Wednesday, May 28, 2008


Coming soon to a Sci-Fi Channel Original Movie...

'Horror frog' breaks own bones to produce claws

"Amphibian horror" isn't a movie genre, but on this evidence perhaps it should be. Harvard biologists have described a bizarre, hairy frog with cat-like extendable claws.

Trichobatrachus robustus actively breaks its own bones to produce claws that puncture their way out of the frog's toe pads, probably when it is threatened.

David Blackburn and colleagues at Harvard University's Museum of Comparative Zoology, think the gruesome behaviour is a defence mechanism.

The researchers say there are salamanders that force their ribs through their skin to produce protective barbs on demand, but nothing quite like this mechanism has been seen before. [Read the rest here...if you dare!]

Saturday, May 24, 2008


Really interesting post by Simon Reynolds on improv and why he doesn't get it. I don't get it either (the music or the social scene and rhetorical fog that surrounds it), and only recently decided that I needn't feel guilty about that fact (which I have, in the past, and Reynolds' phrase "because some smart people with otherwise sharp taste are really into this shit" pretty much sums up the reason why - it's related to the peer-pressure/inferiority-complex I have suffered under in the past that's compelled me to buy Dizzee Rascal and M.I.A. albums, or to worry that maybe I should give a fuck about Vampire Weekend or the Shins or whoever, and it's only recently that I've accepted that it's my job to know stuff those people don't know, and vice versa, and that's perfectly OK). So I must extend this public warning to Reynolds, who at the end of his post writes "I have been thinking of giving that whole area another 'go.'"

Don't do it.

Don't let yourself get cultural-snob-guilted into wasting your time dicking around with non-idiomatic improv, or eai, or whatever it's called this month. The only one of the lot who's worth even a moment's consideration is Bailey, and he's best heard in duet/duel with a drummer, preferably one with some kind of jazz perspective, because then he's got to struggle with his partner's innate desire to create steady rhythm. (I would have loved to hear Bailey battle it out with Ronald Shannon Jackson.) I recommend the following Derek Bailey discs as a beginning and end point:

Daedal (Incus; with Susie Ibarra, drums)
Ore (Arrival; with Eddie Prévost, drums)
Mirakle (Tzadik; with Jamaaladeen Tacuma, bass & Calvin Weston, drums)
Derek & The Ruins, Saisoro (Tzadik; with Masuda Ryuishi, bass & Tatsuya Yoshida, drums)

That's all you need. On each of these albums, Bailey is dragged out of his shell by his partner(s) and forced to actually play something approaching conventional music, but at the same time his highly individualistic style remains clear and present. You should also maybe hear him as a sideman on Peter Brötzmann's Nipples, MOre Nipples and Fuck De Boere (all Atavistic). But you could live a long and happy life without ever listening to an Evan Parker or John Butcher album all the way through. I know I have.

Thursday, May 22, 2008


There's people who use rock 'n' roll to reinvent themselves, and then there's this guy.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008



Wondering where all the blood-and-guts imagery that runs through Lair of the Minotaur records comes from? "I read a lot of stuff that most people only read in college classes," laughs Steven Rathbone, frontman for the Chicago metal band.

"I'd read some writings about [god of warfare] Ares that don't describe him as a person [but] as the will to kill," he goes on, rattling off his literary finds. "When there was a battle, they would say Ares was on the field with them. Not that he was actually there, but that there was this feeling to kill. I thought that was an awesome concept."

Little surprise that all of the songs on Lair of the Minotaur's latest album, War Metal Battle Master, were inspired by Greek mythology. It's really no different from the trio's previous two albums. In fact, almost every song the band has ever recorded can be traced to thousands-of-years-old texts about angry gods wielding ginormous weapons. [Read the rest here.]

Tuesday, May 20, 2008


HARRISON TOWNSHIP, Mich. — So many people have so many things they can no longer afford. This is an excellent time to be a repo man.

When a boat owner defaults on his loan, the bank hires Jeff Henderson to seize its property. The former Army detective tracks the boat down in a backyard or a marina or a garage and hauls it to his storage area and later auctions it off. After nearly 20 years in the repossession business, Mr. Henderson has never been busier.

“I used to take the weak ones,” he said. Now I'm taking the whole herd."

Sunday, May 18, 2008


So...I'd been meaning to continue my journey through the collected works of Manowar with a post covering albums three through six - Hail To England, Sign Of The Hammer, Fighting The World and Kings Of Metal. But for a variety of reasons, I haven't made it to the finish line yet. Reason #1 is that I'm a busy guy and a lot of other music has landed on my desk in the last week or so. Reason #2, though, is that listening to Fighting The World was so demoralizing an experience that I'm kinda dreading subjecting myself to Kings Of Metal.

So let's talk about Hail To England. It's a heavy, thrashy album, short (less than 40 minutes) and to the point. Songs give away the game with their titles - "Blood Of My Enemies," "Kill With Power," "Each Dawn I Die" (probably my favorite song on the album), "Bridge Of Death." There's not all that much to say about it - Manowar skips the metal lifestyle anthems and goes right for the gory reading-way-too-many-Conan-comics stuff, lyrically speaking, which is fine with me, and the playing is stellar as always. I could grumble a little about the bass, which is occaionally too prominent in the mix, but fuck it. Overall, H2E is a damn fine metal album, continuing Manowar's out-of-the-gate hot streak.

The collapse begins with Sign Of The Hammer. A lot of people laugh at album opener "All Men Play On 10," but I'm not one of them. A few bad lines aside, it's probably Manowar's best "we are Manowar, we are metal, period" song, the guitar soloing kicks ass, and the chorus is genuinely fist-pumping. "Thor (The Powerhead)" is a good song, too, and "Mountains" is probably my favorite Manowar epic; it's a little hard to figure out - at first I thought it was about being a mountain, or something - but ultimately awesome. The trouble sets in with songs like "Animals" and the goofy "Guyana (Cult Of The Damned)," which tries to be a serious horrors-of-modern-life track about Jonestown, but frankly, these guys aren't up to the job. This is the first Manowar album where the stupid songs start to outnumber the stupid-but-enjoyable ones.

So...Fighting The World. Here's the thing: I like "Fighting The World" and "Carry On." They're good songs. In fact, they're pretty much the only decent songs on the album. The lyrics are stooooopid, but at least they've got memorable hooks. The problem is, they're produced like tracks from mid-'80s Kiss albums. And I don't even like '70s Kiss very much, let alone Lick It Up-era Kiss. When Manowar gets back to doing their usual "war is awesome" thing, they're half-assing it, it seems to me. They bust out some leftover tape of Orson Welles (who'd died two years earlier) on "Defender," but other than that, there's absolutely nothing special about these songs - they're just more of the same old Manowar stuff, with faux-radio-friendly production. This is the beginning of the decline into jokehood.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008


[Online only; suck it, print readers!]

Black Stars: Ghana's Hiplife Generation
The image of African music, as seen through American eyes, goes through phases. Right now, we're going through a retro moment: It would be easy to look at the recent deluge of compilation CDs (the three Nigeria Special volumes, Nigeria 70, and the Lagos All Routes and Lagos Chop Up sets) and conclude that a) all African music comes from Nigeria, and b) Africans stopped making music sometime in the late '70s/early '80s. But African music doesn't begin or end with funky reissues or the ultra-earnest singer-songwriters who've been playing to the NPR and jam-band crowds these past few years. [Read the rest here.]

Saturday, May 10, 2008


Backstory: I've gotten onto the PR mailing list for Magic Circle Music, Manowar's reord label. They've got this fucking gigantic three-day festival happening in Germany (of course) in July, during which Manowar will headline over Def Leppard, Whitesnake, Ted Nugent, Alice Cooper, W.A.S.P., Doro and a bunch of other bands. Manowar will perform two three-hour sets on the last two days of the festival, playing their first six albums in their entirety. Now, I've never been a Manowar fan. I've liked a few of their songs ("Manowar," "Fighting The World," "Gloves Of Metal"), but I've spent more time laughing at their image, onstage demeanor - if you haven't checked out one of their multi-disc live DVD sets, you're really missing out - and "Death To False Metal" rhetoric than actually listening to the music.

But the thing is, I'm one of those people who, if he sees a sizable enough crowd obviously digging something, has to at least give it a cursory investigation. My best friend Ken (RIP) was the same way, to such an extent that he actually went to a giant, multi-day Phish concert held on the same decommissioned air base where Woodstock '99 was held, because as he put it, "I've been ridiculing this band and their fans for years, without ever really listening to their music or giving them a fair chance." Sure, he came back hating Phish and Phish fans with an almost genocidal rage, but he gave it a shot, and I've always kinda admired that. So I briefly considered arranging press accreditation for myself and hopping over to Germany to wallow in three days of beer-soaked power metal madness with Manowar and their insane European fans. But then I decided to take the easy way out, and just listen to the albums.

I started out, not with their debut, Battle Hymns, but with a snapshot of what they're like right now: the 2007 double-disc set Gods Of War Live. It's not a live run-through of their most recent album á la Depeche Mode's Songs Of Faith And Devotion Live, mind you (and what a great idea that was: "Hey, guys, nobody really liked our new album - maybe they'll like it better with crowd noise!") - it's a live album from that tour, though, and it features a bunch of Gods Of War tracks on Disc Two. But Disc One is jam-packed with 14 classic Manowar tracks like "Gloves Of Metal," "Die For Metal," "Kings Of Metal" and "The Gods Made Heavy Metal." And yeah, it kicks ass. So with that under my belt, I have moved on to the studio albums. I've made it through the first two, so that's what I'll be talking about today.

I had heard that Battle Hymns was very different from the rest of Manowar's discography. And it is. It's a late '70s/early '80s hard rock/metal album, collecting a bunch of songs written before metal was a codified style with sonic "rules" (most of which were laid down by Judas Priest between Hell Bent For Leather and Screaming For Vengeance). It basically sounds like a Kiss album, except it's not quite as instantly/cheesily catchy as Kiss's songs were, and - yeah, I'm gonna say it - the playing is better. Especially the guitar solos. There are some unbelievable air-guitar moments on Battle Hymns.

The follow-up, Into Glory Ride, is weirder. It starts off with a hip-hop-like skit where some chick is getting laid, and apparently enjoying it quite a bit, until some dude breaks in on the couple (perhaps discovering his own cuckolding?) and a chase ensues, whereupon the song begins - and the song has nothing to do with adultery, or sex at all. It's called "The Warlord," and it's about the singer being a biker/metal warrior or whatever. So why start off with this baffling that-slut-done-me-wrong vignette? Anyway, Into Glory Ride is probably Manowar's most infamous album cover, because it features a photo of them in their loincloths and furry boots, holding their swords, and the music perfectly matches that art. It's epic (lots of songs about steel and Valhalla and being a warrior), but the production is still rooted in hard rock rather than the power metal ultra-gloss they'd embrace later on. There's still distortion on the guitar solos (which, again, kick ass in a totally air-guitar-inspiring way). But at the same time, if they'd put some kind of typical early '80s van-art cover on the disc, it might have sold better and crossed over way more efficiently than it did - the music is epic in a way lots of other bands were exploring back then. Frankly, I can't find a single thing to object to, a single laughable quality, about the first two Manowar albums. Some of the songs are a little long ("Hatred" didn't need to pass the seven-minute mark), but there's nothing pompous about what the band was doing back in the early days. Later, they became cartoon characters, but man, if you can't rock out to this early stuff, you have no business calling yourself a metalhead.

In my next post, I'll talk about my impressions of the four albums that finish out Manowar's "glory years": Hail To England, Sign Of The Hammer, Fighting The World and Kings Of Metal.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008


The End
This collaboration between Justin Broadrick (Godflesh, Jesu, God, Techno Animal, etc.) and Jarboe (ex-Swans, plus previous team-ups with Neurosis, Byla and others) seems like the stuff of dreams. His massive, psychedelic noise guitar riffs paired with her multiple vocal personalities - what fan of all things heavy, depressive and intense couldn't get off on that? It's too bad the music doesn't live up to what folks are almost certainly imagining.
There's nary a guitar to be found that hasn't been treated with so much electronic processing as to render it nearly unrecognizable as such, and Jarboe's vocals are mostly limited to mantra-like repetitions of single phrases, when there are any lyrics at all - on opening cut "Decay," she ululates a simple, wordless melody. "Let Go" is almost Portishead-like, Jarboe's voice staticky like a cellphone call as an achingly slow drumbeat (one might almost call it Swans-like in its implacable refusal to groove) and mournful, crunching guitars loop behind her.
That's the big trouble with this six-song EP - it was prepared by mail and it sounds that way. Broadrick and Jarboe are kindred spirits in many respects, but the intensity of a project created by two people working together in a room simply can't be matched by uploading wav files to one another's FTP servers. Even the spirited laughter that opens "Romp" can't sustain the illusion of true collaboration. J2 is enjoyable, but there's an essential inhumanity to it.

Dir. Alan Roth
This hour-long DVD comes adorned with a statement from director Alan Roth, in which he asserts his eagerness "to open up greater awareness of the importance of recognizing the profound artistry in this music." Free jazz needs such proselytizers to survive in a callous marketplace. But mere fervor won't entice new listeners - context must be provided, a story told. This film does neither of those things.
Subtitled "an expressionist journey into the music known as free jazz," Inside Out In The Open makes no attempt to be an authoritative chronicle of the genre's tangled history. Instead, Roth offers snapshots: he follows the improvising quartet Other Dimensions In Music to a few performances and films another William Parker group, In Order To Survive. Archival footage of Sun Ra, Peter Brötzmann and a few other players is inserted here and there, glorious but always too brief, and ultimately it's a snapshot of the New York scene circa 2001, with a few side trips. A fistful of musicians are interviewed - Parker, Shipp, Alan Silva, Marion Brown, Roswell Rudd, John Tchicai, Susie Ibarra and more - but these segments are nowhere near as illuminating as the performance footage. The interviews are presented with no clear link established between them, and no explanation of why these people were chosen and others weren't.
Furthermore, there is no narration, and too many of the musicians talk in Afro-spiritual platitudes rather than explaining how free jazz "works," and why they do what they do. Only a few - William Parker, Roswell Rudd and Joseph Jarman in particular - seem interested in imparting information a neophyte might find useful. The others focus on autobiography or proffer the usual mumbo-jumbo so commonly heard from the stage at the Vision Festival - stuff that will ring in the ears of the converted, but won't sell a single record to a listener not already convinced.
It's the live performance footage that's this DVD's selling point. But no piece is allowed to run its full course, so even on that score the film falls short of what any viewer would wish it to be. This is the great disappointment of Inside Out In The Open, then: it's not a lesson in free jazz, but rather one more testimonial, a fan letting the artists shout their own glory - commendable, certainly, but insufficient.

Monday, May 05, 2008


I found out early this morning that Trent Reznor & co. released another brand-new studio album, this one with vocals and everything, at midnight last night, absolutely free as long as you provide a valid email address. (You can send copies to three of your friends, too.)

I got Ghosts and, while some of it was kind of enjoyable, ultimately it felt half-assed and tossed-off. The worst of the instrumental sketches sounded like they'd taken as long to write and record as they did to listen to. This new record, though, is a full-on NIN album, and while Reznor's basic sound hasn't changed appreciably since The Downward Spiral (and he's been working in a really narrow sonic range since With Teeth), it's pretty solid. I would say the student has surpassed the teacher, in that Reznor's latter-day work is much, much stronger than Al Jourgensen's. Big Al is a guaranteed source of great interview quotes (I talked to him a few weeks ago and laughed my ass off through half of our conversation), but the last three real Ministry albums - never mind that covers thing - are one-riff slash-and-burn stuff, nowhere near the heights he scaled in the glory years of 1989-92.

The Slip (that's the name of the new NIN album) is pretty damn good, though, and when it comes out as a physical CD in July I might even buy a copy just to keep the collection together.

Which is the weird thing. I was not a big NIN fan during their heyday. I thought some of their songs were okay, but I didn't get the whole "TR = genius" thing. To me, his greatest achievement in the early '90s was curating the Natural Born Killers soundtrack. More or less since The Fragile, though, I've enjoyed his albums quite a bit. I saw him on the Fragile 2.0 tour, at the NYC show when Marilyn Manson came out to sing "Starfuckers Inc." with him, and it was a great show. And the last couple of records - With Teeth, Year Zero, and this one - have been his strongest, from a lyrical standpoint. The ratio of acceptable lines to head-in-hands cringers is better than it's ever been. (He's never come up with a great line - I don't care how much you like "Closer," it's not a brilliant piece of songwriting - only lyrics you can ignore, or ones that totally ruin the song for you because you can see the rhyme speeding at you like a truck.) But somehow I have wound up with copies of all his major releases - that is, all the albums, the 2CD slipcase version of the live set, and the Broken EP: no remix collections and no CD singles - in my house. So somehow, I am more of a NIN fan at 36 than I was at 18. I did not anticipate this development. But hey, whatever. The Slip is good. Go get yourself one.