Category Archives: postrock

Take a ride on a broken carousel with Japanese newgaze artist Ferri

Japanese musicians continue to inspire me. I just found an amazing new artist thanks to Mitsugu Suzuki, aka Cellz Cellar (mentioned in a piece I wrote about Japanese music a while back). Her name is Ferri. She composes, sings, plays keyboard, and mixes everything on a laptop. Her music sounds like a dream, with lush vocals and ethereal soundscapes. Sort of another take on shoegaze and postrock by the likes of Sigur Ros and My Bloody Valentine.

Ferri just released her first album, A Broken Carousel, in July. Cellz Cellar collaborated with her on one song (Zoetrope) and she will sing on a couple of songs on his next album, the soon-to-be-released follow-up to his debut 444. Can’t wait to hear that.

Here are a couple of outtakes you can stream and download for free via Bandcamp:

The digital album can be purchased through Amazon.com.

And check out this beautiful video for “Tomorrow Comes After Today.”

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Filed under music, postrock, shoegaze, trip hop, video, world music

No Star Too Far – My take on Legendary Pink Dots’ Nov. 10, 2010 concert in Austin

Edward Ka Spel

Imagine that a group of pagan priests knew all the right spells, got hold of some electronic equipment and assembled a starship powered by dreams and magic. That image came to me Wednesday night as I saw the Legendary Pink Dots in concert for the third time.

I always get the feeling I’m seeing a mystical event rather than a mere concert when I see the Dots play. Obviously the material has something to do with it, with its dreamlike mix of symbols, philosophy and dark humor, accompanied by electronic beats and washes of sound. There’s also something hypnotic about the way singer Edward Ka Spel, dressed in his robe and scarf, moves his hands. I get the feeling I’m watching a shaman perform a ritual.

The Dots played in a club on Red River called Elysium. A good club for a band like the Dots, the Elysium tends to host bands of the darker variety – goth, industrial and the like.

I wondered what they would be like with the new lineup. Short answer: They’ve still got it. Erik Drost, LPD guitarist from 2003 to 2006 is back in the band, coaxing pleasant screams out of his instrument. I definitely missed woodwind specialist Niels Van Hoorn’s zany presence, but without him you could really see how closely Ka Spel and Phil “The Sillverman” Knight work together. Silverman with his massive table of electronics, queuing up notes, rhythms and textures; Ka Spel with his smaller table, producing melodies and sound effects as he sings. All finely coordinated. Ka Spel pilots the starship, while Silverman operates its powerful engine, or maybe it’s the other way around?

I started out jotting down the setlist on my cellphone, but gave up pretty quickly and just let the music wash over me. The band has such an extensive back catalog that even if you’ve been a fan for years they can play a song you’d swear was new that turns out to be something old you just haven’t heard yet. I can tell you they had a satisfying mix of old favorites and songs off their latest, Seconds Late for the Brighton Line.

They opened with “The Unlikely Event” from All the King’s Horses, followed by “Third Secret” from The Maria Dimension, “Rainbows Too” from Plutonium Blonde, a really cool spoken word that might’ve been “God and Machines” from the new album, then “Russian Roulette,” the first song on the new album. Followed by lots and lots of great music, including many of my favorites. The encore featured a kickass version of “Birdie” from All the King’s Horses. About two hours of music altogether.

Just one sour note. A guy with long blond hair and a tank top who was either crazy or on drugs or both had to be escorted out by the bouncer. He kept shouting out nonsense at the band. Funny at first, then annoying. Then waving his arms in people’s faces. Finally a guy on the front row slipped out through the crowd, and pretty soon a big biker looking dude went over and dealt with crazy dude. After that no more distractions, which was awesome. I feel like I owe front row guy a beer for fetching the bouncer. The show certainly did get better after that.

The music was enhanced by the trippy film and slide collage from Lori “Surfer” Varga and her trusty assistant Eric. I’ve met her before – used to watch her film presentations at the Cathedral of Junk. I got her number and plan to interview her in the near future.

Note: Always take at least $20 or $40 to any LPD concert so you can take advantage of their amazingly well-stocked merch table. You’ll be kicking yourself later on if you don’t. You’re liable to find out that rare live album you were eying is impossible to find, or impossible to find without paying a premium to somebody on eBay.

I got the T-shirt with the Roulette design from the tour. Black of course. Almost got Ka Spel’s latest solo effort, The Minus Touch, but wound up getting the tour-only release by Ka Spel and The Silverman, The Thirty Year Itch. I’ve given that a few spins already and it’s quite good. Two long tracks. The first is a triptych on the subject of loneliness — a one night stand that didn’t happen, adrift at sea; and a monologue by an astronaut adrift in outer space followed by a “creation story” about the Big Bang; the second is a long experimental soundscape. Nice addition to my growing Dots-and-related collection.

I’ve been a huge Legendary Pink Dots fan for many years. I posted a sort of Dots 101 about the group a while back. There are several YouTube videos in case you haven’t heard their music. I also posted a list of tour dates here. The North American tour is winding down, but you’re in luck if you live on the West Coast. Quite a few California dates left, plus one in Oregon.

And send a little love their way if you can. They create their wonderful, thoughtful music and tour the world on a shoestring budget. LPD music and apparel can be found on the ROIR website.

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Filed under dark ambient, darkwave, experimental, indie, live show, music, postrock, psych, review, rock, Uncategorized

Music genres – handles or pigeonholes? (probably both)

It’s a common complaint from musicians: “I don’t do goth/post-rock/folk/trip hop/indie/prog (or whatever). You can’t pigeonhole me!”

Same thing with fans. I’ve read a ton of forum threads complaining about genre names. “What the hell does post-rock mean? Aren’t bands still playing rock? Why isn’t it called post-rap? Post-rock isn’t a real genre.” And various other quibbles from people who hate seeing their favorite musicians get pigeonholed, or resent seeing musicians they don’t like surf their way into undeserved recognition atop some made up fad.

I totally get it. I’m the king of “you can’t pigeonhole me.” I’m 100 percent eclectic in musical taste. Politically, neither fish nor fowl.

I do think there’s a nasty tendency in some circles (*cough* Pitchfork) to use labels in order to dismiss a band or collection of bands. Like, “Oh yeah, we figured out what these guys are. Just another example of X. If anyone still cares about X, this is part of that whole X knockoff crowd. That scene is so quaint isn’t it? Moving right along…”

Just look at this list of genres: http://rateyourmusic.com/rgenre/

Drumfunk, Sqweee, Glitch-hop, Witch House and Turbo-folk are just a few of many genre names that make me scratch my head. Are these really real? Is somebody pulling our legs?

Who comes up with this stuff anyway? It used to be DJs and music journalists, but now I guess it’s mostly bloggers with a lot more hits than I get. Somehow the names catch on, silly or not. Shoegaze is one I use a lot that sounds pretty ridiculous (whatever you want to call it, I like it). It was originally a put-down for bands playing noise-drenched stuff who tended to stand on the stage and look down at their shoes, but now it’s so common that bands will claim the term.

Classifying music into groups will always be a messy business. There are some musicians (usually my favorites) who defy classification. There are musicians who get lumped into a group who sound nothing like their supposed peers.

Television’s Marquee Moon (1977) came from one of the original CBGBs bands, often touted as one of the first punk bands or even “proto-punk.” Yet to me its style has a lot in common with Magazine’s Real Life (1978), which came out just a year later and is considered one of the first postpunk albums. Can you really go from proto- to post- in just one year?

World music is a really messy genre. It can sound like anything, and isn’t everything part of the world? And speaking of the world, now everything has gone global. You have millions of musicians, talented and otherwise, making tunes on laptops and releasing them on the Internet. Anyone can be influenced by anyone. It was hard enough to classify things in the blues-R&B-rock continuum, especially when jazz and classical kept rearing their ugly heads. Now throw in influences from every country in the world and classifying anything becomes virtually impossible.

Yet we have to try. Why? Because if we don’t, we can’t find music we like, and we can’t talk about it.

I understand the principle of “it’s all music.” But don’t you think the average Chuck Berry fan would be a bit put off if you played a Godspeed You Black Emperor album said, “Here’s some of that music stuff you claim to like”? And suppose he had an open mind and even kind of liked it, but just never heard GYBE before and asked, “what is this?” Sorry, but I’m going to have to say post-rock, because he might then find and enjoy Sigur Ros. Post-rock is a clear case of “you gotta call it something.” Would you consider a Chuck Berry song rock? Definitely. Would you consider a Godspeed You Black Emperor song rock? Not too sure… Thus, post-rock.

I agree that genre names often suck, but they can be useful, even some “hairline distinctions.” For example, dark ambient. It bleeds into regular ambient (another term people argue over), as well as industrial (ditto). But there are certain groups that people who say they like dark ambient tend to like.  I like to give and get recommendations. How am I supposed to do that if I can’t pick a genre name? If I just ask for “music” recommendations, I could get anything from Beethoven to the Ramones. I like both of those, but they’re not going to help me find Coil, Lustmord or Voice of Eye.

A genre name might be a stupid word, but once it catches on and people start hanging ideas on it, what can you do? You’re pretty much stuck with it.

Still, I can’t help but wonder what will happen if people are still listening to this stuff hundreds of years from now? Are we going to get names like tenth wave Electro-acoustic-neo-post-psych-prog? Hell, that name probably exists already.

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Filed under commentary, dark ambient, indie, industrial, postpunk, postrock, progressive rock, psych, punk, shoegaze, trip hop, Uncategorized, world music

Peru and Ana vs. Panda Bear – psychedelia never dies

I never dropped acid and never plan to do so, but I’ve always loved the strand of art and music that came about after the stuff turned up in the ’60s. You always wonder when you see or hear something “trippy” if it was inspired by drugs, but it’s not necessarily the case. Some artists have simply freed their imaginations to such an extent that they aren’t bound by the structures you’ve come to expect. It’s interesting to me that psychedelic art never really goes away. It just keeps coming back like a recurring dream.

And speaking of dreams…

The video below has fascinated me for days. The song, “Bros,” is by someone I recently discovered called Panda Bear (real name Noah Lennox). He’s a founding member of The Animal Collective (also a recent find for me). The song is long (over 12 minutes), drenched in echo effects and to my mind at least, influenced by the Beach Boys. I read an interview where Lennox said he was unhappy with that comparison, but I mean it as a compliment, honestly. (Someone on YouTube compared “Bros” to Pet Sounds and I thought, yeah, only more interesting.)

The video was created by a couple of Brooklyn-based multi-media artists who call themselves Peru and Ana. They have a reputation for leaving cryptic, artistic graffiti around the city and producing strange, avant garde films. Their aesthetic kind of reminds me of Nurse with Wound. The video they created for “Bros” illustrates a strange but beautiful nightmare with lots of faded old bits of film and flickering imagery. I find it irresistible.

It looks better in Vimeo, but I can’t for the life of me figure out how to embed that version.

Also, check out this video from Animal Collective:

Trippy stuff!

Here is Panda Bear’s MySpace page.

This is the Official Animal Collective website, but at the moment it just has one video up (a really cool one for a song called “Bluish.”)

Until the band fleshes out its website, you can get a lot of information on this fan site.

You can see more of Peru and Ana’s work on their website and their Vimeo page.

And consider this a cry for help: If anyone can help me figure out how to embed a new Vimeo vid in a WordPress.com blog, I will be forever grateful, or at least grateful till my mind wanders onto some other matter.

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Filed under experimental, indie, indie pop, indie rock, postrock, psych, shoegaze, Uncategorized, video

Friends of Dean Martinez capture Southwest’s wide open spaces

I haven’t been out to West Texas in years, but I spent a lot of time there when I was younger. Enough time for its spirit to soak into my bones: wide open spaces, brutal heat and rugged beauty, isolation that can make you lonely or make you feel at peace. It all comes back to me when I listen to Friends of Dean Martinez, an Austin-based instrumental band that was born in the desert city of Tucson, Arizona.

I’ve seen comparisons to Pink Floyd, and I can kind of hear that. I thought of it as a kind of Southwestern postrock in the vein of Godspeed You Black Emperor. A friend of mine told me FODM’s music has weltschmertz, a German word that translates as “world pain.” The closest English equivalent would be pathos. I think that comes pretty close to the mark. It’s beautiful, moving stuff.

The current lineup includes Bill Elm on pedal steel and organ, Andrew Gerfers on drums and Mike Semple on guitar. Elm plays the pedal steel with something called an e-bow, which gives the instrument an ethereal, otherworldly sound very different from the traditional country steel sound. Quite a few other musicians have been part of FODM at one time or another, including drummer John Convertino, who co-founded the group and later became part of Calexico, another group know for its Southwestern ambience.

In this video, the band members talk about the band’s origins, their musical philosophy and some of their projects, including the music they created for a documentary about the Salton Sea (a fascinating subject in itself – look it up).

I listen to them any time I feel caught up in the rat race and my mind needs some wide open spaces. I especially love their cover of “Wichita Lineman,” the Jimmy Webb song made famous by Glen Campbell.

I want to thank Roots Note Music blog for reminding me I needed to write about these guys. The author recently made this post about Robert Randolph — another musician who made me think differently about the pedal steel. I remember I used to dislike the instrument back when I was a country-phobic kid. I thought it sounded like a cat being tortured (I’ve changed my tune on country music quite a bit since then). Randolph turns the pedal steel into a source of incredible funkiness, while Bill Elm of FODM produces dreams. I really love people who can make me enjoy something I used to think I didn’t like.

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Filed under indie, indie rock, music, postrock, psych, Uncategorized, video