Tuesday, May 30, 2006

MY EARS! MY EARS!

What my iPod threw at me on the (delayed and slow-moving) train into NYC today:

ZZ Top, "Mexican Blackbird"
Cannibal Corpse, "The Discipline Of Revenge"
Maceo and the Macks, "Soul Power '74"
Roky Erickson, "Burn The Flames"
George Thorogood and the Destroyers, "I'll Change My Style"
Talking Heads, "Swamp [Live]"
Ted Nugent, "Street Rats"
Baxendale, "I Built This City (Michael Mayer Mix)"
Unsane, "Organ Donor"
Megadeth, "Devils Island"
Joe Henderson, "Free Wheelin'"
James Brown, "Honky Tonk [Part 1]"
Groundhogs, "Split Pt. 4 [Live]"
Chemical Brothers, "Out Of Control"
Burnt Sugar, "Other Arrangements Remix"

At present, I'm listening to the Montreal-based technical death metal band Neuraxis' Trilateral Progression, because I saw them live last night and they completely ate my brain. I bought this and the Truth/Imagery/Passage 2CD set, which compiles their three earlier albums (Truth Beyond..., Imagery and Passage Into Forlorn), after watching them blast the walls of BB Kings down for a half hour. I also picked up A Celebration Of Guilt by Arsis, who are equally awe-inspiring, but kinda static live. ALl these discs are on Willowtip, a label I strongly advise investigating post-haste.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

IT WAS FUN WHILE IT LASTED

It's been my experience that when a musical group or performer gets profiled in the New York Times Magazine, it's all over for them, creatively speaking. So it is with a heavy heart that I post this link to a lengthy profile of the two guys from Sunn O))) (it also features a side trip to Tokyo - must be nice to have the Times' travel budget! - to hang out with Boris). I've spoken to Stephen O'Malley and Greg Anderson a few times over the years, both in an official capacity as hack and in a general hey-how's-it-going way at gigs. I think they come off pretty well in the piece, despite the writer's cack-handed attempts at wit ("would a metal band really do this?" "would a metal band really do that?" "your label's name means Satan, right?"). Said writer seems to genuinely get what these guys are about, even if he's dumbing it down a little for the Times readership. But the question is, why would the Times readership give a flying fuck about Sunn O)))? A certain percentage of them are already aware - they're at the gigs, they're buying the records. But are their parents, the ones who read the Sunday magazine, gonna show up at Avalon for the Sunn/Boris show this week? I have my doubts. So this is pointless cultural piggybacking. The people likely to get into Sunn O))) are already reading about them in Arthur and The Wire and on Pitchfork. Sure, it's probably nice, from Anderson and O'Malley's angle, to have their backs patted by the Newspaper of Record. "Good job with your weird noise thing, guys. Keep at it, you could really get somewhere." But as functional journalism, it's a) late to the party, b) unnecessary, and c) still condescending, despite obvious efforts not to be. Certain institutional biases - against Democratic politicians, against metal - simply will not be overcome.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

SHUFFLING INTO THE CITY

What I heard on my (approx. 55 min.) morning commute today:

Yakuza, "Vergasso" (Way Of The Dead)
The Black Dahlia Murder, "Flies" (Miasma)
Thelonious Monk, "April In Paris" (Monk.)
AC/DC, "Sin City" (Powerage)
Black Sabbath, "Under The Sun/Every Day Comes And Goes" (Black Sabbath Vol. 4)
Venom, "Bursting Out" (B-side of "Die Hard" single)
Ted Nugent, "Live It Up" (The Ultimate Ted Nugent)
Minor Threat, "Out Of Step" (Complete Discography)
Dexter Gordon, "The Backbone" (A Swingin' Affair)
Jimi Hendrix, "Born Under A Bad Sign" (Blues)
North Star (Feat. The RZA), "4 Sho Sho" (Ghost Dog: The Way Of The Samurai)

Not a bad way to start the day, all things considered.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

SCARY MOVIES

Last night I sold a bunch of used CDs at Kim's on St. Marks Place. For every 20 CDs you sell, they give you (in addition to the cash) a coupon for a free DVD. I had two such coupons left over from my previous visit, so upstairs I went, and after much searching, I wound up with two of my favorite horror movies, Kathryn Bigelow's Near Dark and John Carpenter's Prince of Darkness. I almost grabbed Larry Clark's Bully, but didn't, so I've got one coupon left for future use.

I saw Near Dark in its theatrical run, when I was 14. My dad took my brother and me to a theater in Paterson, NJ where it and PoD were both playing, but we weren't there for either of those. I was much too stupid for that. No, I wanted to see Surf Nazis Must Die!, and this rat-trap in Paterson was the only place in NJ showing it. So we went. The theater was a complete dump, but it had one thing going for it. It was showing five movies, all in the same theater; you could walk in for the movie you wanted to see, and hang out for as many of the others as you felt like, as they rolled by in sequence. So we watched Surf Nazis Must Die!, and Near Dark, but left just before Prince of Darkness started.

I probably don't need to explain the godlike awesomeness of Near Dark to anybody reading this. By now, the movie's rep is thoroughly secure; it's the vampire movie for those who wish vampires were a little less romantic and a lot more badass. Well, in its initial theatrical run, there was just nothing like it on earth, especially for a 14-year-old nerd kid with punk rock and metal already coursing through his veins. Shit, when the Cramps' version of "Fever" starts on the jukebox near the end of the infamous barroom-slaughter scene, I about had a heart attack - this was the coolest movie ever. I've loved it since, possibly all the more since I stumbled across it with no anticipation or preconceptions. It was like finding a diamond in the sewer. The DVD is an Anchor Bay edition, so it's a double with a documentary featuring cast interviews (what ever happened to Name Here, the kid who played Homer?), a (mercifully) deleted scene, etc., etc. Well worth owning.

Earlier this year, I was in a mood for John Carpenter but didn't feel like revisiting any of the ones I'd already seen multiple times, like The Thing or Vampires. So I got PoD from Netflix. I say in all seriousness, this is the one John Carpenter movie I found genuinely frightening. It's not one of his best-regarded movies, so I'll run it down: a weird glowing canister/vault thing is found in the basement of an abandoned church. A group of grad students and some religious types come in to investigate it. It starts to leak, and all of a sudden the local homeless types begin forming some kind of bonus army of the damned outside the place. The people inside the church, meanwhile, start turning on each other and zombifying. Things go real bad, real fast. I think Carpenter's at his best working with enclosed storylines: you're here in this place, bad shit is happening, you've got to either preserve your sanctuary or escape. This is the plot of Assault On Precinct 13 and The Thing and PoD (and, of course, Halloween), and I think they're his best movies. It's hard to say what, exactly, creeps my flesh about PoD - the violence is mostly average-intensity, by 80s standards, and the special effects (the canister itself aside) are about as good as could be expected, but no more. Plus, it's about Satan, and I'm not exactly the most religious guy in the world. Somehow, though, Carpenter manages to make the subject matter and the events really, no-foolin' frightening. This one's a keeper. Check it out if you never have, revisit it if it's lost its grip on you over time. (Trivia: the "Transmission" tracks from DJ Shadow's Endtroducing..... are sampled sections from PoD.)

Sunday, May 21, 2006

ANAAL NATHRAKH

ANAAL NATHRAKH
The Codex Necro
When Fire Rains Down From The Sky, Mankind Will Reap As It Has Sown

Earache

Regular readers of this site know I value sonic aggression higher than most folks. Harder faster louder more – that’s my credo; always has been. Well, Anaal Nathrakh’s The Codex Necro is one of the nastiest albums in the history of metal. For sheer noise value, it feeds everything else I’ve ever heard in the black metal genre into a shredder, cackling and vomiting as the shards of lesser CDs split and crunch. Originally released on the tiny Mordgrimm label in 2000, it’s now received its first U.S. issue on Earache, accompanied by the equally import-only When Fire Rains Down From The Sky, Mankind Will Reap As It Has Sown EP from 2002. Both are justified by the addition of extra tracks – four from a 2003 Peel Session on Codex, three from the BBC Rock Show circa 2005 on Fire.

It’s hard to do Anaal Nathrakh justice with words on paper, or on a screen. In every genre, there are only a few acts that genuinely live up to the rhetoric. Lots of black metal acts stamp their feet, brandish their swords, paint their faces up, and insist they’re the evilest thing that’s ever been. And a few come close to being genuinely frightening. On their second album Terror Propaganda, Sweden’s Craft seemed really onto something, their guitars buzzing and crackling like an endlessly frying circuit, the vocals an unhinged, lupine howl. Denmark’s Nortt goes in the opposite direction, conjuring a pervasive melancholy with ultra-reverbed, liquid piano atop the usual hiss and fuzz. But the two Brits in Anaal Nathrakh (great name, by the way) have chosen a path all their own. First of all, no face paint. Finally revealed inside the booklet of their latest release, Domine Non Es Dignus (Season Of Mist), they look like nerds – the vocalist in particular seems likely to turn into Robert Fripp when he grows up. No photos of misty forests or distant castles, either. Like the music, the artwork is sheer nastiness, images that wouldn’t be out of place in Hostel or Wolf Creek or another of the recent mini-wave of “torture porn” movies. But again, the music justifies the packaging.

The Codex Necro is an astonishingly well-mixed record, considering that the primary goal seems to be coming up with the most fucked sound imaginable, then pushing it through an array of distortion devices you’d need eight legs to operate in a live context. The vocalist shrieks like a malfunctioning subway PA. The drums are programmed, set for Agoraphobic Nosebleed/Ministry-style machine-gunning of the eardrums. There’s guitar, but again, it’s so distorted it could be a keyboard, or a belt-sander, or pretty much anything at all. There are probably synths, too. Layers upon layers of sound, all roaring and pushed right to the brink of red, without ever toppling over into mere noise. Though comparisons to Merzbow wouldn’t entirely be out of order, because like Akita, these two guys know exactly what they’re doing. They’re in exquisite control of their seemingly self-destructing machinery at all times.

I must admit, though, that Codex is, to date, a singular achievement. The album’s sheer sonic density and ferocity are not equaled on the six-song Fire EP (though there are some impressively abusive moments), or on the recent Domine. In fact, Domine represents a retreat of sorts, as songs like “The Oblivion Gene” feature nearly intelligible, human-sounding vocals and guitars that sound like guitars. Disappointing, to say the least. The live-on-radio tracks are just okay, too - despite the presence of Napalm Death bassist Shane Embury, they can't quite capture the blind hatred and world-destroying washes of distortion that are the hallmarks of the duo's studio output. Fans of extreme noise terror can only wait and hope that the Nathrakh boys recover their inhumanity, crawling back into whatever dank and unlit basement spawned their debut, for the recording of their next opus.

(Cross-posted at Bagatellen.com.)

Monday, May 15, 2006

LED KELLYSON

Here: a cool little video clip that puts Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song" to even better use than the Viking Kittens did.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

MORE IN SORROW THAN IN ANGER, PT. 653

An essay in the London Times by someone named Clive Davis brings the shocking news that rap is boring.

It’s a clumsy piece, full of half-thoughts and clich├ęs.

“I did my share of listening to Grandmaster Flash and Public Enemy a couple of decades ago, and that was enough, thank you. If my two teenaged sons adore Kanye West, well, I can leave them to it, safe in the knowledge that I spent the first dozen years of their lives inoculating them with Ray Charles records. That should enable them to work out that I Gotta Woman (sic) is a better record than Gold Digger, but if not, well, there’s only so much a parent can do.

“I thought rap had run out of steam when I was 23, yet I never grow tired of discovering new musicians from the realm of world music or — less often, admittedly — jazz. I love Motown and blues too.”

“The ultimate irony is that the biggest market for in-your-face rap is not the dispossessed ghetto youth. The real money is made in the white suburbs, where teens who live in the most cosseted environment in the history of mankind are able to live out fantasies of being the roughest, toughest guy in the ’hood.”

Some tips for writers looking to castigate hip-hop:

1. Stop talking about the other kinds of Negro music you like. No matter how many Ray Charles albums you have, criticizing Kanye West makes you an old fart, and possibly a racist, in the eyes of the internerds. So just dive in headfirst and stop caveat-ing about.
2. Everybody knows most rap records are bought by white people. The way the U.S. and U.K. populations break down by race, it couldn’t possibly be any other way. Nobody can sell 10 million records without being bought primarily by white people.
3. And speaking of that, stop with the “I didn’t leave hip-hop, hip-hop left me” stuff. You liked Public Enemy? So did lots of white kids – the older brothers of the ones who like 50 Cent today, and in some really tragic, old-man-at-the-party cases, the same ones. So if that’s a shocking and tragic irony now, what was it back when you were rockin’ Nation Of Millions?

It’s like this: yes, most hip-hop sucks. And yes, it’s minstrelsy. Just fucking say that and be done with it. Stanley Crouch has that kind of balls, where are yours?

Maybe it’s time for a moratorium on sweeping generalizations. No matter how true it is that, say, 85 percent plus of rap records are knuckle-walking minstrel-show horseshit, there are still a few good ones that can be slapped, like a wet fish or a white glove, across the face of those who attempt criticism of the genre as a whole. What’s called for, really, is a steady documentation of the shittiness of rap. Some critic who’s willing to review the moronic look-at-my-watch-and-chain-and-teeth records week in and week out, letting loose John Simon-esque fire-hoses of vitriol upon them, but always discussing the records’ musical failings, not how they fail to uplift the black race or whatever. This would make said critic’s praise for the few good records actually mean something. Because where we stand now, hip-hop criticism takes two basic forms: blind fawning in genre magazines (and lots of genres have this problem: there’s no qualitative difference between XXL/The Source/Vibe and Metal Maniacs/Pit/Terrorizer) and on indie-rock websites, and tired-ass grandpa-grumbles from dudes who think owning lots of Motown records will somehow insulate them against accusations of racism from said indie-rock websites.

But picking rap records apart day by day, week by week, is a tiresome and thankless task. So forget I said anything. So let’s go read the message boards as they tear down Mr. old, racist, doesn’t-get-it Clive Davis, while we wait for the next old man to finish his more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger essay on the state of hip-hop.

Friday, May 12, 2006

TEACHING HIPPIES ABOUT MUSIC

Here are the two CD reviews I wrote for the new issue of Relix (Pete Townshend cover):

LIQUID SOUL
One-Two Punch
Telarc
This Chicago septet-plus-guests, led by usually-more-out-than-this saxophonist Mars Williams, hasn’t released an album in four years. Chicago being the home of workaholic musicians, its members were probably busy doing other things. The delay between releases amps up the anticipation level somewhat, though, and for the most part listeners will likely be pleased. Nothing here has the anarchic energy of Williams XmarsX group – Liquid Soul is a party band. The infrequent rapping is misguided at best, but the variety of grooves and cameo appearances livening up the album makes it pretty much a must-have for white boyz lookin’ to get down. With guest personnel on virtually every track, moods vary, but final cut “Kong” is a definite highlight, built around skyscraper-toppling riffs from guitarist Vernon Reid.

GROOVE COLLECTIVE
People People Music Music
Savoy Jazz
Skip the watered-down acid-“jazz” opening track, “Forgotten Travelers.” Proceed directly to “Dfu,” a gently lilting Afrobeat workout with killer trombone work from Josh Roseman. Groove Collective means well. It’s fueled by a humanist positivity that permeates all aspects of its music. This means the lyrics, as on “What If,” tend toward sappiness. So skip that track, too. But the rest of the album is enjoyable, showcasing the band’s rhythmic flexibility (they do funk, mambo, drum ‘n’ bass, swing, and a few combinations of the aforementioned) and compelling horn charts. The frequently retro organ tones are welcome, too. People People Music Music is the sound of a group that wants nothing more than to be unobtrusively pleasurable to hear. Might as well let them do it.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

I LOVE THE SMELL OF NAPALM

This doesn't have anything to do with the recent blog/message-board foofaraw surrounding whether Stephin Merritt is a racist or not (hint: he's not), but it's worth reading nonetheless: an interview with Mark "Barney" Greenway, vocalist for Napalm Death, a band most knee-jerk lefty indie schlubs would probably never think was on their side of anything, politically. But they are. Napalm Death are to me exactly what Killing Joke are to their fans: a screamingly loud voice of articulate, proletarian rage and class awareness. And, of course, they're fucking brilliant musically, much better than KJ have ever been (even the new KJ disc, good as it is, can't touch Diatribes, itself the weakest/weirdest of Napalm's 1990s albums, never mind skull-crushers like Inside The Torn Apart, Words From The Exit Wound or Order Of The Leech).

Thursday, May 04, 2006

HELLO, CLEVELAND!

I've got two pieces in the Scene this week: one on OHM (a jazz fusion power trio featuring Chris Poland, formerly of Megadeth), and one on UK power metal act Dragonforce. Air guitars at the ready!

Monday, May 01, 2006

WHY MUSIC SUCKS

When I was studying audio engineering, I asked my professor why I should compress a mix for "radio friendliness" if I knew for a fact that a) the music would never get played on the radio anyway, and b) even if it did, radio stations had their own compressors? I asked him why albums shouldn't come with two mixes on the disc: the "radio mix," which would wham you in the ears with compression and limiting and the blast-blast-blast that modern mastering studios are currently specializing in, and the "good mix," which would have dynamic range and airspace and real sonic beauty? He just kinda looked at me. Read this excellent piece and see if you don't wind up asking yourself the same questions.

JIM 'N' DON 'N' DON

A really interesting interview with Borbetomagus can be read here. And I'm not just saying that because I'm mentioned by name.