Saturday, April 24, 2010

In the New York Times...

I've been following Michael Kimmelman's column . I think he's got some interesting things to say, even if he's basically deconstructing a straw man argument. He defines "globalization" in a way I haven't really seen it defined- basically, it reads like he thinks of it as some kind of cultural cross-pollenizing- so as to attack people who don't like corporate globalization, which is a far more hedgemonic thing than I think he's allowing. Still, as I wrote, some very interesting points along the way. I sincerely hope he continues bringing this argument to such interesting places....

Kowloon Eletrika

I listen to a pretty wide variety of music. Always have. Always will. On top of having a brain, I'm a musician, and I worked in the industry. So, music is an Art that I relate easily and well to my life. It seems silly to me to limit my listening then, to one style or another.
That having said, of course I have tastes and preferences. A Big preference is for guitars, and that's probably been pretty obvious. Guitars, at this time in history, means you're going to end up in "rock" territory, so, yeah, I hear a lot of rock music. That still allows for a lot of diversity. Take the two bands I've been listening to, today: Kowloon Walled City and EletriKa. About the only thing they really have in common would be guitars.
Kowloon Walled City start with an amazing name, if you read history. If you don't, it'd be like naming the band "real-life anarchic city of sin and reward". The band do a kind of sludgey avant-metal that owes to black Sabbath, King Crimson, Black Flag and Neurosis. In other words, like other bands I like (Kylesa, Kyuss, Killing Joke- what is it with the letter "k"?) this is grimy very heavy, very hard rock done by some very brainy people. Nothing "pop" about this. But, yet, still very musical, and very engaging. If you're a bit of a metal-head, but you feel guilty about it- here's your band. Also, if you're too smart to listen to Zakk Wylde, and you think he's really a wuss hiding behind a musclehead physique, yeah, this is a band for you. Downtuned, loud stuff that isn't processed; raw and vibrant but challenging music for people with an education.
None of that makes EletriKa a dumb band, by any means. But, where KWC are like a Grad student's Stoner-metal tribute band, EletriKa are like an older professional's hobby. Maybe they aren't quite a "hobby", but they are a "second" band for Claudio David, who you should know from Overdose, the long-running brazillian Thrash-metal band. I have been an Overdose fan since the mid 1990's, when it seemed like Brazil could do no wrong between them and Sepultura. Seriously, the mix of poly rhythm and technical thrash metal is a really good listen- try out "Rio Street Progress" or "Zombie Factory". So, the thought of a techno-enhanced version of Overdose was really enticing for me (hey, I like technology. I am not afraid of pro-tools or keyboards) However, EletriKa take a different approach. They're more standard "alternative rock" with some seriously tweaked production (guitars compressed within an inch of their frequency spectrum, for a start). I'm open to everything, so, no, I'm not disappointed, but I guess I'm still waiting for a band that sounds like a combination of Pitchshifter and Soulfly. EletriKa sound more like mid-90's Alt-rock (Alice in Chains, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Candlebox) meets late-90's production. In effect, they have more in common with a band like The Exies than they do with, say, Fear Factory. And you know what? I still like it. I'm good with Alice in Chains style vocal harmonies with compressed guitars playing a white-boy funk rock. The lyrics aren't too special, and there's a definitely lack of concern for a truly conveyed "message" but Claudio still knows his way around a fretboard, and can roll out a cavalcade of false harmonics in a way to create a still hummable melody that's impossible to notate- which requires a lot of Art, in and of itself.
So, what about me? What's my message? The same as always- my taste, your taste, any one's taste can be worthwhile, it just has to be recognized for its own terms. That's the difference between "mass culture" and the culture of the many....

Sunday, April 18, 2010


One of the worst interview questions that can be asked is "What are your influences?" It's a bad question because it draws attention away from the interview subject, it's unnatural, and it forces the interview into a formal exercise, instead of a conversation. In other words, it actually makes it harder to understand the interview's subject. Yet, what could be more important for understanding an artist than knowing where they draw inspiration? So, is it more important to understand the artist, or is it more important to know them?
Well, you'll note I'm not doing interviews on this blog, and with a little digging, you'll find that I have done my share of music journalism, so I'd like to take enough credit to say that I have made a choice- I think it's more important for me as a fan to understand the Artist than to know the people. I mean, consider this- I cannot talk with Joe Strummer. He's dead. I cannot know John Mellor, the man who created Joe Strummer. But, I can understand the Artist known as Joe Strummer, and one way to do that is to know where he drew inspiration from.
Sometimes, influences are crucial. One of my favorite bands from the old Los Angeles punk scene would be TSOL. One listen to them, and you can hear a similarity to the Damned . So, why don't I just listen to the Damned? Because on the one hand, Jack, TSOL's singer, clearly is just as influenced by lounge/Easy listening music as he is by rock music. He sings like he's been on a Burt Bacharach bender as much as Dave Vanian (the Damned's singer) sings like Jim Morrison. But, on the other hand, Ron, TSOL's guitarist, clearly has listened to Johnny Thunders, a lot. Easily as much as Captain Sensible listened to Daevid Allen in the Soft Machine. It's the difference in those influences that makes TSOL sound like a more relevant musical entity to me. No knock on the Damned, who I like as well, but I prefer Bacharach to the Doors, and I prefer Johnny Thunders to the Soft Machine. Plus, the musical thought of the connections between Easy listening and Glam rock is far more compelling than simple psychedelic music, played at Punk tempo (Again, no knock on the Damned, but Hawkwind was doing that, already).
Music is Art, to me. I realize that it can be many other things, and it has been many other things to me. As Art, however, music is part of a conversation of ideas that has been going on as long as civilization. So, as part of that conversation it's important to know where the quotes come from.