Monday, October 6, 2008

Ghosts and Vodka - Precious Blood (2001)

Tonight i've gone back and listened to a band called Ghosts and Vodka for quite awhile. They only really released a full set of songs and an EP, ex-members of Cap'n Jazz and Joan of Arc, etc. I've had their stuff since it was recommended by a friend some years ago on our trip out to record our own album, but i mention it here because they rarely get talked about. If you are into mathy, angular, guitar driven rock (almost with a 90s flavor), i believe you'd enjoy Ghosts and Vodka. On first listen, the intricate lines will wash over you with an overwhelming feeling of complication. A lot of it goes unnoticed for the first few listens, simply because so many notes and rhythms go by so fast. I love listening to Ghosts and Vodka (now defunct) when i need to get my up-tempo, skate video worthy, righteous-chicago instrumental on. Fully recommended. For lovers of Pele, Don Caballero, and the Promise Ring.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Review sites will always suck

Everytime i come back to this page i think to myself, "what can i say about what i'm listening to that lends any importance to an album that is likely already being reviewed by a thousand other embarrassingly amateur weblogs and music critic's websites?"
So unless i find myself with a lot more time on my hands, i'm not going to give number ratings and pretend to know more about an album than the artists that make them. I don't consider myself qualified. I'll keep this informal, which will let me write more. I hate to be so wishy washy, but i think i tried to do something that i really just can't bring myself to do. I was fooling.

I visited The Silent Ballet today (once linked on this blog, now removed) and saw 3 things off the bat:
They gave Mogwai's new album a 6.5. They gave Talkdemonic's new disc a 2.5 (what?!- is that even professional?). They gave my friend Jason's disc a 6. And it's not that they aren't entitled to their opinions. They are. It's just that, all of their reviews are by different writers, all varying in skill level, all varying in editing taste, all with very DIFFERENT opinions. What thousands of people are receiving in the form of a number score is just one pimple-faced college radio dj or aspiring "music journalist"s passing opinion. There is no cohesiveness. If i was the editor of that magazine, i'd never let anyone give a score as low as a 2.5, especially to such a great, creative, talented band like Talkdemonic. There seems to be no filter. Just a bunch of kids sitting in basements enjoying all the free promo cds in return for writing a shitty piece of paragraph once a month. I hate that website now, and i hate postrockxchange, for the same reason. They devour, not devote time to, music. Though they do pick good music to review, their reviews of them suck.
It's as many new bands as you can learn, as obscure as you can get. Microwave fishsticks. Instant gratification. Why pay homage to a band like Mogwai- to whom you owe the whole reason your stupid website was started- when you can shuffle right on by to find the next "new" thrilling group. Somebody to impress your friends with by obscurity.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Spiritualized/David Foster Wallace

I am going to see Spiritualized tonight at Berbati's. A band that has influenced pretty much everybody i know that makes music, i'm hoping this will be a special night.

EDIT: while getting ready to leave for the show tonight i learned that David Foster Wallace has apparently committed suicide. though i'm not very familiar with his works, many of my friends going tonight are literary people, and a wave of shock is happening on the way to the show. wallace had been depressed and medicated for the last 20 years "and just couldn't take it anymore", his dad said.
many spiritualized songs revolve around medication, drugs, depression, and salvation from it.
tonight is going to be a lot more somber as we reflect on how real those things are.

Saturday, September 13, 2008



Tonight i went to see Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait.
I've been waiting a long time to see this movie as i've had the soundtrack for almost a year (scored by Mogwai). It never seemed to have gained US distribution.
I was able to see it as a part of the still ongoing T:BA Festival here in Portland.
It was very special, though cumbersome at times do to its intense focus on Zinedine Zidane's every movement, which, of course, weren't always completely compelling, as the 17 35mm cameras captured his waiting, walking, talking, sweating, looking around, spitting. Every detail.
The idea and aspect here is unique, beautiful, and was at times quite moving. Mogwai's score helped.
I went to the movie thinking it would be a study on movement, on Zidane's motions as a profoundly chiseled, trained, and talented athlete. I was surprised to find that most of the movie utilized sound- the sounds around him in the crowd, the warm, startling thump of the soccer ball being kicked, and also Zidane's own voice. His inner voice played a big part too, as it was juxtaposed via text from interview material ontop of Mogwai's minor key compositions. You felt as if you were hearing his thoughts on the field from deep within his consciousness.

All in all, a film i won't forget.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

bedside table goals

This is the first personal post i'll have made in a great long while. I considered starting a new blog but maybe that's too easy, maybe i should finish something i've started anyway. But this post won't be about music at all. A lot has changed in my life since Jesse's review of Portishead's 3rd, my moving back to Portland being one of the biggest.
So, for myself mainly, here are some goals i wrote down at my bedside table for while in pdx this time:

1) meet people. go to ilan's, asher's, etc.
2) watch better movies (miranda july, wholphin)
3) read before bed
4) go running (3x a week minimum)
5) bike to work
6) work
7) eat less and better (no artificial foods, no food after 8pm)
8) be picky
9) write a new album (electronic, strings, drums)
10) put tv away, no more halo except on mike's
11) get patio built
12) seek out installations and film screenings

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Portishead- Third (2008)

When I heard they were reuniting, I did everything I could to implement upon myself a ninja-style media blackout pertaining to all-things Portishead. I avoided every mere mention of the band, every piece of news, and every live cut orbiting the blogosphere for the last 6 months. In fact, in the two weeks following the release of Third, I must have made three trips to purchase this record, only to leave empty-handed every time. I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t risk the potential for a band so intrinsically linked to my musical upbringing (not to mention a band I absolutely adore) to somehow fail artistically upon their reunion. It turns out that my hesitation was unjustified.

While Beth Gibbons’ vocal oeuvre has been noted to stand as a bit one-dimensional at times, Third sees her exploring new melodic and lyrical territory, all the while maintaining her ability to dig her nails into the ventricles of your heart. The album opens with “Silence,” a jungle meets break-beat offering that quells any expectations for what one thought the Third should/would sound like. This track, along with “Plastic” and “Hunter,“ inhabits a more jigsaw-like territory than any songs contributing to the velvety-flow of their first two albums; its elements cobbled-together in a jaggedly abrupt, but never distracting manner.

To contrast against the rip and paste aesthetic of the previously mentioned tracks, most of the remainder of the record’s songs are unbending and repetitive (but not at all in a negative way). Songs like “Nylon Smile” become intoxicating and hypnotic, nesting themselves into the dusty and unused corner of your conscious; a part you weren’t quite sure was there but are happy to discover, much in the same manner as Syd Barrett’s solo work (though, by a very different approach). “We Carry On,” with its proto-industrial rhythm fits this mold (it’s like Stereolab with teeth), as does “Machine Gun,” which is more creepy and paranoid (and adventurous) than anything the band has ever released. The song’s conclusion melts away into the territory of a lost Vangelis track, and would feel at home among Blade Runner’s end-credits. It should be noted, however, that the song-title and staccato-snare framework of “Machine Gun” were used on Hendrix’s Band of Gypsys 28 years prior to the release of Third (Portishead should’ve done their homework and named it something different, I guess).

Third’s standout tracks are “Small,” a gothic chamber-opera bookended by a synth-driven darkwave meltdown, and “The Rip,” which is perhaps the best song the band has ever written (unique and fragile, the song inches towards its conclusion of a claustrophobic heartbeat’s pulse and the whir of a lover’s blood coursing just beyond the boundary of their breast). It is undeniably beautiful, expectedly melancholy, and wholly addictive, which leaves the question: if Portishead had this kind of material in them all along, why have they been hiding?

Rating: 8.5
by Jesse Robert W.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

New Iceberg Writers

I'm happy to welcome a couple of new review writers on board our little floating glacier here. I figured getting some friends in on the reviews would be a lot more fun than dancing around on my own pedestal forever. This way the range of genres, bands, and tastes covered will expand and everyone benefits! So see above to check out Amy Mika's first review for Destroyer's Trouble In Dreams.
More updates by more fabulous mystery writers on the way.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Rating System!

I've decided to enter the world of the ultra elite by implementing a rating system for the records i'll be talking about on this site. I want to clarify that by no means am i a professional music critic. But as a person who's watched his own bands' albums get criticized, rated, sometimes praised, sometimes degraded, i've decided to have some fun of my own.
And you'll probably be getting reviews more from an artist's perspective (more sympathetic, but less objective, obviously), rather than those you'd read in your average "website that shall not be named" -style review blog.
You can check out the meanings behind the number scores to the left, and i'll be amending older posts with corresponding ratings, so you can get a feel for them already.
Really, ratings are completely arbitrary, but i think people secretly love them. One thing you won't get here ever is me bashing a band just because i have a personal vendetta against them. I think all art made in earnest is worth respect, and i've saved the 5.4 and belows just for fun, or maybe for a day when i'm just in a really bad mood.
Should be an interesting experiment. Who knows? Maybe someday this blog will even have a little good influence...

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Reasons That Music Fans Listen

A couple of days ago, i found myself engaged in a conversation with someone i was sitting next to in a doctor's office. He was a music fan and we naturally fell onto the topic. We discussed Bob Dylan, local music, the lack of venue space or support for kentucky artists, and the conversation was all going pretty good- until i made a comment about how much i hate the Rolling Stones (which was partly tongue in cheek, though mostly true).
This opened up a bag of theories on why "old stand bys"- proven bands who have stood the test of time (like the Rolling Stones, maybe, or the Beach Boys, Beatles, Fleetwood Mac, U2, etc.) might or might not be a person's preferred listening over slews of newer, sometimes more "experimental" bands (unproven ones with maybe not enough albums to yet justify their often trend-fueled popularity).
This guy explained to me that as much as he wanted to, he couldn't listen to "new" bands like Modest Mouse or the Shins as much as his friends were, and his theory was this:
There are so many thousands of bands now and such easy access to music with the internet that you can fill a harddrive with 100s of GBs of stuff that will take you months and even years even listen to, let alone let sink in. But in 10 years, will you still care about half those bands? Since people's tastes tend to change, he was saying its a better bet to just enjoy the music you know is good, and not waste too much effort on a band that will just come and go.

I thought this was a pretty good point in a way, and also agreed that for a lot of people, being a music fan is a lot like being a collector- it becomes obsessive to the point that people download 20 albums a day, but the listening is only half as important as the "owning". A lot of the stuff probably doesn't get listened to ( or at least listened to WELL).

I thought for a minute and then tried to explain why i find myself constantly chasing after new music. My explanation was this: I listen to a lot of music, and most of it is new (especially lately). A lot of it is experimental or "out there" to a person who doesn't often go beyond Aerosmith or The Red Hot Chili Peppers. And a lot of it is crap.
There is a ton of new crap out there. There is also a ton of wonderful new stuff. The extra effort here is concentrated on having to constantly filter through the crap to get to the good stuff. But what i find, for me, is that all the extra work involved in "discovering" new music: that is filtering through the bad, discerning quality vs mediocrity for yourself, and swimming through an ever growing digital sea of totally "unproven" internet releases or challenging musical ideas- is that every few years i will find a gem, a real one- something that will completely change my view on what music is. Something that makes you say, "I never knew music could even BE like this". And it changes your musical perspective, as well as your LIFE from that point on. And this, to me is worth the trouble.

So, there's where i stand on listening to "modern" music. Of course, not everybody has the time or even finances (though i'd say the internet cancels this excuse nowadays) to wade through thousands of releases a year, and that's really understandable. I think you have to be a pretty big music geek to think like this.
On the other hand, there are artists out there who take years to create, refine, and execute their craft, hoping it will bring something new and wonderful to the world. Is it not too wrong to expect that a person takes five minutes to listen to a song outside of their usual, safe, circles and give some attention to those who might not have the funds or influence to get supermodels to dance on cars in their videos? Where would progression be without people trying out new things?
When Stravinsky debuted his "Rite of Spring", there were riots breaking out in the audience, who opposed it almost entirely. We now consider this work a timeless classic. It's easy to see how great it is in retrospect. My point is that if we aren't paying attention, we might be missing some great things going on in our own lifetime. Without being open minded, we might miss something that will ultimately enrich us (somehow the Pharisees and Jesus come to mind).

Like Nietzsche said, "Without music life would be a mistake."

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Current (heavy) listening:

Band Ane: Anish Music (Danish Electronica)
Matmos: Supreme Balloon (Electronic, Baltimore)
Kashiwa Daisuke: Program Music I (Electronic/Neo-Classical, Japan)
Disinterested: Behind Us (Ambient/Post-Rock, Seattle)
Murcof: Cosmos (Minimal Electronic, Mexico)
Gavin Bryars/Philip Jeck/Alter Ego: The Sinking of the Titanic (Ambient/Classical/Experimental, UK)
M83: Saturdays = Youth (Electronic, France)

All are highly recommended!

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Bon Iver- For Emma, Forever Ago (2007)

It's not that i think Bon Iver needs another piece of press ontop of the already heaping piles of hype surrounding his album- it's that this is a music blog about what i'm currently listening to, and i'm currently finding For Emma, Forever Ago to be incredible. I like folk music, but it's not my favorite genre. Therefore, i guessed that the album would be good- but probably only astonishing for the truest indie folk lovers out there. I like Bonnie Prince Billy, but i've got to be in the mooooood, you know? After my first listen through last night, my expectations were beyond exceeded.
For Emma, Forever Ago was self released in 2007, having been recorded in an isolated cabin during winter by singer Justin Vernon. Pitchfork hyped it, it got a ton of buzz, and Jagjaguwar recently rereleased it, bringing it to the forefront of a much wider audience. It's been praised and praised and praised and I believe it's worthy of it.
First off, the songs are fantastic. Each one is well written, and sung with an incredibly definitive voice- one that is not just charming, either, but skillful and beautiful. These songs would hold up on stage with just a single vocal and acoustic guitar. But what really sealed things for me are all the nuances found on the album that give it its character. Echoing, otherwordly vocals doubled and tripled at times give it a ghostly feel. Little taps, slaps, and scratches of hands strumming, shoes tapping, or chairs scraping a wooden floor give it an close up, personal feel. And even moments of glitchy digital processing find their way sliced between passages of otherwise organic guitar progressions. A couple of pitch bent computerized vocal snippets even pop up in "The Wolves", defying the album's own stark rootsiness.
Ontop of all of that, there is a genuine soulfulness on the disc- the voice of a person having recently dealt with the breakup of his previous band, living in isolation, and searching his own humanness. The sadness is there, but overlaid with so much beauty it's hard not to smile for the joy in struggle.
Since listening to it for the first time last night, i've heard it through almost four more times. This doesn't happen often for me, and is an indication that For Emma might possibly make its way onto my top list of future classics.

Rating: 8.6

Monday, March 24, 2008

iLIKETRAiNS- Progress Reform (2006)

I've recently introduced myself to a band out of Leeds with the unabashedly pretentious title iLIKETRAiNS. And you need to get past the band name right now...Done? Okay, onwards then! I'm glad you are still with me, because the band is WORTH IT.
Let me explain how i feel, because i can't say i know a lot about these most morose fellas, other than that their music is exceptional.
iLIKETRAiNS' tunes are built around their singer and his stories, which recount the tragedies of historical figures- like Captian Scott's 1911 ill-fated expidition to the South Pole, or chess champ Bobby Fischer's descent into madness and reclusion, for just a couple examples. You'll quickly get the tone of it all after a listen through: stories retold are tragic and dark, but recounted with a role-play type feel, so as audience you will feel you are listening to first hand accounts. The music serves as a vehicle in a theatre of the fantastic, the macabre, the emotional. The lyrics are, for the most part, historically accurate, and serve as something to immerse yourself in, something much deeper than the run of the mill girl/angst/art/travel/girl stuff found in most indie rock.
This singer's exceptional backing is almost as good as he himself: post rock guitar tones, experimental song structures, and crescendos that won't let you down- including full choir sections done to the most hauntingly beautiful effect.
I say take one part Morrissey, one part Interpol, and mix in a little Tim Burton if he was a musician. There you have iLIKETRAiNS. But the whole reason i chose to write about this band is that you won't find another like them. I've held off listening to their newest release, Elegies to Lessons Learnt, until i could fully process their first release of length. Now that i have, i'll be purchasing the rest of their catalog faster than you can say "guillotine".

Rating: 7.8

Thursday, March 20, 2008

William Basinski: Disintegration Loops I (2002)

I've had a bit of a rough day. Life sometimes just seems so unrelenting, so merciless. I've been feeling stressed to find purpose in my day to day lately due to my laptop being in an unusable condition for writing new music. And i'm still getting over a poor review for my band from a source that i thought was sure to be enthusiastic about it. This has left me to face the more mundane components that make up my life: a job that is routine and unrewarding, few friends in a new city, and financial worries and woes. The stuff we all go through, the stuff noone likes. Tonight, though, i put on William Basinski's Disintegration Loops, and my disposition was immediately leveled.
I had heard about the Disintegration Loops for a few years, but never came across a copy, maybe due to its lack of record store accessibility. Thanks to Emusic, i now own volume 1 for the price of a mere 2 download credits (that's almost an hour and a half of music!), and have finally gotten to hear it for myself. Basinski is a composer, sound artist, and video artist and has dabbled in tape loops for years, following in the minimalist school of Brian Eno or Arvo Part. The recording was born when a digital transfer of loops failed and Basinski's tape loops eventually degraded or "disintegrated". What we have today is the result of that recording- a distant and sad, echoing loop that slowly evolves into its own death over time. According to Basinski, these looped recordings were played for friends on his rooftop in New York the day of September 11, while filming the also slow demise of the World Trade Centers as their smoke billowed into the sky. I can't imagine how sad and powerful that had to have been, the elegaic music becoming mourner as humanity was baffled by humanity. The actual music here is beautiful, and part of its charm in being distant, reverbed-out, and murky is that it got that way naturally, at least in part. It is a somber yet uplifting reminder of the frailty of our human existences as time goes on. After spending the last couple hours with this disc in such a meditative mood, i feel like the state of my life is just fine, and that i'm part of a much greater world in which we all struggle. But we struggle together, and that's what's beautiful.

Rating: 9.0

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Best of 2007: My top 25

Alright, it's mid March and everybody's probably already seen enough Best Of 07 lists to solidify their opinions on the universal "bests". Truthfully, i've been working so long on digesting the albums i missed of last year that every time i've sat down to make up my list it seems i'm discovering another band and changing my mind again. For what i thought was a really slow year for music, there turned out to be a surprising amount of memorable albums. I tried to do it in 20, but just couldn't. Here are my top 25, in no particular order:

Battles - Mirrored
Autistici - Volume Objects
Burial - Untrue.
Kiln - Dusker
Morgan Packard - Airships Fill the Sky
Klimek - Dedications
Stars of the Lid - And Their Refinement of the Decline
Apparat - walls
Múm - Go, Go Smear the Poison Ivy
Do Make Say Think - You, You're a History In Rust
Helios - Ayres
Growing -Vision Swim
Northern - Drawn
Holler, Wild Rose! - Our Little Hymnal
Sawako - Madaromi
M.I.A. - Kala
the Octopus Project - Hello, Avalanche
Troubles - Sen'taur
Giuseppe Ielasi - August (possibly best album cover)
Grails - Buring Off Impurities
Kammerflimmer Kollektief - Jinx
World's End Girlfriend - Hurtbreak Wonderland
the Besnard Lakes - the Besnard Lakes Are the Dark Horse
Epic45 - May Your Heart Be the Map
Logh - North