Thursday, October 23, 2014

Thurston Moore- The Best Day

I've got my academic bona fides. Two Bachelors' degrees, a Master's, and a post graduate certification ( Education- they have two tracks for that- I took the non-Master's track) . But, truthfully, I'm not all that fond of Academia. Oh, I respect it more than willful ignorance, but I certainly don't think Academia contains our best minds, and it never has. Even more, I've got a lot of antipathy for academic theorizing about Art. For the most part, I'm pretty secular, so hearing a bunch of windbags with a lot of jargon trying to tell me what is, or isn't Art, or what's valid, and what's pedestrian- well, it reminds me of the crass, American view of higher Math and esoteric Science- a bunch of jerks who are playing God.
Thurston Moore is in the unenviable position of being dissected both by Academics and cheap gossips. So, I don't need to guess why he hooked up with a death metal crew, or why he records with people half his age, or whatever else- I bet he misses the days when he was just a punk, who knew more than what he was accredited to know.
So, it's a little surprising to hear how much this new record sounds like Sonic Youth. It would fit right in with what I consider the best era for Sonic Youth, too- from EVOL to Daydream Nation. The opener "Speak to the Wild" sounds like a companion piece to "Shadow of a Doubt", and it never really goes too far from that. Which, nostalgia and all, is fine by me. Sure, there aren't the squalling, screaming freakouts, and yes, the playing is far, far more confident, but still, this is a callback to just before the year that Punk broke- so I'll bet the academics, and the gossips both have a field day over it. If I'm Thurston, I have no idea why I'd invite that. Even on Matador's site, they talk about his Academic credentials, and given that the band behind him has both Deb Googe from MBV and Steve Shelley from Sonic Youth- the gossips are probably going to talk about how much Kim is missed. I foresee some mixed reviews, to say the least.
I'm no critic. I don't even like music critics all that much. So, I'm just speaking as a fan, but I think Art doesn't have to be born of pain- I think it just needs feeling- both in the sense of conviction, and in the sense of emotion. This record has both. That means more to me than the theoretical underpinnings of tracks like "The Best Day"- although they might be there- I just dig the Classic Rock-as-done-by-Wire hooks in the riff . I don't care if Forever More is about his new girlfriend- although it might be- I just enjoy the interplay between two jaguars. That's enough heathen joy for me, and I don't need any more explanation or justification than that.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Mark Lanegan -Phantom Radio

Much like with Bob Mould, if you want to hear Mark Lanegan's talent, you're best off dropping your expectations for loud rock. I'm sure, if Josh called, Mark would front the next QOTSA lp, and if Greg Dulli wanted, there'd be another Gutter Twins record. But, get over the thought of Mark as some whiskey-voiced Robert Plant wannabe. He's a crooner at heart- he's got more in common with Frank Sinatra than a beautifully ruined voice- but he just wants to sing. So, for those who exited at Blues Funeral, much like those that exited after Bob Mould's Modulate- that's your right, but it seems more than a bit short sighted to me, as, in either artist's case- the infusion of technology and Electronics has given them  new art, new creative impulses, and they should be allowed to follow the muse, period.
So, yes, Phantom Radio not only keeps up the Electronica from Blues Funeral, it expands upon in. Tracks were composed on his phone, and various keys and synths figure prominently. Above all that, Mark is in fine voice. Better than ever. He has refined his instrument as a singer up to that Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, and Sarah Vaughan kind of place where all of his quirks are known, and used to best effect. So, yes, I like this record. Yes, the music sounds like Joy Division meets Portishead, and yes, I think he feels that music every bit as much as he feels folk and rock music.
Honestly, I like rock music, but rock music fans can be pricks about it. If you try to break out from whatever ghetto of expectations your fans have, you'll be punished, and if you conform too well, you'll be punished. Mark  is a human being!! Leave him alone!! Waaah!!
Ok, I'm joking, and referencing Chris Crocker- how played out is that? But, I have a point in that- it's this- I don't own Mark Lanegan, and I'm not here to protect him, or defend him. I just happen to own and enjoy his records. The sole expectation I have, and have a right to have, is to be able to hear his Art. I can choose to not listen. But, I cannot tell him what to play, and I cannot pretend to understand the man, himself.  That's the deal- i get to experience the art, he keeps his life. Projecting about whatever struggles he may or may not have had, about what his life has done for or to him- that's all his, not mine. So, the stark truth is this- this is his Art in 2014- I can take or leave it. I like it, and I'll take it. Yes, I like the notion of a Joy Division song with those beautiful velvet blues vocals, instead of Ian Curtis' wounded moose moan. Yes, I like his blues dirges gussied up in downtempo beats.
Here's the thing- I don't want to be a brand, or a shill- and neither does Mark, and that makes this just as authentic as The Winding Sheet.
If you need to ease in- start with this version of I Am the Wolf, but do give this a chance.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Ex Hex Rips

I suffer from about as many delusions because of my expectations as anyone else. Case in point- it took me about 5 listens to get into Mary Timony's new joint. I was never a huge Helium fan, but I was worshipful of Wild Flag- their record was last year's party album. I attribute a lot of that to Carrie Brownstein, because she's a natural born rock star. I doubt that Sleater Kinney or Portlandia would be worth a damn without her, so I can understand why she would bring the rock to Wild Flag. The problem is, that's a delusion. Wild Flag rocked because it was Wild Flag, not because Carrie is Pete Townshend, Joan Jett, Bob Pollard and Gilda Radner in one person.
So, I went in thinking well, this'll be a Wild Flag substitute. Again, my problem, not the band's, but you might have the same problem.
Now, I can actually hear the band, and they do rip, for what they do- late 70's, early 80's power pop. Everything from Steve Diggle styled guitar solos ( check out "New Kid") , to Jane Wiedlin styled vocal harmonies( "You Fell Apart" ), to even some Greg Kihn  styled verses ( Waste Your Time) . You might call it new wave, or even punk, but you'd be wrong. This is Power Pop, in line with everyone from The Raspberries to Weezer.  It's pop music played maximum.  Not to bore with gear talk, but it's the difference between Fender single coils, and Gibson P-90's. The Single coil guitar pick up will transmit the wave form from a vibrating metal string, transparently enough. But the P-90, though also a single coil, emphasizes the mid range frequencies, enough that it'll blow out the input on most tube amps, just enough to distort, but not across all frequencies, like overdriving the amp- it's selective, and so, retains the articulation and treble of the single coil. So it is with power pop- the aggressive blown out power, but tempered with the restraint of pop.
So, this is a pretty excellent representative of the genre. Had it been released in, say, 1979, it would have blown minds, and would be a classic, and Ex Hex would be in the Rocknroll hall of fame ( heck, they even cop a KISS lick or two { the back half of "Radio On" quotes "Plaster Caster", while the rest is Jonathan Richman-meets- Status Quo} to name one HOF inductee)
There's really not a bad track, if you can dig Pop. So, don't delude yourself into thinking this isn't a truly excellent LP- on its own, on its own terms. Just check it out. Oh, and Mary's Hot, too. Yeah, I said it. She's too cool, too hip, and too special for the likes of me, so I'm not looking for anything, but I'm not a dolt, either, she's sexy in that Shirley Manson way- take a look at this video evidence and tell me I'm wrong. Still, the two things that should sell you on this are the perfect pop songwriting, and the blistering power of the playing..
So, yes, sign me up. I'm flying the Ex Hex flag, now.

Melvins Hold it in

I'm  your typical Gen X leftie. I believe in the power of people, but I generally don't like the people I meet. Which is a simple way of saying I'm alienated. I bet you are, too. The Melvins certainly are.
So, it actually makes me angry, the way this record is being reviewed.  First of all, most of you dicks evidently cannot read. The name of the band is The Melvins. Not even " 'Melvins lite" . Not  "A collaboration between the Butthole Surfers and The Melvins". Just because Paul Leary is ( Was?) in das Buttholes, and Jeff Pinkus once played in the Butthole Surfers doesn't mean this is now Buzz replacing Gibby to play "Independent Worm Saloon". This is  The Melvins, and they already released Ozma, so  they might just be done with playing grunge. Yes, they invented Sludge metal, which begat Stoner Rock and grunge, but really the only guiding principle is, was, and ever shall be doing whatever the hell they want, and you can pin expectations on that at your own peril.
So, yes, it's just plain stupidity that people are expecting Grunge-meets- Psyche Punk out of this. Sorry if that offends, but it's deserved.
Thirty years in, and even a good percentage of fans don't get it? Yeah, people suck. The Melvins play rock music, and are good with offending your sensibilities because they're punks. Not in the Safety-pin and plaid jeans sense- in the hoodlum sense. Go in expecting blues based loud music, with some kind of tweak, and you're good. Anything else, and you are bound to hit a wall. Maybe you deserve that wall.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Televised Entertainment

So, I have talked a lot about new music. Truthfully, I do listen to a lot of music- generally 3-4 hours every day. But, I also read ( generally about an hour a day) and watch TV ( generally about  an hour and a half, averaged out, per day- which is to say, some days 3 hours, some days none). I've really fallen off on movies, and fine art, but I still concern myself with both. In other words, much like you, I'm not as monomaniacal as my blog might make me appear.
So, I'd like to talk a bit about TV. I'm fully aware that 99% of you ( statistically, that's how it breaks down- I'll average between 200 and 250 page view per post about music, and it drops to about 15-20 on anything else) just tuned out, but, well, I'm not here for the page views.
As one or two people might remember, I gave up on Cable a few years ago- looks like Adam Sandler has, as well ( follow the link. It'll re-affirm your cynicism) . The whole wide world is now on the 'Net, so, if TV is meant to be a window on the world, you're better off getting your TV on the 'Net. That is, I've got 57  "channels" ( really, they're applications) on my Roku box. Two of those "channels" are paid ( Netflix and Hulu Plus) and two involve additional payments ( Amazon, and Vudu {which is run by Wal Mart, don't get it twisted, I know I've not escaped our corporate oligarchy} both have selections you pay to play) so, really, yes, it is a better deal, financially, than getting 30 channels on Cable TV for more money- but the finances of it are just step one- the lure, so to speak. The real appeal is to my id, not superego. You see, I've got so much content available to me, literally on demand, that the illusion of control cedes to me. I'm phrasing things awkwardly because I know both the truth that it's just another way of plugging into the matrix of mass culture, and I know the way that it feels- that I'm finally able to dictate the terms of my cultural experience, which has always been my goal- going all the way back into childhood. When I was about 6 years old I had a dream that I got a TV- we didn't have one- and it was more like some kind of android servant than what I know a TV to be, now. I dreamt that I could turn it on, talk to it, and it would show me what I asked it to show me. Yes, I'm a bit strange- but that's literally been the dream ever since.  Streaming TV through the internet is by far the closest it's come to that dream.
So, with almost everything available, what do I watch? Well, some mainstream stuff- @Midnight, The Daily Show, Person of Interest, and my wife's TV shows. Some "classics"- The Prisoner on Crackle , Good Eats on Netflix, Peep Show on Tubi , and  then, a bunch of streaming- only content on Youtube ( I got obsessed with Epic Rap Battles of History )  concerts on Yahoo!  and NPR and live feeds on Ustream .
I'm not really missing out on the big Marquee stuff, like I know I'll be seeing the Walking Dead, soon, but, even that, I see on my terms, in my timeline.
I think it's important to note this stuff, for several reasons, but here's two:
First, because no one cares. There is a cycle developing that I remember from my days, running a radio station- I would hear a demo, or see a band live, and buy their CD, and then, play it on the radio. Next thing I'd know, the band would contact me, and say, hey thanks, and then, here's a copy of our new single, or whatever, and hey could you play that? In and of itself, nothing bad about that cycle. They're creating, I'm appreciating, and they like the advertising function my appreciation can serve, because that can help them create more. The problem becomes when that cycle expands. Say that band gets signed. Now, their label steps in- Hey, you like this band, but we also have these other bands, do you think you could play them , too? Which still can be OK, provided it's a small independent record label, with a limited roster- because then, there's still a back-and-forth. I can say- sure, I'll play band A, B and C- but X, Y and Z really don't fit my format- sorry- and generally, no hard feelings. But, then, if I'm doing that with label 1, label 2, 3 and 4 get wind of it, and now, it's starting to feel like my playlist is getting dictated to me. Worse, if Label 4 happens to be a pseudo-indie, suddenly, I've got some major, corporate label acting like I'm their mouthpiece. I'm not complaining about that cycle- only describing the truth of it. If you're in a commercial venture- like running a radio station, or a record label- that's how commerce works- it's never just about cash for goods and services- both sides are trying to get little pieces of one another. But, this blog is not a commercial endeavor, and really cannot serve in that function. So, put up a few posts that scare off casual readership, and I'm a lot less attractive to the big fish. Sure, I'm still getting some of it, but I bet this post, alone, will put me off of some radars, and I wanna be stealth, geddit? So, for my friends in bands- this ain't about you- to lay it bare- I've been contacted by a label that's owned by Sony- I'm not naming which label, because I really do want the distance, but suffice it to say that you know who they are, and they're distributed by RED, which is Sony. I know from my previous life in radio that if you get on Sony's radar, you've effectively applied for a job working as a marketer for them. So, I refrained from responding, and "reviewing" anything that label sent me. Keep in mind, that there are plenty of other labels that are distributed by RED, that I have covered, but each and every one of them are because I know somebody at that label, and that person, not their label, sent me something, or sold me something. That keeps it "off the books"- but one of these people put it "on the books"- which is totally their right, but ruins the situation for me. So,  I went a little quiet for a bit, and now, am posting some things specifically to get me off that particular radar, again. If this bores you, fair enough, but you're not getting calls on your work line from 'Stache , either.
The more positive reason is because this is what this blog is about- I'm just trying to share what I like with others, in the hopes that it strengthens them in what they like- whether it's music, or TV, or sculpture, whatever. Noting what I like, on a subject that interests few, should prove, once again, that I'm not trying to get you to agree with me. If you hate everything I love, that's fine, and I really don't take it personally. But, what I hope you can still take away from this is that your tastes matter- even if no one else likes what you do. But, now, I'm preaching, and I'll stop that. I just really do mean it- it's more important, to me, to celebrate the persistence of individual tastes, in the face of mass media, than it is to celebrate my tastes- even though I know my tastes are better than yours ( Heh.)

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Meshuggah The Ophidian Trek

Meshuggah remind me of the Winchester mansion- a complex maze built to ward off ghosts-and if you think about it, the ghosts are us. But, I like that sort of thing, sometimes. I really like Meshuggah, but I cannot claim to understand them. That's part of the appeal. So, this is a live LP. All I can say is watch the trailer. If that appeals, get it.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Godflesh- A World Lit Only By Fire

This is going to seem like I'm not actually talking about the music, but I assure you, that's what's on my mind.
I hate the cover for the new Godflesh record. It's a monochromatic picture of some dude stripped to the waist and clutching a sword to his heart, gripping it by the blade.
This is not a Godflesh image. It's more like an Iced Earth image.
See, Godflesh to me is something specific- imagine the last group of Terminators manufactured by Skynet before the humans destroy Skynet somehow survive. They are barely programmed- they're hostile, and Artificially Intelligent, but that intelligence is feral, and the programming has no master plan, anymore. They are not human, and apart from the basic hostility baked into their circuit boards, have no real concern for Humanity , or other robots for that matter. They'll never eat, never have sex, but never die, either. They would develop a culture unlike anything ever seen before, right? No Thanatos , no Eros- but an endless capacity for information, and fantastic strength, endurance, and energy. So, imagine this small, alien culture develops into a cult-like aesthetics. Some strange mechanical paganism that helps them to explain a world they were not built for, but can easily outlive. Imagine the music they would make. That's Godflesh. The code made metal. Do what you can process shall be the whole of the law. Vaguely hostile to humanity, but operating from concerns other than fear ( based on death) and desire ( based on the need to procreate). Get the idea?
So, some dude with a sword is far too human, far too motivated by our greasy, grubby id to fit in with the lightless IR world of our would-be Android Overlords. That image fits more with a demographic that it would be financially wise for Justin and GC to court- Extreme Metal fans. It's the kind of image that plays well in Terrorizer magazine.
My point is this- While I like this LP, and I'm glad to have another Godflesh LP- it seems at several points that this is fulfilling some kind of contract with the Heavy Metal Kids of today. There are some moments of grandeur, and a kind of alien beauty to be found, but I can't help but get the feeling that this is a bit of a cash-in on their cachet. I guess I can't blame them. Everybody's got to eat, after all- but still, I was hoping for something more like the Godflesh of old in "spirit" rather than just in form- but then, again, what else would one get from a soulless machine, right?
Again, I like some parts, and musically- this is Godflesh. But it still doesn't quite fit, if you know what I mean....

Sunday, September 28, 2014