Monthly Archives: November 2011

Listening Project Day 2: Slow, Slow, Slow

1.  After Midnight: Kean Kean College 2/28/80

Artist: the Jerry Garcia Band


Day 2 and already the second “Dead related” album. “After Midnight” is a complete Jerry Garcia Band show taken from the late winter ’80 tour that lumbers over 3 discs. Overall it was a very weak gig hurt by slow, almost dirge-like arrangements of Garcia-Hunter penned ballads and classic rock songs. In 1980, the Garcia Band was a drums, bass, keyboards & guitar 4 piece. The drums and bass are excellent with an almost Motown groove on the rare occasions when the band gets it going. The keyboards, unfortunately, are awful. Very cheesy synth sounds and slow Garcia ballads don’t mix well. The only real highlight was a bouncy jamming segment comprising most of disc 2 that started with J.J. Cale’s “After Midnight,” segued into a fluid and emotive instrumental cover of “Elanor Rigby” and grooved back in to “After Midnight.” At the show, the After Midnight–>Elanor Rigby–>After Midnight probably made up for an otherwise uninspired evening. I’m not really sure why the Garcia Estate decided to release 2/28/80. There must have been stronger shows from that tour.


2. After the Goldrush

Artist: Neil Young


One of my favorite albums, “After the Goldrush” has a little bit of everything: a great guitar workout with Crazyhorse (Southern Man), tender ballads (Birds, Don’t Let It Bring You Down), serious 70s comedown politics (After the Goldrush) and a bizzare 1:30 song about a ferry (Cripple Creek Ferry). If I had 1 album to explain what Neil Young is all about to a Martian musicologist, I would choose “After the Goldrush.”


3. After You’ve Been Gone: The Original Benny Goodman Trio and Quartet Recordings


Benny Goodman is known primarily as a big band swing bandleader. I’ve never been a big fan of swing because it’s way too structured and formulaic for me. Goodman’s Trio and Quartet recordings have an intimate and personal sound that I find more expressive than “It Don’t Mean a Thing…” Historically speaking, the most important aspect of “After You’ve Been Gone” is that it’s the first integrated Jazz recording. This is not something I would have listened to without the Listening Project, but it was very enjoyable on the whole.


4. Agaetis Byrjun

Artist: Sigur Ros


I had a long chat with a friend on G Chat about the Listening Project yesterday. When I told him that “Agaetis Byrjun” was slated for Day 2 he said something like: “Nobody should ever have to listen to a Sigur Ros album all-the-way through.” I like Sigur Ros, but like a good French meal, I find that a palate cleansing Sherbet or 3 is usually needed to digest an entire album. “Agaetis Byrjun” shared 1 thing in common with “After Midnight:” they were both very, very slow. I think most people describe Sigur Ros as beautiful or elegiac or something along those lines. The combination of “After Midnight,” “After You’ve Been Gone” and “Agaetis Byrjun” left me very, very tired of “slow music.” All the beauty of the album was sucked out of the listening experience because of the context. I guess that’s one of the perils of the Listening Project: whatever you’re listening to is forced to converse with the other albums on a given day. Sometimes to the detriment of an individual album.


5. Age of Adz

Artist: Sufjan Stevens


I didn’t enjoy listening to “Age of Adz.” It was plodding and pretentious with a sprinkle of ridiculousness thrown in. “Age of Adz” sounded like “a vision of the future from the past,” maybe the 30s or the 50s. The songs were turgid, overly structured and tectonically cold, positioning “the New” like some metal machine exhibition at pre ww2 Moma. Stevens seems to need a combination of bombast, pretense and critical distance to create. Maybe that’s why his work flowers on “Illinois” and “Michigan,” where the songs are told from the point of view of various characters. Inhabiting researched characters allows Stevens to maintain a hands-off approach to the emotional content in his work. “Age of Adz” is equally hands-off and distant, but lacks surrogate voices to give the songs any kind of emotional depth or meaning.



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Listening Project Day 1

1. A.M.

Artist: Wilco


I haven’t listened to early “alt country” Wilco in a very long time. I was struck by how cliche and kitsch the album felt. It was well produced, but felt very hollow. The whole album was more like a genre experiment than an artistic statement. Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is one of my favorite albums and the distance between YHF and Wilco’s debut seems unfathomable to me. How did they get from plunking and plodding “country” to something utterly unique?

2. Ace

Artist: Bob Weir


I am a Deadhead and Deadheads are completists. I bought “Ace” out of sheer curiousity. Turns out it is pretty damn good. Weir is in excellent voice and the songs are some his stronger early 70s material. The production values aren’t great, with god-awful horn arrangements marring an otherwise gorgeous “Black Throated Wind” and sleazing up “Mexicali Blues,” but the rest of the album is very solid. Ace is allegedly a solo affair, but Weir is backed by the Dead for the entire album. Standouts were a very jammed out “Playing in the Band” that sounds more like something off a good 74 show than an album track and a rambunctious “Greatest Story Ever Told” that features bassist Phil Lesh laying down a heavy almost Tower of Power groove. Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by how good Ace was. It’s certainly better than every Dead studio album except “American Beauty” and “Workingman’s Dead.”

3. Achtung Baby

Artist: U2


I’m not sure I’d ever listened to this all the way through and I’m not sure I will again. With U2, I tend to prefer the hits and find the rest of the album to be “filler.” My experience listening to “Achtung Baby” did nothing to change that opinion. The production, however, is staggeringly good, with Brian Eno & Daniel Lanois getting a hell of a lot out of dippy cliches like horse-riding and mopey drinking. The Edge sounds great,  all arpeggios and delay-chiming.

4. Acoustic View

Artist: Me:Mo


Here is one of those records every serious collector has: someone gave it to you and you’ve never really listened to it. Me:Mo is a Beijing-based ambient musician that loves Brian Eno. I played “Acoustic View” while making dinner. It’s good but derivative mood music that mixes vintage piano sounds with simple analog drum machine beats and very simple guitar. All in all, I’d recommend “Acoustic View” to fans of Brian Eno and I’m glad I listened to it. Not exactly my cup of tea, but good for what it is.

5. Ad Explorata

Arist: STS9


I like STS9 a lot. They are a primary inspiration for not there. That should be fairly obvious to anyone who’s seen one of our shows and knows STS9. STS9 generally has a very ambient / jazzy take on live-electronica, but “Ad Explorata”  is very different. It’s a dark album built around samples of intercepted radio code used during the Cold War by spies. “Ad Explorata” is more post-rock than post-dance with heavy distorted synths, deconstructed guitar and scrapping sound-scapes. Not very danceable, but very dark, meditative and well worth a listen.

6. Aero-Plain

Artist: John Hartford


John Hartford inspired a lot of music I don’t like very much. His whimsical, pot-hazy take on bluegrass is a touchstone for goofball jambands like the String Cheese Incident and Leftover Salmon. I like bluegrass because of the strange mix of generally upbeat music and depressing lyrics. For me, the best bluegrass is bittersweet. Hartford and his progeny suck the bittersweet out of the mix and turn bluegrass into goofy music for twirling hippies. The picking on “Aero-Plain” is incredible, but it never quite clicks with me. The grand exception is “Steam Powered Airplane” which deftly mixes instrumental dexterity with a deep longing for a forgotten past of tugboats and river-boat mythology.

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The Listening Project

I’ve grown increasingly disillusioned with the way I listen to music. Living in China means I don’t have access to my CD / Tape collection. While I love having the ability to carry around 1000s of albums worth of music on my iPod, the reality is, I don’t really LISTEN to music anymore. Instead, I’ve become increasingly interested in COLLECTING music: acquiring the latest crate-digging funk and trying to keep up with the dizzying pace of new music. I’m tired of it. I want to listen to music again, not curate a sprawling digital collection.

What I’ve decided to do is impose a set of rules on my music listening. I’m going to listen to everything on my iPod in alphabetical order. I won’t download anything new until I’m finished. This might take years or might never be finished. It’s hard to tell at this point. But, at least I’ll be LISTENING again. I’ll be using this blog as a sort of listening journal, writing something about every album / concert I listen to. I hope you find the mishmash of styles and artists interesting. I’m sure I will.

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