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Entries Tagged as 'music reviews'

free MP3s featuring Nels Cline…

January 7th, 2008 · Comments Off on free MP3s featuring Nels Cline…

My other latest recent musical obsession is guitarist Nels Cline. Best know these days as the guitarist in Wilco, he’s nevertheless been a mainstay of the LA experimental/free/out/weird scene for decades, as well as guesting with some big name dudes like Mike Watt (his guitar playing features heavily on Contemplating The Engine Room by Watt – an amazing album)

Anyway, there are a few free downloads on last.fm that feature him – first, there’s The Darkness Of Each Endless Fall by Stueart Liebig – Stig is an outstanding bassist from LA, and I just bought this track yesterday from eMusic, but on clicking on his name on last.fm just now, discovered I could’ve got it for free… So you can, and then go and buy loads of Stig’s music cos it’s amazing.

Also on last.fm are four free downloads from The Scott Amendola Band, featuring Nels. Again, I downloaded both albums from eMusic, but you can get tasters of them from last.fm, then go and buy them on emusic!

And lastly – same as before, I bought it on emusic before discovering the freebies – some of Nels’ own trio, The Nels Cline Singers, whose music is all instrumental, just in case the name throws you.

Get stuck in – you can get about an hour or so’s worth of free loveliness from that lot on last.fm. Seems like their label, Cryptogramaphone have free tracks from all their artists on last.fm – i’d recommend Jenny Scheinman, Alan Pasqua and Nels’ solo stuff as well, but it’s all worth checking out. Hours of spikey goodness.

Tags: cool links · music reviews · Musing on Music

End of year eMusic round-up…

December 31st, 2007 · Comments Off on End of year eMusic round-up…

So, end of December, time for everyone to do their end of 2007 best music lists… I’m just going to offer the stuff I got off eMusic, and a few of them were released in 2006 even though I didn’t get them til 2007 – with the way digital releases go, things released on CD one year might not end up being available for download until early in the next year anyway, so there’s a little ambiguity about what a ‘release date’ is these days…

Draw Breath – Nels Cline Singers – LA-based avant guitarist keeps on melding ‘out’ weirdness with amazing tunes. This new one is no exception.

Line By Line – John Patitucci – John continues to grow as both a composer and player on this beautiful guitar-led album of introspective jazz and beautiful chamber music. My favourites of his since One More Angel.

Double Talk – Theo Travis – push comes to shove, probably my favourite album of the year. Theo just gets better and better, and here his band are just amazing. It’s no wonder he’s so in demand right now… Look out for our duo live album some time in the next 12 months….

Shine – Joni Mitchell – seems like a very personal record, much smaller in scope than anything she’s done for years, a beautifully understated return to the recording world. Now let’s hope she tours…

The Antisocial Club – Alan Pasqua – anyone savvy enough to put Jimmy Haslip and Nels Cline on the same record HAS to have it going on. A beautiful album of spikey post-miles jazz, and the kind of project that Jimmy excels at, even though people don’t think of him as an out player…

You’ve Got To Laugh – Nik Kershaw – when are people going to wake up and realise that he’s one of the finest songwriters of the last 25 years – how long can one man’s reputation be defined by his mullet of two decades ago?

Sermon On Exposition Boulevard – Rickie Lee Jones – mad freewheeling gospel album, sounds unlike anyone else that I can think of. In a good way.

These Friends Of Mine – Rosie Thomas – really a trio record with Sufjan Stevens and the wonderful Denison Witmer, Rosie’s yet to record a bad song, let along a bad album. Now when is Sheila’s first album coming out?

Rock Garden – Ty Tabor – Ty finally allows himself to really rock out without the rest of King’s X.

Strange Conversation – Kris Delmhorst – as with everything she does, it’s full of great tunes and great words.

there you go, no Radiohead, no Britney, no Arctic Monkeys, no… whatever, you can go and read about their tedious nonsense elsewhere… :o)

Tags: music reviews

This week in review

October 12th, 2007 · Comments Off on This week in review

So, we’ve done the Stop the War march… What was next? Ah yes, Stars at Scala – one of those bands that the kids listen to that Catster has made me aware of. The album is rather lovely, equal parts bleepy and electronic, huge and anthemic. It’s bleepy to the degree that I had no idea whether on stage they’d be a band or three peoples with laptops. As it was, they were a classic Rock 6 piece – guitar bass drums keys, and two singers who also played guitar and keys.

stars at Scala

What was sad is that they pretty much removed everything from the live sound that made the record interesting. They transformed from electronic rock pioneers into an early 90s stage-2-at-greenbelt fairly dull-sounding rock band. I stayed for about 6 song – apparently they got better after that point…

Tuesday was a lotsa fun – the evening started with Douglas Coupland at the Bloomsbury, with Sarda and Kari. We three Coupland geeks, all v. excited to hear this king of zeitgeisty cool speak. And what did we discover? That he’s a proper geek, talking in half finished phrases, jumping from topic to tangental topic, and reading extracts from his book, or rather from the book within his book, and then from the book within the book within his new book, The Gum Thief. And he was fab. I like geeks, a lot – I like being around them, finding their absence of concern for what’s cool or not comforting (as a solo bassist, one has to gravitate to places were Cool is not a Concern :o) and I found him witty and charming.

douglas coupland

The event ended slightly oddly, with Douglas looking slight uncomfortable, perhaps like he was about to cry, saying something to the effect of ‘you do know this is the last one of these I’m ever going to do. My book reading days are over, thanks, goodnight.’ He did a signing after this, but we were onto new things.

julie mckee

New Things being Julie McKee and Beth Rowley at the Troubadour (a club with which I have a long history, having recorded my first album there). Was great to see both of them play, with their lovely respective bands. All in a lovely night out (though £17 for three drinks and a two bowls of chips was insane! )

beth rowley

Wednesday night I went out to Pizza Express on Dean Street to see Robert Mitchell’s Panacea, featuring Robert on keys alongside Richard Spaven on drums, Tom Mason on bass and Deborah Jordan on vocals. ‘Twas a sublime gig, and Robert’s choice of Deborah as vocalist is inspired – the tunes are really complex jazz melodies, with big intervals and weird rhythmic twists, which in the hands of ‘normal’ jazz singer would end up sounding like Manhattan Transfer does the Elektric Band, but with the superb funky rhythm section of Richard and Tom, and Deborah transforming the jazz into soulful songs, it becomes something entirely different, and beautiful. A very fine gig.

Thursday – a me-gig, another one of these acoustic singer/songwriter nights I’ve been doing, just seeing how what I do works to an audience of acoustic music fans who have no idea who I am. Once again, it was fun and well received, but I’m probably going to knock these on the head for a while, as the way the venues are set up is to get as many acts through as possible in the hope that a) the performers themselves will drink and that b) they’ll bring friends to watch them. There’s very little concern for quality control (last night was a fairly even split between pretty good and Godawful), and a big focus on turnover at the bar. Which is understandable – with property prices being what they are in London, nowhere can really afford to have a half-empty night just for the sake of putting on a cool gig, and none of the venues have got the balls – or capital – to book only great acts, charge and entrance fee, let the bands play for longer, and wait for the night to gain a reputation… Instead they are either 20 min sets, free to get in, happy for the audience to talk, or pay to play band-gets-a-pound-back-for-each-punter-they-bring deals. Total bollocks for musicians, but fairly intractable for venue owners.

it’s why I’m so grateful to have found Darbucka, though I appreciate that I’ll not be able to book there if it gets busier during the week – they can’t afford to have music to the detriment of their business any more than any other venue…

But it’s been fun doing the acoustic nights, wowing a few people and no doubt boring the arse off a few others. :o)

Tags: Music News · music reviews · Musing on Music · Random Catchup

File under 'who'd have thought it!'

October 5th, 2007 · 2 Comments

“Wish I had a home with ten million rooms/I’d open up the doors and let the street children through/Wish that I could scoop up all those children in my arms/Give them all they needed to protect them all from harm”

That’s a lyric from the new Ian Brown album, an album that apparently tackles other socially conscious subjects such as war in the middle east and environmental concerns. It’s great to see someone doing this, sad to hear that he’s been getting swiped at in the press for it, but as is so often the case, Andrew Collins writes about it in a great way.

It’s such a shame that labels such as ‘earnest’ and ‘worthy’ are applied pejoratively, and artists who dare to express an opinion on anything bigger than their own sex lives or fancying the woman opposite you on the tube are considered ‘self-important’.

As someone one said, artists are the nerve-endings of society, and can either reflect back it’s concerns – or lack thereof – or can seek to offer something of substance in terms of a way forward or a change in focus… I for one am delighted that Ian Brown’s writing about things he thinks are important. Long may he continue.

It’s also the first time I’ve been interested in actually buying anything he’s done since the 12″ of Fools Gold came out, so that can’t be a bad thing!

Tags: music reviews · Rant - Politics, Spirituality, etc.

New Joni album out yesterday…

September 26th, 2007 · Comments Off on New Joni album out yesterday…

Just found out this evening that Joni Mitchell‘s new album, Shine, was released yesterday. So a quick scout around the interwebs revealed that it was on iTunes, but only in those grisly low res DRM’d M4Ps that they sell on there, so balls to that. amazon.com now have a download store, and so long as you use a US billing address, it’s fine to buy from it with a UK CC/debit card. Hurrah! How smug was I feeling to get the album for the equiv of £4.50 ? very smug indeed until I found out that the album is also on Emusic!!! Balls, I could’ve had it even cheaper… Ah well, it’s lovely – I is listening to it now. Stripped down affair, with very little guitar, lots of piano, pedal steel and words about how we’re all screwed – environmentally, politically, globally. Cheerful stuff, and utterly gorgeous. Proper review will arrive when I’ve had a chance to fully digest its majesty.

The one question though, is: what the hell is Joni doing on Starbucks label? After her quitting the industry over its inherent venal nastiness, it’s contempt for creativity and slave wages, she signs for a company who have a very chequered track record on workers rights, and see music as the background to coffee drinking… But it’s a minor quibble, given that SHE’S BACK! WITH A GREAT ALBUM! HURRAH!

Tags: music reviews

The art of Pop

September 26th, 2007 · Comments Off on The art of Pop

Having a flat-mate who works for in the world of gig promoting/tickets/organising etc. means that I occasionally get invited to gigs that I probably wouldn’t have bought tickets for had they been offered to me for money.

Last night was one such gig, going to see Erasure at the Albert Hall. Before going I thought, ‘ah well, it’ll be fun in a night out at a gay club kind of way, and I’ll know about three of the songs’. How many Erasure hits can you name off the top of your head? But I found I knew about 3/4 of the set – loads of great songs I’d forgotten even existed! And I mean REALLY great songs. I’d forgotten what a pop genius Vince Clarke is, and how great Andy Bell’s voice is. It was pop in it’s most condensed, distilled, honed form – Pure Pop as Art. Not throw away or disposable, just immediate, hook-laden, crafted, every bleep and drum machine hit exactly where it should be. Vince Clarke looked a little like he was working at a checkout, stood behind a small podium with a laptop and a largely unused mini-keyboard in front of him – he was probably reading wikipedia or something during most of it, but it didn’t in anyway mess up the gig… it was just that kind of gig.

One lovely touch was that during the costume change, the screens played a scrolling comedy monologue about what they were up to. Kept everyone interested while they changed into ever-camper gear. it was a fabulously gay night out, and SBJ and I had much fun.

Musically, the highlight for me was ‘Ship Of Fools’ – I’d forgotten what a great song it is! Have a listen –

If you get a chance to see them, and fancy a very gay very fun lots of arms-waving-in-the-air dancing night out, jump at it! :o)

Tags: music reviews

It was 30 years ago today…

September 21st, 2007 · 6 Comments

…actually, it was 30 years ago in February, but for some reason, someone over on the guardian music blog saw fit today to post a piece in defence of the wonder that is Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours – a pertinent post round here as Lo. thinks it’s a load of old balls, and I love it. Really love it. Dancing-around-on-the-tube-singing-along-even-though-people-think-I’m-a-mentalist love it. It’s an album fueled by extreme tensions within the band, but one possessed of a number of the most gorgeous tender love songs I’ve ever heard (‘You Make Loving Fun’ is in my all time top 20 or so songs).

As the Guardian bloggist says, ’77 is seen as the year of Punk. It was also the year of ‘Bat Out Of Hell’, ‘Saturday Night Fever’ and ‘Rumours’. The biggest bands of the late 70s weren’t the Clash or The Pistols, but the Mac, Queen, ELO, and in the US, the stadium behemoths of Journey, Boston, Foreigner etc… Of course punk was significant, it just didn’t wipe the slate clean in any way at all. It offered an alternative, but thank God it wasn’t the tsunami of disco-crushing, prog-destroying, MOR-trampling destruction that the tainted hindsight of most music journos would have you believe. I’d still rather listen to Chic than the Pistols any day. Sure, I like the Clash, but I’m still not averse to a quick listen through Mr Blue Sky either.

No, the late 70s was no more an artistic monoculture than any other time in music – it was as much about the creative tension-laden folky MOR-ness of the Mac as it was about the New York Dolls rip-off that was the Pistols (I still contest that – aside from The Clash – Americans did punk way way way better than the UK, from The Stooges, and the Dolls through The Minutemen, Blondie and Talking Heads, up to Big Black, Black Flag, Husker Du and on up to Green Day, Rancid and the fake-but-tuneladen pop punk of today.)

So, go and listen to Rumours. With pride. Revel in it, embrace the genius that is the Fleetwood/McVie rhythm section, bask in how Songbird is meant to sound when it’s not being overcooked by Eva Cassidy. Ditto Dreams and The Corrs. And remember that the middle bit out of The Chain is probably the most financially lucrative bit of bass playing in the history of the world, thanks to someone at the BBC’s Formula One production team. Dummmmmmmmm, De-De-Dum De-De-De-De-Dum Dummmmmmmmmmmmm.

Tags: music reviews · Musing on Music

Todd Reynolds' EP…

September 19th, 2007 · 3 Comments

Those of you who saw Todd Reynolds play at the Recycle Collective last year already know what a genius he is, but for those of you who don’t, you owe it to yourselves to head over to the CDbaby page for his new EP and have a listen to the previews – layer upon layer of beautiful violin playing, looped and processed into a gorgeous soundtrack, bearing the influence of both his many years in Steve Reich’s ensemble and his time with Bang On A Can.

More recently, Todd’s been touring with the cooler-than-cool The Books, both opening the shows on his own, and playing with them in their set. He’s all set to become huge, and you’ve got the chance to get his EP now ($6 – that’s £3, for 3 really great tracks, which are a lot longer than your average pop single too) – go over to the CDbaby page, have a listen, but it, then come back and thank me… :o)

Tags: music reviews

The invisible engine of music…

September 19th, 2007 · Comments Off on The invisible engine of music…

One of the great things about teaching bass is that questions, comments and observations from my students spark off trains of thought that get me reconsidering the nature of what we do as musicians, and obviously more specifically as bassists.

I was talking this morning with a student about the art of simple bass – the zen of bass – playing lines that on the surface are almost mind-numbingly simple, but thanks to the whole universe of intention that can exist in every note, can utterly define the song.

One of the examples we used was Nick Seymour of Crowded House. Neil Finn is a genius songwriter, truly one of the great songwriters of the last 20 years, IMHO. But what is it about Crowded House that stops them from sounding like a stadium emotional rock band? Largely, it comes down to two things – the production ideas of Mitchell Froom and Tchad Blake, and the rhythm section of Nick Seymour on bass and the late and dearly missed Paul Hester – the production stuff adds tonnes of variety to the arrangements – guitar sounds popping up for two bars and then vanishing again, processed bits of voice and weirdness coming in and out. But the rhythm section do one really crucial thing that lots and lots of modern bands miss – they don’t play in the studio like they’re playing in an arena. One of the tragic things that happens to bands when they break into the arena-gig-world is that they start writing songs, and more importantly arranging songs, to fit in that environment. You only have to compare the first two Coldplay albums to hear the difference. The first Coldplay album is a gorgeous fragile intimate affair – sure, there’s plenty there that can be turned into flag-waving stadium bombast when required, but the record doesn’t sound remotely like that. The two albums that followed are both written for stadiums, and mastered for radio. They don’t make that distinction between tracks that sound great when played on your own at home and arrangements of those tracks that sound great in front of 40,000 people.

And in those arrangements, the first things to vanish are the intricacies and interest in the rhythm section – compare what Adam Clayton was doing on Unforgettable Fire with just about anything he’s done since…

It’s what I think of as ‘Journey Syndrome’ – writing songs for stadiums. It’s the death of subtlety. The stadium rock bands of the 80s did it, in those innocent irony-free days. Before them, bands seemed to be able to make it work. Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Rumours’ doesn’t sound like a stadium record, the 70s Aerosmith records don’t sound like Stadium records – they were just great records that translated well into that environment, but still worked at home. Crucially, they weren’t squashed into a 5dB dynamic range like so much unlistenable modern rock. It’s so depressing that the hundreds of bands around now trying desperately to sound like Talking Heads have missed the genius of the Talking Heads sound: Space. As Candy Flip told us in the early 90s. You Need Space. Talking Heads were all about Space. So many recent bands that I really like in principle are messed up by writing for arenas and mastering for radio. Muse, The Killers, Kaiser Chiefs. All largely unlistenable on record, unless you’re playing them on the really shitty little stereo in the kitchen or on laptop speakers. Muse and the Killers both mess up my theory about dull rhythm sections, in that they both have really cool bassists, though I haven’t heard the second Killers album, so need to give it a spin and see if they’ve gone the way of Coldplay…

Some bands never got what the bassist was for in the first place – for all their desperation to sound like The Beatles, Oasis had one of the shittest bassists ever to strap on the instrument in poor ole Guigsy. He really couldn’t play. As in Alec John Such level uselessness. Missing the vital point that one of the things that was most remarkable about the Beatles was that in the later years, Paul and Ringo were the UK end of a transatlantic axis that changed the world of rhythm sections for ever – the US end being the Funk Brothers at Motown. McCartney’s bassy stuff was integral to the sound and genius of the Beatles. Imagine Guigsy playing Penny Lane, Paperback Writer, Rain, Maxwell’s Silver Hammer etc… Again, Oasis’ obsession with being the world’s biggest band extended to them arranging their stuff to be sung on the terraces – where it does indeed sound amazing – but meant that they were never going to be artistically a sensible comparison with the Beatles, even as Beatles copyists…

For one great example of how a rhythm section can make or break a song, have a listen to the Fleetwood Mac original of Dreams, and then the Corrs remake. Andrea Corr has a lovely voice, and does a pretty nice version, albeit a carbon copy of the phrasing and shape of the original. But the utterly soulless anodyne arrangement of their version that loses all of the tension, space and human feel that made the whole of the Rumours album so good. The Corrs version is pretty much music for people that really don’t care about music. It’s good, it’s just not good. Music by committee. This isn’t meant to turn into a rant about the Corrs – gawd bless their freakishly perfect gene pool – more a word of caution to those of you in bands not to get caught up writing music for arenas, not to get obsessed with making your album as loud as it can possibly be. If you have to, do a super-compressed version to send to radio, just don’t make the rest of us suffer through it.

Last week, I witnessed an absolute masterclass in how to play bass in a stadium – the Police reunion show at Twickenham. For all his musical sins of recent years, Sting, in the context of the Police, is still one of the most imaginative, interesting and instantly recognisable rock bassists around… bizarre given that he’s playing lines that he wrote almost 30 years ago, which still sound fresher than 90% of what’s around today. The Police’s sound always had loads of space in it, in between Stewart Copeland’s out of time but full of energy drumming (still drifting all over the place tempo-wise, but crammed with that punkish drive that made them so compelling first time round) and Andy Summers spacey delay-drenched guitar parts (until he attempted an ill-advised jazz workout on, I think, So Lonely – not to put too fine a point on it, it was a disaster). Still, Sting and Copeland put on a show of just how defining a rhythm section can be if the musicians put their mind to it. Proper magic. (click here for my photos of the gig.)

Tags: bass ideas · music reviews · Musing on Music

David Sylvian at the RFH

September 18th, 2007 · 5 Comments

david sylvian at the RFH London

Went to see David Sylvian last night at the RFH last night, with Lo, Catster and The Cheat. I’ve been a big fan of his (that’s David Sylvian, not The Cheat) for ages, but had never got to see him live so was really looking forward to it. When I found out a couple of days ago that the wonderful and lovely Theo Travis was playing sax and flute with him, I was even more excited. Any day watching Theo play music is a good day.

The gig was, as expected wonderful – moodily lit, as you can see in the above photo, and the rest of my sneakily taken rubbish camera phone pics, the band played a range of stuff from right across David’s career, all the way from Ghosts through tracks of Brilliant Trees, Gone To Earth, Secrets Of The Beehive, Dead Bees On A Cake to last year’s Blemish (was Blemish last year? the year before? whatever…) – all good stuff. It was odd hearing DS without the foil of another guitar player – one of the defining features of his records is that he almost always has a mad guitarist as the random element in the midst of the calmness – BJ Cole on Gone To Earth, David Torn on Secrets Of The Beehive, Fripp and Trey Gunn on The First Day, Derek Bailey on Blemish etc… – but tonight it was just himself on guitar, playing simple acoustic strummy stuff on almost all of the tunes. Very simple acoustic strummy stuff – he appears to only use about 4 chord shapes… Which worked, but left me wondering what another guitarist would’ve added. Thankfully, Theo was there as that random more freewheeling element – the tracks without him were noticeably more restrained, tied more tightly to the sequenced tracks that fleshed out most of the gig with bleeps, squeaks and canned brass and woodwind. With Theo playing in and around the tunes, they took on a more spontaneous feel, and it seemed to lift the band into a more spontaneous place, intentionally or otherwise.

All in, a gorgeous gig. I love the fact that DS doesn’t feel the need to throw in an up-tempo number to please the crowd – the dynamic changes were largely left to whether the ever-brilliant Steve Jansen was playing predominantly acoustic or electronic percussion; the acoustic stuff being far more dynamic, which the electronic kept everything in a really tightly defined dynamic and emotional framework.

Tags: music reviews