While I was away (listening)….

I’ve been a bit busy and scattered recently, working on updating the Max/MSP docs, starting to puzzle over stuff that needs doing for the AES, and preparing for some upcoming live performances. So I’m sorry to have gone to ground. How can I make it up to you, gentle reader?

Rather than resorting to the algorithmic apathetic online journal generator, I figured that I could either keep silent, or start posting a logorrhetic stream of political musings, none of which would be nearly as much fun as, say, Wonkette.

So I thought I’d mention what’s been the office ambience during this hiatus. As a critic, I’m never certain about how to listen to new work… do you drop it on the iPod and cycle around lake Monona on a crisp fall day? Do you drop it into the N-disk changer (where N < 10) and play it to death for days? Do you sit down with a nice bottle of Mourvedre and listen to the thing intently in a dark room? Beats me. I probably did all three. So your mileage may vary greatly here, okay? In honor of the conventions of Carnatic Music, I’ll assign them contexts/times of day.

  • si-cut.db (Douglas Benford’s) first full-length release on Fällt (you might have heard him on the BiP-HOp compilation or a split releas on Fällt/BiP-HOp with Stephan Mathieu) is a real delight. It’s in that marvellous post-dub laptop territory with recordings like Deadbeat’s Something Borrowed, or (Joshua) Kit Clayton’s “Lateral Fault” work. Definitely post-9 PM, small pools of light.
  • Forgiving the blatant commercialism of it, someone’s sat down and remastered three of the original Ambient Music series albums (Music for Airports, The Plateaux of Mirror, On Land) and Eno’s original Discreet Music release from the Obscure Music label. In some ways, I’m a bit hard pressed to think of recordings with which I have spent more total time since their appearance (In a Silent Way? The Gould Goldberg Variations?). Great attentive remastering job–On Land, in particular, seems to me to benefit greatly, and they’ve even managed to scale back the wall of hiss on Music for Airport’s opener 1/1. Early morning, curtains half open, coffee smells drifting from the kitchen.
  • While the goal of listening widely is that treasured moment of surprise, some recordings are things you look forward to in the same way that you enjoy having lunch with an old, dear friend who’s visiting from out of town. Hearing the Blue Nile’s High is liking picking up a conversation that one paused over years back. While there are some moments in which new things intrude into the mix (some synths and scratchy guitars at the very edges of the mix’s soundstage and at nearly inaudible levels, it’s an album of the particular shade of blue and earnest emotion and intent that they’ve done so well for so long. Among my acquaintances, they’ve always been a shibboleth band: the persons I foist the recordings on either love them or loathe `em. Early evening, light rain, streetlights coming on.
  • Trumpeter Arve Henriksen’s first solo outing on Rune Grammofon, Sakuteiki, came as a bit of a revelation for me. A collection of different vignettes for solo trumpet bound together using the metaphor of a manual for garden design (from which the album takes its name). Since I am and remain a serious fan of the band in which Henriksen toils (Supersilent), I figured I’d give it a listen. It arrived as a curiosity and stayed as a permanent fixture and something on my Christmas gift “short list” for quite a while. His new release is considerably more lush and consistent in terms of soundstage, and adds percussion and sampling/vocalese into the mix. I expected that I’d find it less interesting than the spareness of Sakuteiki, but on some repeated listen, I think it is more along the lines of some of John Hassell’s less processed outings, or Graham Haynes’ trumpet work. Midafternoon, plate of small cookies, lowered blinds to check the autumn sun.
  • Uh-oh. This will be my second “guilty pop pleasure” in this batch. Oh well. In the days following the demise of Crowded House in the 90s, the Finn Brothers (ex Split Enz) have made a couple of quirky and modest recordings (often with Tchad Blake engineering) that I’ve found satisfying affairs in the way that you can enjoy a great Guided by Voices recording. Their new Everyone Is Here appears to opt for a considerably more intimate kind of sound (and an arguably less um, “exploratory” production than either Neil Finn’s “Try Whistling This” or the last Finn Brothers release. There are even some singles here (do we even have those things anymore?). Once you’re willing to forgive someone for still writing love songs or treasuring the occasional hook, the rest is easy. I cannot claim to know how satisfying this material is for listeners whose working definition of pop music is Franz Ferdinand or the Strokes, but it works for me. Perfect for lunchtime omelettes or bike rides, too.

My goodness, what quotidian tastes I have come to have! I shall proceed on the assumption that one of the great emotional or intellctual or spiritual tests of bloggery lies in attempting to be one’s self (and to do so unapologetically) and post this anyway.Oh–I know. I can say slightly less complimentary things about something. Um… I really wanted to like Bjork’s Medulla more than I did. Great idea, potentially risky but rewarding territory–everything I should be cheering for. But much of it feels novel rather than satisfying on repeated listen. If this hadn’t followed on the heels of Vespertine and the collaborative work–recorded and live–with Matmos and Zeena Parkins, I might feel very differently. But I guess I respect the gesture more than liking the result.

While I was away (listening)….

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