Wednesday, June 29, 2005

The Draft

The NBA draft was held last night, with the usual mixture of feel-good, feel-bad stories. On the feel-good side, Luther Head has to top the list. Taken by the Houston Rockets with the 24th pick in the first, Luther truly made good. Four years after entering U of I as a raw, athletic talent he exits with guaranteed NBA money. Think Calvin Brock is gonna pay close attention to Bruce Weber's coaching the next four years?

Deron Williams is, of course, another feel good. Three years after coming to U of I as the least-known member of his recruiting class -- and mostly known as Bracey Wright's high school teammate -- he leaves as the #3 pick in the draft, the highest in Illini history. The Utah Jazz have big plans for Deron, and if his comments over the past few weeks are to be believed, he has big plans for them as well.

On the feel bad side, Chuck Hayes went undrafted (although this was no surprise). The upside is that if there ever was a player who will work his ass off to get a spot on a roster, it's Chuck. If there's any justice in the world, Chuck will play in the league someday.

On the head-shaking "what was he thinking?" side sit Kelenna Azubuike and (especially) Randolph Morris. Kelenna probably felt he had little choice, given his father's voluminous legal and financial problems. Randolph, on the other hand, will have to eventually wonder about the "might have beens." Just one season of playing to his potential would have made him a solid lottery pick next year. Now he'll bounce around the world in search of an opportunity that would have been handed to him in a year. Unfortunate that neither was picked, but no more of a surprise than Chuck. Too bad.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Coexistence Inside A Taste Matrix

Interesting article in yesterday's New York Times Magazine about Nic Harcourt, "Morning Becomes Eclectic" and KCRW, the public radio station in Santa Monica, California. I've become quite a fan of the streamed broadcast of the show, especially the live in-studio performances, but I guess they knew that since, according to the article I am pretty much their target demo ("the median age of the station's listeners is 44").
Musically speaking, the word-dense songs of Elvis Costello and Stephin Merritt may have little in common with Astor Piazzolla's classically infused tangos, the Beatlesque synthesis of pop and vernacular Mexican forms achieved by Cafe Tacuba or the regret-laden outpourings artfully arranged over cascading contemporary dance beats by Everything But the Girl, but they coexist inside a taste matrix where people who listen to one of these artists are also predisposed to like the others. If ''Morning Becomes Eclectic'' had a Friendster page, its ''Favorite Music'' section would also include Massive Attack, Radiohead, Zero 7, Bjork, Moby, Air, Tom Waits, the Blue Nile, Jeff Buckley, Juana Molina, Rufus Wainwright, the Eels, Aimee Mann, My Bloody Valentine, Caetano Veloso, DJ Shadow, the Trash Can Sinatras and Petra Haden.
I've gotta say that I'm a fan of just about all of these. It's always nice to fit so snugly in a demographic niche.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

The Top 26 Albums Of The 1990s (Part 8)

OK Computer

Who: Radiohead
What: OK Computer
When: July 1, 1997
Why: The single best album of the last quarter century.

If The Bends had been Radiohead’s great leap forward from their uneven debut, then OK Computer was their great leap over the moon. A purported concept album dealing with the dystopian aspects of technology, the true thematic continuity of the album is one of musical tone, not lyrical topic. Very few albums (Exile On Main Street comes to mind) have such a degree of tonal coherence from one song to the next. As with any such album, OK Computer demands to be listened to and understood as a whole. As such, it does not lend itself to the randomization of iPods and CD shuffles. Not that the songs are incapable of generating interest on their own, its just that their full power only becomes apparent when they are listened to one after the next, in the order in which they were programmed by the band.

Side One (i.e., “Airbag” through “Karma Police”) would have been worn right through in the vinyl days. There really hadn't been anything as good since Side One of Remain In Light 17 years earlier. “Airbag” establishes the musical tone immediately, Colin Greenwood’s bass taking a lead melody role over a rhythmic figure from Ed O’Brien’s guitar, Phil Selway’s iconoclastic drumming and Jonny Greenwood’s space-age squawks. This inversion of the standard roles of the strings went a long way towards establishing the unsettled atmosphere of the entire album, and represented just one of the band’s steps forward from The Bends.

“Paranoid Android” (shout out to Marvin, there) throws the forward movement into high-gear, though. Still the iconic Radiohead song, it borrows a tip from The Beatles and ‘70s prog-rock by welding three songs into one to take the place of verse/chorus/bridge. Song one (verse) features a ghostly guitar figure (and an equally ghostly vocal) over a melodic bass line and limited percussion. Song two (chorus) features a bit of mellotron over a hyper bass line, until all is overtaken by a pair of guitar squalls the second time through and Selway’s drum kit bursts into action to take it to the bridge. Song three (bridge) returns to the realm of ghosts, featuring an ethereal chorus tracking the chord changes down, down, down (with Jonny providing a haunting keyboard harmony), until the chorus’ guitar squalls return to close out the album’s haunting centerpiece.

“Subterranean Homesick Alien” is dominated by celesta-like keyboards, keening guitar figures, and Thom Yorke’s plaintive, aching vocals in the guise of a down-and-outer yearning to be taken away by the aliens with which he’s certain he would finally find the happiness and acceptance so far out of reach in his town “where you can’t smell a thing.” Yorke’s lyrical persona takes another empathetic turn on “Exit Music (From A Film),” as he inhabits the shoes of a nervous young mother ready to finally make a break from an abusive marriage. While the song initially features soft acoustic guitar chords, it eventually builds to the point where another melodic bass line enters to push the song to its climax.

“Let Down” features tour de force double- and triple-tracked vocals from Yorke, pushed by Selway’s drumming to build to the most ecstatic, unfettered singing of his career as the song explodes into the final chorus. “Karma Police” closes the side with one more spectacular song. Colin’s bass again pushes the melody forward, this time in chorus with the first appearance of Jonny’s distinctive piano and more ghostly background vocals.

The computer-voiced “Fitter, Happier” provides the palate-cleansing break before Side Two, which continues the vibe, if at an ever-so-slightly lower level of impressiveness. A perfect album in almost every respect.


Who: Portishead
What: Portishead
When: September 30, 1997
Why: Portishead came on the scene in 1994 with Dummy, and in particular with “Sour Times,” the aptly-named hit that made their name. The Portishead m.o. was set on Dummy: unearthly melodies from Geoff Barrow, Beth Gibbons’ Annie Lennox-like vocals, overlayed with a slathering of sci-fi effects and found sounds, all driven by trip-hop beats. Portishead kept the formula, but amped up each aspect and increased the consistency from song to song. The result was an improvement over a terrific debut. The album’s centerpiece is the haunted and haunting “Undenied,” but the foreboding atmosphere stays uniform throughout. A great album from a duo that I’d certainly love to hear from again.

The Top 26 Albums Of The 1990s (Part 7)
The Top 26 Albums Of The 1990s (Part 6)
The Top 26 Albums Of The 1990s (Part 5)
The Top 26 Albums Of The 1990s (Part 4)
The Top 26 Albums Of The 1990s (Part 3)
The Top 26 Albums Of The 1990s (Part 2)
The Top 26 Albums Of The 1990s (Part 1)
The Top 19 Albums Of The 1980s
The Top 16 Albums Of The 1970s

Most Recent iTunes Random Plays

  • Drift Away - Dobie Gray
  • Dramamine - Sebadoh
  • Maybe - Three Degrees
  • Oh, George - Foo Fighters
  • Use Me - Bill Withers
  • Pollywanacraka - Public Enemy
  • Backwater - Meat Puppets
  • Finally Got Myself Together I'm a Changed Man - Impressions
  • Bad Excuse - The Like Young
  • Valley Winter Song - Fountains of Wayne
  • June - Camper Van Beethoven
  • Volver Volver - Los Lobos
  • Roxanne - The Police
  • Melancholy Serenade - King Curtis
  • Back 2 the Base - X

Friday, June 24, 2005

Bonedigger 2005

Spent all day with the wife & kids (and about a hundred volleyball enthusiasts) at Montrose Ave. Beach today for Bonedigger #53. This was my first Bonedigger, and for those of you who don't know it is a Chicago volleyball gathering (Denver, too) that meets a couple of times a summer for a blind-draw round-robin followed by a playoff to crown the digger champs.

While the kids frolicked in the chilly waters of Lake Michigan, Noreen and I joined in the round-robin under blazing skies, in near-triple-digit temps and in the teeth of gusting winds.

Beth and Jim were there:

Beth and Jim

As was Seabird:


And many other new friends:



The results varied widely. Jim had the best day of our group, winning 4 of 5 in pool play -- good enough to advance to the Sweet Sixteen if he was so inclined (which he wasn't). Beth split four matches before taking note of the heat and bagging her fifth match.

My matches were quite erratic -- an opening 3's loss was followed by a "grudge match" with Noreen against Beth and Jim which they won easily. An 11-6 win in the third match (all matches were single-game, sideout scoring to 11) was followed by an 11-0 blowout win in a 3's match. A .500 finish was, alas, a mirage in the sand, as the fifth match was a 4-11 loss that wasn't that close.

Noreen had the worst luck of anyone, finishing 1-4. 3 of those 4 losses, however, were by 10-12 scores and in each case hers was the longest match on the beach (in the other loss, of course, she got stuck with me as a partner). She finally broke through in her Game 5...


...just in time to call it a day.


For more pics, check out the Bonedigger 2005 gallery at

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Reason No. 212 ...

... why I have to limit my emotional involvement in college basketball. Reason No. 211, of course, was this. It just makes less and less sense to have any psychic stake in the decisions of teenagers who aren't actually in my family. If nothing else, I need to get to the point where you just tell me who's on the roster on October 15th and I take it from there.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Mid-Century Design

One of my enduring infatuations is design (of all types) from the mid-20th century (circa 1955-1965).

I guess it's partly a case of some type of misplaced nostalgia. I was born in 1960, so I obviously have little or no personal recollection of the extant styles, but I do think it's natural to have a bit of fascination with the world that surrounded you at your birth (e.g., "birth songs"). Anyone who had occasion to examine old newspaper microfilms/fiche as part of research in college would surely have taken the detour to examine, say, the New York Times of the day of their birth.

Really? Just me?

Anyway, I do know that on September 20, 1960 Soviet Premier Nikita Khruschev was docking in New York in prelude to his famous shoe banging scene at the UN on September 29, 1960.

The larger part of it, though, is the utter distinctiveness of so much of what was happening in design at that time. The building which I consider to be the most beautiful in the world, the Seagram Building in New York, was designed by Mies van der Rohe and built during these years. The two artists which still continue to hold the most fascination for me -- Mark Rothko and Jasper Johns -- were still in the full flowering of their talents during these years.

This infatuation extends, moreover, to more generic aspects of design from the period, and it is these that find their way to the great website Ephemera Now. The site describes itself as "dedicated to the commercial art of mid-century America." The largest chunk of the site is dedicated to reproductions of automobile promotional materials, which are equally notable both for the design of the cars and the design of the ads.

As an example of car design, you can hardly beat the excesses of the 1959 Cadillac Eldorado. This car is seriously wack, but is almost certainly the epitome of the fins & torpedoes look of the era:

1959 Cadillac

A little more stylishly restrained and timeless, at least to my eye, was the 1961 Pontiac Bonneville:

1961 Bonneville

As far as ad design itself goes, the exemplar for me is this one for the 1959 Imperial Crown Convertable:

1959 Imperial

In spite of having the pluperfect 1959 home (a la North By Northwest), the white-tuxedoed host on the stairs is insanely jealous of the white-tuxedoed guest who has only narrowly escaped barrelling his brand new Sherwood Green '59 Imperial into the retaining wall. "Fetch that man a Manhattan. Immediately!"

The site also contains a set of home decor "ideas" which are also remarkably apropos for the era. My fav is this spectacular 1956 rec room, tricked out in Armstrong Excelon tile:

Rumpus Room

It's almost impossible to know where to start with the best thing in this room. The huge flagstone fireplace? The matching couches (which match the stairs as well as themselves!)? The dance moves & drink recipes painted right on the wall for easy reference? Sorry, for me it has to be the marshmallow skewers at the ready for roastin'.

Finally, the highlights of the "Ads" section of the site are the series of Motorola magazine ads from the early '60s (these are all also found in a coffee table book I own called All-American Ads of the '60s). Each of these ads feature Motorola products (generally stereos and TVs) in impossibly cool settings, such as the terrifyingly cantilevered terrace attached to the penthouse suite of a suave 1961 playboy:

Dancing On The Balcony

"Don't worry, we'll get to those etchings in good time. "


"Morning Becomes Eclectic" continues its recent run of live performances by terrific female singers. Hard on the heels of Jem, M.I.A., Aimee Mann and Keren Ann comes an unbelieveable solo performance today by Leslie Feist.

Several revelations here. First and foremost is that, apart from being a great singer, the Canuck can really play, and utilizes some neat Andrew Bird-esque insta-recorded tape loops as backing. Very nice.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Cause Or Effect?

Were McDonald's "McDonaldland" commercials (circa 1970) the cause of heavy drug use by my generation...or merely the effect of heavy drug use by those in the advertising biz at the time? Decide for yourself here.

"Stay away from the brown acid and the thick shake volcano, man!"

Sunday, June 19, 2005


After many months of intermittent practice, The Band That Hath No Name (aka "Human Pudding") aired publicly for the first time at the annual Laurx family bash last night. Here are some pics (thanks to Cait for the pics & vids) ...

Brother Joe

... Brother Joe in concert finery ...


... Seabird in full emote ...


... Steve holding down the beat ...


... Dan makin' with the chordage ...


... and Your's Truly staring at the frets.

Here's a little bit of video of "Take Me To The River" (may require a little patience while the video loads, as well as a strong stomach for the out-of-control cameraman), some video of "Cars," and a little piece called "Dan Searches For The Elusive Pick."

The set list (as near as I can remember it, anyway):
  1. Pride And Joy
  2. Rock 'n' Roll Dreams
  3. Psycho Killer
  4. Cars
  5. Take Me To The River
  6. Sugar Mountain
  7. Heaven
  8. Hey Hey, My My (Into The Black)
  9. Sympathy For The Devil + "Drum Solo!"
  10. Dead Flowers
  11. Justice For Barry
  12. Wicked Game
  13. Honky Tonk Woman
  14. White Rabbit
  15. Postcard Relationship
  16. Rockin' In The Free World
  17. Surrender
Despite some missed notes by the bass player ("Sugar Mountain" continues to be my bête noire) all went well ... even the dead-miked audience participation portions of the show!

Saturday, June 18, 2005

The Top 26 Albums Of The 1990s (Part 7)

Urban Hang Suite

Who: Maxwell
What: Maxwell’s Urban Hang Suite
When: May 5, 1996
Why: The true heir to Marvin Gaye. Soulful songs of love and adoration. Many, many great tunes (“Welcome,” “Sumthin’ Sumthin’,” “Dancewitme,” “’Til The Cops Come Knockin'” at the top of the list), but “Ascension (Don’t Ever Wonder)” takes its place as perhaps the best soul song since Marvin and the Reverend Al were at the top of their games in the early ‘70s. Pushed by a languid bass line, the minimalist instrumentation gives way to Maxwell’s soaring falsetto call of devotion. Pure bliss.


Who: Beck
What: Odelay
When: June 18, 1996
Why: Little prepared one for the explosion of Odelay in the summer of 1996. Beck had become known a couple of years earlier for the slacker anthem “Loser.” A couple of half-baked follow-ups and reissues stamped him as a SoCal hippie one-hit wonder. Odelay blew that perception completely out of the water. A combustible mix of hip hop beats, laid-back raps and country twang, all with a Dust Brothers production veneer, Beck took everything – everything! – threw it in a blender and danced to the results. Holding down the album’s center is the scratch masterpiece “Where It’s At,” ubiquitous in the summer heat of that year. The epitome of what the album was all about, it combined a languid mellotron, country guitar pickin’, turntable scratchin’, soulful horns, found sound drops and Beck’s guero rapping. As the outro explained – “It’s all good.”

Perfect From Now On

Who: Built To Spill
What: Perfect From Now On
When: January 28, 1997
Why: Neil Young had long ago set the template for the long-ass guitar jam, with the twin pillars of “Down By The River” and “Cowgirl In The Sand.” Doug Martsch rode out of Idaho to pick up the standard almost two decades later with Built To Spill. Although the band had been around, with various lineups, for a few years before this album – the confluence of Martsch, Scott Plouf (late of The Spinanes) and Brett Nelson provided the right stuff to make the languid grooves come together right. The result is an octet of songs – each clocking in at 5 minutes plus – without a weak link.

The Top 26 Albums Of The 1990s (Part 6)
The Top 26 Albums Of The 1990s (Part 5)
The Top 26 Albums Of The 1990s (Part 4)
The Top 26 Albums Of The 1990s (Part 3)
The Top 26 Albums Of The 1990s (Part 2)
The Top 26 Albums Of The 1990s (Part 1)
The Top 19 Albums Of The 1980s
The Top 16 Albums Of The 1970s

Most Recent iTunes Random Plays

  • Nirvana - Pennyroyal Tea
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  • The Beatles - I Want To Hold Your Hand
  • Beck - Girl
  • Kraftwerk - Computer Love
  • Elastica - Vaseline
  • Grandaddy - Jed The Humanoid
  • Mark Lanegan Band - Methamphetamine Blues
  • Luscious Jackson - Surprise
  • Interpol - Roland
  • Camper Van Beethoven - Good Guys And Bad Guys

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Watch ...

... Keren Ann from yesterday's "Morning Becomes Eclectic" here. If you want more, or are just a fan of French TV, try this.

One More Spoon Post

Check out Spoon's strangely 80s-retro video (lip-synching while walking down the street? chicks in one-pieces & high heels? takes longer than a second?) for "I Turn My Camera On" (after sitting through an ad, that is).

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Backlash In Full Swing

Slate's Hua Hsu does a pretty good job of dissecting the backlash against Coldplay -- currently in full force. Not quite enough substance to back up the overwhelming hype? Perhaps.

Monday, June 13, 2005

So Beethoven Was To Blame?

That's the contention of an article by Dylan Evans in The Guardian last week. What he's to blame for is, in the long term, the descent into irrelevancy of serious music.

From the speculations of Pythagoras about the "music of the spheres" in ancient Greece onwards, most western musicians had agreed that musical beauty was based on a mysterious connection between sound and mathematics, and that this provided music with an objective goal, something that transcended the individual composer's idiosyncrasies and aspired to the universal. Beethoven managed to put an end to this noble tradition by inaugurating a barbaric U-turn away from an other-directed music to an inward-directed, narcissistic focus on the composer himself and his own tortured soul. This was a ghastly inversion that led slowly but inevitably to the awful atonal music of Schoenberg and Webern. In other words, almost everything that went wrong with music in the 19th and 20th centuries is ultimately Beethoven's fault. Poor old Schoenberg was simply taking Beethoven's original mistake to its ultimate, monstrous logical conclusion.
There can be little doubt that Beethoven was indeed the first composer to turn the focus inward, using music to reflect the inner state of the artist. The questions are a) was this a bad thing? and b) did this inevitably lead to "what went wrong with music in the 19th and 20th centuries"?

The answer to the first is, of course, "no". Every art form became, during this time, interested in exploring the inner state of the artist through the art. Painting, sculpture, etc., etc., all became increasingly abstract and psychologically-focused during the years of the 20th century, but a beautiful abstract painting is still beautiful. A Rothko painting isn't "about" anything in the external world, but it is beautiful nonetheless.

Similarly, Anton Webern's "Six Bagatelles for String Orchestra" are extraordinarily beautiful, regardless of the fact that their atonal idiom has nothing to do with the "music of the spheres." This leads to the answer to b), which is also "no." This isn't to say that nothing went wrong with music in the 19th and 20th centuries -- something most certainly did. What went wrong is something bound up in Evans' offhand comment about "the awful atonal music of Schoenberg and Webern." Plenty (although not all) of Schoenberg's atonal music was indeed awful. Such was not the case with Webern, and this is the point. Good composers make music that reaches people, regardless of the idiom. Bad composers don't.

The problem with music in the 20th century (especially in the latter half of the 20th century) was not that composers were too focused on their inner states (tormented or otherwise). The problem was that there weren't enough good composers writing good music in any idiom.

Too many of them were more interested in writing for other composers than in writing for either themselves or their audience. The idiom they were using was more a function of the constricted views of the people they were writing for in the academy, and less a function of the requirements of the music itself and the messages the music should have been transmitting to the wider world.

As a result, the shortcomings in the music were less a result of the focus on the inner self than of the focus on the inner circle. You, me and anyone else who likes music were left to drift away and find something else to listen to.

Exceptions did exist, of course. The most interesting ones Henryk Górecki, Arvo Pärt) seemed to arise from an Eastern European tradition that was insulated from the academic bent of American and Western European composers. But their music is no less a reflection of inner states than Beethoven's was, and no less rich because of it.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Boo Hoo!

The great Spoon is in town Saturday, and will play both an in-store at Tower Records at 1:00 and a gig at The Vic at 9:00.

Unfortunately, old suburban dads sometimes find it difficult to attend these sorts of things. Tess has a 1:00 soccer game (there goes the in-store), and the wife & I both sleeping in on Sunday is a difficult get -- which makes the late night difficult as well. Oh, this too, too sullied flesh!

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Some More Recent Acquisitions

Gimme Fiction
Gimme Fiction

My Short Take

If Spoon is not the best band in the world right now, they are at least in the conversation. Kill The Moonlight was a great record, but dgags loves him some Gimme Fiction, too. "The Beast And Dragon, Adored" is a mere bunt single of an opener, but after that it is all extra bases -- sprayed to all fields (can you tell I went to the Sox game last week?). The next seven songs are as good a stretch of consistent greatness as I've heard in quite awhile.

Others Write

Gimme Fiction is actually a wildly diverse album, almost schizophrenic in its composition, vacillating between acoustic ballads, a bubbly, synth-tinged number ("They Never Got You"), handclaps, strings, and a whole lot of blue-eyed soul. It feels like rock action only because the album's finest moments-- for the most part-- are in the sublime climaxes of guitar-driven tunes, notably the heart-swelling, tambourine-ringing relief of "Sister Jack" or the beautifully spare "I Summon You". But calling them "rock songs" feels like an oversimplification: The term implies a simplicity that just isn't present even in the most direct offerings on Gimme Fiction."

"As a destined classic, Gimme Fiction doesn't announce itself like we expect "classics" to, beating its chest and assuming its superiority; instead, it transmits its ideas in clandestine asides, on scraps of graph paper passed around the room, through a generous give-and-take of modestly elastic proportions."
Pop Matters

"Each song glows with infinitesimal joys, tiny pointillist production flourishes noticeable only under close scrutiny. But in rounding out their sound, they brought the viewer close enough to see the brushstrokes and the smudges."

"A dark, theatrical album seething with late-night tension and menace, Gimme Fiction is a bigger-sounding affair than Spoon's previous work, with lots of keyboards, guitars, and strings parts courtesy of the Tosca Strings. But, even with the album's bigger scope, the band keeps its eye for detail."
All Music Guide

The Mysterious Production Of Eggs
Andrew Bird
The Mysterious Production Of Eggs

My Short Take

Andrew Bird is indeed a rather odd one, and aptly named. His sound is defined by his multi-instrumental talents -- guitar, violin, voice -- but most memorably by his whistling. From his Fortress of Solitude somewhere in Western Illinois comes a truly idiosyncratic set of songs.

Others Write

Andrew Bird's voice is the spoonful of sugar that makes this medicine go down so smooth. Much like his violin playing and his whistling and his songwriting, Bird's voice is versatile, simultaneously recalling Paul Simon's conversational croon, Rufus Wainwright's self-aware drama, and Thom Yorke's mournful wail."

"While it's true that Andrew Bird has a background in classical music, plays the violin, spends an inordinate amount of time whistling, and plays the glockenspiel, I defy anyone listening to his remarkable The Mysterious Production of Eggs to easily identify any of those traits/sounds. Even harder to identify is exactly what Bird is doing on The Mysterious Production of Eggs. Is it alt-country, jazz, folk, classical? The answer is that it is a bit of all these sounds fluidly combined into a unique album that makes good on all the promise of Bird's early work from Weather Systems to Fingerlings 2."
Pop Matters

Starting with the smooth acoustic guitar and lightly tapped drums of “Sovay,” Bird sets the mood that will pervade the record’s length: a sort of laid-back ease that rarely shows much of what it is doing to the casual ear, but one that rewards the attentive one. All the better to hear the innovation in the band’s sound to vocal multi-tracking and Bird’s first forays into wholly guitar-led pop music."

The result is an utterly mesmerizing and magnetic album, almost unfair in how incredibly ambitious and impressively pulled off the whole thing is. Of course, the release of Mysterious Production of Eggs brings to mind the unfair question, "What could possibly come next?" before the album has had the chance to even completely sink into its own place in Andrew Bird's baffling catalog."
All Music Guide

Frances The Mute
The Mars Volta
Frances The Mute

My Short Take

Omar Rodriquez-Lopez and Cedric Bixler-Zavala (i.e., the two guys with afros in At The Drive In) form the core of The Mars Volta (i.e., the world's foremost extant prog-rock outfit). Frances The Mute borrows something from Yes, Theolonius Monk, John Zorn, Pink Floyd, Ornette Coleman, Genesis and others, but always with a bite -- and they never fall back on a 4/4 beat.

Others Write

The band's talent is jaw-dropping; we all knew that when Relationship of Command came out, and if there's one band who can restore hope in everything that's great about progressive rock, it's The Mars Volta. They pull out all the stops on the new album, and the way the band shifts from style to style is very impressive, but what I find most distressing about the entire album is its complete lack of focus. It seems that in the process of pulling out every audacious musical trick they could come up with, they completely lose track of where they're going. The technical prowess on the album is undeniable, but the music always seems to meander too much. It feels like Frances was constructed in between bong hits."
Pop Matters

The roar of Rodriguez Lopez and Bixler's post-hardcore past is fully locked away, replaced by an equally powerful flair for expressive percussion, intricate vocal harmonies, and extended solos for electric guitar (as on the initial part of "Cygnus...Vismund Cygnus")."
All Music Guide

"And while you can level all the limp-wristed “it’s too involved,” “it’s too masturbatory,” “the lyrics are too incomprehensible” criticisms at this thing you want, you’re completely missing the point because you’re exactly right. When you’re creating a sonic world or a song-suite seventy-six minutes long, things are bound to get a bit self-indulgent and incomprehensible. Come in if you want, but don’t bang at the door deriding those that want to bother investing the precious hour watching two reruns of The Office. "

Burn The Maps
The Frames
Burn The Maps

My Short Take

While I enjoy this album very much, it's hard to deny that The Frames at this point seem a bit caught in the Coldplay/Travis vortex - i.e., another in a seemingly endless series of remakes of The Bends.

Others Write

The Frames could have used more tracks with consistent, engaging tones. Instead Burn the Maps often sounds like simplicity transformed into bloat in an attempt to sound interesting. It rarely works: Most of these tracks simply move from captivating to frustrating to regrettable."

"The Frames sound like a folk band at heart, but they structure their songs around steady builds, employing crescendos, electronics, and stadium dramatics to outsize their music. Songs begin slowly, emotion develops, atmosphere happens, and intensity increases. While nearly any song on Burn the Maps works effectively, the album as a whole can't quite maintain its momentum with such structural repetition."
Pop Matters

"The album moves in gasps and groans, with a steady flow to its twelve songs that weaves together like a symphony. Not so much bend-and-don’t-break as fracture-and-heal-yourself-anew, their songs press the pressure points behind their transitions. Rarely content to slip under the pull of fast/slow dynamics, as a simple dichotomy at least, the Frames seem to know just when to let you in on the secret."

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Recording Technology And Music

An extremely interesting article from Alex Ross in The New Yorker here, examining the results of the proliferation of music recording and recording technologies over the past century.

He begins by setting up a dichotomy between "the party of doom" and the "technological utopians." The former are exemplified by John Philip Sousa, who made this forecast in 1906:
“The time is coming when no one will be ready to submit himself to the ennobling discipline of learning music,” he wrote. “Everyone will have their ready made or ready pirated music in their cupboards.” Something is irretrievably lost when we are no longer in the presence of bodies making music, Sousa said. “The nightingale’s song is delightful because the nightingale herself gives it forth.”
Ross goes on:
Ever since Edison introduced the wax cylinder, in 1877, people have been trying to figure out what recording has done for and to the art of music. Inevitably, the conversation has veered toward rhetorical extremes. Sousa was a pioneering spokesman for the party of doom, which was later filled out by various post-Marxist theorists. In the opposite corner are the technological utopians, who will tell you that recording has not imprisoned music but liberated it, bringing the art of the élite to the masses and the art of the margins to the center. Before Edison came along, the utopians say, Beethoven’s symphonies could be heard only in select concert halls. Now CDs carry the man from Bonn to the corners of the earth, summoning forth the million souls he hoped to embrace in his “Ode to Joy.”
The problem, of course, is that this really isn't a dichotomy -- both sides of the issue are valid, perhaps equally valid. The place of live music in the home has been completely usurped by recorded. Most homes don't have pianos, and if they do they may not have anyone who can play it. That is a loss. On the other hand, the ability to easily listen to a piece of music at will brings a depth of understanding and familiarity that was simply not available before the advent of recorded music. That is undoubtedly a gain.

Ross' article delves into many other facets of the results of recorded music -- a must read.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

The Cell

Went to The Cell last night to see the Sox play the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim near Buena Park in Orange County California (thanks, Norb).

Some very rough moments, including a key error to open the floodgates on a 4-run 4th, were almost washed away as Juan Uribe narrowly missed a game-winning walk-off Grand Slam before whiffing to end the game and a 10-7 loss.

First time at the park for me since it got a haircut last year, and the reviews are good. Looks more like a ballpark now and less like a spaceship. The kosher dogs are as good as ever, and Corona's are easily available. One thing has always been true about the Sox, they do try harder -- on the field and off.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

If You Like Cursing ...

... then Deadwood is your show, and this is your audio clip.

*** WARNING! ***

If you do not like cursing, then do yourself a favor and skip this clip!