Tuned In To Music

Reflections from a lifetime

Review: Moby Grape, Live

If you’re reading this review, I expect you already know about Moby Grape.  To make a long story short, the Grape, one of the most promising bands to emerge from San Francisco in the mid to late 1960s were beset from the git-go by extraordinary bad luck and poor management choices and they fell into obscurity even though their self-titled debut album is one of the most extraordinary first (or second or third or . . .) albums ever released.  In 2006 they won a decades long legal fight with their original manager which allowed them to use and release recordings under their own name.  Sundazed records immediately began releasing Moby Grape material.  Live is the first “official” live album from the band – released 44 years after they formed in 1966.

If Moby Grape is a new band for you, their first album, Moby Grape, would be a much better place to start.  Fans of the band will almost certainly enjoy Live as long as they understand what they are getting.  The album collects 7 tracks recorded at San Francisco’s Avalon Ballroom in 1967, another track recorded at an unspecified location in SF in ’67, the band’s complete performance at the ’67 Monterey Pop Festival (none of which was included in the film), a 5-song Dutch radio broadcast from 1969, and “Dark Magic” a 17+ minute psychedelic jam recorded at the Avalon in 1966.  With the exception of the ’67 Avalon tracks, everything is in mono.  Skip Spence had fallen prey to mental illness and was no longer with the group at the time of the radio broadcast.

Recording quality varies from not-so-good to pretty-good.  Overall it’s better than you might expect.  At times you have to listen carefully to pull some of the instruments out of the murk but the effort is worth it.  You’re getting this album for the music, not the recording quality, and the music is there.

Live makes it abundantly clear that Moby Grape were the real deal.  Everything promised in that superb first album – the guitar interplay, the intricate vocals, the superior songwriting, all of it – was there in their live shows.  Fans who are very familiar with the songs on the first album will be delighted with the riffs played on well-known musical and vocal passages and it becomes apparent that the versions of these songs immortalized on the album were just the versions they happened to play that day in the studio.

Moby Grape were introduced as a band that played carefully crafted and intensively practiced songs.  Their guitars and vocals would have been outstanding on their own but it was the use of those elements in their markedly original songs that made Moby Grape a legend.  The Grape were a band that worked the short form in a time and place where their contemporaries were given to extended jamming.  Seen in this context, the 17+ minute “Dark Magic” is a revelation.  The Grape were also highly accomplished as a jamming band.

Oh, what might have been.  “Monterey Pop”, the film that introduced Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Otis Redding to a much wider audience, might have done the same thing for Moby Grape.  Instead, the manager they fought (and continue to fight) in court for almost 50 years demanded ridiculous amounts of money for the Grape’s performance and film rights.   The band were stuck with this guy but the festival organizers and the film’s producers were not.  Moby Grape was originally scheduled to go on stage right before Otis Redding on Saturday night.  Thanks to their manager they were slotted in as the opening act on Friday night when the venue was half empty and left completely out of the film.  What should have been a story of widespread recognition and professional success became a story of lost opportunities, sadness and despair.  Now, thanks to Sundazed Records and a court system that finally figured it ouy, we have the chance to hear what we should have heard decades ago and the music is just as thrilling now as it was then.

“Omaha” recorded live at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival

“Murder in My Heart for the Judge” (sans Skip Spence) recorded for a Dutch radio broadcast in 1969


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07/30/2010 Posted by | CD reviews, music, music reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Review: Widespread Panic, Driving Songs Vol. 2

While listening to Widespread Panic’s most recent album, Dirty Side Down, I was exploring the web to see what the band was up to and found an interesting add-on to their website.  Throughout their history the Panic have encouraged fans to record their shows and share them any way they wanted.  No restrictions, no demands that they get paid.  Like any professional band, Widespread Panic records their own shows from the main sound board and now they are making their own recordings available for purchase.

The band has set up a website where you can buy recordings of their shows.  It looks like they have every show they’ve done since 2005 up on the site.  There are also selected older shows, package deals that combine several shows performed on successive nights at one venue, multi-CD sets of selected songs from a particular tour, and various other kinds of packages and combinations.  The shows and packages are available in MP3 and FLAC for download, or you can buy them on CDs.  There is also a CD + MP3 option.

There are hundreds of shows and/or packages and combos available on the site.  Unless you want to buy a show you were at or are an obsessive fan fixated on the band who has to have all of their shows, there are too many choices.  How do you decide which show to pick when there are hundreds available?  There is a recommended shows feature on the site but it looks like it’s fed randomly from a pool of shows and you have no idea why any given show is recommended.  There are also fan comments on each show but these are generally useless because they tend to be ecstatic in one way or another.

The band provides a solution to this problem with collections called Driving Songs.  Each volume of Driving Songs contains a selection of songs from one tour chosen and mixed by the Front of the House engineer Chris Rabold.  There are seven volumes covering tours from summer 2007 to spring 2010.  Choosing from seven is a lot easier than choosing from hundreds.  I picked Vol. 2 from Fall 2007 mainly because it looked like the largest of the Driving Songs sets – it comes on four CDs –  and downloaded it in FLAC format.

Is it any good?  Are you kidding?  The sound engineer’s pick of tracks from a jam band that makes it’s living based on its live shows?  Driving Songs Vol 2 ought to come with a warning label.  When Widespread Panic catch fire – and they catch fire on almost every track in the compilation – they can burn your house down if you’re not careful.  Singing in  key can be a struggle at times and if off-key vocals are a special problem for you, approach with care.  There’s no problem with the playing, however, and more often than not Panic tears the place up.  Jam bands are infamous for aimless noodling while they try and find someplace to go or something to do but Panic largely avoids this problem on Driving Songs Vol 2.  The guitar work is usually intense and focused with structured solos and some mind-blowing interplay.  The band is also capable of playing in a variety of styles, not only by playing different types of songs but in the style of guitar playing chosen for a track.  For example, the guitar lead on “Machine” sounds like it came straight out of the Frank Zappa Shut Up and Play Yer Guitar songbook.  Good stuff.

Widespread Panic are known for the amazing covers they do in their live shows and there is a fine selection on Driving Songs Vol 2.  The compilation opens with Dr. John’s “I Walk on Gilded Splinters”.  Other covers include Traffic’s “Low Spark of High Heeled Boys” and Warren Zevon’s “Werewolves of London”.  Although it will probably be taken as sacrilege by rabid Mettalica fans, the Panic also do a killer version of “Enter Sandman”.  This band has no fear when it comes to taking on anything at all that strikes their fancy and more often than not they pull it off.

If you’re a big fan of Widespread Panic and haven’t yet discovered the area of their website where they sell the recordings of their shows, you’re going to feel like you just died and went to heaven.  If you enjoy world-class jam band guitar rave ups Driving Songs Vol 2 is right up your alley.  Four CDs of this type of music is too much for me to listen to at one time; it all starts to sound the same after awhile.  But the quality across this compilation is so high you can pick it up anywhere, listen as long as you like, and be guaranteed to hear terrific music.  I expect it will take awhile to wear Driving Songs Vol 2 out but when we do, I’ll pick up another in the Driving Songs series without any hesitation whatsoever.

“Road to Damascus”

“Werewolves of London”


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07/29/2010 Posted by | music, music reviews | , , , , | 1 Comment

Review: Francois K, Choice – A Collection of Classics

For its Choice series, the Azuli label asked well-known DJs to put together a two disc set of tracks that are their personal favorites.  François K is a great choice for a series like this because he had one of the longest and most influential careers in music of any of the legendary DJs from the New York underground dance scene of the 1970’s and ’80s that gave birth to disco, was the foundation on which house was built, and provided the original models for the European mega-dance clubs of today.

His long career in the music industry notwithstanding, François K has chosen a collection of tracks drawn almost exclusively from the 1970s and ’80s.  There’s disco such as Shalimar’s “Right in the Socket” and Donald Byrd’s classic “Love Has Come Around”, soul crooners like Teddy Pendergast (“Only You”) and Colonel Abrams (“I’m Not Gonna Let You (Get the Best of Me)”), tribal rhythms from No Smoke (“Koro Koro”) and more.  Larry Levan fans will be interested in David Joseph’s “You Can’t Hide (Your Love From Me)” which was mixed by Levan along with his remix of Gwen Guthrie’s “(They Long To Be) Close to You”.  The Joseph track is also available on Journey Into Paradise, The Larry Levan Story but François K’s Choice is the only place I’ve seen Levan’s remix of the Guthrie track.

One track on François K’s Choice deserves special mention.  “Baby Wants to Ride” was written and produced by Frankie Knuckles and Knuckles “with” James Principle are listed as the artists.  As many will know, Frankie Knuckles and Larry Levan acquired the basis of their DJ skills when they were both boy toys living in New York’s notorious Continental Baths.  Influenced by what Levan was doing at the Paradise Garage, Knuckles moved to Chicago and became the resident DJ and motivating force behind The Warehouse which is often cited as the source for the term “house music”.  “Baby Wants to Ride” is 8+ minutes of Frankie Knuckles pretending to get laid.  It is so excruciatingly bad that you wonder if François K holds a long-standing grudge against his fellow New York DJ and is using this opportunity for payback.  The track is beyond dreadful.

In comparison with the Choice collection by Danny Howells, François K’s Choice comes off as a missed opportunity.  Howells mixed his set which gives each of his discs a sense of coherence.  François K doesn’t provide a mix but simply gives us a collection of tracks.  In addition, the booklet that comes with the Howells set includes a brief entry on each track by Howells that tells you a bit about why the track is important to him.  The François K booklet has an essay summarizing his career with nothing from François K himself about why he choose these tracks.  The result is that François K’s Choice feels like someone else’s mix tape.  Meaningful to François K perhaps, but just a random collection of tunes for everyone else.

Larry Levan’s remix of Gwen Guthrie’s “(They Long To Be) Close to You”

07/28/2010 Posted by | CD reviews, music, music reviews | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Music Tech: Music in the car

Ford Fusion Hybrid with a trunk mounted bike rack

We recently found ourselves in need of a new car and the one we purchased is a 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid.  A number of Ford models, including the Fusion, come with Sync which is an integrated voice-control system.  Basically, you can talk to your car and it talks back and does what you tell it to do – at least most of the time.

Sync  is a Microsoft product and Ford and Microsoft appear to be heavily invested in developing and improving the system.  In it’s current form, Sync combines phone, navigation, climate control, music, and several other functions into its suite of applications.  These systems can be controlled with buttons on the steering wheel, a touch screen monitor that’s embedded in the front console, or by voice.  For example, the voice-activated phone system allows you to make or answer calls in a hands-free manner as long as your phone is with you and bluetooth synced to the car.  If you’re on the phone when you enter or leave the car, Sync transfers the call back and forth between your mobile phone and the car automatically.  Another pretty cool feature is that you can do a “business search” for either a type of business or a specific store based on your current location.  Sync finds the business and gives you the option to either call the place or get directions from your current location.  All of this is done through voice commands.

Zune player screen

What we’re interested in here is music and the options Sync gives you for listening to music in the Fusion make driving anywhere a hoot.  The basic sources you have for listening to music are AM and FM radio, CD, Sirius satellite radio, or an MP3 player.  The one we have been having a blast with is the MP3 player. The Fusion has a USB port in the center console that can be used to connect the MP3 player.  The Sync system reportedly works with a wide variety of MP3 players.  Figuring we would have the smoothest interaction, we bought a Zune for the car because Microsoft makes both Sync and Zune.  When the Zune is plugged in to the USB port, Sync detects it’s presence, accesses the content on the player, and streams music directly from the player without having to download it to the car’s hard drive.  You can control the player with voice commands including basic playback functions like volume up or down, play all, shuffle play etc., as well as commands to play specific artists, albums, tracks or playlists.  In our experience thus far, it works flawlessly.

People seem to have very strong opinions about factory installed vs. after market sound systems in cars.  I have never understood the reasoning that leads people to sink a lot of money into a sound system for their car given that the sound environment in a car is so bad that nothing is really going to sound very good no matter how much money you spend on it.  Having said that, we have Ford’s upgraded Sony sound system in the Fusion because it was part of an options package that included things we wanted to have.  Given that we’re listening in a car, it works fine – ymmv.

Home screen with Zune player info

Sync will handle a variety of audio codecs including MP3, WAV and WMA.  The Zune, however, won’t process WAV files so I convert ripped or downloaded WAV files into WMA for listening in the car.  I did some listening tests comparing lossless WMA with several high bit rate 44.1 kHz stereo WMA formats.  In all cases the lossless format sounded better than the lossy formats in the car.  I did the listening tests while the car was stationary and all of my attention was focused on listening.  Whether the decline in sound quality with the lossy formats would make a difference in a moving vehicle when my attention is focused on driving is unknown.  Nevertheless, we’re using lossless WMA for listening in the car.  The 32 GB Zune we use for the car will hold somewhere in the neighborhood of 900 tracks in lossless format which should be more than enough given how easy it is to change what the Zune has on its internal drive.

Changing the selection of tracks available to you in the car couldn’t be easier.  Download the Zune software to your desktop or laptop and set up a folder for the Zune player’s contents on the main systems’s hard drive.  You can then go into settings in the Zune software and configure the system to automatically sync the contents of the folder with the Zune player.  If you want to add a track to the Zune player, drop it in the Zune folder on the hard drive.  Tired of listening to a track in the car?  Delete it from the Zune folder.  When you connect the Zune to the main system (I use a dedicated USB line for this because I do it often) the Zune software detects the player and automatically implements any additions or deletions you’ve made since the last time you synced the player and the folder.  Connect the updated player to the car and the in-car Sync automatically registers the changes.  All you do is add and delete tracks from your Zune folder and the rest is taken care of for you.  Fast, effortless, sweet.

In a couple of years voice communication with cars, appliances and gadgets won’t be as novel as it is today.  In the meantime, having a car that gives you voice control over music streaming from a dedicated MP3 player makes driving anywhere a lot more fun.

07/26/2010 Posted by | music, music tech, Music technology | , , , | 3 Comments

Review: Widespread Panic, Dirty Side Down

The Widespread Panic album that did it for me was ‘Til the Medicine Takes.  We wore that CD out and “Climb to Safety” still raises goosebumps.  We’ve bought a lot of their albums and always found something to enjoy but over the past few years we kind of lost rack of the band and what they were doing.  Then a guy I know reported that he’d caught their set at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival this past spring and they rocked.

Well, you know, Panic are a jam band and they’ve always been known for putting on great shows and great shows don’t always translate into great – or even good – albums so I didn’t run right out and pick up Dirty Side Down.  But I hadn’t listened to the band in a while so I finally decided to give it a try.  When a new CD comes into the house we often put it on for the first time as we sit down to dinner and check it out while we eat.  Almost always, dinner and conversation trump the music and serious listening doesn’t happen until later.  Not this time.

Dirty Side Down opens with “Saint Ex” and it blew us away. Eating went on very quietly and conversation stopped as the song took over.  The track opens with a bit of guitar drone, like 10 zillion other songs, and then breaks into a couple of bars of what sounds like a picked electrified steel string guitar that shifts into a lead guitar segment that instantly grabs attention with a wide screen western sound that I find irresistible.  The vocal comes in and we’re in familiar Widespread Panic mode, ok, back to dinner.  Then a heavy descending rhythm guitar break hits at about 1:30 into the song and this is beginning to sound like Panic has grown in new and exciting ways.  “Saint Ex” is a terrific song that kicks off a fine album.

When a band has been playing together as long as Widespread Panic and, moreover, has been placing a heavy emphasis on improvisation throughout that time, moments of magic can happen.  There’s a refinement and sophistication in the interplay among the musicians that is hard to achieve in any other way.  This produces studio recordings that are studded with moments, sometimes small and sometimes loud, that can take your breath away.  Whether it’s Dave Schools extraordinary bass playing or episodes of subtle, intricate vocal interplay (which are just two of the things that struck me while I’m writing this review) repeated listening of Dirty Side Down is a highly rewarding experience.

If you’re a Panic fan you already have Dirty Side Down.  If, like me, you know the band but have been away for a bit, now’s a good time to come back.  And if Widespread Panic are a new band for you, Dirty Side Down is a great place to start.

For a great source for more live recordings of Widespread Panic than you could ever listen to, see our review of Driving Songs Vol. 2.

“Saint Ex”

“North”

07/25/2010 Posted by | CD reviews, music, music reviews | , , , | 1 Comment

Review: SOS, Club

Ministry of Sound began as a dance club in London that was modeled on New York’s legendary Paradise Garage.  The club opened in 1991.. Ministry of Sound and has since grown to be a multimedia entertainment brand with a record label, radio network, clothing brand etc.  The record label has put out numerous DJ mix series over the years with their Club series being the latest.  CDs in the series are projected to include two discs; one containing a mix the DJ would do on a Saturday night in the club and the second featuring the DJ’s own compositions and remixes.  The collection by SOS is the first in the series.

SOS, which stands for SexOnSubstance, are Omid “16B” Nourizadeh, Demi Hajigeorgiou, and Desyn Masiello.  They were a good choice to kick off the Club series.  Disc 1 does just what’s it’s supposed to do – lay down a dance floor mix that’s tight, right and peak night.  SOS ease you in for maybe two minutes and then hit the 4/4 and start to ramp up the intensity.  Ramp it up , hold, ramp it up, hold  . . . hold, hit it!  Rinse and repeat.  These guys know what they’re doing and they do it well.  Disc one is a straightforward house club mix seasoned with nu-disco and funk and it rocks.  If this one doesn’t get your ass in the air go back to Mom and Dad and ask for a reboot ’cause something ain’t right.

Although the idea for disc 2 was to present a collection of the DJ’s compositions and remixes that’s not really what we get.  SOS are only credited with 2 of the tracks on the second disc.  Five of the remaining 11 tracks were written or co-written by Omar 16B and the rest are by other people.  Some of these are tracks that were released on Omid’s label SoulOnWax.  What connection the others have with SOS is unclear.

As expected of a set that compiles original compositions and remixes, disc 2 doesn’t have the linear drive and power of the club mix on disc one.  If you listen to disc two right after disc one it’s easy to go “meh”.  But that would be a mistake.  Taken on its own terms – in other words, don’t listen to it immediately following disc one – it has its own strengths.

As with disc 1, the music on disc 2 is fairly straightforward house music.  As with a good deal of straightforward house music, there’s a tendency to let 2 bar patterns go on for too long with only minor, if any, variation but this isn’t as big a problem for SOS as it is for some other music producers.  Omid B’s “Sequential 002: Same as You” does a nice job of combining a heavy 4/4 house backbeat with a jazz sax solo.  While still clearly in the House mode, the final three tracks introduce more variation than the others in terms of rhythmic patterns and sonic palattes.  These are the three tracks that don’t have any apparent connection with SOS and they sound like they were mixed by the trio but didn’t fit on the first disc.

Based on Club, SOS’s strengths lie more in the DJ than the music production realm but there are more than a few good tracks on disc 2.  Which is gravy, really, because disc 1 is good enough to justify giving the set a try.

To get a feel for a mix you have to listen to the mix, not individual tracks, but here’s Silver City’s “Pendulo (Pete Herbert edit)” to give you an idea of the kind of music on disc 1

From disc 2, the SOS edit of Latenta Project’s “Beach Combers”

07/23/2010 Posted by | CD reviews, music, music reviews | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: Juan Maclean, DJ-Kicks

DJ-Kicks is a series of mixes by DJs, music producers and musicians that, at least at the beginning, were designed to be listened to at home.  Juan Maclean’s mix is the 32nd in the series which kicked off in 1995.

Maclean’s DJ-Kicks is a pretty straightforward uptempo party mix of house music that has occasional disco influences.  The set has generally received very positive reviews but it’s just not doing it for me.  The mix starts promisingly with Still Going’s ‘Spaghetti Circus” which does a good job of ramping up the dance intensity.   However, Maclean seems to have been enamored of tracks that feature short vocal phrases that are repeated monotonously throughout the track when he put this mix together.  He uses this techique on track after track and the mix sinks under the weight.

I get the idea that vocal snippets are being used as rhythmic elements and rhythmic elements tend to repeat.  But endlessly repeating rhythm patterns are the bane of this kind of music and shoving the repetition in the listener’s face by putting it in the vocal (which will automatically attract more attention than, say, a repeating kick) just makes the tedium all the more apparent.  When used judiciously, a vocal rhythm part can be very effective.  When it’s used on track after track it’s an invitation to find something else to listen to.  As an example, on Sonny Foderra’s “Everybody Get on the Decks” the phrase captured in the title, or a minor variant of it, is repeated 126 times over 4 mins and 44 secs.  Add to this the 40 times the phrase is repeated at the end of the previous track as Maclean mixes the transition between the two tracks and you end up with a circumstance where it’s hard not to yank the CD out of the player.  Of the 12 tracks that precede “Everybody Get on the Decks”, 10 feature endlessly repeated vocals as rhythm elements.  It’s too much.  Get another idea.

Maclean’s DJ-Kicks is the kind of CD I might drop in the box during a party when you want to keep the crowd moving but are  reasonably sure no one is paying any attention to the music.  If anyone was listening, even halfheartedly, I’d give them something more interesting to listen to.

“Spaghetti Circus” by Still Going

07/21/2010 Posted by | CD reviews, music, music reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: Guillaume & The Coutu Dumonts, Breaking the Fourth Wall

Time and again I’ve expressed dismay because producers of electronic dance music rely on the same sound palettes or, even worse, repeat the same 1, 4 or 8 bar pattern so many times that the listener becomes stupefied by monotony.  Guillaume & The Coutu Dumonts doesn’t have this problem. Breaking the Fourth Wall is rich with different timbres and compelling grooves.  It’s one of the most exciting and interesting single-artist CDs I’ve heard in the dance music category in months.

Guillaume & The Coutu Dumonts is a musician out of Montreal named . . . wait for it . . . Guillaume Coutu Dumont (Ringo should have thought of this).  He started out as an anthropology student, began playing percussion at age 17, got involved in a funk band, dropped anthropology and was accepted into a music program in percussion, and then shifted into electroacoustic composition.  Finding the academic environment too narrow and limited, he split and began making his own music.   Breaking the Fourth Wall is his second album.

If I had to give a single characterization of the type of music Dumont produces on Breaking the Fourth Wall I’d say something like tribal but that doesn’t really do it.  He uses a variety of percussion instruments, synths and even vocal lines to build layered grooves that are often very strong in rolling, propulsive rhythms.  He also makes exceptionally good use of jazz-influenced horns.  Before firing up Tuned In To Music I spent many years deeply involved in listening to and learning about jazz.  My first Parametric Monkey track, “Horns of the Moon”, is built around the interplay between an alto and tenor sax because of this background and I’ve often wondered why dance music producers don’t make more use of jazz instrumentation.   Breaking the Fourth Wall is an excellent example of just how well jazz-influenced horns can work in dance music context.

While not everything on Breaking the Fourth Wall works for me, the album is filled with original and interesting tracks.  Album opener “Mindtrap” combines a Miles Davis style muted trumpet with a powerful driving rhythm.  “32 Tonnes de Pigeons” is moving  along nicely on what sounds like a Farfisa organ based groove when Dumont drops in a ghostly trumpet that is very reminiscent of Nina Rota’s instantly recognizable theme from The Godfather.  He then works in a smokey late-night sax and it all hangs together beautifully.  “Walking the Pattern” and “Decennie” are built around samples of either a preacher addressing a congregation or an organizer motivating an audience.  “Radio Novela” features vocalist Dynamike over a groove that’s so deep and funky I simply cannot stop playing it.

When you delve into the software that is available to electronic music producers you immediately realize that the possibilities for manipulating rhythm, timbre, instrumentation, groove, melody, and just about anything else you can think of are virtually limitless.  You also realize that the producers of electronic dance music have barely scratched the surface of what the tools they use will allow them to do.  Guillaume Coutu Dumont ain’t like that.  He’s thinking outside the box and the result is that Breaking the Fourth Wall is a solidly grooving album that doesn’t sound like yet another genre-driven dance music CD.  Check it out.  Recommended.

“Radio Novela” featuring Dynamike

“32 Tonnes de Pigeons”

07/20/2010 Posted by | CD reviews, music, music reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: M.A.N.D.Y., Fabric 38

M.A.N.D.Y.’s  Fabric 38 is an intriguing mix.  It has quite a different sound from M.A.N.D.Y.’s Mix Collection for Renaissance and on first listen it didn’t really grab my attention.  There was something about it though.  It faded in and out of our listening cycle over many weeks until I decided I had to either shelve it or review it.  During a day or two of focused listening the strengths of Fabric 38 began to reveal themselves.

M.A.N.D.Y.’s Fabric 38 isn’t a straightforward House mix although it adheres pretty consistently to the typical House 4/4 equal-emphasis kick-driven format.  Throughout the mix M.A.N.D.Y. layer multiple polyrhythms over the kick which give the entire set more of a varied feel than a run-of-the-mill House mix.  As the set goes on M.A.N.D.Y. get more and more into synth lines and timbres that are atypical and the mix gets increasingly mysterious, deep and dark.  Strange sounds briefly appear and then disappear.  Ominous pads lurk in the background.  You’re on your way down the rabbit hole.

Fabric 38 may take some time and patience but it’s worth it.  As your familiarity increases, previously hidden nooks and crannies reveal themselves.  M.A.N.D.Y. have put together a mix that continues to entertain well after the newness has worn off.

“War Paint (Claude Vonstroke remix) poxyMUSIC Ft. Gina Mitchell

07/17/2010 Posted by | CD reviews, music, music reviews | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: Scouting for Girls, Everybody Wants To Be On TV

Scouting For Girls is a trio (guitar/keyboards, bass, drums) out of London.  Everybody Wants To Be On TV is their second album.  They have achieved success in the UK where their first album briefly reached number one in the charts.

I haven’t been listening to much of this type of music lately and perhaps that is the problem.  Scouting For Girls sounds to me like a band with a desperate desire to have their songs featured during the last minute of some crappy TV show.  It’s all pop hooks, overwrought emotion, and yearning choruses and, at least to me, it sounds like a zillion other bands who are grinding the same career path.  Opening track “This Ain’t a Love Song” is a solid track with a good vocal hook for a chorus but once you’ve heard it you’ve heard just about everything the band has to offer.

Somewhere there is an industrial plant that churns out these bands and the songs they play on a monthly schedule.  If you blew it up, they’d just build another one because this is what the big musak business is all about.

“This Ain’t A Love Song”

07/14/2010 Posted by | CD reviews, music, music reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

First Impressions: Crowded House, Intriguer

Today was a long, and possibly decisive, stage as far as the top two positions in the GC in the Tour de France so I only had time to hear Crowded House’s new album Intriguer once.  Based on that single hearing, my response was very positive.  This one could be a solid winner.

Everyone who has spent any time listening to music knows how deceptive first listenings can be.  Sometimes an album sounds terrific the first time or two and you quickly lose interest.  Other times an album sounds like nothing at first and grows into a long-term favorite.  And sometimes you get it the first time you hear it, good or bad.

Keeping that in mind, Intriguer sure sounded fine the first time out.  Some bands go on and on cranking out the same old thing looking increasingly ridiculous singing songs for 20 year olds when they’re in their 60s.  Others reunite for nostalgia cash ins and embarrass themselves with cringe worthy Super Bowl half-time shows.  However some musicians and bands continue to make vibrant music for decades.  Although not easy for anyone, it’s a bit easier for an individual to pull this off than for a band.  Crowded House may be doing it.

It’s early days for Intriguer yet, but first impressions are good.  Stay tuned.

It’s all good – here is the review of Intriguer.

07/13/2010 Posted by | First impressions, music | , , | Leave a comment

Review: The Low Frequency in Stereo, Futuro

Start with a blender.  Add a  good amount of deeply stoned psychedelic rock of the kind played by the great late ’60s San Francisco bands at their peak.  Add healthy dollops of Velvet Underground and Shoegaze à la My Bloody Valentine.  Flavor with a post-rock sensibility and a garage rock attitude.  Add a few bits of the Doors, Can, and Stereolab.  Season with discord to taste.  Set the blender on low so you end with recognizable chunks in the mix.  What do get?  The Low Frequency in Stereo, a band that flat out kicks ass.

The Low Frequency in Stereo is a five piece out of Norway.  Futuro is their first full length album.  Whatever images Norway brings to mind, forget about it.  These guys transcend space.  The retro influences named above may also bring images to mind.  Forget about those too because these guys also transcend time.  You can hear the band’s influences but they are not making derivative music.  This isn’t The Low Frequency in Stereo doing Velvet Underground or Stereolab.  It’s a  creative band making original music.

It’s rare to find a band that can internalize a style from the past so deeply that they sound like they could have been one of those bands.  It’s even rarer to find a band that can do this for more than one style.  And it’s rarer yet for a band to be able to do this within the confines of one song and make it sound like an organic whole rather than an bolted together, unwieldy mess.  The Low Frequency in Stereo is one of those ultra-rare bands and Futuro is one of those terrific albums that doesn’t have a bad cut on it.  Recommended.

“Solar System”

07/13/2010 Posted by | CD reviews, music, music reviews | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: Danny Howells, 24:7

Another day, another DJ mix series from one of the prominent club/record label conglomerates in the international dance music scene.  This one didn’t do so well.  The conglomerate is Global Underground.  The idea was to mix a “Day” disc and a “Night” disc of contrasting types of music that would then be released as a two disc series.  Danny Howells inaugurated the series in the summer of 2003.  The second entry in the 24:7 series was mixed by Lee Burridge and released two months later.  That was it.

The idea of a day-in-the-life mix seems to have great appeal in the dance music world as there are any number of mixes that are supposed to take you through the DJ or the average club-goers day.  James Zabiela, for example, seems particularly fond of this idea.  I’m guessing that this stems from the idea that a mix should “take you on a journey”.  The problem with this idea is that the journey that will seem most familiar to the average club goer who is the marketing target of these mixes – a journey through their typical day – isn’t really much of a journey at all.  It’s more like an endless loop of basically mindless fun followed by recovery, fun, recovery . . .  This can be a great way to spend your time until you realize that the world is a much richer place than that, with a whole lot more to offer.  As a result, the listener who likes this music but who has a life outside the club scene is likely to hear these day-in-the-life mixes as just another collection of dance music.  Maybe that’s why Global Underground’s 24:7 series only has two entries.

In the topsy-turvey world of the person whose life revolves around dance clubs, night corresponds to high-intensity, often drug fueled wonderfulness and day is devoted to coming down, torpor, and gearing up for the next night’s go-round.  Accordingly, Howell’s 24:7 “Night” disc is more uptempo than the “Day” disc.  Although, surprisingly, the difference really isn’t that great.  Howells is a first-rate DJ in terms of his ability to put together either a mix CD or a set in the club.  Both of these abilities are based on his wide and deep familiarity with dance music and his skill in sequencing tracks.   While 24:7 may not show Howells’ at his best, it will certainly appeal to his fans or to anyone else who enjoys a good collection of House music.

Honeyroot’s “Starshine” from the “Day” disc

Sam Paganini’s “Into Africa” from the “Night” disc

07/12/2010 Posted by | CD reviews, music, music reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: Scissor Sisters, Night Work

lol These guys are hilarious.  After they released their self-titled first album, New York’s Scissor Sisters became a huge hit in Canada, Europe, and Australia.  Scissor Sisters was the best selling album in the UK in 2004.  Didn’t happen in the US. Their second album, Ta-Dah, which opened with the just-about-perfect “I Don’t Feel Like Dancin'” continued their success abroad.   Once again it didn’t happen in the US.

The band’s failure to break through in the American market is widely seen to be the result of the fact that their name, music and stage show are openly, flamboyantly and unapologetically gay.  The idea is that the general sexual conservatism, homophobia and sexual paranoia of the American music-buying market prevents them from breaking through.  Now here they are with their third album, Night Work.  They are using an outside producer for the first time.  They have a new label that is dedicated to putting in the hard promotional work that they think it will take to make the band a success in the US.  So what do the Sisters do?  Take a look at the album art.  Homophobes are gonna have their panties in a twist over this one.  Wouldn’t be surprised if Wal-Mart either bans the CD or demands an alternate cover.  The music, if anything, is even less compromising about the band’s sexual interests.   lol  These guys are hilarious.

The core members of the band are Jake Shears and Ana Matronic (vocals), Del Marquis (Guitar), and Babydaddy (bass, guitar, keyboards and programming).  Paddy Boom who was the drummer on their first two albums has been replaced by Randy “Real” Schrager who is listed on Night Work as an “additional player”.  Their music is usually characterized as club music with strong disco, glam rock and pop influences.

The Scissor Sisters go out of their way to . . .uhh . . . thrust their sexual orientation in your face.  If you cut through the sex, you find that they are a really terrific band.  Their songs are very well written, very well engineered and produced, and often brilliantly performed.  In some respects the Scissor Sisters are what Madonna has always wanted to be –  performers of edgy, cutting edge club music.  The difference is that Madonna has always been a wannabe, hijacking somebody else’s scene and hiring this month’s hot producer when it comes time to “recreate” herself again, while the Scissor Sisters are the real thing.   This is a rock solid band whose music is as hard and tight as their asses.

Will another good album from the Scissor Sisters be enough to overcome homophobia in America?  Probably not.  Too bad, that, because people who won’t listen to Night Work because the album art offends them or they can’t handle a song about anal sex are missing some fine music.  If you’re one of those people, consider that the planet has a lot of people on it and a lot of them enjoy sexual practices that are different from the ones you enjoy.  Hell, if your partner is a different gender than you, he or she probably has different sexual tastes than you do.  Get over it.  Your first step can be treating yourself to Night Work.

“Night Work”

“Sex and Violence”

07/10/2010 Posted by | CD reviews, music, music reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: Various Artists, Kompakt Total 10

Kompakt’s Total 10 reinforced an idea I’ve had for a long time – pay attention to your intuitions.  They’re not always right but they’re always worth considering.  Total 10 is the tenth in an ongoing series of yearly compilations from Kompakt Records.  I picked it up after thoroughly enjoying Ewan Pearson’s We Are Proud of Our Choices, a mix put out on the Kompakt label.  I read somewhere that Pearson was trying to create the quintessential Kompact mix with We Are Proud of Our Choices so I thought Total 10 would be a great CD.  It came into rotation and I thought wtf? this isn’t at all what I expected.  It sucks!

I was all set to write a review focused on what a big disappointment the CD was but this intuition I had kept nagging at me to give it another listen.  I did – with the same result.  Didn’t like it.  Give it another listen.  Do it again.  Again.  I was on the verge of writing the review but the sense I was missing something wouldn’t leave.  This was unusual so I set Total 10 aside and came back to it several weeks later and listened to it with fresh ears.  Click!  Free of preconceptions Total 10 came clear.

Kompakt formed in 1998 and came to be one of the dominant record labels in the exceptionally vibrant German electronic music scene in the 2000s.  They are known for hitting the sweet spot that combines micro house and minimal techno with pop music (often in the form of vocals) and ambient.  Their music tends to have a solid dance-oriented groove driving a soundscape that is quieter than peak hour dancefloor House music.  One of their releases, Immer by label co-founder and co-owner Michael Mayer, was named by Resident Advisor as the top mix CD of the decade 2000-2009.  Total 10 fits this image.  It’s a two disc collection of varied electronic dance music that shades toward quiet and is deep in groove and high quality production values.  I sounds very good on good playback gear.

I ended up putting a lot of time into Total 10 and it was worth it.  The CD took me on a voyage of discovery that opened up new musical vistas for me.  Hard to argue with that.  There are still some aspects of Total 10 that I don’t much care for, I can comfortably say I don’t enjoy some of the more loungey vocals for example, but on the whole I’ve come to enjoy this collection quite a lot which is a complete reversal of my initial reaction.  And the good news is that this is number 10.  There are 9 more to explore.

Justus Köhncke’s “Give It To Me Easy”

Gui Boratto’s “No Turning Back” Wighnomy’s Lakkalize Rekksmi

07/09/2010 Posted by | CD reviews, music, music reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment