Thursday, July 30, 2009

Caspian - Tertia (so so good)


Pretty much guaranteed as Record of the Month in August (one month ahead of time) over at the Silent Ballet, I wrote up why:  

Tertia is as essential and riveting as the wind in the trees, a woman smiling on a summer day, staring eye-to-eye with a predatory creature.  Far surpassing any of their previous work, Caspian treat the willing listener to a rock narrative that bleeds, cries, empathizes and above all triumphs with every note and production choice.  The compositional  intelligence on Tertia is simply stunning as the band move passionately from supremely melodic guitar mythologies to gracefully reserved piano and vibraphone suites to tidal waves of distortion.  From the secret clearing in the woods at the beginning to the heroic gallop at the finish, there is a special quality to the stories Caspian have woven here, every song a superb piece of balance and emotional performances.  There are clearly defined stories to engage in over and over.  One of those rare albums that breathes and suffers with whatever you are doing.  Coming from someone who shrugged at their other albums, I am proud to have been converted to say that Tertia is an instant classic and one of the best instrumental albums of the decade.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Gifts From Enola

How much virtuous throttling can one tiny stage take? Put six men from Virginia in the corner of the short-ceilinged Sunset Tavern in Ballard and you might not see a more amazing, skull opening performance. I feel like every night in the city there is one show you could go to that would far surpass all the other shows available. Not many people came to see Gifts From Enola open for other local instrumental acts Joy Wants Eternity and Misery Love Company, but there were enough on hand to justify such a livid and inspiring performance.

The Enola Gay was one of the American planes that dropped an atomic bomb on Nagasaki, and though their cheeky moniker is befitting of their epic, angular guitar brigade, Gifts From Enola started their show by giving the gift of ear plugs. Guitarist and keyboardist Tim Skirvin offered up a couple extra pairs of the precious ear foam before all five members leapt into their opener. They were collectively swaying and stomping, heads and beards darting betwixt each other, and firing each other up. It was an infectious beginning, one that fired this writer up to dance.

Highlights from the show included the monstrous Trieste, the twelve-minute center-piece off their brand new From Fathoms disc (the vinyl version of which is so premium and beautiful). With as many movements as a three act play, the band moved between pretty interplay among the three guitars, dreamy neck-hammering over synth washes, gigantic metal assaults complete with off-the-mic screams from bassist Nate Dominy, and momentous rock jams that contain a wealth of dynamism. This band can play! The sound inside The Sunset Tavern was average, but the guys from GFE later said their sound on stage was the clearest of their large North American tour.

Gifts From Enola impress with their stagemanship; no song is left to hang. Sound and sonic detail is constant as they move through a set. Silence was used as a tool, not a chance to catch one’s breath. They even brought a lighting artist with them on tour, further boosting the stage presence. LJ Stank, they call him, and he is just as into the music as the players, bobbing and thrashing at his console. At one point he changed shirts without anyone noticing. They finished with the album closer Aves, which climaxes with over-the-horizon guitar worshiping and all-together-now vocal harmonies. It’s just so incredible to be in such a small space and witness such a great band absolutely destroy. Who knew? More people ought to. Gifts From Enola are genuine, passionate artists that deserve to be heard.

My new music bud Nikki, of the Silent Ballet, filmed this show and has provided a video as well as my review on her blog, The Seattle Show gal. Take a look at it, especially if you are a Seattlite who enjoys going to shows. She has quite a thorough thing going. Here's the link to my piece and a video of the killer song "Trieste" by Gifts From Enola.

Monday, July 27, 2009

múm - Sing Along To Songs You Don't Know

Read my entire review at The Silent Ballet

Overall the recordings sound great - several tracks have unique outros or transitions that make this a really interesting and organic experience.  Listening to this band is always a look into a magical place like Santa's toy shop.  But again, múm have sort of imposed their own plateau upon themselves with their choice to appeal to the child within.  As if they feel like they have to play this music, it's hit or miss, (made more difficult with all the band member changes they've had over twelve years). I just find that certain bands, like the Notwist or the Flaming Lips, are more effective in their attempts to convert a sad joyfulness into the electronic-graced rock song, landing these Icelandic folks into a less-pronounced role as the subdued sibling.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

File Under "G": Grouper at the Church

My weekend was quite busy.  I finished building our family chicken coop (for chickens, not families) on Saturday and then went to see Grouper.  On Sunday the family drove down to Seattle to take in the sun and the lake with some friends before I went out to see Gifts From Enola tear shit up at the Sunset Tavern.  
The Grouper show is, in my opinion, a model show for the future. Artists like Sufjan Stevens and Joanna Newsome have played in St. Andrews-Wesley Church before, but this was the first show I've attended there.  The space features mock 14th-century-style Gothic tower, a high vaulted nave, deep transepts and nice stained glass.  Watching the sunset through those panes of Christ was actually really nice, for being inside.  It was dark in there.  But that's the way the artists wanted it.  

Openers Diadem, a male /female tandem, produced a very eclectic ambient piece for about 25 minutes.  The only light coming from a shaded lamp behind them.  Vocals thrown through a chaos pad, electronic circuitry and effects made to sound like bells and chimes, and a constantly shifting ambient terrasphere made their music one of CHANGE.  Constantly morphing, the music never went anywhere, but was interesting nonetheless.  

Not long after (and thankfully putting an end to the tasteful but way-too-loud house music) Empty Love, another man-woman combo, began climbing their little pyramid.  They turned the lights low and were illuminated by a series of colored circles, scanning across the stage right to left.  Nice mood.  The lady began some repetitive guitar pluckery that seemed to drag after a while as the fellow teased with subtle ambient touches.  Julia laid down in the pew, hed on my lap, and yeah I was starting to get the same impression.  Time to pass out.  I leaned forward, head on pewback (word?) and started to realize that I had drank Kratom tea before the show, which ever-so-slightly changes your angle on perception.  Before I knew it, the drone had exploded into an ocean-sized swell of staircased digital fuzz, undulating and breathing with life!  Well done, people.  And just like that, it was over.

Liz Harris meandered on and off stage in her capris jeans for a while.  She sat in her chair in front of her pedals and slung on her guitar, took it off; She did this several times.  The beginning of her set was constantly in question.  When she did start, I wasn't sure if I should believe, but there is no mistaking someone sing clearly into a crushing electronic fog, looping her voice three times into a complex harmony, all the while keeping time with some simple lower register guitar work.  This was one of the highlights of the whole performance, but I should note that the performance as a whole is how to take in Grouper.

Liz Harris apparently doesn't like to play live shows, at least not a lot of them.  Playing outside of Portland is a rare occurrence, so Julia and I snatched up tickets immediately upon hearing about the show, even though we were close to broke.  Now we aren't broke, and seeing the show was a special, a residual treat from the days when we were making a lot of very little.  (It's not like we're bling-blingin' now, but go with me here)  Grouper is similar in her approach to performance.  Bare-bones in set-up, with a flickering black-&-white projection shown all over the stage, she builds and builds colossal sound-scapes, peppered with tons of reverb that piles on top of itself so much that new, un-intended rhythms and effects surface, making for a very dense kind of music.  You can pick and choose what area of this sonic soup to listen to.  Or if you were like us, you trance out in your church pew, eyes closed, completely aware of the music.

We never fell asleep.  We were conscious the entire time, but we were definitely between dreams and being awake.  It was extremely surreal, to come back to the space and realize how incredible the sound was, little Liz up on stage with her black hair in her face, somberly unpeeling her lips toward oblivion.  Something about her performance was totally holy.  She said thank you once, but she never seemed to want anything from us.  She just wanted to give and then be done, go rest.  

Grouper is not typical drone music, and yet we can't help but call it that.  It is engaging to witness played live, far surpassing most of the platitudes offered by other drone artists.  It's because Harris is using what all popular acts get famous on:  Melody.  Beneath the tumultuous seas of her fuzz and reverb, there are songs.  And good ones.  It's the melodies that drift up like souls escaping to heaven, lasting as the pieces you remember long after it's over.  Grouper in a church makes so much sense!  I want to see more shows like this.  Sigur Ros always has said they'd prefer to play in spaces like that, for it is more befitting of their music.  As I grow tired of these rock and roll crowds (see the ISIS review below) I am looking for different kinds of performances, an intimacy that seems lacking in shows these days.  This show satisfied that desire on multiple levels.  Plus we left our baby at home.  It was the perfect date.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Starving Weirdos - Into An Energy

Read my entire review at The Silent Ballet

This album is a great place to start exploring their large catalogue and free drone in general. Their other work is glorious and dense in similar ways, butInto an Energy feels very complete, with megalithic, burgeoning sinews of narrative. The Starving Weirdos say they are "a wild and desperate style music band. Obstinate recluses attracted to mystery." Statements like these really fire me up over people making music. They reveal but a sliver of insight, but they imply total immersion in one's craft, hinting that they will forever expand their creative thresholds for the good of the lattice of human consciousness. Support music like this!

Sunday, July 5, 2009


In two week's time I will be seeing Grouper play live in a giant stone church in Vancouver, and then the next day I hope to see Gifts From Enola in Seattle. Then go back to work the next morning in Vancouver. The Grouper show is most intriguing, as Liz Harris and some friends will be filling St. Andrew Wesley's Church (which I used to live next to) in downtown Van with their reverb-soaked melodies and atmospheres. It's going to be very interesting. Perhaps holy. At this stage, however, the only thing certain is that the tickets to the show are really cool. Check these out. Most of the time, tickets are boring and, well, you know what they look like. This one has some design and style, with grooved paper and hand-numbering on the back. It feels nice to hold. There will be a different weight and meaning to handing this ticket over to someone at the door to enter the show. Maybe I don't want to give it up!