Friday, July 29, 2005


Ozzfest was pretty great. I got there around 2 PM, just missing Mastodon (and missing Trivium and The Black Dahlia Murder by hours, which kinda pisses me off because TBDM's Miasma has been growing on me a lot - initially, it seemed like a disappointingly metalcore-ish follow-up to their death-metal's-future-is-now debut, Unhallowed, but the more I listen to it, the more I like it). I got to see As I Lay Dying (dull), Killswitch Engage (duller) and Rob Zombie (pretty good, and very funny.)

Zombie's between-song banter was almost more entertaining than his thumping disco-metal songs, but he ended his set brilliantly, probably inspired by the late-Seventies setting of his movie The Devil's Rejects: he played a medley of the James Gang's "Funk #49," White Zombie's "Thunder Kiss '65," and Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Sweet Home Alabama." (The band probably dug this part, as it was their only chance to play solos.)

As far as the main stage was concerned, Black Sabbath didn't play because Ozzy was sick, which was fine with me because I saw them last year and they probably would have done the exact same set, which would have sullied my 2004 memories. Plus, this meant an extra 20 minutes or so of Iron Maiden, and Maiden totally kicked ass live. The buddy I attended with had never seen them (it was my third time since 2003), and was blown away by Dickinson's energy and lungpower, not to mention the way the three guitarists and the bassist hugged the lip of the stage, really playing to the crowd, without ever missing a note.

Some of the other acts were really good (Mudvayne), and others were just acceptable (Shadows Fall, In Flames). Black Label Society's set was when I took my dinner break. Their music is nothing but a slightly heavier Alice In Chains, but their position in the metal scene is what pisses me off. Wylde gets on every Ozzfest bill because he's Ozzy's guitar player, and the crowd cheers for him (when I'm there) because he's from Jersey. He doesn't sell worth a shit, and would be second stage material, if that, without the nepotism. Grr.

In general, though, it was a very good show, despite the rain. I doubt I'll go back next year, unless they get Metallica to (like Maiden did this year) promise to play only songs from the first four albums. (Maiden could've gone with material all the way up to Powerslave, if it was up to me, but what the hell.)

In non-Ozzfest news, I wrote more about Mudvayne, Shadows Fall and In Flames here.

Oh yeah, you should go buy the new Stinking Lizaveta album. Instrumental heaviosity doesn't begin or end with Pelican, y'know.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005


Bought a bucketload of music software recently: Reason 3.0, ReCycle 2.1, and now Reaktor 5. (It seems to me that Reaktor and Reason are not, in fact, compatible, which means I'm gonna have to buy Digital Professional in order to make anything out of my Reaktor tracks, but I'll let that wait a year or two, until I've figured out Reaktor - it's incredibly dense and hardcore, especially compared with Reason, which is quick 'n' easy even for me.)

I don't know when I'm gonna have any real time to work with this stuff, but I've got some ideas, so why not? (Also kinda ironic that I'm taking an audio engineering class at the same time I'm learning to use music software that will keep me from ever having to enter a recording studio.)

Off to Ozzfest today. Predicted weather: 95 degrees, thunderstorm in the afternoon. Paaaaaar-tee!

Saturday, July 23, 2005


Simply one of the greatest crime movies ever, and one of Lee Marvin's all-time Top Five performances. (Some of the others: The Big Heat, The Big Red One, Death Hunt.) I wrote about it here a few years ago, when it was run on TCM. They sent me a real nice widescreen VHS screener. And now it's on DVD, and in recognition of that, Charles Taylor has written a fantastic piece in the New York Observer, making many points I had no idea about until I checked out the commentary track on the DVD. Read the essay, then go buy the movie. You won't be sorry.

Thursday, July 21, 2005


I don't get the appeal of Soilent Green, but maybe you do. They're on tour; go see 'em if you want.

Another reason not to trust movie critics: I watched Constantine last night, and it was really fuckin' good. Sure, Keanu Reeves is kinda wooden - whoever the guy is who played "Spike" on Buffy probably would have been a better, if non-marquee, choice for the part of a guy who drinks, chain-smokes and battles demons. But the rest of the cast is terrific. You got Rachel Weisz, a little weird-looking but also totally hot, playing twin psychics; Tilda Swinton as the Archangel Gabriel (she didn't do as much with the part as Christopher Walken did in the first two Prophecy movies, but she was very solid); and best of all, Peter Stormare as Satan. No kidding, it's worth a rental just to watch him for about five minutes at the end.

I don't know why the movie got the reviews it did. Maybe people were pissed at Keanu after the overpowering stench of the last two Matrix movies or something. But for a movie based on a comic book based on Bible bullshit, Constantine is very entertaining and relatively coherent. And it's extremely well filmed; it looks great. Check it out if you have a couple of hours to kill. You won't be sorry.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005


Spent about an hour on the phone yesterday with a few of the marketing people from Backbeat Books, who will be putting out Running The Voodoo Down: The Electric Music Of Miles Davis in October, not September as I originally thought.

They seem like nice folks, and I'll be glad to help them sell the living shit out of my book by whatever means I can. (Click here to preorder.)

But until it streets, I gotta focus on current work, which includes reviewing the new Bad Plus disc.

On first listen, I'm not loving it as much as I'm kinda shaking my head in genial bafflement. It's a piano-trio disc, with no guest vocalists or instrumentalists, so right away you're riding the bullet-train to Sameytown. But what really gets me about these guys is how influenced they sound by 70s radio-rock. The piano player, Ethan Iverson, sounds like he spent way more time listening to Billy Joel and Rick Wakeman than, say, Ahmad Jamal or Bill Evans. Basically, if Ben Folds would shut the fuck up for a minute, he'd be this guy. Is that "jazz"? Well, it's instrumental music featuring piano and upright bass and drums, so maybe. I mean, Matt Shipp's last few records have been beat-driven, slathered in electronic processing, and loop-like in structure, and there's no way I'd argue that they were anything but jazz albums. So there's room for the Bad Plus in the tent, for sure.

Bigger question: Would I listen to them if I wasn't being paid to do so? Probably not. Will this album excite or disappoint their fans? Can't say; haven't heard the last three discs. I'd bet longtime BP listeners will be pleased. There's certainly nothing here that's gonna shock or piss off the listener.

Sunday, July 10, 2005


My next project has materialized.

I'm going to be compiling and editing Marooned for Da Capo. Here's the story: back in 1979, Greil Marcus, the philosopher-king of American rock critics, put together an anthology called Stranded: Rock Goes To A Desert Island. Big-name critics of the time like Tom Carson, Lester Bangs and eighteen others wrote essays about the one album they'd take with them if they were stuck on a desert island. It was a really, really good book, and kinda set the standard for rockcrit think-pieces. But it was written in 1979, when punk was basically viewed as kinda over, just like disco/electronic dance music, and hip-hop hadn't even begun to take over the world. So, um, a lot's changed in the last quarter century, not only in music but in the world of music criticism, too. File-sharing and blogging (and online writing in general), the consolidation/attrition of the magazine market, the ever-shrinking feature word count, the increasing hubris of control-freak publicists and paranoid stars, among other things, have all contributed to making today's rockcrit world a very, very different place than the one into which Stranded was born. So I felt like a new version needed to be assembled, one that dealt with this new reality in the most direct possible way: by inviting younger writers to perform the same task their forebears had done.

Every writer in Marooned is under 40. (That's young, in the writing world.) I've met a bunch of them, and corresponded with others by e-mail. Many are specialists in genres that either were totally ignored or snubbed by the first wave of rock critics, or didn't exist at all back then. Many of them have blogs of their own, on which they explore their ideas in greater depth than they'll ever get to do in print. And all of them have interesting and unexpected things to say about music, and their place in culture and the world.

The roster:

Matt Ashare
Aaron Burgess
Jon Caramanica
Ian Christe
Kandia Crazy Horse
John Darnielle
Laina Dawes
Geeta Dayal
Sasha Frere-Jones
Jess Harvell
Chuck Klosterman
Michaelangelo Matos
Amy Phillips
Dave Queen
Ned Raggett
Simon Reynolds
Chris Ryan
Scott Seward
Derek Taylor
Douglas Wolk

Plus me, of course.
Oh, and Greil Marcus will be writing an introduction to it, because Da Capo is issuing it in tandem with a reprinted Stranded. So yeah, excitement.

Look for this thing in late 2006/early 2007.

Monday, July 04, 2005


I love the Fourth of July, because it allows me to bust out a garment my long-suffering wife will not tolerate any other day of the year. I speak, of course, of my Ted Nugent T-shirt (T.N.T.).

This marvelous item bears, on the front (the whole front - it's one of those all-over printing jobs normally reserved for tie-dyed Hendrix shirts and pro wrasslin' promo gear), the image of Terrible Ted in guitargasmic abandon, playing against the backdrop of a Patton-sized American flag. And on the back, and this is the really great part, in big red block capitals, it says 'ONE NATION UNDER TED.'

I bought it in early 2000 (January or February, I forget now), when I saw Il Nuge play at Irving Plaza in NYC. He was headlining for one night, off from opening that year's KISS "We're really goin' away this time (no, really)" tour. I took a skeptical buddy, more because I had a +1 than out of the need to proselytize for ol' Ted. I'd been trying for years to make this dude a fan, and it just wasn't gonna take.

Well, Ted rocked the walls down. Sure, there were some crazy bullshit rants in the middle - he was angry at Janet Reno for some reason - but he played every song I wanted to hear, and played them phenomenally well. It was a power trio setup, and his band was airtight and apocalyptically loud. And somewhere around the midpoint of the set, my buddy looked over at me and said, laughing a little, "You're not appreciating this on any kind of ironic level at all, are you?"

"No, I said. That's Ted Nugent up there. I'm 14 years old right now, and I am rocking the fuck out." And I was.

(This isn't the exact same shirt; mine's even better.)

Happy Fourth of July.

Sunday, July 03, 2005


Pretty basic title, I know. But here's the thing: I was having a discussion with someone yesterday during which I was describing my alienation from music. It was sparked by the Live8 concert, where out of every act they booked that I was aware of, there were only two I actually liked: Coldplay and Björk. (Okay, I have some residual affection for Pink Floyd left over from junior high, but I'm talking now about current acts.)

I just have no place in my day for the music of U2, Madonna, Elton John, Paul McCartney, the Dave Matthews Band, Destiny's Child...pretty much any million-selling contemporary pop/rock act. Don't hate 'em, because hating 'em is like hating a skyscraper. It exists, and your feelings mean nothing to it. But when I bother to think about the issue at all, I find their popularity a little baffling, and then I shake my head and keep on moving. I don't waste my time writing about how much I don't like them, because what does it solve? Space and time are at a premium...might as well talk about the things I do like. I've said this before, in other places.

But it makes me feel a little alienated from American culture to not like, say, U2 or Bruce Springsteen. If ten million people like something, and I don't, am I a weirdo? (Well, yes, of course I'm a weirdo. That's long established. But you see what I mean.)

What's more, I get the same alienated feeling from stuff that's not hugely popular, but that is the subject of music-blogger/rockcrit group affection. Examples: Dizzee Rascal last year, M.I.A. this year. Other examples: Amerie, R. Kelly. (Yes, I noticed that all my examples were music by black artists. It's not something that worries me - why don't I like more music by black people? - because I like lots of music by black people, from David S. Ware to God Forbid. So let's move on to what actually does concern me.) Lots of bloggers, and posters on message boards I frequent, love these acts. Talk 'em up endlessly. But when I try to listen to 'em, I hear nothing. (Okay, Dizzee I liked a little bit, for awhile. Bought both albums, dug one or two songs on each. The only one that sticks in my head right now is "Stand Up Tall," from Showtime. But I know at one point or another I liked a song or two on Boy In Da Corner, too. Most of it was too slow, but some was all right. Moving on again.) This makes me feel like, again, I'm the weirdo, I'm the one who's "wrong."

This led the person to whom I was talking to conclude that maybe my passion for music was waning, and that maybe I should stop writing about it before I started taking jobs just for the paycheck, and feeling like a whore.

But that's not what's going on. I still love lots and lots of records - every day I hear something that makes me want to write about it for someone else to discover and go buy it. It's just that I'm allowing myself to be confused by others' opinions - I'm granting their tastes more weight than they probably grant mine. (Because that's the big question that all writers wrestle with at some point, I think - am I doing my job? How effectively am I convincing people that my passion for [Album/Artist Here] is not only genuine, but to be trusted? Maybe it's unidirectional, in my case - maybe I'm a gullible fuck who can be swayed by a review, but my own reviews aren't doing anything for anybody. I honestly don't know, because nobody ever tells me "Hey, I bought that record you wrote about, and you were right, it's great.") So what I need to do, it seems, is stop giving a fuck what other people think, and just keep talking about the music I like, wherever some editor will make space for me to do so.

But because my traitorous brain can't be trusted, that means I might have to stop reading the work of fellow writers I like and enjoy. So, um, that kinda sucks.

Anyway, all that whining and navel-gazing was the lead-in to a short list of Good Music. Check these records out, and have your brain warped in all the best ways. Really. You can trust me.

Meshuggah, I: Lots of people probably already have this. I came late to the party, having just gotten it last night. It is, as someone else told me, a little better/more impressive than its follow-up, the full-length Catch Thirty-Thr33, but both albums sound like they were not made by human beings. Meshuggah are the Autechre of death metal. They're alienating, a little scary, and fucking brilliant. I and Orthrelm's OV are serious arguments for metal as the next avant-garde.

Nortec Collective, Tijuana Sessions Vol. 3: It's actually only their second disc, I think. Mexican music mixed with a little techno and a lot of digital dub. Imagine Leftfield as a Tejano nightclub band, and you've pretty much got it. If I drank, this is what I'd listen to while I was drinking in the summer sun.

Riddle Of Steel, Got This Feelin': These guys kinda remind me of Brant Bjork, the drummer from Fu Manchu (and formerly of Kyuss), whose album Brant Bjork & The Operators mixed New Wave and stoner rock in totally unexpected and brilliant ways. Got This Feelin' has that same big-riffs-meets-perky-melodies thing; if you want an even earlier reference, think Joe Walsh's "In The City," from the soundtrack to The Warriors.

Schoolyard Heroes, Fantastic Wounds. This album should be totally intolerable. It's spazzy, oh-so-slightly-heavy art-punk, with a girl singer who combines the worst traits of Kathleen Hanna and Gwen Stefani. But somehow, I keep coming back to it.

Jaguares, Cronicas De Un Laberinto: Adrian Belew's guitar has never sounded good to me until now. He's the special guest on this, which is much more arty and weird than Jaguares' last studio album, while still sounding ready to rock Mexican soccer stadiums. Lots of people remember Caifanes too fondly to really embrace Jaguares (which is fronted by Saul Hernandez, former Caifanes leader). Not me. These guys kick ass, even if the lyrics don't make sense in any language.

All right, that's five things I really like. I feel a little better now. If you go listen to these five records, maybe you'll feel good too. Inform me of your results, won't you?