• Album review: Minus 8 – Slow Motion

    Jul 6 2009, 15h28

    (for the full text of this review, visit http://www.grayflannelsuit.net/2009/07/06/album-review-minus-8-slow-motion/)

    It’s been quite a few years since we last got a full-length release from Swiss DJ/producer Robert Jan Meyer – who does business as Minus 8. His last proper release, 2004’s Eclectica, just didn’t do much for me. I longed for a return to the bold and refreshing nu jazz and downtempo he produced on earlier albums. Fortunately his latest release, Slow Motion, is a return to form of sorts.

    The first thing that popped into my mind as I listened to this album is, “yeah, Slow Motion is a good title for this record”. Rarely does the tempo rise above anything more than simmer, and yet Meyer manages to keep things interesting. He does so mainly by keeping the songs short – only 2 of Slow Motion’s tracks checks in above five minutes – and by making much more effective use of vocals than on the disappointing Eclectica.

    Surprisingly the strongest songs on Slow Motion are ones featuring vocals (and this is coming from someone who typically dislikes vocals in his nu jazz/downtempo music). The main star on the record, aside from Meyer’s production, is Hungarian vocalist Virag, who helps elevate tracks like “Give It Back” and “Let It Go” above the standard chillout fare. Contrast that with with a song like “Last Nite”, sans vocals, which is really nothing more than relatively pleasant background music. And when her vocals are paired with excellent arrangements as on the moody and haunting “Close Your Eyes”, it’s a truly winning combination....
  • Album review: Doves - Kingdom of Rust

    Abr 21 2009, 18h10

    (for the full text of this review, visit http://www.grayflannelsuit.net/2009/04/21/album-review-doves-kingdom-of-rust/)

    I think it’s fair to say that I was spoiled musically by growing up in the ’80s, the tail end of a long period where bands usually released albums no more than 1-2 years apart. So when great newer acts like Manchester’s Doves come along and take longer than that I get impatient. It’s been more a little more than four years since the group’s excellent third record, Some Cities, and after reading about so many delays with their newest I was starting to lose hope. But now Kingdom Of Rust is here, and all is well.

    My overall impression of Rust is that it represents a nice synthesis of the sounds and styles the band explored on their first three albums, but is by no means an artistic retread. The bulk of the record leans more toward the dense and atmospheric tendencies displayed on Lost Souls and The Last Broadcast, but the direct approach favored on Some Cities rears its head on occasion.

    The beauty of Doves’ music has always been their uncanny ability to make even the simplest tunes sound and feel epic - witness the bouncy opening cut, “Jetstream”, which is really a dance-rock song disguised as neo-prog. Similarly there’s “Spellbound”, which makes up for its lack of immediate gratification with an aura of darkness and considered songcraft...
  • Album review: Queensrÿche - American Soldier

    Abr 21 2009, 16h48

    (For the full text of this review visit http://www.grayflannelsuit.net/2009/04/16/album-review-queensryche-american-soldier/)

    Is there even a point anymore to comparing new Queensrÿche releases to older ones such as Rage for Order or even Empire? It seems that to do so is unfair to the band, who clearly don’t care to repeat the past. And yet that’s what has been happening for more than a decade, and in the process some bitter or resentful fans have missed out on some really good music. Case in point, the band’s latest offering - American Soldier.

    A look at the front and back covers of American Soldier (showing a pair of combat boots and an American flag, respectively) might give pause to some fans - has the same band who railed against war and the American government in the past turned into Toby Keith for the progressive metal set? Not quite. As the name implies, this is a theme album about American soldiers - their experiences, their sacrifices, and their hopes. There’s no real soapbox moments here.

    But what about the music? Queensrÿche usually turns in at least good lyrics most of the time but has been a bit, shall we say, uneven since 1994’s Promised Land. Well on that account, it’s a pretty strong statement by the boys. I don’t think there are any instant classics here, but I’ve found myself humming or playing air guitar to some of the new material on more than a few occasions over the last few weeks...
  • Album review: Eleni Mandell - Artificial Fire

    Mar 6 2009, 14h08

    For the full text of this review, visit http://www.grayflannelsuit.net/2009/03/05/album-review-eleni-mandell-artificial-fire/.

    Listening to most of Los Angeles-based pop chanteuse Eleni Mandell’s recorded output brings to mind a smoke-filled club full of broken-hearted hipsters on a lonely Wednesday night (for those clubs where you can still smoke anyway). But after spending years perfecting the role of lovelorn torch singer, Mandell released Miracle of Five in 2007. Its comparatively spartan, acoustic guitar-driven sound was a departure for the singer, and the album finally brought her some much-deserved critical attention.

    Mandell moves even further from her roots, albeit in a different direction, with her latest effort, Artificial Fire. Gone is the sultry film noir atmosphere, and in its place is a much more mainstream effort (although there are still plenty of tales of failed romance). That’s not to say it’s not engaging because it is; but the quirky and hectic approach of songs like “Pauline” or “Snakebite” is nowhere to be found. Mandell largely opts for a more conventional and assured songwriting style to complement her delicate, nuanced vocals....
  • The mellow side of prog

    Mar 2 2009, 13h00

    These nine songs were featured in my piece entitled "Gray Flannel Mixtape: The mellow side of prog", which you can read more about at http://www.grayflannelsuit.net/2009/03/02/gray-flannel-mixtape-the-mellow-side-of-prog/. Unfortunately most of them are not currently available as full tracks here.

    Tears
    Cadence and Cascade
    Wait for Sleep
    Entangled
    Some Day One Day
    Lazarus
    Clap
    Soldier's Poem
    Matte Kudasai
  • Random last.fm tracks I've streamed that I have dug

    Fev 13 2009, 17h11

  • In Concert: Andrew McKenna Lee and QQQ

    Fev 7 2009, 17h07

    Fri 30 Jan – Andrew McKenna Lee record release show

    (the original review of this show, with photos, can be found here.)

    In celebration of two new CDs from New Amsterdam Records, four of the label’s acts took to the stage last Friday night at Joe’s Pub, located in New York City’s über-artsy NoHo district. Despite having already heard music from three of them, I still wasn’t sure what to expect from the evening. After all, classical guitarists and modern chamber groups are not the types of shows I usually see in the Big Apple.

    The evening got off to a rather interesting start as, one by one, the three members of opening act The Janus Trio took the stage and contributed a few lines to a spoken word loop that comprised the vocal foundation for a piece called “I Am Not (Blank)”. It was a rather startling way to begin a performance to say the least. The trio’s style (comprised of viola, harp, and flute) is not for the musically meek, and I’m fairly certain the term avant garde could correctly be applied to the music I heard. Anything and everything was turned into an instrument for Janus, including bubble wrap and glass bottles.

    After a few pieces, the trio was joined by the first headliner of the evening’s double bill - classical guitarist and composer Andrew McKenna Lee. Together they performed “the dark out of the nighttime” from Lee’s Gravity and Air album. It was a stirring performance of a very intense composition, and sounded even better than on the CD. Afterward, Lee remained alone on stage to perform almost the entirety of his album, beginning with the title track.

    Between songs, Lee’s easygoing nature became evident as he explained the theory and inspiration behind some of his music. But once he started playing, he displayed an intensity and passion that should have converted any unbelievers in the room. As he expertly made his way through the first third of his “Scordatura Suite” and the whole of “Five Refractions of a Prelude by Bach” (plus the original “Prelude for Lute in D Minor”), Lee and his guitar created an atmosphere that was both sedate and joyful.

    To Lee’s credit, the mood was not even broken by the rumble of the subway underneath the building (or even by one jackass who couldn’t be bothered to turn off their cell phone). His dedication to his craft became even more apparent as it looked like he was playing the last part of his set with a broken and bleeding fingernail (although it could have been a trick of the light…or the beer).

    One intermission later, and it was time for the second half of the evening’s festivities. First up was Build, one of my favorite new acts of any genre. The quintet, led by composer/violinist Matt McBane, performed four songs for what was a very receptive crowd. The short set ended with a raucous and high energy performance of “Magnet”, one of my favorite numbers from their album and now their live set. As with Lee’s performance, the group really shone in a live setting.

    I’ve compared Build favorably in the past to Penguin Cafe Orchestra, but after hearing them live I’m not doing that anymore. Although I think there are still similarities between the two, Build’s sound is much more muscular and incorporates more rock and jazz influences than Penguin Cafe Orchestra. But I digress.

    Last but not least was QQQ, who performed seven songs in support of their new album Unpacking the Trailer… The quartet boasts a sound that is unique to many American ears, being that the Hardanger fiddle (a Norwegian folk instrument) is its foundation. As expected, it was played to beautiful effect by Dan Trueman, joined on stage by Monica Mugan (classical guitar), Beth Meyers (also of Janus, on viola), and Jason Treuting (drums and melodica).

    Other than the aforementioned fiddle, QQQ’s real musical strength on CD and live is the diversity of moods they create and the idiosyncratic nature of their arrangements. For example, the somber tone of “Sister Sparrow” - partly inspired by Paul McCartney’s “Jenny Wren” according to Trueman - was followed up by the upbeat Norwegian folk tune “Beth’s Springar”.

    And like labelmate Build, QQQ apparently knows showmanship. The two bookends of their set - the bluegrass stomp of “Runaway Puppy” and the rocking ebullience of “Tøykey Jøykey”, esnured that no one in attendance at Joe’s Pub - including yours truly - went away unsatisfied. And that reflects well, not just on the acts themselves but on New Amsterdam as well.
  • In Concert: Andrew McKenna Lee and QQQ

    Fev 7 2009, 17h05

    Fri 30 Jan – QQQ record release show

    (the original review of this show, with photos, can be found here.)

    In celebration of two new CDs from New Amsterdam Records, four of the label’s acts took to the stage last Friday night at Joe’s Pub, located in New York City’s über-artsy NoHo district. Despite having already heard music from three of them, I still wasn’t sure what to expect from the evening. After all, classical guitarists and modern chamber groups are not the types of shows I usually see in the Big Apple.

    The evening got off to a rather interesting start as, one by one, the three members of opening act The Janus Trio took the stage and contributed a few lines to a spoken word loop that comprised the vocal foundation for a piece called “I Am Not (Blank)”. It was a rather startling way to begin a performance to say the least. The trio’s style (comprised of viola, harp, and flute) is not for the musically meek, and I’m fairly certain the term avant garde could correctly be applied to the music I heard. Anything and everything was turned into an instrument for Janus, including bubble wrap and glass bottles.

    After a few pieces, the trio was joined by the first headliner of the evening’s double bill - classical guitarist and composer Andrew McKenna Lee. Together they performed “the dark out of the nighttime” from Lee’s Gravity and Air album. It was a stirring performance of a very intense composition, and sounded even better than on the CD. Afterward, Lee remained alone on stage to perform almost the entirety of his album, beginning with the title track.

    Between songs, Lee’s easygoing nature became evident as he explained the theory and inspiration behind some of his music. But once he started playing, he displayed an intensity and passion that should have converted any unbelievers in the room. As he expertly made his way through the first third of his “Scordatura Suite” and the whole of “Five Refractions of a Prelude by Bach” (plus the original “Prelude for Lute in D Minor”), Lee and his guitar created an atmosphere that was both sedate and joyful.

    To Lee’s credit, the mood was not even broken by the rumble of the subway underneath the building (or even by one jackass who couldn’t be bothered to turn off their cell phone). His dedication to his craft became even more apparent as it looked like he was playing the last part of his set with a broken and bleeding fingernail (although it could have been a trick of the light…or the beer).

    One intermission later, and it was time for the second half of the evening’s festivities. First up was Build, one of my favorite new acts of any genre. The quintet, led by composer/violinist Matt McBane, performed four songs for what was a very receptive crowd. The short set ended with a raucous and high energy performance of “Magnet”, one of my favorite numbers from their album and now their live set. As with Lee’s performance, the group really shone in a live setting.

    I’ve compared Build favorably in the past to Penguin Cafe Orchestra, but after hearing them live I’m not doing that anymore. Although I think there are still similarities between the two, Build’s sound is much more muscular and incorporates more rock and jazz influences than Penguin Cafe Orchestra. But I digress.

    Last but not least was QQQ, who performed seven songs in support of their new album Unpacking the Trailer… The quartet boasts a sound that is unique to many American ears, being that the Hardanger fiddle (a Norwegian folk instrument) is its foundation. As expected, it was played to beautiful effect by Dan Trueman, joined on stage by Monica Mugan (classical guitar), Beth Meyers (also of Janus, on viola), and Jason Treuting (drums and melodica).

    Other than the aforementioned fiddle, QQQ’s real musical strength on CD and live is the diversity of moods they create and the idiosyncratic nature of their arrangements. For example, the somber tone of “Sister Sparrow” - partly inspired by Paul McCartney’s “Jenny Wren” according to Trueman - was followed up by the upbeat Norwegian folk tune “Beth’s Springar”.

    And like labelmate Build, QQQ apparently knows showmanship. The two bookends of their set - the bluegrass stomp of “Runaway Puppy” and the rocking ebullience of “Tøykey Jøykey”, esnured that no one in attendance at Joe’s Pub - including yours truly - went away unsatisfied. And that reflects well, not just on the acts themselves but on New Amsterdam as well.
  • Songs of the apocalypse

    Jan 16 2009, 16h12

    These six songs were featured in my piece entitled "The apocalypse will be televised: 6 visions of the future in music videos", which you can read more about at http://www.grayflannelsuit.net/2009/01/12/the-apocalypse-will-be-televised-6-visions-of-the-future-in-music-videos/.

    All Hell's Breakin' Loose
    Looks That Kill
    You Got Lucky
    California Love
    Dancing With Myself
    Queen of the Reich
  • The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit's Favorite Albums of 2007

    Jan 7 2009, 14h59