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

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

For any Sonic Youth fans who stumble across this page, here is some news on their 2004 plans. After a great outing on the last album, I'm definitely looking forward to the new one, which is a 180 in attitude (well, maybe a 120; I'm still a mark, after all) after the release of NYC Ghosts & Flowers. The DVDs sound interesting as well.

Also, got this link from SR in the comments below. Worth checking out.

Sunday, January 25, 2004

Just got back from Philly a few hours ago and have a nice little haul of music (including a few that will help me free up some space on my hard drive). The albums are:

Acid Mothers Temple Magical Power From Mars (2003, Important Records)
Ephel Duath The Painter's Palette (2003, Elitist/Earache)
Mr. Dibbs The 30th Song (2003, Rhymesayers)
Pixies Complete 'B' Sides (2001, 4AD)
Prefuse 73 Vocal Studies Uprock Narratives (2001, Warp)
RJD2 Your Face or Your Kneecaps (2001)
Ruins Hyderomastgroningem (1995, Tzadik)
Selby Tigers The Curse of the Selby Tigers (2002, Hopeless)

(The last album was a gift from my friend, Monica. Thanks, Monica!)

Hopefully, I'll have something to say about some of these in the very near future.

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Fakejazz has finally returned, after a nearly three month hiatus. (They last published circa: Steve Bartman. And they have posted The List for 2003. The List, naturally, is an end of year best of, but done in the fashion of the old VH-1 series by the same name. I'm actually blogging this before I read the list itself, but if it's like past years, it should be both informative and entertaining.

This blog has been inactive for a while due to a variety of reasons, laziness NOT chief among them, amazingly enough. So, I thought I'd break the silence with a review of an album I've been re-visiting a lot lately. Not one whose greatness I had forgotten necessarily, just one that hadn't made it off the shelf in a while. Need to keep this up, don'tcha know.

Fake Can Be Just As Good
Blonde Redhead
Touch & Go - 1997

Here's a short version of their bio: Italian twin brothers (Amedeo and Simone Pace, on guitar and drums, respectively) meet two Japanese girls (Kazu Makino - guitar, Maki Takahashi - bass) in a NYC restaurant and eventually form a band whose name is taken from a song by 80s no-wave band DNA. They catch the ear of Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelley, who signs them to his Smells Like Records label and releases their first two records (producing the first). Acclaim and Sonic Youth references ensue. Somewhere around the making of their second record, Takahashi leaves the group. Their third record (and first for indie stalwart Touch & Go), Fake Can Be Just As Good features Unwound bassist Vern Rumsey on bass, the last the band recorded as a four-piece, as they would become a bass-less trio on subsequent tours and records.

In writing songs for this new trio format, the band's music took a more abstract direction. Instead of trying to compensate rhythmically for the lack of bass, the band instead went the other direction, making the guitars more fractured-sounding than before, becoming at times arhythmic. They have not completely devolved to amelodic noise or pointless experimental noodling, but the tension in the music is not as taut, as the fragmented guitar lines are playing off of each other and the drums, rather than the solid foundation the bass provides. Consequently, the newer music has a slightly more static quality than that of the old. Still very good on the whole, but with many more weak spots than they had produced prior to the trio format.

Perhaps this is why I see Fake Can Be Just As Good as the bands high point. Coming in the middle of their five-album discography, it's the sound of a band perfecting its sound before reinventing it due to personnel changes. Plus, the album delivers the goods, batting 1.000 across eight tracks.

Musically, this was their most fully-realized work at the time. The Sonic Youth comparisons that have always dogged-them (not entirely undeserved) aren't completely done away with here, but are heard infrequently and are mostly superficial. The record opens with a trio of tremendous songs. "Kazuality" starts off with what sounds like the kind of music that would be playing at high noon in a Sergio Leone film, with a slurred bell and squealing guitar playing the part of the lone whistle. The rhythm section then kicks in, moving the music along briskly while the guitars sound, quite frankly, like they are in a constant state of tuning, not a chord in site. It's all fractured feedback and mini rave-ups. Yet, the music is much more inviting than that description would have you believe, due in large part to the persistent throb of the bass and some excellent drum work by Simone Pace.

"Symphony of Treble," the album's first single (I believe), features Makino on vocals. Again, it's the rhythm section that carries the tune, as Simone layers maracas and bells over top of his drumming, while one of the guitar-lines marches lockstep with the bass in a tight arpeggio. On the chorus, they disengage from each other, as the guitar takes up and expands the main riff, while the bass stays steady before rejoining the guitar on the next verse. Makino's vocals, by the way, are much more expressive than Amedeo's (who also does lead vocals on about half of the tracks). She sings in a breathy, strained whisper that sounds somewhere between post-coital come ons and fevered, hushed pleas for help. While her vocals can occasionally evolve into a girlish squeal, overall they are restrained in such a way that it adds to the song's tension.

"Water," my favorite track off the disc (made all the more so when I saw them play it live, and as a trio, no less), has a very cinematic feel to it. I want to say something perhaps from giallo cinema, but I'm not familiar enough with that genre to make an honest comparison. It's just in the way it feels both wide-open and claustrophobic all at once, with a very sinister undercurrent provided by the guitar. Guitar noir? Maybe. I feel bad, because I'm too feeble-minded to do the song justice.

Actually, now that I think about it, the entire album has that aura about it. There's a sense of dread that underscores the music and the album is great at conjuring the visual. Perhaps the record's cinematic qualities are not entirely unintentional, as there's actually a song named for infamous Italian director Pier Paolo Pasolini. Plus, I swear that the album closer, "Futurism vs. Passeism," is the soundtrack to a chase of some sort, as the main theme is introduced, before suddenly pausing--like that brief moment when hunter and hunted become aware of the other's presence--then taking off all the way to song's end. It's breathtaking in its execution and really crystallizes everything great about this album (except maybe Kazu's vocals, as the song is an instrumental).

Any way you care to look at it, though, Blonde Redhead put together that rare album that is great from top-to-bottom, maintaining a singular theme/vision throughout. The music sounds dark and ominous and sensual all at once, from one song to the next, without once becoming monotonous or predictable.