Thursday, September 28, 2006

S'Wicked, mon

Apologies for the long dark between posts. Life has been pleasantly hectic, so I've found myself lacking either the time or the energy to sit down and do some blogging (as beneficial as it is for the soul). However, I find myself with a touch of self-inflicted free time this morning, so here goes.

Ask anyone who knows me and most of them will tell you that I'm not a big fan of Broadway shows. The vast majority of these productions are overblown, maudlin affairs featuring storylines rife with rehashed love triangles and barely rudimentary stabs at social commentary. Add to that performers who've been raised in the "when in doubt, belt" school of thought and you have a recipe for disaster (at least in my opinion). There are, of course, exceptions. I've been very pleased by the productions of Chicago, Three Penny Opera, and Cabaret that I've seen. Then again, I believe the first show is quite outstanding, while the latter two are already classics. Heck, I even enjoyed the recent adaptation of Sweeney Todd, although I was not as fond of it as I was with the original.

One learns to adapt to a certain extent.

Then again, perhaps I'm just missing the boat. My experience is limited to say the least, so may haps I should defer to those who've seen more shows and are more deeply immersed in the thriving culture that is New York's Broadway.

Deferring, however, is not one of my strong points...

I'm blathering on about this because Susan kindly took me to see Wicked last night. I've met a number of people who have raved about this show. My friend Marti lists it as her absolute favorite. Contrarily, I've spoken with several people who'd seen it and had a slightly more lukewarm reaction. I myself had heard a couple of tunes off the soundtrack and found myself sitting squarely in the second camp, so I was experiencing some trepidation about actually seeing it.

This was not entirely misplaced.

From a visual and production standpoint, there is no denying that this is an amazing show. The spectacle is... spectacular. The set is elaborate and incorporates any number of trapdoors, moving set pieces, and machinery. There are tons of gears and cogs and such, so any fan of things remotely industrial would enjoy the sights. The lighting is also great; extremely colorful, well placed, and well executed. Additionally, there is a fair amount of harness work, including one section in which actors dressed as flying monkeys swing to and fro, suspended on guy-wiers high above the audience. Fun stuff.

But in the end, the spectacle is just that: spectacle. Yes, it's pretty, but the music, unfortunately, falls flat.

Again, this is purely personal opinion. I was raised on a steady diet of Sondheim, so I prefer my musicals a little more challenging. Wicked's music is standard Broadway fare: major chord progressions, trite lyrics, and plenty of opportunities for young sopranos who don't know any better to show off how loud and high they think they can sing; again, the "when in doubt, belt" school. The woman who played the Wicked Witch herself practically gritted her teeth when reaching for those notes. She did a great job, yet there were times when her tone was overtly piercing. Power to be sure, but little nuance or subtlety.

There were two numbers that I did enjoy immensely, both based on the classic patter-song structure of rapid rhymes and Tin Pan Alley orchestration. Galinda ("The 'ga' is silent...") did a great piece called "Popular", which allowed the actress playing her to really ham it up; a lot of fun in this one. "Wonderful", sung by the Wizard himself, was a variation on the same theme and was likewise very entertaining.

So the evening was by no means unenjoyable, although I'd be lying if I said I didn't check the time at intermission and think, "I have to get through another hour of this?" This is the same reaction I had to Phantom Of The Opera, which is not a good sign. However, I have to say that maybe it was the festive atmosphere or the spectacle or the company, but I did actually have a good time (despite the musical disappointment).

Would I see it again? No. Would I recommend it to someone who wants to have a true "Broadway" experience? Yes, with appropriate caveats dependant on the person. A rube from the East Bumblefuck? Of course, go see it. Enjoy. A sophisticate well versed in the rich and varied history of musical theater? Maybe.

Just leave your adventurous side at door.

"I can fight you with one paw tied behind my back" with:

Daft Punk - Homework
(bringin' da fun back to da punk)

DJ? Acucrack - Sorted
(but not in alphabetical order)

Mos Def - Black On Both Sides
(bigger and deffer)

Massive Attack - No Protection
(Mad Professor just has his way with the MA boys)

Candyflip - Madstock
(the EMF that never was)

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Memories of you

On Tuesday, September 11th, 2001, I was working in midtown at 750 7th Avenue. Shortly after the first plane hit the Towers, my entire office was glued to CNN, amazed at how a pilot could screw up that badly.

Then we realized it hadn’t been a light plane; this had been no Cessna… the tower had been hit by a jet liner.

Then the second plane hit and we knew something was terribly wrong.

Our building, being one of the taller structures in midtown Manhattan, was immediately evacuated. Once on the street, I was crossing an avenue and looked downtown just as the first tower collapsed. No doubt you've heard/read people describe how surreal it was, like an unbelievable nightmare. This is a cliché at this point, but incredibly accurate. I count myself lucky that I was not among those who were actually working downtown. I have several friends who were in the Wall Street area and had to flee the debris cloud. I also lost a friend who worked in the WTC. I believe she was killed instantly (she worked on the floor where the first plane hit), but I will never know.

I suppose different people deal with the anniversary of this terrible event in many different ways. This time round, I exercised the "hide your head in the sand" technique. I didn't listen to or watch the news, nor did I read anything about it on the net. I didn't want to know, didn't want to think about it. The only direct effect this year's anniversary had on me was a nasty traffic snarl on Sunday night.


I'm a daily follower of Josh Weiner's Grumpymonk website. Josh is an incredibly talented photographer and I have to say that the pic below moved me in ways I've managed to suppress since the event itself. But this isn't a bad thing. It hasn't reopened any wounds, but instead has somehow helped me remember in a calm and introspective way. It's beautiful, in a terrible and saddening way.

Thanks, Josh.


Radiohead - Hail To The Thief
(finally getting into this one)

P.M. Dawn - Of The Heart, Of The Soul And Of The Cross: The Utopian Experience
(blessed hippy hop)

Leaf - Made Into Itself
(taking off the kilter)

Belphegor - Necrodaemon Terrorsathan
(growl growl bang bang)

Bonechurch - Blackstatic
(black as midnight, black as pitch)

Monday, September 11, 2006

Scuba dooby doo

What a lovely weekend.

Susan and I trekked out to Dutch Springs for her check out dives. Dutch is a water-filled quarry in Allentown, PA that specializes in scuba education. Tons of neat stuff has been sunk beneath the surface of the place: a school bus, several small planes, and a van or two, along with a helicopter suspended at about 40 feet. Additionally, they have platforms hanging at about 25 feet down where beginning divers can practice their skills, take tests, etc.

As a student, Susan was required to do four dives; two on Saturday, two on Sunday. During each dive, she had to prove her mastery of certain skills. I myself got to tag along for moral support, as well as being there to toss in any extra help the instructor might need.

My lady, of course, passed with flying colors.

So I am now dating a certified Scuba Diver. While she is still only a PADI Open Water Diver, I suspect she'll be Advanced Open Water (like me) before you know it. She got bit by the bug so badly that we actually went for a dive on our own a mere hour or two after she finished her last check out dive.

Fun stuff.

There will soon be another person in this picture.

In going over my own log book, I realized I've actually been under water for over an entire day (somewhere in the neighborhood of 29 hours, in fact). This is, admittedly, small potatoes to many divers, but I haven't been at it very long, so I'm still proud. Then again, Susan's instructor told me about the guy who'd taught her, a gentleman who has something like seven months bottom time.


So it was a very exciting (yet intensely relaxing) weekend, soured only slightly by the troubles we had getting home Sunday night, thanks to Fearless Leader's visit. Since we had to take the Brooklyn Bridge to get home, we had no choice but to snake our way through lower Manhattan, in the vicinity of Ground Zero. Dumbya was, of course, already in residence last night, so traffic was pretty much fucked. Then again, George has done so much to piss on the memory of those who died on 9/11, it only made sense that he would extend the same courtesy to the rest of us.

Go home, George. We don't want you here.

Further abstractions:

Various - DJ Abstract 2: Drum And Beats Mix
(from my primitive beginnings)

Various - DJ Abstract 6: Nineties Junkie Mix
(tech, ya know?)

Various - DJ Abstract 8: Black Eye Mix
(drum and bass cut with breakcore, like an LSD laced blunt)

Various - DJ Abstract 11: The Headcrush Party
(controlled demolition via audio)

Various - DJ Abstract 14: The Grit Mix
(more moves on the wheels of steel)

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Talkin' loud (and sayin' nothin')

Let me state for the record that I am, like countless others, a long time fan of James Brown. His genre-defining, stripped down, minimalist funk always brings a smile to my face. The only reasons I've never gone to see the man perform are

1) The rarity that he tours the area
2) The prohibitive cost of the show when he does ($120 a ticket is simply ludicrous)

All this being said, he's also long provided me with entertainment (and indeed, some cause for concern), outside of his musical endeavors. Who can forget the shots of The Godfather Of Soul in prison attire, weeding outside the warden's office? Then again, I believe it was "weeding" or some such that got him there in the first place...

My point, however, is this: James is amazing; an accomplished, well-rounded musician. Remember, before the Funk, there was the Soul. Tracks like "Please, Please, Please", "Try Me", and "It's A Man's World" show that The Hardest Working Man In Show Business isn't just about shrieks and simple call-and-response.

(But he can still funk you up)

I've gone and said all this as a disclaimer, because I'm going to turn around and do this:

I came across yet another interview featuring James out of his mind on something (on "love", apparently). Not sure when this was shot, but it's pretty out there. I've also linked it to this great (and quite celebrated) mug shot for your additional amusement. So click the pic below for the funny.

(I'm a mean person)

"Will tour for drugs."

Stoned to the bone:

Final - Final 3
(hey, it's two discs, so it takes awhile)

Black Sabbath - Vol. 4
(or 1000 Homo DJs; you make the call)

Black Sun Empire - Cruel & Unusual
(because one day of BSE is not enough)

Nasum - Grind Finale
(maximum grind per square inch)

Louis Armstrong - Hot Fives And Sevens
(because Satchmo is the man)

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

The Mystifying Oracle - The Kiffed EP


As I have no doubt mentioned before, I have long been a fan of those ambient masterminds from Oregon, Austere. I have been fortunate enough to have worked with these gents in the past (our Evergone CD remains one of those of which I am most proud) and am always pleased when they release new material, be it as Austere or under the guise of one of their various side projects, such as The Mystifying Oracle. I was particularly pleased by the latter's freshman offering, Quintesscence (fussed over here), so I was very excited to hear that they would be putting out a new CD EP.

It is quite a change of pace.

While Quintesscence presented a world of deep, mellow beats and hazy drones, The Kiffed EP finds The Oracle exploring the intricate polyrhythms of the Middle East. While the exact origins of this CD remain a mystery (quite in keeping with Austere's faceless approach to promotion), it sounds to me as if much of the sound is derived from field recordings. The liner notes themselves make reference to "travelling [sic] companions", Morocco, and Marrakech; and one of the songs is, in fact, entitled "El-Jareb (From Recordings, Essouria)". But whether these sounds are live recordings or a result of studio wizardry, there's no denying that they lend an intensely organic feel to the entire affair.

The first of the four tracks, the "CD version" of "Kiffed", begins with a soft, lilting intro of distant synths. This is, however, quickly replaced by a tribal sounding drum beat and shaker. This simple percussion is slowly built up until a steady, four-on-the-four rhythm kicks in. A growling bass cross fades from one ear to the other, only to be joined once again by the dulcet tones used in the introduction. This proceeds until just slightly before the three minute mark, when the pace accelerates and then breaks away for a buried vocal sample (I won't say what it says; you'll just have to pick up the CD to find out). The steady rhythm then returns, augmented by more synths and well place percussive accents. In all, there is a distinctly chill (indeed vaguely stoned) feel to the piece.

The second (and, in my opinion, most interesting) track, the aforementioned "El-Jared", sounds like it was recorded live, for there is a slightly distant feel to the song. It is also the most "foreign" sounding of the tracks collected here, as if the listener was sitting in some smoky kasbah somewhere in Morocco. Again, the piece if rife with polyrhythms and odd instrumentation; an immediate (and perhaps strange) association would be to the work Peter Gabriel has done with both his Real World label and his soundtrack to The Last Temptation Of Christ, Passion. This song is a picture of distant, sand-strewn lands and mysterious characters; an exciting aural trip.

Perhaps the most conventional sounding track on the CD is "Pieces Of Bass (Yeah)", the third track. While it still retains the organic percussion, it is driven by squiggly bass lines and a heavy club beat. Repeated vocal samples are used throughout and lots of synth-driven sounds fly back and forth, making this one of the least organic tune here.

The final track is a remix of "Kiffed" (the "Kicker" remix, to be exact). While this remix sounds very similar to the "CD Version", it does feel heavier, yet sparser. There are several breaks and The Oracle once again has a good time with some amusing vocal samples here. This is also the most "clubby" track on the CD, the organic rhythms providing more of an aside to a straight up four-on-the-floor beat. It seems to mix the feel of the "CD Version" with the ethos of "Pieces Of Bass (Yeah)". It's a good balance of the two.

In all, this is an intriguing CD. While it is a radical change from Quintesscence, it does illustrate the depth of The Oracle's musical interests. Given this, I'm quite looking forward to the follow up release, the full CD, Rite Of Passage: Travels In Morocco.

Other slippery tunes:

The Mystifying Oracle - The Kiffed EP
(see above, brutha)

Techno Animal - Brotherhood Of The Bomb
(100% guaranteed brain damage)

Black Sun Empire - Driving Insane
(dig deeper, dig darker)

Final - Final 3
(took him long enough, didn't it?)

Matt Borghi - Johnson McCready's Morning Breaks In And Settles
(2nd in Kikapu's Circle Series)