Wednesday, April 29, 2009


A Cabinet of Curiosities (Rhino)
Now that Jane's Addiction has reunited for real (without original bassist Eric Avery, there is no Jane's), it's box-set time. A Cabinet of Curiosities gathers many of the band's demos (some of which padded out CD singles — remember those? — back in the early '90s), a compilation track or two (covering Sly and the Family Stone's "Don't Call Me Nigger, Whitey" with Ice-T on co-lead vocals was a decent idea badly executed, but their take on the Grateful Dead's "Ripple" is pleasantly bucolic), and a DVD full of videos and live footage. But disc three (of four) is the real jewel — an entire live show recorded at the band's absolute peak, in its L.A. hometown just before Christmas 1990. Raucous, psychedelic, metallic, arty and loose, this 76-minute performance proves for all time that Jane's Addiction was one of the best bands in the "alternative nation." They had something special, and yet they haven't been as influential as they should have been — maybe 'cause the grunge bands came along and bummed everybody out.


[From the Cleveland Scene.]

Cristina Scabbia is one of two vocalists for Italian metal band Lacuna Coil, but you'd be forgiven for thinking she's the band's leader: The music press tends to concentrate on her at the expense of her less photogenic male bandmates. Fortunately, she says, "It's a press problem, not a band problem. It's a band. It's not Cristina's project, so we don't care about that. If it can bring more attention to the band, it's always good, you know?"

Indeed, the relentless attention paid to Scabbia (the band headlined the 2007 Hottest Chicks in Metal tour, for instance) has paid sizable dividends for her bandmates. They've played numerous high-profile package tours, from the second stage of 2004's Ozzfest to the Danzig-headlined Blackest of the Black in 2006 to the Australian leg of Megadeth's Gigantour in 2007. They've always stood out on those bills — not just because of Scabbia, but because of how lightweight their music sounds when compared with the other acts present.

This is a band that covered Depeche Mode's "Enjoy the Silence" on 2006's Karmacode, after all, and the brand-new Lacuna Coil CD, Shallow Life, is laced with synths and rhythms that are more dance-floor-friendly than mosh-pit-inspiring. While there are grimy guitar riffs on songs like "I Won't Tell You" and "I Like It," they're closer in spirit to Rob Zombie than Lamb of God. And even those relatively heavy moments are balanced by the acoustic guitar strumming and synth strings of "Wide Awake" — not to mention the title track, a piano-and-drum-machine ballad.

None of this is new territory for Lacuna Coil, although Shallow Life is definitely glossier and less heavy than 2002's Comalies, the album that first brought them to U.S. attention. Part of this has to do with producer Don Gilmore, who has worked with Avril Lavigne and Linkin Park. But it's just a natural evolution, according to Scabbia.

"In the beginning, we were kind of immature and naïve, in the way that of course in the beginning of your career you always tend to get inspiration from different bands, because you don't really know what you want to do with your music and how to do it," she says about the band's earlier, gothier and more metallic music. "Now we're having a lot more fun, because we don't care anymore. We're ready to tell the world, 'This is our music, this is what we love to do. This is our life.'"

At times, the singer doesn't even seem all that attached to metal as a genre.

"We picked up the gothic metal just because we were appreciating other artists that were playing the same music, like Type O Negative and Paradise Lost," she says. "But then we had our own natural evolution where the melody is present, because we think a good balance is always important, to have a little bit of everything. Being heavy is awesome for some reasons, but being melodic is awesome for others."

Her vocals don't have the powerful emotional impact of other female metal singers like Arch Enemy's Angela Gossow; Scabbia seems to sing from a distance, her vocals soaring above the music like a disco diva, rather than burrowing through the mix to the forefront as is common in rock. This distancing effect is only made more powerful when she duets or sings harmonies with male vocalist Andrea Ferro.

The band spent a long time working on Shallow Life, and according to Scabbia, it's their strongest release to date, precisely because they weren't rushed the way they were on previous albums.

"We really took care of every single detail of guitar, bass and drums," she says, "and we worked a lot on the vocals, which is something we never did before because of the lack of time. And the songwriting is simpler, but heavier at the same time, because we've been able to get rid of all the useless parts. I think this time we wrote real songs, instead of putting together ideas and just recording them. The lyrics are clearer; everything is there where it's supposed to be."

Some of the songs represent musical departures for the band. Scabbia points to "I Like It," which she took a larger role than usual in writing, as a track likely to challenge fans' expectations of the band. Others simply found the group testing its own abilities.

At first glance, it might seem like the Music as a Weapon tour — headlined by Disturbed and also featuring Killswitch Engage and Chimaira, not to mention second-stage acts like Suicide Silence and Born of Osiris — is one more example of Lacuna Coil being the glaring exception to an otherwise headbanging day. Scabbia claims the group's live show has more bite than the albums, though, and warns that people shouldn't let Lacuna Coil's Euro-glamorous press photos fool them about what to expect.

"People don't expect us to be as heavy onstage as we are, 'cause they probably think about us as a band that doesn't really move onstage or a mellow band," she says. "Of course, our music is probably more melodic and less heavy than other bands, but at the same time, we have our own kind of energy that's always made us feel comfortable with every band we play with."

And obviously all these metal warriors who keep inviting the group out on the road must know something, right?

Friday, April 24, 2009


I don't watch wrestling, though I know at least one very smart person who does. So I don't look down on professional wrestlers or their fans, but neither do I consider the form to be hidden art or in any way deeply meaningful. Consequently, I went into The Wrestler (which I saw two radically different versions of - one sliced 'n' diced on an airplane, with all the nudity and profanity and much of the blood excised, and the real version on DVD from Netflix tonight) neutral. I wanted to see it for a couple of reasons:

1) I still really like Darren Aronofsky's Pi and think of Requiem For A Dream and The Fountain as noble failures, and

2) like the rest of the American moviegoing public, I've been browbeaten into accepting that Mickey Rourke is a national treasure and a glorious comeback story.

Well, I've come away from my second viewing of The Wrestler with decidedly mixed feelings. (The person with whom I watched it was much more unequivocally negative.)

I feel like a lot of Aronofsky's aesthetic decisions were made based on unconscious class biases, from the hand-held camera and stark lighting to the decision to set it in New Jersey - specifically, the part of New Jersey where I live. The titty bar where Marisa Tomei's character grinds out her oh-so-miserable existence, being humiliated by frat boys and having her offers of a lap dance rejected? I drive past it about once a week, if not more. The thrift store she and Rourke's character visit to buy clothes for his estranged daughter? I've never been in there, but I know where it is. Hell, I could probably find the anonymous small-town street the girl playing the daughter is supposed to live on if you gave me a couple of hours.

It's not the NJ = hell shorthand that bugs me, though; I was born in this state, I'm used to that, and the parts of the movie that are supposed to look like some kind of blighted, soul-crushing, post-industrial wasteland? I'm pretty happy here, so fuck y'all. No, what bothered me about the movie was all the other short cuts Aronofsky took, and the opportunities he missed in the process.

Here are the things we're never told, that I would have liked to know:

> What happened to Rourke's wife or girlfriend or whoever the mother of the aforementioned estranged daughter was?
> How does Rourke pay for all the medication he gets after his heart attack? Professional wrestlers don't have health insurance - it's kind of a major issue within the industry - and he can't even pay the rent on his trailer, as is revealed early in the film.
> What happened between the glory years of the opening credits and the squalor of the movie's present day? We get a single line of dialogue in a bar - "The '90s fuckin' sucked" (a statement I don't disagree with, at least as far as the virtues of '80s metal vs. grunge, which is the context in which it's made) - and that's it. I would have liked some glimpse of the two decades the movie just skips right past.

The Wrestler was a good idea for a movie. Aging athletes (and yes, wrestling is a highly athletic, extremely physically demanding profession), or aging anyone who makes their living with their physicality, for that matter, are an interesting subject for a potentially poignant story. The gradual development of the relationship between Tomei and Rourke could have really been something - they're both good actors and did as much as possible with the material they were given. But Aronofsky went for shorthand. Faded star, one last shot at a comeback, makin' things right with the estranged's all movie of the week blah blah blah. Aronofsky seems incapable of presenting any of his characters as having an inner life. Rourke's daughter and Tomei's son are ciphers, there to move the plot along and nothing more. Similarly, Rourke's conflict with his boss at his day job seems trumped-up; the guy's a prick for no reason at all, except that a later outburst requires provocation.

There are good things about the movie, of course. Rourke's work in scenes with other wrestlers is terrific; the clearest insight we get into his character comes when he's advising a younger wrestler to stay in the game and complimenting him on his technique. He really does disappear into the persona of Randy "The Ram" Robinson in those scenes. The wrestling matches are well shot, even the gory one that precipitates Rourke's health crisis. And I liked hearing a lot of the music; Accept's "Balls To The Wall" is just a good fucking song.

But final verdict? I think Darren Aronofsky is a Brooklyn hipster slumming with little or no understanding of the working-class culture of wrestling and wrestling fandom, and while I think his intentions were good, his unconscious class biases turned The Wrestler into a parade of cardboard cutouts instead of the nuanced portrayal of realistic human beings it could have been.

P.S.: I never thought I'd find myself saying this, but Armond White's take on this movie is well worth reading.


I haven't kept up with most of his stuff, aside from the Astronome group with Mike Patton, Trevor Dunn and Joey Baron, which is awesome, so it's hard for me to say whether the projects discussed here have any real merit. I asked Bruce Gallanter from Downtown Music Gallery to sell me on Masada once - "Just put on the disc you think will sell this band to me." He did (some live thing), and I still left empty-handed. But a Zorn interview is worth reading because almost never talks to writers, so check it out. Here's the link.

Thursday, April 23, 2009


Got an interesting press release emailed to me, that kinda ties in with what I wrote about in this post:


Multi-Tiered Relationship between Mobile Music Leader, Verizon, and Famed Norteño Performers, Los Tigres del Norte, Includes Exclusives on V CAST Music, Contests for Private Concerts, In-Store Appearances and More

BASKING RIDGE, N.J., and MIAMI - Reaching out to the broad fan base for Latin music, Verizon today announced an expansive relationship with Fonovisa/UMLE recording artists, Los Tigres del Norte, the multiple GRAMMY® and Latin GRAMMY®-award winning group known to fans around the globe as one of the world's most popular regional Mexican bands. The announcement was made at the Billboard Latin Music Conference being held in Miami this week.

Beginning this summer, select music from Los Tigres del Norte's forthcoming album will be available exclusively to Verizon Wireless V CAST Music customers in the form of a four-song Mobile EP. Verizon will also be a sponsor of the band's tour dates in the United States, and the band will make select in-store appearances at Verizon Wireless Communications Stores across the country.

Fans can also look forward to the opportunity to enter a contest to win a private Los Tigres performance as well as more promotions during the year that will allow them to interact with the band and its music through their Verizon mobile phones.

"Latin and Hispanic music is an important genre for Verizon, and we are excited to work with and feature the legendary Los Tigres del Norte and bring more of their music to our customers," said Ed Ruth, director of digital music at Verizon. "As the band moves into the next phase of an astounding career, Verizon will be there to help them communicate with their fans using the latest in mobile technology."

"Communication is what our songs have always been about," says Los Tigres del Norte front man Jorge Hernandez. "We've always sought to sing songs that tell the stories of our fans. It's important for us to keep in close contact with them and thanks to Verizon we will be able to do that in new and innovative ways."

"Universal Music Group, which distributes Los Tigres del Norte's music, is committed to offering consumers the ability to enjoy music in many forms across a variety of different platforms," stated Amanda Marks, executive vice president and general manager of Universal Music Distribution. "And our partnership with Verizon exemplifies just one of the many new and exciting business models we are utilizing to fulfill this demand, while at the same time, expanding the digital playing field further for our artists and creating new revenue streams. We're delighted to be working with Verizon, which has been and remains an excellent partner, and with Los Tigres del Norte to help grow the mobile music business, particularly in the Latin market where mobile plays such an important role."

"At Fonovisa we are thrilled to have Los Tigres del Norte to join with Verizon to build an unprecedented mobile-driven campaign in support of their new album and tour. Regional Mexican continues to be the leading genre within Latin music in the U.S. and this campaign is a major step in consolidating the genre's positioning in the digital music world," said Gustavo Lopez, president of Fonovisa & Disa.

Hailed by The New York Times as "[Regional Mexican] music's greatest statesmen," Los Tigres del Norte has recorded more than 500 songs over the course of nearly 60 albums and sold more than 35 million albums worldwide. The group has also received multiple GRAMMY and Latin GRAMMY awards, and were awarded the Latin Recording Academy's Lifetime Achievement Award in 2007. Hailing from Rosa Morda, Sinaloa, Mexico, the band, comprised of brothers Jorge, Hernán, Edurado, and Luis Hernandez, plus cousin Oscar Lara, came to the United States in the late 1960s. The look of determination on their faces caused a border guard to dub them Los Tigres del Norte, or "The Tigers of the North." From their very beginning, the band has chronicled real-life stories of love and hardship, many of them passed on by their fans, others researched like a newspaper story. Their gritty realism and plain-spokenness led Billboard magazine to say, "Los Tigres del Norte are not just another popular musical act... Instead they're widely viewed as the voice of the people."


Hostile Crawlcore
Bay Area punk legends Flipper go through bassists like Spinal Tap did drummers; most recently, Nirvana veteran Krist Novoselic left and was replaced by Rachel Thoele, the band's first female member. After years of inaction punctuated by intermittent live gigs, Flipper is back for real — a new studio album, Love, and a live companion disc, Fight, are expected in May. The new songs are as sludgy and hostile as classics like "Life" and "The Way of the World," which brought the power of creepy-crawling slowness to the speed-crazed early-'80s hardcore scene, inspiring the Melvins, Nirvana, and others in the process. Drummer Steve DePace still lurches more than he rocks, while Ted Falconi's guitar and Bruce Loose's vocals have lost none of their snarling aggression.

German Engineering
Thomas Fehlmann, one of the prime movers on the German electronic music scene, has been around since the '80s, though his career really took off in the late '90s. He has released two full-length albums — 2002's Visions of Blah and 2007's Honigpumpe — for the Kompakt label, and has appeared on several volumes of its Total compilations, making tracks that combine the clean melodic lines and crisply metronomic beats that are the label's stock-in-trade with a warm, dubby bass presence. He's appearing alongside Gudrun Gut [pictured at left], an early member of Einstürzende Neubauten, with whom he hosts the German radio show Ocean Club. Gut recently released her first solo album, I Put a Record On, with production and mixing by Fehlmann.


[From the Cleveland Scene.]

The arrival of a new Agoraphobic Nosebleed album was once cause for much chortling, since the song titles were hilarious and the songs themselves were frequently so short, you barely had time to finish laughing at the title before the track was over. No more. On Agorapocalypse, the band has reinvented itself as a savage industrial-metal machine, with multiple vocalists (including the group's first female member, the single-named Kat) shrieking and roaring atop a blaze of thrashy riffs and relentless drum-machine barrages. The songs have gotten much longer; where they once averaged five to 30 seconds, now tracks like "White on White Crime" and "First National Stem Cell and Clone" are passing the three-minute mark with ease, incorporating the usual Nosebleed trademarks of hilariously apt dialogue samples and vicious guitars, while bringing new tricks to bear — notably, choruses and dynamic shifts. Oh, and guitar solos — and surprisingly interesting, whammy-bar-abusing ones at that. Whether fans of Nosebleed's earlier, funnier work will be happy about these developments remains to be seen.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009


Black Hole/Live at Tampere
Black Hole is a stunning example of saxophonist Peter Brötzmann, with his Full Blast trio, in his "big-dick art" mode - to use a phrase first deployed against sculptor Richard Serra. It's also a concise demonstration of the meaninglessness of track titles. The names of most of the pieces on Black Hole are references to quantum physics ("Large Hadron Collider," "Teilchencrash," "Quarks Up/Down"), but they sound stylistically indistinguishable from the seven untitled live tracks on the bonus disc, Live at Tampere.
No matter what labels are put on the music, it's the raw exhilaration the three players muster and sustain that counts. Drummer Michael Wertmüller, heard to great effect on Brötzmann's 2001 album Nothung, not to mention the self-titled 2006 debut by this group, keeps up a complex and stunningly powerful rhythmic attack across both discs like a combination of Rashied Ali and Mobrid Angel's Pete Sandoval. Obstreperous electric bassist Marino Pliakas cranks it up in a manner that almost explicitly recalls Bill Laswell's work alongside the saxophonist in Last Exit, when he's not stomping a pedal and transforming into a noise/metal guitarist. Indeed, this is every bit as much the rhythm players' show as Brötzmann's. But the frontman defies expectations throughout this 95-minute journey - the blustery, shrieking runs one expects are repeatedly countered by long, keening passages of quite heartfelt beauty, not to mention the melancholy reed work on "Protoneparcel." Too frequently underestimated, he remains a trickster disguised as a caveman.

Stillborn Plague Angels
New Zealander Campbell Kneale spent years pumping out music on every conceivable format as Birchville Cat Motel and Black Boned Angel. Now he's assumed a new identity - Our Love Will Destroy The World, a phrase/declaration some may recognize as the title of a 2006 BCM disc. This vinyl-only release offers up four thick slabs of droning, multilayered guitar-and-unidentified-other-stuff noise that's maybe in theory just slightly inspired by doom and/or black metal. But don't go lighting torches and painting your face just yet. The title track is an almost Sunn O)))-esque rumble with lots of oddly beautiful overtones and hidden melodies, while "Pink Hollow Paradise" is an ugly mix of high-pitched tones and a loud swooshing roar, like someone vacuuming in the next room while you're trying to listen to Ryoji Ikeda. Toward the end it gets a little crunchier, like crickets playing along with a Borbetomagus album, and if the last few seconds are to be believed, it was inflicted on a live (and appreciative) audience.
"Chinese Emperors And The Army Of Eternity" kicks off side two, sounding like lonely ghosts wailing through a metal fabrication shop while someone plays a piano in the office. At about the 12-minute mark, someone else starts blowing the world's largest kazoo, which bridges us into the final track, "Over Prehistoric Texas," a combination of Borbetomagus and Skullflower that's less anarchic than the former but more satisfying than the latter, and which ends in tape slice. Ultimately, Stillborn Plague Angels is a pleasing if somewhat volume-dependent release. If you haven't got speakers the size of refrigerators, it may not provide the out-of-body experience available to those willing and able to go for total sonic immersion.

Thursday, April 16, 2009


[From the SF Weekly.]

Despite the trend in consumer downloads, singles are for dilettantes. Full albums are still where a band's real art lies. That's a point many musicians are out to prove, anyway, and in recent years there's been a concerted effort across genres — from Jay-Z to Slint — to further impress that idea by mounting tours focused on entire records.

Thus far, single-album shows have been best received as exercises in nostalgia, and not simply as forced exposure to new material. In 2006, Iron Maiden infuriated fans by grinding through its then-new, 75-minute A Matter of Life and Death, denying the crowd the greatest hits they'd come for. Judas Priest backed down from its threat to mount a full-scale rock-opera production of last year's double disc, Nostradamus. Artistically fearless metal band Mastodon is one of the few younger acts to concentrate on a full record live. The Georgia-based band will perform its fourth full-length, the epic concept album Crack the Skye, from front to back on its spring tour.

As Mastodon's guitarist, Bill Kelliher, tells it, the group had no choice but to give a seamless rendition of Crack the Skye. "It's hard to pick two or three songs off the new album and fit those into our set," he says. He kinda has a point, given that it marks the band's emergence as full-on prog-rockers.

Each of Mastodon's four albums has been a little less brutal than its predecessor. The band's full-length debut, 2002's Remission, seemed to pursue heaviness for its own sake, while 2004's Leviathan was intricate and thoughtful, a leap forward in both concept and execution. The group's major-label debut, 2006's Blood Mountain, was even artier, featuring guest appearances by members of the Mars Volta and Neurosis. Crack the Skye is the next logical step, containing seven sprawling songs that tell a story of astral projection, the Russian monk Rasputin, and cosmic wormholes.

Two hard-rocking, melodic tracks in a row ("Oblivion" and "Divinations") kick things off strongly, but slowly. Organ-driven meditations dominate, and the guitar solos are more reminiscent of Pink Floyd than Metallica. "The Czar" passes through four distinct movements, some raucous and others ornate and beautiful, over the course of nearly 11 minutes. And album closer "The Last Baron" is another sonic saga that mixes thrashy riffing with tempo changes worthy of '70s Genesis or Yes.

Cynics might ascribe Crack the Skye's clean guitar tones and even cleaner vocals to the use of producer Brendan O'Brien, who has worked with Pearl Jam, Tom Petty, and Bruce Springsteen. The band was unsure about that decision at first. "We were a little hesitant," Kelliher says. "It was like, 'Has he ever done a heavy band like us?'" But O'Brien's ear for melody wound up serving Mastodon well. The instruments are perfectly balanced, giving the disc a beauty modern metal frequently ignores in favor of sonic punishment. The guitarist admits that O'Brien "kinda saw through the clouds" when it came to recording.

The question is, can Mastodon persuade fans paying to hear longtime favorites like "The Wolf Is Loose," "Mother Puncher," or "Blood and Thunder" to wait through seven brand-new songs in a row, two of which pass the ten-minute mark? Kelliher is confident the shows will be musically impressive and entertaining. "It's gonna be quite a lumbering task, but I think we can do it with enough practice," he says, adding that the tour will also feature a strong light-show visual component. Instrumentally, Mastodon is augmenting its usual four-piece lineup with a keyboardist. Unlike, say, Black Sabbath, the band won't force him into hiding through synth-denying headbanger machismo. "He'll be onstage somewhere," Kelliher laughs. "We'll admit" to using keyboards.

As for Mastodon's "greatest hits"? Those songs will still be heard before the night is over. As the guitarist points out, Crack the Skye is only 50 minutes long, which leaves plenty of time for "a handful of oldies but goodies."


[From the Cleveland Scene.]

Evolution Through Revolution
Grindcore tends to be as musically minimalist — faster! faster! — as it is politically black and white. But within the genre's narrow confines, Brutal Truth has always been a band of weirdos and innovators, importing instruments (from saxophone to didgeridoo) and offering near-ambient interludes between blast-beat-driven explosions. On this album, the instrumental "Semi-Automatic Carnation" and the damn near epic (by grindcore standards) "Afterworld" and "Grind Fidelity" allow BT to stretch out and slow down. They know that's not what people want to hear, though, so it's quickly back to machine-gun-assault mode. Eleven of Evolution Through Revolution's 20 tracks are less than two minutes long; six come in under the 90-second mark. After all, if you need more than 49 seconds to express the core concept of a song called "War Is Good" (some irony there, probably), you're doing it wrong. Possibly the biggest surprise here is a cover of the Minutemen's "Bob Dylan Wrote Propaganda Songs," which is all the more unsettling when you notice how much vocalist Kevin Sharp looks like former Minutemen bassist Mike Watt these days.

Friday, April 10, 2009


Here's the latest (small) batch of AMG reviews:

Pestilence, Resurrection Macabre
Ignominious Incarceration, Of Winter Born
Primordial, Imrama (reissue of a 1995 album, now w/bonus tracks and a DVD)
Ulcerate, Everything is Fire
Bulldozer, Poland

Thursday, April 09, 2009


So...yesterday, the invaluable Kung Fu Monkey directed me to the Cult of Done Manifesto, and yeah, it made me laugh, but it also made me think about my own writing life. And I was feeling kinda good about my own get-it-done-ism* (see seven of the last ten posts on this blog), but then I saw something else that made me question it a bit.

Last night, PBS' "American Masters" premiered GLASS: A Portrait of Philip Glass in Twelve Parts. I only caught the second half because I was watching the season (and probable series) finale of Life, but what I did see was a pretty fascinating portrait of a guy whose workaholism seems to have cost him three marriages (he's been married four times; one wife died of liver cancer).

He's shown working pretty much constantly, described as sometimes working on three scores at once. And yeah, there are field trips out to the desert to commune with some Toltec mystic guy he knows, and afternoon tea with some rimpoche, and Buddhist "moving meditation" sessions, but it all seems to fuel more work. And it all, taken together, made me wonder whether workaholism isn't a manifestation of narcissism. "Look at me, I'm working!" I mean, can you think of a composer who's a bigger celebrity than Philip Glass? That doesn't just happen; you invite that, you strive for it. You shake every hand, make every event, hustling and figuratively - if not literally - passing out business cards.

Despite the fact that I'm writing about this subject on my blog, I don't feel like I'm particularly narcissistic, as writers go; I work (and pitch) in a kind of blind panic, in the same spirit as a panhandler who talks to every person in a subway car twice before moving on. I embrace the term "hack," taking it to mean a writer who gets the job done and moves on to the next job. I believe working for strict outwardly-imposed deadlines has been of immeasurable value to me. But I wonder if, were my writing ever to become genuinely lucrative, would I maintain the same frantic pace (which, by the way, doesn't seem all that frantic to me; I take walks - granted, they're to the post office to see what CDs have arrived - every day, and lie around on the couch in the evenings, and sometimes the afternoons, watching TV)? Or am I doing it just for the money?

Obviously, these are scattered, impressionistic thoughts that haven't fully cohered yet. And unfortunately, that's where I've gotta leave it - there's work to be done, after all.

[*not intended as an endorsement of Larry the Cable Guy]


[From the SF Weekly.]

German label Kompakt tends to release what nonfans call "IKEA techno" — pleasant, faceless music that's sort of ambient, sort of danceable, but never too demanding of your attention. Gui Boratto's second album, 2007's Chromophobia, was his first for the label, and seemed a subtle rebuke to the Kompakt "house style." The rhythms are less mechanistic and more supple, with elements like postpunk guitars and upper-register basslines unexpectedly bubbling to the surface. "I'm first concerned about harmonies and melodies and their relations," says the Brazilian native. He adds that you can play most of his songs with noncomputerized instruments: "You can't play most techno tracks on a piano, because most of them don't have melodies."

Hooks are a crucial component of Boratto's latest album, Take My Breath Away. Sometimes he even writes traditional songs, though they aren't really about anything. He describes his lyrics as "easy and naive," and admits to having "much more intimacy" when creating instrumental tracks. "No Turning Back," which features vocals by his wife, Luciana Villanova, could almost be a pop hit if it were just a little less weird. The song combines a melodic bassline with a big, fuzzed-out synth line indebted to 1970s electropunk duo Suicide, while the filter effect on Villanova's voice is reminiscent of Daft Punk.

Any message Boratto is attempting to impart remains vague, which makes Take My Breath Away's cover art somewhat distressing. It depicts a group of children in long, safety-orange T-shirts and gas masks in a field of computer-generated flowers. Boratto claims the image is meant to point out the "social and economic problems the world is passing through. The gas mask criticizes the apparently beautiful, but fake and plastic flowers around the kids." But this has absolutely no connection to the music, which is all about life and joy. If this is preaching, it feels tacked-on and perfunctory.

Fortunately, the cover art is the only thing about the album that feels forced. Boratto's songs have techno's repetitive structure and an airiness common to Brazilian music, electronic or otherwise. They also offer crescendos and catharsis like the best pop anthems of the '80s did. Indeed, for listeners perhaps too old to hit the clubs, part of Boratto's attraction comes from the classicist — not to say retro — styles he employs. His keyboard sounds are often reminiscent of David Bowie's Berlin-era work with Brian Eno, while other elements, like the upper-register basslines that pop up on "Besides" and "No Turning Back," seem clearly inspired by New Order. "Colors" has strong hints of Pet Shop Boys, while "Les Enfants" brings in a drum machine that's almost a tribute to Phil Collins' "In the Air Tonight."

To Boratto, though, his sound is a combination of homage and the limits of technology. He says that while he listens to many '80s icons — Echo and the Bunnymen, Bauhaus, and Depeche Mode — he isn't as reliant on the synths those artists incorporated. "My main instrument is guitar," he says.

Fans attending one of Boratto's shows shouldn't expect to see him whipping out the ax onstage, however. This isn't some mid-'90s Moby gig. "My live performance is very simple," he says. "I use some controllers, a step sequencer, and a laptop. But I can do lots of variations with that. I program patterns on the fly, and play with the different parts as well." The Gui Boratto live experience, then, is more likely to inspire swooning dancefloor ecstasy than the moody, Dieter-from-Sprockets aura possessing so many of his labelmates.


[From the Cleveland Scene.]

All sorts of companies are getting into the sponsorship game these days. From the Scion Rock Fest (a car company-funded free concert in Atlanta featuring Mastodon, Converge, Neurosis and other ultra-hip heavy acts) to Rockstar Energy Drinks’ support of the 2008 and 2009 Mayhem tours, everybody wants to sell stuff to metalheads. Now Atticus Clothing, a company that’s previously catered to the punk/alternative scene, has jumped into the ring with the Atticus Metal Tour, a ferocious road trip featuring Emmure, Terror, Winds of Plague, Abacabb, the Ghost Inside and All Shall Perish. We quizzed Emmure’s Frankie Palmeri, Winds of Plague’s Jonathan Cooke, Abacabb’s Tyler Greene and Terror’s Scott Vogel about various issues. Here are a few of their answers.

Are you the heaviest band on this tour?

Palmeri: Nope.
Cooke: Absolutely not. We tune in E standard, and Emmure tunes in drop-Z or something, so they definitely own on the heavy scale.
Vogel: No, I don't think we are. And that is not really what we are going for. But if you asked if we are the hardest-hitting band on the tour, well then, I think we are. Give me a few days and I'll know.

What's the best gig you've ever played, and are you returning there on this tour?
Greene: On our last tour, the best gig we had was Toronto. There was a huge attendance, and the entire crowd was very into it. Canada is just amazing, and yes, we will be returning to that city on this tour.
Vogel: I'd have to say Full Force Fest, two years ago in eastern Germany; 10,000 kids under a huge tent going buck wild, jumping off 15-foot-high poles they climbed. We are not returning there on this tour but will be there in early July.

What's the worst gig you've ever played, and are you returning to that city/town?
Cooke: We have had our fair share of bad shows. Phoenix on the Blackest of the Black tour was really bad for us. Not because of the crowd, but because of technical difficulties, and we had about a foot of room on the stage. I ran out onstage all pumped to find out my mic wasn't on. I felt like a jackass, and that carried with me throughout the set.
Vogel: Gainesville, Florida, at some tiny club like three years ago. Like 25 kids showed up. No energy. Bad vibe. Just one of those shows you wish was over before it starts. No, we aren't going back and haven't since. It's sad, 'cause one of my favorite bands ever, Hot Water Music, is from there.

Sometimes bands get on each other's nerves. Which of your bandmates are you sure you could take in a fight?
Palmeri: My guitar player, Ben. I am taller, and I can smell what he's thinking.
Vogel: We are banned from two shows on this tour, and a third threatened to shut us down. I can't talk about things like this. Bamboozle Fest is afraid of our reputation. I'm not allowed to use the F word. What a fucking joke.

If you could quit your band and join any other band, which would it be and why?

Palmeri: I would quit my band and join All Shall Perish, because Matt is a sweet dude.
Greene: I wouldn't quit to join another metal band. I would rather be in Cartel, Copeland or Mae. But if I had to choose, I would join the Ghost Inside because we listen to that band all the time in the van.

Do you personally wear Atticus clothing, and are you getting free Atticus clothing?
Palmeri: I don't personally wear any clothing. Atticus is gonna try and cover me in clothes, but they will be quickly removed.
Cooke: Yeah, I like their jeans a lot, and most of their new shirt designs are badass. I am very stoked to receive some new gear on this tour.

On a tour like this, is it possible to make extravagant demands for backstage luxuries, and what would you ask for?
Palmeri: I prefer a backstage with carpeting, fresh towels and an iPod dock. I don't make extravagant demands, because none of them would ever happen.
Greene: We are the opening band out of six; I'll be stoked if we get a bottle of water. However, if I was headlining, I would ask for some Chipotle burritos or something.
Cooke: We usually keep our demands pretty low and reasonable, because you're more likely to get a case of soda than two dozen red M&Ms or whatever else jackass rock stars put on their backstage riders.
Vogel: That's not really our style. Towels, water, Red Bull and vodka are all we really need. I'd rather have the money than a huge catering budget, 'cause in the end you're actually paying for all the stuff backstage.

Are you bringing pets, and if so, what's your most ridiculous pets-on-tour story?
Cooke: No pets! They turn into unnecessary hassle and stress. One tour we brought a mouse in a little plastic cage. By the end of the tour, we had five mice and some ridiculous cage with all kinds of tunnels and whatnot. We got tired of the smell and a lady from PETA bought them at our merch table. Good times.

What's your mom's favorite song by your band?
Palmeri: I'm surprised when my mom even remembers my band's name, so I doubt she has a favorite song.
Greene: My mom bought the CD, but I don't think she has ever listened to it.
Cooke: She has "The Impaler" and "Decimate the Weak" on her iPod workout playlist. She secretly enjoys us.
Vogel: My mom's into Willie Nelson and Bob Dylan, not Terror.


[From the Riverfront Times.]

It's easy to understand why Amon Amarth gains new fans on each U.S. tour. Starting with its fourth album, Versus the World (released in the United States in 2004), the Swedish "Viking-metal" band has perfected its brand of stripped-down, fist-pumping anthems, songs that drive longhaired dudes into frenzies of head-banging and horn-throwing. And as its genre's descriptor implies, the band has a very specific (if somewhat narrow) lyrical range: Every Amon Amarth song is about the glory of being a Viking. Of sailing the oceans and hacking your enemies to bits with a sword or an ax. Of dying in flames and glory and ascending to Valhalla to dwell among the Norse gods. Who couldn't love that?

It also helps that the band really knows how to bring it live. Vocalist Johan Hegg, his chest-length beard wet with beer from the drinking horn he wears on his belt (seriously), barks the lyrics while the guitarists spin their hair like madmen on either side of him. "We try to involve the audience in the show, and I like to move around a lot on stage," says Hegg. "Even if there's not a lot of pyro or anything like that, it's important to have a lot of energy and keep the fans involved."

The band's latest album, 2008's Twilight of the Thunder God, came with a bonus DVD of a live European performance from the previous year — and a super-deluxe edition also offered a comic book, a poster, a CD version of the European concert and bobblehead statues of the entire band. This kind of elaborate package may be the best way for a band to survive in the marketplace, given widespread (and unavoidable) downloading. It's hard to download a set of bobblehead dolls, after all. "It may help a little bit," Hegg says, "but [either way] in this day and age, you have to do something. We always feel like it's important to give people something more than just a CD in a jewel case. When I was young, music was really important and the packaging was very important, and we try to preserve that."

Throughout 2009, Amon Amarth is reissuing its first four albums — Once Sent from the Golden Hall, The Crusher, The Avenger and Versus the World — as two-CD sets, paired with live recordings of the full albums from a four-night stand of concerts in Germany last year. "We still play a lot of the old songs, so it wasn't like they were strangers to us," Hegg recalls. "But some of them we hadn't played since recording the albums, so that was fun." The vocalist also insists these new editions aren't just for diehards — they paint a picture of how the band has evolved. "We've really changed musically. We're a very different band," he says. But who knows? Maybe some of those deep cuts will stay in the live set for a while.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009


A pretty fascinating article from Sunday's New York Times about the success that regional Mexican musicians (norteño, banda, etc.) are having with ringtones and songs on cell phones, given that their audience isn't exactly big on digital music generally. The piece also offers some interesting discussion about the fact that these artists really don't get much promotion, despite racking up serious numbers. I know as a writer, I've barely been able to get anybody at the Latin divisions of the major labels to send me music I could potentially pitch for review, something that's always bummed me out a lot. When I hear this stuff, it's primarily because I've bought it myself - usually at Target, rather than a traditional record store.

Monday, April 06, 2009


Jandek live in Houston, yesterday. I am so buying the inevitable CD document of this show.

Friday, April 03, 2009


More of my All Music Guide reviews have been posted. Here are the links for you to learn all about:

Banda Machos, 25 Bandazos de Machos, Vol. 1

Banda Machos, 25 Bandazos de Machos, Vol. 2

Banda Pequeños Musical, 25 Bandazos de Pequeños Musical, Vol. 1

Banda Pequeños Musical, 25 Bandazos de Pequeños Musical, Vol. 2

Atomic Rooster, Anthology 1969-81

Eluveitie, Evocation I: The Arcane Dominion

Mexican Institute of Sound, Soy Sauce