Saturday, August 30, 2008

Raglani - "Of Sirens Born" CD

Imagine my surprise to learn that this amazing and powerful set of drifting, narcotic kraut/dronescapes were created less than 4 hours from me - in (mostly) sleepy St. Louis, Missouri! Come to think of it, I've probably been in the company of Mr. Raglani at some shows in recent years...

Anyways, composer Joseph Raglani has been active with what local papers call 'noise' for some time, but this all-too-brief (35 minutes left me wanting more) selection of free-flowing, tonally-balanced sounds is far too nuanced to be consigned to that broad category. Inspired by the films of the great Werner Herzog and other filmmakers as much as by music, Raglani's organic-sounding tracks aren't so much melodic or rhythmic as evocative - mysterious and haunting, sometimes dark and other times light and full of life. These 5 tracks flow together nicely, actually being more involved and involving than simply ambient. These are wonderful tones to imagine and dream with. Maybe you like to meditate? Even that seems possible here. Congrats to Joseph on a supremely enjoyable debut journey on Kranky - may there be many more! (Kranky)

Raglani website

Pegasus Farms Records (Raglani's personal label)

Killroy - "Football Chants & Angry Rants" CD

Here's a SoCal punk band that's been around for 25 years now, and I've honestly never heard of them. Shame on me. These boys stand tall and true to their oi! UK-style singalong roots, with big choruses and tales of drinkin', fuckin', and fightin' (and football). Forget the heavyhanded political messages, these boys bring back the old, irresponsible days. The footie anthem 'Fighting In The Stands' opens the album with energy. And later tracks are similarly fun and light, with plenty of drunken attitude. Fun street punk in an old-school mold. (Mental Records)

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Touchers - "Blithe" CD

A lively and likeable release of all-over-the-place indie rock from a Montana act that released 5 other CDs before vocalist/guitarist 'Bipolar' Ben Spangler passed away in 2007. Spangler's wild and wooly vocal style is central to the Touchers' combination of rootsy rock, punk, and classic indie mid-tempo,and lines can be drawn to acts like Nirvana, Pixies, and even the Dead Milkmen (believe it or not) in spots, but these boys assimilated all of these and more into their own individual stew. Recorded by Seattle legend Jack Endino, these 14 songs certainly sound great, and Spangler's unhinged demeanor is an asset, to be sure. 'Vampire' is a superb and particularly Pixies-inspired bit of frantic dementia, and musically, 'Blithe' is a solid if nondescript mixing of American influences, packing plenty of punch and dynamic. Enjoyable work, and a shame there can't be more. (Mental Records)


"The Dali Dimension - Decoding The Mind Of A Genius" DVD

This 50-odd minute documentary doesn't so much look at the life of this often misunderstood genius, but rather it looks closely at the Catalan painter's ties, affiliations, and inspirations from more scientific realms. Beyond being the most widely-recognized and famous of the surrealists, Dali's dalliances and friendships with leading scholars from all fields -- scientists, mathematicians, philosophers, and quantum physicists -- inspired his own art as he searched for common threads between all of life's subjects, both scholarly and literally. From DNA to the subconscious mind, Dali was simultaneously student, fan, and visual accompaniment/co-conspirator.

'The Dali Dimension' is a fine portrait of the man who continually re-invented his work as he learned, grew, and metamorphosed though his storied and eccentric life. Films of Dali, as well as interviews with those close to him show a portrait of an artist consumed by his vision and guided by science like possibly no other artist since Da Vinci.

I was initially exposed to Dali way back in my teens, and was instantly drawn into his otherworldly, fantastic dreamscapes, and the way he created worlds never before seen, and with so many hidden layers just waiting to be unpeeled and deciphered. I believe he was truly one of the great minds/souls of this (last) century, and his paintings are still magickal in most profound ways, to me. (The Salvador Dali Society)

Check his website for further info:


BEER 101, or, How To Be Your Own Beer Connoisseur

In our culture, the word beer comes loaded with a lot of connotations. Some may think of the 'usual' suspects. You know, the big names that advertise on TV during the games. But the history and breadth of beer goes back a very long time. In fact, the history of beer can be traced back as far as 6000 years. It's been a vital part of advanced civilizations on every continent on Earth, from the ancient Egyptians to the present day, with no sign of letting up. It's a multi-billion dollar business, and an endless source of enjoyment for millions. But there's more than meets the eye (or taste buds).

If you don't know your weisse from Budweiser, it's my honor to bring you this beer primer. Basically, beer can be broken down into two types - the ales and the lagers. What's the difference, you ask? Well, they are subtle, but actually quite distinctive. Both can have a wide array of tastes and colors, from slightly golden to deep black. And both can be found on the beer lists at most restaurants. The difference lies chiefly in fermentation, as yeast is used to break down sugars during the brewing process. Ales are top-fermented, meaning the yeast rises to the top of the beer while fermenting. Lagers are bottom-fermented, so the yeast settles to the bottom while brewing. What does all this mean, though?

We'll start with the ales. These top-floating yeast strains require warmer temperatures to interact with the sugars, and these beers are subsequently better to drink at slightly warmer temperatures. Ales typically are a bit stronger, and often more complex in flavor than most lagers. A good ale can come in a variety of styles, and a beer beginner is sure to find something to love among these distinctive styles.

Pale ales are usually marked by an abundance of hops (which are a type of flower used in the process that gives beer a distinctive bitterness, acidity, and floral aroma). Pale ales can be considered 'sour' to those who aren't familiar with the flavor. Golden ales are a little lighter in taste, as a rule, and easier on the palate. Red and brown ales are medium-bodied, and may appeal to the average drinker a little better than pales, due to their more balanced taste and a combination of sweetness and bitterness. Brown ales can have more of a caramel or slightly chocolate-type of taste, and are also medium-bodied, while porters are often nearly black in color, and can be known for more chocolate or coffee-like tastes (due to dark malts used in the brew process) and heavier disposition (so they won't be ideal for those watching their waistlines or dieting). A close cousin to the porters are the similarly-blackened stouts, which are even heavier, and sometimes more hoppy/bitter and burnt in taste than their other ale brethren. These coffee-or-chocolate-toned beers are often very opaque in color, and can be tough on beginners, so it's wiser to build up to this type of beer. In short, ales are heavier in nature, and best-suited for drinking at warmer temperatures. Ales can be especially delicious on cooler evenings, or with spicier foods. The wide array of ales out there (each with different spices and flavor dispositions) can be tricky to place alongside meals, but keep in mind that the weight and richness of these ales will be best paired with lighter fare, so if you're going all buffet-style, it's probably best to keep it light. As a general rule, the darker the beer, the richer the taste. It's not a guarantee, but for any beginner, it's a fairly safe starting point.

By contrast, lagers are the lighter, more transparent of the beer family. Lagers go better with warmer weather (especially as they are meant to be consumed at colder temperatures). They are less filling than their ale cousins, and often contain less alcohol. Most of the popular American beers are lagers, so just about all of us begin our beer journeys with this brewing style. Within the lager family, there are also a number of stylistic distinctions, many of which serve to confuse and bewilder beer novices, but here's a quick breakdown. Bocks are stronger and darker than most lagers, and can be heavier and more alcoholic. Pilseners are lighter in color (sometimes quite transparent and pale), and with more of a hoppy bitterness. Most mainstream lagers are patterned after the old European pilsener style. There are lots of other variations on these themes, but in general, you would probably enjoy the lighter lagers in Summertime, or while eating heavier foods, since these will tend to sit lighter in the stomach. For example, bar food is notoriously heavy, thus, lagers are a good bet to go with those burgers or onion rings.

So, in reality, beers can be enjoyed much like wines - tasty treats to accompany and accent your meals. It may take you some trial-and-error attempts as far as food pairings go, but with some patience (and taste buds willing), you will be on your way to being your own beer connoisseur, and ready to branch out beyond the 'regular'. There's a wealth of fine beers out there, many hard to find and obscure, and from all over the world. Plenty of restaurants and liquor establishments locally serve a vast array of names, styles, and flavors, so there's always something new and exciting to try. But don't just listen to me - please your own palate! Prost!

Bird Show - "untitled" CD

Chicagoan Ben Vida has enlisted the help of some like-minded Kranky roster-mates (drone master Robert AA Lowe of Lichens, laptop composer Greg Davis) for his third LP as Bird Show. But his now-trademarked tribal/primal/psychedelic freak-scapes are still just as subtle and effective as before.

'Clouds And Their Shadows' could almost be described as a blissed-out bit of space-jazz (with regards to Sun Ra), but beyond that, Bird Show's sound is that of a primitive trance/ altered state, with elements and instruments from distant cultures siphoning through the blurry haze. The only obvious structure is the rhythm, which is generally congas or hand drumming, and there are voices here (which are non-lyrical), which could very well be summoning ancient spirits. 'Green Vine' is more jammy tribal out-jazz, whereas 'Berimbau' is an exotic raga/drone that floats and drifts into the subconscious quickly in it's brief 2-minute span. A fine and immersive selection of explorations into inner space. (Kranky)

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Sky Cries Mary - "Small Town" CD

Rewinding to the mid-1990's, Seattle. Musically, the 'boom' of post-flannel rock bands is in full swing. Bands both unconventional and uncommercial (Melvins, anyone?) are being signed to major labels and getting videos placed on MTV.

Fronted by the lovely earthy vocalist/painter Anisa Romero, and co-fronted by conceptualist and visual artist husband Roderick Romero, Seattle's Sky Cries Mary created spacious and jammy psychedelic space-rock with a beautiful ambient world vibe, and heavenly dual male/female vocal interplay. No 'grunge' here, thanks. The group even experimented with electronic and hip-hop music around the edges of their forward-thinking sound, and this connection and interest led to some fine remixes as well as Anisa's collaborations with Seattle ambient composer Jeff Greinke as Hana.

Sky Cries Mary's unique and accessable sounds didn't find their 'commercial' audience, though, as their doomed but lovely 1997 release on Warner, 'Moonbathing On Sleeping Leaves', was effectively the end of the band (save for a collection of remixes and B-sides released a year or two later).

They split for some years, only to re-group to release an EP and a live recording (this time on their own personal label) in the early 2000's. 'Small Town' is the first full-length studio release from the band in 10 years, and it picks up amicably where 'Moonbathing' left off. The opening title track is a beautifully understated pop song that reaffirms that SCM are back, and they are more mature, melodic, and developed than before. Some would call this more 'commercial', and that could be another way of putting it. Nonetheless, this is Sky Cries Mary through and through. Old fans will not be let down, and hopefully some new ones will come aboard.

Catchy tunes are everywhere on 'Small Town', and the combination of Anisa's soaring, ethereal vocals and Roderick's rougher counterpoint provide an enveloping and balanced presence. 'You Are' is another transcendent pop-love-song that could find itself some radio play, even. 'Heart Above' is a sweet little vocal track by Anisa that adds mood and depth in-between songs, while the whimsical sound-poetry of Roderick's 'Land Of All' drops in some exotic vibes. A joyous release deserving of your ears. (Hoodooh Music)

Monday, August 25, 2008

Dead Leaf Echo - "Pale Fire" CDEP

Soft and pillowy shoegaze-pop from NYC, this 6-song release conjure visions of old UK 4AD act Lush, with shimmery guitars and moody (but male) vocals, especially on 'Thought Talk', which features similarly angelic female harmonies. Dead Leaf Echo create richly melodic veils of sparkly guitars and lethargic vocals that seem to convey both indifference and sorrow. Whether that's a good thing is up to your interpretation, but these folks create some sounds that definitely have few peers in today's musical climate.

A mix of their track 'Pale Fire' by electronica producer Ulrich Schnauss is easily the highlight here, and he shrouds the band in a dense, multi-layered mist of intense sound and holes them up in it - much more to my liking than the lighter, more pop-oriented indie breath the band seems to create on their own. And the climax here is breathtaking, as well. Wow! There are 200 copies of this one, so you may need to act fast. (Dead Leaf Echo)