Monthly Archives: December 2007

Thurston Moore interviews Steve Reich at SXSW 2008

The Nonesuch journal mentions that Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore will interview Steve Reich at SXSW 2008.

Holy crap! And I was thinking about skipping SXSW next year. I’m just really broke these days, and last year’s wristband was $160+. This morning, I thought to myself, "It would take an appearance by Tokyo Jihen to get me to Japan Nite this year." And now this announcement? If I wanted to catch this interview, I’d have to drop a fucking $500+ on a badge. Oh the string of expletives that should go here right about now.

Onitsuka Chihiro: LAS VEGAS

In the run-up to what would have been Onitsuka Chihiro’s fourth album for EMI Japan, there was a sense that the singer-songwriter was running out of steam. Onitsuka achieved fame by rehashing Carole King, and it was a formula her handlers would have liked to milk for years to come.

But as abruptly as she reached stardom, Onitsuka took drastic steps. She left both her management and EMI Japan in 2002. A short time with Sony’s management resulted in a move to a larger label, Universal, and a 2004 single, "Sodatsu Zassou". But a comeback wasn’t in the cards. She put the skids on her career again and withdrew from the pop machinery for another three years.

When she debuted, Onitsuka’s press bragged how she wrote 60 songs after moving to Tokyo to pursue a music career. The press before the release of LAS VEGAS, her first album for Universal, notes how she wrote only 10 during her hiatus.

The message is clear: Onitsuka Chihiro is taking her time. She is not to be rushed.

It’s an encouraging development, and one that seems far more in keeping with a performer as inwardly focused as Onitsuka. There’s just a catch: she still isn’t much of an adventurous writer.

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Sacha Sacket: Lovers and Leaders

Sacha Sacket has one of those phone book/grocery list voices — he can sing a [phone book/grocery list] and it would sound … yeah, you’ve read that comparison before.

Sacket’s previous album, Shadowed, found him diving head-long into electronic effects. It couldn’t be described in any of the usual dance music terms, since the foundation for his songs is the poignant piano ballad. What resulted was a distinct work, moody and atmospheric without getting excessively maudlin or pretentious about it.

As wonderful as that exploration of synthetic sound was, there was always a nagging suspicion that Sacket would sound great in a live setting. Thankfully, that’s what he offers with Lovers and Leaders. The electronics have been drastically cut to make room for more guitars and fewer drum machines.

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Nico Muhly: Speaks Volumes

I don’t know how it happened, but it’s the reality of our surroundings: the chasm between high and low art is the size of a canyon. Eh, maybe I’m exaggerating, but for some reason, I can’t shake this habit of separating the two, even though I try to practice a categorical imperative to ignore musical categories.

When I was a would-be composition student back in the early ’90s, the music department of my college made that separation stark. Classical only, please — learn that demon pop music on your own time. My boo-hoo story: it was a composition professor who ultimately turned me off to pursuing composition.

OK. Get to the Nico Muhly review.

Nico Muhly doesn’t work under such notions. The canyon I was trained to see is little more than a pothole to him, if even that much. Muhly’s résumé includes premieres by orchestras and conducting gigs with Anthony and the Johnsons and Björk. He composes works that could thrill the most analytical of music theory masters and appeal to indie rock fans devoted to their Godspeed You! Black Emperor or Sigur Rós.

The liner notes make a big deal of his "vocabulary", and why not? The works on his debut album, Speaks Volumes, feel free of dogma. Yes, echoes of Steve Reich, Philip Glass, Arvö Pärt and John Tavener can be heard in his music, but if you’ve never heard anything from Reich, Glass, Pärt or Tavener, it sounds like the karaoke tracks of an album Björk isn’t weird enough to record.

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Looking ahead: December 2007-March 2008

I don’t usually start paying attention to the year in music till it reaches the second quarter. The release schedule usually needs three months before it starts churning out notable releases. It seems on this side of the Pacific Ocean, that pattern pretty much holds true.

On the other side of the Pacific Ocean, the first quarter of 2008 is quite packed, not so much with big names but with names familiar to readers of this site. I’m not sure the Hamasaki Ayumi and Utada Hikaru fans would care about comebacks from Kicell and Oblivion Dust, but I’m thinking those are going to be my first purchases of the new year.

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