Monday, December 28, 2009

Considerable Sounds- Best Of The Year - More Cowbell!

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By DC Music Editor Benjamin New

Oh no! It's the end of 2009! Time for folks like me, who have listened to far too much music to be considered vaguely lucid, to post reactionary emotional responses & smugly reiterate our half-baked thesis on the language of music and it's sociological implications on dwarf stars in the furthest reaches of galaxies as yet undiscovered by pygmy maraca enthusiasts with outstanding DUI warrants. As well as demonstrate beyond the shadow of doubt our fondness for the "run on" sentence!
Run! Run for your life! There are no reasonable, fact-based arguments! No Santa Claus on the evening stage (Ho Ho Ho). The dreaded "best of year list" has arrived laying waste to the homeland, and with it; pestilence, debauchery, and general malaise.

Quickly now we must hide behind self-righteousness! Surely ad hominem rejoinders will be invading the psyche at any moment! Watch out! attempts to dodge the issue have failed! Serpentine! Keep moving haphazardly from one flawed point to the next until the article is finished! After all if we move from one second hand metaphor to another fast enough, no one will be the wiser!

Without further pontification, delay, or venerable they are -2009's Considerable Sounds "best of" list.
In all seriousness, there may be something here you may have missed.

2009 was dominated by Michael Jackson's death and the Beatles CD catalog reissues. Both events generated general big-buzz hype and hoopla. The masses were moved the way a new musical sensation should move masses. I love the Beatle reissues personally, Their entire canon is all worthy of praise and honors. Certainly the remasters are a marvel, the clarity in the vocals being particularly breathtaking. Jackson's slew of discs, especially Thriller, sold an impressive 2.3 million copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan, in the three weeks after his death on June 25. That was before the concert-footage documentary, Michael Jackson's This Is It, and its accompanying soundtrack hit theaters and stores. According to EMI, in the first five days since the Sept. 9 release date of the Beatles remixes, 2.25 million copies of Beatles CDs sold in North America, Japan and the United Kingdom. But you can read about that most anywhere and we will concern ourselves with artists who are actually creating new music here...and who are breathing. No Taylor Swift, Beyoncé, or Lady Gaga type stuff will be found here. This is not about commercial success. ( MacDonald's may sell by far the most burgers, but we wouldn't want to read about them in Gourmet Review).

Dan Byrk- Pop Psychology
The most perceptive release of the year– and perhaps the most brutal yet certainly witty music ever written about the music industry itself. The tunes are good, real good.
"Your holding up the bar with a guitar in your hands..." If you like intelligent lyrics, a bit of jangly guitar, some unusual instrumentation from time to time. And you don't mind not leaving your brain with the brain check girl on entry. This may just be the album for you!
Don't leave home without it!

My second choice is bittersweet. Jay Bennet's Whatever Happened I Apologize. Although I prefaced the list with the words "still breathing", sadly Jay is no longer doing so.
Though earlier this year he was indeed "breathing". And we are able to acquire this, his final collection of songs absolutely free of charge. (Click the cover photo). With the debate about health care in the U.S.- it might be wise to note Jay needed hip surgery that wasn't covered by his insurance...instead he was given Fentanyl patches to manage the pain. According to coroner reports, Mr. Bennett died from Fentanyl intoxication. The Duragesic patch has a dodgy history. Not to dwell on tragedy, but we mourn the loss of a terrific songwriter whose voice was taken from us very unnecessarily. Why profits before patients? Because insurance companies are in everyone's investments...from the mutual fund, to the public retirement fund...unions, municipalities, 401ks, most all money not buried in coffee cans is tied up in someway with these companies. With an economy barely propped up by rotting 2x4s the private industries who yield large profits hold sway. Rest in peace Jay, you will live forever through the music. And thanks for sharing it with us.

Weighing in at #3 is U2's No Line On The Horizon. It's a fine album. Their 12th and proof that this band is still quite relevant and quite productive.

"Walk out, into the sunburst street
Sing your heart out, sing my heart out
I've found grace inside a sound
I found grace, it's all that I found
And I can breathe
Breathe now"

Each time I give ears to this it becomes a little darker, a little more satisfying. Just a fine album very nicely done on all fronts. The music that wasn't designed to be "singles" has particular power and remain permanent fixtures in my mp3 player. You too?

Steve Wariner, My Tribute To Chet Atkins

Wariner is a formidable guitarist; his tone is pure subtle, and clear. Joy rings out with each note on this disk. Larry wears the hats of producer, bassist and even castanet player. This is not however, why the disk is included here. The dedication and sincerity in honoring his mentor makes for a remarkable celebration. The results are charmed. Aside from tunes associated with Atkins, mixed in are original compositions in his honor, one of my favorites is "Silent Strings". It's one of the only two pieces with vocals. It's an ode to Chet's now lonesome guitar. The honesty of this music is instantly recognizable, though I doubt this will be a commercial success for the guitarist, it is a triumph in most every other aspect. A gift for Chet....and everyone else! This just in - much to my surprise, (a pleasant one) This album has been nominated for a Grammy! Congratulations to Steve!

Porcupine Tree, The Incident.
I love this band. I love this CD. It is a bit of a departure in some respects from the fare we've come to expect from this remarkable band. A departure in the sense of subject matter. The songs here are largely about nostalgia in some sense. The 55 minute opus that is the title cut takes up one full disk. The rest of the pieces reside on disk 2. There is a sweetness mixed with melancholy throughout and Wilson's songwriting is, as always spot on. To my ear the arrangements have a bit more in common with In Absentia and Signify than their last masterful release (Fear of a Blank Planet) though the bludgeoning guitars will rip from time to time, there's a bit more subtlety in these tunes...that is not a complaint, I love it! The musicianship in Porcupine Tree is without flaw. Excellence on all fronts. Gavin's percussing is again just immaculate. Must have.

Wye Oak - The Knot
Opaque shoe gazing Rock with a healthy dose of Americana. Jenn Wasner plays guitar and sings while Andy Stack bangs the drums using his right arm, plays keyboard using his left and has a Vocoder in his mouth while also manipulating loops. The Alt Rock duo can be quite cliche. Not in this case. The Baltimore duo does very interesting music with a good deal of dynamic diversity. For originality alone, this deserves a listen.


K'naan - Troubador

K'naan was born in Mogadishu, moved to Toronto at age 13 and claims to have learned English by listening to Hip Hop.
I will be first to admit I am not qualified to review rappers. I am too fond of combing melody with words to be fair to the genre. However there is some very interesting storytelling here, a certain credibility that resonates, and a heartfelt delivery that transcends the medium. This is a unique disk. From an obviously unique artist. And it is the only rap oriented album to make the Considerable Sounds More Cowbell list.

SBYOV, Fiesta
If you are not acquainted with Gustavo Dudamel and his Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela (SBYOV), you really should be! This would be my pick for classical release of the year. A "youth orchestra"? Really Ben? Trust me. This transcends any ideas you might have about a "youth orchestra". In fact it tramples them!

They have stunned audiences worldwide with explosive Latin-American showpieces. This is a completely new way of interpreting this music. It's safe to say that there is no other conductor or orchestra in the world that could deliver a recording like this. It exudes passion and excitement! This is one of those rare CDs that you will simply wear out.

The album includes:
Bernstein: West Side Story: Mambo
Carreno, I: Margariteña
Castellanos, E: Santa Cruz de Pacairigua
Estévez: Mediodía en el Llano
Ginastera: Estancia - dance suite, Op. 8a
Márquez: Danzón No. 2
Revueltas: Sensemayá
Romero, Aldemaro: Suite para cuerdas

The musicians deliver this music in a blistering frenzy. A scorched earth policy prevails.
Say what you might about Venezuela's political ways, but if it has a hand in producing excellent young musicians of this would be wise to have a closer look at the methods. The orchestra is based at the Teresa Carreño Cultural Complex in Caracas and is considered the nadir of the nation's system of 220 youth orchestras.
Prepare to be stunned.

Disturbed, Indestructible
Ok, I'm not a legit headbanger either. But this band's calling card combines well crafted melodies with thunderous drumming and chainsaw guitars to a good effect. So embrace the darkness within and give this a spin. Vocals are a standout and quite honstly The choruses are as "hooky" as any pop song and the production is pleasing without being overbearing.
This is really a great CD. And quite usefull in cleansing one's pallet after listening to the number 10 pick....


Barbra Streisand, Love Is the Answer (Columbia):

Are you insane Ben? Probably. But regardless of what preconceptions I have about the relative value of her music (not her skill per se), the combination of Streisand's expressive, still interesting voice and jazz vocalist Diana Krall's satisfyingly elegant production make for a listening experience that's reallyquite rewarding as well as special. "Here's to Life" is as sublime as it is beautiful. Despite my own prejudices I must recommend this as the worthwhile document it is. One of the best recordings of the year though it is likely the only Streisand album I've sat through in it's entirety. (My "issues" are not with her personally or with her talent, merely her choice of material in previous outings).

Honorable Mentions:

The David Byrne - Brian Eno collaboration "Everything that happens, happens today".
Well it should have been in the top ten really, as should have Randy Newman's Harps and Angels. Maybe it should have been a top 12?
In other news, Randy did the soundtrack for "The Princess and the Frog" and will be getting his own star on the Hollywood walk of fame!

Manila Journalism Section
Also noteworthy is the soundtrack album from "Paperboys- the Movie". Which includes songs from
Dear Savannah, Jamie Radford, The Mighty Parrot Band, as well as my own score for the award winning film.

While we are tooting our own horns here a bit, this all is really fine work. Also keep your eyes and ears open for Collapsed Light... a new release available in January 2010.
More on this in the next post!

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Duly Consider and Considerable Sounds are TM of this publication and are subject to liabilities thereof

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Screaming Me-mes! Free Speech or Loud Bully?

I have been to and seen many town hall meetings and as much as I appreciate political concern, I have no patience for ignorance, heated passion or anything that cannot be logically applied to an issue, and backed up with relevant facts. It embarrasses me that our media play unedited, live town halls which demonstrate our worst instead of our best intellectual thought.

I don't care what someone's position is; it never holds value to repeat something or to say it more loudly; and doesn't not change its truth. Loud idiots should never have an advantage over thoughtful, intelligent people.

When others across the globe see rednecks talking about "death panels", and for that matter, when one of those rednecks was a VP candidate, it makes America look like a nation of Jerry Springer University graduates.

I respect my conservative and liberal friends alike, as long as they don't confuse emotionality and quickened anger for "Americanism".

Personally, if I were a congressman and I held a town hall, I would lay down the law that there is as much a right to hear as a right to speak. When one speaks in a disrespectful way, just as in my classroom, I would immediately dismiss them.

These politicians, who fail to manage a respectful, intelligent discourse, should not have town halls, plain and simple.

If people scream, chant or disrupt in any way someone else's right to civil communication, and they refuse to leave, tazer them and drag them out. They may protest as loudly as they like outside the meeting as long as they don't disturb communication among those who came to advance real political thought.

American media who play unedited, live reports, are irresponsible and the people who see live reporting know they can misbehave and get on the air. Both are wrong, but ultimately, it is the media's responsibility to avoid being an unfiltered megaphone for idiots.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Cut Out the Middle Man

Even in biblical times, they recognized the dangers of people making a living on derivatives and speculation. They were called "the moneychangers". In most Muslim countries it is illegal to loan money with an interest rate. Finally, in America many have been brainwashed to think people who handle money should make a lot of it.

Banks, insurance companies and the financial sector in general, are not real contributors to the GNP except possibly for their consulting and training services. The banks spend a ton of money advertising to appear to have a value greater than they deserve. Since all the successful banks do this, they simply pass on these costs to the consumer. Their marketing costs and profits are an inefficiency the world can no longer afford. Insurance companies were originally created to spread risk among members of a "group". Now they simply charge more to people who are at higher risk, defeating the purpose and they advertise, another inefficiency we pay for without any benefit.

Letting these industries operate as profit seeking ventures is like letting the accountant in your company keep all the profit and pay the CEO and others just enough to subsist. It is the tail wagging the do. Speculators are no longer dependable investors. Their money is daytraded and hedged to the point they destabilize markets and in some cases literally cause the fall of certain companies.

We are all now familiar with the recent practice of selling something twice, in the form of packaged derivative products. A bank sells a loan, derives interest, then additionally packages several loans, then sells stock in the performance of the collective package. The ultimate pyramid scheme. All of the money they make is money we could spend on improving the quality of life. All of these services are necessary to all citizens, therefore would be a natural fit for government administration.

Here are a few examples of how government can and does provide these services with near perfect efficiency. Medicare, whose administrative costs are 1%, outperforms its private counterparts by a full 29% as they don't have to advertise or pay out profits. Banks are allowed to issue loans guaranteed by the government, yet they charge healthy interest rates for these services. Direct lending to student and even small businesses cuts them out and saves unnecessary marketing costs and profits.

In many other countries, even if these sectors are private, they are highly regulated because they are considered a "trust", and entity entrusted with performing public service with guaranteed profits. It is truly amazing that Americans have justified private medical services and insurance to pay for it when they somehow consider the protection of property form fire or crime, a government responsibility. Everyone has health needs, some more than others, and none can be blamed for their health as if it is a choice. Why is it the public spreads the cost of police and fire departments among us all according to our income, while those services to protect your health are meant to be profitable?

Yes, doctors should make a good living, but once they have recovered their $100,000+ investment, why should they continue to become wealthy? Every company has an initial capitalization, but no other is guaranteed such returns. They are treating life and health as a commodity. If you can't pay their ransom, you die. This is why countries like Costa Rica, where there is no need for private medical insurance or doctors, can afford to provide quality health care even though the average income is $300 a month. A doctor lives well in Costa Rica. His education is paid for by the government and he is a public servant. A doctor of medicine and a doctor of philosophy are paid the same in government institutions. And they have no problem attracting enough people to the professions of medicine and education. We have something to learn from them.

Imagine how cheaply we could provide quality health, education and banking services, if the government simply acted as a conduit with no profit motive, only the goal of maximizing health, education and money management. All of these have become privatized and more are becoming so.

Even the military has been outsourced to contractors in Iraq for $100,000/year instead of $15-30,000/year for their government counterparts. The result, explosive war costs. Coca Cola and other beverage companies are in the process of privatizing water; yes, Coke is mostly water provided at a very low cost by the government, then sold back to people in bottles that will pollute forever. In Darfur and many other third world nations, companies like Coke take enough water out of the water table to dry up wells in the highlands. People have to migrate to the valleys and they are literally warring over water.

What is next? Let's reverse the trend and let the government manage those things that all of us must have to survive and thrive.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

The Nerve of the Rich!

The rich overpaid themselves for the entirety of history, stealing from the poor, and now they say there isn't any money because of the poor.

The rich raped me then complained that I am no longer a virgin.

The rich decided life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness didn't include the necessary ingredients for such; i.e. food, education, health.

The rich man who is not dying, is complaining that those dying are too expensive and it's their own damned fault

The rich determine their own compensation having no correlation to hard work or ideas, but only to the power of their check-writing pens.

The rich deprive me of an education then put me in prison for the result of my ignorance, taking no blame and bearing no responsibility.

The rich and its sworn agents decide what I am worth, rather than the majority deciding what they and their ideas are worth; we are extorted.

The Nerve! I think I now understand the French...

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