Monday, October 19, 2009

Nadja - Under The Jaguar Sun

Read my entire review on The Silent Ballet.

Like a Mexican food platter, Nadja's latest opus has options.  I love habanero pepper salsa on a taco, but when it becomes oppressively spicy, I need antidotes like sour cream and fresh lime to soothe my burning mouth.  If I'm busy listening to Nadja, which usually means being consumed by alien guitar distortion and slow, plodding metal drums, sometimes I want out.  As blissed-out as Aidan Baker and Leah Buckareff can make their slow motion sludge, the mind occasionally changes gears before the music stops.  Under The Jaguar Sun is the umpteenth release from these dream-doom veterans, but it is the first that offers up a platter of devastating heat and cool, ambient refreshment, as the album features two, count 'em, two CDs to be played simultaneously!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

MONO - Live - HFS!

Having a ticket for a show almost four months in advance is pretty crazy.  Every day is a chance to lose the thing, even when it's magnetically fixed to your fridge, not far from the desperate grasp of a compulsive, exploratory elfin warrior, such is my son.  Everest never got to my ticket, but in the end it turns out I didn't even need it, since Nikki the Seattle Showgal talked to Taka a couple days before and got me and a guest on MONO's backstage list.  So I ended up selling my ticket, briefly talking with Taka to thank him, and witnessing one of the most inspiring shows I've ever seen.
I brought Jon with me, who being fresh off a break-up and lonely, was a good candidate to surprise with this show.  He was having Thanksgiving with his former lady and a bunch of others, and I have a feeling I inadvertently saved him from that situation.  Too bad he missed Maserati, who were simply awesome.  My reaction to their records was tepid at best, but they are a formidable live act.  Jerry Fuchs, as advertised, is an incredible drumming machine.  People talk about this guy, but until you see how relentless he is, you know nothing.  The force with which he hits every snare and every other drum is HUGE, never letting up, no matter how many thousands have preceded the one in this moment.  Somehow he is as strong at the end as he is at the beginning of the set, maybe stronger.  And the band are attractive blokes with surgical skills on the delay.  Got my booty shakin'.  

This wasn't the type of opening band I was expecting for MONO, but it turned out to be perfect.  A little adrenaline preceding emotional catharsis, which is exactly what the Japanese rock group MONO are all about.  They are the champions of the quiet/loud/quiet post-rock, a style which has been all but played out.  MONO are a different breed however, because when they play, they go into a trance and experience absolute bliss.  Sometimes they see the audience, and sometimes not.  They are so involved in the music they make that they ignored their monitors catching on fire at the Montreal show during their first song.  Apparently they were so loud, equipment started smoking.  They finished "Ashes In The Snow" regardless.
I had the distinct pleasure of standing right next to Taka as he played.  At the Biltmore the sides of the stage have a cage along them, but you can look through and have a very intimate experience.  This man and his band are so passionate about music, it turns into a religious experience.  Hair in the face, facial expressions become moot, like MONO are black clad dolls programmed to slay the soul.  I hadn't ever been a huge fan of this band, but there is no doubt why they are so revered.  They are good and they are loud.

"Yearning" was a personal highlight, as I love You Are There as a whole album.  The guitar duet is so delicate at the beginning, it's like sad children playing on the rim of my eyelids, throwing balls of freedom into my tear ducts.  The explosion they launch into near the climax always catches me by surprise and I thought my spinal cord snapped in half when they got me again at the show.  SO LOUD.  Earplugs saved my life (and Jon's I reckon).  Wow are they loud.  Never get caught in front of MONO without them; You will be sorry. 

I was delighted to hear all the Hymn To The Immortal Wind material (sans orchestra) because I really hadn't appreciated it yet.  The songs are so strong and vivid, especially when Taka decides to get up and attack his guitar (like, karate chop it) because he felt like it.  And then later he's on the ground, reaching like a goner in the desert for his flange knob, geeking out in some holy way as he's splayed out for a couple minutes.  It would always take me by surprise when Taka or Yoda would stand up suddenly to really let their guitars have it.  I am not sure Taka even has a guitar strap, so he balanced it on his pelvis as he gyrated.  
This performance was so emotional and inspiring, it was like going to church (but for people who actually seek the divine, not some bland going-through-the-motions drudgery).   I had no idea it was going to be holy.  Wow.  If you expect holy, could be disappointed.  If you live holy, you live like MONO do on stage, because if there is one thing I will take from this it's that doing something half-assed isn't worth doing it at all.  Do what you love, or even better, love what you do, whatever it is.  If you give it all, you are going to be rewarded spiritually or in some other way.  Don't waste your time faking it for the Man or killing yourself with monotony.  GO LIVE, and live powerfully.  MONO might do a lot of build-build-climax-refrain in their songs, but imagine having cathartic movie moments 8 or 9 times in one night!  That's what they do every day on tour!  

There's an interview with Taka that Nikki did the following night (even mentions my name a couple times.  FUN!)  Watch the interview and some of their songs here.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Nadja - Live

A much-anticipated show, and I almost forgot to go.  I was busy playing with the family at our neighborhood block party, performing in the yearly gong show with Everest, drinking a La Fin du Monde.  I knew going into it that after a full day (soccer game included) it might be hard to muster up the energy to pull this off.  But it's Nadja.  They're heavy, but oh so chill.

Before seeing them I knew it was going to be a pretty lax show.  If you've ever heard a Nadja record  you know what you're in for.  Dense maelstroms of distorted guitars and alien effects all swirling and shimmery as a sloooooow, plodding drum beat pounds you into oblivion.  Metalgaze?  Ugh, horrible term.  Nadja are interesting because, even though Aidan Baker and Leah Buckaroff have refined their musical style to the point where they have many imitators, they never seem satisfied.  They releases so many albums (about one every two months on average) on different labels and in different formats it's probably hard even for them to keep up with what they've made.  And that's the straight-ahead attitude I've come to enjoy about a lot of my favorite artists.  Sure I love Tool, and I appreciate the fact that they take five years to craft their records.  But Aidan Baker seems to press the record  button, like, every week, and something good comes of it.

More proud than anything just to support these artists, I stepped into the Rickshaw Theater dressed as a dapper dan.  Fedora.  Overcoat.  Mexican wedding shirt.  This theater is very new, quite cavernous in size, especially when about 40 people come to a show.  Forty ain't bad, considering it was only announced a couple weeks prior.  I always wonder about the people who attend obscure shows like this.  Would I want to hang out with them?  I'd probably rather hang out with Aidan and Leah.  They are both fairly short and have understated personalities, I would learn after the show.

Nadja are not a big show.  They have visuals, which were humongous on top of the tall back wall.  They were really pretty, getting more colorful and complex as they played.  Aidan plays a guitar and a suitcase.  All his pedals and tubes and effects are stored inside this pudgy luggage that he sits atop a table.  Leah, meanwhile, plays her bass with her back to the audience.  I usually find this annoying, but it's probably a focus issue.  Nadja's music isn't so much "Let's do this together, audience" but more "Here is what we do" so it doesn't matter if you interact with the crowd.  

Most of the songs they played were from an album called "The Bungled and the Botched" which was released a couple years ago, very limited, on CD.  This year they released it more widely on vinyl.  I honestly didn't care for the songs, on the whole. There was one where they both were using violin bows to make their guitars creeeaaak and shimmer.  It was highly atmospheric, all kinds of sounds fluttering about.  While the plod was kickin', the drum machine didn't sound all that good.  A painful reminder that a live drummer would just be so much better.  There was even a drum kit on stage, and I still don't know why.  No one used it.  Such a tease.  

A lot of it was improvised amidst the general structure they had laid out.  Aidan, turns out, is a really good guitar player.  He was sometimes really wailing with his synthetic effects turned to the max, and was completely buried within the melee of sound.  Pretty cool.  Nadja go up there and do their thing.  Not really an ounce of showmanship between them.  They are not Sunn O))) with the robes and the lights.  It's two regular people conjuring massive sound via small means.  It's just great to see it happen, for once.  I wasn't blown away.  It was what I expected.  The best part was sitting on top of one of the bass-heavy speakers right in front of the stage, Leah's rippling low end massaging my spine.   But then I couldn't really hear much else.  So I had to move around, and depending on where I stood, things sounded quite different.  

After the show I chatted with Aidan and Leah as their albums sold like hotcakes.  I was determined to find out if they drink alcohol.  For my review of Under the Jaguar Sun I was hoping their answer was "no" because that would explain how they output so much music.  You gotta be organized!  I got my answer when someone came up to Leah and asked if he could buy her a drink as part of a trade for an album.  She said "Sour Goose on the rocks" like a pro.  I inquired further, and Leah said "Yeah, we love to drink."  Laughs.  Oh, I think.  Not that I think less of you, but how am I going to spin my writing now??  Dammit!  

Monday, October 5, 2009

Down Review-From Here, For Anyone

Read my entire review on The Silent Ballet

This EP brings to mind Plaid, a couple of producers who can write some pretty energetic, synthetic gems and totally captivate the human heart.  Down Review are trying to do this, but so far their first attempt runs more like a televised parade where everything goes according to plan.  There are no unexpected turns or anomalies in their world.  It's all very safe, making the nostalgic plateau they strive for seem a bit overzealous.  Compared to groups like the Abbasi Brothers, who play like children within their songs, Down Review are a bit stiff with their first EP, right down to the plain title.  One can imagine that given the broader scope of a full album, they might stretch their legs, take off their boots and let loose a bit.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Wooden Shjips - Phish phans beware

On a whjim I went to see this psych band from San Francisco.  Ok, it was more than a whim, but not by much.  I really hadn't listened to them ever, but they came highly recommended from Aquarius Records, down in S.F. and aside from being highly supportive of their local scene, AQ have amazing taste in music.  They are a big reason I am so knowledgeable now.

After some depressing Sunday Night Football, I took my intoxicated self a few streets away over to the Anza Club.  It took me at least ten minutes upon entering the quaint gymnasium-esque room to realize that the ambient music was being played by actual people.  They were on the floor, not the stage.  Ok.  The next band was local act Von Bingen, whose bassist is also Magneticring.  The bassist is my neighbor, Josh.  Julia and I often hear manic and groovy business coming out of his garage across the street, so it was great to be pleasantly surprised by an actual performance.  And wow, he's got a great bass synth sound going, feeding his axe through a pretty bulky analog something-or-other.  I wonder what his BC Hydro electric bill is like.  

Wooden Shjips are no-nonsense GROOVE.  Like, i mean, get in it, will you?! If I wasn't feeling as pedestrian and voyeuristic that evening, I would have been dancing up a storm so fierce that flowers would have bloomed in a crown over my hippie head.  It's not furious music, no, this is psychedelic rock to the core.  Simplistic drum beats and consistent bass riffs that hardly ever change supporting the mutational synthscape and the fuzz guitar wizard.  Oh, and vocals so echoey they sound like you are at one end of an abandoned airport and someone makes an announcement at the other end.  You get lost in this stuff, which means:  Very hard to play, despite the apparent simplicity.  You have to be focused or else you get lost.  And if you're lost the audience sure is, too.  One psych rock mis-step = the end of your psyching career!  

I am amazed, then, by drummers in bands like this.  How do they motivate?  Perhaps this drummer trances out, which is highly possible, and the best explanation.  The challenge comes not from the technical aspect, but in the stamina and focus department.  Bassist, too.  He rarely changes things up.  That is the nature of a jam band.  

Outside the club, I overheard some people talking about how this was the third straight Shjips show they had seen, this one the best show so far.  They were following Wooden Shjips, like they were Phish or the Dead.  Once you groove you can't stop, right?  If they get you once you just gotta get that groove back.  I was content to imagine my groove.  I moved a little bit, but it was pretty tame movement.  Very anglo of me.  Not next time, though.  Next time I will park my bike at home, and I will arrive at the show in a VW van wearing bell bottoms, sporting wizard's sleeves and a beard.  

Yeah, these guys are good.  Not usually my cup of tea, but definitely good.  Total worshjippable band.  And yet, unless you're in the mood, pretty bland to watch play.  Aging hippie types, unable to stop the groove.  Still recommended for dancing.