Saturday, May 24, 2014

Powerman 5000- Builders of the Future

In a way, you have to pity Spider One, Michael Cummings.  His brother is definitely a genius. Michael is slightly more questionable as a genius, but his reach is further- Rock star, TV director, recording mogul, TV Host, graphic design- he's ambitious. But, he hasn't had half the success of his brother, Rob. On top of that, what he does do is easily misunderstood. He's not meaning to be a science fiction equivalent of his brother's horror theme. He means to be grounded in the here and now, and his over-arching metaphor is more about pop culture than imagined outcomes- if it reads as science fiction, it's because his actual targets are obsessed with science fiction metaphors- he's talking about the Americans trying to be Otaku . The music is meant to be a hybrid between EDM and Hard Rock, but can come across as Nu Metal Rap Rock because of his vocal style.
These problems are mostly of his own design, so  I don't pity him. Instead, I look at it as an interesting proposal- he would be a social critic and rebel, instead he acts as a voice in a mob. He's got a brain, and he's creative, but, as his career has advanced he's had to modify his vision to maintain an audience. You dance with the Devil-Bros and sooner or later, they'll call the tune. His problem boils down to appealing to the wrong crowd.
So, those are a lot of caveats- but I still find enjoyment in this. It's football chants and frat boy songs, with a slightly subversive undercurrent. It's like the movie Fight Club- not a single idea was new, and virtually everything was dumbed down- but it made the intellectual and philosophical points more fun, and more palatable for the lumpen proles. So, much like Powerman 5000, it rightfully is a favorite with those who should know better.
There's no point in analyzing the songs- like I said, they're football chants- but some work better than others- I like "Invade Destroy Repeat" "How to be Human" and "I can't F***ing Hear You" but that's probably just me.

Friday, May 23, 2014

7 Seconds- Leave a Light On

I have long maintained that hardcore punk rock is essentially an exercise in formalism. I don't usually phrase it that way, but the thought is there- the tag "hardcore" implies a rigid adherence to something, right? As you might recall, part of the appeal of punk rock, in general, is in a deconstruction of pop song formats- the idea that anybody can play three chords. Now, the absolute best of hardcore defied that expectation, to be sure, bands like Articles of Faith, Die Kreuzen, and The Refused would be hard to pin down to any formula, but there is an exemplary in "playing to the rules", and I can think of none finer than 7 Seconds. Even when they tried to experiment, they experimented by playing yet more pop rock. This might seem like some kind of ironic slam on them, but I assure you, this is sincere praise. From Youth Brigade to Bullet Treatment, super tightly structured hardcore punk rock is one of my favorite things in life. It even informs my tastes in more "avant" musical genres- for example, I can't stand Noise rock that doesn't have precise structure at its core- I'm not a big fan of free form improvisation, nor do I like "ambient" music types- I do believe that music should at least partially be about imposing will, intellect and yes, structure over expression.
So, bringing it back to 7 Seconds, a difficulty in imposing strict formalism to relatively simple formats, like pop music ( or Punk rock, if you are offended by the term "pop") is that the discipline required to keep coming up with variations that sound fresh goes up exponentially upon each completed song.How do you keep from turning into a joke I heard about Kiss, then AC/DC then the Ramones ; "One great riff, seven great Albums"? I really think this degree of difficulty killed off many truly great bands- how often do you hear bands say "Well, we felt we'd said all we had to say"? What  I hear in that statement is "We just ran out of ways to approach the problem of sticking to our self-imposed format"- and there's no shame in that. But, here's the phenomena of 7 Seconds- they're still going, sticking to that 120 BPM, guitar, drum, bass, voice, big chorus, short fast song format, and still coming up with new wrinkles. That degree of discipline, and creativity needs to celebrated. I cannot think of anyone else who proves so consistently the sturdiness of the Punk Rock Formula. On top of that, they add the additional rigor of keeping a positive lyrical stance- no blues allowed. Every song on here is honest, open, positive, and affirming.  If you don't see the achievement in this, I would challenge you to re-examine your criteria. I know I couldn't do it. No way!  I would have repeated myself, or gone cynical and bitter, or gone off the formula a long, long time ago. On top of that, I don't think Kevin has ever been in better voice. Seriously, even Peter Murphy is starting to lose his voice, but Kevin has an even purer, more sweet tenor going that when 7 Seconds started. Yes, they have slowed on a few tracks, but I don't count anything on here as below 120 BPM, which still places all these songs as "fast" in my book. Again, for guys in their 50's, that's incredible. I mean, Kevin and I bonded a few years back over mutual gallbladder problems- think about that- what could be more middle aged than that- yet, here 7 Seconds are, fresh as ever, playing loud, fast hardcore, like the 1990's and 2000's haven't come and gone- "Young until I Die" wasn't an idle boast. So, am I somehow ashamed, or ironic, or apologetic about still loving Hardcore Punk Rock, as played by 7 Seconds? Absolutely not. I'm here to tell you not to sleep on this, because we will not likely see their ilk again. I'm telling you, these guys should have a monument....

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Peter Murphy Lion

Well, apart from drug busts, and nostalgia trips, what exactly is our man Peter Murphy good for, these days?
Well, for one, I use his name for comedy routines- I substitute "Peter Murphy" for "Charlie Murphy" and "Nick Cave" for "Rick James" to do riffs based upon Charlie Murphy's True Hollywood stories. But, that's not to say that I have no respect for him as an Artist, I just think his image is a bit too puffed up and melodramatic. So, believe it or not, his new LP is a fairly potent set of synth-infused post punk more in line with Killing Joke, than his somewhat fey mid 1990's solo work. The opening single, Hang Up, is minus only Geordie's apocalyptic guitar for being some kind of out-take from Killing Joke's Pandaemonium LP. Then, again, that makes sense, as Youth produced it. Yes, Murphy's voice has aged away from his baritone croon, but, much like Jaz, the weathering helps to convey passion. From there Tracks like "Eliza" and "I am my own Name" rock out in a Bowie-esque fashion, with tastes of fiery goth ( Sisters of Mercy style, with hints of industrial noise) and spooky experimentations  (ghosts of the Walker Brothers and Roxy Music) float through more than one moment on the LP, as on "Loctaine",  "Compression"  and "The Ghost of Shokan Lake" . How's this- "Low Tar Stars" is a thumping EDM-esque song that wouldn't have been out of place on Bowie's "Earthling". Only "Rose" and "Lion" really give in to sub Bowie histrionics. For Peter Murphy, that's not bad. So, yes, it's actually a fairly vital LP.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

So, I saw "The Punk Singer"

I am just fine with being the bad guy. I have dealt with that for forever, so don't think I'm saying this for effect, but I don't really care for Bikini Kill. I think Kathleen Hanna has flashes of brilliance, but mostly her ignorance, and ego get in the way of her actually being brilliant.  So, why I am watching a movie about her? Well, mostly for ancillary reasons- I like people who like her, and I dig a bunch of the aesthetics that people around her use. Is there a small amount of hate-watching? I suppose, but it's more a wish- I wish she'd confront herself, the way she confronts everything around her. I know so many people like her, and that's my frustration with them as well.  I wish I could say that this movie fully does that- and the last third goes a long way towards that. It's something most of us learn much earlier on- that we can be wrong, that we can lie to ourselves, that our certainty can be misplaced. That she allowed the cameras to roll was brave, and probably more honest than she ever was in her bands. But, then, it all gets taken away- she goes off on a rant about how her truth gets taken away because she's a woman. So, we're right back to her selling that most American of commodities: Confidence. I wonder if she'll ever understand that she never had an idea that wasn't expressed better by someone else before her? Yeah, I know, but it's true- 90% of her thing was done by Alice Bag, and the other 10% by the Slits.. Before you say I'm sexist- consider that I said that all the way back in 1996, alongside the remark that Fugazi had done nothing that Gang of Four, the Pop Group, The Clash, and Killing Joke hadn't done already. But, see, ever since Ronald Reagan, that's what Americans seem to do, intellectually, and politically- recycle ideas, but dress them up in a bit more flash, and a whole lot more confidence. It sometimes frustrates me so much that I want to tell people " shut up and look pretty, because that's what you're best at". Of course, I respect folks more than that might imply, and there are people out there who trade in better ideas, and more realized Art, but I get so frustrated when an Ian Mackaye gets the kudos that really belong to Andy Gill, or Kathleen Hanna gets the praise that belongs to Alice Bag, or people tell me how Bad Religion invented pop punk, or  how "revolutionary" Wilco was- when so much of this stuff is just recycled, with a layer of pretty shine.
So, is it a good documentary? Nope, it's a puff piece, that's little better than a People magazine article. Is it worth seeing? Maybe, if you turn the sound off, because most of these folks have great style- they all look totally cool- but if you really listen to what they have to say, you'll feel more stupid on the other end of it, for having listened.