Saturday, May 30, 2009


An astonishing tale of wackness, starring Ghostface Killah and two irate fans: Part 1, Part 2. N.B.: I love Ghostface's records, but I saw him live in '07 and while it wasn't as bad as the debacle described in those two blog posts, it was kinda just okay in typical hip-hop show fashion: doing only the first verse of a son; lines being drowned out by the nineteen other guys on the stage, each with his own mic; incoherent between-song get the idea. To this day the only hip-hop performers I've ever seen give genuinely strong onstage performances were Public Enemy in '88 and '90, Ice-T in '91 and '92, and DJ Krush in 2005. PE and Ice-T delivered tight, disciplined sets with no rambling, no extraneous personnel onstage, and a genuine effort to engage the audience not with bluster, but with real commanding presence and charisma. They didn't half-ass it. Krush didn't half-ass it, either, but his set was very different, obviously - an almost entirely instrumental performance (plus vocal cameos by Mr. Lif and Aesop Rock) that mixed expert turntablism with live piano, saxophone and shakuhachi. Brilliant, hypnotic stuff.


A Swiss conservatory requested the help of computer geeks to reverse-engineer a long-since-forgotten horn, the Lituus; success!

Thursday, May 28, 2009


"El Raton" live with the Fania All-Stars. That's Jorge Santana of Malo (yes, Carlos Santana's brother) on guitar.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009



As reggaeton steadily expands its sonic parameters (Calle 13 are full-on crazy at this point, Tego Calderón is a massively underrated weirdo his ownself, and Don Omar has disappeared down some kind of sci-fi techno wormhole on his new album), Daddy Yankee and especially Wisin y Yandel continue to produce club bangers for whatever you call the Latin equivalent of guidos. I like their voices, though, particularly Wisin's hyper-aggressive, almost enraged rapping; even as Yandel is crooning to bring the ladies in, Wisin is shouting at everyone in range like a younger, slightly more fey DMX. He was hilarious on their collaboration with Enrique Iglesias; poor Enrique's doing his usual whispery thing, trying to be all sensitive and whatnot, and then Wisin comes in with his scenery-chewing, berserker style like he didn't even listen to the song he was rapping on.

The new album, La Revolución, came out yesterday, and it's pretty swell. It's thoroughly of-the-moment as far as production is concerned - Yandel's voice is slathered in vocoder and Autotune, though I give them credit for setting it to "Daft Punk" more than "T-Pain," and there's not a single non-software-based musical sound on the whole damn record as far as I can tell. The guest appearances are in some cases welcome (Ivy Queen) and in other cases very much not (50 Cent on the new single, "Mujeres in the Club"). I fully expect to hear tracks from this album booming out of tricked-out Japanese cars all over Mytown all goddamn summer.

Embedding has been disabled on a lot of their YouTube videos, but here are links to a few of my favorites:

"Pam Pam"
"Noche de Entierro" (actually more of a posse cut from one of the Mas Flow compilations)
"Sexy Movimiento"
"Lloro Por Ti" (the aforementioned Enrique Iglesias collaboration)

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Friday, May 22, 2009


One more AMG review's been posted: my writeup on Defeatist's Sharp Blade Sinks Deep Into Dull Minds, which is a great little disc, sure to liven up your Memorial Day weekend. Go get yourself one.

Thursday, May 21, 2009


Oh well, at least I got to see Lair of the Minotaur. (I didn't bother sticking around for Withered, Cephalic Carnage or Mayhem, because I don't really care much about any of them. I was kinda curious if Attila Csihar was gonna show up dressed in black metal garb or in some kind of Genesis-era-Peter-Gabriel costumery, but not curious enough to hang around all night. And I didn't buy any T-shirts; the merch guy wasn't selling Marduk shirts because the band didn't make it, and the Lair and Mayhem shirts both had the F-word on the front, and I'm 37 years old, so no thanks.)

Some excellent photos and a write-up at Brooklyn Vegan.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


[Click image to see larger version.]

I've been listening to Ornette Coleman for about 16 years at this point; I bought Change of the Century shortly before the Beauty is a Rare Thing box was released, whereupon I bought that, too. I have the following Ornette albums in my iPod right now, today:

The Art of the Improvisers
Body Meta
Change of the Century
The Complete Science Fiction Sessions
Dancing In Your Head
Friends & Neighbors
In All Languages
Of Human Feelings
Opening the Caravan of Dreams
Ornette On Tenor
The Shape of Jazz to Come
Sound Grammar
Sound Museum: Hidden Man
Sound Museum: Three Women
This is Our Music
To Whom Who Keeps a Record
Town Hall 1962
Virgin Beauty

I don't have Free Jazz in there, no. I like it, but I don't need to listen to it that often, plus it's kind of a slog; on the other hand, I can shuffle through the tracks from all those other albums while walking around, going about my daily business, and pretty much never come up with a dud. I used to put the Beauty... discs on when I was working, all alone, in an auto parts warehouse about 15 years ago. That's how I became obsessed with Ornette's music, by hearing that lightning-fast, unbelievably swinging rhythm and those looping, spinning, crying solos all day long. I've seen him play Carnegie Hall twice, in 2003 and 2005, and now I've been to his New York apartment and interviewed him. He signed my Beauty... booklet when we were finished talking, and even gave me some signed sheet music - to "A Girl Named Rainbow," a piece he never recorded himself to my knowledge, but which Andrew Cyrille and Maono included on their Special People album in 1981. Did you know it has lyrics? I didn't either.

Anyway, I've done a lot of features for The Wire (this is my fifth cover story for them, and I've done two other pieces I think should have been the cover; my Noah Howard feature was in the January 2006 issue, so it was bumped for "Rewind" coverage, and I can understand that, but Mark Stewart over Bill Dixon last year? Musta been an English thing), but this might be the one I'm proudest of - it was definitely the one I was most excited about going in. When my editor, Chris, called me and offered it to me, I almost started literally jumping up and down in my kitchen. I'd interviewed Ornette once before, but that was just a brief phoner when Sound Grammar came out two years ago. This was the chance to really talk to the guy, in person and at length. (And, as it turned out, to have chocolate cake with him and his son and drummer, Denardo.) And it was just as phenomenal an experience as I'd hoped it would be. Ornette is one of the nicest people I've ever met and/or interviewed - interestingly, Charlie Haden probably runs a close second. Once you get attuned to his logic, and the way he tends to speak in metaphor rather than come right out and answer a question with facts, he'll tell you everything you want or need to know.

I'm really proud to have this piece out there. Ornette Coleman's a brilliant musician, a genuinely swell fellow, and a damn national treasure. Go buy this issue of The Wire, please.

Monday, May 18, 2009


Here's my latest batch of All Music Guide reviews...

First up, as promised -

Marilyn Manson, The High End of Low

Now ten more, in alphabetical order:

CKY, Carver City
Fleshgod Apocalypse, Oracles
Graves of Valor, Salarian Gate
Hacride, Lazarus
Nifelheim, Nifelheim (reissue w/one totally inessential bonus track)
Tim "Ripper" Owens, Play My Game
Wadada Leo Smith/Jack DeJohnette, America
War From a Harlots Mouth, In Shoals
Warbringer, Waking into Nightmares
Yahir, Elemental


I interviewed Marduk founding guitarist Morgan Hakansson recently, on the eve of their first U.S. tour since 2001 (also on the bill: Mayhem, Cephalic Carnage, Cattle Decapitation, Withered, and for the first gig in NYC on 5/21, Lair of the Minotaur). Unsurprisingly, he was a nice guy, and apparently thrifty by nature - he talked incredibly fast, maybe to avoid racking up a massive long-distance charge, as he was calling me from Sweden. Anyway, you can read the Q&A here. Enjoy!

Saturday, May 16, 2009


I don't often read Atlantic blogger Megan McArdle, because most of what I have read has been forehead-slappingly idiotic. But some of what she's got to say in this post is dead on. A brief excerpt:

...writers are, as a class, extraordinarily at risk. They spend their twenties, and often their thirties, living paycheck to paycheck. They are extremely well educated, and all that education is not only expensive, but builds expensive habits. You end up with a lot of friends who make much more money than you--who don't even realize that a dinner with $10 entrees and a bottle of wine is an expensive treat, not a cheap outing to catch up on old times. Our business is in crisis, and we lose jobs often. When we do, it's catastrophic.

This is what David Brooks calls "status-income disequilibrium", and unless you are among that happy breed of writers who is married to someone with a high-paying job, or who has a trust fund, you feel it keenly. Everyone you write about makes more than you. Most of the people you know make more than you.

This is absolutely right, and it's part of what drove me, and the other freelance writers I discussed it with via email, so crazy about Dan Baum's Twitter account of how he was hired, then fired, by the New Yorker (now collected here). That guy was getting $90,000 a year to write? I've never come close to a buck a word for anything I've written, and frankly, given the state of the publishing industry (and I'm including websites in that), I don't ever expect to. From where I (and every other writer I personally know) sit, the kind of money Baum - and Edmund Andrews, the New York Timesman McArdle links to and discusses in her post - make is mind-boggling. Incomprehensible. One of the outlets I write for pays me $15 for a CD review. Others pay $25. I'm supposed to care about these guys' problems?

I started freelancing just about thirteen years ago, and I was working in a warehouse at the time, faxing in copy I'd typed on an electric typewriter. It's been nine years since I had a job doing anything other than writing and editing, but to be honest, I can very easily foresee having to return to non-writing work, and cranking out reviews and stories at night and on weekends, in the future. When I read about some writer signing a contract to write for a magazine for $90,000 a year, or getting a half-(or multi-)million-dollar book advance, my reaction isn't aspirational - I never think "one day that'll be me." I think that just like everything else in American life, writing is about connections and juice, and I showed up just a little bit late to the party, and through the wrong door - yeah, I got in when you could still get hired as an editor just by being good with language, without needing a college degree (which I don't have), but I don't know the people who would bring me to the attention of somebody at Rolling Stone, never mind the Atlantic or the New Yorker. So pardon me if I don't squeeze out a tear for Baum or Andrews. I've got CDs to review.

Thursday, May 14, 2009


GG Allin bobblehead...


I got my copy of the new Sunn O))) album, Monoliths & Dimensions, in today's mail - a vinyl promo copy. It's a double slab, one track per side, plus a little booklet with personnel and other info (presumably - I haven't broken the shrink-wrap). All I can say is, if you get one too, make sure you read the sticker carefully (not just the part about "PLEASE LISTEN TO THIS RECORD IN SEQUENCE/PLEASE DO NOT COPY THIS MUSIC TO A COMPUTER OR CDR"). Take note:

Side A: Aghartha...33 rpm
Side B: Big Church [megszentségtelenithetetlenségeskedéseitekért]...45 rpm
Side C: Hunting & Gathering (Cydonia)...45 rpm
Side D: Alice...33 rpm.

(Though frankly, if somebody uploads this thing, I hope they do it at the wrong speed just so I can hear what it sounds like that way.)

For more info and some very awesome photos:

And look out for a major (5000+ words) feature on the group, by me, in the next issue of Signal to Noise.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009


Just watched Taken tonight (the PG-13 US version; I've heard there's a more violent European cut, but Netflix did not send me it). It's a combination of just about everything I like in a movie: a taciturn professional on a rescue mission, impassively destroying everyone in his path (Spartan); car chases, especially car chases through narrow European streets (Ronin); skeevy Euro-villains (Hostel); deadpan displays of staggering hand-to-hand combat (all three Bourne movies) and extensive but still somehow subtle gunplay; and best of all, a screenwriting team and a director who provide the absolute minimum of dialogue in order to set up the ass-kickery, and no more. There are no stupid plot twists, there are no jokes. Our hero has a few friends who show up to demonstrate that he's a human being and not merely a stone-faced killing machine, but they're gone once the real action gets going. Basically, it's a really good post-Mamet, post-Mann action movie with absolutely no interest in being anything else. It gets you in and out in almost exactly 90 minutes, and I recommend it very highly - either as a rental, or a Father's Day gift.

Monday, May 11, 2009


Links to my latest AMG reviews:

The good:

Cauldron, Chained to the Nite
Dodsferd, Suicide and the Rest of Your Kind Will Follow
Girl in a Coma, Trio B.C.
I See Stars, 3D
Joe Morris/John Voigt/Tom Plsek, MVP LSD: The Graphic Scores of Lowell Skinner Davidson

The not-so-good (but with merit):

Blood Tsunami, Grand Feast for Vultures
Broadcast the Nightmare, Twenty Twelve

Coming up: my thoughts on the new Marilyn Manson album, The High End of Low. Stay tuned!

Thursday, May 07, 2009


I got copies of the two new Flipper albums, Love (studio) and Fight (live), in this morning's mail. They're on MVD Audio, a low-profile label that puts out decent releases by bands the marketplace doesn't care much about anymore - in the same package, I got a new CD by the Australian boogie-rock band that's not AC/DC, Rhino Bucket. It's called The Hardest Town, it features two original members plus ex-AC/DC drummer Simon Wright and guitarist Brian Forsythe (formerly of Kix), and I bet it sounds exactly like a late '80s AC/DC album. This is a record guaranteed to make absolutely no commercial impact. But back to Flipper.

I've been a fan for 25 years or so; I first heard them when a friend played Album: Generic Flipper for me in junior high school. When their long out of print second studio disc, Gone Fishin', the equally rare double live disc Public Flipper Limited: Live 1980-1985 and the intermittently available compilation Sex Bomb Baby! were reissued last year, I bought them all from the Amazon MP3 store, and they were every bit as awesome as I'd remembered them being, Gone Fishin' in particular. I'm not anticipating anything as ambitious as the horns and funk of that album on the new studio record, as both discs were recorded with a stripped-down quartet featuring three original members (vocalist Bruce Loose, guitarist Ted Falconi, and drummer Steve DePace) along with bassist Krist Novoselic - you know, the Washington State political activist who used to play in that mopey-ass trio that ruined '90s rock. And I'm not expecting the hostile audience-baiting of their semi-legendary '80s shows (I remember hearing a live tape that featured Loose telling the crowd, "The more you heckle us, the longer this song gets") from Fight, given the inner tray photo of a wildly grinning audience. Still, I'm glad to see Flipper fully reactivated; these discs won't get the hype Black Ice or Chinese Democracy got, but they're equally welcome comebacks as far as I'm concerned.

UPDATE: Okay, I've listened to Love, and it's good. Novoselic is the bassist, no more, no less; he's prominent in the mix, but the songwriting is clearly in the old-school Flipper style. The actual recording (by Jack Endino) is clean and doesn't include the ostentatious false starts and fuck-ups that were present on Generic and Gone Fishin', but it's hardly a pop record. Ted Falconi's guitar is still more about waves of noise than traditional rock riffing, and Bruce Loose hasn't become any better a singer since Flipper was last in the studio 17 years ago or whenever it was that American Grayfishy was recorded. The band hasn't gone soft; the new stuff isn't a letdown. Good for them.

Sunday, May 03, 2009


[I wrote this story for Global Rhythm back in 2008, and rediscovered it in a fit of self-Googling; I wound up not loving Sino, their most recent album, but interviewing these guys was a genuine thrill and pleasure, and they're still one of the best live acts around, from any country.]

Rubén Albarrán, Café Tacvba’s diminutive vocalist, is seated in the lobby of New York’s Roosevelt Hotel in white jeans and a white T-shirt, his hair pulled into braids on either side of his head. Resting in his lap is a custom-made white hat—like a bowler, but deep enough that when he pulls it on, it slides just over his eyes so he can peer through two holes cut out of the band. Like all the Tacubos, he’s 40 or maybe a few years past that (biographical information on the band is sketchy, and they like it that way). He’s got a son and a daughter, and he’s talking about the impact of fatherhood on his art.

“I think that I have a better connection with my feelings and with my heart,” he says, his speaking voice softer than his raucous onstage bark. “I don’t know if it’s done already, I don’t know if this connection is going to last forever, but it’s a very beautiful thing for me. It’s like you have a vision of the future and the past at the same time. There’s a lot of forgiveness to your parents. I feel very happy to be a father.”

Albarrán is known to Tacvba fans for changing his name every time the band releases an album: Pinche Juan, Cosme, Anónimo, Ñru, Gallo Gasss, Élfego Buendía, and on and on. On his debut solo album, 2006’s largely electronic Bienvenido Al Sueño (Welcome To The Dream), he was Sizu Yantra. “In my case, the solo project comes with a family,” he says, when asked how he divided songs between Tacvba’s albums and his solo work. “It was because of the family, because of becoming parents and needing to express this experience, so it was very easy. But I think if I had another solo project, it would be difficult to decide which songs go for Tacvba and which go for that. For me, there’s no separation. It’s just the things I’m feeling, and who I’m going to share this creation with. It’s what I’m doing in that moment, and the accent is on the reation.”

Albarrán is joined on the Roosevelt’s plush sofa by Enrique “Quique” Rangel, Tacvba’s bassist (and brother to guitarist Joselo Rangel), who looks a little bit like Pere Ubu vocalist David Thomas, albeit slimmer and less cranky. The discussion turns to the band’s sixth album, Sino—their first in four years. “The title means ‘destiny,’” Rangel explains. “It’s a word that is not used in Spanish often to define destiny. And [with] the spelling, you can say yes and no at the same time. It talks about destiny not as something that is sent by the gods, not as fate, but as something you can decide by taking or not taking decisions.”

Tacvba albums frequently seem like a response to the one before. Their breakthrough disc, 1994’s Re, featured 20 short, genre-hopping tracks. They followed it with 1996’s Avalancha De Éxitos—a covers album that spanned an equally broad sonic range, from jittery acoustic punk to hip-hop to Mexican folk to romantic balladry. Their 1999 double CD Revés/Yosoy was spread over one disc of instrumentals—nearly all of them numbered rather than titled—and a second disc of songs simply named for people, places, objects and events (“El Padre,” “El Río,” “El Espacio” and “Guerra,” among others). The band played with language in the disc’s title “revés” means “backwards” in Spanish, and “yo soy,” which means “I am,” is a palindrome.

The follow-up, 2003’s Cuatro Caminos (Four Roads), was a major shift from the arty, moody experimentalism of that Latin Grammy-winning opus. The band had originally planned to work with four different producers, but wound up using only three: longtime creative partner Gustavo Santaolalla, Ween collaborator Andrew Weiss and former Mercury Rev bassist Dave Fridmann, best known for his work with the Flaming Lips.

“I enjoyed the way [Fridmann] worked a lot,” Rangel recalls. “We stayed with him for 12 days in his studio, which is an hour outside Buffalo. There’s a cabin where you stay, you see Japanese movies that the Flaming Lips have left from their tour, and work eight to 14 hours a day depending on the schedule or not-schedule, which is very free. I remember those days in a dreamy way. Sunset was at four or five P.M.—that was the first time we all saw snow falling. [Fridmann] has all these instruments, so he’ll say ‘I need something in this section.’ What do you need? ‘A texture, like darkness.’ So you have to decide what darkness means to you, whether it’s a double bass or this old synthesizer. They’re very subtle instructions, and you record something that could be used or not in the final track. I think it made our songs more of a soundscape.”

Not everyone welcomed the change. Some reviewers thought Cuatro Caminos just sounded like a Flaming Lips album in Spanish, especially given the addition of live drums—a first for Tacvba, produced in typically booming Fridmann style. But Cuatro Caminos won the group a Grammy for Best Latin Rock/Alternative Album, and two Latin Grammys, including one for Best Rock Song honoring the love ballad “Eres” (“You Are”).

Sino is a step forward from Cuatro Caminos in that it sounds like the group is reasserting their collective identity, particularly on the eight-minute epic first single “Volver A Comenzar” ("Returning To Begin"), which features a pulsing, disco-like bassline with swoopy synths that combine to create an impression not unlike early ’80s New Order, but with a much more passionate lead vocalist in Albarrán. One of the weirdest elements is the presence of prominent, almost prog-rocky synthesizers, especially on “53100,” which also features a lead vocal from guitarist Joselo Rangel. “El Outsider” combines live drumming with electronic percussion, as well as a frenetic Albarrán vocal—one of the few new tracks that sounds like the old, spazzy, fun-loving Tacvba of “No Controles” and “La Ingrata.”

But at least all the changes are the band’s own. “On this record we’re producing ourselves,” says Quique Rangel. “We have Gustavo, but also we have Tony Peluso, who is the sound engineer who worked on our first records and on Cuatro Caminos. Some of the songs were recorded by him, but we wanted to take the producer’s credit. We started working on these songs and rehearsing and making arrangements last year, so our ideal was to press ‘record’ and record everything that should be there. It couldn’t be done, of course, but it’s the closest we have come to a live-in-studio album.”

“We started playing like ‘1-2-3-4’” Albarrán adds. “I sang and played the guitar, and most of those vocals were printed.”

“We worked again with two drummers,” Quique continues. “Luis Ledezma works with us live, and Victor Indricio was on the last record. We did 20 songs, arranged them, and with Gustavo we decided which ones we were working on. In the process of recording, in the studio, Tony was involved with this. I think it’s a very rounded record. We are very happy with what happened in the studio with the songs.”

A big part what initially captivated critics, in Latin America and across the globe, was the explicit Mexican-ism of Café Tacvba’s music. They became a vanguard act in the 1990s’ “rock en español” movement by embracing the sounds and iconography of their homeland, while also displaying hipsters’ tastes in rock, funk, ska and hip-hop. “Joselo and…I don’t know his name,” says Quique, gesturing to Albarrán and laughing, “they met in college, studying industrial design and graphic design…I think we tried to make a rock band, but discovered that there were some elements in our Mexican contemporary culture that weren’t included in the music that people were doing, so we appropriated them and they easily and naturally became part of our sound. So that’s how we started to make a rock band that sounded different than what was happening.”

Ironically, the generation of bands that’s sprung up in Tacvba’s wake isn’t nearly as concerned with forging a uniquely Latin identity. They take their ethnicity for granted, and many create music on laptops that sounds like it could be from anywhere at all. But Albarrán’s not worried about the kids. “I think it’s like a cycle,” he says. “At a certain point, the popular culture, what the young people are doing, needs to have this base and have this heritage juice, and then, because these young people do it, the ones that come later, they don’t need to do it. But then again, the youngest will need to do it again.”

Café Tacvba are, at this point, one of the last bands standing from the initial wave of rock en español. Caifanes have become Jaguares, Los Fabulosos Cadillacs have broken up, MalditaVecindad recently reunited for a U.S. tour but have no record deal… “There are other groups that have survived, that still play,” says Quique, “but they have had periods of not working together. Some other bands still play but don’t have the original members. I still don’t feel like we are the oldest band working, but when other people, other bands that started playing two years ago and now they’re on the radio and we share a bill, they say ‘When I was nine years old, I saw you,’ and then I realize yes, we are the oldest band.”

“When that kind of band comes backstage, we see them and they are like our daughters,” laughs Albarrán. “We know [then] that we’re an old band.”

Another thing that separates Tacvba from the pack is their cautious rejection of political grandstanding, a pitfall into which many an otherwise worthwhile act has tumbled. “I think our music has political content,” says Rangel, “but we are not telling people what they should do and sometimes we use a lot of images and metaphors, not to talk about an issue but to talk about our point of view in life. Sometimes the political contents of a lyric could be a pamphlet or propaganda, and I think with our group, the fact of ourselves making the music we do, it’s a political statement.”

Albarrán picks up the thread: “The way, for example, we decided never to do commercials for any brand. We have decided not to sing in English just to reach an audience. So for us, this is like our political position. And I think all the body of our work, it is the political position of the band. We don’t need to have a specific lyric talking about a specific thing. We have never played for a [political] party, because inside the band we have different political positions, and we don’t want to do it. When there is for example a charity concert or something like that, we think it is fine to do it.”

“As long as it doesn’t have any relationship with an agenda or a political movement,” Rangel adds. “We are very careful to decide which organizations we are going to give our work.”

Ultimately, in every sense (political, musical, personal), Café Tacvba is a world unto itself. “You can say the members, the composers of Café Tacvba are people who have had lives,” says Rangel. “We are in our 40s, we have just celebrated 18 years as a group, and I think Café Tacvba is the relationship between these four people who have shared, and we are like an entity. It’s not easy for anybody else to get in there. We have had a relationship, for example, with Gustavo or with our manager, but still, Café Tacvba is this entity. I don’t think there is room.”

Saturday, May 02, 2009


Yeah, I changed the template and the colors. Don't worry, the content will remain as tedious and crappy as always.


More links to AMG reviews...

The's, Bomb the Rocks: Early Days Singles 1989-1996
Grace Jones, Hurricane
Unholy, New Life Behind Closed Eyes
Los Natas, Nuevo Orden de la Libertad

The pick of the bunch:

Funeral Mist, Maranatha

And the worst album I've heard in several weeks:

Thick As Blood, Embrace