Sunday, July 26, 2009

Random stuff ...

As anyone who regularly reads this site would know, I'm not the sort of person who callously nitpicks reviews and reviewers, but:

1. Full disclosure: I haven't heard the new Fiery Furnaces album, and I don't consider myself a fan of the band.

2. It's fairly well known that the reviewer is a huge mark for Fiery Furnaces

3. Knowing #2, this website gave the reviewer a platform for fawning over one of his favourite bands. Now hang on a minute, I'm certainly not saying that critics shouldn't be assigned reviews by bands they like. Naturally, you'd expect that a band's fans would excel at describing what makes that band's music so great, and you'd also expect that a critic (who also happens to be a big fan) would excel at communicating this in a balanced and sober way without having the review come off as a piece of fan fiction. There are a million good reviews of this sort, for example, check out this review of Depeche Mode's most recent album. But there's nothing ressembling actual criticism in this FF piece, it's all "nakedly emotional" this and "brilliantly crafted" that, the boring old knee-jerk "this album doesn't sound like the band's past work ... it's because they made a progression" intro meme (Band Makes Progression From Their Last Album -- Film at 11 ... such hard-hitting, insightful music criticism), one OTT compliment after another, strained attempts to canonize the band's work through desparate comparisons to the best work of Bob Dylan and Elton John, and downright batshit claims such as "Eleanor's vocal cadences are as distinct and unmistakable as anyone in contemporary pop this side of Snoop Dogg and Lil' Wayne" (shielding the band's uber-indie scenester rep behind sacred contemporary chart icons -- "look you guys, don't hate on this album, I like rap music too!").

4. In light of #3, the album earns 7.8/10. People (rightfully) complain about readers paying too much attention to number/letter/star grades in music reviews, at the the expense of reading what the critic actually had to say about the album. Here, we have the reviewer going out of his way to say great things about the album, only to have a completely unremarkable 7.8 attached to it, which just reeks of the editorial stench of "some people might ridicule us if we give yet another good grade to yet another album of college kid indie wankery, especially considering to whom we assigned this review, and besides, we only bust out the 9.4's for up-and-coming bands because we might want to take credit for breaking those bands six months after the fact. Except that we certainly don't want people to think that we're hating on FF because that sort of band is our bread and butter, so let's compromise -- 7.8/10."

The story behind the "true" inventor of the iPod has been getting some play (hat tip to RA), and it's worth a read as long as you ignore certain gaps in the logic (e.g. Apple shielded themselves from a patent infringement suit by "admitting" that a third party (NOT Apple themselves) invented the iPod ... huh?) but you hardly expect the tabloid-y Daily Mail to legally and factually precise in a story such as this. Especially when the story claims that Kramer is one step away from the poor house but still makes a point of shilling his latest super-duper-gonna-change-the-fabric-of-the-universe invention. But hey, that 30-year old drawing (if real and not some sort of garbage-y fake) does look a heck of a lot like a real iPod ...

Read this interview with DJ Poontz, you'll thank me later. You might dismiss this as high school toilet humour that completely fails in its supposed purpose (i.e. to make you want to hear his music), and I wouldn't argue too strenuously against that viewpoint. But I'd rather read more interviews like these than any more theoretical eyesores like the lauded Kode 9 interview from the Wire, whose micro-detailed, analytical trip through the tiniest minutiae seems to just suck all the fun out of music making and music listening. (I have never understood the appeal of this sort of theoretical treatment, or why genres like dubstep and grime are magnets for that sort of thinking and writing).

Monday, July 20, 2009

Moritz von Oswald Trio, "Vertical Ascent", or "Why does he always have to sound like TV Victor these days?" Also: Juan and Luke!

This is another new release that simply isn't resonating with me ... I love the idea of three techno mavens picking up guitars and exotic percussion instruments and going all jazz/dub on us, but there's just nothing going on here, it's all style and atmosphere with none of the risk taking that makes for quality improvised music. I feel as though I'm supposed to be impressed and find myself lost in sound just because the album was mastered in an echo chamber or something.

Speaking of men, myths, and legends, I heard Juan Atkins spin this past weekend. After a bit of a wimpy patch at the start, he turned on the slamming Detroit goodness and just didn't stop. He hit the classics patch around 4:30 AM ("Strings of Life"/"No UFOs"/"I Feel Love"/some Basic Channel stuff) and I was completely worn out ...

On the same note, Planetary Assault Systems' "Temporary Suspension" is slamming my ass against the wall right now. This stuff is nearly indistinguishable from Luke Slater's mid-90's PAS work, and I love how he dabbles in e.g. electro-pop just for kicks ("I Can Complete You") but always finds a way to return to the PAS material, which simply never seems to age.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Musik In Berlin

Yeah, yeah, Berlin is changing all the time, but the biggest changes these days aren't with the buildings, but with the people. The city is jam packed with tourists -- I think there were even more tourists in the city this month than there were during the World Cup in 2006 -- and Berlin's newly mainstream appeal means everything in the city is a lot more expensive than it used to be. Beer prices are about a Euro more, on average, than three years ago, new CDs are consistently in the 15-20 Euro range, and I found fewer crazy good bargain bin deals at my usual stops (e.g. Dense, Neurotitan). Dense has moved from its old home on Danziger Strasse and is now on Petersburger Strasse, however, some things don't change -- you still have to look carefully to find it, because the name of the store only appears in faded lettering on one of the windows. It blends in with the surrounding shops and I walked right by it twice before finally noticing it. Just like old times. Even armed with an address, you still have to search for shops tucked away behind buildings and down creepy alleys.

After getting rejected from entry to Berghain, we moved on to plan B, which was Pan/Tone live at the new Tresor club (it's a couple of years old, but I've never been to the new location so it was new for me). I didn't think they could possibly replicate the feel of the old club in a new location, but they somehow did it. First off, ignore the huge brick monstrosity of a building that houses the club, just head inside. Upstairs, you'll find the half-dancefloor, half-bar section that houses the Globus floor. Now, this section can hardly be called edgy (particularly the bar section with its plain, student pub atmosphere), but that was always the case for the Globus section of the club. Downstairs, you have to pass through a long, dark, cold corridor with blank grey stone walls, and as you walk, the sense of fear and mystery grows as the thundering hard techno music grows louder and more ominous. The empty old wooden shells of safety deposit boxes have made the move from the old club, as have the steel grills and the merchandise alcove. For me, The music had too many elements of 1991-era hardcore/rave for me on this night, but the atmosphere was fantastic. The DJ's on the Globus floor were better, and Pan/Tone just killed it with his punishing live set.

On the weekend I was there, the parties were great but not "Berlin great". The best may have been the Vakant 5yr anniversary (Onur Ozer, Jeremy P. Caulfeld, many more), but none of us really wanted to trek out to Rechenzentrum so we didn't seriously consider going. OTOH, the schedule for the next weekend was just insane. On my weekend there were no real dream lineups, but the week after featured a handful of them, beginning with the various Red Bull Music Academy events (including a Moderat gig on the day I left Berlin ... damn), but the Friday party at Watergate was the stuff of legend, with various Perlon stars plus Villalobos, Baby Ford, and a live performance by Isolee. WHOA. It was a great week for concerts, and if I'd gotten my shit together I could have seen Leonard Cohen, NIN, Suzanne Vega, Nouvelle Vague, Ron Carter ... and didn't see any of them. We wanted to see La Roux, but it sold out. However, I did see a great performance of Jewish music in a charming, lovingly dilapidated ballroom that dates back to 1913, chilled until 6AM listening to techno on the riverside rafts of Club der Visionnaire, and finally saw "Berlin Calling" starring Paul Kalkbrenner. It's Berlin, you can't do everything, or even 0.00001% of everything.