Monthly Archives: December 2012

London Chamber Orchestra: Minimalist

[London Chamber Orchestra - Minimalist]Back in the late ’80s, the London Chamber Orchestra recorded a series of albums on Virgin Classics, which then marketed them more like rock releases than classical.

Each album in the 9-disc series had distinctive, templated covers. The LCO moniker occupied a corner in big Helvetica type with an abstract image dominating the remaining surface. It was a far cry from the yellow label branding of Deustche Grammphone or the low-budget art of Naxos.

These albums are long out of print, the recordings butchered on various compiled reissues. The ensemble’s reading of Vivaldi’s concerti and Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante pop up on other EMI Classics releases.

One album has managed to maintain its integrity despite numerous reissues and cover changes: Minimalist. In fact, the album is scheduled for another reissue on Feb. 12, 2013.

Of the discs in that original series, Minimalist was the only one to feature modern music from American composers. At the time, major labels were finally coming around to minimalism, with Nonesuch cornering recorded premieres by Philip Glass, Steve Reich and John Adams.

Minimalist was one of the first albums not released by Nonesuch to focus on these three composers.

I had actually bought the album around the time it was released — as a Christmas gift for my piano teacher. I didn’t get around to buying a copy for myself till 2012, when I found an original Virgin Classics pressing at Silver Platters.

By then, 23 years had passed since that initial gifting. Back then, I had only listened to a scant number of works from each composer. Today, only two of the works were unfamiliar to me.

Minimalist was intended to be a crash course in the works of Glass, Reich and Adams, and it serves that purpose well. Although each composer has been tagged with the minimalist brand, their individual writing styles couldn’t be any more different.

Adams doesn’t go for the level of abstraction as Glass and Reich. Reich’s harmonic language is more adventurous than Glass or Adams, his rhythms more syncopated. But Glass is the most accessible, his harmonic and rhythmic language clearest of the three.

LCO selected the right works from each composer to highlight these differences.

Adams’ Shaker Loops strikes just the right balance between intellectual rhythmic exercise and programmatic storytelling. It’s certainly a good choice as an introduction to his output.

Reich’s Eight Lines highlights the signature syncopation that drives his work, while being just the right length to fit on a minimalist showcase.

Company is one of Glass’ most recorded works, and LCO jumped on that bandwagon early. It’s too bad so many other chamber orchestras followed in their wake. Thankfully, LCO also include Glass’ Façades.

The only odd man out is Englishman David Heath. He’s no minimalist, and the dissonance of his contribution, The Frontier, clashes with the harmonies of his American counterparts.

It’s also the most interesting work on the disc. There’s a bit of a rock attitude underpinning The Frontier, and it’s a nice contrast to the high-mindedness of the preceding works.

Despite that jarring addition — or maybe because of it — Minimalist hangs well together as an album. So well, in fact, it’s been immune to butchering. (Mostly — some of these recording appear on other EMI compilations.)

Looking back, I made the right choice giving this album to my piano teacher. I’d probably direct other curious listeners to it in the future.


Grandpa’s violin

While I was visiting family in Hawai`i earlier this month, my mom asked me to help her find a repair shop to fix a violin my grandfather used to play.

I knew him for all of two weeks. He moved to Hawai`i with my grandmother when I was four years old. One night, he had a heart attack, and before I knew it, he was gone. I was too young to develop much of an emotional attachment. All I remember was the would tickle me all the time, and I didn’t like that.

After he died, his violin became a point of contention among his children — my mom and various uncles and aunts. I won’t get into the details of the various spats that have occurred with this violin, but one such recent spat landed the violin into my mom’s hands.

And it was in bad shape.

Continue reading »

The year in numbers: statistics for 2012

I crossed a pretty big threshold a few days ago: I logged 100,000 listens on

I’ve been a member since Feb. 28, 2006, so it’s taken me nearly six years to reach this point. My Top 10 artists account for roughly 13 percent of those 100,000 listens, and the list isn’t terribly surprising:

  1. Tokyo Jihen
  2. Cocco
  3. Duran Duran
  4. Shiina Ringo
  5. Eponymous 4
  6. Kate Bush
  7. Emmylou Harris
  8. John Adams
  9. Philip Glass
  10. Steve Reich

One thing to know about my listening habits is the fact I still consume entire albums. As a result, my statistics indicate I listen to a few number of artists but with great frequency.

Continue reading » gets a shout-out on the official Duran Duran website

I don’t know how I ended up on the radar of Duran Duran’s social media mavens, but I got a shout-out from them on Twitter and Facebook for my review of A Diamond in the Mind. And they reposted the review on the official site as well. Thanks!

I thought I knew all 10 of my readers, but I guess you never know who’s visiting.

So now it looks like I’m back on the radar of the Duran Duran fan community, something I haven’t really been involved with since the start of the last decade.

Does anybody remember Tiger List? And those pesky Watchbeings who kept enforcing those mailing list etiquette rules? Yeah, I was one of them.

I posted regularly on the list and became something of  a contrarian. If fan sentiment went one way, I’d pipe up to play Devil’s advocate. Just ask me what I think about “Palomino”.

That was back in the ’90s, which is eons ago in Internet years. I’m not sure who in the fan community today would even remember Tiger List.

I got less involved with the community around the time of Pop Trash. That was when Cocco, NUMBER GIRL and Shiina Ringo came into my life, and I adopted my current role as a lapsed Duranie.

These days, my fandom is a lot more personal. If the band does something I like, I’ll advocate for them. And if they do something boneheaded — like, say, release Red Carpet Massacre — I’ll voice a very strongly-worded opinion and still part with my cash.

But I no longer subscribe to mailing lists or hang out in forums. I follow the band on Facebook but not Twitter, since I figure both channels essentially disseminate the same information.

And I try to catch them live. I missed their show at the Austin Music Hall in 2007 because I hate the Austin Music Hall more than I love Duran Duran. (And that should tell you something about how much I hate the Austin Music Hall.) But I caught them in Dallas (1999, 2000), Austin (2004, 2010) and long, long ago in New York City (1993).

So if you’ve stumbled upon this site from those shout-outs, welcome! Feel free to say “Aloha” if you remember me from the Tiger List days.


Oriental Love Ring: In This World

Oriental Love Ring: In This WorldOriental Love Ring first formed in Honolulu in 1988, and the only recording of theirs I possessed was a single track from a cassette compilation titled No Place to Play. For all I knew, it was the only recording by the band that existed. But that song, “Damage”, was so damn good, it made me a fan.

Too bad I was still too young to see them play live. By the time I had that independence — more commonly known as “college” — the band had already split up.

I no longer have a cassette player, but the Hawaii Punk Museum made No Place to Play available online. On a lark, I decided to search the web for Oriental Love Ring and discovered the band had reunited and released an album of new songs in 2010.

“Damage” hinted at what the band could achieve, and In This World fully realizes it.

There’s not a single dead spot on the album. Guitarist Beano Shots wrote or co-wrote the lion’s share of the tracks, and his melodic gift hasn’t dimmed since his days in the Squids.

Peter Bond sounds perennially youthful with his soaring tenor, and he and Shots weave their guitar riffs beautifully on such tracks as “Prayers to an Empty Sky”, “Disconnected Girl” and the title track.

Not surprisingly, Bond’s contributions to the album, “I Know You Know”, “Take Me to the Moon” and “Tonight”, have the bite of his later band, Spiny Norman.

Original drummer Bryan Brudell used electric drums on “Damage”, forever dating the song (in a good way, as far as I’m concerned.) Larry Lieberman opts for a more organic sound, and he’s in lock step with bassist Chad Ikezawa.

In This World arrives 20 years after Oriental Love Ring first split up. The band says they’re doing this out of fun, and it sure does come across in the finished product.

This album is also something of a weird wish fulfillment for me. Oriental Love Ring were playing at Wave Waikiki at a time when I was still learning how to drive. “Damage” spurred my imagination and made me wonder about all the stuff we didn’t hear. As it turns out, some pretty damn good music.


Duran Duran: A Diamond in the Mind

Duran Duran: A Diamond in the MindI can’t say I was all that thrilled when Duran Duran released Arena in 1984. It was a live album, which meant it sounded nothing like the meticulously-crafted studio albums that I put on repeat on the family turntable.

Back then, I hadn’t yet gone to any concerts, so the idea of live album-as-souvenir didn’t really resonate with me. I just knew I preferred the studio version of “Is There Something I Should Know?” over the one that opens Arena.

I’ve since gone to a number of Duran Duran shows, and I have a better appreciation of Arena now. But the album was recorded so early in the band’s career that it really doesn’t tell the whole story — just that part known to most people.

A Diamond in the Mind rectifies this gap and makes the incredible leap of sounding so polished, it could pass itself off as a studio album.

The Manchester show recorded for the album in December 2011 followed a fraught-filled summer when Simon Le Bon lost his voice and the band didn’t know if he’d get it back. The worldwide tour set to begin then was hastily rearranged to give Le Bon time to recuperate.

And did he ever.

He sounds better on A Diamond in the Mind than he does on the band’s most recent studio album, All You Need Is Now. He’s got some really power behind his pipes now, and his tone is clearer than ever.

Duran Duran have been touring for three decades, so the show comes off flawless. But that probably has as much to do with advances in mobile recording technology as it does the band’s natural showmanship. Every part of the band can be heard, and with Nick Rhodes armed with software samples, he can fill out all the missing parts that wouldn’t travel well.

In a way, A Diamond in the Mind is a bit too perfect. Arena had a lot of raw energy that made many of the songs sound coke-fueled (which they probably were.) Even the band’s SXSW showcase had a few flubs that came off as charming than ill-prepared.

The cleverest moment on the album comes at the end of “The Wild Boys”, where it segues into a brief quotation of “Relax” by Frankie Goes to Hollywood. More of this, please.

Most importantly, A Diamond in the Mind fills the gap missing since the release of Arena. Now we have a(n official) live album that includes “Notorious”, “Ordinary World” and “Come Undone”. The picture is more complete.


Gossip: A Joyful Noise

Gossip: A Joyful NoiseBy comparison, Gossip’s second album for major label Sony Music, A Joyful Noise, is a less rocking album than their debut Music for Men.

The synths get a heavier hand this time around, and the guitar work of Brace Paine is more embellishment than driving force. The production is slicker, perhaps even watered down, and Beth Ditto’s usually fiery performance turns darker.

But it’s the album I like more.

Part of my resistence to Music for Men was the stark contrast to Standing in the Way of Control. Gossip was already transforming from a garage band trio to the current incarnation of dance band, and Standing in the Way of Control was the pivot, an album that dipped more than a foot into the new sound while retaining most of the old.

With A Joyful Noise, the transformation is complete, and it bears little or no resemblance to what came before. And that makes it easier to evaluate on its own terms.

And the songs on A Joyful Noise are far catchier.

“Move in the Right Direction” is as much an affirmation of the band’s creative direction as it is a dance floor anthem. Gay bars would do well to jump on remixes of this track.

“Get a Job” stakes the same lyrical terrain as Björk’s “Army of Me” with a bit more funk.

Gossip really knows how to hit a chorus, as evidenced on “Casualties of War”, “Involved” and “Get Lost”

For a dose of the old band, “Love in a Foreign Place” recalls the fire of the pre-major label days without indulging in nostalgia.

Folks who liked the rock sound of Music for Men will probably be disappointed by the full embrace of dance on A Joyful Noise. But listen beyond the surface, and the these tunes sink in easily.


J-Pop in the USA: Where to find it

When I lived in Austin, Texas, I had only one way to sate my addiction to Japanese pop and indie rock — order it through the Internet.

If I wanted to head to a store and pick up an Utada Hikaru album or a Cocco DVD, I’d have to visit a city with a large enough Asian population to justify the existence of a retail location. That usually meant I would have to wait till I visited Hawai`i to head to Book-Off in Shirokiya.

But you can bet your arse that if I went somewhere with either a Kinokuniya or a Book-Off, those places would be my first destinations.

Now I live in a city with a Kinokuniya, so I no longer wait nearly a month for Internet orders from Hong Kong or Tokyo to arrive. (Special orders still take about a week to fulfill.)

All the traveling I’ve been doing in the last three months got me thinking of the nooks and crannies I search to get my J-Pop fix. I’ve already compared Seattle record shops and two of three Amoeba Records locations. It’s time to fix my gaze on the stores where Japanese popular music can be found in the USA.


Kinokuniya could be considered the Barnes and Noble of Japanese bookstores. It’s the largest chain in Japan and certainly the first place I think of when I want to find Japanese books and music. I’ve so far visited four locations in the US: New York City, San Francisco, Los Angeles and, of course, Seattle.

I visited the New York City location in 2005, but I’ve since learned the store moved near Bryant Park in 2007. Still, that visit set the bar for the others to follow. I found a Shiina Ringo band score at that store, the only one to stock such items.

Every trip to the Bay Area means a visit to the Kinokuniya in Japan Center. If I were into manga (I’m not), the first floor of the San Francisco location would be a wet dream. Instead, I spend most of my time on the second floor, browsing the shelves on the off-chance I might find a title on which I’ve had my eye.

By comparison, the Los Angeles and Seattle stores are more like satellite locations. I patronize the Seattle store regularly, but the shopping experience isn’t really great. The music inventory doesn’t move much, and it’s haphazardly organized. More care is put into the books. I think the Los Angeles store is slightly smaller than the Seattle store, which mean its CD selection was even more limited.


If Kinokuniya is Barnes and Noble, then Book-Off is Half-Priced Books. Book-Off specializes in used stock, and I’ve so far only visited two locations in the US: Honolulu and  New York City.

There isn’t much of a comparison between the two locales: New York City is a complete store, whereas the Honolulu location is a corner in Shirokiya. (I’m not considering the Pearlridge location because I saw no Japanese CD inventory when I visited.)

The nature of used stock, however, means gems can be found at unexpected times. The Honolulu store has yielded some rare finds for me, including some WINO albums and Parasitic People by SUPER JUNKY MONKEY. Yes, Holidailies readers, those are real band names.

On my most recent visit, I walked away with nothing. But I could find something else on my next trip.

I would, however, love to visit the New York store again. I’m pretty sure I spent an hour just browsing when I visited in 2005.

Oh, and remember that trip to Vancouver with the outdated guide book? It mentioned a Book-Off location, but it had shut down long before I arrived.


A side effect of having a Japanese bookstore in town is finding used Japanese CDs in general interest music shops.

Here in Seattle, used J-Pop CDs can be found at Everyday Music and Silver Platters, but only the latter has its selection neatly — and surprisingly accurately — organized. In San Francisco, Amoeba Records has a very tiny corner devoted to J-Pop, and it too is organized to the point where the staff leaves recommendations in the placards.

I would like to mention one more place in Honolulu: Hakubundo. Unfortunately, the news is bad. The store recently relocated from across Ala Moana Center to Ward Warehouse. The smaller space has pretty much squeezed out its music selection, which was small but well stocked.


Chasing Edwin Outwater: A tale of music distribution in a post-CD age

My friend Andy flew up to Seattle back in September for a visit, and we took a day trip to Vancouver, British Columbia in Canada. It was my first time there, although Andy visited many years back.

Pretty much every trip I’ve taken has some sort of music shopping mission attached to it, and this one would be no different. I figured if I’m going to Canada, I would try to find a CDs by some Canadian artists: one by Royal Wood, another by the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony conducted by Edwin Outwater.

How hard would it be? As it turned out, quite difficult.

Continue reading »