Saturday, August 18, 2012

Very 'Eavy, very 'Umble

A running sub-theme with this here blog is my ongoing wrestling match with Heavy Metal. Like it or not, and I don't, I seem to have an  unmet need to spar with my sometimes metallic tastes.
So, the latest entries on that front are "A Brief Crack of Light" by Therapy? and "Four" by Bloc Party.
Part of the lasting appeal of heavy metal is just how humble it is. I read some punter in some magazine who wrote that metal was music for ugly people, and as inarticulate as that is, I think it's pointed at the truth. Metal is for the unsophisticated bordering on boorish, the  awkward bordering on Aspergered, the anti-fashioned, and proletarian. In short, it's not for beautiful people, or graceful people, though the music sometimes aspires towards beauty and grace. Too much flash, too much grace, too much style, and it's roundly disdained by the metal masses, though. I think that's the area that's subtle in metal, but that gets all too easily hidden by the garish extremes.
So, Therapy? have a bit too much Art in them to be fully considered metal, but they share that kind of club-footed artless lack of grace with metal, so they belong more to metal than metal will own them. What they are, when they are at their best, is a kind of Midwestern late 1980's posthardcore meets early 1990's "altmetal"- like Big Black meets Filter. That also means that they're very hit-or-miss with me. The last tracks I liked by them were a few on 1994's "Troublegum" album. The last time I liked a whole album by them would be 1992's "Nurse". That's twenty years since they put out something that I could heartily endorse. So, the short-and-sweet of it is I do heartily endorse this new CD.
Lyrically, they're still clumsy, but musically, it's tight, aggressive , adventurous, and, yes, pretty music. It covers the ground between Helmet at their most "nu metal" and (believe it or not) Fugazi which isn't a bad sweet spot to occupy. They've toned down some of the squeal to concentrate on the thud, which is unfortunate, but par for the course. I resisted it for all this time for the same reason I suspect it won't be a huge successful chart smash, nor a cult fetish item- it undercuts itself constantly. That is- it's too pretty to be the big bad evil ugly rock that they'd like to be- a kind of Celtic Slipknot. But, it's not filled with beauty and grace like Baroness, either. So, again, it's much like any metal- this is music for the awkward, the clumsy, and the disorientated  and  the colloquial. That's precisely what I find so charming about it.
On the reverse, such homeliness can lend a kind of "authenticity" to an established, but stale Artist. If you look closely, it's an old David Bowie trick- after Space Oddity, the Man Who Sold the World, after Pin Ups, Diamond Dogs, after Never Let me Down, Tin Machine- get the idea? So, Bloc Party did a run of artsy yet commercial dance-rock albums from the mid 2000's to 2010, then just fell apart. Now, supposedly all patched up, they've got to sell everyone on the concept that they're back, they're whole, they're vital, and they're authentically a band. So, the new record has everything from the glitch-pop single "Octopus" and numerous bits of supposedly "raw" studio field recordings of the band talking to hiring Alex Newport to  produce, and the metal stylings that are most overt on "Kettling" and "We are not good people" but are present throughout. Cynical as that may be, the only question I'm concerned with, as a listener, is "Does it work?"- the answer is a reserved yes. Yes, I like this better than anything they've done as a band since "Silent Alarm", however, I still think Silent Alarm is the best they'll ever do. I think that Kele's solo work is still more vital, and yes, authentic than this, even if my aesthetics are more closely aligned to Four. But, Silent Alarm is still the Bloc Party album to beat, and a lot of that is due to impossibilities of getting certain Genii back into their bottles. They simply cannot be as urgent, hungry, or vital as they were, as they have had the success they were seeking. Kele cannot be just a humble band member, or just another bloke, as he has revealed himself to be a star in his own right. Yes, the rest of the band clearly do resent that, and no amount of volume or chatter between tracks can approximate the kind of easy camaraderie that being a real, young, authentic band brings. At this point, they best they can hope for is enough short- term failure to make them seem like the kind of underdogs that Metal is composed from. Still, this is a good record, and I enjoy hearing it, but if I want to sell you on Bloc Party, I'll still put on Silent Alarm.
( oh, and BTW, I'm dropping a certain pretense, here- yes I paid for both records, legally. Yes, the Therapy? record was released awhile back, while the Bloc Party one is scheduled to be released in two days. Just because I've bought something at Amazon on pre order, or haven't bought until after it is released has little bearing on when I hear it first. Between scouring the net, and promos, and friends, I hear stuff weeks and months either before or after it gets released.  So, I'm stopping right now from trying to review when stuff gets commercially released- with a few notable exceptions. If someone asks me to hold off, or if it seems prudent for me to do so, I will, or if someone asks me to do a "review" as a promotional device, I'll at least consider it. This blog is far from professional grade, but I still view the entertainment industry as one populated by my friends. I hope that clarifies things a bit)

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