Saturday, January 30, 2010

Hildur Guðnadóttir "Opaque"

Hildur Guðnadóttir "Opaque" from Touch on Vimeo.

Jack Rose (1971 - 2009)

Jack Rose passed away this past December, and I didn't know until now. Almost two months later. He was an amazing ragtime, blues and Appalachian style guitarist, who often played the guitar on his lap. His notes per second count was pretty freakin' high. He was always smiling, and you can tell on his recordings that he loved to play and from his photos that he was happy with life. He died of a heart attack. Jesus. (kinda looked like a big jesus) I have listened a lot to his album Kensington Blues, which came out in 2005, I believe. His last album is coming out soon, titled Luck in the Valley. Craig over at the Silent Ballet wrote a nice review up about it, and it sounds like the best Jack Rose record to date. Can't wait to hear it. Sad to see such a nice man go. Here is that man playing "Kensington Blues":

And another:

Monday, January 25, 2010

Slow Six - Tomorrow Becomes You

This album is amazing. Christopher Tignor leads his band of merry Brooklynites through their second full-length, which is by all accounts a revelation. Groups like Rachels', Clogs, and Sunwrae deliver a neo-classicism colored by rock instruments, but none of these bands have released the DMT required to make such a divine integration like that of Slow Six. The band's compositions have a brilliant levity, jaunting spritely in odd time signatures, all the while sounding completely natural and loose. Spot-on technical drumming and intelligent guitar lines do pirouettes amidst Tignor's live electronic interpretations, while the fender rhodes and violin add dynamic lyrical elements. This stuff is leagues ahead of most of your garden variety post rock. If The Mercury Program are collegiate, Slow Six are chthonian.

I will post my TSB review of this after it's published (and written).

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

I've been translated into Russian!

Last year I did an interview with If These Trees Could Talk. Here is that interview in Russian! Cool!! How many people have their work transcribed in other languages? Huh, huh? Ok, probably a lot..... Oh, the things you can find when you Google yourself.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Tristeza - Fate Unfolds

Read my entire review on The Silent Ballet

At a brief thirty minutes, I would have preferred to have heard more edgy compositions from this veteran band.  The album isn't bad; in fact, it's pretty diverse stylistically speaking, but as it is with most of the band's albums, it isn't all that gripping either.  It's Tortoise as a still-life painting.  Tristeza has become one of the most successful instrumental bands around, having toured since its foundation in San Diego in 1997.  The band's truncated song times and digestible melodies are a big reason, and they've helped put post-rock on the radar.  Unfortunately, despite the band's skill and relevance, looking at this radar is like turning on the Weather Channel and seeing a bunch of green splats.  Just a bunch of pretty rain.  Where's the red thunderstorm?  The F5 monkey wrench? Tristeza is content to keep it chill.  Damn the need for experiments.  We're paintin' flowers here.  

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Flashbulb - Improvised MIDI Guitar

Thanks to Nathan for this awesome hook up.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Chevelle: Mac n' Cheese for your iTunes

I initially wanted to write about Chevelle's fourth album Vena 
Sera, which came out a couple years ago.  I've been burning a hole through my copy of this album at work as I trudge through my final episode of scene staging on an animated TV show.  It's the meat and potatoes meal, for sure.  Sometimes that gourmet rock and roll just isn't what the body needs.  Chevelle are radio friendly, not doing anything that's going to blow the doors off of Creative University, but they sure do their thing damn well, and the music, to me, is like kettle korn with crack-cocaine sugar.  Can't stop, can't stop listening.  An addiction that will run its course, I'm sure, as Chevelle's brand of muscle-intelli-rock doesn't usually do it for me anymore.  

However, Vena Sera is definitely the best album they've made, in my opinion.  Way better than the piece of shit that is their new album (pictured at left).  I listened to most of it on YouTube and, well, it's SO PEDESTRIAN it's not even worth talking about.  What a fucking disappointment.  When Chevelle disappoint me, it's a bad sign.  You know what you're going to get with them, yet they have hit an all time low.  Even the album art is the worst they've come up with yet.  Vena Sera at least had a few curves, production wise, a few alternative styles of voice and guitar sound to mix up the procedings, but mostly it was the arrangements and the way the dude pulls off his vocal melodies amidst his power chord worship.  It was very tight.  It has a momentum that is admirable.

This new piece of garbage is flirting with a level of Nickleback complexity we've yet to see from the brothers Chevelle.  My brother Devin can't argue this one.  It's pretty average, and thus, not worth my time.  Plus, can we please get these guys an album cover that has even a remote chance of meaning something?  Sci-Fi Crimes has some pretty obvious (read "shitty") artwork.  No, I don't care to look inside the liner notes to see what's on the other side of that spaceship.  How long did it take someone to Photoshop this thing?  An hour?  It's not like this is the first album cover of theirs to frustrate man's search for meaning.  While this one was a cool photograph with decent color design, who really cares?  Does it reflect the music in any way?  NO.  And don't tell me that hidden production tweak that sounds like glass breaking on the downbeat in track 6 is the secret.  It's not.  This is corporate middle-of-the-road album art and says to me that Chevelle really aren't going to attempt anything interesting, ever.  With all the music I've been hearing in the past five years, listening to them is like binging on Mac n' Cheese when there's plenty of decent slow cooker recipes worth trying.  (Oh, slow cooked Mac n Cheese is da bomb, by the way).  

Anyway, Vena Sera is a more than decent listen if you're into this stuff.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Friday, January 8, 2010


Every year I pick my favorite seventeen albums. This has nothing to do with high quality. OK, it has a lot to do with it, but fuck, I can't be responsible for being critically accurate. I am but one man. Year's Best lists ought to be reserved for the collectives, like The Silent Ballet. Or The Billboards. However, I do think my tastes have evolved vastly since the days when I was trying desperately to like that second Silverchair album. (So bad, by the way, despite my then-obsession) Taste is subjective, and in those times Silverchair were an enigma for me, all three band members younger than I and on a major label. My first concert, even. But put them in a room with Ben Frost now, and it's no contest. It'd be like grapples versus Audrey II. A mannequin versus a pack of wolves. (Actually, that'd probably be a stalemate)

Anyhoo, I'm approaching this a little differently this year. I will list the five BESTEST albums of the year. Hands down amazing, ones that you should definitely hear as they are potentially life-changing. Then after that, I'll go for some albums that are worthy, and they will receive various awards. Hopefully the awards will strike you as amusing, but the records listed are no less awesome. Worth everyone's time. Let's begin:


The Brett Favre Award
5. Caspian - Tertia: Fuck you for even thinking this album isn't any good. There. I had no expectations with this album because I didn't care about their other ones. But I knew they were good. Sort of like Favre. I think this is what is giving the instrumental fans blueballs over Tertia. Expectations. After 2008 with the Jets, Favre was a sore spot on NFL experts' radars. Retire, you asshole; you were supposed to be good; what more can you do now? Caspian added electronic drum touches, cello and a few other things but it didn't "fool" anyone into thinking they were expanding their sound (oh, by the way, they added another guitar player so they could sound even huger). Some yawned, but what do I think? This album is a massive achievement in story telling.

Caspian aren't on the brink of the next big thing, but their energy is exhilarating. The pacing is incredible. The melodies are great. The songs that don't hit the mark, according to some folks, are important to the overall arc. Favre is so likeable, it doesn't matter what team you route for (unless it's the Packers); he can be your charismatic hero once in a while. Caspian are just as triumphant, probably more so because they do it without millions of dollars in blue jeans ads. This is like beating a dead horse, trying to convince anyone who doesn't like it. For those who have never heard this band, this is the album to get. Hands down. All the naysayers can go suck a tailpipe and Caspian can play their bass licks on your grave.

The Aldous Huxley Award (for Excellence in Psychedelic Effects Without Drugs)
4. Zu - Carboniferous: When a bass guitar sounds like a mastodon catching fire and rampaging through the Bush family ranch in Texas, wow, it is both awesome and fear-inducing. At first, the sound of Zu can be off-putting. It's muddy. Brutal. It's soul is gritty and broken, full of anguish and aggression. This is what makes the band so good. Bass, drums and saxophone don't sound pulverizing on paper, but my god, when you have amps stacked to high heaven and chops like Lubomyr Melnyk, you get one of the most impressive musical acts on the planet. Are these people humans? They claim to be Italian, but I suspect they are Zovkonians or maybe Greys reincarnated by Tibetan Monks to relive the failed lives of certain occult figures or--Whatever. The tightness is sick. Unworldly.

As if they weren't weird enough, they throw in some Mike Patton. Actually, he probably threw himself in, but it is his label. Not that Zu needed any help; they have 15 releases or so, but this Carboniferous creature is a whole new animal. Full splendor Zu is on tap here. The fuzzy ferocity of the instruments is so captivating. The rhythm section is so dynamic and relentless in talent. Do I have to rant anymore? If you like heavy music that will release dimethyl-triptamine in your brain without the use of psychedelics, this is the album.

The Swine Flu Award
3. Fever Ray - Fever Ray: What the fuck is a fever ray? Is this the magical cancer cure that has been suppressed by large pharmaceutical companies since 1931? Does it absolutely destroy Blue Oyster Cult jokes featuring Bruce Dickenson? My 1 year old son has a pretty bad fever right now. What a hot monkey he is. I sure would like to aim a fever ray at him and assuage the discomfort. Unless the weapon gives you a fever. Then I'm forgainst it. Maybe the thing just gives you a buzz, which this album has generated on the underground scene. Maybe it is asking for more cowbell.

Whatever cancer Karin Dreijer Andersson has, she is making the most of her time left. Tool used to pretend their band was all about the fundamentals of Lachrymology--which was a big fat lie, albeit a fun one. Even good old Kurt Cobain would pretend he was sick, theatrically appearing in a wheelchair on stage. You wonder if this Swedish woman from The Knife might be faking her symptoms as well. Until you hear the first track. Karin! Your ... voice? What the fuck happened to it? It sounds like Zuul from Ghostbusters gave you rabies. Down-pitched and harmonized in a crazy scale, Karin's vocals sound otherworldly. Cast upon an extraterrestrial, nocturnal, electronic landscape, this music is rich with secrets.

Despite the dark tones and odd chords and harmonies, it's oh so playful. This woman is a child trying to summon new rituals in our defunct, civilized world. Her regular voice shows up half the time on the album, too, but by then you realize she sounds weird all the time. Like someone Alice would meet in Wonderland--with Perpetual Swedish Flu. The whole Lachrymology thing was supposed to be about how the best art comes about as a result of some form of suffering. Why else make something, or so it goes? Whatever is ailing Andersson, I hope she never recovers, because this music is the flame that refuses to go out within the darkest shadows of these unjust and sobering times. It's so good. Nothing sounds like this or this good. Keep suffering with me, Karin!

The Perfect Bliss Award
2. Mountains - Choral: Band names are tricky things. What will best represent your sound? How can you know until you've released an album or two? If you are these two dudes from Chicago, you figured "Mountains" is pretty middle of the road but majestic enough to cover us while we experiment. But what a name to live up to, right? I mean, it's not a name like "Salt Lakes", where everyone thinks of the same lake. Each person in the world has a distinct and personal idea of mountains. Everyone has climbed a combination of different peaks, used "mountains" as a metaphor for specific things, or chopped them down with the edge of his hand, all for different reasons. Mountains are everywhere. Religions are founded on top of them. K2. Everest. Kilimanjaro. Krakatoa. The Rockies. The Andes. Huge!!!!!!! How dare you! How can you possibly live up t--- oh. Oh wait.

Put this on. It feels perfect.

The opening track begins as a graceful, slow-pulsing drone. Analog synth and what must be a melodica make for a lustrous ambient mist, the broth in which some delicious, fragmented guitar melodies enrich the listener. The track is as satisfying as chicken soup on a cold day, serving as a transcendental healer to any a listener's jaded malaise. This is what the ringing in your ears must sound like when you've, at long last, reached Everest's peak. The rings of soft voices and bells that brush the stardust around the head are so comforting that this could easily be the soundtrack to one's tunneling ascent to a heavenly hereafter. From atop a mountain so high, where else is there to go but heaven? The lone acoustic guitar that awaits us at journey's end comforts us in our solitude, speaking to the magic of life as not being a quest for destination, but a series of arrivals.

Mountains evokes a sadness with Choral, one that is warm and inviting, to be measured in units of the divine. Without slammin' beats, this is something you could take on a boom box the next time you go out on a hike. The birds might even join in, the trees might thank you and wave their limbs. Choral is pure bliss. Don't miss out.

The Jerkface Award
1. Ben Frost - By The Throat: Mr. Ben Frost. Oh, he'd probably dislike me calling him that. Let's call him Jerkoff or something, just to get his attention. He might better appreciate the facetiousness, for the only thing serious about this man is his musical craft. After going into rich detail about his recording techniques in a recent interview, he was asked about what he thinks about fusing acoustic and electronic instruments:
"I dont think about that, I have never thought about that, I really don't know how to answer that question- all instruments, acoustic electronic or other wise are simply means to an end which is beyond any calculable sum of its parts."
Thank you! See, I find people who try to muse and describe their art to be full of shit. Art is art because it is experienced by an audience. This means that your experience is the correct answer, and trying to glean what something means from the artist, though potentially insightful, misses the point of art. Maybe Jerkface here was sick of people asking him what that buzzing noise meant, so he turned to Smithers and said "Release the wolves."

The wolf factor on By The Throat is the instant selling point. Sometimes distant in their classic howl, the wolves are more often right behind your rear bumper, sniffing your shredded tire as the snow falls down in the night. The music breathes electric fire, never comfortable, always on edge, and delightfully so. This is true audio horror, and it's fun to listen to. The expertise with which the sounds and the drama is executed is testament to Jerky's experience and willingness to experiment in seclusion. You know why Frost is a jerk? Because he's so talented. You know the people I'm talking about. James Jean. Danny Carey. They're so freakin' good at what they do you just want to die. Throw away your computer, your sketchbooks. Burn your imagination, because it just isn't going to be able to come up with shit this good.

But artists like this are a triumph! And defeating ourselves over someone else's success is stupid. I am so inspired by these records that in 2010 I intend to make more music of my own. Let the jerks continue to make beautiful work. I will join them soon enough...


The Old People Award
6. Rhian Sheehan - Standing In Silence: There is great beauty here. New Zealand sure has a lot of good musicians for being well outnumbered by sheep. Maybe that's what Sheehan is referring to. Standing in silence? Where is everybody? I am surrounded by sheep. Oh well, nothing else to do but make one of the best albums EVER that even your grandma will like. Seniors would dig this, I am certain. Fusing electronic sounds into classical compositions, this album should appeal to sentiments that have been developing over many a decade. This is a loose terminology, as I qualify as "old people," too.

The Tendinitis Award
7. The Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble - Here Be Dragons: Jesus. I reviewed this on TSB, and I ended up retyping the band name so many times. It's fucking long. Lucky for them it's bad ass. But "TKDE" just looks like a Terminator model or something. Definitely doesn't strike me as an opium den of cello, trombone and spidery sexiness. But that's what this album is. Very adventurous, and expertly executed. Late night party salvation, people!

The Underdog Award
8. Gifts From Enola - From Fathoms: Gotta love these alt-prog alchemists. I saw them play in Seattle this past year and they are tiiiigght. They played all the best songs, too. "Aves" and "Trieste" are the absolute stunners, and they are super long, mega-complex with so many parts and movements. It's pretty amazing music from five Virginians who look like they would otherwise be sweating out a Southern summer on someone's porch. They were good on their first album but no one saw this barnstormer coming. No one. Fantastic.

The Wish I'd Heard This Before 2010 Award
9. Jean-Michel - Tons of Fun: Thomas Bücker's chin is somewhat round. When I saw this picture, I wondered if "tons of fun" was referring to himself, because the album doesn't really match the title, I don't think. But this isn't fun for kids in the summer. This is fun for Bersarin Quartet. Ahh, all you had to say was "Bersarin Quartet" and you had my attention. This is the same guy, and the results are sonically similar, but stylistically more upbeat and danceable. If ONLY people would dance to this. I'd go to that party in a Berlin minute.

The Retroactive Award
10. Tobacco - Fucked Up Friends: No 2009 list is complete without at least one album released in 2008. I listened to Fucked Up Friends in 2009, and there is no trashy, sloppy synth, acid vocoder album that can top it. Not even Black Moth Super Rainbow (well, maybe) because this is shit you can dance to. It's like Prince meets Boards of Canada, with lots of hair, sex and sweet things. Totally awkward song titles meet totally badonka-donk beats for, shall we say, tons of fun. Maybe if Jean-Michel and Tom Fec switched album titles, they could tour together and double-helix the charts. But further thought gleans that "Tobacco" is a stupid name, so forget the fame.

The It's So Awesome, Rating It #1 Would Ruin It Award
11. A Broken Consort - Crow Autumn Part Two: I have never heard part one, but part two is possibly the most breath-taking thing I've heard all year. Wow this is good. The strings, the brevity, the perfection of pacing. Here me now, Richard Skelton; I am coming for you this year. Hand over the back catalog.

The Voigt Choice Award
12. Klimek - Movies is Magic: Kompakt, as a label, just looks too slick. Go to the website and check out the artists page, for instance. Everyone has a dramatic head shot, it seems. Everyone is too smart or too good looking. And you know that most of the DJs on there aren't all that awesome. Too many of them. Oh, but there are gems. This is Voigt's label, after all. And Klimek is a pretty rad dude. His music on this album is some kind of shimmery, pop ambient cinema (go figure, nice title) but it seethes with tension and drama. It's SO fascinating to delve into.

The Kill Me When It's Over Award
13. Blueneck - The Fallen Host: These guys are just playing some simple shit. But it gets so good at points, I cannot forget the Blueneck. What the hell is a blueneck anyway? Is this the result of a lynching? That's what I see. "Emotionally sobering" is a good way to describe their music. Jesus, are these guys sad or what? Well, maybe, but through the triumph of epic, rainstorming rock songs, we can get cathartic. The deeper one treads, the more rewarding each listen becomes. It’s impossible not to hold one’s breath and grip hard as the saxophones, drums and guitar relentlessly raze the world in the finale, “Revelations.” Blueneck’s triumph over the most epic of sadnesses is irresistibly compelling.

The Volz Award
14. Christopher Tignor - Core Memory Unwound: A violinist extraordinaire who creates his own software, the only way he can see his vision through! He revitalizes the neo-classical leanings akin to Pärt and Cage into a magical sounding environment that really doesn't sound electronic at all. Behold the whirly, symphony twisters cascading throughout "Last Nights On Eagle Street" or the watercolor anemones in "Core Memory Unwound." The piano and violin seem to be whisked away on a pegasus, but the music is not lofty or nostalgic. It is direct and tangible. I really hope he's not as pretentious as I think he is. Tour Vancouver so I can meet you, Tignor!

The Non-TSB Influence Award
15. Broadcast and The Focus Group - Investigate Witch Cults of the Radio Age: Billed as a mini-album (23 tracks, 50 minutes), this is all at once a mesmerizing sound collage, a mind-warping concept album, a re-imagined soundtrack to some chilling psychological cinema, as well as an homage to the obscure left-field psychedelic electronic music and sounds of the sixties and seventies that have influenced Broadcast over the years. Other than the pop-like songs that bookend it, the entire record is a mystery that I still cannot figure out. All I know is that no one makes music quite like this, and it is damn interesting.

The "It's On Here, But Steve Almost Convinced Me It's Not Important" Award
16. Tim Hecker - An Imaginary Country: I really like what Jonathan Brooks (of TSB) had to say about this. After a while "one longs for the source and not an artificial edifice imitating the authentic." Listening to THINGS is way more riveting than listening to music ABOUT things. Hecker sounds like weather, energy, motion, life itself, cast upon a most chthonic of notations. It just feels alive. Awesome cover art, too, which I can enjoy as I listen to my vinyl copy (the first album I ever listened to on my record player, by the way). Steve, I know you're not a Hecker-hater, but maybe give this one another try. On vinyl, in my basement! Woa, different story, dude.

The Shameless Fanboy Award
17. If These Trees Could Talk - Above The Earth, Below The Sky: The more I listen to this album, the simpler and more pedestrian it gets. But that guitar sound. Yum. The melodies are strong still, and despite some weak tracks, this is my feel good Ish-Metal record of the year. I listened the shit out of it. After meeting the band on Skype for an interview, I was an even bigger fan, as we chatted about Tool, psychedelics, camping, growing your own food--plenty that's not in the official transcription. A bit of a shameless fanboy pick here, as ITTCT are sort of my behind the scenes friends in the post rock world, and my best friends in Akron, Ohio.

It's kind of a shame that my music listening has become so Silent Ballet-centric. I never took in the Antlers or the Animal Collective's new album. I can't remember if there's a crazy Japanese girl in Deerhoof, Deertick or Deer Hunter. Too much Deer! Fortunately, there's a glut of Wolf bands to keep the population down. Only about 5.5 of the albums I listed have vocals featured prominently. A few have them in there as textural support. Damn you instrumental music! I miss singing at the top of my lungs in the car. When is Tool going to record this supposed album of theirs? We have one year to go before the average "5 years between albums" is up. Even the Dark Crystal sequel isn't coming out until 2011 now. What is there to look forward to in 2010? Pop stars with sex appeal? I can only take so much, even if Rihanna is a stud. I am willing to be surprised by what happens.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Rihanna - My 2010 Popstar

It's easy to talk shit on the big-label world of pop music.  It's pretty vanilla, even when people try to be hip.  There's definitely some artists who stand out, ones you can point out as the ones that "got it."  Rihanna is my newest intrigue/ mainstream badass/ crush all in one!  I saw her band play on New Year's Eve, and they were freakin' awesome.  Having a smokin' hot lead singer is an extra bonus, and so I had to investigate the music further.  Rihanna has the bad girl edge, but nothing about it is forced.  She's conflicted, experiences the full range of emotions, and the songs are pretty unbridled.  I've never heard a song from the perspective of someone who cheated on the other person.  It's always "you hurt me"--and she does that, too!  Both sides of the coin!  I like this, playing the angel and the demon, potentially on the same album.  

Plus she's hot.  Did I mention this?  Wow.  She is so smokin' that boners around the world are wheezing.  Just watch the video and observe how many costumes she rocks.  There has been a massive crusade in popular music involving patriotic and military themes, most of which just look stupid and weak.  This is the first one I've seen where the theme was (perhaps) pro-military but totally rocks it.  Someone finally did it right!  I didn't think it was possible.  A few of her other videos feature some pretty amazing fashion choices, that only someone as amazing looking as this woman could pull off.  She looks hot in an eye-patch for fuck's sake.  She sings a song about suicide, and yet looks sexy doing it.  How?  

Her band is really good, and surprisingly anglo-saxon.  There is a dude who play keys whose hair is so emo that he puts both contact lenses in the right eye.  The other one is left for dead behind a sleeve of red streaks.   Usually with these pop stars, the music is produced so much that it sounds too slick for its own good.  On occasion, as I scoured every video on YouTube, Rihanna's sound goes that way, but usually not.  I started to lose my buzz when every song started to go for the same exact structure.  Boring.  Lyrics like "Don't fumble / There's a flag on the play" are shitty references to football that I don't need (and I love football).  But then I heard "Sell Me Candy" and after they mix things up, they do a breakdown in threes, and then some unexpected syncopation.  Could Miley Cyrus even keep up with this?  Rihanna has a voice that's one in a million, and everything else is top notch.  I hope the darkness spreads and the smiles widen even more.  

Monday, January 4, 2010

The Necks - Silverwater

Read the entire review on The Silent Ballet

There is a lot to like about "Silverwater," with all the different textures, pulses and instrumentation weaving in and out of each other.  The music is pretty mellow overall, and the album's lack of core melody or theme will likely deter many folks in our McCulture.  There is a lot more sense of play, more dancing around from part to part than on previous Necks releases, but the way in which it is executed and produced never clues us into the fact that things are changing.  It all blends together quite fluidly, and certain dynamic changes that alter the mood entirely are meant to be that way. The only unnatural moment seems to be the ending.  Really, how do you end a sixty seven-minute song that is all over the map?  It's like cutting off the seasonal cycle of a fish species, saying "That's enough now." It's unnatural.  One would think that if this trio had the technology and eternity to play along with the cosmos, they would.  For now, The Necks and all the red-throated fish are keeping this world beautiful.