Eyes That Can See in the Dark

a music journal


March 28, 2001 (link)

11:05 PM

Too busy to write much at the moment, but I've been intermittently listening to MP3s from MP3.com and Epitonic.com. I like some of what I've heard by Alp, Transmo and Stuart Dempster on Epitonic; I wish I had enough money right now to invest in further inquiries.

Epitonic also has a page on Matthias Grassow. I bought his album Dissolution a while ago. It's not really the kind of ambient music I like -- I'm not a big fan of "the drone", especially in trebly-digital-reverb flavors, and it's got heavy gothic tinges that aren't to my taste and seem a bit pretentious. But it's OK, and once in a while it can be highly effective. I listened to it one night on my Discman while walking in the dark to Jennings, Bennington's haunted mansion; in that context it was a bit spooky and made more sense.

My friend Morgan makes (drum and bass) tunes. He and I go way, way back.

One more Epitonic link: Spool. This album is an absolute gem; if you don't have it already, get it. (It's on New Dog Records.)

Finally, [CH-VOX] by Seefeel, which I recently picked up, seems to fall short of Succour by a wide margin. I like it, but it doesn't have the same indefinable something that made Succour one of the most beautifully oppressive albums I've ever heard (along with Low's Songs for a Dead Pilot EP, which is even colder).

Thanks for the mail, by the way. It's really nice to know you folks are reading.

March 27, 2001 (link)

8:43 PM

This reviewer got it right. Nothing else I've heard from them comes close, but the Hi Scores EP by Boards of Canada is absolutely brilliant. I didn't like it at first, because I committed the dangerous sin of expecting it to be something else. But after I walked around one foggy night in the rain,with it playing on my Discman, I was hooked. I don't understand why Music Has the Right to Children has gotten so much attention; Hi Scores is definitely the better of the two.

(I reserve the right to change that opinion in the future, but I don't expect to do so.)

3:53 PM

Many jazz musicians go through a period of intense musical elitism in their teens, I think, as a defense mechanism of sorts. Some never come out of it, of course, and some give it up entirely and start playing like Najee.

But the wisest path, I think, is to temper it a bit. Jazz is certainly more sophisticated than most other improvisational idioms in a lot of ways, and when you spend a lot of time learning its language, you tend to begin to believe, if only subconsciously, in its superiority to those other idioms. And I think it's foolish to claim that the Allman Brothers, for instance, have the same level of improvisational sophistication that John Coltrane did, because they don't, never have, and probably never will.

But once you abandon the notion that you're the avatar of jazz on earth and are somehow charged with the responsibility to prove its merit, such comparisons start to seem irrelevant. I never really thought, when I was in high school, that the question of what or who was "the best" would seem irrelevant, but here we are and, to a large extent, it does.

That's not to say that I'm willing to set aside the notion of good and bad in some relativistic, deconstructionist haze -- not at all: Miles Davis is a better musician and has made a more lasting contribution to music than Maynard Ferguson, and Richard Wagner's contributions to nearly every aspect of 19th-century western classical music are deeper and more substantial than those made by the likes of Cécile Chaminade.

(No, scratch that: I've scarcely heard anything by Chaminade, and am merely parroting what other people have said. That's a very, very bad habit to be in.)

But questions like "Who is the best trumpet player of all time?" and "This album that we're listening to -- is it really jazz?" now seem like a fun exercise, perhaps, but aren't fraught with meaning like they used to be. And the question of whether or not the Allman Brothers are capable of making great music does not depend on whether they can play a bop solo.

What brings this all to mind is Night-Glo (ECM Records), by Carla Bley. I think Bley is sometimes overrated, but I really like this album and have been listening to it for more than a decade now. I first heard it when fairly deep in the throes of my intoxication with jazz. My reaction was very mixed; the early tracks, like "Pretend You're In Love", seemed cheesy and tacky, but the "Wildlife" suite appealed to me tremendously, what with its fairly complex harmonic structure and 5/8 time and all that sort of thing. I almost didn't want to admit that I liked it, and yet I was definitely affected by it, and almost immediately began to write Bley-like pieces with lots of Lydian chords and long-note melodies.

I think it's a good sign that it doesn't really matter to me anymore if it's cheesy. The point could certainly be argued either way, but who cares? It's a great album and I like listening to it. I guess this goes back to my original point, or rather, suggests something that was my original intent when writing this entry: I realized that I've always liked certain aspects of what's called "easy listening" music on some level. Perhaps it's because easy listening is one of the genres that, historically, has come closest to territories now claimed by ambient or "space-creating" musicians like the folks in Datacide and their cohorts at FAX.

When I intended to become a jazz musician, I felt somehow disloyal in liking stuff like Night-Glo, and in discussions with my father about whether an album by someone on ECM like Eberhard Weber or Carla Bley "was really jazz", I couldn't quite articulate a defense to that statement that didn't, in essence, argue that Weber was, in fact, a jazz musician.

But I'm willing to accept now what I couldn't accept a decade ago: who cares if Eberhard Weber is jazz? That seems obvious now, but ten years ago it wasn't so easy, not only for me at 14 but for a lot of people in 1991. To make an album that's not jazz, or that is (or could be called) an easy-listening or new age album, is not contemptible or even a topic for reproach. What is worthy of reproach is making bad music -- and, to take it a step further, what's worthy of contempt is making bad and cowardly music. I strongly dislike M. B.'s music, for instance, but I don't find his music contemptible, because it is brave, in its way -- even if I detect a strong thread of nihilism and narcissism in it that alienates me almost instantly. (I hear he writes music while watching baseball; it's too tempting to draw an overly damning conclusion from that, though.)

But someone like Najee is, perhaps, contemptible not because his music is easy-listening or adult contemporary, or because it's debatably a bastardized form of jazz, but because his music is not only bad, but cowardly. It fails the test of saying something new, and it fails the test of saying something well, so it really is, quite literally, "the same old shit".

Actually, using Najee in the above is unfair -- I really haven't heard enough of him to form a completely accurate assessment.

On the other hand, perhaps my choice is on the mark...

March 26, 2001 (link)

11:32 PM


It's difficult to know how to initiate something new like this. Not that this is new, really -- I made an embryonic attempt at starting a review site last year. But that one never really came together.

In this site I will attempt to record my thoughts about the music to which I listen. Part of my intent is to slowly codify some of those things for which I have an affinity, so that I can have an easier time finding them in the future. Part of it is to try to bring attention to music that is getting too little attention, so that when somebody searches on their name they'll find something other than static. And there's certainly a narcissistic element, but I'm going to try to minimize that.

Finally, I should disclose that I've cribbed some design elements from Josh's blog. When you're trying to do something simple it's easier to steal than to "reinvent the wheel", as my former boss would say.

I've been listening to Deep Chill Network tonight. It's hard to really listen over the hum of my computer's fan, but I've liked what I heard, and I think it warrants future investigation.

There's a track by Stonemen Hiss on the CD that comes with the second issue of masstransfer magazine, for which I write. I know nothing whatsoever about Stonemen Hiss, and have found nothing about them on the Internet, but I really like their song.

Some things I want to do or make:

  • Compile a "hall of fame" of songs and albums that I consider to be pieces of near-perfection.
  • Write something about my particular musical ethos and its connection with ambient and "space-creating" music.
  • Make fun of They Might Be Giants and Rush.

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