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Sep. 15th, 2008 @ 12:06 pm stuff

Just Finished Reading: Tales of the Alhambra by Washington Irving. A collection of short tales based on legends and folktales he heard when visiting the Alhambra, and some account of his stay there. Not as good as the stuff in The Sketch Book, but still good. There were plenty of enchantments, ghosts, and sorcerers, and the Seal of Solomon even, but I was hoping for some familiar spirits too. I especially liked how some of the legends had a persistent presence through the book, being referenced in other legends.
 
Now Reading: The Sundial by Shirley Jackson. I’ve read her short-story collection The Lottery, which is brilliant and horrifying, but this is the first of her novels for me. I’m about halfway through it, and it's fantastic. The main characters are all so appalling. It’s starting off very darkly funny, surreal, and disorienting, amped up by its in media res presentation, all of which are things that I love, love, love in my fiction.
 
On High Rotation: Combinations by Eisley. This is their second LP-length recording (with two or three EPs before that), and they’ve still got it. So beautiful that it hurts a little, as always. The arrangements show a marked improvement in terms of complexity over their previous stuff, and I’m really glad to hear the overdriven guitars return after their complete absence on Room Noises. The mandolin and classical guitars on “Come Clean” were a pleasant surprise, as was the harpsichord on “Combinations.” Also, the trend continues: Stacy and Sherri Dupree, the singers, are increasingly hard to tell apart by their voices. They’ve always harmonized as if it were as easy as breathing, but now they blend together almost seamlessly; it’s like listening to one person sing two parts at the same time.
 
As a fan of Sherri’s fascinating and charming ink work, I’m really glad to see it being used on the cover. She’s got a very unique style that looks sort of like Art Deco mixed with Surrealism (I know that sounds contradictory), and I can’t get enough of it.
 
Lyrically, there’s not as much of the fantastical stuff (like “With lightbulbs in our pockets, we’ll light the darkened forest” or “When the morning came, the bees flew down and wrapped themselves around me. And that’s when I spoke the word to have them trace your face for me in pollen”) that I love to hear from them, all though there’s a few lines that have that ring.
 
Also Some Other Music: The Serpent’s Egg, Into the Labyrinth, and A Passage in Time by Dead Can Dance. I picked these up at the pawnshop on a recommendation from a friend. I haven’t listened to Into the Labyrinth yet, but their work seems to be a blend of Medieval (both secular and sacred) and Near East styles (“vocabularies” is a better word for it), with 1980s production values (lots and lots of digital reverb). Lisa Gerrard has a fantastic voice (although I’d like it better without the reverb), but I just don’t care for most of the compositions. They’re not bad, it’s just that, with the exception of motets and madrigals, I don’t care for Medieval sacred music (too simple), and most of the stuff on these CDs that doesn’t sound like Medieval plainchant is very, very minimalist. There is, however, a piece on A Passage in Time called “Saltarello” that I really enjoy, in a Medieval secular (pagan, even) style with what sounds like it might actually be a shaum or musette (early double-reed instruments). It might be synthesized, though; with the production being so heavy on digital reverb, it’s hard to tell. “Cantara” is also pretty good once it gets going.
 
Now, so I’m not misunderstood, minimalism means a different thing in music than it does in art, no matter how much the White Stripes try to tell you otherwise. In music, it refers to the use of short, repeating, hypnotic patterns. I’m not against it as a technique – I use it myself, from time to time. But when I do it, I complement it with improvised, textural passages that never repeat. Dead Can Dance use minimalism by itself, and there’s just not enough going on for my tastes. Even when it’s layered (and it usually is on these discs), I grasp the passage within the first two or three repetitions, and from that point on there’s no reward for active listening.
 
I’ve also recently picked up Good Apollo, I’m Burning Star IV Volume 2: No World for Tomorrow by Coheed and Cambria. It’s not as good as Good Apollo, I’m Burning Star IV Volume 1: From Fear Through the Eyes of Madness, but it’s still good. (Yes, I find it necessary to write out the full titles. I like how absurdly long they are.) I love most of the artwork in it, especially the big piece that the case folds out into, with all its bursting planets, ascending Prise, giant robot, hell yeah. So wonderfully melodramatic, operatic, geeky, and metal.
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From:davidberg
Date:October 11th, 2008 11:33 pm (UTC)

Eisley

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I don't usually like pretty female voices over not-that-hard rock, but they just do it so well... I've liked them since my friend (their publicist) gave me the Laughing City EP. If you haven't heard it, I highly recommend it.

Mandolin & harpsichord sound risky to me, but also interesting. I'll see if I can dig up Combinations.
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From:americanwizard
Date:October 14th, 2008 05:46 pm (UTC)

Re: Eisley

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Combinations is easily the best work they've done so far (I've heard it all).

I'm gonna go on a diatribe for sec, though, and say that Eisley are not a rock band. They're doing a thing that we don't have a good name for, even though others are also doing it in their own ways, including Neko Case and Tom Waits (and myself). They don't have a good name for it, but they do have a bad one: they call it "adult alternative." One of the defining characteristics is an emphasis on COMPOSITION rather than mere songsmithing -- the pieces have complex harmonies and melodic structures, counterpoint, and (especially) TEXTURE. It's not just a matter of writing some words and singing them over some chords. On Combinations, the song "Ten Cent Blues" does not have a chorus. Which is something that I praise very, very highly. It's not easy to do.

It's... Aw, heck, I don't know if I can explain it any better than that. Tell you what, email me your land address, and I'll send you some CDs.
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From:americanwizard
Date:October 14th, 2008 10:03 pm (UTC)

Re: Eisley

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That previous post was rushed and only marginally makes any sense. The point was this stuff:

You seem to notice that there's a difference between Eisley and rock bands with pretty-voiced singers; I was attempting to explain that difference. It's not nearly that they do it so well, it's that they're really doing a different thing.

And also that mandolin and harpsichord (and other non-rock instruments) are a risk only in a rock setting, because there's nothing in the rock idiom for them to DO. Consider the band Yellowcard, with that violin player. 90% of the time, you can't even hear him in the mix. He's just doubling what everyone else is doing, because there's nothing for him to DO. He's got a violin in a rock band! What the hell is he supposed to do with that? Nothing! It's a gimmick!
But, outside of a rock idiom, there's plenty that such instruments can be used for.

Also, while this all sounds very music-Nazi, there are rock bands that I like.

And the offer for the CDs still stands! I'll make you a mix of "adult alternative" stuff and its antecedents & relatives, and I'll burn you a CD of my own stuff. In which I've used mandolin, recorder, and banjo without batting an eye. And also synthesized facsimiles of violins, cellos, contrabassos, harpsichord, and clarinets.
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From:davidberg
Date:October 15th, 2008 07:06 pm (UTC)

Re: Eisley

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Yeah, good point. Much as the "adult alternative" label sounds like it should be pornographic nursery rhymes or some crap, "not rock" is probably worth mentioning.

I'm mostly a rock guy, but I've been known to love banjoists playing Bach, so I'm definitely down to check out your music and some of your favorites.

The last Tom Waits I heard was Mule Variations, which I thought was neat, but haven't felt the urge to go back to much.

I'll happily accept physical CDs, but let me propose an option that will be cheaper for you: FolderShare.com. Check it out, and if you're down, I'll invite you to my shared folder, where you can just drop MP3s onto my computer.
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From:americanwizard
Date:October 15th, 2008 07:35 pm (UTC)

Re: Eisley

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My connection isn't really fast enough for me to use something like FolderShare. Besides, I already burned the CDs :)

Tom Waits is... Well, most of the time, people have to let Tom grow on them. He exploded my brain from the very first time that I heard him, but that's not usually the case. Most of the time, he has to grow on you. Like a fungus.
Mule Variations is very good, and it's probably his most accessible album since he took a turn for the weird with Swordfishtrombones in '82, but it's not his most exciting album in terms of strange and wonderful things (that would be, in my opinion, The Black Rider, with Bone Machine close behind).
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From:davidberg
Date:October 18th, 2008 06:45 am (UTC)

Re: Eisley

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You rock. I am emailing you my mailing address.

If you have multiple options for packaging, the smaller the better for me. I have a small mailbox.