Friday, May 27, 2011


There are probably too many bands with "black" as part of their name, so points deducted for the name.
On top of that, there's something willfully obscure about the band. They sing in English, but they're a decidedly German band. I mean, the only way I could get any of their music was either illegally, or via German Itunes or German Amazon. So- unless I'm a German who speaks English, I'm afraid I'd be out of the target demographic- and thus it's very likely that unless you are a German who speaks English, you won't have heard of Blackmail, apart from the criminal act. But such is my dedication that when i was told I should hunt them down, I did. I could not afford to get several of their releases, so I did skip buying the new one, "Anima Now!" which upon streaming it, it does sound pretty, and resonates well. Instead, I threw in my lot with 2008's "Tempo Tempo"- and it's very rewarding. This is fairly gritty Indie Rock, along the lines of latter-day grunge. I could seem them on a bill with the Afghan Whigs, Toadies and Hum. However, the songwriting is stronger than that might indicate. Actually, I can see some Greg Dulli in the songwriting, which is a fairly high compliment. There's also a solid Mod component- shades of the Who and Kinks are present fairly often. Seeing as most folks won't share my enthusiasm for northern European Indie Rock ( Hey, I'm self-aware enough to know it's an obsession of mine. If it was made by folks somewhere north of France, west of the Ukraine, and East of England, I'll give it a shot, pretty much without question) why am I bothering to tell anyone about my purchase of a three year old record by a band readers will not have heard, and most likely won't try to hear? Because I would encourage them to do likewise. Maybe you have a yen for Japanese Oi!, or Mexican Jazz. Follow that muse! Go with it, because the miracle of the Information Age is that it is possible to follow that out. Yes, that is miraculous- consider, I heard of the band, for the first time on Wednesday. Today is very early Saturday. I streamed records on Thursday, and downloaded my selection Friday morning,burned a CD from my Itunes library within 20 minutes, listened to that CD in the Car, and my Ipod during the day- and here we are, with me expressing my joy with the band. Now, imagine it's 1981. First, I would have had to somehow actually visit their part of Germany long enough to hear the band, and figure out where I'd order the record from, assuming that such a thing were possible. Then, I'd type up my review, Xerox my fanzine, maybe offset the printing, and you'd have to randomly find my Zine. That's a pretty amazing change, in only 30 years- as big a change as from horses to planes. It also makes it such a shame that most people simply accept the Top 40 with minor variations, around the globe. There are such treasures out there, that it's almost crime to settle for the Black Eyed Peas, or Doughtry.
So, if you want to hear a German band that mixes Who-ish Power Pop with Afghan Whigs styled high tension grooves, Blackmail are your boys, and I'd hunt them down if I were you. But, more than that, I'd say to follow that format- hunt down whatever strange niche you enjoy- the days of the finite choices are not now.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Partial Vindication in Studebaker's Blacksmith Shop

I mentioned the band before, stating that they were good, but held back by somewhat stiff vocals. Well, they've got a newer release out, called "Excuse me, are you Sick?" and it's getting much better. The vocals are still a bit stiff in parts, but the music has gone far less stoner, and far more plain old "alt rock', so the vocals sound less out of place, even if they get overly formal still. For some reason, the end effect reminds me a bit of Belly, but that's probably something strange from the back of my brain.
I think the best way I can describe this altered direction is that similar to Garcia, they've injected a lot of pop music into a stoner-alt base. I mean, I can hear the Queens of the Stone Age influence, but also some Nine Inch Nails, with some of The Gathering and now, some of Pandora' (yes, I can finally hear the connection) So it's getting to be pretty good robot rock. I really like the electronic flourishes and when Kerstin scrapes up her voice a bit. So, yeah, "Asshole Dance" is a standout for me. So is album closer "Therapy". Hey, it's free, if nothing else, but seriously, that's not the best reason to get it. There are literally hundreds of thousands of free albums out there. The main reason to get this is that it's good music, that blows away the weak drek you'll hear even on "Alt Rock" American Radio stations. I will admit, I'd like a little more polish on the production, and a bit more rawness to the performances, but it's still unique music- stoner electro rock with female vocals- and the vision is becoming much more clear.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Mainstream Sellout

Yes, of course I am. I listen to the hitmakers, let me tell you.
For example, I can see the hype, so I know it's time to listen to Raphael Saadiq- never mind the fact that all he's doing is a the typical career makeover we've seen 100 times before- bland popstar goes "retro" by exploring their "roots". In Raphael's case it's slightly more hipster, in that late 1960's soul is having a moment right now, but how is this different from Sting going Jazz back in the late 1980's or Everlast going folk in the late 1990's? But, I must not think bad thoughts, and accept that this is somehow much more cool than Cee Lo Green, because this is marketed to indie hipsters, and I want so very badly to be an indie hipster. When's he playing Coachella?
All snark aside, there are some good singles on his past two records, and he does a pretty blistering cover of "Search and Destroy" at rock festivals, but download what you like, and ignore the rest because I think this is a pretty naked marketing ploy- it'd be insulting to buy in.

Another example is how I spent yesterday. I went to go see Everclear. You remember them? The "acceptable" grunge band who did Dad rock songs about broken homes? See, I know my demographic- this is exactly what 40 somethings are supposed to do. It's either Adult Alternative or Country, and hey, Everclear do a little of both.
But, here's the twist- I actually like a lot of Everclear's stuff, and I think Art is a relatively honest songwriter. On top of that, I was going with my wife and son to Rock the Farm, which is a benefit for local kids. If that's not enough, when my son was very little, Everclear was one of his favorite bands, and he and I used to bond over singing songs from "Sparkle and Fade" usually with modified lyrics ( example- his mother and I lived 7 hours by car apart from each other. When I'd come to get him, we'd sing a modified version of Everclear's Santa Monica, while we drove through the desert "We could be beside the Ocean/ Leave this fire behind/Swim out into the breakers/and watch my car die") so, much as I might like Everclear or not, getting a chance to see them with my son was a priority. Oh, and by the way, the show was pretty good. It was plagued by some technical problems, but the opening act was the local school of rock, and it was pretty awesome to see really enthusiastic teens and pre teens having a "rock moment", getting to play on the same stage with a rock star, and then, getting to hang out with that same rock star, after the show. So, yeah, it might play into my demographic, but that's the kind of community I saw lacking in the hipper than thou circles. Seriously, I saw dudes wearing Amon Amarth T shirts playing with 4 year olds at a giant slide. That's a community for you.