the pataphysical study of randomized sound
lightning bolt - hypermagic mountain
when did lightning bolt decide to become a speed metal band? after listening to their new one, I felt like putting on some slayer just to calm my nerves. seriously. it's kinda weird hearing them devote their energy to behemoth riffing instead of spastic frenetic melodic noise. the two brians seem much more reigned in terms of what they actually do - chippendale still spatters drum hits all over the place, but they're actually well within a discernable beat, and his singing isn't totally distorted (you can almost hear words!), while gibson still sounds like he's playing through a wall of amps the size of the sears towers, but instead of shredding, he's making motorhead look like a bunch of sissies. the sheer force of hypermagic mountain
is something to be reckoned with; the only comperable thing in their discography is maybe some of the more insane moments of their debut. I think I'm a fan of this new direction, though. I would maybe like a little more of the joyous silliness of "13 monsters" from ride the skies
instead of the relentless assault here, but there's enough of it in "2 morro morro land," "dead cowboy," and "bizarro zarro land" to make me happy.
Touch the Sound
is arguably the best percussionist in the world. you mention her name around percussionists and improvised music lovers and their ears perk up. the thing that makes her so special is that she manages to make such sensitive, emotive, and far-reaching music despite being "profoundly deaf" - her ears still work, but very little actually comes through. she perceives sound literally by feeling the vibrations through her skin and body, kind of like reverse synesthesia, and something us normal-eared folks just couldn't possibly understand. our bodies do affect and contribute to our hearing but more as a means of channeling vibrations to our ears (the way everyone hears their own voice being a prime example) than of actual sound perception. touch the sound
, a documentary about glennie given through the framework of a recording session with fred frith, takes that disconnect in perception as a starting point and attempts to demonstrate it by essentially making our ears *more* sensitive to sounds around us. good chunks of the film (especially early on) are spent with montages of "typical" activities of modern western industrial society with the ambient sound boosted much beyond its typical low-level hum. it's not so much making the case that all sounds are musical as showing us that there is so much sound out there that we take for granted. glennie has a really fascinating theoretical approach to her music which she talks about in depth in a glorious scottish brogue. interestingly, her speech doesn't have the strange cadence or stunted inflection that is typical of the deaf, probably because she didn't lose her hearing until she was about 10. the most interesting part of the movie is the improvisations she does with frith. they took over an abandoned factory in northern germany and pretty much just went nuts, frith with his assorted guitars and strange ways of playing them, glennie with her myriad percussion instruments. some of the improvisations are better than others - I find her marimba playing to be a little overly emotional, using fairly conventional progressions, and playing the whole "tugging at the heart strings" thing. but when she starts clattering with non-pitched or non-standard instruments, she does some truly amazing things (especially great are the times she's playing with a koto ensemble and when she makes a drum set out of dishes and chopsticks at a sushi restaurant). her playing is remarkably sympathetic to whatever setting she's in, and she always seems to be having fun with whatever she's doing. at one point frith comments that the key to being a good improvising musician is to essentially never loose that childhood sense of play. and he's totally right.
listening to music in the post-college radio world
it's been almost 2 months since I bid farewell to college radio. in real terms, two months really isn't that much time. sure, it's 1/6th of a year, but let's be honest, I've been through a lot of sixths of a year in my life. in those two months, I've noticed a subtle yet profound change in the way that I listen to music or at least approach listening to music. I'm not sure if it's necessarily better or worse, but it is different, and I kinda like it.
in my four years of involvement with wprb, I pretty much transformed from a typical high school classic rocker to a somewhat mainline indie rocker (including a really embarassing article about that transformation in the 2002 wprb program guide that I'm sure you can find somewhere on wprb's website
) to a fairly skeptical indie rocker to whatever strange catagory my tastes fall into now (eccentric? music snob? indier-than-thou? snark? "a bit stranger"? who knows). it's a long way to travel in four years; lots of music has gone through my ears, some has stuck, a lot of it hasn't. and therein lies the problem with the way that college radio made me listen to music. in the constant quest to find something different, there's no time to actually sit back and reflect on what you've found. I look back at old playlists and see bands that I don't even remember playing, much less hearing. I don't regret any of it, and wouldn't change a thing about the way I conducted myself as a disc jockey, but I can't help but feel like I stopped actually listening to a lot of things.
the other day I was in a coffee shop reading, and in the background came built to spill's album keep it like a secret
. it was one of the first "indie" records I ever listened to in the summer before I my freshman year of college. it lived in my cd player almost non-stop for a good few months and I probably knew it inside and out. I haven't listened to it since probably spring 2002, but there it was. and I knew every nook and cranny of the songs, even though I hadn't devoted any mental energy to that record in 3 and a half years. when I look back over college, there are very few records that have come into my possession between 2002 and 2005 that I can safely say the same thing for. yeah, I'll recognize a cd as being by so and so and have a general idea of its contour, but I won't necessarily be able to know just what's coming next. and while this may be more a testament to the nature of built to spill's songs than anything, the fact remains that as a dj and music director of an edgy college radio station, I forgot just as must music as I discovered, reviewed records I couldn’t identify if you played them for me now, downloaded more mp3s by obscure folks than I'll probably ever have time to listen to, and bought records that I still to this day haven't put in my cd player or on my turntable. let’s face it, once I got deeper into the recesses of college radio, I stopped really listening to records.
and that has been the biggest revelation for me in these past two months - that I can actually absorb a record, that some (but by no means all) of the things I wrote off before actually have some merit, that the quest for the ultimate obscure, while a fulfilling end, isn’t all there is to music. that said, I still have really weird tastes in music, and that’s not going to change. I’m not about to jump on the pitchfork hypewagon, nor am I going to abandon john cage, the revolutionary ensemble, racebannon, gang gang dance, dalek, the bunny brains, late coltrane, or any of the other insanity that I enjoy, but being able to view records as records and not as pieces of an intricately constructed radio show has made my ears happier than they’ve been in a while. listening to music should never be constricted to just a handful of songs or albums, but it should also never go by so fast that there’s no time for contemplation.
are perhaps my favorite band to come out of Philadelphia in the past few years. Got to see them two summers ago opening for Devendra Banhart and Joanna Newsom, and they were easily just as sublime as the headliners. They just had a new record, The Weed Tree
, come out on Locust Music
, and it is fantastic. For my full thoughts, check out this review
I wrote for Dusted
. You can also see my take on their first full-length here
Last night, I had the opportunity to see the Swedish wunderkinds of the moment, Dungen, at the Empty Bottle. The show was unique, because Dungen was actually playing 2 separate concerts that night, so I caught the early one and still had time for a full evening of antics afterwards. The idea of the 7:30 rock show is really appealing in the same sort of way as an early evening movie, especially since most shows in Chicago don’t seem to start until 10 or so. And in a final side note, the Empty Bottle officially won my heart when they played the first Os Mutantes record as background music before Dungen’s set. That is unquestionably one of the most enjoyable/best records of all time, and I’ll fight anyone who says otherwise.
When talking about Dungen, the obvious stepping off point is late 60s psych-rock, essentially the Jimi Hendrix Experience. And while the connection is definitely valid, there is something more to their music which takes it beyond being a mere replica. And that something is nothing short of the entirety of Swedish culture. All the songs on Ta Det Lungt
are built in a completely Swedish way, using melodic lines and chord progressions that simply wouldn’t occur to any English speaker. In a way, Gustav Ejstes’ songs have more in common with Sibelius or Greig, had they been rockers, than anything else. The songs have a sensibility and pacing all of their own.
In a live setting, this becomes even more noticeable, because they have the freedom to draw out sections of music, or improvise around and within the peculiarities built in to the songs. Not to mention that all four players that make up the live version of the band are incredible musicians. Reine Fiske is probably one of the best lead guitarists I’ve ever seen - he has complete control over each and every note that comes out of his guitar, always picking exactly the right tone for every moment. And when he gets going into a solo, it’s actually picks you up and takes you somewhere you didn’t quite know you wanted to go. And the rhythm section of drummer Fredrik Björling and bassist Tiaz Gustavsson are tight, propulsive, and nicely melodic in their backbone. Despite the mythology of Dungen being a one-man-band, they are very much a unit, something Gustav admitted when I interviewed him for WPRB (the interview can be found in the 2005 WPRB Program Guide available here
). Take away or replace any member, and their sound would be irreparably altered.
The final thing that makes a Dungen show so much fun is that they are really really really really really really happy to be playing music on stage. I’ve never seen a rock group care so much about the well being of their audience (hiphop acts are all about that, but that’s a discussion for another day). When I saw them in Philadelphia over the summer, it was a sweltering day, and the members of the band actually threw their water bottles into the crowd and even turned the fans on stage out toward us. All four of them seem to feed off of the energy of the crowd, something that works wonderfully in a small venue. In fact, they are possibly the perfect band to see in a small club; I don’t know if their antics and showmanship would really transfer to a larger setting without feeling forced. I haven't heard any reports about them from Siren or Intonation, but I just can't see them working as well. Their sincerity gives the music that extra jolt that makes their live incarnation completely different, and better, than anything on recording.
Back Door Men
New review published on dusted
today. Check it out.