Archive for August, 2008

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Panda Bear – Person Pitch

August 26, 2008

I know the last thing that anyone needs from me right now is a review of Panda Bear’s Person Pitch, and that I am a year and a half late on this, but I simply feel I must address this album.

After thoroughly listening through Person Pitch, Noah Lennox’s third solo album, several times, three things ultimately struck me most.

The first was how quickly this album seemed to pass by. On the first listen, I passively lent it my ears while doing other busy work. I knew I liked what I heard, but it seemed to have ended after fifteen minutes. After looking through the tracklist, I realized that over forty five minutes had passed in actuality. And on many listens since then, I have also felt similarly, even though I have been paying very close attention to the music, that it seems like it must go by in under a half hour.

I can attribute this strange phenomenon to a number of factors, the first of which is Panda Bear’s wide use of sampling and repetition throughout the album. When I saw Animal Collective live at Pitchfork, I found it quite interesting that the show was really just shy of a laptop show; all three members of the band were at one point in front of a soundboard, the Geologist actually for the entire show. Avey Tare was actually quite versatile, sometimes on a guitar or drums. Panda Bear spent most of the show in front of his soundboard, but picked up on percussion a couple times.

What is interesting about Panda  Bear’s behavior as an electronic artist, and I firmly believe he can be considered some type of electronic artist now, is that he actually doesn’t sample more than a little bit throughout the album. But when he does, he combines his sample choices with concocted or found sounds, and he never lets the album be completely electronic or completely organic. He builds up layers of sound much like Animal Collective did on Strawberry Jam, although somewhat less violent here, and then places them carefully over his rhythms. Many of his loops end in dissonant or floaty chords, thus making them that much more versatile and fluid. What many of them reminded me of before anything else was the album Pygmalion by Slowdive, and its accompanying demo sessions. It is only marginally likely that Panda Bear was ever actually influenced by this album, but judging by his use of these floaty vocal loops and many of the subtle melodies buried beneath the surfaces of many songs, it sure wouldn’t surprise me. In any case, all of these elements come together to make a rhythmic result that begs for the listener to do two things at once, relax and listen. In this sense, time is not a concern. Panda Bear does what he needs to do, and lets the songs end on their own. Sometimes it takes twelve minutes, and sometimes four. Perhaps the juxtaposition of long songs next to shorter songs has something to do with my loss of sense of time while listening to this album.

The second thing that surprised me was how accurately the album cover depicts the sound of the album. I can think of several other albums that have done such just as effectively, but none of those other album covers were quite as complex as the one for Person Pitch, making it that much more impressive.

The meat of the album are the layers of sound built in each song. Sounds are built upon each other, sometimes used for one time, several bars, or the rest of the song. The samples and effects come from all different directions, parts of life. Some may sound like the sound of water in a bubble bath, while others may sound like animals, the clattering of chains, the sound that Pop Rocks make in your mouth, fireworks going off, doorbells, and whatever else Panda Bear has found or created. The effects, however, are treated with so much watery reverberation that deciphering them becomes difficult. I can liken this to the experience of seeing Animal Collective live, and not really being able to tell what was going on in the music simply because it was so thick, loud, and confusing. This may have been somewhat of a flaw live, but it sure made the music sound that much more awe inspiring, and on record it isn’t a problem. However, I do find myself unable to pick out what I am hearing much of the time while listening to this album. It begs to be turned up, because you can never really hear exactly what is happening. After you turn it up, you still can’t really make sense of things, but this is an album that grows in power exponentially with volume simply because for every notch on your knob you turn, you are that much more submerged in the music and what is going on.

Lastly, I have been simply amazed at how happy it makes me to listen to the album.

People seem to have forgotten to harmonize their voices with one another. They are getting better with it lately (See Fleet Foxes pretty swell release this year that has been lapped up by the hipster crowd this year, with very good vocal harmonies. Actually, they played on the same stage as Animal Collective at Pitchfork.), but still, people forget that vocal harmonies sell. Panda Bear isn’t the freaking Mamas and Papas, but he harmonizes with himself in lovely ways that we don’t hear often enough. And his smooth, playful vocals are really what make this album the pop gem it is.

Lyrically, Panda Bear has the balls to sing about things that actually matter. And at that, values that his audience might actually need to hear. And the main theme of the album is so basic, so fundamental that most everyone, including myself, have glazed over it in our minds a long time ago. Be yourself. Don’t let anyone else tell you what is cool, what you should listen to, or make you feel inferior. Good Girl/Carrots seems to be the most prevalent in this philosophy. After the whimsical and fun run of “Good Girl,” the next movement “Carrots,” after a heartwarming reference to Mitch Hedberg, rouses a widespread defense against the kind of people who try to tell you what to listen to, to make you cling to a scene. The kinds of people that try to make themselves feel superior by collecting “all those first editions.” Possibly the most affecting line is an indirect put down against “those mags and websites who try to shape your style,” like perhaps Pitchforkmedia.com, or better yet, this website right here. The best and most representative line, however, is sandwiched in the middle of this song; “All I need to know, I knew so early.” These are the kind of lyrics that we heard when we were small children on TV. Why doesn’t anyone sing about these issues anymore?

But what really makes this album special is that it doesn’t falter even once. All of these elements come together to make a collection of seven lovely, moving songs that keep their momentum. The opening Comfy In Nautica sounds like a glorious call over a cliff to some canyon. Then, Take Pills’ two separate movements end up being as wonderful as one another, the first a slow relaxing piece, and then a marching, so-catchy-it-should-be-illegal second piece. And then of course comes the main song on the album, the sprawling Bros, for which my praise cannot be effectively articulated into written word. The almost tropical sounding aural cascades of I’m Not act as the keystone of the album. Good Girl/Carrots comes after it, and is just as moving as Bros. In the final stretch of the album, we have possibly the two most digestible and overall lovely pieces on the album, the ambient sound collage Search For Delicious, and a tiny, quite moving lullaby type song, Ponytail, which addresses the difficulties and wonders associated with change.

I think this is the one album of 2007 that I feel I can be unnecessarily enthusiastic about. It really is that good. Saying it is important or groundbreaking might be a little premature. But what seems to be the trend in pop music lately is either going toward the extremes of wildly experimental or almost ridiculously palatable. Sometimes we get people hitting pots and pans in complex polyrhythms, and sometimes we get The Jonas Brothers. Pop music has become a hedgemaze, and people seem to think that they need to base their decisions on which way to go according to how much is going to sell. Panda Bear, it seems, doesn’t really care. He was just taking a walk, and he stumbled upon the beautiful garden in the center. If any album could introduce free form and experimentalism into the world of glorious catchy pop music, Person Pitch is that album.

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Nas – Illmatic

August 21, 2008

New York MC Nas’ debut album Illmatic is often hailed by critics as well as fans as one of the best hip hop albums of all time for a reason. In that way, it strikes a chord with the critics because little to nothing in mainstream rap at the time was as intelligent or well produced, and it garnered as many fans as it did because it was probably the catchiest, most smooth listen the hip hop industry had ever heard. Both sides of the coin play themselves out equally importantly. The album is loaded with catchy hooks, loops and beats, which are bolstered by the now legendary foursome of rap producers DJ Premier, Large Professor, Pete Rock, and Q-Tip. They treat the samples with care, making most of the album sound simultaneously pure and nostalgic (as the cover suggests) with their hazy jazz productions. The backbeats range from dark compositions (N.Y. State of Mind, Represent) to lighter jazz pieces (Life’s a Bitch, Memory Lane), and both modes work effectively. The performance of these producers alone could have been enough to make this album a classic, but Nas remains the centerpiece of the album, with a smooth flow and consistently contemplative lyrics throughout. He mostly raps about what it is like to live in the ghetto, but he does it with sophistication and care, and even when he indulges in self promotion, the results are cool and composed, as opposed to the outwardly ridiculous trash talking of most gangster rap. Even on the rare occasions that the beats slip up short of excellence (One Time 4 Your Mind), Nas keeps his words and delivery solid enough to keep each song solid. But what makes the album particularly surprising is how equally matched the DJs are with the MC. Each song has at least a few memorable hooks, beats, instrumentations, or details, and several instantly quotable rhymes. Leaving the album at a scant forty minutes with no more than ten songs was a smart move too; the brevity leaves the listener that much more fixated on what is there, and thirsting for more. Latter efforts would not be as popular or influential, but at least for the span of Illmatic the world belongs to Nas.

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Messages in bottles

August 16, 2008

I’ll let you guess what is from the inbox and what is from the outbox. These are not in chronological order.

 

Praise the lord. At the moment, I have all vowels.

I am so utterly, completely stupid and incapable of leading my own life.

I would love to see what havoc texas weather would wreak upon your hair hahahaha

It really was- more like some avant-garde performance than a concert. Turns out she was fine, but her phone got drenched in sweat and died, go figure.

And I just urinated on foreign grass.

Oh my goodness! Your birthday is tomorrow!!! 😀

-lies bleeding no ground- ‘et tu alexe’ hehe i understand. I lack boobies

Good. I miss you and i am glad that i will be seeing you soon.

Peaches and cream. You freaky deaky afro dynasty ass master 3900

Anything about Russia? Or Georgia?

Apparently Russia is invading Georgia…the country, not the state.

I was very, VERY confused.

My uncle is watching UFC. It seems to be a combination of gay porn, abuse, and product placement.

One’s mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions.

I’m doing filing at this volunteer place and in the files there is a lady named Innocent Doudou

What is this, a parade?! women have left their values to the wind. Vavas in public 0.0

You little shit im going to college in a week!

Queen Gohma wants to be all up inside your bod

You. Me. September. Chicago. Rocket Summer. We’re going. And we’re kidnapping James Blunt.

The only name gayer than Geoffrey is Stepan.

Listening is An Act of Love, American Photobooth, Chicken Soup for the Nascar Soul, A New History of India, Free Money For Everybody, Twenty Years Before The Mast

That was an awesome womens archery final. My nipples will never be the same

I’m in shock

There are some shady characters parading around the Hinsdale oasis.

Good. An old woman at a jewelry store tried to sign me up for a preferred card. She wanted my social security #. So I left.

It ended up well. I bought five more music boxes. I now have nine. How are you?

Another friend of mine refuses to take medicine. ever. even when shes sick. i find that interesting even if I dont agree w/ it

People saying strange things during sex

I want a music box that has ashley tisdale in a snowglobe and plays Im Sorry I Love You

I understand that Russia and Georgia are now on the verge of all-out war.

Oh kind friend lets fly to the moon!

I HATE hot butter on my breakfast toast.

They do have california pizza kitchen and its called california pizza kitchen

Haha no i wish. I have been married off to the mop & we have children. Rubber gloves, Sponge& Bucket ug

Thanks for calling. I was asleep in my own bed when you called. How are you?

Hehe. Yeah it was sad. Usa was about to medal but shot an 8. Got fourth i think.

“the best things in life-aren’t things”

Thats surprising. yeah dont put up w/ that stuff…hes cool but thats not nice at all

I just saw Vincent Gallo in a Belvedere Vodka commercial.

I received herpes from Barinade. 😦

Ok cool! Ive never seen it 🙂 ucla is awesome! I love it here. Ill be back saturday afternoon so maybe next week?

________ _______ wrote on your Facebook wall: hey Alex, wow.. you could be tht naughty i didnt knw 😀  have a luk urself… http://www.google…(‘n’ for next)

What is easier/more reasonable to worry about…things that are in your control or out of your control?

Chicago CAN be green. Lots of rusted metal and chain link fences sprawling with vines and other green things

Breathing deeply, feeling the life return to my body tissues


Four things:

1. Good morning 🙂

2. I love you

3. Smile. Try not to let work get you down.

4. Happy four months. Always,

-T

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News from the home front

August 11, 2008

Thought I’d explain why I haven’t been writing as much lately.

I’ve been working again, and that has been absorbing a lot of my time, but that doesn’t really last more than…well, at least five hours a day, at most eight, three days a week. Theres still a lot of downtime, but I’ve been either lazy or expressively content enough that I don’t feel the need to write quite as much. I wrote a short story about a month ago. That is a pretty rare thing for me. Maybe I’ll post that here eventually.

I went to Lollapalooza. I was thinking about writing on that, but it wouldn’t be plausible. I would have to write a book about it, so much happened. But at the very least I can say what bands I saw and a little bit about each.

  • Black Lips (Loud, fast, fun.)
  • Rogue Wave (Dull.)
  • Yeasayer (The band to beat for Friday. Only Radiohead beat them.)
  • The Black Keys (Loved em, I guess I should get into them. They are much like The White Stripes, which is my religion, so they’re my type of thing.)
  • Cat Power (Boring. We left after fifteen minutes.)
  • The Raconteurs (Pretty great. Played a long set and were enthusiastic.)
  • Radiohead (Best show I’ve ever been to. They put on a great show, but it mostly meant the world to me to finally see my favorite band live.)
  • Mason Jennings (Pretty boring. Nice little folk songs, but it wasn’t worth my sticking around for it to finish.)
  • The Foals (Pretty fun.)
  • DeVotchKa (The best band of Saturday. Very unique band with lots of heart, and fun live.)
  • Explosions In The Sky (Sounded exactly like the album. Very melodramatic.)
  • Does it Offend You, Yeah? DJ Set (Uh, entertaining enough.)
  • Lupe Fiasco (Not really into that kind of music, but he was fun.)
  • Rage Against The Machine (Played great, but the concert itself was miserable. People were getting hurt bad. I got gum in my hair. Fifty thousand person mosh pit. Not a lot of fun. I left halfway through to see…)
  • Wilco (Great, as always!)
  • Amadou And Mariam (Fun! Sounded great from the lawn.)
  • Black Kids (Horrible. worst “black” band there. Well, only bad “black” band there. I don’t think I was disappointed with any band more than these guys, but then again I didn’t know their stuff when I saw them. I just wanted to complete the “Black Trifecta” as I called it.)
  • Iron And Wine (Mellow. I liked it enough. I was a little bored by the end, but I want to get some albums now.)
  • Love And Rockets: Introduced by Perry Farrell! (Holy freakin balls. Amazing. The left field hit of the weekend. Played a blisteringly loud, fast, hard set. I love their music, and I look forward to getting into them. Great, great show.)
  • Nine Inch Nails (Awesome! their light show rivaled Radiohead’s, and they looked like they were having a lot of fun up there. Very enthusiastic. And a cool set.)

I do have some other things in the works. In particular, a big feature on my favorite EPs of all time. I made a top twenty list and I am progressively writing reviews for the ones I haven’t reviewed yet, and have been re-using old reviews or writing new ones for the ones that I had already written on. I’d expect myself to start posting those one by one soon. I’ve also got a couple other things tucked away that I have been working on in the long term, and I have gotten several new albums lately that I have been listening to. I finally bought the last of the Amon Tobin albums that I didn’t have and I plan on getting to know them better and possibly reviewing some of those.

I leave for college pretty soon. I don’t think that should effect what goes on here really. I’m going to be busy, but at the same time being in a new city where I don’t know anyone is probably going to leave me with a lot of desire to write things down, as I sometimes get. I would expect myself to actually write more once I get there, when I’m not studying, working, or doing whatever else I do.

Just thought I’d assure you that I’m still alive.

-A

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Arvo Pärt – Fratres

August 5, 2008

Arvo Part rarely ever slips up on any of his releases, and this collection is another great release. It comprises mostly of renditions of Fratres, some of which are arguably necessary for the piece to have everything it has to say gotten out, but some are a little less exciting than others. We all know which version of Fratres succeeds the most completely…The solo violin on track two is probably the most crystalized emotion of all of Part’s tintinnabuli pieces. However, other versions are also interesting…Cello and Piano and String Quartet are also nice renditions. But the album is exhausting to listen to all in one place. There is such a thing as too much Fratres, even for Part fans. The other three pieces in the collection are equally as notable and could have been given as much attention. Festina Lente is a wonderfully tragic piece, while Summa is a bit more abrasive but equally emotional. The collection is clinched with the classic recording of Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten, probably the finest tintinnabuli piece. Part composes simply wonderfully here, cascading the strings down towards a watery abyss where all of our emotions rest; fear, sadness, happiness, anger, love. It is all consolidated at the bottom, and it is a pleasure to reach it. This might not be the best Part collection to date, but fans of Fratres who want to hear the piece given more attention couldn’t go wrong with this.