Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Diary of Musical Thoughts Podcast Episode 2

"Realpolitik turns on itself - a mix" (115 minutes)

This was recorded about three weeks ago and the minor editing/sound processing was done in my hotel room in Milan. You know you're a rock star when you're writing/recording on the road, in hotel rooms in exotic locales. (yes, that's sarcasm)

I wanted to do a quieter mix this time around. I imagined music that would evoke feelings of aimless drifting, although I didn't want a mix of straight up ambient drone music. I relied on a bunch of older CDs that I hadn't heard in ages (e.g. Main, John Watermann), these discs were selected in advance and in some cases I pre-selected the candidate tracks as well, although the final track selection and ordering were all done on the fly. I also imagined a much shorter mix than last time, in the 70-75 minute range, but that didn't materialize.

To make for easier d/l'ing, I split the mix into two parts. However, the flow of the mix sort of lends itself to being split into two halves. The first half of the mix (which ends after the Plastikman track) seems to flow better, while I normally struggle to get through the second half without drifting off to sleep. But with a mix like this, I think that's a compliment though, or at least, the expected biochemical reaction of ending a mix with a sequence of very long, very mellow songs, including fifteen minutes by Earth at the finish.

More details appear in the comments section. Enjoy!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Two live reviews

I have a lot of pet peeves when it comes to reading live reviews. Now admittedly, I don't always post very professional sounding live reviews on this space, but after all it's a blog and not an actual newspaper or journal, so sometimes I tend to goof off a bit.

But no matter what tone of writing I'm aiming for, there are some things I *never* do when I write about live shows, because these so-called criticisms and pointless and stupid in any context. This includes:

1. Whining about the setlist. Example: "why didn't they play [reviewer's favourite song by the band in question]?"

2. Complaining about the band's lack of interaction with the crowd, or disinterest in interacting with the crowd. Examples: "the singer had his back turned to the audience", "the band never said so much as a 'hello' or a 'thank you for coming'".

3. Lamenting that that X (who may or may not have been the opening act) isn't as famous as the headliner(s). Example: "I am so over the hype for the headliner, why couldn't X (who may have opened earlier in the night) have been the headliner?"

4. Beating a dead horse. Examples to follow.

I would hope that it's obvious why it's lame when a reviewer stoops to these sorts of lows, but here's a brief summary:

1. Why don't you just review the show that you saw, rather than the show that you wanted to see?

2. Silly platitudes are almost always irrelevant when it comes to the quality of the show.

3. Nobody cares about your forecasting. Just tell us whether the show was good or not, without trying to pimp your own agenda.

4. Yes, we know that already. We knew that ten years ago. Nobody cares about that anymore. We didn't even care back then. (examples to follow)

These annoying bits of reviewers' detritus were on display in a couple of recent reviews.

Bob Dylan's concert in Ramat Gan stadium near Tel Aviv (his first show in Israel in about two decades) was reviewed twice in the Jerusalem Post, both times by David Brinn. The short review (which appeared on the front page of that day's paper) was a simple puff piece with nothing but praise for the performance. The long review is a bit harder to pin down. A discussion about Dylan's perceived aloofness (#2) bookends the review and is presented as an obstacle that one must overcome in order to enjoy the concert. He also addresses the set list (#1), notes that there were no "left field" choices, and seems puzzled that some songs have been reinterpreted over the years and now sound different from the well-known recorded versions.

The review seems to have been written for the non-music fan who never goes to concerts but is nonetheless curious about what goes down at a stadium show by a major international artist -- which in fact, describes most of JPost's English-speaking readership to a tee. The third to last paragraph appears to be a take down of many of the sentiments that Brinn mused over in the rest of his review (has this article been edited since it was originally posted? This paragraph seems ... longer and different from what I first remember reading). I can't say I disagree, I mean yeah, if it's news to you that Dylan's voice sounds like a phlegmatic latter-day Miles Davis being choked under a pillow, then you probably shouldn't be going to his concert and complaining about his singing.

Steve Kerr's review of MUTEK 2011 for LWE is part text, part photo essay -- yeah, it helps remind me how much I enjoyed writing my own review of the festival last year. Let's begin with his extremely odd assertion in the opening paragraph that this year's festival was inferior to last year's because of the preponderance of "headliners either past their prime or commanders of cult fanbases". Um, doesn't that describe just about every MUTEK festival? Or most 21st century techno festivals for that matter? I could have sworn that I saw Nurse With Wound and Mouse on Mars headlining MUTEK last year. Anyway, the review hasn't even gotten going yet and he's already started complaining about the festival lineup (basically the same as #1).

Later on, he arrives to the Friday night event at Metropolis -- the marquee event of the festival -- and when it comes to discussing the headliner, he's all "I'm so over Plastikman at the moment, how about we check out some bass producers you've never heard of in the next room?" (#3). Eventually, he returned to the main room of the club, noting that "the floor was a mess and the atmosphere was appropriately post-apocolyptic". That line really whets my appetite for hearing more about the most anticipated performance of the entire festival, too bad Steve Kerr wasn't there to fill us in on the details because those of us who weren't there are dying to know ... oh wait, he WAS there but couldn't be bothered to watch and review the performance he (and/or LWE) paid $50 to see.

Kerr reports that some of Mika Vainio's gear was stolen, and comments that "perhaps as a result his set was entirely devoid of visuals, performing in near-darkness." Vainio never needed visuals when he performed as part of Pan Sonic, and anyway, nobody watching their shows could pay attention to a video screen because they were too busy trying to hold their skulls together in one piece thanks to the deafening volume. Nevertheless, "[i]n spite of this, he effortlessly proved that audiovisual spectacle is little match for technical mastery." Do we really need to say this in 2011, especially on a dance music oriented site like LWE (#4)? Perhaps we do, maybe people are so fixated on the quality of the visuals that are accompanying the performers and their music (i.e. the stuff that draws people to these events) that we need to have the whole laptop performances vs checking email arguments all over again. Was Kerr pleasantly surprised by Vainio's performance, or is he pointing out what his readership should already know about what makes for a top quality techno set? I'm not sure, considering on how many words he spills on describing the visuals in several other performances in his review. My views about this remain unchanged -- if the music isn't any good, then the visuals won't rescue the performance. It's never happened and it never will happen. Some might argue for exceptions like Caretaker's performance from last year's MUTEK, but when a guy stands on stage for an hour doing nothing other than taking swigs from a whisky bottle, it's clear that there is no performance apart from the visuals (and the whisky, and the decadence, which was the whole point of his video). And aside from all that, the music was great!

Kerr's review ends much as it began -- "it seemed like a disproportionate level of attention was paid to marquee staples like Plastikman and Modeselektor, overshadowing exciting new artists such as Hype Williams and Elektro Guzzi who would’ve otherwise stolen the show." Yeah, a disproportionate level of attention was paid to them because they were the *headliners*. How can this be so difficult to grasp? Even so, his point is baseless because techno audiences aren't like rock audiences. Rock fans are much more prone to tunnel vision when it comes to the role of the headliner. Many fans don't even bother to show up for the opening band(s), and they're much more difficult to win over when they're watching a musician they've never heard of before. Techno fans aren't like that, and you can most definitely steal the show from an opening slot. Last year's MUTEK set by Actress (which Kerr praises in the first paragraph of this review) was second on a five-act bill.

Kerr has a lot of interesting things to say about the festival and did a fairly good job of explaining how varied and creative the lineup (and the attendees) of MUTEK tends to be compared to other electronic music festivals. But this? "Overall, MUTEK 2011 offered five days of superb, nuanced performances and fulfilled its promise, if not my fantasy line-up." Say it with me: "nobody cares what your fantasy line-up is ..."

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

P&J 2010 (One and Done): Lil B, "6 Kiss"

30 points, t-365, voted on by Andrew Nosnitsky (who gave 30 points to another album, but "6 Kiss" was listed as his #1 album, so it counts)

Wait, this is still on? And didn't P&J wrap up five months ago?

I just returned from two weeks in Milan and Rome, and I haven't any music-related things to report. An interesting looking one-day rock festival took place last week in Milan (Rock in Idrho), featuring Foo Fighters and The Stooges among others. I didn't go, although at 57 Euro, the cost was fairly reasonable. Groups of teenagers sometimes board the subways in Milan and ask for money. Except it's not for charity, it's their job -- they play in small musical ensembles, entertain a train car full of commuters for a couple of stops, and hop onto the next car. Some of them are fairly good! I also toured the La Scala museum, and on days when there isn't a rehearsal you can visit the boxes and see the main hall itself. So I can say that I "went to La Scala", even though it wasn't for a performance. The stagehands were busy hauling things on and off the stage, the lighting techs were testing a few things, and the orchestra members were slowly filing in and warming up. All that stuff would seem pretty pedestrian if you were watching it in an ordinary auditorium, but in LA SCALA it almost felt like a important occasion, a peek behind the curtain into how the sausage gets made (and in this case, you really don't mind seeing how the sausage gets made).

Parts of this trip were soundtracked by L'il B's "6 Kiss". Now it's no secret that I don't listen to much hip-hop, and won't pretend that I can recognize high quality forward-thinking albums in the genre from the rantings of your generic dick-grabbing MC. But I'm way past the point where I'd be disgusted or dismissive of music where the subject matter didn't extend much beyond line after line of talk about bitches and ho's. We're in DJ Assault territory here, which means that after the 105th mention of bitches take my dick and suck it please, I tend to view the whole thing as one big joke. And at 19 tracks, 77 minutes, "6 Kiss" takes its time running that joke into the ground*.

For the most part, the rhymes are fairly good, but it's the music that shines brightest on this album. "B.O.R. (Birth of Rap)" and "I'm God" make for a daring opening punch -- rather than slamming into you at full force, they gently rev the album into being with their soaring, angelic background vocals. It's like Dead Can Dance died and got into the rap game, or maybe the PM Dawn revival happened and I missed it. "Real Plexxx" is like a 70's R&B number remixed by one of the 90's electro or lounge techno revivalists, punctuated by Lil B's sizzling vocals, one of his best on the album. "What I Mean" features of the heaviest basslines I've ever heard -- it's a real bassquake, intended to make your speakers dance their way across the room on their own accord.

From "I Want Your Bitch" onwards, it's nearly all bitches, all hos, all the time. It's a killer track though, like a slowed down 90's breakbeat tune with 85% of the treble removed. "O My God 66" is a half-sung weirdo love ditty that manages to recall both Green Velvet's warped sense of humour and Sheffield Bleep.

But getting through the entire album in one sitting? Forget it. There's way too much fat on here (like the "Rolls Royce" through "What I Mean" middle section) but it's a fantastic listen if you keep your finger close to the skip button.

* I later noticed versions of this album with 22 tracks, so I'm not even sure I have the complete version of the album (or if there are extra bonus tracks, or ...). The album was an internet-only d/l, and Lil B released his first official album only this year (after years of making mixtapes and online-only material), so there's bound to be different packages of his music floating around.