Tuesday, October 31, 2006


Bought the new Deftones disc, Saturday Night Wrist, at lunchtime. Produced by Bob Ezrin, though damn if I can tell what he brings to the table that Terry Date, their prior collaborator, didn't. A little more fullness in the bass sound, maybe. SNW might be the most openly indebted to the Cure's Disintegration of all their albums, too. In any case, their nĂ¼-art-metal cred stays immaculate. On first listen, it's impressive as hell - proggier and gloomier than almost every track off their last "real" album except for the single, "Minerva," and that one got old fast; something about the way Chino howled "And God bless you all" just grated on me. I didn't start paying attention to these guys till White Pony (I liked "My Own Summer (Shove It)" but didn't go all the way to buying Around The Fur), but when I did, I fell hard. They're one of the few can-do-almost-no-wrong bands around, to my ear (another being Amon Amarth, who I'm gonna write a whole bunch of words about sometime soon), and they're not nearly as big as they should be. Go buy this album.

Thursday, October 26, 2006


Couldn't access Blogger for some reason yesterday, so this link is 24 hours old already. Still, here 'tis: Swan Island, at PTW.

Monday, October 23, 2006


Here's my review of a snippet of Tony Conrad's Joan Of Arc, from PTW.

Speaking of movie theaters, I was in two of 'em this weekend - saw Marie Antoinette on Friday night, and The Prestige at 10:15 Sunday morning. Surprisingly, my wife and I were not the only people in the theater for the latter flick.

MA was the best of Sofia Coppola's movies so far, though clearly her work - it's all about a little lost girl trapped in a great big intimidating world full of unexpected responsibilities and demands, blah blah blah. Kirsten Dunst is more likeable than she's been (for me, anyway) in anything to date, and Jason Schwartzman, who I have consistently loathed to date, is not likeable, but he is tolerable, and that's a big step up. The best people in the cast are Rip Torn, as Schwartzman's father the King of France, and Danny Huston, as Dunst's older brother. (I've only just started paying attention to Huston - I thought he was terrific in the Australian "Western" The Proposition, playing a curiously dignified outlaw chieftain; he was kinda updating Hugh Keays-Byrne's terrifying work as the Toecutter in Mad Max, without the homoeroticism.)

It's a beautifully shot movie, filmed on location in Versailles (and almost nowhere else, which has been the biggest complaint about the thing from whiny critics expecting a bigger dose of politics - somehow Coppola's failure to take the side of the mob overshadows the achievement of her perfect evocation of palace life's suffocating, opulent insularity). Once or twice, when Dunst moves to a country house, we get shots of her running through the grass, loose white dress billowing and sunspots dancing across the lens, that seem like Virgin Suicides outtakes, but for the most part it's an indoor movie, the camera sliding down hallways and across vast sitting-rooms laden with elaborate furniture and even more elaborate clothing and wigs and pastries.

And about the music: it's a thrilling choice, particularly when the opening credits, in hot pink, flash across a black screen scored to Gang Of Four's "Natural's Not In It." That sets up a more active movie than Coppola ultimately delivers, but there are still some great scenes where the music brings everything to life in a way period sounds never could have - a whirling masked ball where everyone's dancing to Siouxsie and the Banshees' "Hong Kong Garden," and Dunst's 18th birthday party, set to New Order's "Ceremony." Oh, and the shoe-shopping scene, played over (an admittedly kinda distractingly/superfluously noisy Kevin Shields remix of) Bow Wow Wow's "I Want Candy."

One indelible impression I came away with is that Sofia Coppola is decidedly not her father's daughter, as filmmakers go. Where his impulse is always to go overwrought and big (The Conversation is the only counter-example I can think of right this second), she's very much about tiny moments and slowness - Dunst's long, boring carriage ride from Austria to France in the beginning of the movie is like something Werner Herzog would have shot, a real test of patience for an audience already jacked up on itchy postpunk rock. This is a very interesting movie that deserves all the plaudits it's received, and a wider release, too. I bet it'll be huge with teenage girls when it hits DVD.

Christopher Nolan's The Prestige is a very different movie - much darker, with no music that I can remember, and absolutely no sun-dappled capering through the fields. It takes place almost entirely in darkened London bars, restaurants and theaters, wherein two magicians, played by Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman, battle for supremacy/revenge. One kills the other's wife onstage, and it's on. Both performers are really good, but the best work is done by David Bowie as Nikola Tesla. Unfortunately, Tesla's involvement turns the movie into science fiction, where until that point it had been a tricky (Nolan is the director of Memento, remember) but ultimately grounded story, full of temporal leapfrogging and doubles, both onstage and off. It's hard to say much about the movie without giving away crucial secrets, so I'll just leave it at that. But reportedly there was a minimum of digital work done, because Nolan wanted to preserve the mechanics of 19th century stage magic, and good for him. (The brief presence of Ricky Jay as Jackman and Bale's employer, early on, is a plus for magic nerds.) Oh, and Scarlett Johannson's breasts are in the movie, too, attempting (but sadly failing) to escape from a number of fetching magician's-assistant ensembles. But in fine stage tradition, they're intended as misdirection, so try not to miss anything crucial while you're staring.

Sunday, October 22, 2006


I feel like I should go see Cecil Taylor at Iridium this Thursday. He's playing with Henry Grimes for the first time in 40 years or so (Grimes played on Conquistador!, Unit Structures and Into The Hot), and drummer Pheeroan Aklaff, who I mostly know from his late '80s work backing Sonny Sharrock. I feel like I should go because recent reports have indicated Cecil's starting to flag, finally, as he creeps toward 80; his recent solo performance was marked by shortness of breath and shaking hands, though he was still more than capable of tearing hunks of raw beauty out of the air. So, though I doubt it is, this could be my last chance to see him live.

I'm very, very glad to have been able to see Taylor twice in the company of my late friend Ken - once at a 1/2 solo, 1/2 trio Avery Fisher Hall performance, once with a trio at Iridium. And indeed, Ken's absence is part of the reason I don't particularly want to go this time. Live jazz without the friend in whose company I heard so many brilliant musicians, is still something of a raw wound, and is likely to be for some time.

The other reason I don't have quite the enthusiasm I might, though, is the presence of Henry Grimes. To be honest, I've been pretty disappointed by his comeback these past few years. The live disc with David Murray and Hamid Drake on Ayler is a perfect example - his tone's frequently muddy, he gets lost a lot, and he overplays. None of these things were true of his mid-'60s recordings or the live bootlegs I've heard of him behind Sonny Rollins in '62. So he's coasting on the good will of the community, whether he knows it or not. It's entirely possible he's not fully aware how much his abilities have diminished. (An exception that must be cited, in fairness, is his work on Marc Ribot's Spiritual Unity CD. He does a terrific job there.) I don't think Grimes has what it takes to keep up with Cecil. Not in 2006.

The other reason I don't want to see Cecil on Thursday is that on Saturday, I'm going to watch Aki Takahashi play two solo piano pieces by Morton Feldman. The difference between these two performers, and the material they'll be performing, couldn't be starker. And frankly, I think fresh memories of what will almost certainly be a convulsive, volcanic performance from Cecil will keep me from fully appreciating the slowly unfolding beauty of For Bunita Marcus (one of the two pieces Takahashi will be playing), making me frustrated with Feldman's glacial rhythms. No, I think it's better to approach Feldman with a relatively clear head.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006


In this week's Village Voice: my take on Nels Cline's Andrew Hill tribute CD, New Monastery.

In the new issue of Relix (the one with Tenacious -ugh- D on the cover), my take on the new Waylon Jennings box:

Nashville Rebel
Waylon Jennings is great, but overrated: weird but true. There are a ridiculous number of ridiculously good country songs on this box, particularly on discs two and three - "Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way," "I'm A Ramblin' Man," "(Don't Let The Sun Set On You) Tulsa," "Lonesome On'ry And Mean," "You Ask Me To," and too many more to list. Still, Jennings benefited quite a bit from his association with superior talents Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash (evidence: the numerous duets with each man that appear on discs two-four of this set). And gathering too much of any single performer's work in one place will point out the weird inconsistencies and stumbles as much as, if not more than, it'll highlight the triumphs, and there are some bad musical choices on display here. Duets with Nelson on covers of The Eagles' "Take It To The Limit" and Otis Redding's "(Sittin' On) The Dock Of The Bay" should simply never have been laid to tape. Similarly, his version of Elvis' "Suspicious Minds" (with wife Jessi Colter) is just wrongheaded; the raw Memphis soul of the original is wrecked by a terrible keyboard sound, ultimately transforming an anthem of obsession into just another country-radio love duet. In spite of his rebel posturing and his affiliation with the so-called "outlaw" movement of the 1970s, Jennings was too frequently willing to sweeten his music with such touches. A voice as rough as his shouldn't be surrounded with the female choruses that crop up so often here. Still, even if his voice was never half as evocative as Cash's, Nelson's or Merle Haggard's, the two middle discs of this set display his skills as a storyteller quite admirably. Oh, and for pop-culture ironists, yes, the theme from The Dukes Of Hazzard is included.


I just read Jessica Hopper's review of Coughs' Secret Passage, which as it happens arrived in my mail yesterday and went immediately onto the life's-too-short pile. But idle curiosity led me to click the link, and when I was just about done wading through a bunch of overwrought gender-fixated bullshit (the two male members of the band don't get mentioned until the third paragraph from the end, because JH is so busy girl-crushing on the singer for letting her pants fall down and getting all sweaty on stage, cause we all know what a big fucking statement sweaty punk skanks are in 200fucking6), I came across this line:

Coughs began in 2001 as a cross between an experiment and a dare -- no one in the band was allowed to play an instrument she already knew how to play.

Give me a huge fucking break, please. This makes Coughs the second girl band I've heard this month who make a thing out of not knowing how to play their instruments. (The other was Swan Island, who manage to almost rock exactly one time on their nonetheless-rapturously-praised-by-members-of-Sleater-Kinney debut CD.) What the fuck is that about? Did I miss the memo where technical competence was declared a tool of the patriarchy?

As I type this, I'm listening to Secret Passage, and, well, it ain't what the always-earnest Ms. H would have you believe it is. It's boring semi-tribal noise-rock with some briefly interesting guitar work that would be a lot more interesting if the guitarist in question could make more than one noise per song. There's a saxophone, too, but I'm not sure why. Hopper's new heroine, vocalist Anya Davidson, has exactly one vocal tone - full-on shriek, luckily mixed low enough to be annoying, but not a deal-breaker as long as the two percussionists are doing their Swans-meets-Slipknot thing in the far corners of the sound-field. Occasionally, Davidson sounds about half as interesting as Eyehategod's Michael Williams, but most of the time, she sounds like the school bus driver on South Park. Even if they learned to play, Coughs would probably be terrible. But if they did that, they'd just be playing The Man's game, right?

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

500% MAN

Just downloaded the 2CD Bo Diddley Chess box. Holy fuckin' hell. You don't listen to records by him or Chuck Berry or Little Richard for a few years, and you start to forget. You start to view them through the misty haze of memory and the fog of their place in Rock History, and you forget how goddamn anarchistic those records were. I mean, Billy Zoom of the punk band X stole every one of his licks from Chuck Berry, but when you listen to the original recording of "Roll Over Beethoven" you realize that Zoom cleaned 'em up! These Bo Diddley sides are so raw, so soaked in from-the-bottomless-pits-of-hell reverb, they're psychedelic long before there was any such word. And Little Richard's Specialty Records sides are just flat-out explosive—there's no other word for it. He sounds like he's gonna overload the microphones with every note.

But never mind all that crazy talk. The 1950s were a time of boring conformity in America, and we were very nearly doomed to a life of Leave It To Beaver stultification until the Beatles came along to save us from ourselves. Right? Right?

Wednesday, October 04, 2006


My review of Trivium's The Crusade (street date: Tuesday, 10/10).

Tuesday, October 03, 2006


Ken Johnson died. You probably didn't know him. He was my best friend for almost 20 years. He came home to his apartment last night and fell asleep. His girlfriend discovered him this morning. His little brother just called me. They don't know yet what happened, or what the arrangements will be.

Ken was the guy I'd always go to shows with. The one person I knew in high school who I still hung out with. The first time I ever heard Keiji Haino was at CBGBs with Ken, in 1991. A decade later, Ken next to me at Irving Plaza, watching Ted Nugent, and eventually looked over and asked, "You're not appreciating this on any kind of ironic level at all, are you?" He went to two Ozzfests with me (2004 and 2005). We went to CBGB one night because there was nothing else to do, with about eight bands on the bill, and were standing by the pool table talking when gradually our heads began to perk up and one of us said "What the hell was that?" That was Thinking Fellers Union Local 282; Ken went backstage and bought a T-shirt and one of their albums, on vinyl. We saw Slayer; we saw Fishbone with the 2 Live Crew opening up; we went to the Vision Festival almost every year; we saw an all-night King Sunny Ade gig in 1990. So many more gigs, too, in so many places I can't even remember them all. My wife has always had right of first refusal whenever I decide to go see a band, but anytime she said no, I knew I could invite Ken and he'd be up for it. He came with me to see GG Allin at Space At Chase in 1992; you can see us walking out the door afterward (the show cost us $10 each and lasted 10 minutes before the cops arrived) in the movie Hated.

We met in an art class in high school. He listened to the Cure, and Metallica, and not much else, back then. I gave him Ministry and the Minutemen, and we started exploring other stuff together. Occasionally, early on, I'd talk him into buying something neither of us was sure about, like Diamanda Galas's You Must Be Certain Of The Devil, by swearing up and down that I'd heard it, and it was brilliant. On the weekends, we'd sit on his couch watching Headbanger's Ball and 120 Minutes and Video Jukebox, a real-life Beavis & Butt-Head. We successfully shoplifted an 8-VHS set of Berlin Alexanderplatz from the local video store once, just to see if we could; never did watch the damn thing.

Another old friend, Mike Nuzzo, a guy I'd known since the fourth grade, died a year or two ago. My two best friends from childhood are both dead now. I'm gonna be 35 in December. What the fuck kind of world is this? And who's gonna go to gigs with me now?

Monday, October 02, 2006


Lately all I want to listen to is early-'70s blues-rock/proto-metal. It doesn't matter how big or how obscure the band was. I like Cactus as well as ZZ Top, Buffalo as well as Sir Lord Baltimore. Deep Purple, Atomic Rooster, Mountain, Cream, AC/DC, Blue Cheer (and Randy Holden's solo disc, Population II), Grand Funk Railroad,Ted Nugent, the James Gang...they're all in my iPod. My copy of the first Josefus album, from 1970, hasn't come in the mail yet; we'll see how much I like them. I have also thus far failed to investigate Humble Pie and Free, but they're sure to get their turn soon enough.

This stuff has always been paradigmatic, for me. When I was studying audio engineering not too long ago, I didn't want to learn how to make pristine records like Steely Dan's Aja, much as I love those guys. I wanted to learn how to put three or four guys in a room with some mics and some amps and get a sound as stripped-down, yet crushing, as the Grand Funk album.

Anybody making music that doesn't follow these rules is just gonna have to work harder to gain my approval (assuming they're seeking it) than a random trio or quartet of knuckle-draggers cranking out variations on "Baby Please Don't Go" or "Mississippi Queen" for 40 minutes. The visceral pleasure of big, stomping, feedback-laced crunch-rock has a grip on me nothing else can quite match, not even death metal or free jazz. Much as I love tech-death (both old and new school - Cynic, Atheist and Death did one thing, Neuraxis and Necrophagist and Arsis do a whole different thing, but both are fine by me), it doesn't have that swing that Mountain or Cream or even the Jeff Beck Group has. (Though the Beck albums - Truth and Beck-Ola, both about to be reissued by Legacy with a bunch of bonus tracks each - have a really fractured rhythm thing going on that's almost anti-rock at more than a few points. They really seem to be actively subverting, say, "Jailhouse Rock," turning the original's groove into a lurching, square-wheeled-car rampage. And I'm sorry, but Rod Stewart was always a horrible vocalist. It sounds like he recorded "Shapes Of Things" in a single take, and if there were any notes there to be hit, nobody pointed them out to him. His reputation is totally inexplicable to me.)

Anyway, I don't know how long this phase is gonna last, and I don't know how it's gonna interfere with my job as a world music magazine editor or my freelance work as a jazz critic. But right now no album of, um, highly evolved music, even one as brilliant as, say, Jason Moran's Artist In Residence, sounds half as good to me as Sir Lord Baltimore's "I Got A Woman."