Autechre: elseq

May 28th, 2016

The last couple of years have been busy ones for Autechre.  Exai was an album of staggering scope, made even more audacious by the fact that it was uniformly good.  Not many musical acts in any genre can still turn out solid material with such consistency three decades into their career.

The group has always been known for its live shows, but they've never seemed keen on releasing recordings of them.  Then, without notice or fanfare, they released nine different live sets on the same day.

The marketing and distribution were interesting.  No physical copies are available.  The music can …

Pete Seeger, 1919-2014

January 28th, 2014

Folk singer Pete Seeger died this week. He leaves behind a profound, if mixed, legacy. He was instrumental in the folk music revival of the 1940's, and yes, he was a Communist.

That last point is something people will never let go, but does it even matter anymore? He was hardly the only artist of his time affiliated with the movement.

His father was Charles Seeger, a musicologist who worked with Alan Lomax to preserve traditional American folk music. Seeger was also a respected conductor and composer who taught Henry Cowell and influenced the writing of New Musical Resources.

His mother was Ruth …

The Grammys

January 28th, 2014

As a matter of course, I don't pay much attention to these. The whole nomination process reeks of high-school politics, and the most deserving artists are nearly always ignored in favor of radio-friendly unit shifters.

However, the classical awards can be surprising. Last year saw the ensemble Eighth Blackbird receive the attention they deserve, and there's been a decided shift towards rewarding the work of living composers and independent labels. Maria Schneider's Winter Morning Walks may be the biggest news. It took four awards, one of which went quite deservedly to Dawn Upshaw.

For a project commanding that level of talent, …

Magnus Lindberg's Clarinet Trio

January 7th, 2014

There's modern music to understand, and modern music to enjoy. All too often, those things are mutually exclusive.

But not always. Sometimes we get music that fires on all cylinders and lights up both sides of the brain. For me, Bartók and Piston have always done that, and lately so has Lindberg.

Lindberg's earlier work was about grand gestures on a large scale, but it often left me cold. Over the last decade or so, he's scaled things back a bit. What's left is a luminous, buoyant language that reminds me of Messiaen at his most accessible.

At …

Review: Ve Palor by Arovane

November 6th, 2013

It's been nearly a decade since Uwe Zahn's last record. In a field that demands constant innovation, that's a timespan of geological proportions. Most electronic artists would feel compelled to reinvent themselves to conform with current trends, but Zahn hasn't.

And there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. When you're this good, you don't have to settle for being a revolutionary.

Zahn has an odd but satisfying way of playing fragmentary melodies and rhythms against each other, but he never sinks to the rigors of the avant garde. His arrangements are marked by an ear for craftsmanship, and even the most …

Review: L-event by Autechre

October 15th, 2013

It's standard practice for Autechre to follow up an album with an EP. Sometimes, they're standalone works. In other cases, they're reinterpretations of the prior album's material, such as Envane. Part of the challenge is finding the parallels.

L-event ("eleventh?") appears to be a bit of both. "tac Lacora" sounds like a remix of "1 1 is," if that track were to start out as warped electro before glitching into disarray then collapsing into wobbly-kneed dub. Structurally, it reminds me of the long versions of "Perlence."

"M39 Diffain" might take some source material from "cloudline," but it feels more like Confield's magnificent "Parhelic Triangle." The odd …

Review: Virgins by Tim Hecker

October 15th, 2013

Tim Hecker specializes in a very extroverted form of minimalism. He works in huge Glenn Branca-style walls of sound, but his output is more nuanced and subtle. He's managed to produce a diverse catalog while mining a very specific stylistic vein.

This record is an interesting departure. It's more literal and openly emotional than his prior work. "Virginal I" uses recognizable instrumentation and actually feels as if it's being performed by a live ensemble. A bass clarinet and cello ebb and flow around a repeated piano figure that recalls Steve Reich. The two-part "Live Room" plays like a piece …

Massive Attack: Blue Lines (2012)

August 6th, 2013

You certainly don't need me to tell you Blue Lines is a classic. That's well established.  While the material was so good it inspired a new genre, the recording itself was tinny and dry. Twenty years on, we finally have a decent remaster.

The new mix is noticeably louder, and the bass has been cranked a bit. A glance at the waveform doesn't exactly inspire confidence.

Waveform

There's definitely some serious compression and clipping going on here, and it looks like the whole thing has been pushed to 0dB and limited, while the original peaked around -0.40dB,…

Review: Kveikur by Sigur Rós

June 19th, 2013

I was worried. Valtari really felt like a dead-end for Sigur Rós. They'd done the slow, elegiac thing for so long, it appeared they'd sunk to miasmic navel-gazing. While that record evoked the placid glaciers of their native Iceland, Kveikur reminds us not to forget the volcanoes.

This is the most aggressive thing they've ever done, and it's a welcome new direction. With the departure of keyboardist Kjartan Sveinsson, they're down to a trio, and the emphasis is on sparser and more direct arrangements. Lead single "Brennisteinn" is a stately piece buoyed by a heavily gated and overdriven bass. …

Review: Tomorrow's Harvest by Boards of Canada

June 6th, 2013

It's been seven years since we last heard from Boards of Canada, and not much has changed. At least they've ignored the whole dubstep thing.

It may be selfish to expect progress or surprises, but Sandison and Eoin can be understood for sticking with what works. They pick up right where the excellent Trans Canada Highway left off. Overall, it's less bland and rambly than The Campfire Headphase and less scattershot than Geogaddi.

They take their time building momentum, leading off with two intro tracks. "Reach for the Dead" is a mournful piece that doesn't really pick up speed until the halfway mark. "Jacquard Causeway" …

Review: Sleepmakeswaves: And So We Destroyed Everything

May 29th, 2013

It may have started with Hex or Pure, Impure, but I give credit to Radiohead for bringing so-called post rock to the masses. In retrospect, I'd never have imagined a record as surreal, dour, and uncompromising as OK Computer to have been such a huge mainstream success. Heck, the lead single was a 7-minute track without a chorus.

Yet it was a success. In its wake, bands like Tortoise and Sigur Rós found mainstream exposure, and what we called "progressive rock" in the 1970's was suddenly worth pursuing again.

Fortunately, we've dispensed with the 15-minute drum solos, the sequined pants, and the …

Review: Exai by Autechre

February 12th, 2013

Autechre has marked their 20th anniversary with their eleventh record. Exai="XI," get it? In terms of imaginative titles, that's right up there with Van Halen II or Chicago LXIV. However, this record lacks appearances by Peter Cetera or Sammy Hagar. That may or may not be an important distinction, depending on your tastes.

It's a long one, clocking in right at two hours. At that length, some inconsistency might be expected, but this is cohesive in a way none of their records has been since Confield. If I had to compare it with anything, I'd say it's a less haunted and more assertive cousin to Oversteps.

It's always tempting to seek a concept in their records. Confield was about abstraction in texture, Untilted pushed rhythmic boundaries, and Oversteps focused on melodic complexity. If there's such a theme here, it's in the sound design itself. The palette is less alien and more visceral, and it's as if they've laid off many of the algorithmic tweaks. I can almost imagine physical knobs being manipulated during the recording.

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