EXPANSIONS (KRIS BECKER): THE KIND OF ART MUSIC THE MARKET MIGHT ACCEPT

photoArticle by PJ Cornell.

Syndicated from the Asterisked Music Journal.

Assessment: 9.7 out of 10.

Bottom line up front: For several decades now, the culture of the so called “art music” genre, which, in most cases might more aptly be called “academic music;” the institutional heir of what is known as “classical” music, has been to shun anything which might be construed as being accessible enough to be sold to the general public. This condescending attitude toward the listener has, predictably, led to the decline of art music consumption to an amount approaching zero. Kris Becker (composer and piano virtuoso) is a refreshing exception to this trend. This release abounds with clever quartal harmonies set to jazzy rhythms, and an upbeat attitude that, while sophisticated, does not take itself so seriously as to be a burden to listen to.

Highlights: This album, while being largely consistent in style (as opposed to some of his earlier releases, which were eclectic, to say the least), expresses a very wide range of emotional content, from the pensive Elegy, to the blindingly bright and upbeat Piano Sonata #1. One thing this release is not is boring — at any point in time. The harmonic center tends to shift suddenly, with little warning, and by the time we’ve processed the occurrence, we’re on to something else. The harmonic content, in general, is stable enough to not lose the audience, yet varied, dissonant, and progressive enough to hold the attention of the listener throughout each track.

Criticisms: This album does not break new ground in any revolutionary way; it sounds a lot like some of Barber’s better works — but it certainly displays mastery of the art. Think Hindemith spruced up for the market place. This isn’t even really a criticism; you could say that creating market-acceptable art music is a massive innovation in and of itself.

Conclusion: This is a highly sophisticated and listen-able release that displays a lot of theoretical, compositional, and performance mastery, while avoiding the common pitfall of being out of touch with what people want to hear.

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NO WAY IN NO WAY OUT (SILLS AND SMITH): ALTERNATIVE TO THE ALTERNATIVE

51omOu6uGcL._SL500_AA280_Article by PJ Cornell.

Syndicated from the Asterisked Music Journal.

Assessment: 9.0 out of 10.

Bottom line up front: Imagine yourself somewhere in Canada. There’s snow on the ground. It’s dark. It’s cold. As you walk down the ice-laden road, you see a bar nestled amidst the pines. The lights inside flicker a warm glow out onto the frozen ground below. As you approach, you hear a band playing. The music is as warm and inviting as the weather outside is cold and harsh. You step into the bar. The band’s drummer gives you a smile and a nod as you approach the bar. You order a whiskey on the rocks. The drink is cold, but sweet, and warms you as it goes down. You let the fire on the hearth, your stiff drink, and the full sound of the band wash over you until you’re relaxed from head to toe.

Highlights: The best part of this album is that it is so stylistically expansive. There’s something for everybody: metal, post-hippie jams, country, adult alternative, and good old alternative rock. This band’s sound is very thick, and the songs have good trajectory. Would it be Different is a Pink Floydesque favorite of mine. Lot’s of complex harmonies, good use of vocal technique, and amazing guitar solos. Melancholy World is another really good one; it’s a very upbeat, yet emotionally complex song with a beat that anyone can get behind, and guitar solos that make your soul ache. I Can’t Reach You is a good bluesy jam. In Pain, they demonstrate their artistic versatility by busting out a straight-up numetal anthem which is strangely consistent with the feel of the rest of the album. These Ghosts is a dreamlike song with a country feel.

Criticisms: My only real criticism is that, in some of their songs, they would do well to space out the lyrics a little more. It occasionally seems that they try to compress too many words into a short space. They would do well to use shorter poems, or else give their song a little more space to breathe. They’re choruses are usually the highlights of their songs; for example, in I’m Right Here, their verses are little too wordy, but the chorus: “I’m right heeeeeeeere, I’m right heeeeeeeere….” gives me chills every time.

Conclusion: This is an excellent album, overall. The more you listen to it, the more you like it. This album is better than their first one, a worthy effort in its own right (review pending) and I think the next one will be even better. I look forward to hearing it.

ASCENDERE: METAL — SHIVA STYLE

292265_354946391214168_271990769509731_955633_739138811_nArticle by PJ Cornell.

Syndicated from the Asterisked Music Journal.

Assessment: 8.5 out of 10.

Bottom line up front: Metal is alive and well in the Indian subcontinent, and one of the better representatives of the rising Hindu (I’m assuming) Metal Horde is the band, Ascendere. With their blindingly fast and precise riffs, guitar solos dripping with chromatic flames, brutal screams, and crackling drums, these guys are a force to be reckoned with. Their single, Worthless is a fine specimen of reptilian metal brutality.

Highlights: These guys have everything hardcore metal heads are looking for in a band — driving riffs at breakneck speeds, powerful growls (focused mainly on the mids), an impressive drum performance, and great guitar solos; all set in a brutal quasi-octatonic pitch set.

Criticisms: Ascendere has demonstrated mastery of the genre. However, they have not yet added anything new. Of course the band was only formed in 2011, and they already have a very clean, sophisticated, and powerful brand of speed metal. It is not difficult to imagine that in the coming years, they may yet break new ground in the genre.

Bottom line: These guys stand out among their peers in terms of ability, although they do not yet stand out in terms of originality. That may yet come.

SHAWN MULLINS: THE GUY WITH THE VOICE

SM3Music review by PJ Cornell.

Syndicated from the Asterisked Music Journal.

Assessment: 9 out of 10

Bottom line up front: This guy just needs to put out more songs.  But what he lacks in quantity, he makes up for in quality.  When he sings, it feels like he’s talking to you.  When he talks, it feels like he’s singing.  An incredible voice.

Highlights: Lullaby.  I think this is a cover; I’m certain I’ve heard this song before — but not performed this well.  Again, the best feature of this song is this guy’s incredible baritone.  What he has achieved with this recording is what meditation tapes try and fail to achieve — total relaxation in the deepest recesses of the soul.  Simply excellent.

Criticisms: More songs, please.

Conclusion: This guy’s manager should hook him up with a song writer and start putting out more recordings immediately.

WITH THESE WORDS: BEAUTY DISMAYED (SINGLE)

th_guitarArticle by PJ Cornell.

Syndicated from The Asterisked Music Journal.

Assessment: 8 out of 10.

Bottom line up front: This is the only song this band has published so far (as of 18 February 2013).  However, this little gem of a song shows great promise for the band, and I look forward to hearing more.

Highlights: This song has two things going for it.  Firstly, the rhythms, in conjunction with diatonic quartal harmonic accents are very ear-catching.  Secondly, the singer’s thin, pretty voice is perfectly complemented by the sparse, acoustic instrumental ensemble (piano and violin).  The piano riff (which is really a full fledged tune which is repeated over and over) is just complex enough to stay interesting throughout the entire song.  The countermelody in the violin is expertly done.  I particularly enjoyed the double stop sections.

Criticisms: The song is a tad repetitive, although not so much that it is actually unpleasant.  Also, I’d like to hear a little more range out of the singer.

Conclusion: Well done, guys!  This is a solid piece, overall.  It sounds like a cross between a Motet, an Art Song, and Acoustic Pop.  It’s a very pleasant brew of sonic textures, with engaging polyphonic trajectory and rhythmic language.  I look forward to hearing more from you in the future.