Three reviews and a video: What I did last week

[ A note to readers: There is no central theme to this post, besides what I’ve been enjoying aurally, visually and intellectually in the last few weeks. I hope you enjoy these short reviews as much as I enjoyed consuming the subject of the reviews.]

1. Radiohead: In Rainbows

In Rainbows

There’s been a ton of press on Radiohead’s latest studio release. Most of the hype has been around how they released their album and the new-fangled pricing scheme they used. I positively love how they released the album. I’ve written about this recently on my own blog. I think it’s a very smart and bold thing to do. It’s also about time. It signals, in my view, an exciting shift in the dynamics at play in the larger music industry. I hope that Radiohead fans, and particularly fans who download music for free (to put it nicely), will take this opportunity to put a price point on the music that makes their lives better.

What hasn’t been talked about that much is the actual quality of the music (aside from the criticisms about the bitrate of the official download, which isn’t what I mean by quality). I downloaded the album last week (my price point was about $7), and while I really enjoy some of the tracks, there are no breakout songs like previous albums. In Rainbows is by any measure a Radiohead B-album — still worth the price of admission, but miles from OK Computer or Kid A, in my opinion. Nevertheless, I admire what Radiohead is doing professionally and artistically.

2. Me’shell Ndegeocello: The World Has Made Me the Man of My Dreams

Me'shell Ndegeocello

Last year I saw Me’shell Ndegeocello perform as part of the SF Jazz Festival. Some of the audience was expecting a ‘jazz’ type performance, based on the context and Ndegeocello’s previous jazz recordings. What they got, however, might not be considered classic jazz, but it was surely classic Ndegeocello: pure, honest, beautiful, badass.

I loved the concert, and I admired what Ndegeocello did when she was done with her songs: aware of the audience’s uncertainty, she offered an explanation of her creative development over the last couple of years, and a heartfelt invitation to the audience to stick around and talk with her and band members, get to know one another, and talk about the music they had just heard and participated in.

She introduced a few of the songs on her recently released album, The World Has Made Me the Man of My Dreams (09/07), during that concert. Last week I downloaded the album, and I’ve listened to it several times since. Here are the adjectives I’ll use to describe it: dark, brooding, sad, angry, touching, uplifting, hopeful.

Each song is all of these things, and you can tell as you listen to it that Ndegeocello wasn’t gunning for any particular ethos or contradiction, she was just expressing herself. From the second track “Sloganeer — Paradise,” Ndegeocello (a Muslim) offers the critique of suicide bombers, set to a break beat and a nasty bass line:

Get a bang out of life / suicide / straight to paradise, yeah / if you’re the chosen / why don’t you / kill yourself now / kill yourself now / I hate all the beautiful people…*

It reads like a cynical proposition, which it is, but when you listen to the music, there is anger, hope and love all balled up into it. It comes off as authentic and empowering.

As the album moves on, Ndegeocello shows us not only her prowess as a bassist and lyricist, but also her willingness to examine her own shortcomings and aspirations. In the song titled “Michelle Johnson” (her birth name), she explains, “Sometimes I drink too much, smoke too much, love too much, so much… I do some right, do some wrong, I pray, to let life guide me. I’m just a soul on the planet, trying to do good, be good, feel good…”

This album feels good. I’ve always had a thing for Me’shell. We have some stuff in common. We both:

  • Grew up around DC
  • Play bass
  • Sport(s/ed) the bald look
  • Got crazy in DC
  • Moved to SF Bay Area
  • Spent time playing bass at Hyde Street Studios.
  • Like girls

I’ve never met the woman, but she strikes me as a familiar figure, someone who might have sat in the back of algebra with me in high school, hung out with me at parties, played music with me in my basement, etc. She has done something special, and good, with this album.

* I am transcribing from the album, so I may have mis-interpreted some words…

3. Live in Concert (10/12/2007): Fujiya & Miyagi

Holy shit. I haven’t been to a more kick-ass live show since the first Go! Team concert I attended in 2005 (a recent !!! show might be a close third). Unfortunately, if you haven’t caught F&M this fall, you’ve missed their North American tour, as they finished tonight in Austin. The crowd was eclectic but nothing to write home (or to you) about. The opening band, called Project Jenny, from Brooklyn, was really good — part Beck, part Beastie Boys, part two-kids-with-too-much-time-and-equipment, but they had great energy and good music. But everything changed when F&M took the stage. First of all, the music was perfect. Flawless execution — clearly live, but an uncannily accurate live rendition of their album.


The performance, and really the appearance of the performers, was what made the show. When I first listened to Fujiya & Miyagi (and forgive me if I offend you), I imagined super skinny, morose lookin-little japanese wanna-be English kids. Wrong again, Brooke! What I saw on stage were three soccer-hooligan looking blokes, guys you see kicking ass after a Manchester footie match, not waxing shy about having “a slow, a slow, a slow metabolism.” But there they were, singing these songs, whispering into the mics, playing their instruments. It put a whole new twist on the songs.

Since the concert, which was Friday, I’ve had the Fugiya & Miyagi album, Transparent Things, on my digital players constantly — when I run, on my way to work, and as I write this entry. Seeing them live put the music in an entirely new place for me — much like seeing Me’shell a year ago (almost to the day), seeing !!!, the Go! Team, or Iron & Wine for the first time.

4. Hilarious YouTube Video of the Month

If you’ve read this far, congratulations! Here’s your treat. I was going to write this post about my recent infatuation with yoga, in particular Bikram Yoga, but I ultimately elected to self-edit. Nevertheless, I have a yoga gem for you: At once the funniest video I’ve seen on YouTube in ages, and also a crack on those yoga suckers who take themselves too seriously. [youtube][/youtube]

31 responses to “Three reviews and a video: What I did last week”

  1. ssw says:

    Doh!! (Homerlike move hitting my head)
    I KNEW I should have gone to see F&M. Damn Damn Damn.

    Thanks for just sharing where you’re at Brooke. Sometimes that’s just what we need, even if it’s over computers…I wish you lived closer and maybe you would have pushed me to go. Next Time. Next American Tour.

  2. trixie says:

    you know, we missed F&M (we even had tickets) because we just didn’t feel like it.
    does this mean we are getting old.
    and can i just say that muslim and lesbian seems like an unpleasant row to hoe.

  3. trixie — “does this mean we are getting old”? — is this the same trixie who sees more shows than the rest of my friends combined? (not counting my brother.)

    i’ve missed f&m three times this year, i think, and all because i assumed they wouldn’t be able to translate that very fun album into a live show. i guess i was wrong. i’ll make sure not to miss them again.

    i like these “best of what i’ve done/consumed recently” posts.

  4. trixie says:

    maybe in my LIFETIME i have seen more shows than most (primarily thanks to my teen years) but i have no doubt that YOU, bryan, see WAY more live music than i do at this stage of life.
    unless you can count very enthusiastic family dancing in the kitchen of our house as a “live show”

  5. stephanie wells says:

    Speaking from limited but memorable past experience, that’s about as live as a show can get.

  6. Matthew says:

    “Bitter” is my favorite album of hers. If you don’t have it yet, I highly recommend it :)

  7. Jeremy says:

    I managed to catch F&M just this past saturday, and I concur–a very fun, tight performance. And even if you are getting old, Trixie, I wouldn’t have even known about F&M if it weren’t for you and Farrell…

  8. Dave says:

    I downloaded the new Radiohead and a recording of Mahler’s 6th the same evening. I forced myself to listen to the Radiohead first, even though I was more excited about the Mahler. I’ve listened to the Mahler more than the Radiohead, even though the Mahler is twice as long. My reaction to the Mahler was “wow,” my reaction to the Radiohead was, “it’s pretty good, but been there, done that.” Does this mean I’m getting old?

  9. Jeremy says:

    Who’s this Mahler? Are they touring with Fujiya and Miyagi?

  10. Brooke Maury says:

    #1 – I totally would have pushed you to go. I actually wouldn’t have even known about it if a friend of mine hadn’t given me the heads up.

    #2 – I also credit you and Farrell with turning me on to F & M — although the friend with whom I attended the concert also turned me on, but after youse guys… You aren’t getting old, btw, just lazy. xoxo.

    #6 – Bitter is pretty good, I agree. But the person who turned me on to Meshell (well got me to listen to her again after Plantation Lullibies) swears by Comfort Woman, and I’d have to agree with her. That’s some good music, especially Love Song #1.

    #8 – Radiohead is good, and some of their music probably can hold a candle to classical compositions, but that kind of music is so much more complex and inspiring. Not that I listen to it a huge amount, but it’s more likely than most pop music to bring me to tears or fill me with total awe – especially live.

  11. cynthia says:

    F&M is great

  12. Bryan says:

    cynthia — you constantly surprise me. i would never have imagined you were an f&m fan.

  13. cynthia says:

    why Brian. just curious

  14. Bryan says:

    because we know so very little about you. you are 100% mystery.

  15. Miller says:

    Damn, I was supposed to see F&M on saturday but ended up having to sell my ticket to a friend. He told me that the show was a little dissapointing for the same reasons that Bryan was apprehensive, so I wasn’t as bummed on missing them. So thanks to everyone for bumming me out with this uncontested, glowing praise for their live performance.

  16. Jeremy says:

    For the record, Miller, F&M was good fun–they were tight, and the guy’s actually not a bad guitarist. But I didn’t think it was amazing, though that’s probably more due to the fact that LA crowds are kind of dead, and therefore there wasn’t much energy in the room (Hell, I’m one of the worst offenders). Also, I enjoyed the recent Bill Callahan show (also at the Echoplex) much more, actually.

  17. Miller says:

    Another reason why I was upset about missing the F&M show is that the Echoplex is quickly becoming one of my favorite LA venues. I can only imagine how good Bill Callahan must have been there, as I saw him a few years back at my number one favorite venue, the Troubadour, where his disturbing wit and charm was enough to breathe life into even the most lackluster of LA crowds. Anyway, thanks for the disclaimer, Jeremy. It makes me feel a little bit better.

  18. Jeremy says:

    Yeah, I agree about the Echoplex. The sound in there is great, too, a far cry from what’s upstairs at the Echo.

  19. Ruben Mancillas says:

    Dave, which Mahler’s 6th? I was actually listening to both In Rainbows and my favorite movement of the 6th (conducted by Mitropoulos with the New York Phil) yesterday too.

    I feel so out of the loop with all of you guys regarding live music, here I am patting myself on the back for managing to at least listen to something brand new while you are making multiple pilgrimages to see live music I am only familiar with because of this site.

    This enthusiasm for hard won novelty colors my reception. I agree with the overall assessment of the new Radiohead as not being as good as some of their earlier work but I’m just so tickled to be listening to new music by a band I like that stuff tends to get an extra star on that alone.

    The same goes for movies. The last film I saw in the theatre was Grindhouse (on a night when I talked my west coast editor into a modfied punt so he could go with me) and whatever its faults I was so darn excited to have made it out of the house that I remember it fondly. The Darjeeling Limited is currently slated to be “the movie we get to go out to see during this six month span.”

    We are getting out on Monday to check one more off our list of “80’s bands that we wished we’d gone to back in the day” when we see The Jesus and Mary Chain. Last fall it was Echo and the Bunnymen. So in twenty years we’ll no doubt be all over F&M.

    Maybe my student was right when he said that he liked the 80’s/90’s music I sometimes play in the classroom. I brightened at this newfound connection only to have the kid tell me that his dad is the one who got him into “classic rock.”

    His Dad? CLASSIC ROCK ?!?

    Classic rock is going to my friends house as a kid and rifling through his older brother’s Emerson Lake and Palmer albums to look at the cool cover art.

    But no, I now listen to classic rock.


  20. Dave says:

    Classic rock smells like teen spirit these days.

    I confess I don’t know which Mahler’s 6th; I downloaded it and it didn’t have informative tags. That’s one big reason I don’t like downloading classical music. Cool that you were listening to it, too. Which is your favorite movement? I was blown away by the last one.

  21. Brooke Maury says:

    Dave — slightly off topic, but you raise a great point about classical music in the digital format. It’s really hard to figure out the details of the music, even with ‘good’ tags. There’s a reason for it.

    The MPEG-3 ID standard for embedded tags (ID3 v2) is horrible when it comes to classical music. This is a glaring problem with digital music. The model assumes a very simple band, album, track, genre format, which is really only suitable for standard ‘rock’ bands, and even that it falls flat. There’s simply not enough quality information about the artist on the digital file, and often that’s all you get is an MP3 or AAC file or whatever – no liner notes, no sleeve.

    With classical music, it’s particularly bad because there are invariably at least three ways to identify a particular piece: the composer and the conductor/performer, and the name of the peice. None of this fits well into the ID3 standard.

    Added to the complexity of the music (which I mentioned in an earlier comment), you also have the fact that the people creating the CDs generally aren’t thinking along the same lines as people who create ‘contemporary’ or pop CDs. They are largely actually just remastered recordings, and the ID3 tags are some mystery that they fill with whatever junk they feel like. I have a huge classical collection (thanks to an over zealous but greatly appreciated xmas gift from my mom over the years), but I can rarely find what I’m looking for without very specific searches through my collection.

  22. Dave says:

    Yeah, Brooke, I know of a huge debate among classical-music-loving iPod users about whether to put the composer, conductor, ensemble, or soloist in the “Artist” field. Luckily, this debate bypasses people like me who are too lazy to clean up our iTunes/ID3 tags.

    Is there a good digital replacement for liner notes? The lack of liner notes also keeps me from downloading a lot of classical and jazz.

  23. Dave says:

    Or, I should say, even from buying them on iTunes.

  24. Brooke Maury says:

    I don’t know of anything really good, unfortunately. MusicBrainz has been trying for a while to create a comprehensive collection of information about music, but it’s not really the kind of information one would get from liner notes and such. MusicBrainz is getting richer and richer in terms of information (much of it user contributed), but there’s no nice way to peruse the information — no good user interfaces.

    My master’s thesis, Orpheus was an attempt to build an “information rich” MP3 player and music visualizer that would provide not only quality information about artists (reviews, interviews, etc.), but also a cool way to browse your music collection.

    But we never really attempted to solve the classical or jazz problem, because it’s so hard. You can download and use the Orpheus player, but the information is stale, which defeats the purpose.

    One of the projects I have on the back burner is to build out a better system based on the idea of Orpheus, but put it on the web and get direct feeds from places like MusicBrainz, Freebase, Amazon, Wikipedia/Mediapedia and Last.FM. I think that, combined with a solid and dedicated user community (which is fortunately kind of easy to get around music, fans being fans and all) could do something pretty neat in terms of providing solid information around jazz and classical (as well as non-western music, like Carnatic and such).

  25. Bryan says:

    on the other hand, alex ross’s piece in the new yorker this week offers several ways in which the web has been good for classical music. if this trend continues, certainly someone will have to come up with better systems for cataloging.

  26. Brooke Maury says:

    Thanks for that link, Bryan. Pretty cool article. I was still reading the cartoons in this week’s New Yorker, so it would have taken me a while to get to anything substantive…

  27. Kate the Great says:

    Brooke, I like the language of this peice. You describe the music in words without saying something like, “Oh, it’s too good. I can’t describe it. You just have to listen to it.” Because of your descriptions, I feel intrigued and the artist names stick in my head as stuff I want to hear. When I’m listening to other talk of music, I perk up when I hear these artist names and make a better effort to absorb the conversation.

  28. Miller says:

    Oh! Jeremy’s comment about crappy LA audiences reminds me of one of my favorite live-show experiences: Bonnie “Prince” Billy opening for Bjork at the Hollywood Bowl. This is an enormous venue, and Bjork is known for her lazer/fire/fireworks spectacle of a show, so the crowd is really amped. WIll Oldham comes out, alone, with just his acoustic guitar, walks to the mic and says, “I fucking hate you, L.A. I never come out here, but I love Bjork and Matmos, so let’s get this over with.”

    He was like a musical Andy Kaufman, daring the audience to hate him. I like to think that his motivation was that at least this way they’d express something other than the subtle hipster nod. (I am guilty of the nod as well.) Most of the crowd started to boo, while a select minority (probably Oldham fans already) cheered. The booing finally overpowerd the cheers when Oldhan introduced “Riding” by saying, “This song is about wanting to screw your sister.” Best rock talk I’ve ever heard.

  29. Bryan says:

    it’s hard for me to imagine a world where bonnie billy gets booed — but it’s kind of fun, too. did matmos fare any better? my fear of a bjork show is that half the people there would just be there because it would be the cool thing to do. not that they really listen to her music, which can be a tough task at times — in a good way.

  30. Miller says:

    Yes, Matmos was well-received because they only performed the songs they helped Bjork write for Vespertine. It was fascinating because they recreated the samples from some of the songs; I remember that they brought out a very wide container of rocks in which the both of them shuffled around in unison, producing the crunchy backing track on one of the songs.

    And yes, there were a fair share of people who you could tell only went because it would give them more scene cred, not to mention plenty of celebrities, most of whom were probably there for the same reasons, but I also saw a few tear-streaked faces, the sign of a true superfan (or at least of someone who can be moved by music).

  31. 80's music says:

    80’s music…

    I Googled for something completely different, but found your page…and have to say thanks. nice read….