Uncommon music criticized by the common man. (Or, exercises in futility masquerading as critical thought.)

Friday, November 28, 2003

Here are three reviews of three different records by the same band from three different reviewers: 1, 2, 3

Notice anything? In all three, Tortoise fans (or in the case of the review for All The Suits Began to Fall Off, the band themselves) are asked to take note. Jesus. Is this plagiarism, lazy reviewing, or both? All three reviews might as well have said "Recommended if you like Tortoise." Three poorly written reviews reduced to 5 words, and saying just as much. C'mon, Erlewine, you're dropping the ball over there.

Speaking of Tortoise, have they done anything lately? They release Millions Now Living Will Never Die many moons ago, an album that every hipster-indie cretin salivated over (and, well, yeah, somewhat justifiably), drop a few more after that, and now I don't hear much about them at all. Considering they were going into a more trad jazz direction, could it be that the early boosters have moved straight into actual jazz without all the post-rock bric-a-brac? Or is it a post-rock backlash by the hipsterati? No doubt if it's the former, they're all Vandermark 5 and Chicago Underground Duo/Trio/Orchestra boosters now.

While we're on the subject of Chicago musical institutions, I picked up two Albini "engineered" (not based on that fact; just a useful tie-in for transitional purposes. Ain't I sneaky?) albums tonight: Dysrhythmia's Pretest and Low's Things We Lost In the Fire. The former is proggy, slightly Jesus Lizard-esque instrumental rawk (that's my initial impression, as I've only listened to the album once, during my workout at the gym), while the latter is, um, Low. If you know them, you love them. And if you don't, you really, really should, and this album is a great place to start. You download monkeys should get try to find "Whore," "July," or "Like A Forest" if you want to take the album for a test drive. But do buy the record if you like it. To paraphrase Milk und Cheese (apologies to E.D.): love them with money, or I'll hate you with hammers. Or, in the spirit of the holidays, you could pick up their album Christmas. You don't have to be a Christian or even religious to connect with the beautiful, spiritual quality of the record.

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

And on the indier side of things: Pitchfork: Top 100 Albums of the 1990s Redux. (This link will be changed on Monday; I'll update it then.) They revised their original list, which can be found here. Again, a lot to comment on, but for now, I'll just throw it up there for information purposes.

Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. Pretty self-explanatory. I own 76 of the top 500. The highest I own is #2, the lowest is #490. There's way too much to discuss here, so for now, I shall post it for informational purposes only.

Thursday, November 20, 2003

For those of you in the Metro DC area with an open mind toward experimental music, I give you this. I don't know if I'll be able to attend (as a spectator, obviously), but I'm definitely curious.

And now, a review. (Hey! It's been a while, eh?)

In Solarium
Pia Fraus
Clairecords - 2002

Ahhhhh, shoegaze. There was a time when I was in love with this genre. The breathy, often unintelligible vocals, the heavily treated guitar distortion, the sometimes ethereal nature of the music. It was lush (no pun intended) and spare all at the same time.

Sadly, it was also very limiting. Aside from various high water marks in the genre's history that still hold up today--Ride's "Leave Them All Behind" (the song, not the whole album), Lush's Spooky, My Bloody Valentine's Loveless, Cocteau Twins' Heaven or Las Vegas, and Slowdive's Souvlaki chief among them--the genre's near uniformity of sound and often downbeat aesthetic (at times bordering on goth) made the music very mood specific. In other words, it was good in small needed doses, but often could be pushed aside for more vital fare. In time, the genre faded from the popular realm (hey, Lush was on the second Lollapalooza tour, so it had some sort of mainstream visibility). Still, there are a great number of bands around the world keeping the torch of shoegaze aflame, despite its apparent musical irrelevance.

One of the better practitioners is Estonia's Pia Fraus. On In Solarium, they pull off one of the best My Bloody Valentine hijackings since the Lilys released Eccsame the Photon Band. The major difference is that the Lilys largely retained the sonic gauze of Loveless, whereas Pia Fraus goes back to the relatively stripped down sound of MBV's Isn't Anything for inspiration. This means, of course, that the melodies are more immediately apparent, and therefore, enjoyable. As a matter of fact, the only noticeable deviation from the MBV template is on the song "How Fast Can You Love," where they instead decide to do their best Stereolab impersonation, though still bathed in the guitar haze favored by Kevin Shields and company. The combination works, as the song is one of the better on the album. Other highlights include the cumbersomely titled "The end of time and space like we used to know it is after you have finished your tea approximately at 5:07 pm," which bops along quite briskly upon a nice farfisa line, "Bibabo," another snappy number that sounds like indie-poppers Poole being funneled through television static, and "Outskirts of Me," which reminds me more of a rawer Lush (read: without Robin Guthrie's overproduction) than MBV.

Yes, the album is extremely derivative, but it's also good. With enough catchy melodies and clocking in at a relatively slight 35 minutes, the album is well worth the time of any fan of the genre. And even if you're just a fan of pop music and wouldn't know shoegaze from shoehorns, you could do much worse than In Solarium.

(Note: Their label, Clairecords, seems to be connected to many quality artists of the gone but not forgotten shoegaze scene, including Isobella and Con Dolore. Check them out Tone Vendor, their online store, which sells not only their catalogue, but much, much more. And the prices are hard to beat!)

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Raison d'etre

If you're a newcomer to this site and are wondering what the hell this is all about, here's the skinny: Musica Generica was originally started as a blog where I would do reviews of different albums in my collection. I am doing this basically to hone my writing and critical skills, as one day I wouldn't mind doing music criticism/writing on a freelance basis. Plus, it doesn't hurt to have some writing samples around. Sure, I could have done this in a notebook or some such, but I also like blogging, and figured I'd marry the two. Since those humble beginnings, MG has evolved into both a place for criticism (not as much as I was hoping) as well as music related news items/discussion in general.

And there you have it.

Thursday, November 13, 2003

I read this review over at Pitchfork and it made me a bit nostalgic.

Teenage Fanclub will forever be one of my favorite bands. But I can't say that I've been treating them as such in the last, well, however long it's been since Songs From Northern Britain came out. (Six years? Seven?) They pretty much lost me when they went to all-out Byrds-ian jangle pop. Not that the music is necessarily bad, but it lacks the vitality of Bandwagonesque or even most of Grand Prix. There is no punch to the music on Songs. I didn't even bother to pick up Howdy!, because by that point, given the amount of time between releases and the fact that I barely listened to the recent work, I had lost interest.

So why do they remain one of my favorite bands? Bandwagonesque. That album alone is worth adoring this band. Their second album overall, and their Geffen debut (after A Catholic Education, a solid offering on a then rather fledgling Matador Records), is perhaps the perfect power pop album from that period. Others can cling to The Posies or Matthew Sweet all they want, but TFC had them beat. They had better songwriters (three of them for pete's sake!) and, in my estimation, much better songs. Though Matthew Sweet hinted at it occasionally, I don't think he had as much of a genuinely rock edge in his music (certainly not on Girlfriend) as Teenage Fanclub. One thing TFC did that a lot of their contemporaries could not do was put the "power" into "power pop." Even today's power poppers, such as Arlo or The Bigger Lovers, tend more toward crunchless saccharine sweetness than jagged, Big Star-flavored rock.

Of course, Teenage Fanclub themselves never reached that standard of greatness again. While Thirteen was very good and Grand Prix better than that, it was already becoming apparent that they were starting to soften their sound. It's almost understandable; the radio was being overrun by shitty loud-rock at the time, so it's not a surprise if TFC wanted to distance themselves from that. Still, it would have been nice to have something to break up the midtempo monotony that was starting to creep into their music. The melodies were still there, and the lyrics were, when not treading too close to cheesy, still worth singing, but overall, the music was far too static to amount to much of anything. Songs like "Star Sign" (from Bandwagonesque) bristled with too much energy to be ignored, while songs like "Say No" (from Grand Prix) settled for being merely enjoyable and largely forgettable. Hopefully, this collection will inspire people who are not familiar with the band (or only know them from their recent output) to go back and pick up those first few albums, but especially Bandwagonesque. They certainly deserve the recognition in any case.

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

So, I got my music on today. Hadn't purchased anything recently, so I decided to hit Melody Records in Dupont. (By the by, if you live in the D.C. area, I highly recommend this store for all of your music shopping needs.) After getting my hairs cut, I stopped in and did a little bit of shopping. Tonight's haul numbers only three:

The Bug - Pressure: Kevin Martin of God, Ice, and Techno Animal fame gets dancehall on your ass.

Explosions in the Sky - The Earth is not a Cold Dead Place: more epic drama rock (a la Mogwai or Slint) from these Austinites. If you don't have Those Who Tell the Truth Shall Die, Those Who Tell the Truth Shall Live Forever, I recommend you get it with all due speed.

Pink - Try This: c'mon, you all know who Pink is. And I don't feel guilty in the least. So fuck off.

Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Interview with Kandia Crazy Horse.

I think this is definitely going on my to-read list. While I know nothing about her work outside of what I read in this interview, I immediately took to her writing. It's very uncompromising in tone and you get a sense that she cares a great deal (of course, editing this book would be a pretty good tip-off as well) about this subject. You don't always get that feeling when you read some rock journalism, as it often times comes off too smarmy ("Look who I know and look what I did!") or two encyclopedic ("...who begat the Fall, who begat Pavement, who begat Yatsura..."). Since my own knowledge of this subject is shaky outside of the big names (Hendrix, Arthur Lee, Sly Stone, Living Colour), this should prove to be very informative and, if the other writers share Ms. Crazy Horse's enthusiasm, entertaining.