Live Review: Time for Three Takes The Carpet Center Stage at the BSO (2009.09.24)

time for three

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

MP3: Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs – Orange Blossom Special

Move over Tchaikovsky, step aside Brahms. Time for Three steals the season opener from the classical crowns.  Tf3 does what Hilary Hahn did last season: highlight the skills of fellow Curtis Institute heavyweight and composer Jennifer Higdon.

This time, the blues-jazz-gypsy trio of classically trained fellas takes on Higdon’s Concerto 4-3.  The name is a little schticky, but the East Tennessee bluegrass fiddling and bass-slapping ring sincere.  As she did for Hilary, Higdon composed this piece especially for the trio, debuting in Philly last year.

Zach De Pue started us off, his violin chugging like a shaking train.  The bassist enters with slaps down the strings, the second violin starts racing, bow hairs already breaking…and we’re off.

Of the three, bassist Ranaan Meyer holds the reins. Highly-endorsed are his beatings of the cello’s body with naked fist.  The two fiddlers, Zach and Nick Kendall seduce with hipster charms, perhaps hamming up their onstage personas a touch too much.  They listen well to each other – the mark of any good improv group – but they amplify the pantomime of listening with foot nudges and shoulder-hunkerings, just as they amplify their strings.

I’d say Higdon left the symphony with little to do. Although, when the players were called upon, what came through strongest was the passion of conductor Marin Alsop.  These are the works Alsop digs!  It’s all in her shoulders and her tempi. And that is a great sign for a season opener: conviction.

Frankly, I missed a lot of what happened in Higdon’s Violin Concerto: orchestra section stars playing one-on-one with curious pairings against the soloist.  In this case, Higdon trivialized the moment by letting too much of Zach v. Nick rock the stage.  Whenever the orchestra entered we tended to get majestic arcs of sound that were brief – probably for fear of turning torrid, then insipid.

What matters most perhaps is that the bejeaned guy next to me, clearly on a date, felt happy enough in the hall to kick off his shoes, and enjoyed Tf3’s encore, “Orange Blossom Special,” completely open-mouthed.  This encore really cemented the night on the family porch feel, strongly contrasting Tchaikovsky’s Symphony #4 that closed the show.  Movement 3 was a highlight: pizzicato strings formed little eruptions like popping corn straight into grade A oboe work.    The vigor of the finale had Peabody kids in raptures, but I remain unconverted to Tchaikovsky.

Photos / Audio: Thrushes @ Lord Baltimore (2009.08.29)

Baltimore’s Thrushes have had a bit of a time this past year, losing drummer only Ryan Sterner only to see founding percussionist Matt Davis return to the fold.

Casey, Rachel, Anna and Matt were kind enough to extend an invitation to have us poke around Lord Baltimore Recording while they were in the studio to wrap up tracking sophomore full-length, Night Falls.  As of now, the new album will feature eleven tracks including one cover.  Stylistically, the pace is often much quicker (said semi-sardonically to be a result of Thrushes just “getting better at their instruments”), yet often the music is much heavier than their 2007 debut Sun Come Undone.  Casey Harvey in particular has pulled out all the stops, dragging every musical instrument in their summed collections into the fray short of the clanging pipes of the kitchen sink.  When I entered, they had even just finished tracking with a guest organist.  The result is more diversity in texture of their “wall of sound,” as well as increased density.  They are really exploring the entirety of their sonic palette.  Anna Conner’s vocals have become more emotionally diverse, less frequently going to the place of crushing, almost destructive despair and anger oft present in their debut.  Instead, we find a more mature and measured heartache that still floods you with emotion.  I didn’t sit in on any of the vocal tracking, and only heard a few tracks played back.  So maybe there’s even room for some hope?

Casey was kind enough to leak an early mix of one track with us for streaming only purposes…just to whet your appetite a little more until the targeted winter 2009/2010 release.  Stay tuned for more leaks as mixing finishes up and the album release nears.  In the meantime, here are some photos from the session with sound engineer Brooks Harlan of locals AVEC.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Thrushes – Used to You (early mix)

_MG_6597 _MG_6630 _MG_6622 _MG_6704 _MG_6709 _MG_6713 _MG_6717 _MG_6723 _MG_6725 _MG_6728 _MG_6697 _MG_6692 _MG_6685 _MG_6681 _MG_6610 _MG_6626 _MG_6641 _MG_6654

An Hour of Kindness: Episode 2 – Weekends (MD)

Great set by Baltimore’s Weekends. Their debut CD, which dropped earlier this year, was great.  And they even dropped the follow-up this summer!

An Hour of Kindness- Episode 2- Weekends from Polygon Tree Productions on Vimeo.

Photos / Live Review: Sunn O))) @ Sonar (2009.09.23)

Sunn O))) @ Sonar Sunn O))) @ Sonar Sunn O))) @ Sonar Sunn O))) @ Sonar Sunn O))) @ Sonar Sunn O))) @ Sonar Sunn O))) @ Sonar Sunn O))) @ Sonar Sunn O))) @ Sonar Sunn O))) @ Sonar Sunn O))) @ Sonar Sunn O))) @ Sonar Sunn O))) @ Sonar Sunn O))) @ Sonar Sunn O))) @ Sonar Sunn O))) @ Sonar Sunn O))) @ Sonar Sunn O))) @ Sonar

All photos: Greg Szeto

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

MP3: Sunn O))) – Big Church from Monoliths and Dimensions (2009)

I’m just going to lay it out there. Sunn O))) blew my mind and disappointed me at the same time.

Sunn O))) are a spectacle and an experience. Their particularly glacial blend of drone, doom metal and many other things dark and heavy demands, and depends, on such deep immersion for its effect. This is why, no matter how enormous the sound or foggy the room, their set at Sonar couldn’t even touch the experience of reading about their set at First Unitarian in Philadelphia. From all reports, had I been there it would have instantly ranked in my all time concerts list. The crowd’s refusal to take part in the immersive experience early on rendered the introductory hypnotic monk chants largely ineffectual, and even a bit farcical as grumbles about the New Age-y trance track mounted. Despite this initial falter, they still put on a mammoth show.

After a lot of fogging, Sunn mobilized in monk robes to take the stage and drown us all in over an hour of the deepest, darkest, sludgiest doom drones outside of whatever hell dimension true metal comes from. Apropos their latest album title, Monoliths and Dimensions, their deliberately paced, deafening assault was truly monolithic. Their sound was, in fact, even more massive than I had expected. At times, I felt my ear drums were going to implode from the pressure of the sound waves, and my heart most certainly skipped beats to match the rumble of the low octave chords that made up their endlessly mutating drone. Never throughout the set did they let up on the intensity or artifice of their roles. They produced probably the closest thing to a demonic ceremony that I will ever witness, through ritualistic and crushing worship of music (even playing their instruments with no small amount of melodramatic flare ie- bass impalement, guitar offerings to the sky). One kid in the front row even took to periodic bowing and praising Sunn, only reinforcing the strength of their musical liturgy.

What proved most fascinating about their music though, was the absolute insanity of their vocalist, aptly named Attila. Stunning vocal acrobatics, dipping into octaves that may very well reside in the underworld, were the linchpin of his performance, as well as stratospheric screeches. His demented variation on the entrancing tropes of New Age chants was simultaneously impressive, disturbing, and enthralling. His costume was easily the most outlandish, as midset he activated his laser fingers (fingertip-less gloves with laser on each finger) and started a possessed game of Cat’s cradle and even donned the king of all crowns, a giant hat with huge metal spikes protruding on all sides. The summation of all these elements was a complete and total immersion in something challenging, offensive, mesmerizing, and haunting.

As you walked out of Sonar, the fog spilled out of the front door not unlike smoke from a burning building.  Your chest struggled to recuperate from the pummeling it had just received as your ears strained vainly to regain some semblance of auditory function. You maybe even felt a bit of burning in your lungs. And maybe that was from sulfur in the air…which confirms your sneaking suspicions that you’ve just witnessed something truly otherworldly.

Album Review: Hypnotic Brass Ensemble – Hypnotic Brass Ensemble (Honest Jon’s)

hypnotic brass ensemble cover

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

01. MP3: Hypnotic Brass Ensemble – War
02. MP3: Hypnotic Brass Ensemble – Sankofa

As a biologist, I think a lot about the future of mankind.  For example, genetic engineering: will it ever be useful, technically feasible, or morally acceptable to genetically engineer humans with a vast array of traits?

Then, I find out about projects like Hypnotic Brass Ensemble.  Inheritance of musical ability the old fashioned way: juice of the loins, incubate in the womb, pop out kid, pass down craft.  Phil Cohran did this times 8, to be precise.  His name may be more familiar to you in the context of the Sun Ra Arkestra (too crazy NOT to be true), where he played trumpet.

Hypnotic is a pure brass and drums instrumental band (8 horn players, all Cohran’s sons, and a drummer) forged in the fading flames of Chicago’s once fiercely active, and still ferociously inventive jazz scene.  In this context, the band’s sound and catalytic energy should be expected, but it still manages to take your breath away every time.  Look no farther than their collaborations with Blur’s Damon Albarn, Tony Allen or Mos Def for more vetting. Read the rest…

Preview: Aural States presents So Percussion, Microkingdom’s Pro Hour, Gestures @ the Metro Gallery (2009.10.28)

So PercussionFor Immediate Release: All artists are open to press inquiries, interviews and more.  For more information regarding any of the artists or this show, please contact Greg Szeto at auralstates@gmail.com.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

01. MP3: So Percussion – Drumming, Pt. 4 (Steve Reich)
02. MP3: So Percussion – June
03. MP3: Microkingdom’s Pro Hour – Double Abacus from Wrenches:My Heart/Double Abacus (2008)
04. MP3: Gestures – Doritos from Nice EP (2009)

Aural States presents So Percussion, Microkingdom, Gestures, more TBA at the Metro Gallery on Wed Oct 28th

(BALTIMORE, MD — Sept 14 2009) — Defining the boundaries of what we know as music and classifying its endless offspring are both ever-evolving, vital enterprises.  In celebration of this constant growth, Aural States has brought together musicians who we feel excel at making music a malleable and dynamic entity through bold experimentation.  We are proud to present So Percussion, Microkingdom, and Gestures at the Metro Gallery on October 28th 2009 in the Station North Arts District of Baltimore.

Brooklyn-based quartet So Percussion take up the cause of showing the world that percussion is much more than a primitive means to an end, expanding far beyond drums laying down beats.  Lauded as “revelatory” (David Lang), “brilliant” and “consistently impressive” (The New York Times), and “astonishing and entrancing” (Billboard Magazine), their genre-bending work has lead to collaborations with innovative musicians like Dan Deacon and Matmos, with whom years of work will bear fruit in a late Spring 2010 release on Cantaloupe Records.  They’ve prepared bracing performances of pieces from visionary composers such as David Lang, Steve Reich, John Cage and Iannis Xenakis, as well as crafting their own compositions.  Their music has taken them around the globe to stages and audiences of all shapes and sizes, from the Lincoln Center Festival to Carnege Hall, the Kennedy Center, and even Whartscape 2009 at the Baltimore Museum of Art where they performed excerpts from Steve Reich’s Drumming.  This summer, So created an annual summer institute at Princeton University consisting of an intensive two-week chamber music seminar for college percussionists.

In their only Baltimore/DC area performance, in an unusually intimate venue, So will perform works from Steve Reich, their 2006 album Amid the Noise, and their latest original work entitled Imaginary City, which has its world premiere just a few weeks before as a commission for the 2009 BAM Next Wave Festival.

http://www.sopercussion.com/ || http://www.myspace.com/sopercussion || http://www.bam.org/view.aspx?pid=1259

The trio known as Microkingdom’s Pro Hour is one of Baltimore’s avant-garde powerhouses.  Its members hold pedigree second to none: guitarist Marc Miller of math rock pranksters Oxes, percussion whiz and composer Will Redman, and the musically polyamorous John Dierker’s fierce reeds.  Playing “sinuous, powerfully dynamic improvisations” (The Wire) or self-described “No Jazz,” Microkingdom have been called “dynamic, challenging, confident” (Pitchfork).  Over the past couple of years Microkingdom has played shows with: Wzt Heart, Ecstatic Sunshine, Thank You, Singer, Food For Animals, Daniel Higgs, These Are Powers, Jack Wright, White Mice, Talibam!, Peter Brotzmann, Pontiak, Extra Life, The Homosexuals, and many others. They’ve also self released color vinyl Wrenches: My Heart/Double Abacus as well as putting out the CD-R EP Spectacular Edges on Human Conduct.  This fall will see them playing Brooklyn-based Death By Audio’s You Are Here: The Maze installation and performance festival in late September.

http://www.microkingdom.com/ || http://myspace.com/microkingdom || http://www.willredman.com/

Gestures’ “shambolic drums-n-brass band” was named D.C.’s “Second-Best Use of Air Pressure” by Washington City Paper’s Best of D.C. 2009.  A horn and drum collective consisting of tuba, trombone, saxophone, clarinet, and two drum kits, think manic marching band meets frantic free-jazz structures and you’ve got a pretty close approximation of their sound.  Fascinating and brazen blasts of dissonance test and probe the limits of your endurance while simultaneously forming vivid mental images and narratives like some crazed sonic bard, drunkenly dragging off-kilter harmonies out of entropy.  Gestures’ debut EP Nice will be out soon.

http://www.initiatedeyerecordings.com/gestures || http://www.myspace.com/gesturesdc

Venue Information

The Metro Gallery, 1700 N Charles St, Baltimore MD 21201

http://themetrogallery.net/ || http://www.myspace.com/metrogallery

Tickets $10 in advance.  $12 day of show.  21 and over only.

Photos / Video / Live Review: Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Jay Electronica @ Sonar (2009.09.16)

All photos: Josh Sisk

Full set here

I have always had a giant personal dilemma in regards to hip-hop.  The genre is filled with landmines that derail my systematic approach to digesting and enjoying most other genres of music.  In my mind, the most compelling genius of music happens in live performance.  The convergence of visual, aural and atmospheric factors should make for a unique, vital and one-of-a-kind experience.

I tend to abhor live hip-hop shows (battles are a different story), as you tend to lose a large portion of the visual with the focus on one singular performer, often without any backup other than a backing track.  This has led to the egoism of the hype-up approach in order to catalyze a feedback loop of energy from the crowd to performer, and it often ends up distasteful at its worst, laughable at its best and nearly always obnoxious.  Things devolve into pep rallies reminiscent of adolescence more than should be allowed.


Jay Electronica fell into this trap horrifically.  His ‘tween song banter ranged from bad to insufferable, yet somehow the crowd seemed trained to eat it up.  Maybe that’s because when he put aside the ego and the role of hypeman, picking up the mic as a rapper, he delivered some of the best rhymes of the night.  His style is wordy, dense and filled with vivid metaphors, yet his flow is smooth and steady, like raging waters smoothing over a rocky riverbed.  Counting among his repertoire a number of cuts with J Dilla beats, his set excised from the B$ could have potentially outshined both headliners.  As it stands, the set was marred by awkward silences and particularly momentum-killing moments where he was having mic feedback and when he had his backing DJ searching for a line to play back from some unknown track.


Talib Kweli, by contrast, flowed forth not only with his words but with the show itself. Rarely, if ever letting silence rule the space between songs, Kweli packed every second with agile turns of phrase or phenomenal scratching by his DJ.  A master of crowd control, the charismatic Kweli had the perfect balance of crowd interaction and sensing when to stow it and drop knowledge on everyone in a set largely culled from his collaborative efforts with DJ Hi-Tek.  His steady and rapid-fire rhythmic skills while rapping a capella were top-notch, and his energy and intensity were off-the-charts on cuts like “Get Em High” and “Get By.”  He even gave a birthday shout-out during a Marley sing-along that proved he’s can be as gentle as he goes hard.

3932138266_1b5c79ec02Mos Def most clearly recognizes the need to fill the energy gap as he has taken to becoming a more versatile, multi-instrumental performer.  The visual energy from watching him play the drums while rapping is remarkable, and its contribution to the performance immeasurable.  Unsurprisingly, Mos Def performed the majority of The Ecstatic in gripping fashion.  The end of the night heralded the reunion of Kweli and Mos Def as Black Star, the union which originally thrust them into the spotlight.  The power of that performance almost dwarfed the individuals, and makes you wonder whether either of them has truly stepped out from the shadow of their earliest, arguably finest works?

It turns out Music Without Labels had a camera crew in the house and got some great live footage of Talib Kweli, Mos Def and Soul Cannon.  Check it out after the jump.
Read the rest…

Album Review: Nuclear Power Pants – Wicked Eats the Warrior LP (Wham City)

nuclear power pants wicked

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

MP3: Nuclear Power Pants – Graveyard

The CD Release party for Wicked Eats the Warrior at Floristree this Sat Sept 26th with Witch Hat , Blue Leader and the joyous Santa Dads opening!

Their live shows are absurdist carnival freakshows from the surreal and paranoid tail-end of an acid binge.  The spectacle, when you are experiencing it, makes the music feel ancillary.  This is a group that self-avowedly began in the trappings of concise, party-driven songcraft awash with feedback and artificially-siamese vocalists.

How, then, do Nuclear Power Pants possibly transition this to recorded medium?  Well, in today’s climate you roll with it, as noise and absurdity are approaching a level of ubiquity in music today not unlike the presence of guitars in rock.

Read the rest…

An Hour of Kindness: Episode 2 – Secret Mountains (MD)

It’s Secret Mountains love-fest today as we feature not only their recent performance on An Hour of Kindness, but their EP Kaddish garnered a Recommended Albums designation from Nolan.

Don’t forget they are playing with the equally fantastic Lands & Peoples (their most recent release also in Recommended Albums) at Flat Tuesdays on the UMBC campus Sept 25th.

An Hour of Kindness- Episode 2- Secret Mountains from Polygon Tree Productions on Vimeo.

Album Review: Secret Mountains – Kaddish EP (Unsigned)

kaddish ep

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

MP3: Secret Mountains – Kaddish

The first eight minutes of Secret Mountains’ Kaddish EP are nothing short of breathtaking. You’ll find gorgeous crescendos shimmering on both opening tracks, “Kaddish” and “Gate/Gate/Paragate,” two undeniably Baltimorean songs operating on an EP that plays more like a dream than it does music. Like Beach House and Wye Oak before them, Secret Mountains replicate a peculiar brand of euphoria, one that strikes more closely at the vein of beauty and is in touch with pure, unadulterated splendor. What we have on our hands today is a pretty damn promising debut.

At it’s best, Kaddish is a powerful narcotic; Secret Mountains’ straightforward instrumentation raises the heavens with a blunt echo, their listeners need do little to follow suit. Kaddish’s masterwork, “Gate/Gate/Paragate” resides in this state as a force of nature, it works fundamentally around an earthy chic-beat and a progression rooted in old folk. The notes have a way of testing your confidence: each count becomes a new leap of faith, falling into place like a snowflake on a bed of winter dust.

“I Have Been Awake” is Kaddish’s easy anthem, lyrics somehow mightier than the bony post-primal percussion point up the track’s attention, “I have been awake today. What have I done? What have I done?” It’s about reconciling self-knowledge and human nature, personal right, social wrong, the various cycles of life. Heavy stuff. These themes aren’t merely skimmed throughout the remainder of Kaddish either.  In fact, most of the subject matter eagerly sisters with virtuous artistic abstraction. Gladly, and  surprisingly, Secret Mountains have found an amiable middle ground between overzealous conceptual wankery and transparent secularism. The polished production reflects a similar position, intuitively revealing their stargazing eye sockets equally as well as their soles, planted comfortably in the soil.

What’s really impressive is that, for a home-cooked gem, Kaddish is sequenced immaculately. Sure, you’ve got the occasional mistake littered about on the flooring (which only adds to how deeply personal the EP is), but for something so homemade to sound this unified is quite simply uncalled for. Each piece moves seamlessly into the next devoid of the slightest friction; Kaddish never loses momentum between songs or within. Never. And that alone is worth being proud of.

Label: Unsigned

Release date: Aug 2009

Track list:

1. Kaddish
2. Gate/Gate/Paragate
3. Countries
4. Growing Season
5. I Have Been Awake

Older Posts >