Saturday, May 31, 2014

Just a few Photos

So, I saw Jawbox last night. Ok, not really- I saw BELLS≥ and Channels- which meant that J Robbins, and Zach Barocas were on the same stage, which is about as close as you'll get. It was great. Here's photos:

The Austerity Program- Beyond Calculation

Let me get this out of the way- Yes, I can hear the Steve Albini influence. I hear more Big Black than Shellac, though, so, let's say it's true- let's say that the Austerity Program is totally copping Steve Albini's sound. So? Steve isn't doing Big Black sounds these days. No one is. No one has the sheer bloody-minded perfectionist attitude about being obnoxious that he had. So, if they wanted to be a Big Black cover band, I'd say "Bravo!". I can think of few more worthwhile subjects of a tribute.
But, the truth is that they are far, far more than that.
Let me also get another thing clear- this is the finest slab of noise rock I've heard all year, and as a friend put it- this record "kills". Get it, as soon as you are able. If you like noise rock, you will have a new favorite.
So, now, let me talk about The Austerity Program. They do incredibly precise noise rock with a heavy Steve Albini influence, but I also hear everything from Minnesota's Arcwelder to some Duane Denison guitar to even some John Carpenter . In other words, they are big on precision, repetition,  formula, theme and variation, and loudness. They, thankfully, have dispensed with song titles, and yes, I say thankfully. If you've been in a band, you know that songs rarely are organized around the title. In rehearsal they are " That fast one" or "That one that switches tempo on the second verse" or better still " That one you were playing yesterday". After that, on the setlist taped to the stage, they'll get a one word descriptor that may or may not include the "official title"- like for my band's  cover of "Ghost Riders in the Sky" which we ended on a coda to incorporate a bit of Suicide's "Ghost Rider" we just put "Ghost" on the setlist. I don't know that we ever said the actual name of anything. A song called " Burnt to a Crisp" just got called "Crispy", etc, etc. So it's so much more honest and clear to me to just use numbers- and if I ever am in a band, again, I will cop this, most certainly. It's that efficiency in practice that makes something as messy as "noise" palatable. ( Ever notice that? No matter how random the visual is, a sound is more enveloping, with nothing to really fix it in place. So, discipline, formula, and theory is much more necessary to organize sound and put it to use, artistic or otherwise)
Justin also clearly plays guitar like a painter uses a brush or knife- he's applying blocks of sound towards an idea, not trying to cop a lick, while Thad plays bass like a combination of a Punk and a Metalhead- it's got the treble cranked for note definition, but it's overdriven right up to the point of fuzz, sometimes going into fuzz bass territory, but usually staying just this side of that kind of distortion. The resulting sounds are like a tank's tread- massive and crushing, but with a cutting precision that makes it "fit" into patterns that organize the sound to have propulsion, and heft. It's noise, but not chaos. Sure, there's a drum machine, but we're well past that: it's manipulated, and structured more like samples than some kind of conveyor belt robo-rhythm. No, it's a cool-headed intention that keeps the beast on track.
They have that mix of "cool" and "hot" down pat, mind you. You'll have a distorted instrument ( read "hot") playing a five note figure in a minor key ( read "cool") with lyrics that are alternately shouted ( read "hot") and sung ( read "cool") and spoken ( read cold- nyuk, nyuk, nyuk)
Since I've mentioned the lyrics-they do the "observational" lyrical thing, of describing the screwed up situations people get into, but there's a moral center of things here. I can't quite put my finger on where that moral center is, but it's definitely not the nihilist thing this kind of music so often gets into.
Yes, I know that they're from New York. I bet if they had better offers for day jobs in the midwest they'd fit in better there. The sound is somewhere midway between Chicago and Minneapolis, though. If they up and moved to Madison, or La Crosse, I would think that made sense. Musically, they belong halfway between Touch and Go and AmRep. If that's not an endorsement, I don't think you're reading the right blog, please go back to Pitchfork, and leave me alone.
So far, this probably reads pretty dry, right? That's the thing, right there- that "dryness" is exactly what gives enough structure to the noise that it rocks. Giant reverberating walls of feedback might seem like a lark, but they don't rock. Noise demands structure.
So, there's the other part- the noise part- as I type this, I'm wearing a "Noisemaker Effects" T shirt - that's definitely part of the credo, as well- use delays set on short repeats to make it metallic, redonkulously overamped, in the red guitars, even a pitchshifter set on "squeal"- the instruments are pushed so hard that melody is sometimes only implied, and other times, abandoned. I cannot play this music quietly. It needs to be loud enough to cause structural damage- and there's austerity for you- structures and strictures that are destructive.
This rocks so very, very hard. It's like magnets, bitch. It's a dronestrike of rock that might just violate the UN Charters. Ted Nugent fears this much firepower. This is like a diamond- structurally so sound, comprised of such a tightly compacted group of already hard elements that it's the definition of rock.

Stressed out over the Bounty

Holy Cow, I've got a lot to talk about. I'm going to try to give each one their own post, though. That means skipping some stuff, and glossing over some of the finer details. I don't think there's enough of a readership that any of this matters, but I carry at least that much respect that I'll say it when I'm not doing full justice.
So, because it's most easily skipped: I've been listening to the Helms Alee/ Young Widows split. Simultaneously Sludgey and twangy I can think of no better pairing than these two.  If not for vocal differences, I'd think it was an only very slightly shuffled version of the same band. That's not to dismiss either band's talent, mind you. For post-hardcore sludge rock ( as opposed to sludge metal) there's few even close. Helms Alee starts things off with a fuzzy retro blast that reminds me of Jehu, then goes into a complex bit of deconstructionist rock, all arpeggios and suspended chords, then goes into Calexio/ shoegaze territory with an echoey twangfest that soothes me until it explodes in Melvins styled pure rock fury.
Which leads us into the monstrous math sludge of Young Widows. Now, I do dig them, a lot, but I never write about them because I feel stymied. Their thing is so tightly constructed so as to be near impenetrable. Imagine if Low had shredder credentials, but also a Jawbox fixation, then, decided they wanted to do post rock minus the world music pretensions.  Starting to see what I mean? How the hell am I supposed to untangle that? For example, the second track they have here sounds like early Misfits, meets Savory-era Jawbox, until it goes off on a Tom Verlaine styled solo, and the delay pedals kick in, giving an almost surfy sheen, then, you can start to pick out the spanish guitar inspired riff underpinning the main melodic line. What am I supposed to do with that? Transcribe the sound of my jaw hitting the floor? Bar none, some of the most sublime music you'll ever hear.

Sunday, May 25, 2014


So, evidently, everyone must love Sherlock Holmes. I've seen all of the BBC's Sherlock series, and just completed season 2 of CBS' Elementary. Now, on the whole, Sherlock is a far superior series. The leads are about evenly matched, but going for entirely different aims. I prefer the BBC's "modern translation" attempt much more than CBS' "reimagination', and I think the aesthetic of Sherlock is much more stylish, and engaging. Plot-wise Sherlock hangs together extremely well, and tells a coherent story, whereas Elementary is just a mess. But, one thing Elementary has is a sly sense of humor, and I wonder how much of that is in the lead- Jonny Lee Miller. I really suspect he is playing Sherlock Holmes partially for laughs. Just as an entry point- consider how much his Sherlock resembles Rik Mayall's "Rik" character from the Young Ones- short messy spiky hair, dark sport coats with buttoned up oxford shirts, and dark jeans- all of which is a bit too tight. The abrupt gestures, the arch, almost camp London accent, the tendency to stutter when flustered- if Jonny didn't model him on Rik, someone most certainly did.  Armed with that, tell me that Rhys ifans isn't doing at least a little bit of Neil. Well, more precisely, he's doing Filthy Ralph , Nigel Planer's character opposite Rik Mayall in Filthy Rich and Catflap which really was just a continuation of the Young Ones mixed with Neil. Now, I could get snarky and talk about certain other actors on the show who should never be taken seriously, ever, but you know what would be great? If they did an episode revealing the Holmes father, and it was this guy.