Wednesday, November 28, 2007
Well the top tier of 2007 records has pretty much been covered here in earlier posts. I'm certain there is a very large number of equally worthy candidates out there, sadly it just seems to take a while for records of the type to rear their heads above the sea of mediocrity we've come to call indie-rock. Of the few gems I was able to scavenge, here are my top five:
Naturally, a band's debut record it's less likely to be discovered and this year only 37500 Yens' Astero was the only debut piece of music that found it's way into my stereo, and only by chance, and left an indelible impression. If forced, I'd have to say I enjoyed this collection of songs more than any other in 2007. It probably wasn't the most groundbreaking, but it seems to have selected all the finest elements from a diverse pool of admirable influences. The Conformist's 300 has to be a close second for sort of inventing their own bizarro hybrid genre that will launch a thousand records in the future. It brings me much happiness knowing that there is such a band called the Conformists out there, on tour, probably inspiring a bunch of warped-minded kids to think differently about their hackneyed punkrock. I was surprised at the strength of Z's Arms, and it's ability to maintain agression within such strict discipline. Their new album explores a range of textures, or dynamics, you might say, which their previous efforts hadn't. And it almost seems too easy to throw in Black Engine's Klu Klux Klowns but it's irresistible. It is basically a Zu record, and it sounds like a Zu record, which is to say it sounds like a beautiful, bludgeoning racket, so it makes for #4. And I gotta round it off with Ahleuchatista's Even in the Midst simply because no one else can do what they do for the fourth time over and still make it interesting, let alone their finest work. Plus they seem like a bunch of stand up guys and probably deserve it. I've never met them or anything but just look at them.
The Psychic Paramount released this wonderful LP, The Gamelan into the Mink Supernatural, which was originally released in 2005 but only as a compact disc. Available in 2007 on vinyl it sounds almost like a completely new album and at the very least worth mentioning again. The record was mixed in the red, as it were, to carry a sort of hypnotic feel, which turns some people off, but I didn't mind. The Psychic Paramount includes members of Laddio Bolocko, the legendary ever-inspiring noise-rock torch bearers of yesterday. No Quarter Records.
I'm somewhat taken aback by how much I'm enjoying Sleeping People's Growing. Their first release was interesting and worthwhile in that it felt like a logical extension of Rumah Sakit's work, but I can't quite determine weather in fact the band has taken a huge leap forward with it's darker, dronier, slintier tangents and sci-fi soundtrack synth tracks or if I'm just in a good mood. Temporary Residence.
Upsilon Acrux released it's fifth full-length this year, Galapagos Momentum, and while UA never disappoints it never quite blows you away the way it probably should. Considering the level of technical skill of which the band is capable, their records, while impressive, always seem to underwhelm just slightly. On tape anyhow. I caught the band's live set in a dingy unmentionable bar here in Chicago this October and decided that's how the band was meant to be heard.
Contrariwise, I saw Wilco in Chicago's new and ornate Millennium Park, and what I fail to understand about Jeff Tweedy is after assembling a lethal team of avant-garde professionals including On Filmore's Glenn Kotche, noise-specialist Jim O'Rourke of our favorite Brise-Glace, and the untouchable guitarist Nels Cline, the Wilco frontman puts out his blandest, most conventional record to date. The Nels Cline Singers on the other hand proved they are still capable of some interesting things on Draw Breath, while it may not have the fire of Nels' earlier works, it is still a fine record that includes a profoundly introspective opening track that feels like a summary of your life's experiences to date.
And in order to sustain your necessary Tortoise fill for the year you picked up the Exploding Star Orchestra's We Are All From Somewhere Else, which allowed you to hear Herndon and Mcentire's drums and Jeff Parkers guitar under the direction of Rob Mazurek. But if you were really lucky then you showed up to the Chicago Symphony Center on the 13th of October...
Here are selected tracks from some of the aforementioned records.
I saw a number of good shows this year but without a doubt the most radically interesting was Tortoise at the CSC. They played the musical accompaniment to F. W. Murnau's 1922 silent horror classic Nosferatu, which, I had no idea, is surprisingly terrifying. Add to that some spooky noises and ambiance from Tortoise's deep bag of electronic tricks and a dizzying view atop the fifth floor balcony-- very cool. I tried to keep track of the handful of musical 'themes' that recurred throughout the film, but Nosferatu himself was quite distracting and engaging, (props to that guy, honestly, he creeped me out), but I do recall the opening credits were accompanied by a reworked version of 'Salt the Skies', one of my favorite tracks of off 2004's It's All Around You. Beyond that all the music was unrecorded I'm pretty sure, and I particularly remember the music in the travelling sequences having a noteworthy quality to them. Somewhere I've read that Tortoise plans to use pieces written for that night's performance in a new record in'08 or '09. So we've got that going for us. But what I would really like to see is a DVD of the music score and the film, only because I very much want to show people what I saw that night- it was that good, but I'm pretty sure that is not likely to happen. But I'll settle for a youtube clip, or any sort of video from that evening. If anyone finds anything, let us know.
We might as well take this moment to plug another local act, Voltage, which played in front of Battles at the Empty Bottle, in March of this year. They're a two piece that very much caught me off-guard live, and as a bonus played in full-on knight's armour and chain mail. The two-piece also sell these home made synth-sets, and give you a soldering tutorial on their website. I believe their record does not do their live set justice, but it's still worth your dime.
And finally I wouldn't feel right if I didn't mention that 2007 saw the first new Slint material since the posthumous EP release of 1994. Slint played Spiderland front to back on a beautiful summer day in Union Park, and afterwards we met 'King's Approach' for the first time. Video here. Song here.
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
Sunday, November 11, 2007
In addition to releasing a new album Arms on Planaria records this year, Zs have also released Buck, a compilation of two live sets. I'm still waiting on Arms, so I can not vouch for it, but I have listened extensively to the Karate Bump EP and Zs, the 2003 self-titled. Both of these releases are excellent examples of what the band is capable of, and parts of both are featured in Buck, which is why it deserves a special highlighting here.
Part of what most allured me to Zs initially was the rhythms they create by lightly blowing into the reeds. That a band would accent this nearly inaudible effect and put it into the forefront of their sound was very exciting to me. But that it works so well in the live recording is what really blew me away. The tracks are all very complicated, have no obvious patterns, are by no means brief, and somehow are all performed flawlessly. Website. Myspace
You could probably compare Zu to the Gorge Trio in the sense that they're a trio that's 'gone collaborative' over the years in pursuit of forever pushing the barriers their sound. I've heard a handful of these collaborations that are readily available here in the US, but it is the earlier Igneo, that is most easily found this side of the Atlantic, and seems to be the most popular of their releases. Igneo finds the group as it began, a three-piece of sax, bass, and drums, and special guests Ken Vandermark, Jeb Bishop and Fred Lomberg-Holm. They all play part to an intelligent, heavy, clamorous mess. Website.Myspace.
For 2007 Zu is operating under another moniker, Black Engine. This is a collaboration with Eraldo Bercocchi. The album Klu Klux Klowns is likely to be one of my favorites of the year. You can order the CD at this great site- Wallace Records. Listen to 4 tracks here or at the official website.