Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Cancer Bats- Searching for Zero

Starting off, don't mistake me- I'm not 100% behind this release. I don't normally do "Two star reviews"- normally, it's 4 and 5 star, only. So, we're clear? Then, here we go;
Like or hate metal, this is it. Cancer Bats already were supposedly "Hardcore and Stoner Rock" as a hybrid. To me, that's not exactly a hybrid. Hardcore, already, is basically applying some Punk rock to a basically suburban Metalhead mindset, Stoner Rock, likewise, seems like suburban Metalheads trying out some seventies style debauched Psychedelia. So, a hybrid of the two? Basically, you cancel out the Psychedelia with the Punk- you end up with Metal. 
So, this new one is flat out Metal. We're talking AC/DC meets Dio meets Judas Priest. Maybe you like Metal? OK, then. Me, I'm not so much. I put up with a lot of Metal because I dig guitars so much, but my aesthetics are from a different place. I dig the loud, sure. I dig the ridiculously over amplified, and the physical sensation of sound moving air. I also dig the notion of letting players play- let the bass player solo, let the drummer solo, let the guitar player solo, even let the singer wail, just so long as it fits the song. I even dig riffs that don't really have a song for context. So, I can deal with a fair amount of metal in my music- but ultimately, I go back to a particular kind of just barely post punk aesthetic, which I'm not too conceited to call "New Wave".
So, the constant pinch harmonics, with the riffs beaten into submission, with the shouted gang vocals with the scooped marshall tone, with the sabbath style  tri tones, with the Verse Bridge Chorus song formula, with the fast bit and the breakdown? Yeah, all together it's fine, I guess, but leaves me pretty "meh" I'm left looking for the song behind the squall, and I'm not really finding it.
So, why am I talking about this? I'm sure you can find actual Metalheads to talk much more coherently about where this release falls in the Metal spectrum- Here's my point-
I go on ( and on) about hybrids on this blog. I do truly believe it's what makes rock music work- but sometimes, a hybrid isn't a hybrid, and Cancer Bats are just the most palatable variation on this particular thought- I don't really believe that there can be a real hybrid of Metal and Punk. One side or the other always wins out. Whether you're talking about Motorhead, who, despite everything, are really just a Rocknroll band, or whether you're talking about the three letter bands- COC, DRI, MDC, etc, etc- sooner or later, everybody becomes what they always were, and Cancer Bats have now become exactly what they are- a straight up "New Wave of (British) Heavy Metal" band. I hated that stuff in the eighties, and I still don't like it, all that much, now. 

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Sarin- Burial Dream

A lot of things both defy me, and, depressingly enough, confirm horrible things for me. For a pertinent example- the notion that certain types of guitar distortion denote "heavy". I think, to myself, aw, c'mon folks, this was recorded digitally, with software treatments, so the distortion is just an effect, and no more so, nor less than modulations or time-based echoes and reverbs. But, of course, I suspect it's because we are conditioned to think of a scooped distortion sound indicates volume and rectified gain stages, and therefore, the province of young, rebellious men who express themselves with massive amplification to indicate their brazenness.
So, while I understand that Sarin were influenced by Godflesh, and Isis, but that's not really the way I hear it. I hear it as Calexio meets deftones, or Morricone meets screamo. Ultimately, whether distortion or echo, there are no truly un-effected guitars, and the tempos are kept deliberate so as to make the melodies seem more spare.
So, that brings us to why I like this- it's really very spare and minimalist, even given that maximalism of 7 minute songs, and so many effects- it's very zen, and contemplative, even with all the great, throaty screams and pounding rhythms. The amount of dissonance in the passing chords and the shifts between echoey single note lines, and saturated chorded riffs is like the natural fissures and erosion in a mountain creek.
I realize this may not be the reaction the band is looking for. They may wish for me to talk about it using words like "Brutal" "heavy" "bludgeoning" and so forth, and I'm sure others will- but, again, from my perspective, it seems deep, sonorous and pretty in a very stern and austere way. This means I dig it, a lot. Noise meets metal, and goes post, but the whole thing is reflective, and introspective, like a noise rock Old Man Gloom. Good stuff, and they seem to know that P90 Jazzmasters mixed with newer model Les Pauls always produces a deep and authoritative sound. A good choice for a snowy, gloomy, cold winter. Think of it as Doom, for a poetic sort....

Monday, March 2, 2015

Swervedriver- I Wasn't Born to Lose You

So, I got this today, one day early. I've always liked Swervedriver, but I can't say I've loved them. Until, now, that is. They're playing at a godawful site in DC within a few weeks, and I might bite the bullet, and see them.
See, Swervedriver got grouped in with the Shoegazers, and I can see why. The vocals are very pretty, and lend a much more mellow feel to the music than the guitars lay down, but they make for pretty bad shoegazers, and the result of that, for me, has always been that they're too easy to dismiss ( Except for "Mezcal Head" which is flat-out awesome).
Here's the basic formula- you start with a jangle guitar, about two parts Peter Buck, one part Lee Ranaldo, then, add a soaring post punk guitar that's equal measure Bob Mould and J Mascis. Now soak the whole thing in reverb, and add stack vocal harmonies, like Crosby, Stills & Young, and The Byrds. Play and off-center beat under that, and you've got the basic idea. It's a really dense sound, and parallels what Ride and M B V were doing, but definitely is more propulsive and grounded. There are times where it gets James Williamson style heft, and Wayne Kramer style sonics, so more like "Ear Blazing" than Shoegazing.
But, as that formula might suggest, it can get a bit too top heavy with ideas, and you end up with the song sounding like 3 different demos smashed together. So, I'm not suggesting you get their whole catalog. Just this one and Mezcal Head.
See, they have stuck to the formula here, but they've been surrounded by advances in music. Grunge has turned into Stoner Rock, Shoegazing into Post Rock, and Punk into Metal- so, now, their formula has new combinations to lock into- The end result is that the jangles are more angular, and less retro, the sonic guitar heavier, and more anthemic, and the stacked vocals more baroque- excess definitely suits their style. It places them in more firmly post punk, and Stoner, and heavy traditions- this version I can hear playing on  some mythical bill with True Widow and Baroness- like Quicksand- they are straddling several worlds in the density of the guitars- but the clear, and strong production means you can separate out what they're doing, at any given moment.
So, yeah, I really like it a lot. I can see an alternative to Deathfest, in this- a festival of "Not Quite" Metal bands- Torche, Baroness, True Widow, Coliseum, Cloakroom, Ume, Pelican, Kylesa, and yes, Swervedriver....

Monday, February 9, 2015

Torche- Restarter!

Here's the pitch, and I'll make it just this once- you need Torche because this is rock, as it stands, in 2015. Sure, sure, sure, they get sold as sludge, stoner and doom. Yes, they are on Relapse, and Relapse used to be an extreme metal label. Please forget all those niches, and genres, and classifications. Things have changed, and we must change. Adapt and survive- it's the one dictum of Nature that we must heed.
See, last night was the Grammys. Ye gads- Sam Smith won a bunch of awards based upon a song he was sued for plagiarizing. Beck won for an album that could only be called "rock" by people who think that Lady Gaga should sing standards with Tony Bennett. ( For once, I was with Kanye- if you're going to give it to Beck instead of Beyonce, somebody needs to drunkenly interrupt) And Tenacious D won for metal, for doing an acoustic cover of a twenty year old Dio track. Rock isn't dead, folks- music is. Kids today... They'll wear a Pokemon T shirt before they'll wear even a Foo Fighters T shirt. They'll download Mp3's from the Pirate Bay of comedians doing a Rap parody of some news event a thousand times over more likely than they'll so much as listen to a single, complete verse of an actually composed song.   So, screw Punk, Metal, Reggae, Disco, Country, or whatever genre- this is the dark age of mass culture, and those of us who believe in something more edifying than Vine clips must change our game- no more can we afford to be tribal, or un-evolved.
Torche understand. They are marketing this record with goofy sunglasses, Video games, and glow in the dark Hoodies. Steve Brooks possesses a voice that's up there with Ozzy, and David Lee Roth for classic "rock" chops, but he buries it, much like Buzz Osborne(!), and he leads a group of pure lifers in the "rock" game, here. Don't believe me? OK, Steve was in Floor in 1992. That's 23 years ago. If that's not a lifetime commitment, you live in a different job market than the rest of the world. Jonathan Nunez and Rick Smith have been at this since the mid 1990's as well, albeit from a more traditionally "punk" angle - please see Post Teens and Shitstorm- and if you don't know Andrew Elstner- please see Riddle of Steel and Tilts, and get back to me once you're a music fan. What I'm saying is that if anyone deserves to carry the flag for Rock music, these guys have earned it.
So, I'm going to assume that you're caught up. You have copies of Torche, Meanderthal, Harmonicraft, In Return, and Songs for Singles. If not, there's your next paycheck, buddy.
So, you know what these guys do- they combine pop songcraft- hooks, tight structure, and efficient delivery with the heavy, loud, extreme elements of underground punk, noise, and metal. Like Boris, (the)Melvins, and Converge forced into an AC/DC song format. The only way to convey it to the uneducated masses is in terms of "classic" rock- "It's like Black Sabbath meets Van Halen, but way heavier" "It's like Led Zeppelin, but modern".... In our balkanized rock scene, that's why they stand out as genre-defying- "Sludge Stoner Doom Pop"- people cannot wrap their heads around the notion that good, solid music can be extreme as well as mainstream- at the same time!!!
I've already seen how this is playing out- the purists are turned off, while the poseurs are turned out.
Decibel mag is confounded, and thinks it's a step back, while Outburn is just utterly impressed by its existence. Let me give you a set of keys, and maybe you can make the ride. See, the thing is is this- Rocknroll,  or, if you prefer, rock music, is a bastardized hybrid. From the outset, it gains vitality from being impure, from mutation- from doing it "wrong". Without that hybrid vigor, it becomes rote and stale, quickly, and then dies. People who assign a role for a band to play are sentencing their pleasure in that band to death. Likewise, internally, bands are comprised of people- and people only advance through dialogue and change- So, no, this isn't Torche going anywhere- this is what happens when Steve incorporates what he's learned from Floor reviving, and Andrew getting his Tilts thing out, and Jonathan producing a bunch of bands, and Rick doing likewise. Expecting Torche to get more "party rock" would be awkward and strange. Expecting them to become Mastodon would be equally foolish, as these are different people, with different experiences and different tastes.
So, if you're up to speed, listen to this.
Track one sets the tone: Annihilation Affair. I don't really tune into the lyrics with Torche- it's mostly word salad to me, But this turn of phrase is apt- Low End 3/4 swing with all lower mids emphasized- it sounds like a wrecking ball getting funky wit' it. The emphasis on the lower mids means that the noise solo that closes the track out doesn't come out with any sharp edges, it's more steamwhistle whine and the squeak of rubber soles than knives and ice, you get it?
Track two "Bishop In Arms" has discovered something I thought only I knew- hardcore thrash is very lulling. I seriously can use old Discharge 7" records to go to sleep. All those downstrokes become a blur, then a drone. Leave it to Torche to find the meditative drone in 100 bpm.
Track Three 'Minions' sounds like a new wave song in slo-mo. You can deny it, if you want, but I dig the thought of Benjamin Orr and Gary Numan on 'Ludes.  Kylesa do this same thing- cop a New Wave melody, and amp the living hell out of it, until it becomes psychotronic.
Then, Track Three "Loose Men".... You're going to hear about this one. It's the most obvious throwback to Harmonicraft, and the Healer Ep- it's basically an Alt-rock track in the vein of Husker Du and ( believe it or not) Big Country. It's nice, but self limiting.
I prefer track five "Undone"- it's a bomb stringed Melvins grinder, with hooks and a serious attitude. It sounds like both the heaviest and most rawk track you'll hear all day.
So, Track six,'Blasted" seems almost quaint- all simple harmonies, and recycling riffs, in an almost pop punk way, until the solo at the end saves it by becoming some towering Phoenix whine, going into track seven "No Servants", all controlled feedback and broken drums until it releases into a monster riff that Blue record Baroness would've given their beards to have. This is what I want from Torche- pushing the boundaries of both what is "heavy" and what is 'melody".
So, track eight, comes on like a seasick Boris track, before that chorus , my god that chorus- 'Believe it"- we're talking a redefinition of Sludge Metal, here. drones, crushing heaviness, gobs, upon gobs of thick, buzzing guitars, but with hypnotic melodies spiraling off like fractals in a mandelbrot set....
So, if I tell you that track nine "Barrier Hammer' is heavy, you still won't expect it. We're talking heavier than Godflesh sitting in with Buzzov*en to play songs Black Sabbath thought were too loud, and that's before the bomb string derails everything- this sounds like a carpet bombing using small planets as payload. Show me something heavier, I dare you.
So, we end with the title track. Sheer bloody magic. A heavy melodic drone, deceptively easy on an Alice Cooper does New Wave beat, that carries you off. Eight Minutes? Not enough. I want this to be like a Can track- twenty minutes, just getting shamanistic with it. Such beauty, such unknown treasures shouldn't ever end. It makes Queens of the Stone Age seem like weak tea, masquerading as witches' brew. We're talking the real cosmic porridge, here. Put these guys in a room with Psychick TV. Someone won't walk out, but we'll be better people for it.
What am I saying? I'm saying this is a great record, and absolutely crucial to hear if you care about what's next for heavy rock.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Ladder Devils- Clean Hands

So, I wasn't going to post anything until I came across something really worth it. Ladder Devils are it.
I haven't been all that into them, They seemed a little too bandwagonesque, based upon what people were saying about them, People are wrong. This stuff is on no one's trend. What they do is next-level post-hardcore. If you want me to do the musical hairsplitting thing- it's like Unsane meets Cro Mags,  like Young Widows meets Gorilla Biscuits, Like Black Flag meets Refused.  Confused? You should be, such comparisons are bunk, and they're why I didn't hear this excellent music until now. What you have is really loud post-hardcore song structures- Amphetamine Reptile, later Victory Records, and Temporary Residence styles all get some airing, played with  Bro "Core/crew" vocal style, and echoey, atmospheric guitar melodies alongside. You'll hear bits that will remind you of others straddling the Hardcore and Noise Rock "genres" but like many of those bands, classification is a disservice. Ladder Devils don't sound like Unsane, KEN Mode, Ritual, Coliseum, Milligram, Refused, Quicksand, Botch, Quiet Arcs, Metroshifter, Moutheater, The Powder Room, Bl'Ast, HOME, War Brides, Tyranny is Tyranny, Roomrunner, Black God, or Fight Amp. But, if you like any three of those, you will like Ladder Devils. If you only like two? You'll think they're too this or that, too off the mark- and they are. This doesn't fit any genre, and defies expectations, along those lines, but still is definitely intended for people, like me, who live right in that valley where post and sludge metal, post and old school hardcore, and eternal midwestern noise rock interact.
Put it this way- use the expletive of your choice, follow it with a "YEAH!". That sound like you enjoying a record? OK, put this on.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Nothing New But... something different

I don't like top ten lists. I don't like year-end recaps. I don't think of music as a competitive sport, and I don't like the concept of Art as a nostalgia vehicle. Both are crap ways of approaching something that should be a dialogue.
So, why, after lo, these many years, am I doing a year-end top ten of music from the past year? There is actually a point to this. You can disagree with me. I'm really beyond good with that. I not only expect you to disagree, I want you to disagree. I'm not being ironic- I actually am no good at irony. I  really, really liked these records, and they really are the top ten records I listened to this year- but my tastes aren't the point- the point is your tastes. I want you to have favorites, I want you to think you have better taste than me, and I want you to want to correct me, make your pitch, and sell me on your viewpoint. No, not in the comments, I want to have stuff to read, I want to hear new music, I want more of all that makes me a fan, and a consumer of culture. So, I'm doing a top ten in the hopes that someone out there actually reads this, and disagrees enough to point me in the direction of a better blog than this, or sets me in the direction of a better band, or otherwise improves my viewpoint by broadening it. But, I'm must warn you- I think my list is pretty bullet proof.

10. Moutheater- Passing Key. That this is bottom of the list should tell you how diamond-polished my list is. You want catharsis? You want angst, and raw emotions. This is, far and away the most harrowing stuff I heard all year. I don't want to invalidate someone else's feelings, but this tapped into mine. You want to know the secret behind my smile? Here it is. This is where I live, dude. I'm a dark guy, wanting to be a goofball, and failing. Listen to Rochambeau. You can hear "My War" era Black Flag being forced into a much more structurally pleasing straightjacket. There's no aimless noodling here. Every beat counts. Every word means something. Every measure brings you somewhere. The nightmare at the heart of Generation X infantilism is at the heart of this, and it's as inescapable as that self-righteous more politically correct than thou jackass on every internet forum. You won't survive this record. You will adapt or die. Yes, it's that strong.
9. Sage Francis- Sick to D(EAT)H- I'm not a hip hop guy. I like some, but I'm not versed much past 1991. So, don't take this inclusion as some kind of endorsement or attempt at currency with people who really are heads. I just really like Sage Francis. A song like Blue just is a great song.  A song like Gimme Dat will stick with you. A song like Ubuntu will give you something you can't get elsewhere.  This is full-spectrum music, it communicates much more than what I get from even the best hip hop- the ideas are so complex, and communicated so clearly that you will literally feel Sage Francis. That it's a mixtape compilation shouldn't deter you- this is stronger than his decent, but still not as good actual record, this year.
8. St Vincent- St Vincent-  Technically, this is a mainstream record, and I don't think I even talked about it, mostly because I knew it wasn't any kind of a discovery, nor any kind of surprise. There still isn't much to say beyond that it's a very excellent record, and if you see Annie Clark live, you will understand, and you will have reservations against her and this music no longer. Even my Mom likes it. It synthesizes all of the 1980's- from Laurie Anderson to Prince, and adds a layer of virtuoso songcraft, guitar shredding, and vocal acrobatics that I just never hear in mainstream rock. I'm no bigot against the top forty, but the surprise is that this makes some very complex musical ideas so very popular.
7. Tilts- Cuatro Hombres There is a window of opportunity for rock music. Basically, if you don't catch on between the ages of 10 and 20, you never really will. Oh, you might develop an "appreciation", but it'll never be real to you. It's like Pro-wrestling, Horror Movies, Science Fiction books, British Poets, Equestrian pursuits, or Hello Kitty- if you don't catch on  in an Adolescent way, you are missing something vital. Tilts not only know this, and embrace it , they expand it. This isn't like Eagles of Death Metal where it's all a big joke, This is knowing it's teenage, and inappropriate, and turning around, grinning like an idiot and saying "Ain't it great?!?" They recognize that we might have higher pursuits, but there's still a part of us that just wants to have a blast. Yes, it is cheesey, silly, and goofy- it's also seriously awesome, and the music that is played in paradise. Seventy virgins? Naah, just promise me a Tilts concert and a girl who gets it, and a few decent beers, and I'm there, dude. Strap me in.
6. The Powder Room- Curtains  People misunderstand noise rock, punk rock, garage rock, and rock in general- the assumption is that because "anyone can do it"- that everyone can do it, that there isn't enough skill, or talent required. That, quite frankly, is bullshit. Tell it to Gene Woolfolk. Not only is he a skilled, and talented guitarist, who clearly knows his way around both a studio and King Crimson riff, he's an artist in the truest sense of the word- every sound is chosen, for a specific effect on the overall impression. An example- the slapback echo on "Frayed" . A subtle thing, but it's deployed at exactly the right tempo to convey a sliced, and ripped tone, like the title says- frayed, and it doesn't detract from the mean as hell riffs which is a next-level ninja kind of sonic touch. It's got just enough feedback to be threatening, but it's sharp as a razor.That Gene and his band aren't revered on the level of Jack White, Steve Albini, or Greg Sage, shows a serious prejudice. Against what I don't know, but I, for one, want to correct that- This is about as genius as you have any right to expect.
5. Triggerfinger- By Absence of the Sun  In Europe, this is bigger than anything else on this list. That you don't have instant recognition of them shows how  awful things are in America. These guys are like The Black Keys, Jack White, Queens of the Stone Age, and The Hives all rolled into one. Sincerely, they are rock stars of the highest caliber. I'm not one for Rock Stars, mostly because my base nature says that we all suck equally, but, I can find no suckage, here. For most people, go see them live. For Americans, watch a live show on Youtube. This is a state of the art rock band. If you like showmanship, and a visceral pop thrill- they're literally the most streamlined and efficient machine at delivering that. From the suits, to the stage banter- this is the perfect rock machine. Nothing wasted but the front row of the audience. Makes AC/DC seem like has beens, and they blew the Rolling Stones off the stage. If you can't appreciate that, there is no shame in being a jazz fan.
4. The Austerity Program- Beyond Calculation. Umm, Well, They're on the Rolling Stone Top Twenty Metal list. The only thing I can possibly say is that while this record kills, in the stand up comedy sense of the word-It's not a metal record. It's just not. Yes, there are some metallic sensibilities, but this is the exact same kind of super aggro hardcore-alternative post punk as the midwest was producing 1985-1992. Yes, Big Black, but also Scratch Acid, Helmet (as much as Big Black) Cows, Arcwelder and Laughing Hyenas. There's also math-rock exactitude about it. Precision, symmetry, control and focus are key. All this appeals to me. With so-called noise rock, the thing that lets me down is when the focus is let go. It's the difference between Sun Ra and John Zorn. I fully recognize both are perfectly capable, and prefectionist musicians- but I listen to Zorn more because there's always that sense of composition. There's nothing with a tighter focus than the Austerity Program.
3. Ume- Monuments I don't think Lauren and company were intending to come up with the Sludge- Stoner rock album of the year, but, in a year with some great stuff ( Hell, YOB released something- freakin' YOB!) I kept coming back to this record. I'm not the biggest 70's rock fan. In the 70's, I hated music, for the most part, and before Punk Rock clicked for me in 1978, the only music I liked was funk/disco. So, take my credentials with whatever amount of salt you need, but for that big block rock, with some swirling prettiness, this is right up there with Melvins, Baroness, Red Fang, QOTSA, and so on. I think it boils down to this- Lauren just contains too damn much rock. Look at the Black Stone video. The riff is actually a shoegazer riff, but she rocks it so damn hard, coming in on that downstroke so furious that it evokes the Asheton brothers. That's the key, right there- Ron Asheton really wanted to play hippie jazz, but he had so much rock in him that he couldn't help himself, His right hand came down like he was laying haymakers into the pickups, and the volume jacked up louder than the proverbial bombs. Am I saying that Lauren, and therefore Ume, is like the very foundation of Rock- in the Stooges? Yes, yes I am. I cannot believe that people aren't recognizing this, but yes, Ume, in 2014, put out a record that would make Jimmy Page very, very frightened in 1974, but that Ron Asheton would've emulated in 1969. Put it on, turn it up, watch your speakers burn.
2. Aeges- Above& Down Below - Speaking of Heavy, ye gads! Aeges traces its roots to Pelican and The Rise, so yes, Heavy is to be expected, but damn. Kemble and company must have it in for their amps. As I was saying before, Mike Land is key, though- this guy hits harder than Bonham auditioning for the Kodo drummers- like to be all of them.So, yes, very, very heavy. But, I think what people want to hear is that they're a 1990's throwback- to Soundgarden, Quicksand, and Hum. I understand that, and what they do can definitely be read as a continuation of hard rock from the 1990's- but I would invite you to think about it a little less confined by genre- they're not grunge revivalists. I mean, they're using bitcrushed, not big muffed guitars- this isn't "retro"- it's following ideas to new conclusions. So, much like a scientist is necessarily indebted to others in the field, who established some of the paradigms, but does their own research- Aeges owes something to hard post-hardcore, and grunge, but they're doing something new, and finding their own formulas. Gorgeous melodies, mixed with a heavy beat, and volume-addicted stringed instruments- it's what all truly great rock has, and yes, they are putting out some truly great rock. Listen to Echoes, and Fault  and tell me they don't compete with virtually all rock from about 1970, onwards. Listen to their blistering cover of Elliott Smith- which is the first time my wife actually liked an Elliott Smith song, despite me trying for years. Oh, and join my campaign to get them to get the clearances, or whatever is necessary to officially release this cover/mash up/ reimagining of Big Data and Nine Inch Nails, which I'm going to say is Only Dangerous....
1. Disasteratti- Cerebral Hack Artist- Something has to be number one, which is my big problem with these lists. Because I don't know if this was the best record of 2014. I know I played it more than all others. I know that I liked it a lot. I know that I think that Disasteratti are truly genius. But, the best to me might just be the best to me- and that's kinda the whole point of my blog. I'm not trying to make you think like me, I'm not trying to get you to see things my way, and I don't think there's anything special about me. I just want you to think about those who are telling you to see things there way, and, from where I sit, in America, there's nothing more pernicious than this drive to make people into masses. I get disgusted by our nationalism, I am horrified by our homogenization, I'm ok with Art being commodified, because the aim of many, many artists is commercial, but I'm not ok with the audience being turned into a demographic, and therefore, a commodity.  All these things stem from the same root. I can see the indoctrination everywhere, in our schools, at our workplaces, on our TV's Radios, in our Magazines, all over the internet- there's massive amounts of pressure to tell you who you are. The worst part is I see people doing it to each other in social media- stuff like "How can you say you like Metal if you don't like Slayer" or "How can you like that crap?". So, the whole point of this blog has been for me to say "This is what I like. You don't have to like it, too, but this is why I like it. I hope that you can see my reasoning". So, declaring some absolutist horseshit about "This is NUMBER ONE" is anathema to me.
So, let me talk about Disasteratti a little, and then I'll devote the last paragraph to why I did this, ok?
Disasteratti are a three piece from the twin cities who play noisy roots rock. In many ways they are the distillation of everything I like in music- they have the aggression of the best Punk rock, they have the precise formulas of math rock, they recognize tradition, and traditional structures, but expand them into new musical  territory. They're clear about their influences ( Girls Against Boys, Shellac, Roots Rock) but aren't limited to them. I see them as Noise rock, of the precise type, like Austerity Program, Shellac, and United Sons of Toil, run into punk rock styled Roots music, like Gun Club, Rank and File, The Blasters, Minutemen, and X, but with the post-hardcore groove of GVSB and Hot Snakes. The songs lilt and lurch, sputter and slam, but never lose that sense of being coherent songs. The guitars snap, twang and snarl, The bass rumbles, roars and and rocks. The drums roll, stomp and shimmer. What I'm saying is that it all falls into place, exactly as it should be.
So, while I do like Disasteratti's Cerebral Hack Artist, and probably more than any other release this past year,  I think you can guess my real purpose.  I'm not saying that this is it, and I'm out, but I'm treating it like I am. I probably will post something, at some point, but I'm not fixing that point, now. It might be tomorrow, but it might be never. I think it's pretty obvious why, but that doesn't matter. Here's the only thing that matters: that there's something more out there.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Shanks- Surfing the Lexicon

Let's get right to this- I hadn't heard the band before this, and they clearly know their way around. They remind me of Tilts- this is classic party rock with a chewy indie rock center. Since they're  up in Toronto, it's also like Sloan- Candy-sweet harmonies, wrapped in fuzzy, tough riffs.
Twist number one- they're a bass and drum duo. Sure, they cheat a little with a few keyboards, but still- no guitars in a rifforama rock.
Twist number two-  the mix is between stoner rock's embrace of the absurdity inherent in classic rock, and indie rock's nostalgia for the broken little secrets of a Generation X  childhood- Which is to say there's a lot of looking back , and revising.
That does mean it's somewhat self-limiting- I can't see a 20 year old digging this stuff, without some layer of irony. But it also means that, much like QOTSA, Tilts, Sloan and Triggerfinger- these guys are lifers who are chasing down a long-held passion.
Which brings me to my one disappointment in this record- There's no room in the vision for me. I don't usually talk about this, but I listen to music in two ways- in my car, and at home. When at home, I listen with a guitar in my hand. Some people sing along, I play along. I've done this for years. So, no, I'm not a frustrated wannabe rock star- I'm a lifer, who derives more meaning from riffs, and hooks than from lyrics and choruses. So, I'm tuned into sound and fury, rather than whether it means anything. It's pretty rare for me to think I could honestly add anything to any of the songs and Artists I hear. Shanks are one such rare example- playing along with a capo on the seventh fret, through an Octave pedal and a fuzz box, I can add a little color to some of these songs. Little runs and figures, nothing major- but I know it doesn't figure into what they want to be- and that bums me out, just a little bit, because I really wouldn't mind joining these guys.
I suppose that's a testimony to how good their sound is- a band you'd want to be in, right?

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Compare and Contrast- Hunger Games Mockingjay VS Radio Free Albemuth

So, let me say at the outset that I'm not suggesting you see either movie. They're both fatally flawed, but I saw both, this weekend, and there was an element that I saw to compare and contrast, so I'm talking about that. There might be spoilers, but I don't care, because you don't need to see either movie.
So, yes, I saw the giant blockbuster. I could blame my wife- I really would not have seen it, if not for the fact that she is a sucker for, and avid consumer of YA faction. She's even trying to write one of her own. But, that's not the whole truth- I've refused some films because they're too cheesey for me, but I saw this one. Mostly because I'm a fan of the "Wow" factor- you know, big booms, sweeping  camera moves, and the like.
But, a theme ran through this film that really, really bothered me. At the most positive spin I could put on it- I'd call it cynical Vanguardism , but, much, much more likely it's the sheer contempt for people displayed- The majority of the plot revolves around convincing the protagonist to use her celebrity to manipulate the masses into war. You read that correctly, and that's about as even-handed as I can put it. It was about manipulating a celebrity, but using carrots of friendship, and patriotism, and even "love" into delivering a message that is automatically assumed to move the drone-like masses into suicidal acts of rebellion.
First of all- how utterly pompous! I do not see anyone lining up to become soldiers because they saw Expendables 45 in the theater last week. I don't think there's even a single member of ISIS who became such because they heard Daniel Sunjata thought that 9/11 was an "inside job". People kill or die for causes because they believe in the cause, not the people espousing the cause. Only in Hollywood does the logic of "We're such big stars, everyone hangs their lives on us" have any credence whatsoever.
But, secondly, assuming it to even be mildly plausible is a massive insult to humanity. They literally have our star go to a hospital, which is then magically targeted for annihilation by the bad guys, and when the star notices- that becomes the advert for our star that inspires millions to literally hurl their bodies at armed opponents. Later, she sings a little ditty halfway under her breath- that has nothing to do with any cause- and the next scene is people mindlessly chanting that same song while they gleefully turn themselves into suicide bombers! The best defense I've heard for it centers on an argument for mass ignorance. I think it can be summed up with a strongly held belief by the film-makers that people are idiots.
Sincerely, I thought that Jennifer Lawrence was mildly talented, with an engaging personality before I saw that crap. Now, I want to see Anonymous data-mine her into a slobbering mess. I do not care that she's female, or anything about her as a person, because the message of the movie is that she is an Icon, whom we love more than our own lives- and I want her to see on a really visceral level what that means- that she should be torn down. I don't care how much money she would owe for breaking contract on this, she should have walked away. The only person who seems to understand what a mockery of the human spirit this film is, would be Phillip Seymour Hoffman, who delivers all of his lines like they're cruel jokes upon himself.
On the other hand Radio Free Albemuth is a stripped-down indie-film re-telling of Philip K Dick's VALIS trilogy. If you've ever read it, you know that the central premise is that ultimately, people will overcome fascism, tyranny and evil through sheer force of inherent godly, goodness, in all of us. Unfortunately, Dick was an experimental Science-Fiction author, and so he undercuts this message by interjecting himself into the books, and making himself, literally, an unreliable narrator. It was a bold move, and completely unfilmable- so what you're left with is a pastiche of a few rabble-rousing dystopian fictions ( a lot of 1984, a little of Pynchon, some C.S. Lewis) with heavy transcendental religious overtones as opposed to the mystic, gnostic sentiment that Dick intended. Again, the question of educating the masses through mass media is in play- but the idea here is in subliminal messages- it's not counting on "star power"- the idea is far more democratic- that if you introduce a concept in a digestible format ( in this case, a pop song) people will incorporate that idea into their own action. Nowhere is it more explicit than at the end of the movie, when the protagonist hears the song that caused his own imprisonment being played by some teens on a boom box, and it dawns on him that the liberation was never intended for him, it was for the "kids"- and that his cabal was only one of many, and so, where his failed, another succeeded in getting the idea out. It was still a crapty movie, but I can live with that message a whole lot easier- that it's not about your personal freedom, and that your actions might very well be redundant and absurd, but that the important part is that freedom exists.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Swingin Utters-Fistful of Hollow

One of the greatest things about punk rock for me was the leeway allowed in terms of guitar sounds. Sure, The Ramones, and The Sex Pistols had the traditional "Rock guitar" sounds- you know that midrange buzzing thing you get from a guitar pushing a Marshall amp through 4 12 inch speakers? Yeah, that never excited me. I much preferred stuff like Joe Strummer's clinky Telecaster into a solid state Fender, or Andy Gill's cheap Stratocaster into an H&H solid state, or Greg Sage's mutant SG pushing some odd amp he made himself, or Greg Ginn's Dan Armstrong into a Peavey Solid State PA Amp- sounds that "professional' guitar players looked at as being "bad tones". I still prefer tones and guitar sounds that aren't considered "good" by the tasteful crowd.
So, I do not care that Swingin' Utters ( or as they'd have it "Swingin Utter$")  play "pop punk" or that their lyrics aren't all thatdeep- they're one of the few bands that can still play on the Warped tour, but seemingly love unusual guitar sounds- they sound hissy, tinny, and energetic, and coil-sprung, just like a Punk Rock guitar should. They sound like steel strings being struck really hard, and vibrating a piece of wood. That's exactly what I like. So, yeah, I like it. Like Johnny, their singer puts it:
They sort of go for a cheap sound and I kind of like that. I don’t like having polished-sounding guitars and that sort of shit. I think the strings should be heard. Every string should be heard when you strum a guitar.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

The Gary- Farewell Foolish Objects

This will please no one, but me.
I was unfamiliar with The Gary's music, but their latest LP "Farewell Foolish Objects" was sent to me, mostly, I suspect, because the band is comprised of friends of friends of mine. So, I mean no disrespect when I say that they have made a magnificent Shellac record. In fact, they have made the record I wanted out of Shellac.
See, you start with a punk-simple, but math-cerebral riff structure, like Shellac, all clang and thrum, and then add various ornaments that would be considered full song ideas in less-ambitious hands and minds. What makes it surpass Shellac is that the ideas thus introduced are sharper, more graceful, and even more poetic.
Take opener "Blank"- can;t get simpler than the opening two note bass pattern, followed up by the speak sing announcement " I drew blank in the morning- I beat the sun...again". That's a whole blues song's worth of ideas, in a single line. After two and a half minutes of of simmering skeletal blues mope, the song explodes into a line reversing everything " But you know I'm just funning, when I said I'm out running" while the feedback and splash cymbals dissolve into chaos. Shellac have never directed their intellect to something so emotional, raw, and human as this.
Track two " Coming up for Air" is like Shellac meets the Dream Syndicate, in a defiant punk psychedelia- again, applying the Shellac formula to feed a completely different kind of pup.
But, then, on track five, the genius really shows through- with a seasick drone of violins, an ascending bass figure weaving a modality from it, like spiderwebs on rust, carrying little flecks of oxidized metal, tiny shards of guitar get carried along, while Dave gives out little haikus of tired experience, like a Sailor, been out on night watch for too long, scratching a desperate entry into a journal that might go into enemy hands and then crescendos into a wordless riff resolving the tension. It;s minimal, but evocative, and the mind of the listener ( at least this listener) fills in the blanks.
Likewise, track four "No Shame" is like Richard Thompson playing a Shellac song- celtic modes and drones energizing a mathy frame while the words are like little shards of images, like broken man's drunken mutterings. It's a cold little world encapsulated in two minutes- efficient, succinct, and perfect.
So, why won't anybody but me like my thoughts? Because the band will likely be slightly miffed by the Shellac comparison- but, my defense is that there's no other obvious point of reference, and if they don't listen to Shellac, you most certainly do, if you're listening to them.
It's an interesting proposal to me, and one that finally explains a phenomena to me- I've never understood the appeal of a tribute band, until now. But, here's a band that is clearly indebted to one band- so much so that I have a hard time hearing them as a separate entity, but improving upon them in ways both subtle and plain-the difference to me is passion: in essence, who's more passionate about the work? The artist or the fan? The artist can grow tired of the work, can yearn to be free of it, but is chained to that work, while the fan remains enthralled to the work, until or unless the cease to be a fan- hence the appeal of a tribute band- fans cherishing a work, moreso than the artist. Are The Gary a Shellac tribute band? I can see how that argument can be made, and if you played The Gary and Shellac for someone who's not an obsessive- as I have done- as a kind of blind taste test, they really won't know who is who- but if you're a fan of Shellac, I would suggest listening to The Gary, instead- theirs is the more satisfying record. In that way, they are not a tribute band to Shellac - they are the better option.