Friday, July 30, 2010


I went to Madison Square Garden on Wednesday night to see Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, with Buddy Guy opening up; if you want to read my more formal review of the show, which was excellent, it's over here.

I've seen a bunch of concerts at Madison Square Garden over the years—Dio, Radiohead (twice), Coldplay, Iron Maiden (also twice), Neil Young & Crazy Horse, Nine Inch Nails, AC/DC, Bob Seger, Metallica, Mötley Crüe...a surprising number of shows in all, considering how ambivalent I am about the whole arena experience.

Some of the music I listen to is really popular; I have a shit-ton of classic rock in my iPod, along with a bunch of classic hip-hop, loads of big-name metal bands, et cetera, et cetera. Some of it's not popular at all. This has never really concerned me—I don't spend much time thinking about whether other people like the stuff I like. (This is very different from thinking about why I don't like stuff lots of other people do like, which I do all the time.) When I write a review, for example, there's an element of the utilitarian "consumer guide" to it, but I'm not really trying to convince other people that they should buy the album in question, even if I write that way sometimes. I'm just saying that I think it's good, and trying to explain why in some kind of coherent way while avoiding masturbatory theoretical bullshit.

Because of my lack of interest in music's relative popularity, the atmosphere of a massive arena show, with thousands of people screaming and singing along, doesn't really have much effect on me one way or the other. I don't care that all these people standing around me like Iron Maiden as much as I do; I just care that Iron Maiden is one of the best live acts in music, that they put on a fantastic, well-paced, consistently entertaining show. Sometimes, though, it can provide an element of surprise that's fun.

At the Tom Petty show, for example, I was surprised to see people singing along with such fervor to slow songs like "Free Fallin'" and "Learning to Fly." I like "Free Fallin'" a lot, that first verse is an absolute killer, but I'm a much bigger fan of some of Petty's earlier, meaner songs. He's got a real talent for creating evocative, minimalist images. Think of the first two lines of the song he opened the set with, "Listen to Her Heart": "You think you're gonna take her away/With your money and your cocaine." You know exactly who that guy is. Donald Fagen and Walter Becker would have devoted a whole song to painting that asshole's portrait; Petty conjures him and dismisses him in two lines.

I like that side of Tom Petty more than the jangly balladry that inspires girls to sing along and hug their boyfriends at his concerts. And/but watching that audience reaction made me think mine was a minority opinion. It reminded me that Tom Petty hasn't been that snarling guy for quite a few years now (though he still transforms into him from time to time, like on "It's Good to Be King" or "I Should Have Known It"). And that you can probably sell more albums and concert tickets by making girls hug their guys than by making guys pump their fists and snarl.

But here's my point: I think I could have enjoyed that concert just as much had none of those people been there. They weren't an important part of my aesthetic experience. And I'm wondering whether I'm alone on this one, whether the feeling of being surrounded by fellow Tom Petty fans enhances the experience for other people in some major way. And I'm trying to figure out when I started feeling this way, because it wasn't always the case. I used to like mingling with crowds, especially when that meant getting into a sweaty moshpit. Now I'm old(er), and my legs hurt if I stand up for two hours at a show, so I'm much more likely to go to something big enough (in an arena, say) that there's a seat there for me to flop back down into when things get boring (and every show gets boring at some point). A thing like the Summer Slaughter Tour, which features eleven or twelve death metal bands in a row, many of which I like a lot, but is held in a tiny sweatbox of a club with no seats and starts at three in the afternoon? You can forget about that bullshit.

Still, pure physical discomfort isn't what makes me so unconcerned with being part of a crowd. It's something larger, something I can't put my finger on yet, and/but it's something that's making me re-evaluate rock music as a whole. Because for a lot of people, the idea of rock (and pop) as communal experience carries a lot of weight. Someone whose preference is for solitary listening seems to be in some way "doing it wrong," or having an "incomplete" understanding/experience of the music. I'm not convinced. In fact, I think rock music may be best experienced in focused solitude. Because it's not part of a total package—it's not just the sonic component of an evening that depends on beer, lust and air thick with sweat to be complete. The music is enough all on its own, for me anyway.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010


The many ages of Maggie Chascarillo of Love & Rockets, drawn by Mike Hawthorne (who posted it on his blog). Click the image to see it full size.


Mom, nachos, and $1,000 box sets: On the road with Lamb of God

When and how did Lamb of God become a metal institution? They still seem like a new band, even though they've been around for more than 15 years. Their first album, a self-titled disc from when they were still called Burn the Priest, came out in 1999. New American Gospel, their debut under their current name, arrived a year later.

Since then, it's been a ten-year rocket ride: multiple Ozzfest slots, support for Megadeth and Slayer, and a Grammy nomination for the song "Redneck" in 2007. They spent most of 2009 opening for Metallica, which singer Randy Blythe says was a bid for "prestige...[and] maybe we'll pick up some fans, because a 50-year-old guy isn't gonna be aware of the Lamb of God show at House of Blues. But he'll check out a Metallica show."

One Metallica gig was particularly special for Blythe: When the band played New York, he brought his mom. "She was right in between the barricade [and the stage], standing by our techs," he recalls. "She'd never been to New York City, so I flew her and my wife up early, and she got to cruise around the city for a day or two. I'm probably never gonna play Madison Square Garden again, so I had to have Mom there."

But bigger stages haven't changed the band. "We do what we're gonna do," says Blythe. "Whether we're playing with Eyehategod or Brutal Truth or playing with Metallica." That relentless individualism has been a major factor in Lamb of God's popularity. The group's breakthrough albums, 2003's As the Palaces Burn and 2004's Ashes of the Wake, were stridently political. This earned them a diehard following and praise from critics, who always fall all over themselves to point out any sign of unexpected intelligence in metal.

But Lamb of God made a sharp left turn on 2006's Sacrament. "I had been writing politically oriented stuff since the Burn the Priest days, because I come from a punk-rock background," says Blythe. "Palaces and Ashes were fairly highly politicized records during the Bush regime, [but] there's only so many ways you can say 'fuck Bush.' It's beating a dead horse after a certain time. We tried to step away on Ashes, but it didn't work. We were still too pissed off. But after we did that, we were like, All right, we need to try something different. We're trying to write each record to be different. Why write the same record over and over?"

The band's most recent album, 2008's Wrath, lives up to its title. Musically, they plow the same crushing groove they've spent a decade and a half perfecting, driven by Chris Adler's astonishing drumming. Lyrically, they mix politics with introspection and general pissed-offness. It's the perfect formula for starting furious mosh pits, but Lamb of God haven't been able to do that for quite a while. The Metallica shows were in arenas, and they're now occupying a main-stage slot on this year's Rockstar Mayhem Festival alongside co-headliners Korn and Rob Zombie.

"When we were main support for Ozzy, there were a lot of 55-year-old dudes eating hot dogs and nachos, looking at us like we were space aliens and going, 'Where's Ozzy?'" recalls Blythe. "If you look up past the seats onto the lawn, which is where our fans are, they're up there destroying shit. That's what our fans do. They're like the bad kids in the back of the school bus."

With arena shows and platinum albums on their résumé, Lamb of God have crossed the divide that separates newbies from legacy acts. They even got a box set: Hourglass, a three-disc compilation of album tracks, demos, and a few rarities, came out in June. The most deluxe version of the set—one that retails for $1,000—includes a banner, a custom guitar, and the band's entire catalog on vinyl, all packed in a coffin-shaped guitar case.

"We were on tour when it came out," says Blythe. "We were doing an in-store and they had it, so we were like, Oh, so that's what it looks like. We all kinda pored over it. Then in Luxembourg, a girl who works for Sony bought us five of them. The band is always the last to get anything."

[From the Cleveland Scene.]


​Most American listeners probably know Brazilian singer-songwriter Seu Jorge as the soft-spoken dude singing David Bowie covers in Portuguese in Wes Anderson's The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. He's also acted in City of God and alongside Brian Cox in the 2008 prison-break movie The Escapist. His latest musical project, though, is a radically different affair.

The self-titled Seu Jorge & Almaz is a full-band record, and a surprisingly rockin' one at that. The group features guitarist Lucio Maia and drummer Pupillo from the funk-rock band Nação Zumbi, pioneers of a Northern Brazilian sound called "Mangue beat." (Their first two albums, Afrociberdelia and Da Lama ao Caos, featured activist frontman and street prophet Chico Science, but the ones they've made since his death in 1997, particularly Futura and Fome de Tudo, are just as essential.) Here, they're joined by bassist and film-scorer Antonio Pinto (Central Station, City of God, Lord of War, Love in the Time of Cholera), with Mario C. handling production. The album is all covers, with a surprising range, including Roy Ayers' "Everybody Loves the Sunshine," Kraftwerk's "The Model," Michael Jackson's "Rock With You," and many Brazilian songs. In advance of the group's show later here this week, we called Jorge at his home in Brazil to chat.

Your previous albums have had a softer sound, mostly dominated by acoustic guitar. What made you decide to make a more rock-styled album?
I wasn't trying to make a rock-style record, it just happened that way. I was invited to record one song for the soundtrack of a movie [with these guys], and after we recorded the song, we looked at each other and decided to make an album. The formation of the band was something I'd never tried before, with stronger guitar, different drumming—especially the two from Nação Zumbi, who are very, very good musicians. And the bass player, Antonio Pinto, has done movie soundtracks all over the world; I knew him from City of God. It's fresh for me, it's different for me, and I think it's different for Brazil, too, because it's an opportunity to show people around the world a new conception of Brazilian music.

Lucio Maia is a pretty unique guitar player. How much of the arrangements were up to him?
Everything, because he was the conductor. We followed him many times. He had a lot of pedals, and he's a very, very good musician. He's not a musician, he's an artist. And Pupillo is the same, and Antonio is the same.

Had you been a fan of Nação Zumbi for a long time? How did you get hooked up with those guys?
Yes, the first time I saw them was with their leader, a guy called Chico Science. Chico Science died years ago, but within a very short time he made a lot of music, and it's had a big influence on a new generation. Nação Zumbi can point Brazil in another direction with the diversity of their music. It's very unique, very strong, very original.

It seems like that Mangue beat sound is a secret Brazil is keeping for itself...that style of music hasn't made the same global impact that samba, bossa nova and other Brazilian music has.
Yeah, and I would like to try and book a tour, a Nação Zumbi tour with Almaz, to show people that there's a new Brazil. It's a great moment, because it's a new decade, and there's the potential to find another way. Brazil has so much, in all areas...culturally there's a new generation, and Lucio Maia said, 'Let's do it right now, because it's a new decade. 2010 started things again.' The new generation is hungry for news, information, for new conceptions, to rejuvenate what we need to do. And the new album can help with that—that's our intention.

Why did you make the record all cover songs?
They're all songs we've been hearing all our lives, and they're from different perspectives. Like, Pupillo brought in "Rock With You," and Lucio suggested "The Model," and Pinto brought in "Cristina" and "Everybody Loves the Sunshine." And together we realized everybody loves these songs. This repertoire makes it easier for people to understand the music.

You do a lot of cover songs, period - why is that?
My perception about this is, with David Bowie for example, I didn't know Wes Anderson before Life Aquatic, and he approached me about David Bowie. To me he's a great, great artist, but before the movie I didn't know much about him. When I wrote the songs in Portuguese, I realized how complex and poetic it was. It was very hard for me to do justice to David Bowie. But for myself, I felt like these were new compositions. Cane and Able [whose song "Girl You Move Me" appears on the record] was something different. That's obscure. Mario C., for example, who produced the album, he didn't know Cane and Able, and was completely shocked when he was listening to the music. I told him, Cane and Able didn't release their album in America, just in France and Brazil. And my wife looked at the picture on the cover, and thought this [would be] a good album. And she put it on and discovered a great song and showed it to me. I selected this song, everyone loved it, it was very fresh.

So is this an ongoing band?
Yeah. I wanna write new songs, original ones. I wanna do the tour first, travel from city to city, find some melodies, write some lyrics. I think the next thing is to write an album of original songs.

[From the Village Voice.]

Monday, July 26, 2010


Marc Myers, with whom I was totally unfamiliar until just now, posted the following on his JazzWax blog over the weekend:

Can jazz survive Generation F? The "F" here stands for "flighty," and anyone who has watched people in their 20s listen to music today knows what I'm talking about. Songs in iTunes libraries and on iPods serve mostly as white noise for this demographic group. Music is what you put on while working, organizing photos on your computer, i-Chatting or texting...

But the way music is consumed today among young people doesn't bode well for jazz. In addition to treating music as sound rather than art, Generation F rarely listens to an entire track, let alone an entire album. The record industry has been grappling with this album problem since the arrival of the digital download. Buyers cherry pick what they want for 99 cents rather than purchase entire albums. Which means most personal iTunes libraries are vessels for thousands of individual songs. Melody fatigue sets in fast and fingers commonly click for the next song before a track is through...

Jazz is listening music. You need to pay attention and become absorbed by what the musicians are doing, how they're communicating and why what they're doing is special. Jazz has never been mass market music—it's not ideal for dancing, its melodies are complicated to listen to, and its history is too deep for a casual relationship. Now add a generation that hasn't been trained to concentrate on what they're listening to and it's hard to see how jazz will be perceived as meaningful going forward by a large percentage of this group.

First of all, people have been listening to individual songs for a lot longer than they've been listening to albums. The 78 rpm record had one song per side. So did the 45. Only with the advent of the 33 1/3 rpm LP in the mid-1950s did listening to an entire album become a common practice—because albums were specifically sold to consumers for that purpose. And throughout the early history of the LP, and all the way into the '80s, people still bought a whole fuckin' lot of singles. It's also worth noting that the formula for albums, until the mid '60s, was "hits and filler"—labels would put the band's big hit singles as the first track on each side, then fill up the rest with whatever other material was available.

Now let's walk through that third paragraph, which is what's really pissing me off at the moment.

• "Jazz is listening music." As opposed to music you taste, or smell.
• "You need to pay attention and become absorbed by what the musicians are doing, how they're communicating and why what they're doing is special." No, you "need" to respond any way the music induces you to respond. If the music makes you want to sit quietly in a chair, pipe to lips, and contemplate the specialness of the musicians' communication, super. If it makes you want to dance (the way Ornette Coleman or Thelonious Monk make me want to dance), that's fine, too. It's up to you how you respond. Which brings me to...
• "Jazz has never been mass market music..." Count Basie, Duke Ellington, and pretty much the whole swing era pantheon, and all those who came before them, would beg to differ.
• "it's not ideal for dancing..." See above.
• "its melodies are complicated to listen to..." Sometimes, but there are fistfuls of counterexamples, from Art Blakey's thick, bluesy grooves to Albert Ayler's melodies, which were practically nursery-rhyme simple. Hell, how about "A Love Supreme"? Can't get much more simple than four notes.
• "...and its history is too deep for a casual relationship." I could say the same about heavy metal. But I wouldn't, because I'm not a snobbish idiot. Music is music. Each work should be taken or left on its own merits. This is the single thing I hate most about jazz people—their fixation on the idea that jazz is a course of study, not a world of music there to be enjoyed. Not studied, though you can do that if you want to. Enjoyed. Jazz musicians, like all musicians, make music in the hope that it will give people pleasure, not in the hope that it will give people subjects for monographs and symposia decades later. This is why I say that if you want to convert a non-jazz listener into a jazz listener, don't say "You should listen to jazz." Instead, figure out what they already like, and say, "You should listen to [specific jazz album]."

It's a good thing Myers' complaining is mostly directed at people his own age or older. If people in their twenties read his whiny bullshit and reductive generalizations of their generation, they might wind up turned off to jazz, rather than mostly unaware of it, as they are now. (Here's a hint, Marc: most Americans, regardless of age, are pretty much unaware of jazz. Try making a positive contribution to the discussion next time, rather than griping pointlessly about "these kids today.")


Here are links to ten more of my reviews for All Music Guide.

Clinging to the Trees of a Forest Fire, Songs of Ill Hope and Desperation
Dew-Scented, Invocation
Les Rallizes Denudes, Heavier than a Death in the Family
The Pinker Tones, Modular
Suresh Singaratnam, Lost in New York
Smod, Smod
Various Artists, The World Ends: Afro Rock & Psychedelia in 1970s Nigeria
Various Artists, Psych Bites Vol. 2
Various Artists, Shangaan Electro: New Wave Dance Music from South Africa
Various Artists, Yes We Can: Songs About Leaving Africa

Saturday, July 24, 2010


If you watch enough television, and pay attention to what you're watching, you'll see actors pop up in multiple commercials, for various products. This is because most advertisements these days take the form of short, semi-ironic and frequently nonsensical skits rather than the more stone-faced endorsements of decades past. Very few products have pitchmen in the old style; there are almost no modern-day Mr. Whipples (Charmin toilet paper). The Old Spice man is fascinating precisely because he's the exception. And even he is simultaneously a pitchman and a parody of a pitchman.

But some actors, it seems, don't get the opportunity to sell multiple products. The people I see pitching pharmaceuticals, especially the ones who do so while wearing white coats and standing amid rooms full of lab equipment, never show up in any other commercials.

Why is this? I think it's because if you see someone talking to you about heart medicine, and then later see them talking to you about floor cleaner, it will in some way damage the credibility of the heart medicine. But if you saw them pitching floor cleaner and then later pitching hot dogs, you wouldn't think the hot dogs were less worthwhile just because the floor-cleaner lady told you about them. Medicine is different. The Billy Banks/Vince Shlomi approach just wouldn't work.

I'm curious whether when you sign on to wear a lab coat in a commercial for this or that pill, the ad agency (or the manufacturer) makes you sign a clause that you won't appear in any other commercials for the life of the campaign. And if so, do they pay the actor(s) that much more, knowing that the gig will limit the performer's future earnings? It seems like if you were an actor, that might be a tough choice to make. Do you take that ad, knowing that you'll have a hard time getting another job that year?

If anybody knows anything about advertising, fill me in.

Thursday, July 22, 2010


Wormwood (Prosthetic)
The Acacia Strain are in no hurry. The songs on their fifth album, Wormwood, aim for the groove of Pantera, but slowed down to Crowbar speed; the band play an ugly, crawling style of deathcore, with some of the most creepily misanthropic lyrics in all of extreme music. Vincent Bennett’s delivery makes lines like “Your blood will blanket the earth/I am the shot heard ’round the world,” weirdly believable, not just more of the hyperbolic hostility metal bands have been trafficking in since the ’80s. The music isn’t all it could be, though; the songs feel longer than they actually are, and digital production trickery does little to make them exciting. The closing instrumental “Tactical Nuke” is so downtuned and dragging it sounds like it’s playing at the wrong speed, something which should be impossible on a digital device.



Brad Paisley is the David Brooks of country. Like the New York Times op-ed columnist, Paisley celebrates an idyllic, suburban vision of American life that never really existed, but which is comforting to imagine as the country's economy staggers. In "All I Wanted Was a Car," from 2007's 5th Gear, Paisley recalls working at a mall food court as a teen, and "Welcome to the Future," from last year's American Saturday Night, celebrates modern technology instead of an idealized rural past. Paisley's brand of country is musically broadminded, blending chirpy keyboards with Telecasters and fiddles, and he's lyrically perceptive without relying on corny puns and epigrams. What's more, he's a skilled guitarist who combines Chet Atkins-style picking with Joe Satriani-esque shred (check out his almost-entirely-instrumental 2008 album Play: The Guitar Album), and his songs frequently showcase his talents. Gone are the days when Hank Williams said of a country guitarist "He soloed himself right out of a job." But Paisley's defining characteristic is a minivan-driving, soccer-dad geniality. Old-school country had the sharp edge of a broken beer bottle, but Paisley makes music for Saturday afternoons mowing the lawn, not Friday nights fighting in bars.

[From the Cleveland Scene.]

Wednesday, July 21, 2010


Interesting interview with drummer/producer Keith LeBlanc at The Quietus:

I remember Future Sound of London came into my studio once when I was in London and wanted to pick my brain about [Major Malfunction] and how it was done. I mostly did it with an AMS, a DMX and tape manipulation, and I felt sorry for the guys because they expected me to tell them about all this amazing gear I'd used! I was telling them, 'no no, I was turning tapes backwards, editing them up and then flying them back in'. It wasn't what they expected, because they were telling me that that particular album was their bible. When I did that album, I used to love how with the Beatles albums, a lot of times they would cut tunes together. So I made the whole album like that. And I think that was a real ground-breaker for dance music; it opened up the possibility for doing a lot of different things with dance music.

I still listen to the old Tackhead singles, and LeBlanc's albums Major Malfunction and Stranger Than Fiction, and especially the Gary Clail's Tackhead Sound System remix record Tackhead Tape Time, all the time. The mix of dub, samples, industrial noise, and ultra-hard hip-hop/funk is as potent today as it was in the mid '80s. Despite being stridently political, it hasn't dated at all, because the problems their music addresses—bloated military budgets and imperialist adventurism, urban poverty, a general feeling that the world's sliding down the shitter—haven't gone anywhere, and have indeed probably gotten worse.

Here's my favorite of their tracks from the old days—"Mind at the End of the Tether" from '85:

And here's "What's My Mission Now?" from '86:

Most all their material is out of print now—and their best stuff was 12" only anyhow—but it's out there on blogs, if you want to hear it. And you should. This shit is timeless.

Monday, July 19, 2010


This essay is the latest variant of something I've read over and over the past few years—the "woe is me" cry of the literary fiction writer. This woman wrote a novel, Stiltsville, which will be published by Harper Collins on August 1. Here's the synopsis, from Amazon:

With its lush flora and constant sun, South Florida is the true star of Daniel's exquisite debut, which follows a marriage over the course of 30 years. In 1969, having traveled from Atlanta to Miami for a college friend's wedding, 26-year-old Frances Ellerby meets glamorous Miami native Marse Heiger, who introduces her to Dennis DuVals and his house on stilts in Biscayne Bay. Though Marse has set her cap for Dennis, he and Frances fall in love and marry within a year. "I had no idea then," Frances says, "what would happen to my love, what nourishment it would receive, how mighty it would grow." Dennis and Frances have a daughter, Margo, buy a house in Coral Gables, and their life together proceeds as a series of ups and downs, beautifully told from Frances's pensive, sharp perspective. As the years pass and Miami changes, so do Frances, Dennis, and Margo, and the nuances of their relationships shift and realign, drawing inexorably toward a moving resolution.

That sounds like a book I'd rather stab my eyes out than read. Hell, that sounds like a book that would make my 61-year-old mother laugh in my face, if I offered it to her. And yet, this woman spent ten years grinding away, compelled to tell the story of a woman and her goddamn stilt house in Florida.

I've read these piteous cries from writers of "quality" lit-fic for years, talking about how they've slaved over their postmodern tales of suburban marital dissolution, or young men coming to grips with the adult world outside the room where they keep all their comic books, or whatever the fuck it is...and then I look at authors I read, like Scott Sigler, or Harlan Coben, or Stephen King—dudes who crank out a book a year and never shed a single public tear in the process. And it makes me think that maybe the reason literary fiction takes so long, and takes so much out of its writers, is that it's every bit as boring to write as it is to read.

(As far as the whole non-productivity thing, I can't quite take the essayist/author's side on that one, either. I have ideas for novels that never get off the ground, but it's not because I'm blocked or agonizing over the creative process—it's because I'm too busy writing other stuff. I've probably written hundreds of thousands of words this year, but they're subdivided into 200-words-or-less increments for All Music Guide, Alternative Press, the Cleveland Scene, The Wire, etc., etc. When I write a thousand words or more at a shot, they tend to be for a magazine feature. I'd love to have enough hours in the day to sit down and crank out a novel, but I write about a half dozen record reviews a week, on average, and maintain two blogs—this one and this one. Hell, just writing this blog post is taking me away from a magazine profile of Joe Morris that I should be working on.)

Sunday, July 18, 2010


(In case you don't get the joke)


I saw Inception today. I have little I wish to say here about the movie itself, other than that it's the first movie in a long time about which I understood critics' exhortations that to truly see it, one must see it in a theater. Critics say that about every movie, after all, and it's frequently untrue, but in this case I really do feel like big chunks of it will not be nearly as awesome on a TV screen, let alone a phone. (I don't know anyone who watches movies on a phone, or at least I don't think I do; if I ever found out someone I know watches movies on a phone, I might have to cut ties with him or her.)

Anyway, what it made me wonder about was this: the movie was written and directed by Christopher Nolan, who frequently works with his brother Jonathan (they worked together on Memento, The Prestige and both of Nolan's Batman movies). Though there's no on-screen acknowledgement of it, I wouldn't be at all surprised if Jonathan Nolan had some input into Inception.

So why are teams of brothers attracted to dream imagery? The Coens used it in Raising Arizona, though it wasn't crucial to the movie; the Wachowski brothers, of course, made the Matrix trilogy; and now at least one Nolan has made this movie, which goes deeper than anyone has before into dream-within-dream layering (and does so with remarkable narrative skill, maintaining the tension of a caper movie throughout and never surrendering to fuzzy-mindedness). My brother and I aren't that close, and have never collaborated on a creative endeavor, so this is something I can't speculate about from within.

Thursday, July 15, 2010


I'm pretty excited about the Summer Slaughter Tour, which hits NYC on August 1; ten of the most listener-abusive deathcore and technical death metal bands around, crushing it one after the other. I mean, seriously: Decapitated, The Faceless, All Shall Perish, The Red Chord, Veil of Maya, Cephalic Carnage, Decrepit Birth, Carnifex, Animals as Leaders and Vital Remains all on one bill? Sold!

The one thing that bums me out about the show is that as much as I like the majority of these bands (the only ones I'm not particularly looking forward to seeing are All Shall Perish, The Red Chord and Cephalic Carnage), I know I'm not gonna come home with even one new T-shirt.

Metal shirts, like metal itself, have gotten more and more "extreme" in recent years, with logos getting uglier and spikier, slogans getting more obscene/offensive, and imagery heading into territory that, frankly, I don't want on my chest where strangers can see. There was an awesomeness to metal graphic design in the '80s and even, to a degree, in the '90s that young bands don't care to match. To this day, old-school bands like Judas Priest, Metallica and Slayer offer good-looking shirts that a man in his late 30s can wear with relative dignity.

Iron Maiden used to be the gold standard for this. Their shirts, which almost always depicted mascot Eddie (I have one of the few that doesn't, a shirt from the 2004 Dance of Death Tour with a band photo on the front), were witty and cool-looking; you could wear them on the street and get unexpected nods of appreciation from strangers. I was hoping to buy a new shirt on Monday night. But everything on offer was ugly, and I left the gig empty-handed.

One option a few bands have exercised in recent years, which has pleased me greatly, has been the simple black-and-white logo shirt. I have one from Atheist, one from Entombed, and one that's not quite a straight logo shot, but features a logo and a simple white graphic, from the L.A.-based Native American crust/grind band Resistant Culture. And, of course, Motörhead has been doing that for decades—the classic "Motörhead/England" shirt, with their pig-demon mascot's head in the center, adorns hundreds of thousands of torsos worldwide, so many that Lemmy once told me, "I wish everyone who's got the T-shirt had the albums."

I feel like a lot of young bands are going out of their way to alienate older fans. There are a lot of metalheads in their late 30s who like new bands, but don't want to be walking around in a T-shirt that's been designed to piss off parents and high school principals. I think shirts designed for grown-ups would be a great marketing tool, and a way to bridge what I see as a growing generation gap in metal.

Of course, I could just be old and out of touch. That's not outside the realm of possibility. All I know for sure is that when I go to Summer Slaughter, I'll be wearing this classy, simple garment:

Wednesday, July 14, 2010


That's Schoolly D, sounding surprisingly slick on the second video from his forthcoming album International Supersport. (Yes, that's the real title.) I don't know how happy I am about a song with a title like "Family Affair"—and no, it's not a cover, or even built on a sample, of the Sly Stone track—coming from one of the most nihilist, rage-filled rappers of the '80s.

Here's the Schoolly D I remember:

Oh, well. It's a decent track, anyway. And I'll probably check out the album; I mean, I'm a pretty diehard fan of his old stuff. I love everything from the first EP all the way through Welcome to America. I just hope it's better than Funk 'n Pussy.


Steady Eddie
Iron Maiden's iconic mascot comes clean

Iron Maiden's music is beloved by generations of headbangers. In 2010, don't be surprised if you find yourself sitting between a 17-year-old kid and a 47-year-old vet at one of their shows. But if you ask fans how they first came to the band, chances are pretty good that most of them will tell you something about spotting an awesome album cover in the racks and thinking I've gotta hear what that band sounds like!

Without a doubt, Iron Maiden have one of the best-looking discographies in music history, all centered on their snarling, demonic mascot Eddie. From the band's 1980 debut through the upcoming The Final Frontier, Eddie has been on every single Iron Maiden album cover, single sleeve, and T-shirt, sporting dozens of different costumes and guises. He's been an Egyptian pharaoh (1984's Powerslave), a military-tank commander (2006's A Matter of Life and Death), and an alien warrior butchering helpless astronauts (The Final Frontier). But he's always been distinctly himself too. The band's relentless touring schedule this summer prevented any members from sitting down for an interview, but Eddie was more than happy to be engaged.

A lot of metal bands have had mascots, but very few have achieved your kind of longevity. How did you first come to be associated with Iron Maiden?
It's surprising, really. That Motörhead dog/pig thing's been around forever, I'll give 'em that. They keep it in a cage backstage. And you want to keep your hands and feet away from the bars, let me tell you. You think coming between Lemmy and his Jack Daniel's is risky? Try approaching that beast. And Megadeth has that skull-faced fella. We met a time or two. Didn't get on. He's got Mustaine's personality, that one. I don't know what happened to the robot animals Judas Priest used to have, the eagle and that lion/tank thing. I miss those guys. But I really am sort of the king of the ring. To answer your question, I was in London, trying to make it as a male model, but it wasn't really working out. The whole "heroin chic" thing was years away, so a bloke with my physique was destined for a life of doors slammed in the face, you know? Even the punks and goths didn't want nothing to do with me. But then these guys spotted me on the street and said, "We're desperate for an image, and you're perfect! Be on our album cover!" So I said yeah, figuring it'd be like a steppingstone to something bigger, you know? Well, 30 years later, here I am.

What's your favorite of all the costumes they've put you in?
Well, I suppose I should say I like the new one — that's what an artist is always supposed to say, don't you know? But honestly, I think my favorite was Powerslave. The idea of being worshipped really appeals to me. That one, and Live After Death, where I'm bursting out of the grave. They really buried me, you know! And I might not look it, but I've got fears and insecurities like anyone else, and being buried alive, well, that's bloody high on the list, innit? So my positive memories of that one are mostly down to just getting out from under the bloody dirt! I tell you, we had some discussions after that, the band members and me.

And speaking of the band members, has there ever been any tension between them and you, given how much more recognizable you are than most of them?
Yeah, they know who the face of the band is. I mean, if you see a picture of them and I'm not somewhere in it, you'd wonder "Who the hell are these guys?" They're just five middle-aged Englishmen, straight out of any pub.

Six, actually. You're forgetting guitarist Janick Gers. He's been in the band since 1990.
Oh yeah, that fella. You know, I don't even think his guitar's plugged in. Always bounding about the stage, twirling in circles. The first couple of tours with him onboard, I thought he was some kind of hired acrobat, frankly. Well, to answer your question — no, no, we get along great. I really missed Bruce and Adrian when they were gone and was glad when they came back.

Do you have a favorite Maiden song?
Oh mate, I don't pay attention to the music. I just hang out in the backstage waiting for my cue. I tried listening a few times, but bloody hell, some of those songs are long. "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" — Christ, I could put that on, go out on a date, and get home just in time for the final chorus! No, no, I do my bit and earn my check just like the rest of the crew. I'm no different than the guys who load the amps in and out, I'm just more recognizable is all.

[From the Cleveland Scene.]


Iran's Hypernova braves cultural repression to rock out

Indie rock has become so washed out in recent years that it's a challenge just to stay awake through many songs, never mind whole albums. Through the Chaos, the full-length debut by Hypernova, is a thrilling exception. Frontman Raam cuts a striking figure in the video for "Fairy Tales": His bald head, glasses, and booming voice give him a vaguely professorial demeanor that contrasts with the band's propulsive, gothy disco-rock. And if that's not enough to set the band apart, Hypernova hails from Tehran — not exactly a regular rock 'n' roll incubator. Hypernova, in fact, is the first Iranian band to be signed to a U.S. label and tour here. Raam isn't even the frontman's real name: He changed it to protect family back in Iran.

Together since 2006 (though Raam and drummer Kami have been playing together in various bands for a decade), the group released an EP prior to Through the Chaos, opened for the Sisters of Mercy in 2008, and played South by Southwest last year. Their English-language lyrics are oblique and frequently witty: In "Fairy Tales," Raam describes being enraptured by a 17-year-old girl with an overbearing father, singing, "Father, forgive me, for I have sinned again/And again and again and again and again and again." Eventually, it becomes clear the song is a critique of Iranian society. "These are fairy tales that don't have happy endings/Don't you know the more you push, the more she runs?"

"We're pioneers, in a way," Raam says by phone from New York, where the band members have been living for about a year. They're hoping their success will allow them to stay permanently in the United States. "The problem is, if we want to leave the country, every time we want to come back, we have to reapply and go through the whole process again, so it's a bit of a burden — we have to go through all the security clearances, and that takes so long we've missed deadlines for shows."

Of course, stateside bureaucratic hassles are nothing compared to the chances of getting arrested, paying massive fines, or having their instruments smashed in their home country. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has banned all Western music from state-run airwaves, reversing the more relaxed cultural policies of his predecessor, Mohammad Khatami. "You have to get permission to play or to record, and it's so hard because there are so many guidelines to be in accordance with their vision of Islamic law," Raam explains. "If you sing in English, that's an automatic way of getting yourself banned. If you sing songs that are politically motivated, you won't be allowed to record them." Many bands, convinced the censors will reject them, simply go underground: "Everybody records in their own home studios and spreads it around, whether it's by the Internet or just through CDs."

Some believe that public exposure will lead to the relaxation of governmental restrictions. But as the "green" protests in the wake of the 2009 presidential election proved, Iran doesn't seem to work that way. So when Raam isn't recording or touring, he's using Hypernova's success to support other artists through NeverHeard, a management company he founded that works to bring Iranian musicians to the U.S. They have to be at least as wily as he was, though. "We had so many different strategies for every show," Raam recalls. "We'd bribe the police, or soundproof the house so we wouldn't draw too much attention. The shows that got caught were because [people] printed out flyers with an address of the place, and they printed thousands of these. Of course, sooner or later the cops are gonna find one and shut you down. If you're trying to put on a secret show, printing out thousands of flyers isn't gonna help."

[From the SF Weekly.]

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


I don't like M.I.A. very much at all. I think she's stupid (and I'm not just talking about her entitled-art-student interview persona; her lyrics are forehead-slappingly clumsy, something none of her apologists, from Robert Christgau on down, has managed to explain away or defend convincingly), I can't stand her fashion sense or visual style, and though this has no bearing on her art, I shake my head in bafflement when people call her beautiful or sexy. (In media culture, once you become famous, you get declared sexy by default, I think.)

I bought each of her first two albums, right when the hype surrounding each had built to a sustained scream. They were available very cheaply at Target; otherwise, I might not have bothered at all, especially not the second time. Arular was primitive and intermittently fun; Kala was less primitive, much more calculated (experiments had calcified into a style), and less fun. But I bought them and listened to them because I felt obligated to do so. Many writers I knew personally, and even more of the writers I read (and considered my peers/competitors), could talk of anything else. I let my intellectual inferiority complex get the better of my taste (at least, where Kala was concerned, since I'd already heard Arular and should have known better).

(This was basically a repeat of what happened to me with Dizzee Rascal, by the way; I listened to a bunch of people whose taste didn't overlap with mine at all, really, but who were getting their opinions printed in places I wanted to someday see mine. I bought both the first and second albums, and liked one or two songs, but was the guy a genius? Not unless that word has been so devalued as to be like the ribbons everyone in a kindergarten soccer game gets for trying. I learned my lesson more quickly with dubstep, because I'd enjoyed various albums on the then-Brooklyn-based label WordSound Recordings years earlier and was able to file dubstep under "similar to WordSound, but not as good, and I'm over that anyway.")

So anyway, M.I.A.'s new album /\/\/\Y/\ came out yesterday, and the big news is that Pitchfork, which had been pretty relentlessly championing her since her emergence, even letting her take over their Twitter account for a day not long ago, panned the record. Hard.

Now that I've actually heard the record, I don't agree. Indeed, I think it's her best album to date. Of course, that's saying very, very little, because as I said at the outset, I think she's stupid and I don't like her first two albums at all. But this one has some pleasing qualities. Its noisiest tracks crib from industrial; there's a sampled air-gun (you know, the kind you'd use in a garage, to change tires) on "Steppin Up" that reminds me of the Revolting Cocks' "Stainless Steel Providers," and the drum assault that opens "Born Free," before the Suicide sample kicks in, is a straight steal from the beginning of Nine Inch Nails' The Downward Spiral. Some of the quieter, softer tracks remind me of Primal Scream's "Higher Than the Sun."

I don't know how many times I'm gonna wind up listening to /\/\/\Y/\. But if that number is higher than three, it'll be a new record.

Monday, July 12, 2010


So the new Prince album, 20Ten, came and went with relatively little fanfare. I obtained it, through the miracle of non-corporeal data migration, thereby saving myself the price of a plane ticket to London and the price of a newspaper, listened to it, and...was kinda bored, honestly.

It sounds like a Prince album. And here's the thing about that. Back in the early '80s, Prince didn't sound like anybody else making music. His combination of screamin' guitar solos, ultra-high-pitched R&B loverman vocals, and stripped-down, keyboard-heavy arrangements was simultaneously stark and lush, and he wrote some great songs. Purple Rain is full of 'em. But despite occasional experiments like Around the World in a Day and Parade, it was pretty easy to recognize a Prince track when you heard one, so it became a matter of "is this a good Prince song, or a bad one?" And after Sign 'O' the Times, frankly, I haven't heard nearly as many good ones as bad ones.

The guy's rep as some kind of unique genius is undeserved. He's a talented multi-instrumentalist, but he's far from artistically untouchable. And most people outside the confines of the Prince cult ('cause he's got some diehard defenders in the music-crit community) know it. 20Ten, to me, just sounds like ten more Prince songs that could have been recorded anytime between 1983 and yesterday. There's a song on here called "Future Soul Song"—a ballad just like six dozen others from his back catalog—that might have deserved that title...25 years ago. Hell, he's still using that cheesy handclap drum machine sound! There's only one exception that I can hear. The final track, "Laydown," owes a lot to Southern hip-hop (but Southern hip-hop stole Prince's synth sound years ago; he's just stealing it back), and is better for it.

There are no potential hits on 20Ten, because despite its title, it's not about now. It's about whatever time/day/year it is in Princeworld. The sycophants and knee-jerk defenders are calling it excitingly retro, but the truth is, it's just another scraping from the vault.

Sunday, July 11, 2010


As proponents of alternative medicine (and fans of human gullibility in its more hilariously sad forms) know, homeopathy involves treating illness with extraordinarily diluted solutions—basically, distilled water with incredibly tiny amounts of once-medicinal substances dissolved in them. Indeed, some say the point is to retain only the "memory" of the original substance in the water, and the greater the degree of dilution, the more powerful the effect on the afflicted person.

I think there's potential here. Not in the realm of health—I'm a big believer in taking actual medicine to cure disease. But in the realm of music criticism.

I've experimented with something similar in the past, reviewing improv albums after a single listen (the theory being, "they played it once, I'll listen to it once"). But now I'm gonna take it to the next level, so to speak.

Going forward, I'll be adopting a homeopathic approach to criticism. When I have to review a CD, I'm going to listen to no more than 10 random seconds from somewhere in the middle of the disc, preferably while doing something else that's occupying my full attention. Then I'll go wander around and live my life and do all the other things I've got to do for a week, or ten days, or however long it takes, until I can barely remember what those ten seconds of music sounded like. And then I'll write my review, and it will be much more powerful and incisive than anything I've written before.

[note to all my editors: I'm kidding.]

Friday, July 09, 2010


There's been a lot of discussion in jazz circles this week (I've noticed it filling up my Twitter feed, a welcome distraction from Lebron James- and Prince-related blather) about the Laurie Anderson/Lou Reed/John Zorn trio performance at the Montreal Jazz Festival this past week. Apparently, there was some consternation on the part of the audience, with many audience members even demanding (and receiving) refunds.

There are lots of stories like this—guitarist Sonny Sharrock was famously disrupted by a German audience member who ran down front and started pounding on the stage mid-set, yelling over and over, "This is not jazz! This is not jazz!" And not long ago, a Spanish man who lived near the site of a jazz festival called the police to complain that the band onstage was not playing jazz (they were some sort of instrumental funk-fusion act, I believe), and his complaints were taken seriously. So seriously, in fact, that Wynton Marsalis, assiduous guard of the borders between That Which Swings and That Which Shall Not Pollute Our Precious Ear Canals, took the side of the complainer over that of his fellow musicians.

What makes this case interesting is the demand for (and receipt of) money back. As Peter Hum wrote on,

The refunds just send the wrong message and set a bad precedent, I think. A music performance is not a razor blade, a software module, or any other consumer good that can be guaranteed. You wouldn't demand a refund for your hockey game ticket if your team lost, would you? It's not as if Reed, Zorn and Anderson were not living up to their part of the bargain -- they showed up and did their thing, making music in good faith. (That's a big improvement on the Paul Bley/Chet Baker show of many years ago in which Chet Baker did not make it on stage. Then, was there a 50-per-cent refund provided?)

I'm not saying that folks should have dug the Reed/Anderson/Zorn show. But that's not the point. When it comes to concerts, you pays your money, you takes your chances—that's my point. Polite Canadian that I am, the best excuse I can find for the refunds is they were a gracious reaction to Zorn's f-bomb. But if rudeness by performers merits refunds, then Keith Jarrett's promoters had better have extra money in the bank.

I'm with Hum on this one. You are not guaranteed a satisfying aesthetic experience when you buy a concert ticket. (That's half the reason I don't go out very often—I know most bands suck live, so they won't get my time/money until they've got a proven track record.) What's funniest to me about this whole thing, though, is that I can't imagine the music excerpted in the clip below inspiring such a vitriolic, "This is not jazz/I demand satisfaction!" response. I mean, listen for yourself:

That's John Zorn (and Lou Reed, for that matter) operating at about 30 percent. Imagine if the festival organizers had booked Borbetomagus:

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Tuesday, July 06, 2010


Ha, ha, Prince said he doesn't like the Internet. Whadda maroon. Whaddan ignoranimus.

"(What's next, is he going to rail against telephones and automobiles? Or tell us to stop using cell phones?)"

That's a quote from, who else, Bob Lefsetz. Going for the thuddingly obvious non-insight as always. "You can't stop progress. Change happens. And it's not good for everyone. Sure, it's hard being an artist and getting paid in the Internet era, but that doesn't mean you should become a Luddite and sign off. It's not necessary to utilize Foursquare, but when you rail against Twitter and other new media you just look like a square. So, keep up to date with technology, or shut up!"

But did Prince rail against Twitter and other new media? No. What he actually said (or what the reporter remembers him saying—the story specified that no recording devices, or even handwritten notes, were permitted) was, "The internet's completely over. I don't see why I should give my new music to iTunes or anyone else. They won't pay me an advance for it and then they get angry when they can't get it. The internet's like MTV. At one time MTV was hip and suddenly it became outdated. Anyway, all these computers and digital gadgets are no good. They just fill your head with numbers and that can't be good for you."

There are several components to that statement; some I agree with, some I don't.

"The internet's completely over" = clearly not true. Hard to understand in what sense he even meant it.

"I don't see why I should give my new music to iTunes or anyone else. They won't pay me an advance for it and then they get angry when they can't get it" = He's got a fair point here. Should he be expecting to get paid up front, like an old-fashioned label deal? No, probably not. But maybe he's the kind of artist who could make a deal like that with iTunes, or the Amazon MP3 store. After all, this is a guy who repeatedly fought with his label because they wouldn't let him release music at the rate he produced it. Clearly, if he could sort out a payment scheme that satisfied him, he'd probably be firing songs at the public like a musical version of the Deep Horizon well.

"The internet's like MTV. At one time MTV was hip and suddenly it became outdated" = he's right about MTV, but the comparison between the two isn't a valid one, obviously, because the Internet isn't a single thing, it's a conduit. Rhetorically and possibly mentally, he's confusing individual websites with the web that hosts them.

"Anyway, all these computers and digital gadgets are no good. They just fill your head with numbers and that can't be good for you" = here's the nub. See, Prince is not just a cranky, semi-reclusive artist. He's also a religious fanatic, and I believe part of his aversion to information technology is in some way Bible-based. And there's no arguing with fanatics. So don't bother.

While you're laughing at Prince for turning his back on the Internet, though, remember AC/DC. You can't get their music on iTunes, eMusic, or at the Amazon MP3 store. But they've been selling out stadiums and arenas across the planet for two straight years in support of their first album in eight years, and the soundtrack to one of the biggest movies of 2010 was composed exclusively of their songs. So is there a way to have, or at least sustain, a career without the Internet? You bet there is.

Monday, July 05, 2010


(First in a periodic series, if I remember, or care enough.)

UPDATE: More names added!

Band of Horses
Justin Bieber
Das Racist
The Dead Weather
Faith No More
Flying Lotus
The Gaslight Anthem
Gucci Mane
Harvey Milk
The Hold Steady
Konono No. 1
LCD Soundsystem
Janelle Monáe
The National
The New Pornographers
Oneohtrix Point Never
Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti
Liz Phair
The Roots
Scissor Sisters
Omar Souleyman
Tokyo Police Club
Wolf Parade (or any other band with Wolf or Wolves in the name, except the Swedish metal band Wolf)

Sunday, July 04, 2010


Every Metallica fan knows that the band's fourth album, ...And Justice for All, sounds extremely thin and crunchy, with almost no bass. The story's always been that then-bassist Jason Newsted's parts were turned down because they were hazing him. And that would have been one of the most horrifying examples of self-sabotage in the history of music...except that the album fucking rules.

That's why I don't like stuff like the YouTube clip above, or the bootleg ...And Justice for Jason, where some douche overdubbed his own bass parts onto the songs. See, I think the long, intricate, prog-thrash songs on AJFA work better without bass. I think the thin sound is a big part of what makes the album great—what makes it my favorite Metallica disc.

Those songs don't work as well live (as listening to Live Shit: Binge & Purge proves) because they need that edge. I think when they play Justice songs live, the bassist (whoever it happens to be at the time) should unplug, or walk offstage, for the duration. Thin and fierce—that's how it's supposed to sound.

Friday, July 02, 2010


The Warlords is an astonishing movie. Flawed, but still spectacular. It's not a five-hour epic like Red Cliff, though both feature Takeshi Kaneshiro; it gets in and out in under two hours, but almost all of that time is well spent.

Kaneshiro, Andy Lau and Jet Li play two thieves and a soldier who become blood brothers and swear undying loyalty to one another. Unfortunately, their bond is repeatedly tested and found wanting. Li was a military officer whose entire command was massacred after being betrayed by a rival army; he recruits Lau and Kaneshiro, and their men, and begins a decade-long plan to take over the Chinese empire from within. It almost works.

There are some amazing (and amazingly gory) battle scenes in this movie, and it's really not all that heroic a saga, in the end. Li proves himself to be a vengeance-crazed megalomaniac, and it's some of his best work ever—there are a few moments where he abandons his usual reserved demeanor to such a degree he's almost channeling Klaus Kinski. And the closer he gets to what he wants, the more he becomes a Michael Corleone figure (though I enjoyed this more than I've ever enjoyed the chunks of the Godfather movies I've been able to sit through). Lau is the movie's moral center, though he's not a Mary Sue character by any means.

The one element that should have been excised was a pointless love triangle featuring Kaneshiro, Li, and a woman of absolutely no consequence. That aside, The Warlords is a terrific movie well worth your time if you like massive battles, betrayal, corruption, etc., etc.

Thursday, July 01, 2010


The new issue of Jazziz is out, and it's really good. I'm not just saying that because I write for them, either. There are several articles in this issue that I plan on reading—a profile of violinist Regina Carter (who I wrote about for the Village Voice back in March), one on pianist Orrin Evans, the cover story on David Sanborn (no, seriously), and a piece on Analog Africa, Soundway and some of the other labels currently seeking out and reissuing awesome music from 1970s Africa.

I have a couple of items in the issue, too, of course—a short piece on P.E. Hewitt, a dude who composed, arranged and recorded three albums of pretty impressive small-group jazz back in 1969-72, and whose work has now been boxed up by Now-Again Records; a column looking at four new solo horn albums, some better than others; and a review of Brad Mehldau's much-discussed Highway Rider.

Here's how that last one went:

Highway Rider (Nonesuch)
Brad Mehldau has never been a particularly extroverted pianist. But on the new double disc Highway Rider, he turns his signature introspection into numbing enervation.
Mehldau augments his regular trio with second drummer Matt Chamberlain, saxophonist Joshua Redman and a full orchestra, not to mention the heavy hand of producer Jon Brion, best known for making artsy pop with Fiona Apple and Kanye West. The labor-intensive results offer little more than a pale imitation of 1970s Keith Jarrett—in whose quartet Redman's father Dewey played.
On tracks like "Don't Be Sad" and "The Falcon Will Fly Again," Redman tootles along as Mehldau attempts to bolster the saxophonist's melodic lassitude with baroque indulgence. The latter track features a small choir chanting "la-la-la, la-la-la-la" in its concluding moments, as well as studio dialogue that includes the sounds of a happy child—presumably Mehldau's, as Highway Rider is dedicated to him.
Arrangements shift from solo piano and quintet to duos and trios And two tracks feature just the orchestra, which, ultimately, keeps Highway Rider stuck on the soft shoulder of the road. The string players offer little you couldn't hear over the closing credits of a second-tier romantic drama, leeching sorely needed energy with over-sweetened arrangements. At nearly two hours, this release is simultaneously overstuffed and idea-starved.