Thursday, December 11, 2008

Kelley Polar

Here are two albums by Kelley Polar - 2005's "Love Songs of the Hanging Gardens" and this year's "I Need You to Hold on While the Sky Is Falling". Polar is a Jiuliard-trained classical violist who somehow turned to making bizarro-future-disco. Excellent!

"I Need You to Hold on While the Sky is Falling" [2008]

"Love Songs of the Hanging Garden" [2005]

Visit Kelley Polar's website

Li Jianhong - San Sheng Shi

Let's start with a brief biography of Li Jianhong I aped off of
Li Jianhong (Li-Jianhong - 李剣鴻-李剑鸿) is one of the most active chinese sound artists in Mainland China. Born in Fenghua, Zhejiang Province in 1975 and now residing in Hangzhou, Li is the founder of the avant-rock group “Second Skin” and the manager of 2pi Records (“2pi” being the chinese equivalent to 2nd Skin), an independent experimental label based in Hangzhou, China.

Now, San Sheng Si: This album consists of a 51 minute processed guitar solo - throughout these 51 minutes Li Jianhong creates a dense textural noise work which manages to earn it's long time-frame. There are very interesting dynamics here - nice contrasts between moments of ethereal beauty hidden underneath a heavy, heavy blanket of noise. There are melodies lurking out in moments out from the background, never quite revealing themselves. There's plenty of heaviness throughout this piece, but at moments I feel this odd tenderness I can't quite put my finger on. Highly recommended.


Monday, December 8, 2008

Supercontinent - Vaalbara

I'd like to change gears for Giraffe Kingdom for a minute for this review. So far we've been focusing on more esoteric, "serious" artists and albums, dipping our toes into some pop-sensible waters, but never quite putting the whole foot in. I'm still not quite ready for a swim but I'll be leaving outer-space today and setting that foot on a very evil looking mountain with flowing magma dripping between my toes. By which I mean I'll blog about Supercontinent's awesome, heavy, fun album "Vaalbara"

I'll readily admit that I'm no metal expert - but I believe this is what the kiddies are calling sludge metal. Big sound, slow beat, heavy distortion, lots of tension - all anchored by some finely crafted riffs. This Ann Arbor-based group bring some big, big riffs. (3 of its 6 members are guitarists) This album is heavy heavy heavy for nearly its entire duration, but refreshingly, it stays dynamic without needing to rely on obvious loud-quiet-loud formulas to keep the songs moving, just various different moods and some very memorable, catchy guitar lines.

Buy directly from the band (please do) at their myspace

Nobukazu Takemura - Scope

This 1999 album marked Japanese DJ savant Nobukazu Takemura's debut into highly experimental, difficult to classify music, which had previously been primarily club oriented or at least closer to the traditional side of IDM. "On A Balloon" kicks things off ambitiously with more than 20 minutes of utterly alien, amorphous sounds, whose original sources we can only guess at. His process for generating these sonic wonders involves sending some of the outputs of his mixing board back into the inputs, creating a feedback loop with many exotic possibilities. The palette of sounds constantly changes, but many melodic and textural themes do recur - Takemura's use of building up and breaking down patterns keeps the careful listener in constant attention and surprise. His use of stereo panning is also very impressive here; headphones are recommended to appreciate all the detail present.

Next is "Kepler", the most accessible song on the album and arguably the highlight. It finds Takemura in a minimalistic setting reminiscent of Steve Reich's most textural pieces, with beautiful warm synthesized melodic figures repeating in a meter that one would rather just cruise with than hope to count. Soon micro-aural vocal samples enter, unpredictably fracturing and interacting until they form steady rhythms. All the while the underlying harmony undergoes sudden modulations, drastically changing the mood from serene to ominous and back. This song is a gem among the best electronic creations this author has heard.

The remaining material maintains a high standard, though much of it is a good deal less accessible. On "Taw", many jarring, dissonant, awkward, and confusing sounds are juxtaposed in complicated ways that many listeners may not find musical in any traditional sense. This is not music to tap one's foot to. Nevertheless, Takemura's imagination is always at full force, and even the most bizarre moments have a sense of humorous invention to them. There is also beauty to be found all the way through, especially on "Icefall", in which a fuzzy opening melody is joined by bubbling bleeps and bloops to create a joyous, frenetic texture of bouncing notes. Closing the album is "Tiddler", a sluggish, good natured piece with the feel of a hymn or lullaby.


Saturday, December 6, 2008

Paco de Lucia - Cositas Buenas

I am ashamed to say that for most of my life I'd written off Paco De Lucia as a latin-jazz-fusion cheeseball. I'm not sure why exactly I made that judgment, considering I'd hardly heard any of his music, aside from one album by The Guitar Trio with Al Dimeola and John McLaughlin, which honestly, I don't rememeber. I think it may have been an opinion transferred to me by my older brother, who was a big influence on my music tastes for a long time. Anyways - when that brother handed me this album "Cositas Buenas" I was stunned. I had for some reason come to associate De Lucia with empty technical wankery and fusion corniness, but I was hearing something completely fresh to me - modernist flamenco! Off-kilter rhythms, unworldy vocals, beautiful melodic narratives carefully dancing around eachother - complex, but not in a way that places too much emphasis on Paco's virtuosity (of which there is plenty, wow) - but complex in all the right ways, to deepen and enrich the music. Perhaps nicest of all is that it's rare to find music this rich in intellectual musical fervor that is so plainly danceable - each song on this album is based on the rhythms of a traditional Flamenco dance form, but Paco explores every option that rhythm seems to allow - skirting around and in-between that rhythm to the point where it's barely recognizable. Perhaps I'm unusual in this regard, but my absolute favorite thing for music to be is surprising - this album consistently surprises. Beautiful, fun, and definitely surprising.

Here's a more sensible, to the point review:
For four decades, Spanish guitarist Paco de Lucia's jazzy, Mephisto-like technique redefined flamenco. This CD, which means "Good Small Things," is de Lucia’s first release in five years, and it's been worth the wait. Most of the eight tracks feature just de Lucia, a chorus of vocalists, percussion, and the zesty handclaps called palmas. Lucia and company take you through the Moorish, Jewish, and Gypsy inventions and dimensions of flamenco, from the buleria "Patio Custodio" and the torrid tientos "El Tesorillo" to the moody, mid-tempo buleria por soleatres, foreshadows the future of this ancient and inventive art form. --Eugene Holley, Jr.