Tuesday, March 30, 2010

When DID we turn that corner?

Another fine performance by Habib Koite and Bamada last night. Some audience members might have been itching for more high energy dance tunes, but I very much enjoyed the rather mid-tempo set they turned it. Chock full of great balafon work, although I'm pretty sure that was not Kélétigui Diabaté back there, it was also highlighted by the band pulling out more trad instruments like a smallish kora, and a kamale ngoni. I missed the violin they sometimes bring along (pretty sure that's a Diabaté thing) but you always gotta love his crazy talking drum player. No matter how many times bands say how much they love The Cedar, I still got a big kick out of Habib pausing early in his set and looking around the hall, saying, "This place... indeed is like a home to us." Thanks, guys - and enjoy those new West Bank/West Africa t-shirts, OK?

Here's a little clip of Diabaté ruling the balafon. Our guy last night had hair.



* * * * * * *
OK, I'm over my crush on the Smoke Fairies...well, maybe I just have a additional crush on one of our intrepid reporter crew's other SXSW superstar picks. The recent release Gloria by Slovak bowed guitar/poppy hooks/weird samples duo Longital has stolen my heart away this week. Or at least my earbuds. Daniel Salontay and Shina (Šina Lo) aka Jana Lokšenincová say "We play the soundtrack to a psychedelic version of the happy end of the world, where fish fly over the rivers filled not with water, but with music streaming into the seas." Creating these soundscapes at their place on the hill called Dlhe Diely in Bratislava, the listener enters into their slightly off-kilter, but cozy world. ("Longital" is a version of the old German name of the hill - and it was a lot easier for non-Slovaks to say.)

I had a nice map graphic here - FOR A DAY! on the difference between Slovakia and Slovenia. What's up with the link? I cannot tell. But you can learn more here.

The sing-along (no, you don't need to know the language) hooks work great in loud situation like doing the dishes, and the playful (without being annoying) little found sounds are fun discoveries when you pull out the headphones. They have gotten me EVERY TIME with that weird birdcall? broken machinery? clicky percussive thing partway through the otherwise classically pretty "Sinko stupa/The Sun is Rising." I think "What the heck is going on outside... oh yeah, it's in that song." Listen for the loud cat purr at the beginning of "My dve/Two of Us", too. Really, why not lead into your beats with a purr?


Darker tracks like "Cervena Modra /Red Blue" had me hitting that repeat, but I really am liking the catchy upbeat songs, too! They're weird enough to keep me interested; the bowed guitar can come off like a butch cello but he can go all Hendrix with it, too. Salontay was a math teacher/jazz musician and Lokšenincová studied engineering before they quit their day jobs, and according to our Angel of Rock, they did have very cool techno gear along with her fretless bass and his various vintage guitars and double bass bow. Just don't ask me if I would be as into this if the lyrics were in English...because you know I really don't want to hear about anybody's relationship. In Slovak, the words just float on by as another color on the palette.

Let's hope another U.S. tour in on the Longital agenda soon.

* * * * * * *

When did we turn that corner? When did you really stop caring whether you had the physical music source rather than the file? Was it last time I was told to "Put away your cds! They make the living room look messy." ( What - and Lego don't?) Was it when I received a gift card for the Electric Fetus and it's still in my wallet months later? Was it when I ordered the new Carolina Chocolate Drops a few months ago because there was one low price for 320 bit files PLUS a bunch of files of live tracks PLUS the actual disc. What did I need that disc for? It's sitting in the kitchen gathering dust. I should probably give it to my mother-out-law or leave it in Lisa's car.

While it is still sounds great - once in a while - to crank up something on the actual stereo with real big speakers and everything, a vast majority of the time it really doesn't matter to me any more. My car is wired for the Pod. We have a handy little Bose Pod player in the dining room. I have numerous sets of groovy ear buds. The only thing I can imagine buying the physical disc for anymore is something like the Analog Africa stuff that come with big fat booklets, archival photos, hidden tracks, etc. (BTW, his next compilation comes out April 12; Colombian accordion stuff called Mambo Loco.)

It's certainly partly about paying for the song instead of the whole disc. [Say, Ms. Fever - Do you really have a terabyte of individually chosen SONGS? Or are there a lot of entire albums in there?] To any of you, c'mon, name up some recent releases where the entire disc is essential.

Some things never change. I have a very clear memory of standing before the tiny record rack at the dime store in Horicon, Wisconsin at about age 9, gazing longingly at Sweet's Desolation Boulevard. How did I know there were enough "good songs" to to fork over my hard earned $6.99? Wouldn't it be safer to spend 99 cents apiece to buy the 45s of "Fox on the Run" and "Action," since I already knew those were "good songs?" This mathematical evaluation was repeated several times in diverse locations such as the Shopko in Beaver Dam and a K-Mart near Grandma Wheeler's in Des Moines. I never did buy the album, but I did have those singles around for a long time. (In an aside, I actually bought the files of "Fox on the Run" and earlier Sweet hit "Ballroom Blitz" a few years ago. They sounded... a little...slowww 30-some years on.)

Friday, March 26, 2010

Recap: SXSW

I deliberately did not write my sxsw recap immediately after returning to Minneapolis. I couldn't. I was still taking everything in and attempting to make sense of it all. So much for my career as a journalist in the fast-paced world of chirps and Myface.


66 bands. 3.5 days. 36 degree weather in Austin, TX. Yikes.


Main Figurehead and I saw a number of the same acts. If I were to list everyone I saw on Saturday, it would look much the same as his post for nearly the whole day. So instead, I'm only going to tell you about the favorites. The cream of the crop.



Wednesday


Doll & The Kicks: I saw this group play on a boulevard. A Karen O lookalike with a good UK rock sounding band. Stopping to watch gave me some time to finish dinner.


Dustin O'Halloran/Hauschka: These two piano men played back to back in one of the best sounding venues, St. David's Bethel Hall. O'Halloran plays contemporary classical piano and Hauschka prepares his instrument - at its best when he had a pile of little stones that he dropped one by one into the body of the piano. They had recruited a string quartet to learn both their material in a single day. While the compositions didn't blow me away, it was a nice break from the abrasive rock happening outside, and I loved hearing about how Hauschka got his first piano (from his grandmother under the condition he would only play classical music. He promptly joined a band. He didn't give the piano back).


Strange Boys: I hate to admit that I almost missed this show. I ended up finding their name in my list after leaving another underwhelming show after only two songs. When I got to the venue, there was a line, and a "one in one out" waiting period. But I made it, and they were wonderful. Youthful but unfazed. Raw. Gritty. Saxophone. Mmm.


Thursday


Carolina Chocolate Drops: What can I say? These three are old favorites that do not disappoint. At this show I was especially struck by the bones. For me, it really conjures the image of a Grateful Dead-like dancing skeleton. It seems as though the instrument is just an extension of his body. Chilling - even at 10:30 a.m. in a hotel lobby.


Delhi 2 Dublin: ENERGY. Super fun. But the crowd was not matching their efforts. Thank you to the one aging punk in full leather and studs who swerved and sweated without ever cracking a smile.


Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings: She is the real thing. A soul queen. She has me wrapped around her microphone stand, and I'll do anything she tells me to. Wish I would have stayed for her full set.


Fishtank Ensemble: Sassy, sexy strings with gypsy flavor. They had their look down too: A saw-playing lady in red flanked by rockabilly boys in black.


Daniel Martin Moore and Ben Sollee's Dear Companion project: Sigh. Dear Daniel, I still have a crush on you.


Gringo Star: This is a band I followed because I loved one song. Surprisingly, despite that set up they pulled through. High-energy rock and roll. A REALLY tight, well-versed band. They switched instruments after nearly every song.


Mountain Man: Chilling three-part harmony from lovely girls. I can picture this at The Cedar in the middle of winter before an audience bundled up in bulky coats drinking their steaming cups of tea. It reminded me of an early Rachel Unthank performance I saw - stark but stunning.


Surf City: Garage rock at its best. No frills.


Olof Arnalds: The former member of Mum took a different route than band mate Kria Brekkan who performed a highly experimental set in a rock club on the other side of downtown. Arnalds played spooky, beautiful, folk-tinged tunes with hints of Sigur Ros. Lovely lovely lovely. Another one I hope to see at The Cedar.


The Pines: Local boys still doing Minneapolis proud. I was glad to see they brought their banjo player with them.


Wye Oak: Another set I wish I could have watched in full. Jenn Wasner started with a solo song that was shockingly honest. I thought I saw tears in her eyes, but I could have been mistaken. The full band stuff was just as good. Hoping to catch them in town very soon.


MNDR: Per the request of blogger Princess, I stopped in on a set by this DJ. She really is that good. Read Princess' take here.


Phantogram: This New York duo is getting plenty of hype. I don't need to add to it. They were fun. The crowd LOVED them.


Friday


Efterklang: They normally have a string player (violin? viola? I so don't remember) but for SXSW had Camera Obscura's horn player sitting in. Really cool. Like a hybrid of Beirut and Sigur Ros. Young, bouncy, fun. Smiles all around.


The Living Sisters: Freaking beautiful. On all counts. Read what Main Figurehead had to say here.


Jenny Owen Youngs: So cute. Like, I want to hug her and then make her be my friend. But I wish her biting sarcasm and witty remarks would come through more in her music. Pretty music, pretty/smart girl, smart/funny banter.


Son Lux: I had never heard this Anticon artist before, and was disappointed to come in after Dosh had finished. But Son Lux delivered despite having trouble with the sound engineer. Anyone who can hold my attention while plinking away at a laptop is doing something right.


True Widow: Perfect. This band is just exactly what I am looking for; just the right combination of Autolux, Low, slow, dirge-y grunge rock, and a badass female bass player. Oof. Seriously amazing.


Dengue Fever: I have waited a long time to see this group, and it was well worth it. The Cambodian singer is maybe the most beautiful woman on the planet, and the band found their groove and is sticking to it. A great way to close the night.


Saturday


Longital: Read about them here. SO SO SO good. A prize for anyone who can succinctly (and accurately) describe what this group sounds like.


Malachai: One of their first performances in the U.S. You can watch the very first one here. SO eccentric, so smooth. I have had a hard time listening to anything but this band after returning home.


Miss Li: The Swedish version of Alice Russell + Annie. Bubblegum lyrics, soul-style belting. A backing band of cute swedish boys. Not bad.


Smoke Fairies: Again, Figurehead summed this up pretty well. So I'll suggest you read his take here. This group is enchanting, and probably the one I would be most excited about seeing at The Cedar. Here's hoping.


ChocQuibTown: Really fun. I almost had to dance. Made me want to listen to the record more.



That's all for now.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Help with English 12

So my sister is visiting with her kids this week, and while our boys spread Lego all over the entire house, we are catching up a bit. Being a high school literature teacher, she's always revamping her reading lists and trying new methods to get the learning into the kids. We talked about her new version of World Lit (a term that means about as much as our favorite descriptive phrase World Music) and how she wants to incorporate more art and music into the syllabus.

Which of course got me thinking about music that is culture clash, music that's on the threshhold, music of diasporas and the other topics she plans to cover. Being a music gal, rather than a lyrics gal, I would love suggestions from all of you readers of artists and songs that might fit within those ideas.

I'm thinking more about tunes where the music itself is crossing borders and genres and ages rather than lyrics about those topics set in a standard song format, but any suggestions are welcome. Say for example , if she's doing Everything is Illuminated, maybe Gogol Bordello might be an obvious choice because they were in the movie. But really, as far as the book goes, maybe Warsaw Village Band gives more of the peasant vs. technology idea. Or what about Ukrainian "Kozak Rock" band Haydamaky? They're named after peasant rebels whose struggle was immortalized in Taras Shevchenko'sHaidamaki, an epic poem about the armed struggle of the Ukrainian Cossacks and peasants against the Polish feudal gentry. Not quite the history of the village of Trachimbrod, but closer. Or maybe some Polish reggae like VavaMuffin? Cultures are aclashin' there. The more I think about it, perhaps the dark klezmer of Krakow's Kroke would better capture the deep sadness in the book.
See what I mean? There are a lot of ways one could go with this. It'll be fun to help my sis winnow through ideas and find music to match up/contrast with the books! I'll hope to post the actual book list next week, but here's her description of what she's looking for.
"It might be threshold as border, liminal space, neither-nor space, undefined otherspace, outlaw or beyond-the-pale space or it might be threshold as the linking point or hinge in fusion and hybridity. I think as a resonant metaphor it can work fruitfully in either direction."

Wait! Doesn't that describe all the music I love? Anyway, if a tune strikes you as a fit to the loose set of ideas, let me know.

Funny how the latest posting TransGlobal Underground sent out to their fans was about their new A Gathering of Strangers project covering the same territory. ( Wait. Doesn't it always, for these guys?) Mostly I was psyched to see bands like French world percussion/techno guys Recycler and Polish techno/trad Village Kollektiv on their list of collaborators along with the usual suspects from the Celtic lands and the Balkans. While I'm not always super-into TransGlobal's finished results (often a little too slick), I do admire their collaborative spirit.


Here's what Hamid Man Tu and Tim Whelan say about Gathering of Strangers.
"Out of that came the idea of searching out songs about movement, emigration and exile, and sending those songs themselves into exile, to have them apply for residence abroad, struggle with unexpected customs and accents and wander through the studios, bedrooms and DJ booths of Europe, with only a dog-eared out of date passport to confirm their original place of musical birth."
Amongst the artists appearing so far: JIM MORAY (UK), YANKA RUPKINA (Trio Bugarka, Bulgaria), BALKAN FANATIK (Hungary), THE PERUNIKA TRIO (UK/Bulgaria), MARTIN FUREY (Ireland), VALRAVN (Denmark), VILLAGE KOLLEKTIV (Poland), RECYCLER (France) with more yet to be confirmed. The project is introducing artists to each other and to old tunes along the chosen theme, and seeing what happens. Release date in mid-May...just guessing that's only in Europe.

TGI is always ready to jam with anyone from anywhere at any time.


Not unlike old Cedar pals Ale Möller and Bruce Molsky. When is that show they're doing together at our place? Coming up May 27. When you look at their names, don't you wonder if they're distantly related somehow back in the day?

* * * * * * *

Whee! I am having great time here listening to the artists Main Fig. highlighted in his SXSW post. M. Takara right now. Thanks for all the links. WHOA! Loving the Longital!!! Eagerly anticipating the posts from our other roving reporters.


* * * * * * *
RIP Charlie Gillette. The long-time BBC radio presenter and music writer died on St. Patrick's Day. Here's a bit from the obituary from the Guardian. "Charlie wrote the first serious history of rock'n'roll and went on to become a central figure in drawing together the confluence of international sounds that became known, to the benefit of many artists whose work might otherwise have remained in obscurity, as world music." His was a name that always seemed to pop up when I was Googling around for some obscure information about a band. Seemed like he'd already played them - last week- and made helpful program notes online. Although I guess he's quite famous for breaking Dire Straits to the world, I think of him more as the guy who turned BBC listeners on to global sounds from Tinariwen to Imam Baildi.

* * * * * * *

When I saw the image of the Altan stamp in the March Cedar newsletter, I had to get the backstory. How often do musicians, much less living musicians make it onto a stamp?A couple of years ago An Post (that's the Irish Post office) issued four stamps each featuring a different Irish group that have been instrumental in bringing Irish music to a worldwide audience. The stamps feature The Clancy Brothers & Tommy Makem, The Dubliners, The Chieftains, and Altan.

The Celtic tribes will gather for the Altan 25th anniversary show this coming Sunday. I'll be the one in the back, pouring Guiness. Yikes! It's been about 20 years since I first saw Altan at eh Cedar! They really do call the Cedar their "home from home." Sláinte everyone!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Full Report

Before I upload my full report on SXSW 2010, with short notes on every artist of which I saw at least one full tune, here's the overview:

FAVORITES: Smoke Fairies (did not disappoint), Efterklang (as previously reported), and Vadoinmessico are my top three.

HONORABLE MENTION: Jackie Oates, M. Takara 3, DM Stith, Longital, Ben Sollee and Daniel Martin Moore's Dear Companion Project, Dengue Fever, and Dan Mangan.

GOOD TRENDS: The complete irrelevance of record company showcases.

BAD TRENDS: "Folk Orchestras" with 6+ people vainly in search of one good song.

BEST STREET VENDOR: A guy with a cardboard sign that said "SHITTY ADVICE."

THE USUAL PET PEEVE: Why go to a music bar at a music festival and just talk loudly with your friends while the band plays?

KUDOS: The folks at NPR Music, who provide incredible coverage before and during the conference, and can be regularly spotted running from showcase to showcase, tweeting, recording, snapping photos and taking notes. These people really work their asses off.


OK, here's the Full Monty:

Day 1

Balmorhea
5pc w/piano/guitar, banjo/guitar, fiddle, cello, dbl bass, drums, some vocalizing. Pretty but BIG. Nice instrumentation but a bit to simple musically.

Zoë Keating
Solo cello with loops. But again, basic 4/4 stuff, nothing particularly interesting going on musically.

Madi Diaz
Madi has a truly great voice, I just wish there were more stand-out tunes like "Let's Go."

Trespassers William
Mostly duo from Seattle. Nice female voice and guitar atmospherics. Interesting, but wore a bit thin for me after a a while.

Dustin O'Halloran
Piano with string quartet. Again, just a bit too simple musically with sting arrangements.

M. Takara 3
Very cool Brazilian trio, electronics, guitar and percussion. Some vocalizing but mostly instrumental. Experimental at times, but always with a groove. A favorite.

Bomba Estereo
Columbian dance band, very uptempo with Spanish rapping. High energy, crowd very into it. Lead singer works it well, although her voice works better rapping... is a bit shrill when singing.

Delhi 2 Dublin
Another high energy crowd pleaser, Canadian band who fuse Indian, Celtic, and beats. Over-the-top stage performance... a bit too much for my taste. But again, the crowd loved 'em.

The Chapin Sisters
Nothing like sister harmonies (Abigail and Lily are daughters of folk singer Tom Chapin and their half-sister Jessica Craven's father is director Wes Craven). Only two of the three though, as Jessica is on maternity leave. Still, great harmonies and acoustic guitars. Too bad it was a noisy bar with bad sound.

Suzanne Vega
I couldn't resist catching the end of her set in St. David's Historic Sanctuary. That voice, and those songs, are like comfort food for me. A short treat!

DM Stith
Now we're talking. A string quartet put to good use! Really interesting music going on here, and Stith has a very listenable voice, and likable demeanor. A nice way to close Day One.


Day 2

Carolina Chocolate Drops
We caught the end of their morning showcase, broadcast live on KUT from the Hilton. An impressive crowd for 10:30 am, who were very enthusiastic. Their star continues to rise.

Brooklyn Rider
NPR Music showcase. Another string quartet, but one with an indie buzz. Great players, supplemented here with dbl bass and percussion. Very impressive. Look for them at the Southern this summer.

Bowerbirds
Another folk-influenced indie band, this one from North Carolina, with a nice sound. Worthy of further listen, although the two songs I was able to hear were fairly unremarkable.

Sharon Van Etten
Female s/s with a guitar. Very nice voice, haunting songs. But a bit lost to the outdoor stage setting at a park on a beautiful sunny afternoon.

Julianna Barwick
Etheral looping vocals. Spacey, pleasant. But again, too much activity in the park for this.

Fishtank Ensemble
Cross-pollinated Gypsy music from California. The instrumentalists in this quartet tear it up! And the singer plays the saw. Fun!

Ben Sollee and Daniel Michael Moore
"Dear Companion" quartet coming to The Cedar. This is really gorgeous stuff. Both guys have beautiful voices, write strong songs and have thoughtful arrangements.

The Black Atlantic
Dutch folk/pop orchestra. Nice sound, but lacked variety. Seemed like every song was in the same key...

The Besnard Lakes
Maybe it was the setting (large, outdoor stage at Stubb's Bar-B-Q), but it sure sounded like arena rock. I was wondering if I was in the right place until they introduced themselves...

Grand Hallway
8-piece folk orchestra. Nice sounds, thoughtful arrangements, but a complete lack of hooks. A lot of these bands make some interesting music, but they need to spend more time writing good songs than arranging them.

Sally Seltmann
Finally, real songwriting! Catchy, clever, compelling. Worthy of further exploration. She co-wrote "1234" with Feist, so you get the idea.

Broadcast 2000
Quirky British pop. Reminded me of Micachu a bit. Lots of fun, but a bit unrelenting.

Efterklang
Superb set. If the crowd size and response is any indication, with their new record on 4AD, these guys could be on the verge. *UPDATE: I've now listened to the record, Magic Chairs, and while it's worthy of further review, it does lack the energy they delivered with the material live...


Longital
Slovakian duo, completely original and exciting. Electronics, funky bass, good tunes, and shredding guitar, sometimes bowed.

The Very Best
African folk music with an 80's rap presentation, propelled by a British DJ. A great way to introduce a new generation of kids to African music.


Day 3

The Deep Dark Woods
Canadian Americana. Nothing particularly distinctive going on here.

Lissie
Soulful voiced s/s from Chicago. That voice sets her apart.

Dengue Fever
Psychedelic rock with trad Cambodian female singer. Unique and cool. Strong live show.

Sarah Borges and the Broken Singles
Bluesy country-rock from Boston. Not my thing, but a fun set with good energy.

The Living Sisters
3-part vocal harmonies by three "sisters" (Becky Stark, Eleni Mandell and Anara George), somewhat reminiscent of The Roches. Great harmonies, and that's what it is.

The Watson Twins
This one was a major clunker for me. Neither the music nor the twins' vocal talents were to my liking.

Black Prairie
Acoustic mish-mash side project with 3 members of The Decemberists. Maybe a bit too much of a mish-mash. It felt like a side project.

Harper Blynn
N.Y. power pop quartet. Catchy songs, high energy, strong 3-part harmonies. Well done.

Gadarene
British folk revivalists. Nice stuff, but I wish they would lose the drum kit. Hand percussion would be much better suited.

Tyler Ramsey
Guy with a guitar and a nice voice. Nothing more.

Lost in the Trees
N.C. folk orchestra. Again, full of musical ideas, way too earnest... and a lack of tunes. Maybe some humor would help?

Halves
Irish genre bender with folk orchestra ambitions but with electric instruments. Just caught the end of the set but it held my interest well.

Admiral Radley
Caught two songs of this new Jason Lytle project. Honestly, it did nothing for me.

Jackie Oates
A former member of the Rachel Unthank clan, she struck out on her own and has accumulated her own awards and accolades. It's easy to see why. This was an exquisite set of largely trad Brit folk. Gorgeous.


Unni Lovlid
Norwegian trad singer, with a percussionist and electronics wizard dude, together they create atmospheric and experimental mind trips. Too bad this one was in a bar.

Son Lux
Electronic and compositional whiz-kid, here with a drummer. A creative composer whose brilliant at dynamics on his recordings. But in a club setting it was mostly loud beat music. Still interesting.

The Unthanks
A new band, with the two sisters, violin and piano as before, supplemented here with bass (acoustic and electric), cello and drums. New material stretches out a bit- for the better.


Day 4

Allo Darlin'
Bouncy British pop, with a ukulele. Fun and energetic.

The Crookes
More high-powered pop, this time with an array of influences, but nothing that convinced me to stay past two songs.

The Middle East
Interesting folk-rock ensemble from Australia. Good vocals, nice harmonies.

Rogue Wave
Strong mid-tempo pop, some good lyrics and songwriting. Pretty timeless. And good humor.

Johnny Flynn and the Sussex Wit
Solid U.K. troubadour with 4-piece. Good songwriting and strong playing. A touch of British Folk with blues and pop.

Vadoinmessico
Excellent London-based band with distinctive lead vocalist, influences all over the map and some great songs.


Merideth Bragg
Male s/s with keyboard player and drummer. Nice voice, but largely unremarkable.

This Will Destroy You
"Post Rock" with some noise thrown in. Not one of the more particularly interesting bands of the genre, at least not outdoors at 40 degrees and a stiff wind.

Sebastian Schuller
Singer with electronics. Bleeps and boops. I actually nodded off.

Arborea
Maine acoustic couple. Very quiet, wispy music, very pretty at times, but often a bit too unsubstantial.

Dan Mangan
Vancouver s/s with great songs, poignant and humorous, yes, finally, some humor! Great backing band as well. A highlight.

Smoke Fairies
What a great sound, two female voices with timbre and harmonies evocative of classic British folk music, backed by a smokey, bluesy, distinctly American sounding groove. I'm hoping we'll see these guys at our venue soon.

ChocQuibTown
Colombian dance, hip-hop flavored band. Another one that had the crowd going, was more 80's rap crowd call-and-response and hip-hop flavored than anything distinctly Colombian. But they kept the crowd moving!

Can I nap now?

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Quick Dispatch from Austin

Greetings Friends! I'll have to save my more extensive SXSW post for my return, but here's a quick update. I have one very long day to go, which I think is about as much as this body can handle. But of course I've got some favorites *so far.* The Thursday night set by Efterklang from Denmark is on the top of my list. If their set was any indication, their new record on 4AD comes in somewhere between sigur rós and Radiohead, which is not a bad place to be, and they are about to blow up. Great sound, great set.

British folk singer Jackie Oates, once a member of the Rachel Unthank and the Winterset, wins for the most exquisite. She goes a bit more trad than the Unthanks, and her trio delivered a truly gorgeous set.

And for sheer off-the-wall enjoyment, I really enjoyed M. Takara 3 from Brazil. It was just the right mix of electronics and real percussion, of experimental and dance groove, of weird and tuneful.
Much more will follow!

* * * *

Let me clarify my call for respectful blog postings about music: I'm not advocating Minnesota nice, and I'm also not concerned with the potty talk. My pet peeve is completely dismissive criticism. Go ahead and tear something apart if you want, just back it up. When I made my now infamous "shlock" comment, I think I was pretty clear that I was complaining specifically about unimaginative and overly saccharine orchestral arrangements. I also mentioned what I liked about both Peter Gabriel and Frank Sinatra. I think we can all still be provocative (if that's the intent) while still giving substance to our criticism. And whether we think the artist will ever play at our venue or not should not be relevant.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Influences

I own three Box Tops songs, one Big Star song, and no Alex Chilton solo material at all. I no longer own the one related song that I liked at its actual time of release (another Box Tops song, 'Sweet Cream Ladies Forward March'). The others I came upon later when purchasing compilations.

So why did Alex Chilton's death register on my Richter scale? Respect. What Chilton and Big Star did was remarkable not so much for the material itself as for how unusual it was for the time and how it presaged decades of indie pop to come. In the early 70s, other than Big Star only Badfinger and the Raspberries were making power pop records of any note, and those two bands were working with influential labels (although Badfinger's never really did do right by them).

None of those three acts did much for me because I was exploring what seemed more challenging territory like prog, krautrock, and jazz/rock fusion. And now? Most of that stuff is long since banished from my collection, and much of what I love about new music can be found in the roots of the Velvets, Iggy, and yes, Big Star.

I'll leave the Alex tributes to my fellow bloggers and to Stephen Thomas Erlewine of AMG. For now...a little video footage from a time long ago.



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The above space was going to be devoted to a few lines about the newly-released Runaways biopic. I don't own any of their music, and never have. But they were gate-crashers, as important in their way as Big Star was in theirs.

I'll let Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle say what needs to be said.

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Fun post from the Cedar's own Princess the other day. Welcome back! Hi, I'm Veronica...just been keeping your spot warm. And say, a couple of seconds: I'm with you on Grouper, and I'll be curious as to your opinion of the Big Pink/A Place to Bury Strangers show. They were in SF last week and I was tempted to make the trek, but I was concerned it would interfere with my Ovaltine Hour. (Personal opinion: Big Pink is on the right track, while APTBS is already there. Their recent release was a quantum leap.)

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Blog verité: I just this minute received in the mail a vintage 1994 Ryko CD, 'Fireproof' by That Petrol Emotion.


In small print at the bottom of the tray card: 'The green CD jewel box is a trademark of Rykodisc.' The wording should have been amended to include loose hub spokes, of which there were characteristically several in this package. My recollection is that Ryko 30-count CD boxes were the heaviest and the noisiest in the business.

Oh, and the CD had a saw cut on its case spine, indicating it was a promotional copy. I wonder if this was a long-overdue mailing from Retail Jane?

**********

Mama E Dub's most recent post included the following question directed at this reporter: 'Will you please explain the difference between types of downloads and the relative qualities thereof, e.g. MPEG, AAC, MP3 or 4? Bit rate? What does it all mean? What does it all matter?'

Oh, dear. I fear I could make the most hardened insomniac drop right off with my typical response. Perhaps the best thing would be to devote a full post on the subject with a health hazard warning at the top; e.g. 'Do not read while operating heavy machinery.'

In short: MPEG and MP4 refer to video compression standards, which I know little about. AAC and MP3 are the two most popular audio compression standards. AAC is Apple-specific: it's the download standard for iTunes and the playback one for iPods. MP3 is the standard most commonly found in the rest of the marketplace (and it, too, is playable on iPods).

The key to the quality of both is bit rate. A friend of mine offers this definition on his website: 'The bit rate of a coded audio file is the number of bits (0's and 1's, in binary terms) that are required to store one second of audio. An mp3 encoded at 128kbps requires 128,000 or so bits to store 1 second of audio. Higher bit rates generally mean better sound quality and a closer representation of the original sound.'

So: the higher the bit rate the better the sound, but also the larger the file...hence reduced song storage capacity on a portable player. The importance of bit rate is entirely user-dependent. If you desire maximum song storage and are willing to trade sound quality to get it, a 128kbps bit rate is okay. Few commercial sites use that anymore, though; 192 and 256 are far more common. 320 is the highest 'lossy' bit rate, and it is generally achieved by ripping CDs and setting the compression software accordingly.

There are endless debates about pros and cons of various standards and bit rates. There are some more exotic compression codecs out there, most notably FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec) and ALAC (Apple etc.). These are also generally arrived at via CD ripping; the appeal is that the process knocks a CD songfile down in size by about 40% while retaining the entirety of the original's sound spectrum, and enables users to recreate an original CD's contents when burning from lossless files.

Really, I could go on and on. I'm a bit nuts, myself: all of my music is ALAC files, and as there are over 50,000 of 'em I'm currently using 1.16TB of space to hold everything. On the rear burner is this idea that I should reprocess everything to 320, but I can't get up much of a head of steam for such a CPU-overloading time-waster.

Sheesh. And this is what passes for brevity in my world.

**********

Finally, a word about the recent lovers' spat on these pages.

I'm still digesting the rebuke, but I have more or less arrived here: this wall is not mine to graffiti with impunity; it is owned and maintained by a good, longtime friend. I pledge to respect and abide by whatever guidelines this entails. I would only ask this of my benefactor: Please do not fling about hifalutin terms and opinions linking, say, 'shlock' with 'Sinatra' and expect to go unchallenged.
Lots of love, V.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

What's Everybody Smoking? and A Question for Ms. Fever

I am still a bit amazed at how one song, ONE SONG, by British duo /sometimes quintet Smoke Fairies has torn through the blog squad here in the last few weeks. That voice! The high/low post play...I mean harmonies! (Why yes, I am getting mentally prepared for March Madness.) I sent the link to my sister, who watched the video , bought a download and posted it to her Facebook within a few hours. By the next day she was hearing from "friends" from junior high who loved the song. What did we do before the internet?

Former blogger Mr. William Call downloaded another single of the Fairies, which I snatched up, too. Love the Fairport Convention-esque sound to "Gastown/Riversong."When that fuzz tone hit my left earbud at the end of "Gastown" I actually checked the connection, before the capital letters "NICE!" formed in my brain. By the time the distortion pedal kicked in at 3:20 into "Riversong," the capital letters were at "OH YEAH!" Although the tracks I checked out on their MySpace sounded more like the bluesy early Mazzy Star stuff. Nothing wrong with that for two former choir goof-offs from the south of England who hung out in New Orleans for a while in their youth.

But the free download you get if you join their mailing list right here is back to Fairport land. "Now the Green Blade Rises" could almost be one of the Child Ballads Sandy Denny did so well back in the day. When I was four. But it's actually a 15th century French tune with Easter hymn lyrics from the 1920's. In learning that I stumbled upon the NetHymnal site with hundred of hymns played on the organ with accompanying lyrics, just in case you ever want to hum along with oh, say, "Golden Harps are Sounding." If you don't, the new Fairies album was out on ITunes yesterday.

Even though we now know the Smoke Fairies' rise is being pushed along by the not-so-unseen hand of Jack White-Stripe, and that they have opened for big names like Brian Ferry, I sure hope you can book this band the minute you see them at SXSW.


* * * * * * * *

Regarding other SXSW potentials, I take back my doubts about Bomba Estereo ...at least until somebody verifies their live show. I like their disc Blow Up quite a lot, hitting the repeat button a number of times today. I'm wondering if we should start sending a contingent to check out the bands at the Latin Alternative Music Conference. (Bomba Estereo reportedly tore it up there last year.)
I think I'm free that week...

* * * * * * * *

Welcome back to our long lost blogger Princess. Why don't you write here more? I love your stuff and it cracks me up.

* * * * * * * *

Speaking of cracking me up, ummm....the Main Figurehead's recent call to keep our opinions a little bit, shall we say "Minnesota nice-r". Steady on, there, Mr. Fig! You're the one who started the potty talk, although Ms. Fever did call your Yes album "pompous crap," at least she listened to half of it. Which is more than any of the rest of us are going to do, I'm afraid. This begs the question, however, does she still own a copy herself?

I totally lost it the day Ms. Fevers wrote that she wouldn't know shlock if it "bitch- slapped her while wearing a laminated name tag." I cannot advocated shutting that down. Anyway, I found the entire exchange extremely humorous and think our blog is at its best when the opinions and critiques fly back and forth. While I agree that it's not in our best interests to say mean things about bands with whom the Cedar actually has a relationship, I'd say Yes and Peter Gabriel probably aren't stopping by any time soon.

* * * * * * * *

The real question I have for the Feves is this. Will please explain the difference between the different types of downloads and the relative qualities thereof. MPEG, AAC, MP3 or 4. Bit rate. What does it all mean? What does it all matter? Thank you, ma'am.

* * * * * * * *

Continuing on the what does it all matter theme, will somebody explain to me why I should give a * * * * about Massive Attack. What's the deal? I plowed though Hell-Legoland the other day and really, really wondered what why I should care. In keeping with the new Minnesota Nice policy, I won't say what I really thought...but let's just say I had to hit forward to stagger through some of those tunes. I know some readers of this blog are really into it...Is it just me? Or is it you all?

* * * * * * * *
I'm quite psyched for all of the upcoming West Bank/West Africa shows at the Cedar, but I'm also rather looking forward to the Las Rubia's del Norte show on April 3rd. Amazing classically -trained vocal harmonies, high, high up in the stratospheric soprano range on what sounds like Latin music from the 1930s. The singers say their recent album Ziguala imagines pop music in a world where mambos and rumbas were never replaced by rock and roll. I can hear the little chicha touches (Olivier Conan from Chicha Libre is a band member) but most of the sound is rather formal, and oddly beguiling. It's "you have to be in the mood" music, but when you slow down and get yourself there, Las Rubias will provide the soundtrack for another time and place.
* * * * * * *
Last but not least, word on the street has it that lovers of the deep soul monthly DJ party Club Hot Pants will no longer have to travel north on Washington avenue to find the funk. The event has outgrow the smallish confines of Club Jag and starts up soon in our neighborhood at the roomy Bedlam Theater. Not sure if it will still be on the second Saturday or not.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Can't get enough MNDR



I discovered electronica musician MNDR when some friends and I took the trip down to Northfield, MN a few weeks back to see YACHT at Carleton College's "The Cave." My delight with Bobby Birdman and MNDR and subsequent lack of enthusiasm for YACHT's performance reminded me of when I saw Jose Gonzalez at The Cedar years back: Openers Psapp and Juana Molina blew me away while I was less than impressed with the headliner. It definitely helps that Birdman and MNDR are both total hotties:
































MNDR sounds like the techno-y version of my fave musician, Mikhaela Yvonne Maricich, who performs as The Blow. Both put on one woman shows with undeniably catchy beats.

Attending a show at The Cave is a whole other story that might be helpful to describe here. I sometimes forget that college students aren't really successfully engaging with the rest of the world yet: There was an unusually high percentage of young people kissing each other on the dance floor, awkwardly sitting on couches during this loud electronica concert, and just up to weird stuff generally. I went into the one-stall bathroom shortly before the show started and was greeted by a scene reminiscent of a gossip girl episode: Three young girls were gathered in the small bathroom sort of posturing around. One was leaning against the wall and another had her leg propped up on the windowsill while drinking out of a flask. She said, "oh sorry. We're just commiserating. Or something." My friends and I were further reminded that we were out of place and, well, OLD when we noticed that we were the only folks there who decided it was a good idea to drink the three-two beer they sell at the concessions stand. Everyone else had Nantucket Nectars and plastic water bottles full of colorful liquids, presumably all spiked with Gordon's. The whole scene made the entire experience sort of fascinating and I'd even say delightful; it definitely broke the mold of my average concert-going experience.

The Cave is a strange space for a show. It's small, and unless you're directly in the front, you can't really see anything on stage. There were problems with the sound system: It kept sputtering out and caused many of the stimulation-hungry college students to leave early. When I got on my tip toes to check out what was happening on stage after a few minutes of dead air, I saw MNDR up there just pumping her fist.

I rushed to my emusic account when I got home the night after the show but was disappointed to discover that only one of her songs is available for download. But check this out:



It appears that she'll be popping around Austin next week during SXSW, so I'm trying o convince Angel of Rock and Main Figurehead to check her out.

In other news, here are a few albums that have been on rotation in my iTunes. A lot of this really hits that sweet spot of sleepy and poppy. Pretty good to listen to while working.
Local Natives / Gorilla Manor (2010)
Islands / Vapours (2009)
Grouper / Dragging a Dead Deer up a Hill (2008)
JJ / no3 (2010)


And here are some upcoming shows that I'm super excited about.

THURSDAY MAR 18 @ First Ave / The Big Pink with A Place to Bury Strangers

SATURDAY MAR 20 @ The Cedar / Oddsac: Animal Collective's new visual album. You don't want to miss this, it looks crazy! Band members will be here.

TUESDAY MAR 30 @ The Cedar / Habib Koite

FRIDAY APR 2 @ Triple Rock / High Places, Tobacco, The Hood Internet

SATURDAY APR 3 @ Turf Club / Cymbals Eat Guitars, Bear in Heaven

SUNDAY APR 4 @ The Cedar / Beach House
SUNDAY APR 4 @ First Ave / Passion Pit

Plus The Cedar's West Africa, West Bank shows the following weekend: Bassekou Kouyate and Baaba Maal.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

The List

I've now assembled my schedule for the South By Southwest Music Conference which begins in Austin, Texas this coming Wednesday the 17th. Last week I included video clips of three bands I had identified as rising to the top of my "must see" priority list. In the end, that list ended up being around 20 artists total, and I'll highlight a few more with video clips while providing links for the others.

Bomba Estereo from Columbia. This is another example of the new face of "world music:"


The Living Sisters, a trio consisting of Wendy Stark of Lavendar Diamond, Inara George and Eleni Mandell:


Vadoinmessico U.K.-based with a unique and wonderful sound well suited for The Cedar:


And these:
Black Prairie (bluegrass side-project by members of The Decemberists)
Delhi 2 Dublin
Dengue Fever
Fishtank Ensemble
Gong Myoung
Johnny Flynn & The Sussex Wit
Longital
M. Takara 3
Natalia Mallo
Quantic
Sharon Van Etten
Son Lux
The Chapin Sisters
The Very Best

These bands get slotted first on my agenda. The schedule is then filled in with choices from my next level of about 80 additional artists that made my final cut, based on such loose criteria as bands that are likely to be available for booking, and music that I think would work well at The Cedar (either by fitting our mission or by playing to the strengths we have as a music venue, ideally both). Of course there are a few things that I just personally want to check out but are not likely to book. And then it all has to fit within a reasonable logistical framework... one band on my list may get the nod over another band because it's three blocks as opposed to ten from the showcase before it.

This is always a very interesting exercise. In many ways it is an intensive microcosm of how the booking decisions get made... there are simply too many options, and we can't do (or learn about) everything. So filters get put in place. When faced with the task of going through a list of 1700 bands, certain compromises must be made. There may be another Kid Koala at SXSW, but I simply can't explore every DJ option to find him or her. So entire categories, like Punk, Metal, and DJs are filtered out. But that's not to say I would never book artists in those genres.

Outside input is invaluable. I would not have learned about, never mind booked, Kid Koala had it not been for both fellow blogger Zuppa di Banjo (whatever happened to him, btw?) and The Current super-dj Mark Wheat recommending that I go see him at the Calgary Folk Music Festival last summer. There are a number of names on my final SXSW list that landed there as a result of suggestions from other presenters, Cedar staffers, board members and volunteers, and a few loyal blog readers. Thank you all!

It's also reassuring that not only will fellow bloggers Angel of Rock and Sgt Pepper be in attendance this year, rumor has it that so will that elusive Banjo guy. The more eyes and ears, the better!

* * * * *

While I'm gone, I'm pretty bummed that I'm going to miss some upcoming Cedar shows that I'm particularly excited about. On the top of the list, on the 18th, is the fabulous Del McCoury Band. These guys are in a class of their own... outstanding musicianship, great ensemble playing, and a truly classic American sound. I love the choreography of their live show, each member stepping up to the microphone to sing or to solo (and raising their instrument to be better heard). These guys don't use stage monitors because they hone their sound to be such a perfect blend directly from the stage:


Then, after a spectacular throat singing ensemble from Tuva on the 19th, Alash, who blew folks away when they recently appeared in Béla Fleck and the Flectones Christmas show, we are pleased to screen the regional premier of a new "visual album" from director Danny Perez and the band Animal Collective, called ODDSAC, on Saturday the 20th. From the following trailer, and reviews from viewers at Sundance, this promises to be an intense experience:


* * * * *

With almost each posting, one particularly loyal fellow blogger puts out the bait, and then waits patiently for the reaction. As a result, one week it's taking issue with defining certain music as "shlock" by making my farts don't stink pronouncements such as "the more music I hear, the less I find to dismiss as inferior," only to turn around in two weeks and deliver the verdict that certain music is "laughably pompous crap!" (Ha! Don't you just love it when we are reduced to excrement and flatulence! And isn't the exclamation point always helpful to tip you to laugh at that moment!).

Perhaps I opened this Pandora's Box with my "shlock" review of a recent recording. All art is personal, and we're bound to step on some toes, if not actually offend, with almost any negative criticism of it. But I'd like to propose to my fellow bloggers that somewhere between "shlock" and "pompous crap" we accept that there is a line which should not be crossed in this public forum. We all have opinions, otherwise this would be a really boring read. Some should just stay in private emails to old friends.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

I Got Nothin'

Oh, maybe a coupla updates...first, I made it through two whole sides of 'Tales from Topographic Oceans.' Tell you what: I'll leave the reviewing to a faithful Cedar blog reader who did the same and sent me this post mortem: "Hell no. It's still laughably pompous crap!" I'll be charitable and suggest they were attempting to compose rhapsodies. Maybe they succeeded. I really don't know.

Also...watched 'Inglourious Basterds' the other night, and I'd put it at the top of my chart for 2009. Way better than 'American Beauty,' surely, which wasn't even the best movie of its release year. That honor belongs to the movie below, as depicted by Justin Reed.


And finally...at long last I've started to understand the appeal of The Drive-By Truckers. You probably know all about them and can quote chapter and verse...but on the off-chance you don't, a nice starting point is their second-most recent album, ' Brighter Than Creations Dark.' Just a thought: run 'The Man I Shot' and 'The Purgatory Line' back-to-back for openers.

**********

So let's fire up the blog-o-matic. Hit 'random' on your iPod. What are the first (or next) ten songs that come up? Here are mine:

1. Slowdive -- 'Catch the Breeze.' I remember when I first became aware of the Britpop sub-category 'shoegaze.' In 1992 a co-worker played me Curve's EP 'Frozen.' The opener, 'Coast Is Clear,' knocked me right over. Their first full-length, 'Doppelganger,' finished me off. From there it was on to other practitioners of the category, including Slowdive. 'Catch the Breeze' is from their first album, and is the title track of their career-spanning anthology.

2. The London Metropolitan Orchestra -- 'Sharon.' This is from the score to the movie 'Cashback.' Seen it? No? Got Netflix instant? It's there. Lovely, funny little British rom-com with a surprisingly introspective soundtrack (speckled with the occasional pop song) composed and compiled by Guy Farley. If you do see it, stick around for the closing credits and the track, 'She' by Grand Avenue. Yeah, so it has that Coldplay stadium sound. This is MY iPod. MY guilty pleasures.

3. Citay -- 'Fortunate Son' from their latest album, 'Dream Get Together.' I love this outfit. They fit squarely in the psych-folk category, but with an occasional metal edge that even headbangers can approve of. My minor quibble with this album is that the vocals are a bit more prominent than those in the prior two, but it doesn't detract much from the sound, which is pure aural candy.

4. Smoke Fairies -- 'Sushine.' This British duo offers an update of the Brit-folk sound (Fairport Convention being a logical touchstone) with a dash of bluesier grit. There is quite a buzz surrounding them; they have even been mentioned on these pages a time or two. Our intrepid blogging crew is headed for South by Southwest and are being implored by those who have been left behind to see Smoke Fairies.

5. Nick Lowe -- 'Heart of the City' from 'Jesus of Cool.' Rockpile was my favorite band, ever. That'll do for an encomium.

6. The Handsome Family -- 'A Beautiful Thing' from 'In the Air.' Who doesn't love Brett's rich baritone and Rennie's dark lyrics? If I had to pick a favorite song of theirs, I'd go with 'The Snow White Diner' from 'Twilight,' but there is sure a lot to choose from.

7. Nick Curran & The Nitelifes -- 'Nitelife Boogie.' Curran is yer basic hot T-Bone Walker disciple, although he recently underwent a sound change for his new one called 'Reform School Girl,' in which he demonstrates his love for 50s rock 'n roll, and Little Richard in particular. Fun stuff, this.

8. Yann Tiersen -- 'Les Enfants' from 'Les Retrouvailles.' Tiersen is a French composer best known for his score for 'Amelie.' This album is a standalone that is quite representative of his styles, and includes vocals by Elizabeth Fraser, Jane Birkin, and Tindersticks' Stuart Staples. A recent favorite around Chez Fever.

9. Liz Durrett -- 'Always Signs' from 'Outside Our Gates.' Durrett is a singer/songwriter who also happens to be Vic Chesnutt's niece. Hers is a spare, sometimes haunting sound, although this album has sprightlier moments than her first two. Her second, 'Mezzanine,' hit my Top 10 for 2006. I think she would appeal to fans of Azure Ray and their spinoffs.

10. Eels -- 'Jungle Telegraph.' I remember where I was when I first heard this song: inside Le Virgin Megastore on the Champs de Elysee. Did you see the Nova episode about Mark Everett and his late physicist father Hugh titled 'Parallel Worlds, Parallel Lives?' I'll bet the writers for 'Lost' sure did.

**********

This would be the logical spot for a flip little closer, but I got nothin.' Cheers.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Digital Economy Bill... Yikes!

So don't be getting sassy online next time you're in England. New rules clamping down on downloads at internet cafes and other WiFi hotspots as well as libraries have British bloggers pissed. Or maybe I should say they have their knickers in a twist. The Digital Economy Bill would penalize free internet providers for any kind of extra-legal file sharing or downloads that happen on their premises. The rave law gone digital?

Near as I can tell, the pertinent section "imposes obligations on internet service providers to reduce online copyright infringement, and allows the Secretary of State to amend copyright legislation to the same end." I'd translate that in Americanish as "We'll come after yer coffee house if some joker downloads a torrent at one of your tables."

(Insert exasperated curse of your choice here. Eye roll optional)

I have to wonder who is behind this one. Not being familiar with any of the members of the House of Lords, (guess I ought to keep up better with the tabloids) I really cannot say whether the sponsor has any connection to the music industry or not.
Ah, yes. Here we are at Westminster Palace, ready to pull the plug on WiFi.

Do you think they really plan to enforce this? I can imagine cops busting in to a quiet university library, shaking down some dweeb with a laptop, then heading over to the circulation desk to pull the plug on their router. British business tech site ZDX UK has a slightly different vision of their future. One of the BBC tech bloggers has links to the actual wording of the bill as well as to some rather charged opinions of it.

In addition, according to the Guardian, the Clause 17 section "gives a high court judge the right to issue an injunction against a website accused of hosting a “substantial” amount of copyright-infringing material, potentially forcing the entire site offline." So would that only work for British sites, or could they go after, say, Pirate Bay or Napster?

Whew! I'll try to keep you posted as things develop over there.

* * * * * * *

In an absolutely unrelated topic, while looking for some more Hasna el Becharia tracks to check out (see last weeks post), I stumbled upon this lengthy review of the Musiques Metisses Festival from 2002 linked from the Afropop site. The list of artists at the three day event is mind blowing (Ali Farka Touré', King Sunny Adé, Habib Koite, Cesaria Evora, Lo'Jo, Amadou and Mariam, Hasna el Becharia to name a few) but the hidden gem here is his comments of one of the first European performance of the then-unknown Tinariwen! Here's a link to last year's artist list, just in case you want to keep ahead of the curve in African music. The 2010 artist list isn't up yet, but here's the poster so you can save the dates.

* * * * * * *

Jumping around some more, Cedar faves Balkan Beat Box are putting the finishing touches on their new disc, Blue Eyed Black Boy. I'm just not going to say anything about that title. Official U.S. release is April 27, but supposedly early downloads can be had from their website this Thursday, March 11. Of course their politics are always in the right place; the first track out there is called "War Again." Take a listen on their MySpace. They had a nice little making-of vid which I posted a few months ago...being lazy and at the end of my lunch hour just now, I'll just guess you can find it at the link above as well.

Starring Tomar Yosef as The Boxer, Ori Kaplan as The Trainer and
Tamir Muskat as The Gambler.


You can also see cartoon Tomar, Ori and Tamir fend off the bombs of the evil war-monger with brass band power in the "War Again" video on their site. I've never been much into Yosef's rapping, but it's smoother here and the horns really drive this tune.

* * * * * * *

In a slightly related note, BBB fans may want to check out this piece by sometimes BBB guitarist Jeremiah Lockwood on his journey to Mali and the Festival au Desert with his band Sway Machinery. He writes thoughtfully about being an "out" Jew in a very Muslim country.

* * * * * * *

In another hot off the press note, get yourself psyched for Grupo Fantasma's Cedar show in June by checking out this "making of" vid for their new disc El Existential. They rented a house in North Austin, left all their gear in there for three months, then jammed and experimented and had what looks like a lot of fun. Can't wait to hear the tunes; disc's out May 11.


Prince did not come by, but Meat Puppet Curt Kirkwood did, as did master Latin pianist Larry Harlow.

And that's all the news that's fit to print. Wish our blogging team well down at SXSW next week. I hear out newbie, Sgt. Pepper is also planning to make the trek Austin-wards, along with Main Figurehead and the Angel of Rock. Find some good stuff for us, gang!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Movies and Music

The year was 1999. I had just seen the film American Beauty, and after Magnolia, which I had seen just before, I remember marveling at the current state of American cinema. This was also the year of Being John Malkovich, Dogma, Matrix, the first Austin Powers movie, and Office Space.

At that time, as a member of the recording industry, I was envious that films with genuine craft, depth, and artistic aspiration were receiving mainstream distribution, selling well, and receiving awards (American Beauty won 5 Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director). Meanwhile, the U.S. recording industry was well on its way to the bottom. In particular there seemed to be a complete lack of creativity and aesthetic available in any way via the major recording companies. Independent labels were hurting, and Napster was just coming upon the scene... it was launched in mid-1999, but by the end of the year was only still largely relegated to tech geeks. The internet was not yet being used as a significant distribution point for music. 1999 may have been the last year that the majors controlled the game, and they were clearly blowing it.

Fast forward 10 years. This coming Sunday the Oscars will be presented to the best films of 2009. They've expanded the Best Picture nominations from 5 to 10 films, and I've seen all 10. And there's nothing even close to American Beauty among them. You won't find films of that merit right now in the "indie" cinemas right now either. The independent film business is hurting, especially distribution, and 2009 may be best remembered as the year that Disney, the owner of the iconic independent film company Miramax, downsized that division to a level which virtually guarantees its irrelevance.

Meanwhile, one could argue that the veritable death of the recording business has been great for music. Albums by artists like Andrew Bird, Bon Iver, and Animal Collective are now getting serious radio play, and penetrating the Billboard Top 20. Access to music of all kinds has never been easier... all you need is an internet (or cell phone data) connection. Maybe there was this much interesting music out there in 1999 and nobody had access to it, but that's clearly not an issue now. Maybe the same is true of the film business 10 years later... and it will take a major change in the business model for consumers to have access to the really good stuff...


* * * *

I've yet to take my second pass at my SXSW artist list, but as promised here are three that are near the top for checking out:

Smoke Fairies (U.K.)


Efterklang (Denmark)

Link here for the widescreen.


ChocQuibTown
(Columbia)