Thursday, February 28, 2008

Top Ten of 2007: Tartar Lamb - Sixty Metonymies

Toby Driver in the past two years has been quite the prolific artist. Releasing his debut solo album, a collection of intensely precise and planned compositions, in late 2005 on Tzadik was his first attempt to distance himself from the extremely epic release "Choirs of the Eye" that had made his band Kayo Dot a critical and underground favorite. Kayo Dot also released their second LP in early 2006; "Dowsing Anemone with Copper Tongue" was an experiment in the subtle and drawn out. Sure, "Choir's " strong emotional crescendos were present in "Dowsing", but gone were their epic conclusions. These spots were instead replaced with explosions of noise or ten minutes of drifting guitar work. As Toby himself stated, he felt "Choirs of the Eye" was perfection in what it had attempted to do, so instead of following what most "metal" bands would've done and staying put in his popular musical formula, Toby tried to do something different.

tartar lamb
With the release of "Sixty Metonymies", Toby has finally reached the full sound he has been hinting at since his solo release almost two years ago. A sonically sparse and repetitive listen that is referred to by its own composer as a composition built "in such a way that each figure can be heard as metonymical to each other", "Sixty Metonymies" is a dizzying recording that cycles through such a vast cycle of arrangements in such a short time that it'll certainly leave the listener bewildered upon first listen. Certainly Toby's other projects have also had this stigmata attached to them, but moments like the intense full band explosion in "The Manifold Curiosity" left the listener some memorable or familiar portion of the song to latch on to on further listen. "Sixty Metonymies" is devoid of these trigger moments and almost completely removed from vocal performance. To describe it as "catchy" would be the overstatement of the decade.

tartar lamb's 'sixty metonymies'
On this recording Toby and Mia Matsumiya's excellent performance is accented by "extended percussionist" Andrew Greenwald and horn player Tim Byrnes of the group Friendly Bears. Greenwald's style of percussion is a fantastic addiction to the bizarre composition of "60 Metonymies". Rarely relying on the traditional, his implication of various objects such as stray metals flavors the more "compositional" parts of the piece with an urgency of modernism. While Greenwald's performance is one of a kind, trumpet player Byrnes is seemingly invoking the kind of playing that was a staple on Kayo Dot's "Dowsing Anemone with Copper Tongue" It gives the trumpet performance a sort of "we've already heard this" feel and while it isn't necessarily distracting it is somewhat disappointing. Toby's guitar playing is mostly focused on seemingly replicating a piano but his subtle implication of selected chord phrasing gives the piece a more varied feel. Toby is able to prolong an otherwise excessive repetitiveness by always casually advancing into more beautiful and interesting melodies. Mia finally seems to expose her prowess as the group's most experienced player. Her usage of various extended techniques is at the same time virtuous and restrained. Tartar Lamb once again shows her as a key player in any setting, not unlike say a musician like Eric Dolphy who even in his performances of other's works added so much to the playing that without him or her in Mia's case the piece would fall apart. Finally, while Toby's vocal performance is not featured very often when he does add slight breathing, whistling or the final monologue it is a breath of fresh almost childish air.

'sixty metonymies' beautiful handcrafted layout.
"60 Metonymies" is yet another emotionally and compositionally brilliant addition to Toby Driver's resume. It is obvious that Toby has mastered his own vision of minimalism with this record and it'll be interesting to see where he goes next. Conquering one's perception of the both the entirely bombastic and entirely reserved is not an easy task but one has to question where Toby will go from here. Kayo Pop? I'm sure like many of his gracious fan base, the next release associated with one of the most interesting composers of our time will not only challenge my sense of music but Toby's own. And that is where Tartar Lamb succeeds, they are not saturated in the idea of pleasing fans but instead just themselves. On the way to record this album Tartar Lamb performed a variety of shows across the north half of the U.S. I was lucky enough to persuade them to come to my home town of State College, Pennsylvania and after the performance Toby, Mia and I listened to an unmastered copy of "60 Metonymies". Where most artists would've grown bored or unimpressed with a piece they'd been working of for two years, Toby and Mia seemed just as fascinated with the recording as me. Pointing out subtle percussion parts, discussing each others' techniques, and even joking about the conclusion, it was obvious that the same devoted and massively appreciative fan base of Toby Driver is such because it reflects his same feelings towards his music. Few artists' work resonates in me the way Toby's does and Tartar Lamb is no different; emotional, interesting, and original.

Toby has expressed his distaste in the downloading of his music, you can purchase it here.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Top Ten of 2007: Time of Orchids - Namesake Caution

'Namesake Caution' is one of kind. Time of Orchids has made an individual addition to music with this record and the level of technical excellence that is smeared all over this gloriously addictive avant-pop masterpiece is jaw dropping. Every song is a series of disjointed explorations of guitar melodies that go from influences of Don Caballero to Fantomas to Beach Boys in a matter of three minutes. While as strange as that sounds perhaps what sets the bar for Time of Orchids is the beautiful incorporation of lots of multi-layered vocals. One needs only to look at the flawless ending of 'Mean (Hush-Hush)' which can only be described as Mr. Bungle meets Kayo Dot. As, I don't feel like using that band's name very often in this review, lets just say this is like what Kayo Dot would be if they were really into pop music. The composition is just as intrinsic and can only be understood after numerous listens. 'Namesake Caution' obviously has changed the playing field of what avant-garde music can be.

Time of Orchid's 'Namesake Caution'

'Darling Abandon' is the most successful track on the album for really two reasons. One is the fact that song begins with a stuttered gasp. This subtle yet extremely pleasing attribute is probably one of the best decisions Time of Orchids has made since their inception and its usage is incredibly poignant. The other reason is because the bastardized guitar solo that is in that song is quite possibly one of the most epic moments that I've heard in music in a very long time. The video for 'Darling Abandon' is a bizarre conglomeration of '90s television effects mixed with post-modern paintings. Clearly, Time of Orchids is an intelligent group and the fact that they can release an album like 'Namesake Caution' that is just as challenging and completely different from their previous release is insane. 'Sarcast While' is literally one of the best Tzadik records and while it is a very flawlessly executed in its style, 'Namesake Caution' is a more precise record. 'Sarcast While' may hold more artistic weight in my heart, but 'Namesake Caution' is often the album I find myself reaching for when I'm in for a fix of the complex.

Time of Orchid's video for 'Darling Abandon'

Time of Orchids finally can be completely and utterly praised for the way they conclude this rollercoaster of an album. After dredging through the ten minute bong filled 'We Speak in Shards' which in itself is a task, we are greeted with possibly the softer side of Time of Orchids in the track, 'Entertainment Woes'. 'Entertainment Woes' ups the anti on 'Sarcast While's' epic conclusion by simply just creating a three minute long soundscape that is literally one of the most beautiful things I've heard in a long time. In short, 'Namesake Caution' is a record any music fan should own. If you do not enjoy this, you are obviously to shallow to appreciate true expressions of music. This is one of the most insanely layered records I've picked up in a long time and the way it has kind of been ignored is in my opinion almost criminal.

Time of Orchids - Namesake Caution (2007)

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Top Ten of 2007: Richard Youngs - Autumn Response

perhaps the greatest discovery of 2007 in my own life came with the recommendation of a record called 'Sapphie' by various users at Richard Youngs seems to be equally as inspired to create dissonant harsh music as he is to create beautiful sprawling epics. this paradox of musical light and dark is what originally drew me to him, as well as the glowing praise his discography seemed to receive by critics and fans alike. 'Autumn Response' was actually one of my recent blind buys, due to the relative obscurity of Youngs, I purchased a couple of his records on vinyl to further my collection of what was seemingly a new favorite artists. how little did i know what i was getting myself into.

richard youngs
combining together a strange take on british folk with a delay pedal may seem like a bad idea, but 'Autumn Response' easily proves that worry wrong. taking an approach in writing short simple songs that are simply folk tracks is something Youngs to my knowledge had not attempted. of course, this isn't a Phil Ochs record. there is a beautiful interplay with delayed vocals and guitars that sometimes match up and at others just seem entirely random. it is a minimal technique that makes an other wise very easy album much more complex. some may place it in the realm of novelty, but in my opinion Youngs is simply just using an effect as a compositional tool which is incredibly ingenious. in other words, 'Autumn Response' is one of the most interesting songwriter albums in a very very long time.

richard youngs' 'autumn response'

time lately has been very busy. class, work, trying to form some type of relationship with a girl i truly care about. it is an interesting and fast time, but i keep finding solace in beautiful records. the Have a Nice Life record in particular is a sprawling, emotional journey that i can't recommend enough. Takaru and a small group called Pumice have been keeping me centered. the zen of discovering new bands if you will is inspiring. that sounds idiotically pretentious, but i guess that is how it goes. i'm going to throw in the Pumice record on this post for the shit of it. fantastic album that is kind of what would happen if Tom Waits compositions were played in the style of noise rock, it is literally some fucking rocking shit exploding hearts tones meet wolf eyes synths. welp, until next time which will hopefully be sooner.