Thursday, June 11, 2009

Liberation Legends: Sleater-Kinney

The first tune I heard by Sleater-Kinney was “Oh!” on Epitonic.com. The vocal reminded me of maybe the B-52s a little, or some mid-60s girl group. It was funny and sexy and really different. At first it sounded like a girl telling her boyfriend No – but soon I realized that's not it, she's coaching him! Had to hear it again and again. I started checking out their other material, and every cut was different, then started buying CDs, largely off eBay because they were hard to find. Still haven't got “The Hot Rock” although I've heard most of the cuts, and I don't have the pre-”Dig Me Out” discs, “Sleater-Kinney” or “Call the Doctor”. But Sleater-Kinney has affected my music listening and awarenesses for the past half-decade.
Sleater-Kinney is one of the strongest groups of our time (turn of the Millennium), creatively and musically. I believe it was Greil Marcus, who has a rep as The Guru among rock writers, who did an article on them in Time Magazine representing that they were the best band in America. (It was a “Best of America” project in Time in 2001.)
Facts in case you don't already know: S-K is/was an all-girl/woman group generally considered to be punk or post-punk style (sorta) in-your-face feminists, which was named for a freeway off-ramp near Corin and Carrie's homes. Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein are longtime friends; they had a love affair but Corin was much more emotionally invested which Carrie only realized after they broke up as a couple. They were friends before and obviously still are. They each do guitar and vocals, but Corin usually leads on vocals and Carrie on guitar. They did other bands earlier, and had some modest success with this one but it was their fourth drummer, Janet Weiss, who brought new energy and inventiveness late in 1996 that helped propel them to international cult heroines (or at least international cult heroines who were far better known). The first disc she did with them was 1997's “Dig Me Out”. The title tune blasted me awake in the morning on my radio/CD alarm for awhile, opening with dissonant guitar and then the surprisingly varied drums and Corin's urgent singing. “One more Hour” was about Corin's feelings at the aforementioned breakup. “Turn It On” was another mightily sexy number, and seems to be about a male (“Oh it's too hard – it's too good...”) who turns her on even though she doesn't truly trust him. (“Why do your words have to ring so false... why do your eyes have to change so much...?”) “It's Enough” might also be, depending on how one takes it. “Little Babies” is the closest thing to a general negative review of males, IMHO. There are a lot of possible double entendes, in different directions... “Not What You Want” has the singer encountering a guy friend and asking him to take her for a drive and to keep driving faster. She's totally stressing. He's asking What's wrong and apparently whether it's him, and her reply is “It's not what you want”. Which can be taken a couple of ways. Like, My feelings aren't headed in the direction you want, forget that, and/or What you want has nothing to do with what I'm going through. Of course this isn't his idea of a good time, but what I'm hearing here is that this is HER stress, she owns it and No he is not the cause. Everything in HER life is not about HIM.
I hear a basically similar idea on “Youth Decay” from “All Hands On The Bad One”. “Acid Tooth / It's got nothing to do with you / But if you wanna watch me chew / My teeth are cutting you out...” This (with the context) sounds like she doesn't want to be close to men at least right now. I'm okay with that. The writer actually recognizes that all men are not the source of her problems, despite complaining in the same song about her father judging her and her mother harshly. I've heard women and men (both “liberal” and “conservative”) say basically that if anything is wrong in a woman's life or psyche it's the nearest man's fault. Lemme tell ya, that gets old fast. I'd much rather deal with the honest feelings of a woman who wants an equal relationship rather than one who says the man should make all major decisions and then gives you holy hell if it doesn't turn out to be what she wanted (and what you were supposed to have guessed). What I'm saying is that the perspective here is reasonable and fair; these are not man-haters here.
BTW, Corin and Janet have been married to guys, Corin still is, and Janet is still friends with her ex and does a project band named Quasi with him. Carrie happily babysits Corin's son Marshall and is his favorite because she will roughouse with him.
Most of the early cuts I've heard, from before Dig Me Out, are so much shriller they're physically painful for me to listen to. Women's hearing is possibly more attuned to enjoy it. They have said that harshness was part of what they aimed for at the time to make a point.
The title tune on “All Hands on The Bad One” is social protest at its finest, skewering precisely how proper conservative society condemns those who act or look different while doing the same stuff themselves (sometimes a couple of years later), with an undertone of social protesters themselves being a particular target as seen on the CD cover. (Similar idea to “Call The Doctor”.) “You're no Rock and Roll Fun” is about a certain pop star, reputed to be based on an encounter with Kevin Richardson of the Backstreet Boys, who is too full of himself to play around with “the girl band”. It's playful (of course) and has its own good kickin' fun. So is another song about the other person not letting her get close, “Ironclad”. Overall impression: They're in control of their own destinies and refuse to be controlled or be victims.
At least once per CD they tend to do a rage-against-the-unfairness-of-the-music-machine and at least one desire-for-a-woman number, the majority (?) of both done by Carrie. Sometimes the desire tunes are poignant - “Buy Her Candy” comes to mind, and the near-desperate certainty of “Dance Song '97”: “You're the one that I saw/You're the one that I want...” Sometimes they're just awkward musically (Milkshake'N'Honey) or conceptually (“Prisstina” on “One Beat” is about a totally non-socialized non-playful college girl who walks past a club, hears rock-n-roll, goes in and is instantly converted from celibate scholar to gay. Right... ). There's a relentless, often bleak analyzing of truth as seen by the writer: “Do you see her face/When she's gone/Sometimes so bright/Your heart just stops...” (Jenny). But there is also the power of that truth to rise above the present state of things or the present (former?) relationship: “...It is brave to feel/It is brave to be alive...” (Things You Say).

All three are individually bright musicians with actual creativity, world-class. Together they're a Tour-de-Force. Carrie is an intense, impressive lead guitarist who plays like she's awake, and can do both sarcastic and some surprisingly subtle vocals as well. Corin is the even more urgent wail that will blast your hair back, yet also versatile, and probably the most political in her writing. And no slouch on the guitar either – she and Carrie do complex interplay anytime it seems appropriate. Janet Weiss is among the very top few drummers I have heard in the past 50+ years. She is not merely “filling the holes”, but is an important part of the structure of the music, and those beats and patterns are living things. She can also do the more repetitive pounding rock very effectively. In the videos I've seen, Janet looks totally focused and in control, yet also getting really into it, head swiveling and hair swinging almost straight out at times. Not merely skilled, but a passionate artist. Yeah.
My favorite S-K CD is “One Beat” from 2002. Besides the usual pean of praise for Rock, for Their Rock, for Grrrl Power Rock etc. (One Beat, Step Aside), it has the spookily accurate Faraway about the beginning of the Iraq war (?) with the bombs falling, written before the event because Corin saw it coming, and Combat Rock, about the war-faring of our country and the media/political popularization of it as the One Right Attitude of the Loyal American Citizen. Corin did a show with Eddie Vedder and Pearl Jam in Denver at the beginning of the Iraq war and they were booed by 10,000 people for their political stance – and they kept going, in the face of death threats and all. Gutsy and earnest people.
There are plenty of relationship postmortems too... “The Remainder”, “Funeral Song”. There's the eerie feminist identity-of-the-self versus the image shell “Hollywood Ending”, and the environmental “O2”.
The last song on One Beat, “Sympathy”, is Corin's frank portrait of her feelings and thoughts in a terrible, amazing time a few years ago when her first child came 9 weeks early. It is ragged and raw and real and should pull tears out of a turnip. It did from me.
The events include: Doctor with long face giving bad prognosis (they were losing him), a new mother's fear and anger and cry for help from a God she barely knows exists, or at least has her doubts about, and a glimpse of what the results and her thoughts were, after. Hint: Corin's firstborn son is still a strong, healthy, roughousing little boy with none of the long-lasting problems that often come with this stage of prematurity. The lady is utterly honest about what she understands of what happened, and about what she really doesn't understand. Which puts her light-years ahead of many overtly “religious” people in my book.
God is not a political property; He/She loves screaming liberal feminist rock singers too. Just in case you hadn't heard.

Which brings us to the latest (last?) album, The Woods. Everyone has their opinion, this is mine. To compare it with their previous CDs:
All the albums from Dig me Out forward through All Hands on The Bad One, The Hot Rock and One Beat were produced by John Goodmanson on the Kill Rock Stars label. They were very personal, very Carrie-Corin-Janet personal. I wasn't in love with every cut, but I had a great liking for the totality. There were always songs that spoke to me somehow. Then came “The Woods” on Sub Pop in 2006, produced by David Fridmann. Contrary to the Sub Pop blurb for the album on the S-K MySpace site, I'm not afraid of things being new. A new album by S-K is always different than the last. That's cool. What's not cool with me is that Fridmann did not like the Sleater-Kinney I liked, and was determined to change their sound to suit himself. The band gave it their all-out effort. This guy is supposed to be big-time or something like that. Maybe it really is what they wanted to do. But most of the tunes just don't seem as heartfelt and real and personal. Rollercoaster is almost there. Steep Air may actually be there. And the plaintive Night Light sounds something like certain cuts of the old S-K, like The Swimmer from All Hands on the Bad One but different. But unlike any Sleater-Kinney CD before, this one overall left me feeling a sense of loss and sadness, and not just because of the self-consciously dark subject matter. It felt like it was an album by Fridmann, not by Carrie, Corin and Janet. They just worked there. Am I the only one who feels like this? They're not saying anything like this in interviews, so maybe it's only my opinion. I should probably listen again, try more to get into it, but rarely desire to.
Then the announcement in 2007 that the band is on indefinite hiatus. Everyone is doing their own thing. This happens, sure. But I wonder if the pressures of working toward an artificial end had anything to do with it.

Sleater-Kinney as a band seems not to have been on MySpace in a year and a half. Here are some URLs anyway.

www.myspace.com/sleaterkinney

Bandsite:
www.sleater-kinney.com

Fansite:
www.sleater-kinney.net

Further Links on a Sleater-Kinney webring (see, webrings aren't all porn popups) – and some of 'em even work.
http://www.webring.com/hub?ring=sleaterkinney


Articles:
http://www.answers.com/topic/sleater-kinney-1

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sleater-Kinney


Band Members Today:

Today, Carrie seems to be writing. She has a music blog on NPR's site; one of them is specifically on being a musical contrarian. That sounds like her... Carrie's position as an “Indy” is well reinforced there. Anyway, she really has more thought-provoking depth the more I read. Worth the look.
Maybe I'm just not looking in the right places, but is Carrie doing the musician thing as a professional gig these days? If so, it seems to be a well-kept secret. If you find her playing on something, I'd like to hear about it. She did a side project in 1999 with Mary Timony called The Spells.

Corin seems to be collaborating with other musician friends on a selective basis. S-K has worked with Pearl Jam in the past (has opened for them) and Corin most of all. Doing gigs like this where she's part of the show but but can also step back give her a chance to be with her family more than touring full-time with S-K plus maybe a side project or two (Cadallaca, 1997 through 2005?).

Janet is still doing the “Quasi” group project with ex-husband Sam Coomes. Like in S-K, she comes in on vocals, once in a while. I have “When the Going Gets Dark” by them. I wouldn't call it rock and roll. I wouldn't call it Marvin either. It sounds like a collage of folk-protest and a train wreck. I think I like it. “I Don't Know You Anymore” seems real and desolate. “Peace and Love” is about the power of those things. And “Poverty Sucks”, about integrity versus financial success in the System, is wryly funny. Actually, most all of 'em are.
“Never give up, never give in – Poverty sucks but it ain't no sin...” Love that line.
They have a new CD coming out soonly, with Joanna from the Jicks on bass. It helps the mind not to fragment so badly.

Janet was also working with the Jicks on the side when in Sleater-Kinney; now she's full-time with them. Malkmus' vocals tend toward the “cracking voice is more real” approach – something Coomes pushes much farther. I'm of the position that such a device is artistically useful when used occasionally, not all the blinkin' time. But that's me.

An independent news blog on Sleater-Kinney Members, “Tiny Suns Infused With Sour”:
http://toiras.blogspot.com/

Band Members

Carrie (Profile is private, but the photo is her):
www.myspace.com/228612031

For her thoughts, check out Carrie's “Monitor Mix” blog on the NPR site:
http://www.npr.org/blogs/monitormix/


Corin:
www.myspace.com/corintucker

www.myspace.com/cadallaca


Janet:
Article:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Janet_Weiss

"Totally Janet" Fansite:
http://home.earthlink.net/~bgrrrl

Interviews:
The Gothamist
http://gothamist.com/2008/07/17/janet_weiss_drummer_jicks_quasi_sle.php


Band Sites - Stephen Malkmus and The Jicks: (Members: Stephen, Janet, Joanna Bolme, Mike Clark)
www.stephenmalkmus.com

http://www.myspace.com/stephenmalkmus


Quasi Band Members: Sam Coomes, Janet Weiss, Joanna Bolme

Quasi Official Site:
http://www.theequasi.com/

Quasi Official MySpace Site:
www.myspace.com/theequasi

Quasi Fansite:
http://www.quasi2x2.com/



About Eagle and Talon and Sleater and Kinney

Lots of music columns and blogs have already made the comparison of EAT and Sleater-Kinney. Eagle And Talon seem to admire S-K; in my intro article on Eagle And Talon I mentioned the tribute pics and such. They have philosophical and scholarly and in-the-real-world involvement with feminism and as nearly as I can tell, bisexuality (?). And some of their riffs seem to be influenced by S-K, especially the deliberate dissonance that shows up every now and then. They show the radical, smart, artsy-stark originality that characterized the Sleater-Kinney approach. But that originality is their own. They're less concerned with being the all-girl band; they use males in the band although it's clearly the Kim and Alice show. Their controlled musical chaos is just as real but different, and often smoother than S-K. They can be spare and they can let loose an amazingly rich sound. And in the concert clips I've seen, they seem to having more fun with it. Off the wall thought # 483: As much as I like their male drummer's work, I can't help wondering what playing a set with Janet Weiss would sound like.
Another angle on EAT vs. S-K: More cerebral, more humor, more interested in keeping the music moving forward consistently, yet more dynamics going on in a given song, I think. Kim's vocals tend to be lilting/chirpy and sneakily, playfully sarcastic at times rather than the rollerball dynamo Corin's approach tends toward in social commentary. I like EAT for many of the same reasons as I like S-K, but for other reasons too - Eagle and Talon is not a Sleater-Kinney clone. They are fresh, bright and worth some serious listening, for themselves. And they're just getting started.

While I'm here, I owe you and EAT a correction. I honestly think the lyrics sound like what I said, but I must respect the Authoress and her intention. Kim wrote:

“after reading your post I just had to let you know what I'm really trying
to say in hot caught he he!!

"I like women, I like mannequins, and I don't build fires for myself"

although I have to admit your interpretation is definitely more exciting:
“I like women... I like men in kilts – A little bit of fire, for myself...”


Blame it on the Scottish side of my genes I suppose. Correct me, correct me... but be careful, I might like it.



Sleater-Kinney's Different Drummer, or one of them:
Lora (a/k/a Laura) MacFarlane

The first two CDs by S-K (which I don't have but have heard some cuts) had Lora MacFarlane drumming. When Sleater-Kinney did their “Call the Doctor” tour in 1996 (?) the drummer was Tori (Toni?) Gogin who was pretty dang good. Lora was expanding a side project named The Ninetynine. And somewhere in there was Misty Farrell as drummer.
Lora was born in Scotland (surprise, surprise) and her family moved to Australia when she was quite young.  It was there that she developed her drumming, and her songwriting, and released some very unique material both as a limited-edition album CDs and as individual recordings. She worked as a guest musician (?) with the Brautigans and Manic Pizza, and did some recording with a couple of friends in various modes under various names: Sea Haggs, Keckle, Popemobile... there was a very rare CD, Jelly, which cuts can be heard here: http://dev।null.org/losttreasures/jelly

Don't go there if it bothers you to hear a teenage girl exploring her sexual thoughts and intentions, as several of the songs do (and she sounds even younger). There's a wonderful freshness and candor in it without being crude, IMHO. (Some would argue the point concerning “Seasaw”, but that's them.) There's also a tune that MIGHT have a similar application, about a “Beastie” which is being celebrated in song and possibly taking part in that, and then suddenly it's out of control and there's screaming. Interesting... I hadn't been that shocked at where a tune went since some early Pink Floyd. Like the one where Syd Barrett (I think) is murmering into the mike so you get really close to the speaker and then there's this “bloody murder” type screaming? Or another, “Several Species of Small Furry Animals Gathered Together in a Cave and Grooving With a Pict”? Like that, only quite different.

Today with the Ninetynine, her affinity for the experimental is still healthy, and bringing in another person on drums allows her to do more chromatic percussion instrument work and vocals. There are a few videos on YouTube with Ninetynine … here are a couple of them. Lora is on vocal and vibraphone and has a drummer who looks like a wild man playing, who pounds the skins very well. And Oyeah – lately she has been using the more conventional spelling of her name, now “Laura”.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z8nyVnT2ySU

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AgqYXH_C72A

Official MySpace page (Note the “different” main graphic pics):
http://www.myspace.com/ninetynine99

Group site:
www.ninetynine.org

Members at the mo (lineup may vary):
Laura MacFarlane
Cameron Potts
Meg Butler
Iain McIntyre


Enjoy.
J

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Eagle and Talon: Sharp with Strange Feathers

I like these ladies' work, a lot. Okay. Explanation follows.

E.A.T. (it's on their MySpace page that way, honest) in turn likes Sleater-Kinney a lot and seem to figure they'll be compared anyway. So they apply some humor to it... A couple of their released photos have Kim (the Anglo Canadian, BTW) looking up at the camera in a classic broody pose that looks remarkably like some shots of Corin Tucker from S-K, who she doesn't normally look like, while Alice (the Asian-American) deadpans, well, kinda like Carrie Brownstein. Alice is the drummer and the guys who work with them don't look remotely like Janet Weiss, so that's pretty much the limit of that. Some of their songs have a definite S-K influenced flavor (contrapuntal dissonant chord progressions for one), but if you're a Sleater-Kinney fan you will know that “influence” is as far as it goes.
Looking at their MySpace site, etc., they have a number of quirky posed photos that press the question, “What is this??” Kim breezing through a fifties-ish diner scene carrying a covered cooking pot. Another in the same general scene with a Mini-Me type character sitting on some asparagus (I think) on top of the, uh, cook pot. (It's Alice with a similar red top, but with white ballet/Tinkerbelle gear below that.) Is it “me sitting on the pot”? Or maybe “Tinkerbelle sitting on the pot”? Another has Alice sitting on what appears to be a washing machine in a utility room while Kim uses a plastic step to try to climb up there (?) where there really doesn't appear to be enough room. Hmm, 'zat have anything to do with the reason Xaviera Hollander said she often stayed home to do laundry when she was a young girl when her family was going out somewhere? We're dealing with a couple of artists with a sense of fun, whether on camera or in the music. Then there are several pics of them looking pretty effectively like little girls, as if they grew up together, which they didn't. Surreal stuff.
So are their lyrics. Trippy, strangely juxtaposed words. But there's a purpose in there, make no mistake. They're just making sure the journey to the goal is interesting and probably gigglesome on the way, like the diametric opposite of expectable wording. Even when literally dead serious, talking about how the choices we make can maim or kill someone for our profit (“Georgia”), they zing it in with a sweetly sung yet sarcastic twist (“They'll trade a baby for a lap dance... they'll trade a finger for a fur coat...”). In fact, “Georgia” is one of their smoothest songs musically and one of the most jarring lyrically. Unforgettable. (Note: This was about the time the nation of Georgia was fighting the Russians over South Ossetia. Coincidence?)
On the same CD, “Thracian”, is “Hot Caught”, a breathtakingly frank praise to the sexual value of, mmm, getting caught. And so forth: “You're all that I see, when he's not with me...” “I like women... I like men in kilts – A little bit of fire, for myself...”
BTW, I asked them in an email if the CD name had to do with the ancient nation or with the phonetic sound (like thrashin'). The answer is apparently Yes:
“thracian pron. "thray-shun" refers to the ancient greek peoples but according to one friend, thrace is still around. and we like the meanings that the sound suggests (to us anyway)”.

Yep, they're fun. And brilliant. And sexy. And I sound way too much like a fanboy.
Fair warning: They'll do that to ya.


The official EAT site
http://www.eagleandtalon.com

Their official MySpace site (check out the video downloads - sound quality not great, but shows how they work):
www.myspace.com/eagleandtalon

A couple of other people's reviews:
Tom Whyman on Line of Best Fit
http://www.thelineofbestfit.com/2008/11/eagle-and-talon-thracian/

Sean on 3Hive
http://www.3hive.com/2008/12/eagle_and_talon.php

Next time we'll talk about Sleater-Kinney and Lora MacFarlane. I was very much into S-K for the past five years and still like them, though there's no new product since “The Woods”. They're the one everyone compares EAT to, to some degree or another. There are some obvious similarities, and there are great differences. Stay tuned.

J

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Christopher Heidler and Friends do Christian

  Hiya - and apologies to anyone actually reading this - I have not posted here in awhile. As of January 26 I am among the increasingly popular ranks of the unemployed... downsized because most of my company's clients were afraid or banking-impaired to do new projects. Since I have been working on mostly natural gas pipeline projects as a mapping designer, and people haven't stopped needing heat this winter, it doesn't make a lot of sense to me. But then, the economic gyrations of late seem to have little to do with logic anyway. Let's see, these people over here ruined the economy buying worthless paper, so let's give them lots more, of public money we have to borrow? Is anyone really looking out for the many "little guys" who got hurt? Maybe the stimulus bit will actually restart things. We'll see.
  It would appear that I'd have more time to do this, but then there's that whole looking-for-a-job thing. Eh. So.

  This seems an appropriate time to post a few words on religious music. Faith is a necessity at times like these, or at least the need is more in-your-face obvious. I can only speak with some certainty when evaluating that which is identifiable as Christian, since that is my background. I might later get into my take on some others, but with the caveat that I don't claim to have as much understanding of say, Hindu or Islamic music. I do recall about 30 years ago hearing an LP record done by the Shankar family (yes, Ravi Shankar's family) with lines like "I am missing you; Oh Krishna where are you?" and "Jaya jagadish hare, Jaya Jagadish hare..." or something like that. I think it was part of "Shankar Family & Friends", recorded in 1974. As a Christian, I felt a little weird about listening to it. At the same time, I was aware that Christian worship music could be having the same effect on someone with a different background. Maybe even the culturally-sophisticated Shankars. So it seemed only right, with Christianity asking others to consider its claims, to try to examine where they are coming from as well.

  Maybe it has something to do with being a Southerner that draws me to Christopher Heidler's worship music. Maybe it's the fervent genuine longing-for-the-divine quality that matters to me. Maybe it's how professionally well-done the results are from these obviously devoted folks from Georgia, USA. Probably all of those. Badly written or performed music, done ever so earnestly, doesn't make me want to listen to it. Neither does a polished recording with zero soul. Heidler's CD is well-done in every way that counts, with feeling. It's not only his work (Mike Kinnebrew's compositions are a major portion) but a group of close-knit, talented individuals. I'd like to say Lindsay Kinnebrew's brief vocal foreground appearance in "Wait for You" is exquisite. And I'm not just saying these things because it's hard to pan music related to religion. This is more about faith than religion... there is a difference.
  Going to the website of the Passion Church (www.passionchurch.com) mentioned on the CD, I notice it's a fairly slick site, shows happy people and people praying for each other with hands raised to heaven, and has a repetitive riff playing on an endless loop that's seemingly designed to irritate the hell out of you. At one point I saw a mute button for it, which should be on every page. I'd like to suggest they use some of the beautiful stuff from the worship instead, rotating a much larger set of tunes. I liked the goal stated as a text from Luke 10:27 - "Love the Lord with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself." That's what Yashua of Nazareth said was the most important law, something I wish all His followers took seriously.  

  To get back to Chris and this CD: Southern but not bogged in some self-conscious "Southern" tradition, inventive but not bizarre, passionate without raving, mellow and gentle without being a bore. Genuine. Good music any way you listen to it.  
  In 2004 I was searching for music to keep my head moving while I was working in front of the computer. I was on another site - it might have been IndieHeaven.com but I'm honestly not sure any more - and was referred to www.highestpraise.com where you can hear one song by Chris and that's about it. The site is primarily presenting itself as a worship resource, and very little is said about any of the artists and their work (hint - y'all could stand to work on that). I ordered this CD anyway, and haven't regretted it a bit. Everyone I've played it for has been delighted to hear it, and I haven't witnessed that consistency of approval very often at all. I'm thinking it's time for another one? I know you can't force it. But when faith meets a need, things happen. A few years ago, a friend at work was finishing leading a youth worship in his church. At the last minute, the pastor sent him a message that he needed him to do a "special music" moment to open the main service. As soon as he had gotten the message and was racking his brain to know what to do, a partition slid back, the spotlight hit him and he turned to face the audience with his guitar. At that moment, having nothing from his mind to work with, he was given a song of his soul, an elegant one, perfect for that time, and just did it. It doesn't often happen that way, but I have been told several times that a tune of mine, presented for the first time at worship, prepared the listeners for the exact message they would be hearing next - which I had no clue about beforehand. My point, I guess, is that thing about "ask and it shall be given you" can very much apply to art, and sometimes it's given without you even knowing to ask. There's a divine flow there. And Christopher Heidler's self-titled CD is in it.

CD Name: Christopher Heidler
Tunes:
I behold the love of God
Boast about this
Rejoice
Praise the Lord, O my soul
Great is Your Faithfulness
How Wonderful
Come to Me
Alone
Wait for You
I am an Offering

Chris Heidler on guitars and lead vocals
Tony Otero and Chris on Bass
John Brockham on drums
Lindsay Kinnebrew on background vocals


www.myspace.com/christopherheidler
  He has some neat links to others on there.
Chris teaches guitar at Atlanta Christian College, and sometimes plays guitar with Mike Kinnebrew's band:

http://www.myspace.com/mikekinnebrew
http://www.mikekinnebrew.com/media.html

Give 'em a listen. If you have any interest whatsoever in Christianity, you'll get into what is being said... if not, they're still enjoyable artists. Try some.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Day After

  It's done... Mr. Obama is sworn in, now Mr. Pres. Getting on with his new beginning. Closing the special-order calaboose at Gitmo. It's time.


  Any information any of the prisoners might have had has been obsolete for years. The only reason not to release the majority is that those who weren't mad at us before, have lots of reason to be mad now. If there's real evidence against any of them, I say try them according to the principles our nation was founded on, and if that isn't good enough, the charges are trumped-up crap and the cases should be thrown out. You say "If anyone knows anybody who might be connected with Al-Quaida, bring us the wretch and we'll take him away and pay you lots of money", are you going to get the perpetrators or some poor schmuck the bounty hunters don't like? Possibly both, almost certainly the innocent schmuck.


  I'm just hoping (there's that word) that they do it right and don't just move them to the same situation elsewhere and rename the tribunals something else.


  Okay. That rant is done. One more, about the music.


  I was folding laundry at a launderette with TVs (still don't have a telly and rarely miss it) and the inaugural ball was on two of 'em. Mr. O made it the first OPEN public presidential ball ever. He'd been saying he would make things more open - what a spectacular way to kick that off! Of course security was awesome, but it was the grand gesture that began his presidency, and I don't mean that facetiously at all.


  Mary J. Blige - her solo early in the show - I vote for best soul, best performance of the evening. Period. No one else, no matter how revered, gave the raw heart she put into that song. Not slamming anybody else, but she was the cream. So ta speak.

  Okay. Done.


Friday, January 16, 2009

21st Century Gypsy Soul

ME  TALK  PRETTY


Members: “Julia” [real name Uliana] Preotu on vocals, James Kluz on drums, Leon Lyazidi on guitars, Nate Meng on bass

 
 I didn't start out wanting to like this group as much as I do. Internal conversation:

 “It's just pop stuff - romance/lovelife/soap-opera subject matter. Typical pop. What's the big deal?”

 “Is being in love ever really shallow? It's as deep as the individuals involved. And you do like some love songs. Besides, they're fresh in how they do – I swear I think I heard a new riff or two. And the dynamics is good, not just loud O/D and not just soft and smooth till it's lame.”

 “Yeah okay two points. Or three. But isn't some of it a little too predictable, going from delicate modulation to steady shouting, then back through the cycle again? And since when do you like shouting?”

 “One point, but it's Artistic shouting done by a cute chick and not aimed at me like a weapon. So I'm good with that. Actually I might be becoming addicted to hearing her.”

 “Whaddya mean like a weapon?”

 “Like when someone is in your face yelling AT you and threatening your life and limb because they blame you for their problems and you never even met them. This is exploring feelings about a relationship and it's not even about me unless I want it to be.”

 “Like a lot of hip-hop/rap. You know that sounds racist.”

 “Everything sounds racist if you're thinking that way. My black neighbors and I get along at least as well as the white ones. I just have no desire, and no wish to develop a desire, to look at album covers with big black guys glaring at me and then pay to hear them yell epithets at me. If I wanted that I could go down the street and beat on somebody's door at 3 AM. I hear this young lady do what I consider infinitely more musical and do delicate lines and then strong lines then other stuff and it makes me happy. So I'm gonna play it again.”

 “You're incorrigible.”

 “Absolutely. And I find this band very encorriging, including about the state of original music today.”

 Try this: Look up their MySpace and PureVolume pages and have a listen. 

 Now I'm going to try again: “Me Talk Pretty” is an Indie group based in New York. MySpace says “unsigned” but they're on their second EP or album, depending on your definition (7 on the first one, 5 on the other). In other words, they're not sitting around waiting for some giant label to hand them money and tell them what to play. They're getting on with putting their creations in people's ears. The MySpace page has links to several indie outlets (hey, maybe I should start one and call it that). And the studio names on the current album are all recognizable rockstars in their fields: Arun Venkatesh producing, additional programming by Rhys Fulber, Mike Plotnikoff mixing. And hey, Warped Tour 2008! Not shabby at all.
 BTW, my son pointed out that there's a famous wedding picture of Elvis and Priscilla touching tongue tips – just like the two x-ray people on the cover of the current CD, “Ruby” (done in 2007). So the album is like an x-ray pic set of love/desire relationships? The 2005 “Ana” has different artwork and a different approach, more experimental. PureVolume lets you select groups of tunes by the album they're from, so you can distinguish the timing of the work you're listening to.

 The group has been together with the present lineup for three or four years and they're tight, the vocals by “Julia” are often strident but rarely strained, and they can indeed kick it out powerfully or with simple elegance as needed. It has been commented that Julia's voice is sometimes overshadowing the rest of the band. Probably true – but I truly like it that way, maybe 'cause I get into lyrics and want to hear them. And let's face it, spotlighting the attractive female front/singer is a formula that has worked for a host of highly regarded successful bands. Turn off ego, turn on the feeling, play your heart out behind the talented young lady singing who looks a lot better in a halter top than you do. It works. Especially when she's as earnest as this one.

 “Julia” is actually Uliana Preotu, 26, a genuine Gypsy from Romania. I think I see the source of her flair for dramatic gestures and keeping the listener entertained in the best sense of the term. If you check out the videos posted on their MySpace and PureVolume pages you can catch her and the band in the minute details of the Warped Tour and her narration, often on-camera, keeps the pace and the interest moving.

 About the material: It's good, but the band would still probably make you like it even if it were mediocre or if they were doing covers. I was reminded how Janis Joplin took the old standard “Summertime” and cranked it into her own energy and it came out completely different than when anybody else did it. MTP's tunes are good, but the band's tightly done inventive licks and Uliana's dynamic treatment of the hook-y lyrics combine for a compelling set of tunes that grows on you, bigger than the sum of its parts.

  Here's where:

 www.metalkpretty.com
 Will be a standalone site someday, but right now it simply redirects to:
 http://www.myspace.com/metalkpretty

 http://www.purevolume.com/metalkpretty

 http://www.artistdirect.com/nad/music/artist/card/0,,3530008,00.html

  In case you're not familiar with ArtistDirect, it's newsy, a lot of varied content, with a base of album info. But I can't order the MTP albums there.
“Ana” is on Amazon.com.


  Uliana's page:
  www.myspace.com/stayfragile

  And the guys:
  www.myspace.com/jameskluz

  www.myspace.com/leonlyazidi

  www.myspace.com/natemeng

 “So after all that, did it sound too gushy?”

 “Completely. Like a Sunday Supplement interview PR piece. Like so-and-so is even prettier and nicer in person kinda crap.”

 “Sorry. But I'm not taking anything back. This is really good stuff, very – involving.”

 “They're not Lacuna Coil.”

 “No, they're Me Talk Pretty. And I bet you thought of them because MTP has the Big Enveloping Experience thing going on. Not Lacuna Coil's, their own Experience.”

 “They're not experienced enough to have experience.”

 “The quality of experience is not always dependent on its length – it depends on how smart you are. And in music for example how talented in what you're doing.”

 “Whatever. I'm going to bed now. Goodnight already.”

 And with that, Me Myself and I went to bed.

 G'night.


  J

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The Pianist

Evgeny Kissin

 Initially, I want to address the recording by Kissin with the Moscow Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra that was my introduction to his work. It was done almost two decades ago when Evgeny was 13, about a year after he began to came to the attention of national leaders in Russia and the larger circle of international music figures.
 
 It is # 60051-2-RC in the RCA Victor Red Seal Series [Melodiya VDC-1330]: Sergei Prokofiev's Piano Concerto # 3, Visions Fugitives and Dance, piano by Evgeny Kissin and Moscow Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra on everything else (Andrei Chistakov conducting). And it has two movements at the end that are written by Kissin himself, as "Two Inventions".

 In the second-to-last scene of the movie "10", Bo Derek's character is saying she likes to use certain music, certain composers, for certain events going on in her life - this kind for housework, that one for exercising, etc. So her male visitor naturally wants to know about what she has playing now. "So what do you like to do to Prokofiev?" Her calm answer was "F___."
 If ANYTHING could make Prokofiev sound sexy and like something I'd want to develop an appreciation for, that should do it. But... no. Prokofiev, like most "Modern Classical" composers of the early-to-mid 1900s, doesn't reach my soul like say, earlier classical composers, or Amel Larrioux, or 38 Special or Sara Evans or Disturbed. They mostly have me wanting to look around for where the movie is that I'm apparently missing. It doesn't help that Prokofiev is supposed to have great cleverness and a sense of humor. So did Syd Barrett of early Pink Floyd, and the latter is more fun to listen to, I say.
 Listening for how the orchestra and Kissin express the material, I can appreciate it in a technical sense. I can hear the alacrity, the passion, the critical mass of musicianship, but despite the talent here Prokofiev still isn't a composer I warm up to. Sorry.
 HOWEVER. At the end of the CD are the 13-year-old's own "Two Inventions." Suddenly we are propelled back through time a couple of centuries or so. I hear the influence of several of the great classical composers, there's definitely some Chopin shadowing it, yet more the warm feel of a Mozart piece. It makes the whole CD worthwhile for me. BTW, he was playing his own compositions at 7.
 I scanned through the reviews of his live concerts. Uh, everyone has an opinion. Some of them are useful, some not. In general, those that describe rather than judge are useful On the other hand... Some of them would like to see Kissin interpret more with his head and less with his heart. My take on that is that if he did, it wouldn't be Kissin playing, it would be their flawed interpretation of Kissin. If they know the One True Way the composition should be interpreted, by all means they should walk up to the piano with THEIR boundless talent and play it their way, and see if others agree that theirs is THE perfect interpretation. No? Then shut up and enjoy the one who may be the most formidible classical pianist of our time. He is awesome not merely for his proficiency, but for his art.
 One thing they agree on (and so do I) is that he is passionate, lots of dynamics (loud and soft), pours his heart and soul into it and is likely to finish a concert exhausted, with sweat dripping, and may limit his encores to possibly three or four because his energy is spent. No cool technical renditions here. He gives it all he's got, and that's a lot. I find it enjoyable and satisfying, especially when I also like the composer.
 His early concerts specialized in Chopin, with everyone being stunned at this child bringing Chopin to life like nobody else could. In an interview more recently, he commented that he didn't have Beethoven mastered yet, so as to play him "adequately". But, a 2008 CD features exactly the Ludwig... I look forward to hearing it. It's "The Complete Piano Concertos" with the London Symphony Orchestra.

 You can hear a taste of his work on Beethoven and others on his website, which includes a discography:
   
 www.kissin.dk/

 The samples are medium-res 128k full-length mp3s, btw.

 And a few more on his MySpace site:
 http://profile.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=user.viewProfile&friendID=409069779

 This appears to be the Sony/BMG Music site for him:
  http://www.kissinmusic.com/


 Wiki has a short but decent article on him, with some good links:
 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evgeny_Kissin

 Which includes the link to this article that tells more than most:

  http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2004/jan/02/classicalmusicandopera.russia

 

Okay. More later. Peace and love to ya.


  J