and email this next guy, who I thought was selling two tix for 140 dollars. But then I realize he's selling them each for 140 and emailed him back saying no thanks. I thanked him for doubling the ticket price, as well, which was a mildly inflammatory thing to say, but it rendered a response:
Clearly I was in the wrong, so I tried to expand my threshold for financial bleeding. It's definitely recommended to buy a concert ticket as soon as they go on sale, especially for Radiohead. That way you don't have to deal with douchebags like this fellow. Wait a tic -- Let's analyze his BS reply. He'd pay $500 to see Radiohead, but that's his ceiling. He seemed to be suggesting that great experiences like going to this show really have no price tag. But $500 was all he was willing to shill out. AND he would fly to London to do it. Let's see,

Seems the cheapest flight I can find rings just under $1500 before taxes. Lucky for him it's a non-stop flight. So we're talking two grand at this point with this fellow, all for Thom and Johnny and the gang. His true fandom would be tested. It's not like Thom is going to know about all the hard work and hard cash this upstanding man put in just to see him play for a couple hours. That's dedication.

I made sure to let my new friend know about it, too.
And you know Jack Johnson would do it, too, because he's a cool dude, unlike this scalper assclown. You know a response is warranted after this email. I'm picking a fight now, look at me go. His reply was surprisingly, but uselessly, informative:
Not a scalper by trade, perhaps, but by habit? At least he put some effort and research into his reply. Good man. But, clearly a dead end for me. The next person I emailed had E-tickets at $100 each, and it seemed that she (Rebecca of the Kato Group) lived in a central time zone. Not even in Vancouver. What's the first rule of Craigslist?
Right. I am hoping that this search turns out well . . .

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Tom Waits interviews Himself, the Devil

So there's this guy named Tom Waits and he's crazy. He interviewed himself and talked about things that scare him and such. He also revealed that he's playing The Devil in Terry Gilliam's next film that comes out next year. Depp's in it, too. Jude Law. Some other folks. I thought Tom Waits was the Devil's Messenger, so perhaps he's been casted ironically?

Eric Malmberg - "Verklighet & Beat"

Julia and I listen to this album when the sun shines. We took a trip out to Langley on transit, and it was more than an hour both ways. I brought a splitter so we could both enjoy music. Verklighet & Beat (read: Reality and beat) brought on the aural kaleidoscope and colored our sunny journey home.

Each song's principle melody is timeless. I swear I've heard it before. I check the previous song to see if maybe the melody had been used earlier in the album, but no, this one is different. It's sort of like a soundtrack to something you do habitually, like cleaning your kitchen or taking a walk in the woods. You never do it quite the same way or see the same things each time.

Eric Malmberg plays the Hammond Organ; you know, that warm, shimmering surface of a lake sounding organ. The one that psychs up a Toronto Maple Leafs crowd between face-offs. One song sounds like a soundtrack to a 1950's spy movie in Europe, and the next sounds like a paper Chinese dragon on fire hurtling through a psychedellic worm hole of trumpets and martial drums. There's marching drums on the album, but they never sound grim. Think, rather, of a Pokemon celebration parade, but not scored by underpaid, underfed Japanese composers. These pieces have full orchestra and percussion; a really full band sound. It's a menagerie, and at times it squiggles and stomps so much that it's cause to grin and dance wildly.

Malmberg was part of a famous organ/drum duo called Sagor & Swing before he went all solo. He’s also the author of the comic Happy Hammond in Slumberland. His melodies are minor key, and yet sound very positively charged. He seems pretty happy. I mean, look at his picture. He looks pretty blissed out. Those flowers behind him? He's creating them with his mind. Eric Malmberg makes flowers grow with his mind. That, I think, is captured on this record.

He's also Swedish, which can help explain. Sweden, despite the high taxes, is a wonderful place to be. I've been there. The air is cleaner than any air I've ever breathed. Global warming is scared of places like Sweden. Eric Malmberg is likely fighting off global warming with his own warm shuffling and shimmering organ pieces. Let's just say it right now: Verklighet & Beat is anti-global warming and comes highly recommended.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Mystery Sea and Pregnancy: Part I

May I draw your attention to a really cool record label? It is called Mystery Sea. Music on this label is going to be the soundtrack to my baby's home birth.

Each release (of which there are close to 50) is limited to 100 copies and somehow fits into a focus on "Night-Ocean Drones". Every disc is impeccably designed and packaged, even though it's a CD-R label. Yes, CD-R labels; they exist. In fact, each album would run you around $18 to buy (and it's in England so you have to get them shipped across the Atlantic or get them from a savvy record store over here). CD-R's at $20 sounds pretty ludicrous, but the quality of the music on the label pretty much makes me forget money was involved.

The first album I got (through Aquarius Records, of course) was by a Russian sound duo called Exit In Grey. Russian drone guitarists. Yup. It makes sense, really: Night ocean drones coming from the colder parts of the world, like Russia. The music could easily act as a soundtrack to exploring a deep-sea shipwreck and hallucinating(?) a forest there within the cannonballed hull. Exit in Grey use guitars and field recordings, mostly, to get their sound. There's even a woodpecker sample buried deep in the mix at one point. Apparently beetles are also featured somewhere on the album, but I am not sure how to pick those out.

Julia and I sleep to this record. Sometimes the "Night" part of the Ocean Drone thing can be a bit too dark for her taste, and if it so happens that Julia protests the inklings of a couple of Russian nerds, I immediately go for our stand-by night-time lullaby composers Stars of the Lid. Julia thinks that while she gives birth in our home in a couple months she could listen to Stars of the Lid and ocean drones constantly. Given that we're going to do the birth submerged in water the Mystery Seas are a perfect match, theoretically. So I have ordered four more Mystery Seas along with a bunch of other delightful drone albums to sooth Momma as she shrugs and heaves with the Universe this July. Thanks, Russia et all.

Speaking of deep sea wreckage, have you heard the music of Light Of Shipwreck? Totally killer oceanic percussion-doused ambiance. Let it wash over you.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Albert Hoffmann

Albert Hoffmann, creator/discoverer of the molecule known as LSD died on April 29th. He was 102 years old! I wanted to thank Albert for all the hard work he put into his craft, his education of people concerning responsible use of psychedelics, and for all the music I love that he vicariously helped influence. Maybe, Albert, you can visit me in my sleep.

Nine Inch Nails - The Slip

I know no one reads this, and anyone who sees this entry already knows about this. And I know Trent Reznor is not the most prolific musical artist out there releasing albums (see Aidan Baker, Machinefabriek, etc), but this Free NIN album is pretty unprecedented. Considering that Year Zero had so much (very creative) hype leading up to it under the huge label, it's so crazy to have two NIN albums in a year released without warning.

Now that Trent isn't on a label, he somehow feels comfortable releasing music for free? I don't understand except that I love that. "This one's on me," he says. Considering how many songs this guy has written under the NIN formula, writing songs must come pretty easy now. He can probably release an album each season with all the dudes helping him mix and write. I don't mind. He might try to get some other singers together for the next one. Trent's voice isn't bad, but he's not trying anything new with it (again). On The Fragile he tried so many new things with his voice. He went for a jazzy approach often at times, and on this album it sounds like, well, year Zero 2.6 or With Teeth 13. Although I do love the "oohs" on "Discipline." They remind me of a gay cowboy jumping through his own spinning lasso to the beat. The culmination of parts at the climax of "Demon Seed" is also great.

Still, (heh) while it all sounds nice, it covers a lot of the same sonic territory as the last couple "normal" Nails albums (Ghosts the exception). It's as if Trent likes to sing when there's a crumbling disco beat, but not if there's banjo. Come on, figure it out! Remember when you listened to Downward Spiral or The Fragile and you thought you were somewhere? There is a landscape to those records. Year Zero did it pretty well, too. The layers were way more mysterious. This one starts going somewhere with the instrumental pieces in the latter half, but then we're back at the Crowbar in track 10 (albeit a more subterranean, good jam) . I guess that's the landscape then: End of the world experienced in a discotecque, with occasional , quieter bathroom breaks -- a year zero b-sides dance/mope-a-thon, if you will.

I think Trent will be transcending the whole "record review" market with this move. I mean, why would anyone review the record on their sick ass hip music site? The only point of reading one is to assess whether or not you want to buy the album. And this one's free, so F that noise.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

The Elemental Chrysalis - The Dark Path to Spiritual Expansion

The first thing that strikes me about this band is that their sound is timeless. As if my parents played me this record while I was in the womb, only to lose it to the universe for me to find it almost 30 years later. Or maybe I'm just remembering God jamming on his thunder gong when I hear this band.

The Elemental Chrysalis self-described their music as "funeral doom", which is apt at times, but doesn't tell the whole story. The extensive list of instruments that supposedly make up all this sound is surprising to read after hearing such a seamlessly conceived world of tree knots, incantations, the march of ants, satyrs' late night escapades, faery war stories, the cold morning sun striking the hull of a still-steaming cauldron, fresh with magic from the night before. It all flows together so nicely. With many a plucked guitar and accompanied by a plethora of ambient percussion and noise, this music evokes the forest and some unknown spawn of Wicca. And it's what you'd expect with track names like "A Banshee's Blackened Wail" and "Jeweled Blue Waters Of A Slumbering Ocean."

The big change for this album as compared to the previous "The Calocybe Collection" is the addition of vocals. Chants. Poems. Spoken by wandering souls, wraiths, golems, and troubadours from a nigh-gone era. All of them adding a piece to a puzzle you either try to solve on your path to spiritual expansion or let swallow you whole as the spell takes its hold. The album sounds like a more realistic soundtrack to the Legend of Zelda, offering a darker, more emotional look into the burden that a fantasy hero might carry on his or her quest. And that's where these albums are so great; they aren't fantasy. This is the real deal. People are really playing the black cat ocarina (!), a fretless acoustic guitar and a bowed ocean harp (!!) right now, in your room! It's wonderful. This folk music is glorious and special, made just for you.

People who run their own music label work hard. There is no other (dark) path to success than being entirely passionate about your music and the music you help produce. All the pitfalls that come along are shouldered entirely by the creator of a small label. This fellow at Glass Throat Recordings and one half of T.E.C. named Chet Scott is an honest, caring human. His label creates beautiful artwork, and the sleeve for "The Dark Path To Spiritual Expansion" is no exception. A green/black over-sized gatefold with artwork by the other man who plays in the band, James Woodhead.

I emailed Chet to tell him that one of the two discs on this double disc album I bought (yes it's a double disker!) was inherently screwed up, in that one of the tracks wouldn't play. I told him how much I loved his music and that I wondered if there was a way I could download this one track. He replied the same day, upset with this problem, and offered to send me a brand new disc! What a guy. He also asked if I would send him the "bad" disc as proof for the inevitable battle with his presser, which I obliged. He was so concerned that I get a good copy of the album but also happy about our connection through the music.

The Elemental Chrysalis is good people