Monthly Archives: August 2007

Various artists: Revolutions: Music with a Twist

The stereotype dictates gay people are tastemakers and pioneers when it comes to fashion, art and culture. But rock ‘n’ roll is a straight man’s club, which is why I have this terrible assumption that only lesbians are best suited for the task.

When Sony announced it would form a label that would sign only gay-identified artists, the measure of my skepticism burst any indicator. Music with a Twist aims to feature gay artists with potential mass appeal, while also releasing compilations geared for gay audiences, so says the press release scuttlebutt. If my abbreviated dating history serves as any reference, that’s going to result in a lot of bad music.

(And somehow I miraculous exempt myself from such criteria. Funny.)

Revolutions is the first sampling of what the label may produce. Oddly enough, only two artists on the compilation, the Gossip and Kirsten Price, have actually signed with the label. Everyone else seems to have licensed their content. Given the major label backing, the collection itself leans heavily to commercial music. The indie gays won’t find their Grizzly Bear, Xiu Xiu or Sleater-Kinney.

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Stephen Sondheim: Company (2006 Broadway Cast)

The 2006 Broadway cast recording of Stephen Sondheim’s Company is the first time I’ve listened to the score. I have no knowledge of the original cast recording from 1970, so I can’t make a comparison.

That also means I’m listening to this score with no preconceived notions, and for a play set 37 years ago, it’s aged remarkably well. The characters of the show have bittersweet attitudes toward relationships and marriage, and it feels as topical today as it probably did back then. (The show opened two years before I was born.)

Company focuses on a guy named Robert, who’s celebrating his 35 birthday. All of his friends are coupled or married, and the show follows his interactions with them. Some couples are in a rut, one couple is about to tie the knot, another is untying theirs. All of them needle Robert about his inability to commit, while he too probes the question of whether commitment is all that it’s cracked up to be.

Director John Doyle took the same approach as his 2005 revival of Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd — the actors doubled as the orchestra, with the set kept to a bare minimum. Although the show got good reviews and won a Tony Award for Best Revival, it closed in July 2007. Good thing there’s a cast recording.

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On the playlist, or the scant moments I’m not hearing my own damn self

When I get productive in my home studio, I usually work in month-long bouts. I’ll work and work and work, then reach a stopping point where I go back to juggling other stuff. But moving into a new apartment where I’ve got an entire room dedicated to the home studio has made it difficult to tear away. It’s hard to post to a music blog when the only thing I’m listening to is … myself.

So here’s a stop-gap entry to give this site the remotest flicker of life. Whenever I post a "One-Sentence Reviews" entry, they inevitably cover what’s on my Winamp playlist. So I’m just going to redub it "On the Playlist". Here’s the stuff I’m actually kind of not listening to at the moment.

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The Slush Pile, or cleaning up the hard drive

If it seems like I’m writing a lot, it’s because I’m trying to clean out my hard drive. I still can’t seem to shake this compulsion to listen to everything I acquire, just so I can write about it. That’s why I make these Slush Pile entries … so I can assuage that compulsion while not actually having to write about these albums.

I should do it more often.

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Uncle Tupleo: No Depression

I owned Uncle Tupleo’s No Depression before, and at the time, I recognized that it was good — just not what I was in the mood to listen to. It became a victim of a cash crunch and was sold to a used music shop.

I’m not sure what prompted me to give the album a second shot, especially since it was remastered a number of years ago. But in the basket it went, and I’m glad it did.

No Depression became the namesake for a style of music called any number of things — alt-country, perhaps the most enduring. There’s even a magazine named after the album.

It’s almost difficult to go back to an album that directly beget Wilco and Son Volt, while opening the door for the Old ’97s, Whiskeytown, Tift Merritt and Mindy Smith. So many bands sound like No Depression, it’s almost easy to hold a grudge against it.

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Rufus Wainwright: Release the Stars

Oh, who am I kidding?

In the past, I’ve accused Rufus Wainwright of being precocious, calling his voice the strange love child between Thom Yorke and Shiina Ringo. I’ve complained about his debut album being too clever by half, all the while buying up every album he’s subsequently released.

And what’s up with the pork chops on the sides of his face? Such a fabulous little hipster he is.

At some point, my initial skepticism of Wainwright turned into fandom. At some point, the news of a new Rufus Wainwright album became something to anticipate, not that I ever dreaded it.

And so Wainwright releases Release the Stars, and it’s everything listeners come to expect from a Rufus Wainwright album — all lush orchestrations and dramatic climaxes, mouthy lyrics and sweeping melodies.

It’s comfort listening, something of which I’m usually wary when I recognize it. Wainwright set expectations with his previous albums, and he meets all of them with Release the Stars. There isn’t anything really new to point out about this recent set of songs.

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Björk: Volta

The last two Björk albums conditioned me to appreciate her adventurousness while not exactly liking the results.

I understood the acclaim that greeted Vespertine upon its release, but that album didn’t even seep into my subconscious. Medulla started out as a terrific departure, but repeated listening revealed thin work. It would have been more effective if she really did go completely a capella.

With that history, I approached Volta with cautious optimism. It wasn’t long before I realized I actually enjoyed the album.

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Next Onitsuka Chihiro single arrives in September

Onitsuka Chihiro releases a new single titled "Bokura Barairo no Hibi" on Sept. 19. I saw this news posted on Oops Music a few weeks ago, and CD Japan listed it in a recent e-mail. The coupling track for the single is titled "NOW", according to Onitsuka’s label site. That’s pretty much all the information available through official channels. I haven’t seen any mention of it on Bounce or any additional details, save for production work by Kobayashi Takeshi.

A New World for CRI

I went to Waterloo Records last night to get the Vermeer Quartet’s cycle of Béla Bartók string quartets when I found a New World reissue of a Morton Feldman collection originally released on Composers Recordings, Inc. (CRI). Curious to see how far New World has gotten in reissuing CRI’s catalog, I visited the label’s web site and discovered the entire catalog is now available as burn-on-demand discs.

Each discs includes the original cover art and liner notes and cost the same as regular New World discs. The service began back in March 2007.

Before it shut down in 2003, CRI had a policy of never taking a title out of print. Now the catalog is back in a form that may actually prove very cost-effective. I’d love to see how much interest this service generates.

The catalog itself has a number of interesting artifacts.

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