Saturday, October 22, 2016

Rhythm Stick

I've been in Dallas over a year now but this past week marked my first concert here.  As someone who used to go to multiple shows a week, this is a bit of a change.  Reasons are various but living in the burbs definitely makes things a bit harder -- after commuting to work and back it's so much easier to call it a day than to go back out again, but I managed it on Wednesday and didn't really regret it.

Nicolas Jaar finally induced my return to the nightlife.  Not an artist I've ever really listened to, bar possibly hearing some mixes at some point, but he does electronic stuff and is pretty well respected, so that was enough to get me out.  Plus there's a part of me that doesn't want to give up going out and hearing new things.  Add to that tickets to the show at the Granada were pretty cheap and I found a couple of friends to go with.

The show proved to be a bit of a mixed bag, which wasn't entirely down to Jaar.  It started out alright, with some very loud ambient sounds that verged on this just this side of cheesy (rainfall and bird sounds were present, so...); the other problem with that initial segment was it just seemed a bit too abstract.  There was a decent crowd present, and this section, which was probably somewhere between 10 and 20 minutes long, got me thinking about the live experience when it comes to electronic music.  What I've noticed is that crowds at a concert have certain built-in expectations, and it's hard for electronic artists to meet those expectations.  Even when I used to go to Motor lounge in Detroit, if the DJ that night was a big enough name a significant part of the crowd would just be facing the DJ booth instead of dancing; at a concert that's billed as live that's almost 100% the case, but more often than not there's nothing much to see.  Artists make up for that in various ways -- extensive visuals, random instruments to make things as "live" as possible; but others just have a bunch of machines and a laptop and stand behind them.  So, in the absence of anything to see, I think a crowd is at least looking for something to grasp on to aurally -- hit them with abstract ambient for 20 minutes and you end up with a bunch of people who are basically waiting for something to really happen, and they'll happily whoop if you just drop a big slab of bass.  Which is what happened at the Granada.  Unfortunately, right at the point that I think Jaar had planned to introduce some beats and more danceable sounds, there was a technical issue which ground everything to a halt for around 10 minutes.  The show then lost all momentum so that by the time the music started again most people were on their phones or carrying on conversations.  Kudos to Jaar then for being able to turn that around and get people re-engaged.  The fact that from that point on everything was far easier to dance to really helped; a 25 minute segment towards the end really stood out in that regard.

Jaar has quite a range of musical styles, which I hadn't expected (well, I didn't really know what to expect).  Apart from the ambient stuff he also had some disco bits, house, bass music, tropical beats, and techno.  In a couple of tracks he even picked up a mic, adding and looping his voice into the mix.  The crowd, I think again responding to traditional concert cues, loved it; I liked it too,  mostly because those tunes were great.  Jaar gave a good sense of playing his music live, which is another area I think can be challenging for electronic artists.  There's a need to properly convey that some risks are being taken, that someone isn't just hitting 'Enter' on a laptop and then noodling around.  Not all artists are successful at this aspect -- many don't do enough to justify the live tag, while others go too far and up playing jazz!  For me, Jaar found the right balance, but, as mentioned before, it didn't make for much of a visual experience, other than when he was singing.  The stage set up was two banks of machines and a laptop, with Jaar solo and pretty obscured behind his gear.   Fair enough as I suspect few artists can afford to take a really good visual set-up on tour, but I think even arranging his equipment differently could improve things.

To sum up, it was a decent show let down by one technical problem.  After that issue the sound didn't seem the same; it sounded like a speaker was blown and the music just wasn't loud enough for me.  The show lasted about two hours; I do think Jaar could clean things up a bit and make the show tighter and more focused.  As far as what I want from my electronic live experience, there was a visceral quality that was missing for me; I'm looking to be hit hard by something just nuts, and that didn't happen.  Not Jaar's fault, that may not be his thing, but I feel like I'm looking for something and not finding it.  I got a glimpse of that something in the latest album by Hieroglyphic Being, but unfortunately the track only lasts a minute and 10.  I think what I'm after is a massive four-four beat that's been messed with, played at ear-bleeding volume; the search for that aural high continues.

Rhythm Stick

I've been in Dallas over a year now but this past week marked my first concert here.  As someone who used to go to multiple shows a week, this is a bit of a change.  Reasons are various but living in the burbs definitely makes things a bit harder -- after commuting to work and back it's so much easier to call it a day than to go back out again, but I managed it on Wednesday and didn't really regret it.

Nicolas Jaar finally induced my return to the nightlife.  Not an artist I've ever really listened to, bar possibly hearing some mixes at some point, but he does electronic stuff and is pretty well respected, so that was enough to get me out.  Plus there's a part of me that doesn't want to give up going out and hearing new things.  Add to that tickets to the show at the Granada were pretty cheap and I found a couple of people to go with.

The show proved to be a bit of a mixed bag, which wasn't entirely down to Jaar.  It started out alright, with some very loud ambient sounds that verged on this just this side of cheesy (rainfall and bird sounds were present, so...); the other problem with that initial segment was it just seemed a bit too abstract.  There was a decent crowd present, and this section, which was probably somewhere between 10 and 20 minutes long, got me thinking about the live experience when it comes to electronic music.  What I've noticed is that crowds at a concert have certain built-in expectations, and it's hard for electronic artists to meet those expectations.  Even when I used to go to Motor lounge in Detroit, if the DJ that night was a big enough name a significant part of the crowd would just be facing the DJ booth instead of dancing; at a concert that's billed as live that's almost 100% the case, but more often than not there's nothing much to see.  Artists make up for that in various ways -- extensive visuals, random instruments to make things as "live" as possible; but others just have a bunch of machines and a laptop and stand behind them.  So, in the absence of anything to see, I think a crowd is at least looking for something to grasp on to aurally -- hit them with abstract ambient for 20 minutes and you end up with a bunch of people who are basically waiting for something to really happen, and they'll happily whoop if you just drop a big slab of bass.  Which is what happened at the Granada.  Unfortunately, right at the point that I think Jaar had planned to introduce some beats and more danceable sounds, there was a technical issue which ground everything to a halt for around 10 minutes.  The show then lost all momentum so that by the time the music started again most people were on their phones or carrying on conversations.  Kudos to Jaar then for being able to turn that around and get people re-engaged.  The fact that from that point on everything was far easier to dance to really helped; a 25 minute segment towards the end really stood out in that regard.

Jaar has quite a range of musical styles, which I hadn't expected (well, I didn't really know what to expect).  Apart from the ambient stuff he also had some disco bits, house, bass music, tropical beats, and techno.  In a couple of tracks he even picked up a mic, adding and looping his voice into the mix.  The crowd, I think again responding to traditional concert cues, loved it; I liked it too,  mostly because those tunes were great.  Jaar gave a good sense of playing his music live, which is another area I think can be challenging for electronic artists.  There's a need to properly convey that some risks are being taken, that someone isn't just hitting 'Enter' on a laptop and then noodling around.  Not all artists are successful at this aspect -- many don't do enough to justify the live tag, while others go too far and up playing jazz!  For me, Jaar found the right balance, but, as mentioned before, it didn't make for much of a visual experience, other than when he was singing.  The stage set up was two banks of machines and a laptop, with Jaar solo and pretty obscured behind his gear.   Fair enough as I suspect few artists can afford to take a really good visual set-up on tour, but I think even arranging his equipment differently could improve things.

To sum up, it was a decent show let down by one technical problem.  After that issue the sound didn't seem the same; it sounded like a speaker was blown and the music just wasn't loud enough for me.  The show lasted about two hours; I do think Jaar could clean things up a bit and make the show tighter and more focused.  As far as what I want from my electronic live experience, there was a visceral quality that was missing for me; I'm looking to be hit hard by something just nuts, and that didn't happen.  Not Jaar's fault, that may not be his thing, but I feel like I'm looking for something and not finding it.  I got a glimpse of that something in the latest album by Hieroglyphic Being, but unfortunately the track only lasts a minute and 10.  I think what I'm after is a massive four-four beat that's been messed with, played at ear-bleeding volume; the search for that aural high continues.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Twittered



I've written about Zomby before; he's one of those enigmatic dance music producers with the kind of underground and bass music vibe that's appealed to me for a while, kind of like Burial.  I heard a few tracks of his last year and ended up following him on twitter, and then getting quite excited about his latest album Ultra, especially when I heard it was coming out on Hyperdub, and that there'd be a Burial collab -- so excited that I bought it without reading any reviews.  I do sometimes succumb to the hype machine and then subsequently regret it, and sadly this is one of those times.  I really wanted to like the album and was looking forward to some electronic weirdness but with a good beat.  I listened to it twice and didn't feel satisfied so went and read a review on RA which basically nailed exactly what my issues with the album are.

First of all, too many tracks sound like out-takes from Step 2001.  Others feel like they're either missing something vocal or lack a hook.  A couple of tracks are decent, but overall the album is basically disappointing, like it's flirting on the edge of being really good but isn't quite finished.  After two listens there's no track that I can recall from memory, and that includes the collab with Burial.  The let-down feels even worse because this CD cost me $18!  No idea why the price was so high; even the guy at the record shop was confused, but it's definitely not due to any extras, or special packaging, or anything like that.

In the RA review the reviewer mentions a previous album and how it's tracks just faded away, feeling half-finished.  I have an older Zomby album called 'With Love' that I actually returned once to the record shop because I thought it was some sort of industry sampler, not a real album -- all the tracks just faded out after a very short time.  Turns out that's how the album was meant to be!  It's a shame, because Zomby is obviously talented; in part I'd say his record companies are letting him down by letting him release work that's barely there.  I'm still going to follow him on twitter, but I'll be wary of letting the hype to get to me next time.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Complete Control

I was reflecting on my habits as a music fan during my morning commute today (50 minutes, mostly in traffic, ugh).  I was considering the fact that I've never been a completist; I've moved from favourite band to favourite band but never gone and got, or even listened to, any artist's entire back catalogue, no matter how taken up by them I was at the time.  When I was into U2 I stuck with just "Achtung Baby" and "Zooropa"; when it was Black Grape I only got the first album; even with the Clash I only went a few albums beyond "London Calling".  I suppose for me it's never been about buying into anyone's entire career or oeuvre; it's more about the individual work that I may intensely like, while being able to keep things in perspective and realise that not everything by any given artist is going to be good.  Plus I think I lack the attention, especially these days, to really focus on any one thing for too long.

This was all prompted by hearing "Sing" by Blur on 6 Music today.  It got me thinking about Blur and their sound and trajectory.  "Sing" is off their first album, "Leisure", which I don't think I've heard fully, so what I'm about to say may sound like complete balls to anyone who's a real Blur fan.  My Blur fan-hood is kind of like my fan-hood for every other band -- there are a few albums I've listened to a lot, and that's it.  So I'm hardly the person to really know enough about Blur to say what I'm about to say, but I'll say it anyway.

When I heard "Sing" this morning I was struck by the thought that it sums Blur up in a way.  The song itself is pretty non-traditional for a pop song; it's experimental, with no easily decipherable verses to sing along or relate to, and it barely has a chorus.  It's a great song, but very far removed from those which made Blur famous -- songs like "Girls & Boys", or "Country House", or "Song 2".  Even if I consider Blur as an indie act instead of a pop one, "Sing" is a lot more ambitious than anything else I've heard from that period -- and they produced it themselves. "Sing" sums Blur up as a band who are actually very experimental and who've had many different sounds and phases in their 28 years.  And when I hear "Sing" and consider some of Blur's other music it seems not at all surprising that the band eventually fell apart; because it would be hard for any band with so many different ideas and sounds to capture it all in one outfit.  It makes sense that Damon Albarn ended up starting and being part of many other acts, and worked solo, as did Graham Coxon.  Blur was never going to be enough to encapsulate all the ideas those two, and particularly Albarn, had.

This is probably not news at all, or fresh original thinking.  Really this is me trying to figure out who Blur are to me.  I'm re-examining them and re-thinking who they are as a band.  Britpop Blur wasn't really the Blur I loved; the Blur I loved was the Blur of Think Tank and what I realised today is that Blur were always the band that would make Think Tank; that album isn't an anomaly, it's actually who Blur are.  And "Sing" is what proves that to me.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Metal

Heard some lovely, lovely, atmospheric and groovy music in the past week that I had to archive/share.  First up is this track by BadBadNotGood, who I've written about before.  Time Moves Slow is very soulful without sounding like a pastiche of the past; it's from their upcoming album IV:


I've also featured Bibio on this blog before.  I came across this track, Petals, earlier today.  The video is not official, but it's pretty good regardless, the kind of thing I wouldn't mind having a longer loop of to play in my hypothetical office:


Slightly moodier direction now with Can't Say No by Ivy Lab featuring Roses Gabor.  Makes me think of late nights in cities, shiny glass and concrete, reflections off cars driven slowly.  Kind of menacing.


Bonus Track: Rush by Roses Gabor


Dang, listening to this stuff is making me want to put together a mix tape!  

Friday, April 8, 2016

teenage memories via teenage fanclub

I remember the very first time I came across Teenage Fanclub, in the early 90's, in the NME, when I was totally new to non-top 40 music.  I couldn't understand them, I literally could not understand what Teenage Fanclub were, was, etc, I had no idea they were a band; I was just like "teenage fanclub of what??".  Anyway, I grew to like them immensely, they have lots of quality songs.  I re-heard this one recently and was just struck by it -- it took me back to a time when I was young and single and sad about it and it just seemed like finding the right person would fix everything.  Also reminds me of just how free I was then, no responsibilities, and I didn't even need a lot of money to get by.  That juxtaposition is basically my whole life in a nutshell!  Unhappy at the time,  nostalgic about it later on.  Happily, I got see Teenage Fanclub live at the 930 Club once, and even though I can barely remember the show, the fact that I saw them makes me happy.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

New reviews of old albums (1)

Maybe this will become a series, or may it'll be a one-off, but I've decided to write a short review of a couple of albums I finally got around to listening to in the last couple of weeks.  Back in Arlington, VA, the library system stopped buying music CD's a few years ago, but I've recently discovered the Dallas Public Library is pretty up to date when it comes to music (for instance, they've got the newest Disclosure album).  So I'm hoping to easily catch up on some releases without having to buy or torrent.

First up have been the last two albums released by Gil Scott Heron before he passed away in 2011.  In 2010 he put out "I'm New Here"and 2011 saw the release of "We're New Here", which was billed as a remix of the entire album by Jamie XX.  Both came out on XL recordings.  I'm glad that my lateness has meant that I've been able to hear both records back to back, as that's been an interesting experience.

I got "I'm New Here" a couple of weeks before the Jamie XX remix version.  Overall, it's a good album, and it really does work as an album.  To me it seems like a goodbye album, as if Scott-Heron knew it was going to be one of his final pieces of work and wanted to wrap things up.  He talks about his life and how he was raised, the people involved in him turning into the man he became.  It's a bit like the final Bowie album in that it seems like music from a person who knows things are drawing to a close.  But unlike "Black Star", "I'm New Here" is much more straightforward lyrically, very direct and comprehensible.

While listening to it I did wonder about the production and how much input Scott-Heron did or didn't have in that regard.  It's quite stark, with mostly minimal beats and bass highlighting the lyrics and Scott-Heron's cadence.  I can easily imagine the voice tracks being laid down and then the production happening around them completely separately; I believe production was handled by the head of XL Recordings.  On the one hand it all sounds quite fine, but on the other it's very of it's time and I have a feeling it won't age well -- it's very electronic, very 2010, and it already sounds a bit dated.  That's a shame as it stops the album from feeling very essential, even though lyrically I feel like Scott-Heron has a lot to say. The track I'm putting here is a bit of an anomaly as it's one of the few that isn't so electronic:


Well, that may not sound wholly positive, but I do think it's an album worth checking out.  That's not something I can say about the Jamie XX version. I'm not sure what went wrong with "We're New Here" but I found it very disappointing. The title, and the write-ups at the time, made it sound like some sort of joint effort between Scott-Heron and Jamie XX, but it really is a remix album, and not in a good way.  The remixes are similar to a lot of more modern remixes in that there is barely a hint of the original songs left.  This is basically a Jamie XX album with some Scott-Heron samples, and even then, most of the time, the samples are so far in the background that it could be anyone.  In fact, for some of the tracks, having no Scott-Heron at all would probably have been better.  It's a disservice to him to just have snippets of his voice mumbling away behind everything else.  It really is quite jarring at times -- there really seems to be no connection between the music and the lyrics at all, for instance, in album opener "I'm New Here".  My guess is that it has something to do with the fact that Jamie XX was very early into his solo work when he did this; it almost seems like a practice run, which is OK, except it got released and was even well-reviewed when it came out.


So, to sum up, I do recommend checking out "I'm New Here", at least if you have some interest in the work of Gil Scott-Heron.  It's a good album with mostly good songs, and even if the production is a bit 2010 it's still not bad.  As for the Jamie XX version though, there is really nothing to recommend it, other than the novelty of hearing something so wrong -- I really do feel that strongly about it.