Friday, January 17, 2014

Checking in and TV

I don't have a whole lot to report, musically. Yes, I got a friggin' AWESOME Mark Lanegan best-of, this week, called "Has God seen my Shadow?", but do I really have to tell you to listen to Mark Lanegan? That's what mainstream guys do, because idiots are still listening to John Mayer. I'm far too cool and sarcastic for that. But I will say this- if there is a heaven, Mark Lanegan and I won't get to be there. He's got too much of the devil in his voice, and I like that devil too much.
As for the hobby, I finally bought an OCD clone.  It's great, and if I played Sludge Metal, it would be my dirt box of choice. For my guitar playing friends, if you have a spare USD 40, and you want that baritone rumble "creamy" distortion, this will get you there. The "review videos" all seem to add a fair amount of treble to what I actually hear- but it has a crap-ton of gain, with the lower mids emphasized- it's a dark beast, that can instantly dial up Eyehategod to Thou tones, and if you twiddle the knobs a bit, you can get around the same neighborhood as all the Savannah bands ( Kylesa, Baroness, BlackTusk) get, and they all use the OCD. One warning- the "high" setting adds a pretty significant boost- between 15 and 20 DB- so you can blow out effect inputs later on in your chain, if you're not careful.
But, I've been watching a lot of TV- I saw the first two seasons of Sherlock and yes, it's really good. I also am finally watching Dexter, and you'll note there's no link. That's because I don't think it's worth supporting- it's too full of cheap tricks designed to manipulate the viewer, and while I'm not all that smart, I know i'm smarter than this show. I'll watch more because I've got friends who like it, but really, I think it's crap TV with "Skinemax" sensationalism.
I also have been checking out the Portico channel. It's got some worthwhile bits.
I watched a pretty great documentary called "Machete Maidens Unleashed" - it covers all the pop culture ground you'd expect for a doc about exploitation films, but it even exposes a fair amount of the ethics ( and ethical failings) of those exploitation films, not to mention the politics of them, as well.
That plus the usual, and yes, I've been busy.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

The Politics of Gear

I do understand that everything we do, say or think carries consequence. Really, I do. I understand that it matters if I drive or take the bus, and I understand that it matters if I buy my coffee at Starbucks, or my local coffee shop, and if that coffee is fair trade. I understand that carelessly using words like "bum" or "crazy" or "gay" can give license to various forms of prejudice, even if I don't mean it that way.
I don't think its possible to be aware of absolutely every ramification, however, so I'll admit I wasn't quite aware of all the issues surrounding buying guitar gear. First, there's the whole usual "green" thing. I was aware of that- some of the woods used coming from tropical locations, and endangered species, and being shipped great distances, yes, that's an issue. On top of that, there's the question of trade practices- is my distortion pedal made by sweatshop labour? Did some 8 year in Pakistan install the fretwire on my Samick guitar? ( No, I don't have a Samick, just citing a 'hypothetical')
Then, there are the consumer issues on this end- if I buy a "boutique" version of a Tubescreamer, am I being ripped off? Hey- yes, there are some folks out there who are taking cheap mass marketed equipment, and repackaging it, to appear like they made something they didn't. Likewise, even if they did wire it up themselves, are they doing good business, or are they being sneaky- an example being that there's boutique boost pedal out there that is definitely over-priced because the people who make it have deliberately created artificial scarcity to jack the price up. I mean the fine folks at Cheaper Pedals definitely have a few points. ( And I plan on writing more on the subject at a later date)
But, it even goes deeper than that- I recently came into some Danelectro pedals, as I think I mentioned- and I was confronted with this: The CEO evidently doesn't like gay folks. Now, I don't think my 20 bucks paid to friend  for two used pedals does very much, but there is that question of 'flying the flag'-somebody sees some Danelectro stuff in my rig and they could think that, at the very least, I don't care about equality. It could get more elaborate- while I personally think the "fab" line of pedals are hideous because they're too bulbous, I do like the retro aesthetics that Danelectro trades in. So, I'll probably try to get these two rehoused, but if they were different models I might not really want to- and I can see how, given my tastes for a kind of late 50's early 60's retro vibe, people might think it reflects a longing for days before Civil Rights and Feminism- something I'm sure is true for some- I think some folks think of those times as "Happy Days" precisely because they have a problem with the complexities that equality brings. I'm rendered into the same predicament as Andrew Eldritch- he once famously stated that Nazis had better fashion sense. I understand what he means. I think that Leave it to Beaver is messed up, politically- but Ricky Ricardo on I Love Lucy looked pretty suave. I think there is some separation from aesthetics and ethics, but it pays to be aware that you might not be projecting exactly the image you intend.
So, no, I don't have the politics of gear exactly all worked out, but it is worth pondering.

Sage Francis- Sick to D(EAT)H Mixtape

I'm not a Hip Hop head. No surprise there, but I am aware of hip hop in a general fashion, except in some rare cases. So, I lost track (heh) of Sage Francis awhile back- around "A Healthy Distrust", until a friend played me a track from this new mixtape- Blue  which is a stunning downtempo trip hop song that, though meant to be a talk about Gulf War veterans, is a brilliant deconstruction of the American male psyche, and honestly makes me well up everytime I hear it. So, I went to Strangefamous and bought it. A great way to spend 10 bucks, let me tell you.
I'm still not a hip hop head, but this is some great music.

Ringo Deathstarr- God's Dream

Ringo Deathstarr are different for a "shoegazer" band, in that I think they have connected back to the same well of inspiration that launched bands like My Bloody Valentine, Swervedriver and Ride, as opposed to simply being inspired by those bands. They are harder, more American, more Rocknroll than any of those bands, and  more like a psychedelic punk band, with a heavy Eno-esque love of ambient textures than a straight "shoegazer" band, even if that means the guitars end up sounding like My Bloody Valentine on "Isn't Anything". The close male female harmonies are, of course, going to recall MBV for the majority of listeners, and I can hear that, but I hear 1970 - Youngbloods, Original Caste, and above all the New Seekers- just as much. What I'm saying is that they belong more with Redd Kross, Sonic Youth, and The Butthole Surfers than they do with Asobi Seksu. Geddit?
So, it makes sense that Adam Franklin and Jeff Shroeder would show up- Ringo Deathstarr are trying to set themselves up as peers and equivalents to the late 1980's "Shoegazer/alt nation" scene as opposed to a carbon copy of that scene.
Anyway, all this is semantics- let's talk about the tunes!
For once the song titles are actually pretty descriptive, once you crack the code- first song, for example is "Bong Load"- on one level a single entendre for smoking drugs. But take it apart- A bong captures and distributes smoke, while a load is a weight- so this is something heavy made airy, made like smoke. This method works throughout. Nowhere moreso than with the lead track "Flower Power" which seesaws between blasts of uptempo noise, and pretty little bits of glissando. Geddit? Flower power? This mix of light and dark- Distortion and melody, Male and female voices, dichotomies in the titles, etc is what Ringo Deathstarr are all about musically. If you get the 9 track Japanese version ( which I did, which is why it took about 10 days to get to me) they get the balance perfectly. Really good, really innovative while at the same time really cheesy and really retrograde. Ain't that what we want from Rock music?