Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Album Review: Swans - My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky

Swans - My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky
Year: 2010
Click here for the artist's site

Swans is one of those bands, like Neurosis, that all the kids claim are a huge influence on them, but that the general populace remains woefully ignorant of.  And it's obvious why; they were never released on a major label, and they haven't put out new music since 1997, the band having gone on to do many other things in other groups (most notably Jarboe, who has worked with just about every experimental metal group at this point).

Thank heavens, however, that bandleader Michael Gira decided it was time to get the band back together - and while Jarboe doesn't return, Gira enlists former bandmate Norman Westburg with some new faces and has created one of the most electrifying albums of the year.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Five desert island songs.

I've been thinking about what I would consider really seminal pieces of music, examples of cinema, works of literature, et cetera today.  So I decided to craft a list of my five desert island songs and why they're worth picking as the only music I would ever listen to again - if I had to.  (Thankfully, that's not going to happen.)

In no particular order.

Eric Whitacre - Water Night

I still remember the first time I ever heard this piece of music.  It was the lead-in from an intermission at a friend's choir concert.  I spoke to her during the break, and she proclaimed, "I just wish I could see your face during the first song of the next set."

Perplexed, I asked her why.  She responded, "You'll see."

I did see that night.  I saw things I never had seen before about music; what it can do, what it can mean, how it can be made.  It caused a complete paradigm shift in me - and forever altered my perception.

One listen and you can see why.  There's so much going on in this for being a piece of a'cappella; there are up to fifteen parts coursing in and out of each other at one point.  It's an overwhelming piece of choral music, and every time I hear it I get goosebumps.

Rush - Natural Science

Anyone who knows my taste for tunes knows the importance of Rush in my formative years.  The first album I ever owned was Grace Under Pressure; I can probably sing every single song of theirs off the top of my head, simply out of beautiful repetition.  But after all is said and done, and heaps upon heaps of great songs, my favorite Rush track is "Natural Science".  It's a wonderful amalgam of different tunes, telling a story of the microcosms we each are trapped in and how we don't understand how ephemeral and transitory everything is.

I could listen to this a million times.

Samuel Barber - Adagio for strings, Op. 11

I heard Barber's Adagio for the first time in an uncharacteristic place - during the opening sequence to an old video game, Homeworld.  (That was a great game, by the way.  One of the best.  And way, way too hard for its own good.)

It was the choral version rather than the strings version, and was truncated to two minutes, but I remember vividly sitting there watching the opening sequence and hearing this song and my heart pumping a million miles a minute, and sitting back and thinking, "What was that?!?  That makes my person ache with loveliness."  Needless to say, I did my research and hunted it down, and have been enamored by this song ever since.

Art Tatum - L'Elegy

I don't know what else can be said about the inimitable Art Tatum.  He was the best jazz pianist.  Like, ever.  Even in this day and age where there have been so many sages at the ivories, he remains The Man.  Just listen to it.  It's the greatest piano solo of all time - so far, at least.  Goosepimples every time.

Opeth - Blackwater Park

I may not listen to heavy metal very much these days, but metal is still in my core.  Deep down in my bits.  And Opeth will forever be the band that introduced me to brütal heavÿ mëtal.  (With umlauts.)

And this is their most compelling single song.  (Their last album, Watershed, is easily their best, but I digress.) It starts with such forceful energy, and then recedes to the corner, content to seethe for two minutes of distressing calm, before erupting once again.  And it just gets heavier and meaner, until there is just a moment of clarity at about the nine and a half minute mark - where you're staring into the abyss at the edge of the cliff, and then you get kicked off and plummet.  (Sorry this crappy video cuts the last twenty seconds off the song.)  Ah, this tune.  Certainly not for everyone.  And certainly not what I usually listen to.  But so very, very good.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Portnoy leaves Dream Theater

I actually wanted to write about this back when the announcement came out, but just wasn't doing much writing at the time, so it passed me by.  Plus, I was just not sure how much I cared.

On September 8th, 2010, Mike Portnoy announced he was leaving Dream Theater.  Talk about shock of shocks.  After all, Mike was one of the original, founding members of the band.  Likewise, he has seemed to be taking a more and more active role in the band (for better or worse), writing more lyrics, contributing vocals, and just generally being the public face of the band.  (To his credit, he has been, for many years, very interactive with fans on his own website).

But the reasons behind his departure are, in my mind, the most uncomfortable part of the entire drama.  His press release is very clear in stating that he did not want to leave the band, rather just wanted things with Dream Theater to slow down a bit.  It would seem he just wanted a break.  However, the rest of the band apparently was not content with this idea, and wanted to continue on, with or without him.

It looks like it will be without him.

This really is sad news.  While my interest in Dream Theater's music has waned over the past few releases, there is no doubt that albums such as Images and Words and Awake (and to a lesser degree Scenes From a Memoryare seminal, essential progressive metal releases.  They really are the band that introduced me to "progressive metal".  And throughout it all, Portnoy's very technical, impressive (at times too impressive) drum work has been the back bone of the band.

After so many years, it just seems sort of cheap of them to ignore his wishes to take a break.  If that take is the truth, it is pretty low class.  I wish Mike the best in his endeavors (did anyone else realize he was now the official drummer for Avenged Sevenfold?).  As for Dream Theater, I think I will pass on their next album (again).  Unless Gavin Harrison or Mark Zonder is announced as the replacement.  Then I won't have a choice but to listen, as I will listen to whatever either of those two do.  

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Album Review: Sepultura - A-Lex

Sepultura - A-Lex
Year: 2009
Click here for the artist's site

Stalwart.  That is the best word to describe Sepultura.  For years now, they have been championing their own mix of death, thrash, and groove metal.  Many fans cast them by the wayside after the departure of Max Cavalera (and later his brother Igor).  But now, with 5 albums with Derrick Green (just one shy of what Max contributed to), they continue to marshall onward. 

In fact, their last two releases have entered some really interesting territory, with the previous album Dante XXI being based on The Divine Comedy, and their latest A-Lex based on the novel A Clockwork Orange.  But with such heady (for such heavy metal) lyrical inspiration, how is the music?  In one word: amazing.