Sunday, December 14, 2014

Nothing New But... something different

I don't like top ten lists. I don't like year-end recaps. I don't think of music as a competitive sport, and I don't like the concept of Art as a nostalgia vehicle. Both are crap ways of approaching something that should be a dialogue.
So, why, after lo, these many years, am I doing a year-end top ten of music from the past year? There is actually a point to this. You can disagree with me. I'm really beyond good with that. I not only expect you to disagree, I want you to disagree. I'm not being ironic- I actually am no good at irony. I  really, really liked these records, and they really are the top ten records I listened to this year- but my tastes aren't the point- the point is your tastes. I want you to have favorites, I want you to think you have better taste than me, and I want you to want to correct me, make your pitch, and sell me on your viewpoint. No, not in the comments, I want to have stuff to read, I want to hear new music, I want more of all that makes me a fan, and a consumer of culture. So, I'm doing a top ten in the hopes that someone out there actually reads this, and disagrees enough to point me in the direction of a better blog than this, or sets me in the direction of a better band, or otherwise improves my viewpoint by broadening it. But, I'm must warn you- I think my list is pretty bullet proof.

10. Moutheater- Passing Key. That this is bottom of the list should tell you how diamond-polished my list is. You want catharsis? You want angst, and raw emotions. This is, far and away the most harrowing stuff I heard all year. I don't want to invalidate someone else's feelings, but this tapped into mine. You want to know the secret behind my smile? Here it is. This is where I live, dude. I'm a dark guy, wanting to be a goofball, and failing. Listen to Rochambeau. You can hear "My War" era Black Flag being forced into a much more structurally pleasing straightjacket. There's no aimless noodling here. Every beat counts. Every word means something. Every measure brings you somewhere. The nightmare at the heart of Generation X infantilism is at the heart of this, and it's as inescapable as that self-righteous more politically correct than thou jackass on every internet forum. You won't survive this record. You will adapt or die. Yes, it's that strong.
9. Sage Francis- Sick to D(EAT)H- I'm not a hip hop guy. I like some, but I'm not versed much past 1991. So, don't take this inclusion as some kind of endorsement or attempt at currency with people who really are heads. I just really like Sage Francis. A song like Blue just is a great song.  A song like Gimme Dat will stick with you. A song like Ubuntu will give you something you can't get elsewhere.  This is full-spectrum music, it communicates much more than what I get from even the best hip hop- the ideas are so complex, and communicated so clearly that you will literally feel Sage Francis. That it's a mixtape compilation shouldn't deter you- this is stronger than his decent, but still not as good actual record, this year.
8. St Vincent- St Vincent-  Technically, this is a mainstream record, and I don't think I even talked about it, mostly because I knew it wasn't any kind of a discovery, nor any kind of surprise. There still isn't much to say beyond that it's a very excellent record, and if you see Annie Clark live, you will understand, and you will have reservations against her and this music no longer. Even my Mom likes it. It synthesizes all of the 1980's- from Laurie Anderson to Prince, and adds a layer of virtuoso songcraft, guitar shredding, and vocal acrobatics that I just never hear in mainstream rock. I'm no bigot against the top forty, but the surprise is that this makes some very complex musical ideas so very popular.
7. Tilts- Cuatro Hombres There is a window of opportunity for rock music. Basically, if you don't catch on between the ages of 10 and 20, you never really will. Oh, you might develop an "appreciation", but it'll never be real to you. It's like Pro-wrestling, Horror Movies, Science Fiction books, British Poets, Equestrian pursuits, or Hello Kitty- if you don't catch on  in an Adolescent way, you are missing something vital. Tilts not only know this, and embrace it , they expand it. This isn't like Eagles of Death Metal where it's all a big joke, This is knowing it's teenage, and inappropriate, and turning around, grinning like an idiot and saying "Ain't it great?!?" They recognize that we might have higher pursuits, but there's still a part of us that just wants to have a blast. Yes, it is cheesey, silly, and goofy- it's also seriously awesome, and the music that is played in paradise. Seventy virgins? Naah, just promise me a Tilts concert and a girl who gets it, and a few decent beers, and I'm there, dude. Strap me in.
6. The Powder Room- Curtains  People misunderstand noise rock, punk rock, garage rock, and rock in general- the assumption is that because "anyone can do it"- that everyone can do it, that there isn't enough skill, or talent required. That, quite frankly, is bullshit. Tell it to Gene Woolfolk. Not only is he a skilled, and talented guitarist, who clearly knows his way around both a studio and King Crimson riff, he's an artist in the truest sense of the word- every sound is chosen, for a specific effect on the overall impression. An example- the slapback echo on "Frayed" . A subtle thing, but it's deployed at exactly the right tempo to convey a sliced, and ripped tone, like the title says- frayed, and it doesn't detract from the mean as hell riffs which is a next-level ninja kind of sonic touch. It's got just enough feedback to be threatening, but it's sharp as a razor.That Gene and his band aren't revered on the level of Jack White, Steve Albini, or Greg Sage, shows a serious prejudice. Against what I don't know, but I, for one, want to correct that- This is about as genius as you have any right to expect.
5. Triggerfinger- By Absence of the Sun  In Europe, this is bigger than anything else on this list. That you don't have instant recognition of them shows how  awful things are in America. These guys are like The Black Keys, Jack White, Queens of the Stone Age, and The Hives all rolled into one. Sincerely, they are rock stars of the highest caliber. I'm not one for Rock Stars, mostly because my base nature says that we all suck equally, but, I can find no suckage, here. For most people, go see them live. For Americans, watch a live show on Youtube. This is a state of the art rock band. If you like showmanship, and a visceral pop thrill- they're literally the most streamlined and efficient machine at delivering that. From the suits, to the stage banter- this is the perfect rock machine. Nothing wasted but the front row of the audience. Makes AC/DC seem like has beens, and they blew the Rolling Stones off the stage. If you can't appreciate that, there is no shame in being a jazz fan.
4. The Austerity Program- Beyond Calculation. Umm, Well, They're on the Rolling Stone Top Twenty Metal list. The only thing I can possibly say is that while this record kills, in the stand up comedy sense of the word-It's not a metal record. It's just not. Yes, there are some metallic sensibilities, but this is the exact same kind of super aggro hardcore-alternative post punk as the midwest was producing 1985-1992. Yes, Big Black, but also Scratch Acid, Helmet (as much as Big Black) Cows, Arcwelder and Laughing Hyenas. There's also math-rock exactitude about it. Precision, symmetry, control and focus are key. All this appeals to me. With so-called noise rock, the thing that lets me down is when the focus is let go. It's the difference between Sun Ra and John Zorn. I fully recognize both are perfectly capable, and prefectionist musicians- but I listen to Zorn more because there's always that sense of composition. There's nothing with a tighter focus than the Austerity Program.
3. Ume- Monuments I don't think Lauren and company were intending to come up with the Sludge- Stoner rock album of the year, but, in a year with some great stuff ( Hell, YOB released something- freakin' YOB!) I kept coming back to this record. I'm not the biggest 70's rock fan. In the 70's, I hated music, for the most part, and before Punk Rock clicked for me in 1978, the only music I liked was funk/disco. So, take my credentials with whatever amount of salt you need, but for that big block rock, with some swirling prettiness, this is right up there with Melvins, Baroness, Red Fang, QOTSA, and so on. I think it boils down to this- Lauren just contains too damn much rock. Look at the Black Stone video. The riff is actually a shoegazer riff, but she rocks it so damn hard, coming in on that downstroke so furious that it evokes the Asheton brothers. That's the key, right there- Ron Asheton really wanted to play hippie jazz, but he had so much rock in him that he couldn't help himself, His right hand came down like he was laying haymakers into the pickups, and the volume jacked up louder than the proverbial bombs. Am I saying that Lauren, and therefore Ume, is like the very foundation of Rock- in the Stooges? Yes, yes I am. I cannot believe that people aren't recognizing this, but yes, Ume, in 2014, put out a record that would make Jimmy Page very, very frightened in 1974, but that Ron Asheton would've emulated in 1969. Put it on, turn it up, watch your speakers burn.
2. Aeges- Above& Down Below - Speaking of Heavy, ye gads! Aeges traces its roots to Pelican and The Rise, so yes, Heavy is to be expected, but damn. Kemble and company must have it in for their amps. As I was saying before, Mike Land is key, though- this guy hits harder than Bonham auditioning for the Kodo drummers- like to be all of them.So, yes, very, very heavy. But, I think what people want to hear is that they're a 1990's throwback- to Soundgarden, Quicksand, and Hum. I understand that, and what they do can definitely be read as a continuation of hard rock from the 1990's- but I would invite you to think about it a little less confined by genre- they're not grunge revivalists. I mean, they're using bitcrushed, not big muffed guitars- this isn't "retro"- it's following ideas to new conclusions. So, much like a scientist is necessarily indebted to others in the field, who established some of the paradigms, but does their own research- Aeges owes something to hard post-hardcore, and grunge, but they're doing something new, and finding their own formulas. Gorgeous melodies, mixed with a heavy beat, and volume-addicted stringed instruments- it's what all truly great rock has, and yes, they are putting out some truly great rock. Listen to Echoes, and Fault  and tell me they don't compete with virtually all rock from about 1970, onwards. Listen to their blistering cover of Elliott Smith- which is the first time my wife actually liked an Elliott Smith song, despite me trying for years. Oh, and join my campaign to get them to get the clearances, or whatever is necessary to officially release this cover/mash up/ reimagining of Big Data and Nine Inch Nails, which I'm going to say is Only Dangerous....
1. Disasteratti- Cerebral Hack Artist- Something has to be number one, which is my big problem with these lists. Because I don't know if this was the best record of 2014. I know I played it more than all others. I know that I liked it a lot. I know that I think that Disasteratti are truly genius. But, the best to me might just be the best to me- and that's kinda the whole point of my blog. I'm not trying to make you think like me, I'm not trying to get you to see things my way, and I don't think there's anything special about me. I just want you to think about those who are telling you to see things there way, and, from where I sit, in America, there's nothing more pernicious than this drive to make people into masses. I get disgusted by our nationalism, I am horrified by our homogenization, I'm ok with Art being commodified, because the aim of many, many artists is commercial, but I'm not ok with the audience being turned into a demographic, and therefore, a commodity.  All these things stem from the same root. I can see the indoctrination everywhere, in our schools, at our workplaces, on our TV's Radios, in our Magazines, all over the internet- there's massive amounts of pressure to tell you who you are. The worst part is I see people doing it to each other in social media- stuff like "How can you say you like Metal if you don't like Slayer" or "How can you like that crap?". So, the whole point of this blog has been for me to say "This is what I like. You don't have to like it, too, but this is why I like it. I hope that you can see my reasoning". So, declaring some absolutist horseshit about "This is NUMBER ONE" is anathema to me.
So, let me talk about Disasteratti a little, and then I'll devote the last paragraph to why I did this, ok?
Disasteratti are a three piece from the twin cities who play noisy roots rock. In many ways they are the distillation of everything I like in music- they have the aggression of the best Punk rock, they have the precise formulas of math rock, they recognize tradition, and traditional structures, but expand them into new musical  territory. They're clear about their influences ( Girls Against Boys, Shellac, Roots Rock) but aren't limited to them. I see them as Noise rock, of the precise type, like Austerity Program, Shellac, and United Sons of Toil, run into punk rock styled Roots music, like Gun Club, Rank and File, The Blasters, Minutemen, and X, but with the post-hardcore groove of GVSB and Hot Snakes. The songs lilt and lurch, sputter and slam, but never lose that sense of being coherent songs. The guitars snap, twang and snarl, The bass rumbles, roars and and rocks. The drums roll, stomp and shimmer. What I'm saying is that it all falls into place, exactly as it should be.
So, while I do like Disasteratti's Cerebral Hack Artist, and probably more than any other release this past year,  I think you can guess my real purpose.  I'm not saying that this is it, and I'm out, but I'm treating it like I am. I probably will post something, at some point, but I'm not fixing that point, now. It might be tomorrow, but it might be never. I think it's pretty obvious why, but that doesn't matter. Here's the only thing that matters: that there's something more out there.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Shanks- Surfing the Lexicon

Let's get right to this- I hadn't heard the band before this, and they clearly know their way around. They remind me of Tilts- this is classic party rock with a chewy indie rock center. Since they're  up in Toronto, it's also like Sloan- Candy-sweet harmonies, wrapped in fuzzy, tough riffs.
Twist number one- they're a bass and drum duo. Sure, they cheat a little with a few keyboards, but still- no guitars in a rifforama rock.
Twist number two-  the mix is between stoner rock's embrace of the absurdity inherent in classic rock, and indie rock's nostalgia for the broken little secrets of a Generation X  childhood- Which is to say there's a lot of looking back , and revising.
That does mean it's somewhat self-limiting- I can't see a 20 year old digging this stuff, without some layer of irony. But it also means that, much like QOTSA, Tilts, Sloan and Triggerfinger- these guys are lifers who are chasing down a long-held passion.
Which brings me to my one disappointment in this record- There's no room in the vision for me. I don't usually talk about this, but I listen to music in two ways- in my car, and at home. When at home, I listen with a guitar in my hand. Some people sing along, I play along. I've done this for years. So, no, I'm not a frustrated wannabe rock star- I'm a lifer, who derives more meaning from riffs, and hooks than from lyrics and choruses. So, I'm tuned into sound and fury, rather than whether it means anything. It's pretty rare for me to think I could honestly add anything to any of the songs and Artists I hear. Shanks are one such rare example- playing along with a capo on the seventh fret, through an Octave pedal and a fuzz box, I can add a little color to some of these songs. Little runs and figures, nothing major- but I know it doesn't figure into what they want to be- and that bums me out, just a little bit, because I really wouldn't mind joining these guys.
I suppose that's a testimony to how good their sound is- a band you'd want to be in, right?

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Compare and Contrast- Hunger Games Mockingjay VS Radio Free Albemuth

So, let me say at the outset that I'm not suggesting you see either movie. They're both fatally flawed, but I saw both, this weekend, and there was an element that I saw to compare and contrast, so I'm talking about that. There might be spoilers, but I don't care, because you don't need to see either movie.
So, yes, I saw the giant blockbuster. I could blame my wife- I really would not have seen it, if not for the fact that she is a sucker for, and avid consumer of YA faction. She's even trying to write one of her own. But, that's not the whole truth- I've refused some films because they're too cheesey for me, but I saw this one. Mostly because I'm a fan of the "Wow" factor- you know, big booms, sweeping  camera moves, and the like.
But, a theme ran through this film that really, really bothered me. At the most positive spin I could put on it- I'd call it cynical Vanguardism , but, much, much more likely it's the sheer contempt for people displayed- The majority of the plot revolves around convincing the protagonist to use her celebrity to manipulate the masses into war. You read that correctly, and that's about as even-handed as I can put it. It was about manipulating a celebrity, but using carrots of friendship, and patriotism, and even "love" into delivering a message that is automatically assumed to move the drone-like masses into suicidal acts of rebellion.
First of all- how utterly pompous! I do not see anyone lining up to become soldiers because they saw Expendables 45 in the theater last week. I don't think there's even a single member of ISIS who became such because they heard Daniel Sunjata thought that 9/11 was an "inside job". People kill or die for causes because they believe in the cause, not the people espousing the cause. Only in Hollywood does the logic of "We're such big stars, everyone hangs their lives on us" have any credence whatsoever.
But, secondly, assuming it to even be mildly plausible is a massive insult to humanity. They literally have our star go to a hospital, which is then magically targeted for annihilation by the bad guys, and when the star notices- that becomes the advert for our star that inspires millions to literally hurl their bodies at armed opponents. Later, she sings a little ditty halfway under her breath- that has nothing to do with any cause- and the next scene is people mindlessly chanting that same song while they gleefully turn themselves into suicide bombers! The best defense I've heard for it centers on an argument for mass ignorance. I think it can be summed up with a strongly held belief by the film-makers that people are idiots.
Sincerely, I thought that Jennifer Lawrence was mildly talented, with an engaging personality before I saw that crap. Now, I want to see Anonymous data-mine her into a slobbering mess. I do not care that she's female, or anything about her as a person, because the message of the movie is that she is an Icon, whom we love more than our own lives- and I want her to see on a really visceral level what that means- that she should be torn down. I don't care how much money she would owe for breaking contract on this, she should have walked away. The only person who seems to understand what a mockery of the human spirit this film is, would be Phillip Seymour Hoffman, who delivers all of his lines like they're cruel jokes upon himself.
On the other hand Radio Free Albemuth is a stripped-down indie-film re-telling of Philip K Dick's VALIS trilogy. If you've ever read it, you know that the central premise is that ultimately, people will overcome fascism, tyranny and evil through sheer force of inherent godly, goodness, in all of us. Unfortunately, Dick was an experimental Science-Fiction author, and so he undercuts this message by interjecting himself into the books, and making himself, literally, an unreliable narrator. It was a bold move, and completely unfilmable- so what you're left with is a pastiche of a few rabble-rousing dystopian fictions ( a lot of 1984, a little of Pynchon, some C.S. Lewis) with heavy transcendental religious overtones as opposed to the mystic, gnostic sentiment that Dick intended. Again, the question of educating the masses through mass media is in play- but the idea here is in subliminal messages- it's not counting on "star power"- the idea is far more democratic- that if you introduce a concept in a digestible format ( in this case, a pop song) people will incorporate that idea into their own action. Nowhere is it more explicit than at the end of the movie, when the protagonist hears the song that caused his own imprisonment being played by some teens on a boom box, and it dawns on him that the liberation was never intended for him, it was for the "kids"- and that his cabal was only one of many, and so, where his failed, another succeeded in getting the idea out. It was still a crapty movie, but I can live with that message a whole lot easier- that it's not about your personal freedom, and that your actions might very well be redundant and absurd, but that the important part is that freedom exists.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Swingin Utters-Fistful of Hollow

One of the greatest things about punk rock for me was the leeway allowed in terms of guitar sounds. Sure, The Ramones, and The Sex Pistols had the traditional "Rock guitar" sounds- you know that midrange buzzing thing you get from a guitar pushing a Marshall amp through 4 12 inch speakers? Yeah, that never excited me. I much preferred stuff like Joe Strummer's clinky Telecaster into a solid state Fender, or Andy Gill's cheap Stratocaster into an H&H solid state, or Greg Sage's mutant SG pushing some odd amp he made himself, or Greg Ginn's Dan Armstrong into a Peavey Solid State PA Amp- sounds that "professional' guitar players looked at as being "bad tones". I still prefer tones and guitar sounds that aren't considered "good" by the tasteful crowd.
So, I do not care that Swingin' Utters ( or as they'd have it "Swingin Utter$")  play "pop punk" or that their lyrics aren't all thatdeep- they're one of the few bands that can still play on the Warped tour, but seemingly love unusual guitar sounds- they sound hissy, tinny, and energetic, and coil-sprung, just like a Punk Rock guitar should. They sound like steel strings being struck really hard, and vibrating a piece of wood. That's exactly what I like. So, yeah, I like it. Like Johnny, their singer puts it:
They sort of go for a cheap sound and I kind of like that. I don’t like having polished-sounding guitars and that sort of shit. I think the strings should be heard. Every string should be heard when you strum a guitar.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

The Gary- Farewell Foolish Objects

This will please no one, but me.
I was unfamiliar with The Gary's music, but their latest LP "Farewell Foolish Objects" was sent to me, mostly, I suspect, because the band is comprised of friends of friends of mine. So, I mean no disrespect when I say that they have made a magnificent Shellac record. In fact, they have made the record I wanted out of Shellac.
See, you start with a punk-simple, but math-cerebral riff structure, like Shellac, all clang and thrum, and then add various ornaments that would be considered full song ideas in less-ambitious hands and minds. What makes it surpass Shellac is that the ideas thus introduced are sharper, more graceful, and even more poetic.
Take opener "Blank"- can;t get simpler than the opening two note bass pattern, followed up by the speak sing announcement " I drew blank in the morning- I beat the sun...again". That's a whole blues song's worth of ideas, in a single line. After two and a half minutes of of simmering skeletal blues mope, the song explodes into a line reversing everything " But you know I'm just funning, when I said I'm out running" while the feedback and splash cymbals dissolve into chaos. Shellac have never directed their intellect to something so emotional, raw, and human as this.
Track two " Coming up for Air" is like Shellac meets the Dream Syndicate, in a defiant punk psychedelia- again, applying the Shellac formula to feed a completely different kind of pup.
But, then, on track five, the genius really shows through- with a seasick drone of violins, an ascending bass figure weaving a modality from it, like spiderwebs on rust, carrying little flecks of oxidized metal, tiny shards of guitar get carried along, while Dave gives out little haikus of tired experience, like a Sailor, been out on night watch for too long, scratching a desperate entry into a journal that might go into enemy hands and then crescendos into a wordless riff resolving the tension. It;s minimal, but evocative, and the mind of the listener ( at least this listener) fills in the blanks.
Likewise, track four "No Shame" is like Richard Thompson playing a Shellac song- celtic modes and drones energizing a mathy frame while the words are like little shards of images, like broken man's drunken mutterings. It's a cold little world encapsulated in two minutes- efficient, succinct, and perfect.
So, why won't anybody but me like my thoughts? Because the band will likely be slightly miffed by the Shellac comparison- but, my defense is that there's no other obvious point of reference, and if they don't listen to Shellac, you most certainly do, if you're listening to them.
It's an interesting proposal to me, and one that finally explains a phenomena to me- I've never understood the appeal of a tribute band, until now. But, here's a band that is clearly indebted to one band- so much so that I have a hard time hearing them as a separate entity, but improving upon them in ways both subtle and plain-the difference to me is passion: in essence, who's more passionate about the work? The artist or the fan? The artist can grow tired of the work, can yearn to be free of it, but is chained to that work, while the fan remains enthralled to the work, until or unless the cease to be a fan- hence the appeal of a tribute band- fans cherishing a work, moreso than the artist. Are The Gary a Shellac tribute band? I can see how that argument can be made, and if you played The Gary and Shellac for someone who's not an obsessive- as I have done- as a kind of blind taste test, they really won't know who is who- but if you're a fan of Shellac, I would suggest listening to The Gary, instead- theirs is the more satisfying record. In that way, they are not a tribute band to Shellac - they are the better option.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

The Twilight Sad- Nobody Wants to Be Here And Nobody Wants to Leave

The Twilight Sad are still a bitter, bitter bunch. I really like their brand of sensitive teenage girl rock, don't get me wrong ( Oh, of course you know what I mean by that- this is the type of music from Joy Division, to the Cure, to Depeche Mode to My Chemical Romance- it's the kind of music for those, usually teenage girls of a certain persuasion, that has just enough swooning romanticism to satisfy the Pop/Rock directive, but enough sadness, anxiety and angst that only the sensitive types seem to fully appreciate it.) but the new thing that they bring is not the David Bowie/Brian Eno/ New Wave/ Industrial synths, but the kind of bitter, cynical simmering anger that fellow Scotsmen seem to lack.
So, for example, if you were to bring up melodic similarities to the lost, lamented Aereogramme, you wouldn't be wrong. Sure,this is more synth-based, and the beat is far more regular, but the lushness and the orchestral opulence of the melodies remains as testament that this band came from the same soil.
But Aereogramme were pure romantics, whereas this lot have no hopes- from opener "Girl in a Corner"'s repeated  "She's not coming back" to closer "Sometimes I Wished I Could Fall Asleep" refrain "There's nothing left for us"- this cold bleakness isn't mourning, with a hope that something will come from the sorrow- this is anger and bitterness in the certainty that suffering has no meaning or reward.
Still those melodies- this would be somewhat pissed off Cold Wave of a Cure/ Scary Monsters-era David Bowie/ early Roxy Music variety, if not for the absolute wealth of melodic measures. They offer salve and balm to the still none-more-bleak lyrics, which despite the band's protestations that they're more hopeful than the last LP ( 2012's "No One Can Ever Know" ) - they're still more bleak than I've heard any Goth or Emo get.
So, it's like strong coffee or dark beers- I don't blame you if you cannot stand the bitterness, but I believe that fruits are worth it.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Pray For Teeth- From the Dry Edge of the Shore

I'm home today because of the dentist. See, I hate going to the dentist because dentistry is a lost art in this country. I say "lost art" as opposed to "obscure science" because that's part of the problem. Nobody grows up thinking "I wanna be a Dentist when I'm grown up". Instead, they want to go into cosmetic dentistry at best, usually, they're a failed doctor. So, while they supposedly have the technical skill to drill into your dentin, they lack any and all finesse, because if they had any real skill, they'd be in cosmetic dentistry. So, the dentist screwed up, and I had to go in for emergency oral surgery today to retrieve a small piece of metal they left in there, last time that had caused an infection, and abscess. Fun, huh? Still not the worst thing a "Dentist" has screwed up in my mouth.
Anyway, I bring up my tale of woe because it's entirely appropriate for the latest release from Pray for Teeth, a Pittsburgh band that you want to know.
First, let's talk about length- these are 4 songs, and it's LP length. So, yes, sit down, get comfortable, because each song is gonna last awhile.
They might get labelled "post" something or another because of that. I'm going to reject that out of hand- calling them "post metal" or "Post hardcore" implies that the music they make is dependant upon a working knowledge of something before. This has no precedent as far as I know. Yes, the screamed vocals, and minor keys might lead you towards doom, or sludge metal. Yes, the reverb drenched, and heavily delayed guitars might lead you towards goth, or spaghetti westerns, but the dynamics betray both of those directions, and the songwriting owes at least as much to shoegaze bands as it does to crust punk. If you had to put this into a box, I think it'd be a pretty lonely box-
"Cinematic Sludge Crust Shoegaze screamo".
Might I suggest a better approach is to actually listen to the music, and analyze it from there? As mentioned, yes, Screams- slightly more punk styled screaming than metal styled in that it's hoarse, and desperate as opposed to guttural and mannered. I like that. Yes, lots of time-based effects- reverb and delay. However, it's not to obscure, as in the case of shoegazers, nor to be "trippy" a la Sludge and Stoner bands- instead these echos add heft and drama- like Ennio Morricone, and Young Widows- and yes, this would be one of the very few bands that I can see as keeping up with Louisville ( Between Young Widows, Workers, Coliseum and Xerxes, Louisville will destroy your scene, musically). The instruments used are straight up hardcore, though- that sounds like a Les Paul, with a Duncan in the bridge, played through a Sovtek head ( Mig 50H, possibly)- and the reason I say that, is that years ago, I got very nearly the same tone using that very set up- I just didn't know what to do with it besides Crusty hardcore. You've got your signature Peavey pound bass, and a fairly minimal trap set for the drums. I'm not so good that I can hear the brand, but this is more "one of each" than the excesses of a metal drum set- where you can hear four different toms, about 6 splashes, and even the bass drums are tuned slightly different from each other. So, considering how downtuned this is, as well, I'd say more Crust than Straightedge, but hardcore punk rock, for sure. Plus, the guitar player can do those 128th note trills on the downstroke, and move the chord up and down the neck to make a melody- that's a Crust signature- but, like I say- with so much drama from the echos that it becomes a very different beast.
Earlier, I said you want to get to know this band- here's why- they get the kind of push that, say, Young Widows got, or the kind of recognition that Fucked Up got, and they will dominate. These are some very tightly composed songs, especially considering the lengths- of the four, the shortest is in the long end of the six minute mark. That tells me these guys absolutely know what they're doing. Nothing sounds like a jam, nothing is extraneous, or a blind alley- this all clearly flows from one musical idea to the next- so either they're my age, and have been playing together since middle school, or these guys are masters of their chosen form- I'm going with the latter. No mistakes- they know exactly what they want this to be, and are honed in, like a surgeon.
As my friends who play know, I play along when listening to music at home. It gets me into the mood, and gives me a way of interacting. I honestly couldn't find any real niches to stick my little licks into- this stuff is airtight, and built like a tank. Heavy, melancholy, tough, tight, and dramatic. Just great stuff. Really. How's that for a genre to put them in? Great stuff.

Sunday, October 26, 2014


You know how you can tell when I'm angry? I shut up. I'm not a particularly violent guy, but I've been in a few fights. Some serious ones, even, where the law became a concern. Every time, right before a fight, I go silent. No yelling, no more warnings- just silent. It extends out from there. See, I never really mastered conflict resolution, so, when I don't have any more arguments, I stop arguing, and start fighting.
I say this because it means you can tell a lot from what I omit. If I don't mention a band, or an LP, and it would be logical for me to mention it, it's probably because I don't like it. If I purposefully talk around some line of thinking, it's because I don't respect it- and so on.
So, I'm breaking a fundamental  "rule" for me, here: The reason why I'm not particularly fond of genres has to do with a strain of Academic Liberal Arts thought- which is to say- I've got very little respect for "post modernism" in Academic thought, and absolutely nothing for the "post structuralists". I think they have no real argument, they're just trying to reframe the debate so it looks like they have a point. I think they're a collection of petty little critics with no real experience, so they take some half understood language theories, and even less understood concepts from psychology, and add it to pseudo- sociology, and then, to shield themselves from any kind of objectivity, call it philosophy. As far as I'm concerned, they were debunked in the mid 1990's with the Sokal affair. Still, in non-academic settings, the over-reliance on jargon and torturous, rube-goldberg-esque can be mistaken for intelligence, and rock critics aren't academics. They shouldn't be, because Rocknroll is popular music. But, it leaves them vulnerable- so because good ol' Bobby Christagau and Greil ( What the hell is that?) Marcus flirted with post-structuralist terms, and theories, because what better way to prop up their deficient taste than with jargon filled bunches of claptrap that nobody in the sciences ( where the real intelligence has been for 100 years) takes even remotely serious. So, now those idiots, along with cohorts found everywhere from  the NME to Cineaste and so on have left Pop Culture probably the last area where such mental masturbation is seen as intelligence. Because I actually like pop culture enough to take it as culture, that means I'm plagued with these jackofficers. That includes having to have this monologue.
I blame them for the hairsplitting bullshit of all these microgenres, and I blame them for unlistenable crap like "Kid A" being taken more seriously than QOTSA's "Rated R"- when if you look around, worldwide, thousands more bands were influenced by Josh Homme's crew than Thom Yorke's. I blame them for the neutering of rock, and I think that every time I hear someone talking about "Post metal/Doom" they're using the language of the oppressor. That I've had to resort to similar pains me.
You might be asking why I'm bringing this up, now? Because it's to do with pop culture and it's been on my mind for the past two weeks. I know it's an esoteric-seeming thing to rant about, but if you had my background of having to deal with this bullshit since 1988, you'd see it all over the place, as well. What can I say? This blog is for me, and how I see it. If you think I'm wrong, that's fine, we disagree, but at least you can better predict how I'll react to things.
Just don't get me started on Identity politics- I'm liable to have an aneurysm and cover you in blood and cerebral fluids...

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