Wednesday, October 28, 2009

New Column: Strings Attached

The days just fly by lately... Another week, another column at This one includes a review of Paranormal Activity, a surprisingly effective low-budget horror flick in the vein of The Blair Witch Project. (Oh, you've heard of it?) It also takes aim at a pair of orchestral projects from Sufjan Stevens. Neither Run Rabbit Run nor The BQE works as the follow-up to Illinois we've all been waiting for, but they're both quite good.

Click on over to read all about it, then come back here and leave me a comment.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

New Column: Freaked Out and Small

Short and sweet: this week at I reviewed the sprawling, amorphous new sort-of-double album from the Flaming Lips, and found it difficult. I then reviewed the tiny, sparkling debut album from Harper Simon, and found it marvelous. I called the column "Freaked Out and Small" after a Presidents of the United States album title, but it's meant to be taken in two parts: the Lips are "freaked out," Simon is "small." I also shared a bit about another wedding and concert I went to, and my thoughts on the Where the Wild Things Are movie.

So click on over to read it, then come on back here to leave me a comment. Thanks, as always.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

First Listen: Om, God is Good

Om is one of my favorite rock and roll stories. They started as two-thirds of stoner rock band Sleep, who in 1998 made the ultimate stoner rock album, Dopesmoker. (It didn't see release in its intended form - a single astonishing 63-minute slow-burning song - until 2003.) After the trio broke up, bassist/singer Al Cisneros and drummer Chris Hakius reformed as Om, without guitarist Matt Pike. In fact, without a guitar player at all.

They still make stoner metal. It's still low and slow and full of drug imagery. Only now, they do it without guitars - just bass and drums. God is Good is the first Om album since Hakius was replaced by Emil Amos, yet despite 50 percent of their membership changing, the band sounds much the same.

This album has a few more bells and whistles, including some flute and some tamboura. But again it's long songs, monotone vocals, and slow, creeping grooves. And it's still unlike anything else out there. If you can take minimal instrumentation, minimal melody and minimal variation, then this will put you into the best kind of trance. It's mesmerizing.

First Listen: Jandek, What Was Out There Disappeared

What could get me to break my blog silence? How about the 61st album from Texas enigma Jandek?

Here's what's interesting. Jandek's music sounds like no other music on the planet, so you'd think it would be endlessly fascinating. In the '80s and '90s, there was a supple malleability to his improvised insanity. Would he have other musicians playing with him, or would he be alone, plucking that tuneless guitar like the world's most abandoned soul? Would he bang on a piano for 15 wordless minutes? Or would he release an hour-long a cappella record, with nothing but his poorly-recorded speaking voice? You never knew.

But while Jandek's live albums since 2004 have kept that sense of unpredictability, his studio albums have been surprisingly formulaic. What Was Out There Disappeared is yet another solo acoustic guitar and vocals album. Once again the guitar spits out an otherworldly, dissonant melange of notes. Once again Jandek moans atonally about how lonely and depressed he is. Occasionally there is harmonica. This is the only thing separating this album from the two before it.

Listening to this, I find myself wondering why he makes these studio documents. The live records burst with imagination, even if they too contain the teeth-grinding ugliness of just about all of Jandek's work. The studio albums are starting to sound rote, however. There's nothing on What Was Out There that Jandek didn't already do on 2002's I Threw You Away, 29 albums ago.

As always, Jandek is only recommended for the hardiest (or foolhardiest) listener. For more info, check out Seth Tisue's site.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

QuietCo in living color

Hopefully by now, you've heard me raving about Quiet Company, the Austin, Texas band that currently sits at number two on my 2009 top 10 list. Their album Everyone You Love Will Be Happy Soon is simply a masterpiece, and if you like the stuff I like, you need to hear it.

Quiet Company has just released a video for one of that album's more epic tracks, "On Modern Men." It's a good way to hear one of my favorite songs on the record, although I'll point out that its massive, cathartic buildup works even better near the tail end of Everyone You Love. Check it out. Then click through to the main site and buy the record. You will not be disappointed, I promise.

New Column: No Top 10 List for You

What a week it's been. My dad got married, my job was saved, and the Red Sox season sputtered to a close. I've been pretty busy - I also somehow fit in a two-day trip to Peoria to collect a whole bunch of Associated Press and Illinois Press Association awards for our news group. Yay! Still, very tired.

So once again, I've gone a week without any posts. This is becoming ridiculous, and I'm sorry. I did, however, write up another 2,700-word tm3am column, this one all about three superb albums that will be disqualified for my top 10 list. I have these rules, you see, and every year, some very worthy records are left out in the cold because of them, and every year, I reconsider whether the rules are worth it. This year, Marillion, Morphine and Neil Finn's new project will be outside of my top 10 list looking in. Is this fair? I'm not absolutely sure.

Click on over to read the column, then come back here and leave me a comment. Thanks!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

New Column: Ode to Joy

Hey all. It's been another busy, hectic, no-posts-between-columns week, and I don't see that letting up for most of October, unfortunately. But I will try! Anyway, this week at, I took a look at Phish's reunion album Joy, and found it to be the most fun, alive-sounding record they've made this decade.

But wait, there's more! I also lit into Mike Doughty's depressingly lame Sad Man Happy Man, and the Elms' further adventures in Americana, The Great American Midrange. And I explained why Imogen Heap's Ellipse is one of my favorite albums of the year. Now how much would you pay?

Click on over to read all about it, then come back here and leave me a comment.