Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Donnacha Costello LWE Podcast 46; "Ted Mosby is a Jerk"

This has to be the oddest review pairing I've ever done, but that's the sort of week it's been -- when I haven't been catching up on past seasons of "How I Met Your Mother", I've been really feeling this podcast.

Donnacha Costello's "Together Is the New Alone" was so awesomely beautiful that it pretty much made me a fan for life. That album made my shortlist of about fifty albums that I eventually pared down into my Top 30 of the 00's. He later made a bigger name for himself via his Colourseries releases on his own Minimise label. His recent EP "Before We Say Goodbye" has me stoked to hear the full-length album of the same name, and this podcast for Little White Earbuds is part of his promotional rounds for the release of that album. Don't be fooled into thinking "oh no, not another 'old school' mix". He forgoes many of the obvious classics and brilliantly meshes styles, ranging from minimal (G-Man's "Quo Vadis" might be overplayed, but g-ddammit, it never gets old for me) to 20-year old house and techno tunes. It's a kicking mix from start to finish, and probably the best I've heard so far this year.

The best episode of season three of "How I Met Your Mother" was easily "The Bracket". In short, Barney is trying to track down women who he's wronged in the past. He finds one girl who is still furious with him, and in front of a cafe full of people, loudly announces that she has no intention of taking down the website she created to spite him: You see, in season two, Barney picked up this girl by impersonating his architect friend Ted (Mosby). Even one year later (in TV time) the girl had no idea who he really was. All she knew was that she was consumed by her hate (and as it turns out, love, and hate, and love, and ...) for who she thought was Ted Mosby.

As soon as she said the name of the website, I stopped the video and checked for it on the internet ... and found that it really exists! How can you not love a show with such a high degree of attention to detail? But not only did the show's producers create the website, they recorded a song for it. A brilliantly catchy song at that, one that's half "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes", and half stream-of-consciousness emo-driven weepie. The girl sings, cries, whispers, and vomits her way through an rage-fueled lament for "Ted Mosby" ... FOR TWENTY MINUTES. Try to stick it out until the bitter, confused end, because each simplistic and ridiculously timed guitar, sitar, brass, vibraphone, and saxophone solo is worth hearing (and laughing at).

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Yo La Tengo, Geva Alon @ Barby (22/03)

Geva Alon claimed that he was a bit nervous having to open for Yo La Tengo, but you never would have known judging by his intense, determined solo acoustic set. His voice is difficult to pin down, he would jump from Gordon Lightfoot's folksy drawl to Chris Cornell's gritty holler and then back again. His blustery, hold-nothing-back strumming perfectly complimented the emotion in his voice. At 25 minutes in length, his set was almost criminally short, but no less inspiring because of it.

Yo La Tengo hit the stage looking surlier and more businesslike than usual. The last time I saw them, which I believe was way back in 2003, they might have been wearing exactly the same clothes. I'm guessing that this first concert was the night of the "hits", while the second show (23/03) will be more of a freeform gig, with more cover versions and explorations into their back catalogue. YLT have always loved to jam, but they've always looked more comfortable playing the shorter, poppier songs. Ira Kaplan might get to mimic Lou Reed's guitar solo from "I Heard Her Call My Name" whenever they decide to go long, but that's a distraction that usually doesn't cover up the band's tendency to zone out a bit during these songs. A fourteen minute version of "Pass the Hatchet, I Think I'm Goodkind" ןs the sort of thing you probably need to hear once (but only once and never again), but "More Stars Than There Are in Heaven" got better and better as it went along, building toward a brain-frying conclusion that gradually stripped away the volume and morphed into the lovely and solemn "Tears Are In Your Eyes".

Small quibbles aside, the band settled into their element by reeling off an impressive array of those shorter, poppier songs. The mood of their two-hour set (including two encores) was defined by these songs -- nine out of the first ten tracks from "Popular Songs" (i.e. all the short ones save for "By Two's"), the jaunty "Mr. Tough", and a lovely acoustic version of "Decora". They even yield to playing requests from the audience during the encores, including a brisk run through "From a Motel 6" and the mega-oldie "Big Sky". And who could possibly complain about hearing "Deeper Into Movies", "Nothing to Hide", and "Sugarcube" played back-to-back-to-back?

Friday, March 19, 2010

American Idol - YOUR top twelve!

I never watch the audition episodes. I took a two-week break from nearly all non-Olympics related TV. Catching up with episodes of House and How I Met Your Mother. General apathy toward TV as of late. These are the reasons why I haven't seen a minute of American Idol Season 9 up until now, with the exception of "Pants on the Ground" which I've watched 84028 times.

I haven't even been following along on the internet during Hollywood Week or since the round of 24 started. I find it pointless to read up on a program like AI unless you're also watching the show. It's not like other shows where you can read a plot summary and get caught up -- you badly need to see and hear the contestants for yourself. So I literally have no idea who any of the finalists are. I'm coming in completely fresh.

Michael Lynche. He has a soothing, pleasant voice, but not one that's good enough to carry the "money notes". He's a "top eight" talent, someone good enough to hang around while the clear weak links get weeded out, but not a serious contender to win (BTW, I'm writing these comments as I watch the show, I haven't seen anyone else perform as I write this). I see that nothing has changed with the judging this season, and only Simon can see the truth for what it is. This show is so screwed when he leaves.

Didi Benami. Here we have the Megan Joy Memorial "tall pretty blonde girl with freaky voice" Contestant. Except she's talented!

Casey James. It would be great to see a non-douchey (Adam Lambert, Chris Daughtry) rocker go far in this competition. And as the saying goes, "he knows exactly what kind of artist he wants to be."

Lacey Brown. I loved the string-heavy arrangement of "Ruby Tuesday", and her half Texas twang, half freak folk voice is alluring, but she didn't show much range, and the "still I'm gonna miss you" line was a mess. This could go either way.

Andrew Garcia. The slivers of talent are there, but the choruses were a mess and it's a really poor idea to try to condense "Gimme Shelter" into two minutes.

Katie Stevens. During the interview portion, Ryan talked about how the judges had pushed her to adopt a younger, hipper style. "So what will you be singing?" "Wild Horses" I groaned.

Waiting for Simon's "beauty pageant" comment ...

Tim Urban. I certainly wasn't expected a reggae version of "Under My Thumb" from the third Texan contestant of the night. Simple, catchy -- this could be a hit. The judges are smoking something fierce if they think this didn't work. I guess they've never listened to Jason Mraz or last year's AI winner Chris Allen.

Siobhan Magnus. As far as WTF-y versions of "Paint It Black" on AI go, this one was even more screwy than Adam Lambert's last year. Her tendency to oversing the high notes is also Lambert-esque (so it's no surprise that the judges love it) and those "hot for teacher" glasses completely hide her hotness. Still, she seems like a terrific talent who had a off-week.

Lee DeWyze. New to AI: a Dave Matthews wannabe. Solid but totally unspectacular. Just like the real Dave Matthews! This guy could sell records.

Paige Miles. I have to hand it to her, it's really really difficult to sing "Honky Tonk Women" without embarrassing yourself. Minus a billion points for reversing the sexes in the lyrics ("I'm a honky tonk woman/Give me a honky tonk man"), I hate when people cover a song and do that. I think this was my favourite performance thus far.

Aaron Kelly. Wait, his mom's name is KELLY KELLY? I'm going to have trouble taking this guy seriously now. And fortunately, he makes it easier for me by wandering aimlessly around the stage to the already hideous "Angie". The kid can sing though. He needs to find a decent song though.

Note to Simon: I also have no idea what Randy was talking about when he referenced Justin Timberlake. Doesn't Randy just throw out random arists with vague similarities to the person on stage and dress it up as criticism? He does this with genres too, e.g. "I liked the rocky, soul-y, blues-y thing you do doggg" Once again, with feeling: this show is screwed when Simon leaves (although Simon's been on autopilot for a couple of seasons too).

Crystal Bowersox. She's the starcrossed kid who obnoxiously talks about writing songs about "her teenage experiences" along with a showbiz dad who never made much of himself, lives vicariously through his daughter and wants nothing more than to make her a star. Every year I write about AI never managing to find a rocker chick in the modern day Pat Benetar mold, or in more contemporary terms, someone with the look, youth, talent, and confidence that made Alanis Morissette and Avril Lavigne into huge stars (they came close last year with Allison Iraheta). Is it any wonder why she got the show-closing slot tonight?

Crystal HAS to be the winner of American Idol Season 9. Nobody else is in her league.

Overall, this is a really talented group, so I retract my "top eight" comment about Michael at the start. In most years he'd be good enough to hang on for a few weeks, but this year he's a forgettable 12th best. I have a feeling he's not the one going home though.

I don't think there's ever been someone as far ahead of the field as Crystal at this stage in the competition. Maybe Carrie Underwood or David Cook.


UPDATE after watching the results show: Lacey wasn't the worst last night, but hey, it's looking like a tough year. If you're fighting for second place, that is.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Autechre's 12-hour set

I have to say that I was prepared to be disappointed by this. Their marathon set from a few years ago was ... well, there was a lot of good music there, but it was way too long, let's say that. But disregarding that bit of semi-ancient history, their 80-minute FACT mix from just a few weeks ago was a mess, filled with fairly pedestrian drill'n'bass, hip-hop and glitch without much in the way of flow whatsoever.

It took me the better part of a week, but I've slowly made my way through their March 2-3 set, and it's a keeper. Start to finish, it's packed with amazing tunes, skillful and creative mixing, and fascinating transitions. Mixing Autechre (and Autechre soundalikes) into hip-hop has been done before, but this many times in one set? I was losing myself while tripping down memory lane in the first few hours, with its melting pot of old school hip-hop and classic Autechre remixes. That opening section by itself might have made for a fairly legendary "long" DJ set, but there are another eight hours to follow! There's still the early 90's rave section, the extended hip-hop section, the (brief) minimal techno section, the cool parts where they use Renegade Soundwave or Sensational to help segue between genres, the kitchen sink closing section of dub, noise, hip-hop and IDM ...

Their set all over the internet, but here is a good place to hear it.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Radio Slave, "Fabric 48". Redshape, "mnml ssgx mx48"

If I heard a set like Radio Slave's "Fabric 48" in a club, I'd probably be losing myself in it completely. It's deep, consistently energetic and seamlessly mixed, so what more could you want from this music played on a room-sized soundsystem? At home though, it comes off a bit too same-y and repetitive, stylistically speaking, to stand up to multiple listens. I can't argue with how well it captures the mood that it aims to capture, and I have no trouble saying that despite my usual aversion to anything remotely resembling tribal house/techno.

Redshape's "Twilight Zone in Rabbit Holes" mix for mnml ssgs offers a nice mishmash of styles, even though it isn't as brazenly unpredictable as it wants to be. But any mix that signs off with an awesomely pitched down version of Speedy J's "Patterns (Remix)" is worth the journey in my book.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Eluvium, "Similes"

The vocals turn up about a minute into the gorgeous, shimmering intro of the first track, "Leaves Eclipse the Light" (an instantly recognizable Eluvium title if there ever was one). It's a bit jarring, because the song was humming along nicely up to that point. I could say the same about every other track on "Similes" that features Matthew Cooper's mumbled, deer-in-headlights singing -- in short, I find it hard to believe that any of these songs were conceived with any singing in mind. It's like these beautiful, anodyne atmospheric tracks were carefully assembled and slowly perfected, and the vocals were added only afterward.

Singing aside, "Similes" is unlike other Eluvium albums. The reliance on piano may stir up memories of "An Accidental Memory in the Case of Death", but there is nothing here that sounds epic and triumphant like the best parts of "Copia" or his earlier albums. "Similes" is different. It's a sad album. Maybe Cooper felt like the songs needed vocals in order to break the tension. It's a repetitive album, far more so than anything else he's done other than purely drone-y tracks like "Zerthis Was a Shivering Human Image". Maybe he felt like the album needed vocals to interrupt patterns that would otherwise be too monotonous.

On initial listens, I downgraded the album based on the principles I touched on here -- except in this case, the album that trumps "Similes" isn't new, it's a few years old. It's also not an enitre album, rather, it's "Blood Fountain", the final track on Horseback's "Impale Golden Horn", where vocals and delicate piano cut through the fog of what is otherwise an album of blistering noise and drone. On that one track, Horseback anticipated and possibly surpassed everything that Eluvium attempts on "Similes". But after repeated listenings, "Similes" really comes into its own. These aren't pop songs -- the piano melodies are still very much Eno as opposed to Burt Bacharach -- but they can't nonchalantly be tagged as "ambient" either, which wasn't the case with other Eluvium records. At the end of the day, you have to give Eluvium his due for crafting some of his most beautiful tracks ever. I can't imagine that the jaw-dropping 11-minute album closer "Cease to Know" would disappoint anyone who had anticipated "Similes" in the slightest.