Monthly Archives: March 2007

SXSW 2007: A preview

Instead of posting a schedule of Japanese bands playing at SXSW here, I posted it to instead.

The film and interactive festival starts tonight, and the music festival takes over next Wednesday. I usually write a whole bunch of stuff beforehand, but this year, real life is interfering quite a lot.

I also don’t have my usual channels for a cheap wristband or a comped badge this year. Only one year did I spring for my own badge — back when Web 1.0 was in full swing — but every other year, I’ve gone on someone else’s dime.

Oh, I have a wristband, thanks to the heroic efforts of a friend of mine. (She stood in line for a two hours.) But I don’t feel much anticipation for this year’s festival. I’m not sure why.

I can tell you the Japan Nite line-up this year doesn’t really grab me. And no, I never got into GO!GO!7188. Metalchicks is about the only Japanese band I want to see. Zoobombs were announced previously, but it looks like they’re sticking with a tour of Canada instead.

I was hoping some of the queer musicians I’ve run across in the last year — Dylan Rice, Ari Gold, Ex-Boyfriends (who were in town last year) — would perform. The Gossip, Bob Mould and a hip-hop act called V.I.P. are about the only queer artists on the schedule.

Nonetheless, I have taken time off from work to go to shows, and I’ll be filing reports if I’m not too tired from all the nightly excursions.

365 Days, 365 Files: Cocco – Rainbow

Dr.StrangeLove was pretty much Cocco’s backing band from the start of her career. Negishi Takamune has so far produced every album (not counting Singer Songer, since that was produced by Kishida Shigeru of Quruli.)

So it was a nice tribute to her producer and session musicians when she covered the band’s "Rainbow".

Negishi and Susumu Osada (Dr.StrangeLove’s guitarist) aren’t exactly the best interpreters of their songs, but under Cocco’s hands, the versatility and appeal of the pair’s songwriting comes through. In short, she brought out the best parts.

I thought about providing an A-B comparison with the original song, but essentially, what you hear in Cocco’s version is what you would get (generally speaking) on Twin Suns, the album from whence it came.

[File expired.]

365 Days, 365 Files: Cocco – アネモネ (Anemone)/バニラ (Vanilla)

I can’t say I’m surprised the coupling tracks with Cocco’s single "Yakenogahara" didn’t make it on Best + Ura Best + Mihappyokyokushuu. They aren’t bad songs, but they aren’t her prime work either.

"Anemone" is one the singer’s tenderest moments, and the lullaby simplicity of the song probably puts it closer to her children’s work. This track probably could have been included.

"Vanilla", on the other hand, isn’t terribly remarkable. It covers the rock terrain very familiar to her aesthetic. About the only thing really creative about it is the inconclusive fade at the end.

Most likely, their lack of inclusion may be attributed to time. Cocco released "Yakenogahara" in April, and Best + Ura Best + Mihappyokyokushuu was released five months later. It takes a few months of planning to execute an album release, and I bet Best was in the can before Sangrose hit the streets.

Note: I’m including two files in one post, so feed readers may only display one of these links.

The two other coupling tracks will be featured in other entries.

[Files expired.]

365 Days, 365 Files: Cocco – 箱舟 (Hakobune)

As much as I would have liked Cocco’s Best + Ura Best + Mihappyokyokushuu to have been ura complete, the two-disc set is still a very thorough document of the singer’s early work.

"Hakobune" was one b-side (or coupling track, as it’s called in Japan) that really ought to have been included in the collection. It’s the third track from the single "Hane ~lay down my arms~", one of Cocco’s strongest releases. The second track of that single, "Drive you crazy", is uncharacteristically buoyant and did make it onto Best + Ura Best.

"Hakobune", however, is a perfect match with "Hane". Both songs have that gradual build, and Cocco’s performance on them really soar. I think I prefer this song over "Yakenogahara".

[File expired.]

365 Days, 365 Files: Cocco – 首 (Kubi) (indie version)

Cocco was pretty specific about the kinds of b-sides that would appear on her 2001 best collection, Best + Ura Best + Mihappyokyokushuu. Only the best b-sides (ura = reverse) were fit for inclusion. "Best", of course, is a relative term, and over the next few days, I’ll be featuring the ura kyoku that didn’t make the cut.

A limited edition first pressing of the collection included a third disc with a single track ("Sleeping Prince") off of Cocco’s self-titled indie EP. All three tracks of that release would be rerecorded for her major label debut, Bougainvillea. The production quality of the EP doesn’t match the sheen of Negishi Takamune’s work, but Cocco’s voice still cuts through it.

This performance of "Kubi" actually feels intimate without losing any of the song’s visceral power.

[File expired.]

365 Days, 365 Files: Clannad – Harry’s Game

No survey of Clannad is complete without mentioning the band’s signature tune: "Harry’s Game".

This one song pretty much put Clannad on the international map. "Harry’s Game" is actually the theme song to a British television show. When it was first released in 1982, it was the first song sung in Irish to hit the Top 5 on the British charts. Ten years later, it was featured in the movie Patriot Games, where it caught the attention of an advertising executive.

"Harry’s Game" then served as the soundtrack to a Volkswagen commercial in the US. The 1-800 number displayed in the commercial was inundated with calls not about the car but about the music used in the commercial. The commercial was later edited to credit Clannad.

"Harry’s Game" deserves the acclaim it’s garnered. It’s a simple tune bolstered by the group’s tight harmonies and some very atmospheric keyboard work. Although it predated Enya by a few years, it wasn’t widely known to American audiences till after the younger Brennan became an international hit herself.

It’s interesting, however, to see how both parts of the family arrived at a similar sound by different routes.

[File expired.]

365 Days, 365 Files: Clannad – Coinleach Ghlas an Fhómair

Clannad recorded two versions of the traditional tune "Coinleach Ghlas an Fhómair". The more recent version appeared on the album Magical Ring, and it has a clean, pop production. The guitars ring in a spacious room, and Máire Brennan’s voice can be heard clear and unencumbered.

By contrast, an earlier record of the same song on Clannad 2 sounds rough. The guitars dominate the mix, and Máire’s voice is practically in your face. The harmonies feel more organic, and the performance, while still being excellent, feels unpolished.

Obviously, I like the latter version more.

Clannad’s first six albums contained primarily traditional material, and they emphasize musicianship more than studio finesse. In fact, the sound quality of the recordings themselves is pretty primitive. As such, the performances feel more alive than even the most overproduced Clannad pop album. (Hello, Sirius.)

I went through a pretty heavy Clannad phase in the ’90s, but I’ve let go a lot of the band’s pop work. I haven’t let go of any of the traditional albums from the ’70s. Those albums are classics.

[File expired.]

I want to date a violist

Muso magazine took a poll on the sex lives of classical musicians and discovered violists are most likely to get their freak on. Julian Lloyd Webber, cellist and brother of theater composer Andrew, mentions a few of the poll’s results but spends most of his time addressing issues of elitism and ageism that resulted from the magazine running the piece. I like how he throws some of that ageism back by calling Muso editor Femke Colborne a "young lady".

I’m interested to see how pianists rank in the sexy perception. I’m betting most of the male pianists are seen as gay.

Songs are sung (some sorrowfully with symphonies, others with string quartets)

I made a random visit to the Nonesuch upcoming releases page and discovered Kronos Quartet is releasing a recording of a new string quartet by Henryk Górecki.

Norman Lebrecht profiles Górecki for La Scena Musicale, mentioning the popularity of his Symphony No. 3 back in the early ’90s. The composer wrote the symphony in 1976, and by the time it scaled the UK charts, his style had changed.

The two string quartets he wrote for Kronos require headphones to get a full appreciation. Both works explore the extremes of introspection and expression, and when they get quiet, they get really quiet. But they are so beautiful even when they’re inaudible.

I imagine this new work also requires headphones. It’s rather remarkable that Górecki completed the work in 1995 but held onto it for a decade. His reason? He doesn’t know.