Archive for the 'Instrumental / Experimental' Category



15
Nov
11

Peter Gabriel: “New Blood”

Peter Gabriel (eye)

For my first blog ever, how about a new album by Peter Gabriel? Now, before you write this off, allow me to offer my two cents as to why I love his music so much, and why you should give him a shot:

5 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Write-Off PG…

  1. How can you write-off an artist who’s been listed as a major influence in an enormous and varied list of acts, including: PHISH, IRON MAIDEN, RUSH, THE KILLERS, RADIOHEAD, SARAH McLACHLAN, and QUEEN.
  2. Ever hear of a band called Genesis? Peter Gabriel started the band in 1967 and led it until he left to pursue a solo career.
  3. Although he’s 61 years old, he can still perform anything from his catalog, and well.
  4. He’s done so much for charity and for world music, including founding WOMAD.
  5. As with so many great artists, what you’ve heard on the radio is NOT even a decent representation of his catalog.

Why I Personally Enjoy PG…

  1. His song lyrics actually have meaning. Gabriel is a true artist, and his songs reach across the human experience of emotions, from jubilant to depressed, from anger to love, from helplessness to hope, from inquisitive to pompous, and everything in between. On top of emotional, Peter’s lyrics are also quite intellectual. This is music to think to, with lyrical meanings not always instantly presenting themselves.
  2. Musically, Peter Gabriel is anything but fluff. The production quality of a PG album can only be described as meticulous. Gabriel’s painstaking attention to details always shines through.
  3. The craft with which Peter Gabriel layers multiple instruments and tracks provides an aural feast. If you want proof, check out the album “So” – a masterpiece of production by PG and Daniel Lanois (U2, etc)
  4. As a musician and a music teacher myself, I greatly enjoy his harmonic and melodic creativity, not to mention the rhythmic complexity. If you enjoy good musical writing, you will find it tough to get bored with a Peter Gabriel playlist.
  5. He’s an artist in the truest sense. With seemingly no care for what the mainstream might prefer, PG has released songs and albums that play more like works of art than manufactured packages for the masses. To appreciate Peter Gabriel’s music is to appreciate art.

New Album: “New Blood”

New Blood album cover

Ok, so on to the new album, “New Blood” released a few weeks ago. I recently heard an interview with James Wolcott on NPR, speaking of his new book and his column in Vanity Fair. James said the most important characteristic of any critic is to be true to the original reaction to what you’re critiquing. So, I’ll start there…

My First Reaction: I was enraptured. But, I must admit to you the circumstance within which this “rapture” took place: as an album of Peter Gabriel songs put to orchestral arrangement, it was serendipitous that I was listening to high school band arrangements at the time I purchased the album. The colors and harmonies being performed by the New Blood Orchestra on this album seemed, at the time, an incredible tapestry compared to the limits of high school band music. Combine that with the fact that I already love Peter Gabriel, and the fact that I saw this tour live in Saratoga this past summer, and VoilĂ !’ – rapture. To be fair, any true Gabriel fan will enjoy this album. He goes deep enough into his catalog to rejuvenate some deep cuts, while avoiding radio-play regulars like “Sledgehammer.” And those odd balls like me – classically trained AND already a Gabriel fan – will instantly fall in love with this, just because of the characteristically emotional performances by Gabriel coupled with the professional orchestral performers and high-quality arrangements.

For the PG Noob: This part’s for you: the passer-by, the ones who know this guy via “Sledgehammer”, “Shock The Monkey”, and “Big Time.” Not only will you likely tire of the relative drum set-less texture (only 3 out of 16 tracks have any membranophones at all), the relatively unknown track list (save “Solsbury Hill” and “In Your Eyes”), and the poor order in which the tracks were arranged. If, however, you are up to the challenge of braving these “elements” and mining this work for its gems, I have a few suggestions:

First, know that this is an orchestral album; so turn up the volume on your stereo. Otherwise, you’ll miss some key ingredients to the texture (something those of us who listen to art [aka “classical”] music are already used to). Once you’ve turned it up to ’11’, start with “Intruder.” Not only is it the best track on the album, it’s got a lot of energy – something a lot of these tracks intentionally lack. Next, I’d follow it up with these: In Your Eyes, San Jacinto, The Rhythm of the Heat, Red Rain, The Nest That Sailed The Sky, and then Signal To Noise. I’m not sure it’s a good introduction to Peter Gabriel, but this is a good sampling of what’s being offered whilst avoiding some striking potholes on this particular album. OK, noobs can cease reading now. 🙂

The Full Review: It’s one thing to put your music to orchestral arrangement – something we’ve seen done (often badly) many times before. But what Gabriel’s done here is taken his songs and given them a true, unsurprisingly detailed treatment with co-arranger John Metcalf.

The Good: On New Blood, Peter has expanded his “pallet”, if you will: a full orchestra of instruments, as compared with his usual electronic sounds, guitars, and drums. Remember that an orchestra can get louder, softer, higher, and lower than a regular rock band. On some tracks, this actually works to uncoil the original intent of the song, sadly. On others, it heightens it to amazing new levels. This happens on “San Jacinto”, “Intruder”, and “Signal To Noise” to a point where I am removing the original tracks from my playlist and replacing them with the New Blood versions, which sound like how the song should have originally been set. “San Jacinto” reaches new levels of contemplation, “Signal” new levels of intensity, and “Intruder” new levels of scariness. Thankfully, “Wallflower” finally gets the treatment it always deserved; a song about tortured victims of human rights, the “Security” album version – with its low volume and seemingly uncharacteristic hurried production quality – never did the song justice.

One thing that is so very cool on this album: a track called “A Quiet Moment.” A simple recording of gentle wind blowing through the breeze coupled with unobtrusive birds, “Quiet” is a wonderful pallet-clearing track that relaxes the senses and allows the listener a break from the powerful and extreme texture of a full orchestra (something most rock fans are not used to). It’s a clever move by a clever artist.

The Bad: “In Your Eyes”, “Solsbury Hill”, and “Mercy Street” arrangements are both kind of take-it-or-leave-it quality. There are better versions of each already in the PG catalog. They were probably thrown on the album for nostalgic purposes.

The Ugly: There are some real losers on this album: “Don’t Give Up”, “Downside Up”, “Darkness”, and “Digging In The Dirt” are all tastelessly done, in my opinion (a shocking thing for me to even admit). Right when this album’s version of “”Don’t Give Up is ready to become a classic arrangement, enter Ane Brun’s awful vocals. She sounds like a grandmother trying to find pitches. Just hideous, she ruins the track. “Downside” is completely unneeded, as the live version on Hit is eponymous. Plus, it ends before the “kick-in” section, which totally disappoints. “Darkness” has contrasts that are so violent they literally hurt the ears (a seemingly sophomoric use of the orchestra’s dynamics, tastelessly out of character from the rest of the album). Finally, there are very cool harmonic, rhythmic, and even melodic changes that work to actually augment the original versions. But I just can’t stomach the melodic change to the vocals in the chorus of “Digging”- it lessens the emotional effect of this otherwise striking song.

In The End: Although the average Joe will probably not stomach this album, this AverageJoe enjoyed it thoroughly. The Gabriel fan will find a few gems, but likely struggle without the usual guitars and drums.  3.5/5 stars

11
Nov
11

A Soundtrack for Sunsets: Tycho–Dive (Ghostly International, 2011)

It’s no surprise Scott Hansen is a native Californian. He’s known by two aliases: Tycho for music and ISO50 for graphic design. The faded warm colors and sixties inspired aesthetics of his visual works undoubtedly correspond to the sun inspired arrangements of his music. Hansen owns a large collection of vintage analog synthesizers including a Minimoog and Korg Mono/Poly, which explains his music’s frequent use of rich timbres and ethereal layers, an integral characteristic established in his debut LP Sunrise Projector (later released as Past is Prologue) and a continued theme in Dive

With shimmery tones floating over celestial pads and down-tempo beats of opening track “A Walk,” my memory immediately revisits a time spent in Santa Monica where I watched the sun slowly sink below the Pacific Ocean’s horizon. Later in the song, an acoustic guitar breaks up the relaxed vibe and switches the tempo, adding claps, more drum fills and swells, almost like going from a calm, pleasant walk to a fast, exhilarating run.

In “Daydream” the title speaks for itself. A simple guitar melody fades in and subtly dwells throughout the majority of the song, underlying the dreamy flowing instrumentation of ambient synth inflections, definitely making it a relaxing, mesmerizing tune. Following the sonic surreality is title track “Dive,” the eight minute atmospheric voyage which in my opinion is the climactic point of the album. Brief, incomprehensible female coos introduce the eighties pop beat and heavily reverberated poly-synths. It sounds like it could be a theme song for an aquatic journey.

Dive is a buoyant, sunny adventure filled with ambient lullabies like “Epigram” and soothing harmonies heard in “Coastal Brake”, a musical interpretation of the experience and need to “brake” when witnessing the beauty while driving on the Pacific Coast Highway. Tycho’s repeated combination of similar synth textures and basic guitar riffs with mellow rhythms is what defines his familiar yet distinct brand of sound.

For me, listening to Tycho is analogous to spending a day at the beach—the tranquil ambience of closing your eyes while basking in sunlight or watching reflections in the waves continuously crashing. It evokes a very meditative and spiritual feeling and is great complementary music for a positive, pensive and peaceful state of mind.

4/5
08
Nov
11

Ray Manzarek and Robbie Krieger: The Egg 11/9/11

I received an email from our local liberal artsy-fartsy venue called The Egg; a venue that HiFi has visited on several occasions to catch excellent past shows like Dweezil Zappa and Al DiMeola.  Most of the time The Egg tends to pander to international dancing acts, modern dance groups, or musicians that often tend to be more underground yet accomplished in their own right, such as Lyle Lovett and Shawn Colvin.  At times The Egg will have mainstream performers such as ex-Audioslave and Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell or Phish bass-player-extrodinaire Mike Gordon rolling through for a rare appearance.  Often these shows are for smaller audiences and thus offer a far more up close and personal experience all around.  My only gripe in the past has been The Egg’s lame ticket policy of offering the best seats to “Egg Members” and then offering the very same seats (if the don’t sell) closer to the actual night of the show instead of when they release them to the general public. 

The Egg has two theaters, one big (Hart Theater – 982 seats) and one small (Swyer Theater – 450 seats); while each theater may reflect half of each size, it can be truly said that there are no bad seats perse.  However, during the Dweezil show (held in the larger Swyer Theater) HiFi was seated far right of the stage and were unable to see the movie screen, bummer, but not the end of the world.  For the DiMeola show it was held in the Hart Theater and it was more than cozy and probably one of the best $35 I’ve spent on a concert; truly worthwhile.

Appearently The Door’s legends Ray Manzarek and Robbie Krieger are touring and will play the venue on Wednesday, November 9th, cool.  As much as I am curious about an evening with members of The Doors, and I’m sure it will be a solid show, I can’t help but wish the bill included Ian Astbury (ex- The Cult) as the faux-Morrison lead singer.  Astbury has toured with them over the past few years and has imitated Morrison impecably!  I’m not sure if HiFi readers have seen a clip of Astbury channeling Morrison, but it’s pretty friggin’ awesome! 

Since Astbury will not be featured I feel affects the overall price of the tickets; simply listening to Manzarek and Krieger play will cost you the range of $35 – $60, a bit steep in my opinion.  Later in the month at The Egg, the legendary Ray Davies, the lead singer of The Kinks, and is only charging $39 – $49 for tickets! Sorry, but Manzarek and Krieger were merely backing musicians and I can’t justify that kind of cash.  It’s like paying $50 for Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones as a night with Led Zeppelin, but it ain’t.  I dunno, although Manzarek’s keyboards were an integral part to The Doors sound, I just still can’t see spending my hard earned cash.  I’m thinking more 1/2 The Doors = 1/2 the price, no?

If you check the show out I’m sure it will be good, I’m not trying to take anything away from their legacy, but without Astbury providing his rendition of Morrison I’m less inclined to want to spend the money.  I’ve provided you a clip of the Astbury version of “Break On Through” with Manzarek and Krieger backing; tell us if you think the price is worth it without him?

04
Nov
11

Shpongle Live @ the Hammerstein Ballroom–New York, NY 10.28.11

Experiencing a rare Shpongle live ensemble performance at Camp Bisco X this past summer was a glorious moment in festival history for me. Therefore I knew an indoor headlining show in New York City for Halloween weekend would be another unforgettable night and a fantastic way to start my “Halloweekend.” Marking their 2nd U.S. appearance as a full band, Simon Posford, Raja Ram and company brought even more mind-bending sights, sounds and characters with them to the city that never sleeps. It was a special premature commemoration of a beloved holiday but more importantly, Posford’s date of birth.

Arriving late after 11pm to the Manhattan Center, the entrance was mobbed with people in kooky outfits and ghastly attire. After all it was “Shpongleween”, an appropriate title for this bizarre costume affair and a scene drawing curious gazes of passersby. We entered the ballroom to flamenco guitar, entrancing salsa rhythms and schizophrenic vocals of“Dorset Perception.” The first balcony section was a quintessential location: having the bar and bathroom in close proximity to your seats is always advantageous to the show experience, but not your wallet ($8 cranberry vodkas, you say? Sigh.) Anyways, nobody actually sat in their designated seats so the first balcony was practically a free for all. But that didn’t matter—most of the time everybody was joyously dancing or completely transfixed by the performance onstage.

The stage was a colorful concoction of costumes and acrobatic performers wearing feathers or garments lined with bright, neon shapes and patterns, donning tribal masks. A horned man paraded the stage on stilts. Singers Michele Adamson and Abigail Gorton wore vibrant wigs and glow-in-the-dark tights. Yup, we had reached our far-out destination: Shpongleland, a psychedelic dimension created from visions and adventures inspired by the drug induced hallucinations and experiences of Posford and Raja Ram, akin to a spiritual and ritualistic gathering.

One of the most anticipated songs of the night was “Nothing is Something Worth Doing.” Everybody’s attention was directed to the man dressed as Captain Jack Sparrow (not sure if it was Manu Delago) sitting front and center under a spotlight, playing the rich melodic introduction with a hang. The hypnotic buildup made this a climactic point of the show, the crowd spellbound by the profound music, harmoniously tangled up in bliss.

Then a striking guitar melody ascended from the mystics, conjuring the exotic tones of “When Shall I Be Free” right into “Stamen of the Shaman” off 2005’s Nothing Lasts…But Nothing is Lost. While the latter song was missing the organic sound of a live trumpet, the ballroom went bonkers and current Furthur drummer Joe Russo kept the crowd grooving with pulsating latin dub beats. The next batch of songs were from Shpongle’s latest release Ineffable Mysteries from Shpongleland. Adamson and Gorton lent their impressive vocal range to “No Turn Unstoned,” while celestial tones of the harp, violinist, cellist and flute added instrumental depth to this ambient piece. Next thing you know, a cryptic Indian chant and deep sitar timbre introduced, “I Am You.” Raja Ram spoke through a processor that fluctuated the pitch of his voice. Ominous violins and metallic synth arpeggios picked up the tempo and the cosmic fantasy unfolded into a dark, psy-trance journey. From there I did not expect them to go into the orchestral centered “Invisible Man In a Fluorescent Suit,” but it was a nice change of pace and wonderfully enchanting once it progressed.

“Divine Moments of Truth” and “My Head Feels Like a Frisbee” were two strong closing choices, the former being a popular Shpongle tune that was heavily in rotation during Simon’s Shpongletron tour as well as at Camp Bisco. “My Head Feels Like a Frisbee” fuses so many styles of music, you simply cannot fight the urge to dance. Listening to Raja Ram’s flute part in the closing song was indeed a satisfying experience, but when they came out to perform the encore “Around the World in a Tea Daze,” all senses were stimulated by the vivacious flautist. Gorton and Adamson’s operatic vocals soared in unison over confetti and balloons dropped from the ceiling in celebration of Simon Posford’s birthday and Shpongleween.

Blending indigenous traditional music of Middle Eastern and Asian cultures with psychedelic, trance, dub and ambient styles is what makes Shpongle more sonically diverse than most acts in the world. Additionally the eccentric theatrics, lazer visuals and humorous antics of Raja Ram were essential factors for producing such a unique and fascinating show. This is a stimulating presentation that music lovers from all walks of life wouldn’t want to miss with its mysticism, majesty and moments of musical transcendence. Although the opportunity to catch them in the States is uncommon, I’m sure they’ll be back again after three successful appearances in 2011. And of course, Simon Posford in New York State means chaotic climate as indicated by the subsequent snow storm on Saturday and rain he brings to Camp Bisco every summer.

 5/5

31
Oct
11

Shonen Knife – Japan’s Punk Queens on Tour!

While checking out the local club scene about upcoming acts online  this past Tuesday I noticed that the legendary Japanese rock trio Shonen Knife was coming to HiFi Central’s stomping ground of Albany, NY.  The venue is Valentine’s which is a shoe-box of a club normally associated with local hardcore and rock acts that I often choose to overlook on a  regular basis; however though, at times they have had some national acts roll through worth checking out.  The last band that  I wished I had known about was the California rock group Dada; one of the best nationally unknown rock bands to come out the 1990’s.  It would have truly been pretty incredible to see them that close and personal, bummer I missed it.

So, after missing that show I’ve checked the listing from time to time just to see who may be randomly doing a one-night stand.  Well, clearly the waiting and random checking of their site has been well worth the effort since Shonen Knife will be dropping by on Sunday, November 20th (18+ show).  Shonen Knife has been around since 1981; the only remaining member making Shonen Knife still Shonen Knife  is lead singer and guitarist Naoko Yamano.  The remaining founding members Atsuko Yamano (Naoko’s sister) and Michie Nakatani left the band to pursue other interests, but the replacements for these members have held their own over the course of the last decade never losing the true Shonen Knife sound.

Over the course of the past 20 years the band has released 19 albums and toured with the likes of  Sonic Youth, Fugazi, Mudhoney, and perhaps the coolest bragging right, Nirvana.  The band has appeared on the BBC with famed rock radio host John Peel,  performed on Late Night with Conan O’Brien and has been featured on MTV’s 12o Minutes.  The band was a featured act on 1994’s Lollapalooza tour as well.  So, even though they have not reached the heights of fame since their decade long run in the 1990’s, they still have a loyal following and are anything but a goofy band hanging on to remnants of fame.

HiFi is heading to this show with great anticipation; I would not be surprised if it might be the last chance for you to see them in the US for some while.  This tour is supporting a Ramones tribute album entitled “Osaka Ramones” released this past July, so I’m sure that it should be a fun and unique show!  Get your tickets soon since it will be sold out, especially since Valentine’s only holds about 50 patrons; and be sure sure to bring your earplugs!

HiFi will provide a full review of this show, so check back.

You can check more out about the Valentines show by clicking here.

You can check out some samples of Shonen Knife’s “Osaka Ramones” by clicking here.

27
Oct
11

Gretsch Guitars – George Harrison Duo Jet Contest

I thought this was a cool thing to post since many people would be interested; well, at least I hope a few.  As many would agree, Gretsch guitar’s are probably one of the most well-known and respected instruments in the World.  Nearly every musician I know has always mentioned that owning one would be the sole “prized possesion” of their collection.  Whether you play Rockabilly, Punk, or Jazz, Gretsch guitars are the “holy-grail” of the hollow-body guitar World and the sound they create many would say is impossible to replicate.  Regardless of how well they sound they are also visually striking curves and colors, not to mention that they use top end materials and the attention to detail truly make a Gretsch guitars highly collectible. As result hey are also priced accordingly; often a base models selling for around $2,000 or more.

Cool artists like Chet Atkins, Brian Setzer (ex-Stray Cats), Jim Heath (Reverend Horton Heat), Eddie Cochran, and even Tim Armstrong  (Rancid) all play Gretsch guitars (and even have their own personal models, how cool!); it would be fair to say that many of them owe their sound and ability to play with ease thanks  the Gretsch instruments.  This month Gretsch has decided to pay dubious homage to Beatle great George Harrison and create a model in his memory, for a mere $20,000!   Doesn’t leave you much left to afford lessons, eh?  Perhaps the price is due to you getting one of George’s personal guitar picks with the guitar, hmmmm, still seems like a rip of a thrown in for $20,000.  Perhaps, say, it included one of his personal guitar cases it might be somewhat better, but a guitar pick?

 

Oh, and you also get an original 1987  7-inch pressing of his hit “I Got My Mind Set On You”, uh, I think I can get this at a used record store for about $1.00???????????????  C’mon Gretsch, you can do sooooo much better than that, no?

Perhaps the real reason is the amount of time and attention that was put into re-creating the model he actually played to exact specifications, and I guess it would be important to add that on 60 are being made.

Well, for most of us average blue collar, tight budgeted folks, the best we can hope to demo a Gretsch in our lifetime would be at Guitar Center under the watchful eye of management giving us about 10 seconds.    Luckily, the company has created an open contest to win one of these incredible Harrison creations.  Regardless whether you know how to play or not doesn’t matter, the thought of owning this righteous guitar more than makes up for my ability to play a note.

If you are interested in entering the contest click here, and hey, if you win you’ve got let us know!

24
Oct
11

Trey Anastasio – Free TAB six-pack

Totally 0ld news since it was made available last month; but if you are not aware of the free six-pack sampler offered on the LivePhish.com website it is worth your time.  As many know, Trey and his band made several stops along the US earlier this year to select cities spreading their incredible music throughout.

This sampler is worth downloading, sadly there is nothing from the Albany, NY show in this mix, but regardless, I’m just happy that it’s free!

You can find the download at livephish.com and will need to set up a free account and password.  The free downloads offered by LivePhish are temporary, so you need to act quickly before they take it down.

Check it out and let us know what you think!




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