Music Commentary--Creative Writing--Cultural Hilarity

"What if there are no cries of anguish to be heard? Who is prepared to take arms against a sea of amusements? To whom do we complain, and when, and in what tone of voice, when serious discourse dissolves into giggles?"--Neil Postman

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Spectrum Culture: Pat Metheny, The Orchestrion Project


New on Spectrum Culture, I review Pat Metheny's musical science experiment called the Orchestrion Project

Nineteen-time Grammy-winning jazz guitarist Pat Metheny has always been at the forefront of using cutting-edge technology and unconventional instruments in his music. Take his 2003 album One Quiet Night, for instance, one recorded almost entirely on the acoustic baritone guitar, an instrument not heard often in jazz (or for that matter, in music of any type). Metheny, ever the innovator, has been working with a team of engineers the last three years or so on an experiment of sorts called the Orchestrion, an assortment of instruments–pianos, drum kits, marimbas, bells and even bottles tuned to various pitches—controlled by computer and capable of responding to the touch of Metheny’s hands on his specially-configured guitar. After releasing the studio record Orchestrion in 2010, the guitarist, with a team of technicians in tow, took his “machine” on a world tour. The Orchestrion Project, a double-disc set, was recorded in Brooklyn at the end of the tour without a live audience as document of the unique musical experience.

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Monday, April 1, 2013

Spectrum Culture: Record Review: Rhye, Woman


New on Spectrum Culture, I review the excellent new record from the Sadie-esque Rhye: 

In her landmark 1990 book Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity, Judith Butler theorized that gender is a performance, a set of actions that we do, rather than a universal who we are. What it means to be “male” or “female” is more a product of societal conditioning than biological impulse. Canadian songwriter/vocalist Mike Milosh, a heterosexual man, has embraced some cultural signifiers of femininity in his music. He generally sings softly, approaches his notes tenderly and makes frequent use of falsetto (although, as he points out in a recent New York Times interview, he rarely sings as high as Thom Yorke). This musical gender bending has confused any number of critics who, in their initial reviews, took the title of Rhye’s debut record literally and assumed the primary vocalist to be female.
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Friday, March 29, 2013

Spectrum Culture: Record Review: Jason Marsalis, In a World of Mallets


New on Spectrum Culture, I review jazz drummer Jason Marsalis' new record In a World of Mallets. He plays vibes on this one: 

The vibraphone is sort of a bastard child of jazz. Technically, it’s a percussion instrument, so young jazz drummers are often encouraged to practice it along with the set. Given its impressionistic, gentle timbre, many youngsters quickly abandon it for the more aggressive sound of drums. Since few aspire to become masters of the vibraphone, the instrument has a paucity of innovative artists to its name. Once one gets beyond Lionel Hampton, Bobby Hutcherson, Milt Jackson and Gary Burton, the list is rather sparse.
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Thursday, March 28, 2013

Spectrum Culture: Mount Moriah @ Schubas

New on Spectrum Culture, I review the North Carolina alt-country/indie-rock outfit Mount Moriah at Chicago's Schubas. 

The Monday night crowd at Schubas might not have been huge, but they were certainly vocal about their love of Mount Moriah’s music. The North Carolina-based alt-country/Americana/rock outfit had just come from South by Southwest and looked a little road-weary at first. Any fatigue from the intensity of Austin didn’t stop them from delivering a stellar set, one drawn primarily from their recent LP Miracle Temple, with some tunes thrown in for good measure from their 2011 self-titled debut, the record that put them on the map.
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Monday, March 18, 2013

Spectrum Culture: Concert Review: Unknown Mortal Orchestra/Foxygen/Wampire


New at Spectrum Culture, my review of the Unknown Mortal Orchestra/Foxygen/Wampire show at Chicago's Lincoln Hall.

It’s a rare feeling to walk into a triple-bill rock show excited about all three acts. I’ve trudged through plenty of lackluster opening sets only to get to the band I actually wanted to hear. The Unknown Mortal Orchestra/Foxygen/Wampire show at Chicago’s Lincoln Hall was a notable exception. There’s a consistency between the sonic aesthetics of the three groups, even though they are at different stages in their respective careers.
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Sunday, February 17, 2013

Spectrum Culture: Chick Corea, Now He Sings, Now He Sobs


New on Spectrum Culture, I revisit one of my favorite jazz records of all time, Chick Corea's 1968 masterpiece Now He Sings, Now He Sobs
Drummer Max Roach, along with many other musicians, has referred to jazz as a uniquely democratic art form. In an April 1987 edition of Ebony Man, he said that jazz “comes out of a communal experience. We take our respective instruments and collectively create a thing of beauty.” Indeed, it is the interactive quality of jazz that, at its best, makes it so attractive for longtime fans and neophytes alike. There’s a sublime quality to a soloist and three or four supporting musicians uniting around an inventive melodic idea or rhythmic motif. The interaction between musicians in a jazz group is made all the more powerful by the fact that, unlike the complex counterpoint between instruments in an orchestra or the synergy of various elements of a pop studio production, the magic is largely a result of spontaneity and improvisation.
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Thursday, December 27, 2012

Top 20 Records of 2012

My 20 favorite records of 2012 ...
20. Tindersticks, The Something Rain
A beautiful, haunting record from a well-established act from Nottingham ... soulful horns meet tragi-comic lyrics and atmospheric, choral vocals
19. Kendrick Lamar, good KID, m. A. A. d. city
An epic deconstruction of gangsta rap from a 25-year old young man from Compton ... tuneful and thought-provoking
18. Neneh Cherry & The Thing, The Cherry Thing
Avant-garde jazz and soulful pop coexist as if they were met for each other all along ... Neneh Cherry and experimental jazz trio The Thing cover everyone from Suicide to MF Doom.

17. Divine Fits, A Thing Called Divine Fits
Spoon's Britt Daniel and Dan Boeckner of Wolf Parade and Handome Furs give us a collection of fun, synth-heavy tunes that combine melody and groove in equal measure
16. Kishi Bashi, 151a
of Montreal's violin player proves that he can write catchy, thoughtful songs built upon looped layers of strings and vocals

15. Hospitality, Hospitality
This debut from the New York-based indie band focuses on the post-college problems of urban liberal arts majors
14. Alabama Shakes, Boys & Girls
Dang! ... Brittany Howard can really sing. This "revivalist" group really has the classic Muscle Shoals sound down ... inspirational songs about just holding on
13. Tame Impala, Lonerism
Australian Kevin Parker tries really hard to sound like John Lennon ... and succeeds! ... Tame Impala gives us an instantly classic psychedelic pop/rock record about life on the outside looking in.
12. Flying Lotus, Until the Quiet Comes
Producer Stephen Ellison does jazz-inflected electronica better than almost anyone ... a post-apocalyptic vision of a machine-driven world never sounded so beautiful
11. Wild Nothing, Nocturne
Lots of bands did the 80s this year ... Wild Nothing does it best ... Opening track "Shadow" is a particularly profound single
10. Jack White, Blunderbuss
Jack White defies all expectations in the post-Meg era. Blunderbuss is a multifaceted, playful look at heartbreak. There's more folk and Vaudeville than guitar-driven rock. It's all good, though.
9. The Men, Open Your Heart
The Men do blues, folk and country all through the lens of garage rock. It's a goofy, messy mixture that's somewhat hard to resist.
8. Chromatics, Kill For Love
This record has been called an unofficial soundtrack for the movie Drive so often that it's become a cliche. Nevertheless, this dreamy, synthy record invokes images of dark nights and foggy drives.
7. Vijay Iyer Trio, Accelerando
2012 was a superb year for jazz records, and this just might be the best. A serious cover of Michael Jackson's "Human Nature" sits beside edgy, complex original compositions that never lose their sense of melody and forward motion.
6. Punch Brothers, Who's Feeling Young Now?
Mandolinist Chris Thile's brilliance as a musician has never been in question. On his latest effort with Punch Brothers, though, he shows off his much-improved songwriting chops. For once, the thoughtful songs are as memorable as the hot licks.
5. Frank Ocean, Channel Orange
Frank Ocean is undoubtedly the most hyped artist of 2012. He deserves all the praise he's getting. Ocean comments upon distinctively postmodern problems with the grace and dexterity of Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye.

4. The Mountain Goats, Transcendental Youth
Is anyone in the music business today as simultaneously prolific and profound as John Darnielle? The singer-songwriter's latest effort focuses on down-and-out characters like drug addicts and petty criminals who project a highly universal quality.
3. Cloud Nothings, Attack On Memory
Dylan Baldi creates aggressive odes to 90s angst ... the perfect soundtrack for anyone who has hoped, at one time or another, to be more than they think they are.
2. Japandroids, Celebration Rock
This Vancouver drums-guitar duo avoids the sophomore slumps with an album about being thirty and realizing you're not twenty anymore ... equally celebratory and heartbreaking.
1. The Walkmen, Heaven
Is it possible for a brooding indie-rock band to make an authentic record about raising kids and owning a house and being in a long-term relationship? The answer is "yes" if we're talking about The Walkmen. Heaven features odes to"the good years" and reminders about "what we fight for," but a dark undercurrent lurks below this positive surface. This record is as intriguingly complex as the people that made it.
I encourage you to check out the end-of-year lists from Spectrum Culture and PopMatters, both of which I contributed to.
Happy holidays and such!