playlist from 9-26-10

This week, I'm going to try something new: if you miss(ed) the show, and still want to hear these tracks while you read this stuff, click here for a zip file of (most of) the playlist.  I may not do this every week, and may not include every track I play on the show, but this might be a fun way for people to check out music they haven't heard.  Let me know if you find it helpful!

I also put up zip files for my previous shows.  They're updated at the end of each show's blog post, but here they are in one place, too:


Now, back to our regularly scheduled mini-reviewing...

1. Black Black by Masses.  From Unreleased, Smother Nature sessions.

Masses is one of my favorite local bands, and if they continue to live up to their name so well, they won't be local for long.  This cut will probably be released on vinyl soon--I hear rumors of a tasty 10'' format (save me a couple of extra 10'' plastic sleeves, dudes--nobody around here sells 'em).

I don't like "post-rock" as a genre name because it isn't a descriptive term.  What should "post-rock" sound like?  I suppose Masses generally falls into this category as the term is currently used, but I think their music transcends the genre.  Sure, it's instrumental, guitar-based music, and it features the dramatic shifts in volume one associates with "post-rock," but there are other elements at play, both subtle and overt.  Masses manages a lot of dynamic control with subtle alterations in texture, for example, rather than always going for the "distorted/clean" switcharoo so common in the genre.  They're better at building and sustaining drone-based passages without losing musical momentum than most of their peers.  Melodic movement doesn't always take place with the highest notes being played.  Ultimately, you have the textural vocabulary of guitar-oriented bands like Ocean, but with the compositional control of a band more like Godspeed You! Black Emperor.  And they're snappy dressers.

2. A Man To Hide by Time Of Orchids.  From Sarcast While, 2005, Tzadik.

I am a huge fan of almost everything Time of Orchids released, but this track is surely one of the high points of their recorded career.  Each of their first three full-lengths features a fantastic guest artist: Marilyn Crispell on Melonwhisper, Kate Pierson on Much Too Much Fun, and the incredible Julee Cruise on Sarcast While.  This is my favorite of the tracks featuring Julee Cruise, whose voice you might remember from David Lynch projects like Blue Velvet or the Twin Peaks theme.

This is one of those songs that can take listeners through a novel's worth of drama in less than ten minutes, and it's hard to describe.  So listen to it for yourself:

3. Look At My Hawk by Make A Rising.  From Rip Through The Hawk Black Night, 2005, High Two.

This is another of my favorite bands from the incredible avant-rock Philly scene.  The music seems to have a "legit" classical/jazz background in places while spending lots of time in psych and Krautrock passages, too.  I love the arranging in this band--lots of instruments make appearances, but generally things are gathered into really effective "chamber groups" within the bigger ensemble.  The group also manages to balance impulses of being silly with being more serious sounding at times.

It's been a while since Make a Rising released an album, and members have moved away from Philly, but plans for a third album are still moving forward.

4. To Composer John Cage by Anthony Braxton.  From For Alto, 1969, Delmark.

For Alto is one of those classic albums whose influence on subsequent musicians is hard to measure.  If you haven't heard it, the title is quite literal: Braxton plays solo alto saxophone over 73 minutes, divided into 8 compositions named for folks Braxton admired.  Braxton's original liner notes for the album weren't used, but are available to read online from his label.  Having read some of his more recent texts, these were some oddly random notes!

This is one of those albums that creates its own world, its own rules, and its own language/grammar/syntax.  It might take a while to "break through," but once you do it's endlessly satisfying.  And I think Braxton is tragically underrated as a player--he plays the crap out of his horn on this album, with a lot more fire and passion than many folks touted as "masters."

Then again, you don't have to "get it" to love it, either.  It's a great album if you just want to hear a guy totally shredding on alto, too.  And an old pet of mine, a tabby cat named Mazzy, was positively entranced by this album and no other.  Whenever I would put it on, she would drop whatever she was doing, leap onto the top of a speaker, and lay her head out in front of the speaker to positively bathe in the music.  She never did it with any other record, but it happened several times with this one.  I wish I would've taken a picture.

I understand that Braxton intended each piece on this record to focus on different aspects of his new language: trills, multiphonics, "sheets of sound" ala Coltrane, and so on.  Notably, John Zorn used a somewhat similar approach on his (mostly) solo alto sax albums "Classic Guide To Strategy," Volumes 1 and 2.  Those are also great records to check out if you like this album.

5. Temptation by Either / Orchestra. From The Half-Life of Desire, 1994, Accurate Records.

Either/Orchestra is a really fun group, but I chose this song especially for the guest singer: Mark Sandman, best known as the frontman of the "low rock" trio Morphine.  Sandman delivers a great performance on this track, which evokes a bit of his band's approach mixed with a film noir vibe.  There are some great details in the production of this recording that help to establish its atmosphere, too: listen for the horn parts that interject with a very dry tone, and how disorienting they are on the rest of the reverbed-out mix.

6. My Prostate by Andrew d'Angelo. From Morthana With Pride, 2005, Doubtmusic.

This is a great slice of jazz/noise/skronk from the d'Angelo camp.  Mike Pride's vocal performance on this track really puts it over the top, as his vocal performances often do, while his drum work adds to the already crazy drumming of Morten Olsen.  Above it all, d'Angelo's alto sax squeals and gyrates and gets down, with the guitar work of Anders Hana adding somewhat violent punctuation with a punk approach.  This is kind of an unusual album, collectively, for the players it features, but it's proof that they can hang with bands like Zu or its related project Black Engine with bravado to spare.

Andrew d'Angelo has had a rough couple of years recently, ultimately requiring brain surgery.  Fortunately, he's on the mend and making great music again.

You're probably going to have a hard time finding a copy of this album now, but it features some really great packaging that I thought I'd share:


7. Novella by Noah Creshevsky.  From Hyperrealism: Electroacoustic Music, 2003, Mutable Music.

I've just been listening to Creshevsky's music for a few months, and I don't now how I feel about it yet.  I like the underlying philosophy of his "hyperrealism" approach, essentially making tight edits between lots of different performances and layers of performances to create an artificial but highly detailed sonic space, but I'm not sure if his music actually lives up to the philosophy.  There are moments where I think it works and creates one of those artificial but dreamscape-esque more-than-real moments, but at other times the edits seem too obvious to my ears, and the montage technique becomes more obvious than its desired effect.  Is there a way to intentionally make jarring edits and multitrack juxtapositions without drawing attention to the edits themselves?  To place the emphasis on the newly-created sound world?  I think there is, but it's been done better on albums like The Getty Address by the Dirty Projectors.  Maybe I'm just spoiled by that album, but it seems exponentially more successful as an artistic (emotional) statement than the couple of Creshevsky albums I've digested so far.  In fact, the sax punches in the Either/Orchestra track above also work toward this goal of creating a new "hyperreal" soundspace, like film noir within a dream layer.

Perhaps the issue is one of compositional intent.  When I listen to something like The Getty Address, I get the impression that the music was created to elicit emotional responses--to emote, to express.  In contrast, Creshevsky is coming from the academic music tradition, and I don't get the same emotional impression.  Instead, the music seems to exist for its own aesthetics, or for the sake of following its processes to their logical conclusion(s).  Is that enough?  I suppose it is, but for me it's the difference between "interesting" and "incredible" in terms of my relationship to the music.

And maybe part of the issue relates to the origins of the music.  Creshevsky is combining pre-existing recordings in new ways, wheras Dave Longstreth wrote and recorded his own music for the Getty Address, to ultimately put through a similar process of "recombination" later.  That approach certainly makes for a more personal kind of music.

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