elevenshadows musicblog

 

music that makes my ears wiggle


November 1996

 


Low "Long Division" Vernon Yard Recordings
Stark. Simple. Clean. Warm. Low-key. This is very quiet, low-key music with a steady bass guitar, a clean guitar played softly and methodically, and Mimi and Alan's vocals evoking dimly lit bedrooms at night, singing as if not to wake the person sleeping nearby. Mimi is also credited with playing percussion, which appears to consist of a softly tapped snare and a ride cymbal being played with simple eighth notes, drifting in to accompany the steady bass and guitar lines. With Alan's spartan guitar work and Zak's equally spartan bass, Low creates very pretty music that almost makes Mazzy Star seem like a decent moshpit band in comparison. I like it.


Music of Armenia: Sacred Choir Music, Vol. 1 Celestial Harmonies
Armenia sits at a crossroads between Europe and Asia, and this sacred choral music by the Haissmavourk choir greatly reflects that. While having a relationship to Gregorian chants, Armenian choral music has also been able to develop independently, and often takes unique, fascinating harmonic turns that reflect its Asian influence in a manner that Gregorian harmonies would not do. The very extensive and interesting liner notes describes the mixture between the exotic sound of the Asian modal forms and mixed choir singing arrangements by imagining "a Renaissance choir singing a Palestrina mass on an Arabic scale". There are several pieces that feature one of several female soloists singing in a cave, but most of these feature the full choral ensemble, recorded lovingly in their own Geghard monastery (which dates back to the fourth century!) and Holy Echmiadzin Cathedral by David Parsons. A first listen to this CD gave me goosebumps during several of the songs, always a great sign.

 

September 1996


Faye Wong (with Cocteau Twins) "Impatience" Cinepoly Records
To Western ears, Cantonese and Mandarin pop music can be a bit too sweet, much akin to devouring all the frosting but leaving the cake. Faye Wong's "Impatience" definitely has some of these saccharine qualities, but also has an interesting textural quality that sets it apart from many of her peers. Nowhere is this more evident than on the two tracks that the Cocteau Twins have written, produced, and arranged. Both "Fracture" and "Brooming Happiness" are vintage Twins soundscapes, and this ethereal quality is evident throughout the entire Mandarin-language release (aside from 1994's "Sky" and "Mystery", almost all are Cantonese). "Fracture", in particular, has a musical and lyrical poignancy that is achingly beautiful.

Some of you may be aware that the Beijing-born Hong Kong superstar sings "Serpentskirt" on the Asian release of the Cocteau Twins' latest release, "Milk and Kisses". Evidently, this collaboration has made an impact on Wong, as "Impatience" represents a musical departure from her previous work. This album is a strong showcase for her voice, range, and songwriting strengths. I only wish it were a wee bit longer than the 35 minutes on the CD.

For those of you in the United States who are wondering how to get this release, I would suggest going down to your local Chinatown record store. Once there, it's not too difficult to find -- look for a pink cover with '70s-retro photographs of Faye Wong doing the "See no evil, speak no evil, hear no evil" poses, and a pink sticker proclaiming in English: "Cocteau Twins * Faye Wong".


Perfume Tree "A Lifetime Away" World Domination Records
Perfume Tree's 1995 release extends the direction set by their "Fathom the Sky" EP (recorded at the same time as "A Lifetime Away" and 1994's "The Sun's Running Out". At once ethereal, textural, and groove-oriented, Perfume Tree have a very refreshing approach to what would presumably be within the ambient groove genre. Jane's female vocals are often of the ethereal, droning, Gothic-Dead Can Dance sort, but quite tasteful and melodic, and are given quite a lift by Mel's snakey Jah Wobble-ish bass grooves (Mel is also female -- take note, all you "women in music" fans!) and scintillating drum loops. Many of their grooves have a very hypnotic, trance-like nature. The interweaving of these grooves and Jane's long, reverberant vocal lines make for an uncommon, intriguing combination.

Another quality that sets this apart from other ambient groove CDs is the simple, distorted, delayed guitars that provide additional atmosphere, often intertwining with the infectious grooves. Additional spices in the way of some very tasteful keyboard textures, noises, samples, effects, and other fun stuff create one cool aural stew. All of the songs are full of sonic ear candy with occasional Eastern touches, and some of the slower rhythmic and less beat-oriented songs have a trippy, surreal feel. The quality of the songs and production far surpass anything else Perfume Tree has done in the past, due in part to their new Mackie/ADAT equipment as well as the creativity and luxury of time that a home studio permits. "A Lifetime Away" is further proof that ambient groove music can be organic, original, and full of vitality.


July 1996


Dadawa "Sister Drum" Sire
Dadawa was born in mainland China, but traveled to Tibet for personal soul-searching and to find music that she wanted to sing. This is quite an unusual and controversial move in light of the fact that China invaded and has occupied Tibet for over 45 years, and continues to concentrate the worst of its Tiananmen brand of terror directly in Tibet. This occupation has resulted in the continued genocide of the Tibetan people, and the destruction of the land, its people, and its culture. Nevertheless, Dadawa found inspiration in the Tibetan people and their customs, calling Tibet a "nation whose continuance depends on faith, not science."

The resulting inspiration is captured on her album, "Sister Drum", produced by He Xuntian. Dadawa sings with a certain grace and beauty indicative of her multi-cultural influences, which include not only the aforementioned Tibetan influences, but also Hong Kong and Taiwanese pop music as well as Western music. It’s obvious that Dadawa possesses a great deal of vocal talent. However, with the possible exception of the opening track, "Home Without Shadow", the songs and music soon get mired in a morass of slickly-produced-to-within-an-inch-of-its-life New Age music. With an array of low synthesizer drones, sequences, truly pompous choral passages, the occasional deep drum strikes, faux Asian-Lite touches and synthesized flutes, "Sister Drum" would not be out of place as a movie soundtrack to Eddie Murphy’s "The Golden Child" or Jean-Claude Van Damme’s "The Quest". If you really dig Yanni "Live at the Acropolis", this album may just be your cup of yak butter tea.

Then again, if Yanni appeared on his album covers wearing the robes of a Catholic priest, it’s quite possible that a great deal of people would be infuriated by this action. Dadawa has done just this on "Sister Drum", appearing in a Tibetan nun’s habit. The same habit that has been worn by Tibetan women devoted to studying scriptures. Moreover, the very same habit, signifying devotion, that has been bloodied in the beating, imprisoning, electrocuting, raping, and sterilizing of Tibetan nuns at the hands of the Chinese army.

To be perfectly frank, this music makes me sick on a number of different levels. Rather than incorporating Dadawa’s multi-ethnic influences, it reeks of cultural imperialism and cliché. Rather than seeking understanding, "Sister Drum" glosses over anything of interest in a sheen of over-produced, histrionic bombast and cultural fakery. Rather than resounding with the deep emotional charge of inspiration from Tibetan custom and tradition, Dadawa prefers the cheapened spirituality of wearing a Tibetan nun's habit. This is incredibly shallow music that is not flattered by intensive listening. Dadawa incorporates what I feel are the worst aspects of what is commonly referred to as New Age music, exhibiting none of the depth or reflectiveness that exists in the best of the genre. To respond to her press release’s question of whether popular music can "express a transcultural experience powerful enough to transcend boundaries" – the answer is yes, absolutely, but not here.

June 1996


Gasp "Sore For Days" eight-song cassette
Disclaimer:  I recorded this and most of their other releases at Blueberry Buddha Recording Studios
Los Angeles has a thriving sub-culture of heavy noise bands influenced by The Melvins, Black Sabbath, punk, and hardcore. Arising from this scene, Gasp may be described as incredibly loud, sloppy, crushing, and noisy -- in other words, great fun for enhancing your freeway driving experience or annoying your parents. Gasp frequently alternates between sludgy Grief/Melvins influenced passages and breakneck blast beats, often within the same songs. Both Mike and Reggie's guitars, as well as Cynthia's distorted bass, are downtuned to "A" or "B", providing a massive wall of noise, with Mitch's primal drums providing the glue for their sonic trainwreck, and Mike's hoarse screams punching through the din. The cassette J-card prints what are often above-average lyrics for this genre of music, just in case you have no idea what Mike is screaming about. They've just recorded another set of songs for a 12" split release with another Los Angeles band, Stapled Shut, due out in November on Check Out Time Records. Not for the faint of heart, this music appeals to a certain set of ears -- you know who you are.


Acid King "Zoroaster" Sympathy for the Record Industry
Dark, Sabbath-inspired music from Acid King. Warming up for the Melvins at The Alligator Lounge in early July, this band was quite impressive live. "Zoroaster", produced by the band and Billy Anderson, manages to capture the basic essence of Acid King live. My only complaint about this CD (other than the dorky cover art) is that Lori's vocals are mixed a little too up front for my tastes, although much of this is due to Lori's fuzzy bottom-heavy Marshall sound, which doesn't occupy very much of the midrange frequencies, making the vocals appear louder. This is a small point, however; her voice is not so up front as to be distracting, and the music is largely instrumental, with mesmerizing variations on simple pentatonic riffs. The very beginning guitar riff of "Queen of Sickness", with its extremely fuzzy low end, evokes Cream's "Sunshine of your Love". Peter provides a warm, round bass tone (note: they've just replaced the bass player), while Joey's economical yet driving drums push along these ominous, often slow-tempo or mid-tempo songs. Card-carrying members of the PMRC may run for the hills after taking a look at song titles such as "Evil Satan" or "If I Burn", which sit alongside other song titles such as "Fruit Cup" and "Vertigate #1", so don't say that I didn't tell you.


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