Saturday, June 11, 2011

The Goldilocks mean

Yeah, I bet that if you've heard of "The Golden Mean", that's about all the deeper you've gone into it. That's fair enough. I'm not going to get all didactic on you, and try to teach you that it's not quite a 1:1 ratio. Instead, I'll use the common misconception to talk about sludge metal.
See, most folks see it more or less like the Goldilocks story- this porridge is too hot, this is too cold, but this final bowl of gruel is just right. The problem is that folks miss the subjectivity. What's too hot to one is too cold to another. So, there's no one good balance, right?
Well, it becomes easier if you see it more or less as a range, as most people will grudgingly concede. But, I'm not most people. Rather that put it into a nice blurry sludge like that, I'd prefer to see it as competing spikes. The low end around the edges would be the extremes that you don't like, and the peak of the spike is what you like, exactly. You have your spikes, for your tastes, and I've got my spikes for mine. With me so far? Then, you'll surely follow me through to understand that just like spiked belts, the continuity is established when your spikes and mine are roughly the same, but if they're not, you end up with one of those horrible mismatched wierd-ass pseudo metal belts that the disco dollies wore a few years back to try to look like "rock chicks". What I'm getting at, to return to Goldilocks, is that you have to start with the same kind of gruel for the comparison to mean anything- if your starting point is very different from mine, it's meaningless to have us on the same scale, or the same range. It only works if we're the same kind of spikes, geddit? So, that's what we're gonna call the "goldilocks mean".
So, If you agree with me that sludge metal is, in essence, a mix between retro-70's elements (from prog/metal types like Blue Cheer, Deep purple, Uriah Heep, and most especially Black Sabbath) and Thrash (from more metallic types like Discharge, Tragedy, Cro Mags, DRI, COC and so on) with an over-arching post punk aesthetic ( either Goth or hardcore, but never New Wave) then, let's talk about what makes the mix "right".
See, a lot of bands go way overboard on the retro end of things. From Fu Manchu, to Lo Pan, a lot are basically 1970's boogies with a few bellows thrown in. I'm not really into that, thanks. Now, I love some stuff that dips pretty heavily into that end of the muck- but usually, that's the exception, not the rule- so this would be the lower, flatter end of the spike ( Even if I do like some Clutch, and the aforementioned Lo Pan's "Salvador" is a new one worth giving a listen).
Still other bands try way too hard to be hard. Everyone from Eyehategod to Black Tusk gets a bit too screamy and belligerent. Dudes, I have news for you- it's only music. You're not firing guns, you're not physically threatened, you're playing in a rock band. It can look pretty damn silly. So, again, we're near the belt, not the sky.
Such extremes are obvious. What gets harder to define is the peak of the spike. I would submit it's bands like Torche, Kylesa, the newly revitalised Red Fang, and now, Coliseum. I had written them off as a sublevel thrash band, so I've only recently heard last year's "House with a Curse". I actually picked it up because I heard it dissed so hard by former fans of the band. When I see some 19 year old jaded hipster hardcore type in tattoos and skinny jeans say a band "used to be good, but now they're all mainstream" I get a bit interested. When I hear a clip like Blind in One Eye I get far more intrigued. Now, this is "Coliseum" mind you, not "Colosseum" who do doomy- sludge completely not my style. And tell me that this track doesn't win you over. If not, you may like the other Colosseum. And you're on another spike. But, for me, that's the Goldilocks mean.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The Goth King Sings

Peter Murphy just released his ninth solo album, appropriately, if simply, called "Ninth".
So, let's get the obvious out of the way: was I a big fan of Bauhaus? Yes, I was. However, I'm not enough of any kind of purist to consider myself a goth, or an ex goth, or whatever. I never wore all black, never wore makeup, didn't like a ton of "Goth" mainstays, like Alien Sex Fiend, The Mission, and latter day Christian Death. I got into some bands that got called "goth" like Joy Division, Killing Joke, Bauhaus, and Kommunity FK not for some kind of creepy death obsession of bad poetry. I thought they were all pretty good post punk, that's all. I don't see a huge difference, musically, between Bauhaus and "Sandanista" era Clash. Sure, they like minor keys, but so did Japan at the time, and who calls them Goth?
So, I didn't buy this for goth nostalgia. Also, the last Peter Murphy I bought was "Deep", in 1990. No, I'm not pining for his 1990's output. What I liked about Should the World Fail to Fall Apart, Love Hysteria, and Deep and what I like about this brand new one is the full range of emotions, and he only seems to have that whenever he's just left Bauhaus. Seriously- he left the first time in the mid 1980's, and between Dali's Car, and the first couple of solo records, he's on Bowie-esque fire- going from hard glam to lushly orchestrated neo-standards track to track. Now, he left Bauhaus in 2009, and he puts this out, and I was expecting a return to the failed Turkish pop of Dust, but instead this is again, a Bowie-esque mix of standards and Glam rock- like Bing Crosby joins Slade. I've downloaded it to my itunes, and listened to it twice, and it came out yesterday. Get the notion? Yes, it's very sweeping melodramatic music, with serious mood swings, and Murphy's odd croon. But- I've not heard glammy post punk with this kind of range since Murphy and Andrew Eldritch were locked into some kind of race to see who could out "Heroes" Bowie ( and if you can't hear the debt to Bowie, I'd suggest you go back and re-listen to everything Bowie put out from 1976 to 1982, then get back to me) Highlights are the singles "I spit Roses" and "Seesaw Sway" but also rockers like "Uneven & Brittle".
Is it nostalgia, because he's returned to a sound I wish he'd never left? I guess it could be. But, I don't want a Peter Murphy album where he plays a bunch of dubstep and baroque folk music. I like him doing a particularly glammy and theatrical kind of Alt rock and pop. I like the songs to have some reverb on the guitars, some fretless bass, and that baritone croon. That's his sound, his corner of the market, and so I'd call it no more nostalgia than I'd say that Levi's are doing nostalgia for making jeans. So, fine, call him the Goth King. If you want to reduce it down to that, feel free. But just listen to him sing...