Wednesday, July 29, 2009


(The Scene used that exact same headline for my Attila Csihar story - oh, well.)

Surprise — new Slayer CD is heavy on gore

Slayer is, in many ways, the ultimate metal band. Their lyrics are about war, murder and hell; their music is relentless, mosh pit-driving and (with the exception of "Dead Skin Mask" from 1990's Seasons in the Abyss) avoids melody like the plague. Their choruses are excuses to pump your fist and chant along, not raise a lighter and sway. The band's upcoming album, World Painted Blood, promises to deliver exactly what fans have come to love.

"It's a cross section of classic Slayer," says singer-bassist Tom Araya. "You will like it. I can guarantee it."

Glen Fidelman, who mixed and mastered Metallica's 2008 Death Magnetic, produced the disc. According to both Araya and drummer Dave Lombardo, Fidelman was a major force in pushing the band to do its best work in years.

"He was there every day," says Araya. "He would drive out to where we rehearse and record a demo of the songs we were preparing to record. Then he worked with them not only at the rehearsal studio but when we were recording — suggesting things, taking the song and building on it."

Indeed, many of the new songs were written in the studio — a first for Slayer.

"[Guitarists] Jeff [Hanneman] and Kerry [King] were continuously bringing new material, like, 'OK, this is my first idea,'" recalls Lombardo. "It became a collective effort on all sides. We would listen back and say, 'Why don't we put this part here at the end?' or 'Why don't we double up here? It feels like it should go a little bit longer.' Then, when the vocals and the leads came in, everything fit like a perfect puzzle."

Araya fully endorses this working method, claiming it overrides the band's usual self-critical nature. "It doesn't give you enough time to change. You just do it the way it is, 'cause it sounds great. Otherwise, you sit on it for a while and you're like, 'Oh, I don't really like this part, let's change this part,' [or] 'Oh, I don't like that part.' So you don't allow for that."

The lyrical content is bound to be more of the same gore and blasphemy. Song titles include "Beauty Through Order," "Public Display of Dismemberment" and the title track. Plus, there's "Psychopathy Red," the punk-inflected song about Russian serial killer Andrei Chikatilo that's been making the YouTube rounds for months. Araya doesn't write all the lyrics, and he's more religious than his bandmates, but he sees everything on every Slayer album as integral to their art and stands by all of it.

World Painted Blood won't be in stores until early fall. Meanwhile, the band is co-headlining the Rockstar Energy Mayhem Festival with Marilyn Manson, a pairing that seemed weird the first time, in 2007. Doing it again seems doubly bizarre.

Though Araya says Slayer will likely do a headlining tour after the release of World Painted Blood and will play more new songs then, the band's Mayhem set is similar to the one they played the past few times they toured — with one exception.

"We only have an hour, and an hour turns out to be about 12 songs," says Araya. "So we're gonna be very selective with the songs we play. We're more than likely gonna play 'Psychopathy Red.' It's the one song everybody knows, the song we've played all throughout Europe. I'm hoping we might do another one, but that's still up in the air."


Northern Ireland's The Answer Is Hard Rock Classicism Fully Aware Of History, But Totally Invested In The Future

“Yeah, lotta good stuff on here,” says Cormac Neeson, vocalist for Northern Ireland hard rock band The Answer. He’s examining a two-disc compilation I’ve purchased, The Essential Rory Gallagher, while we’re stopped at a traffic light. It’s an unexpectedly sunny Sunday afternoon, and we’re driving through Belfast toward the Falls Road, the main drag of the Catholic/Nationalist section of his home city. Neeson bears a close enough resemblance to Gallagher that if a rumored biopic becomes a reality, he wouldn’t be a bad choice to play the legendary blues-rocker.

Despite growing up during the latter years of “the Troubles” in Northern Ireland, Neeson is a friendly, open guy. He shows me the Falls Road building in which he was born. Murals on multiple corners honor victims of bombings, dead hunger strikers and the like. On one lavishly painted wall, the scope of the subject matter is broadened out to encompass global issues – there’s an anti-Bush mural, one in support of Cuba and another advocating Palestinian statehood. We walk up and down, reading the walls, then it’s back into the car for the trip to the Loyalist/Protestant main drag, the Shankill Road. It’s not a long journey – only a few blocks separate the Falls Road and the Shankill, a fact that reshapes an outsider’s impressions of the Irish conflicts. There are so-called “peace lines,” barricades that can be as imposing as a cement wall or as simple as a white line on the pavement, that separate the two neighborhoods, but it’s much easier to travel the city than it was during Neeson’s childhood. There are older Catholics who’ve never been to the Shankill, and old Protestants who’ve never been up the Falls Road, he tells me.

Belfast is a city that celebrates its history, some might say especially the dark stuff; there’s an exhibition commemorating the Titanic, built in a Belfast shipyard, and one of the city’s tourist attractions is the Europa Hotel, described as “the most bombed hotel in Europe” after 33 attacks between 1972 and 1994. Perhaps this reflects something innate in the Irish character, something that manifests itself in a feeling for the blues as well. Seen in this light, Van Morrison, Rory Gallagher, and Thin Lizzy all seem like links in a chain that ends (for the moment, anyhow) with The Answer.

The band’s been together for nine years, gigging incessantly in pubs and halls of varying sizes around the UK and touring Europe where it’s fiscally viable. Its first album, 2006’s Rise, was a slow-burning success in Europe; two years ago, it was reissued as a two-CD deluxe edition, packed with acoustic versions of songs, covers, live tracks, etc. The first single, “Under the Sky,” offered a crash course in the Answer’s musical influences and ambitions – Paul Mahon’s guitar has all of the crunch of Led Zeppelin and Free, while bassist Micky Waters is every bit his childhood friend’s equal, playing a co-lead role rather than merely providing a foundation. Drummer James Heatley hits with ferocious impact, driving the band relentlessly forward but somehow never overplaying. And Neeson’s vocals are astonishing, combining blues feel and raw lungpower in a way that’s equal parts Robert Plant and Chris Cornell. Indeed, “Under the Sky” and its follow-up, “Never Too Late,” sound like what Audioslave could have been – a hard rock sound that’s fully aware of history, but totally invested in the future. The Answer isn’t a bell-bottom-sporting retro act like the Black Crowes, but it isn’t courting indie rockers like Kings of Leon or My Morning Jacket either. They’re classicists getting over on pure rock and roll energy.

That classicism has won them a fistful of high-profile fans and endorsements from rock royalty. In Europe, the Answer has opened for Deep Purple, the Who, Whitesnake, Aerosmith and the Rolling Stones. Jimmy Page even praised the band at an awards show in 2005. At a December 2007 show, preserved on the tour-only CD Live at Planet Rock Xmas Party, they were joined onstage for two songs by former Free and Bad Company vocalist Paul Rodgers. And when I meet up with them in Dublin, they’re completing a several-months-long term of service as AC/DC’s opening act on the Australian band’s first world tour since 2001.

The band recognizes this for the opportunity it’s been, though there were jitters at the beginning. “We were nervous when we started, ’cause it’s AC/DC, everyone wants to see them,” admits Mahon. “It’s been a while since Stiff Upper Lip, and fans don’t care who the support act is, you’re gonna get hit with bottles. We were told, don’t leave any silence cause they’ll start booing, cheering for Angus.”

Fortunately, Mahon and the band have been able to win the crowds over. “America was really good to us,” he says. “They didn’t throw anything, didn’t boo us. Europe was tougher – in Paris we went on [stage] to boos. After the first song, though, they were cheering.”

When you see the Answer live, its appeal becomes viscerally apparent. Dublin’s O2 Arena holds somewhere in the neighborhood of 20,000 people, but it has an open floor with no seats – which gives it the feel of a club. The rest of the patrons are in tiered rows of seats ascending up the walls, but that open floor makes the show feel incredibly intimate, especially when AC/DC vocalist Brian Johnson and lead guitarist Angus Young come down the runway that’s part of their stage set, and into the middle of the crowd.

The Answer doesn’t get the use of the runway for its show, but they still manage to play to the crowd quite ably. Maybe it’s because it’s a home-country gig, or because of the copious amounts of alcohol the venue is selling, but the crowd seems astonishingly friendly and enthusiastic. The band takes the stage at a run and hits hard, boiling through seven songs – three from its debut album and four from the new one, Everyday Demons. Neeson dances in a weird, shuffling style when he’s not leaning into the microphone and belting out the lyrics, as Waters and Mahon bounce back and forth on the stage, cranking out furious, complex hard rock riffs while Heatley attempts to pound the drumkit through the stage. Despite the music’s aggressive nature, though, there’s a looseness to their songs; they’ve got the same feel Black Sabbath had in the early years, where guitar and bass would wander far afield, only coming together when it was time to hammer home the chorus. Waters and Heatley are a rhythm section equal to Geezer Butler and Bill Ward, if not John Paul Jones and John Bonham. In this regard, they swing like a wrecking ball, combining an instinctive grasp of blues dynamics with the pulverizing roar of the hardest rock.

It turns out that the band isn’t even performing at full capacity. Two days later, I’m interviewing Paul Mahon, Micky Waters and Cormac Neeson on board their fancy tour bus, parked outside of Mandela Hall in Belfast. The three have just finished a well received in-store appearance and signing session at the local HMV, but the sold-out show booked for that night has been cancelled. James Heatley is nowhere to be found – he’s eventually located at a hospital because it turns out that he’s been playing with a fractured hand for somewhere in the neighborhood of two weeks, including the O2 Arena performance. It’s eventually determined that he’ll have to be replaced by Carl Papenfus, of the Irish band Relish, for some of the Answer’s European stadium dates with AC/DC.

“When we started, we just wanted to play Led Zeppelin and Hendrix and Free and Black Sabbath and write stuff in that vein,” says Mahon. “We weren’t scenesters at all, so we had no idea there was this segregation – that you had to play a certain type of music to get on local radio and get gigs and stuff. So the first year, we played with Franz Ferdinand, the Strokes, the indie-disco type bands like the Rapture. We’d go on first and then it’d be all them. We’d be playing to no one and then all the cool people would come in.”

The band bonded through these lean years of scrambling for gigs, which at least partly explains why there have been no lineup changes in nine years. But as Waters says, “There’s actually video footage of our first practice somewhere, and you could see even in that the way it just gelled” when Neeson, the last to join, arrived. “It sounded exactly the way it sounds now. There was no intention to go, ‘Let’s be a classic rock band,’ – it was very organic and natural, just the way everybody played together.”

Eventually, the band was drawing hundreds of fans to gigs throughout both halves of Ireland. “Then we went to London and it started all over again,” laughs Waters. “It’s so much flavor of the week [in England]. If there’s one band that’s successful, like for example Razorlight, you’re guaranteed a month later that there’ll be a hundred. And they’re all the same bands, they just change their names to try and get that breakthrough. There’s a ton of Kaiser Chiefs, there’s a ton of Razorlights. But we had two, three hundred shows under our belt, so we could bang out a half-hour set and impress people, because we were very good. And the industry saw it, and said ‘Yeah, there might be a bit of time for this.’” The Answer signed with Albert Music, the production company that brought AC/DC to the world in the ’70s.

A surprising amount of that live energy, that showmanship, translates to CD, especially on the new Everyday Demons. Opening cut “Demon Eyes” is closer to metal than the Led Zeppelin/Free territory of Rise, and that momentum is sustained throughout the disc’s 12 tracks. “We’re trying to take a step away from the whole retro thing,” says Neeson. “This time around, we have a clearer idea of where we slot into modern music as opposed to just trying to harken back to our influences. I think we definitely set out to write songs that had a bite to them, that were akin to getting punched in the face for three and a half minutes.”

Now, as both Mahon and Waters make quite clear to me in separate conversations, they’re intent on becoming the next great hard rock band, quite literally taking over from Aerosmith, AC/DC etc., who are (let’s be honest) just too old to keep going much longer. And a big part of that is breaking into the American market. Waters admits to being a fan of the Darkness, and seeing that band as a model for a commercially successful 21st century hard rock band, but he also admits there was a strong element of Brit gimmickry to the band, which may have accounted for their one-hit wonder status in the States. He doesn’t think that the Answer will have the same problem. “I think the American public can see through [gimmicks],” he says. “What we do – it’s for real. And hopefully that message will be carried across to the American public.”

Guitarist Mahon says, “There’s a strong British blues thing, but in the UK it’s only appreciated by older people, whereas in America, I still think kids get into rock and roll – they’ll hear Aerosmith and Van Halen and love it as much as a kid in the ’70s did. In America, you have to entertain, it’s not just about being cool. The classic rock bands had that, and it’s not lost on us.”

Monday, July 27, 2009

Sunday, July 26, 2009


A collection of Swedish commercials, all directed by Roy Andersson.


Former LA Weekly music critic Greg Burk's 17-year-old daughter Lily was murdered. I don't know Greg well, but we've exchanged emails from time to time and he wrote what turned out to be Metal Edge's final cover story, on Isis. (You can read that here.)

Saturday, July 25, 2009


This is a big one: 16 new reviews. Check 'em out...

Anaal Nathrakh, In the Constellation of the Black Widow
Arsonists Get All The Girls, Portals
Behemoth, Evangelion
Bomba Esteréo, Blow Up
Coffins, Mortuary in Darkness
D'espairs Ray, Redeemer
Divine Heresy, Bringer of Plagues
For The Fallen Dreams, Relentless
He Is Legend, It Hates You
Iron Monkey, Iron Monkey/Our Problem
Gary Moore, Essential Montreux 5CD box
Municipal Waste, Massive Aggressive
Ninetail, Half Truths and Hand Grenades
Jose Luis Rodríguez, Mi Amigo El Puma
Los Super Reyes, Cumbia con Soul
We Were Gentlemen, Living Hell

Thursday, July 23, 2009


It's been a while since I've done the shuffle...

Bobby Valentín, "Bad Breath" (from The Bad Boogaloo: Nuyorican Sounds 1966-1970)
Social Distortion, "Ring of Fire" (from Social Distortion)
Nihil Obstat, "Zero Probability" (from A Bombardment From The Southern Paradise: The Colombian Brutal Death Metal Compilation)
Swans, "Blood and Honey" (from Feel Good Now)
Miles Davis, "New Blues" (from Live Around The World)
Brutal Truth, "Sympathy Kiss (Live)" (from Goodbye Cruel World)
Gang Of Four, "Damaged Goods" (from Entertainment!)
Erykah Badu, "In Love With You" (from Mama's Gun)
Ice, "Stick Insect" (from Under The Skin)
Amon Amarth, "Gods of War Arise" (from With Oden On Our Side)
Strapping Young Lad, "Force Fed" (from SYL)
Miles Davis, "High Speed Chase" (from Doo-Bop)
Marduk, "Autumnal Reaper (Rehearsal)" (from Opus Nocturne)

Clearly, my iPod was in the mood for metal and '80s Miles. Which is okay by me.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009


Fox News reports that a military robot currently in the design stages and fueled by biomass it scavenges from its surroundings will limit its consumption to plants, and not eat, say, the corpses of dead soldiers on the battlefield. The company has even issued a press release to that effect, including the awesome line "Desecration of the dead is a war crime under Article 15 of the Geneva Conventions, and is certainly not something sanctioned by DARPA, Cyclone or RTI." Okay, then.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Friday, July 17, 2009


I tried to watch the Criterion DVD of John Huston's Wise Blood last night. Man, what a steamin' sack of crap. If they'd made it a period piece (the novel was published in 1952), it might have worked; but instead they left the whole supporting cast dressed in late '70s ordinary while requesting/allowing Brad Dourif - who plays the main character, the religious/anti-religious loony Hazel Motes - and the girl who plays his attempted seductress, Sabbath (maybe the least appealing woman I've ever seen in a movie, and that includes Edith Massey) to dress and act like they fell to earth in a rocket from the planet 1952. Between that and the goofy-ass music that plays pretty much anytime the Enoch Emery character appears on screen, it was like To Kill A Mockingbird meets Jesus Christ Superstar, if TKAM had been a Roger Corman movie. Dourif was briefly compelling to watch, but I used to work with a guy like that (not the religious angle but the personality - always staring and striking dramatic poses and trying to fill the room with his burning intensity) and it was possibly even less annoying in real life, because at least I could send that guy out on a delivery and have a few minutes' relief. I actually sort of get why Criterion released Armageddon; this choice is one that really baffles me.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009


Flipper gets knifed, finds Love

Bruce Loose, frontman for legendary punk band Flipper, is making up for lost time — several years' worth. The band has two new albums — the live Fight and the studio Love — and is playing shows with a new bassist (its fourth). None of this would likely be happening if Loose hadn't finally undergone surgery for spinal damage that had plagued him for much of his life.

"I [originally] injured myself in high school gymnastics," he recalls. "It was a simple-looking injury at the time, but it was a total destabilization of my system starting. Over years of working, various auto accidents, [and] falling off the stage, my back went through degenerative disc disease breakdown."

In 2008, Loose had some of his vertebrae fused "with titanium bars and big screws. They were going to do it to my sacrum, but I wouldn't be able to bend at all if I did that." He also had a bone spur removed from his lower back, a procedure he describes as "basically them taking a little auger, like you'd use with a piece of wood, and they ream a hole around your nerve. Had they missed, I'd be paralyzed."

Loose's condition was probably exacerbated by his band's ultraconfrontational shows. Flipper was legendary on the early-'80s Bay Area punk scene, but for all the wrong reasons, or so it seemed at the time. In an era of 1,000 mph hardcore, the group played slower than anyone since Black Sabbath, goading audiences with atonal, sludgy riffs and the sardonic lyrics of Loose and Will Shatter, not to mention their infamous stage banter.

Loose recalls a strong disconnect between Flipper and punk fans demanding fast-faster-fastest pacing and simplistic political preaching. These crowds built an insular, self-policing scene that inevitably stagnated; you can only play one note for so long.

While its hardcore peers have mostly disappeared, Flipper is still here, with the aforementioned albums, both featuring former Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic. Love, which offers the first new Flipper songs since 1993's American Grafishy, is more melodic than 1981's Generic Flipper Album or 1982's Gone Fishin' (both reissued last year, along with the singles compilation Sex Bomb Baby! and the double live disc Public Flipper Limited). And while the cynicism of the classic albums remains, it's tempered by age. Says Loose, "Flipper has always been a means and a device for getting a message to people, and if it's time to fuckin' chill down the anger, it's time to chill down the anger. There's definitely hope in this world."

Fight, recorded at two 2007 gigs, pairs fresh material with Flipper classics, and the juxtaposition is seamless. The distorted roar of Ted Falconi's guitar and drummer Steve DePace's slow-motion avalanche remain as powerful as they were in 1981.

Perhaps the most surprising change to Flipper circa 2009 is the relationship between the band and the public. The hostility of the group that sang "There's No Place as Bad as Southern California" to an L.A. crowd on Public Flipper Limited is gone, replaced by a spirit of communication and openness. "We're not a fuckin' band up there trying to be rock stars," Loose says. "The connection is made to the people in the audience. One person at a time per show." Whether it's attributable to Loose's surgery or something more, Flipper seems not just rejuvenated, but reborn.


With a summer tour with Marilyn Manson and the forthcoming LP World Painted Blood, metal gods Slayer show no signs of slowing down

It's possible to argue that Slayer is the only of the so-called "Big Four" American thrash-metal bands that has never done anything truly embarrassing. The band's music has remained as aggressive and noisy as it's ever been, and since Dave Lombardo returned in 2001, Slayer has regained the rhythmic complexity it lost during the nine that Paul Bostaph, a hard-hitting but unsubtle player, played drums. In September, it'll be releasing World Painted Blood, its ninth studio album and the follow-up to 2006's Christ Illusion. Says Lombardo: "I really like it a lot more than any since [1988's] South of Heaven, [1990's] Seasons [in the Abyss] and [1986's] Reign in Blood. The ones we did from '86 to '90, there was magic there, and I think this record has that quality."

When it was promoting Christ Illusion, Slayer toured with Marilyn Manson. Despite being an odd pairing on its face, it must have sold tickets: The band's doing it again this summer. (Lombardo admits to being a sometime fan, saying, "I like Manson's heavier stuff.") He's hoping some of Slayer's intensity will rub off on Manson, though. "The last tour was full of the very slow, trudging stuff," he recalls. "I wanted to hear some energy, some pounding drums, some fire."

Onstage, Slayer keeps the theatrics to a minimum; the drummer describes the band as "this locomotive," one he's driving from the rear. He listens to his own drums in his monitors — and so do guitarists Jeff Hanneman and Kerry King and bassist/vocalist Tom Araya. "I don't even know if they have guitars in their monitors," he says. "Usually kick and snare is all I hear them saying they want... It's true, I do drive them. We're onstage playing, going mach ten downhill, and we're about to fall off the tracks, but somehow I always seem to guide the band right back in, whether it's crazy drum rolls, or I'm just locked into the zone where me and my drumsticks are one."

Lombardo plays a similar role in the studio, though he doesn't write any of the riffs or lyrics. "Although they'll have the basics of the structure of a song, when I start playing, it opens up more ideas for the guys to embellish more," he says. "So what I do is enhance what they have and contribute my own structure and connectivity." According to Lombardo, this was particularly important during the recording of World Painted Blood, which was in large part written in the studio — a first for Slayer. He sounds genuinely enthused about the disc, describing a genuine rejuvenation, which for a band with 25 years in the game is astonishing.

This burst of creative energy was in part due to the efforts of producer Greg Fidelman, who also worked on Metallica's Death Magnetic. "Personalities can clash with other personalities, obviously, but his clicked very well with us," Lombardo says. "He brought out the best in all of us, and I believe he's taught us a few things, which I feel like a producer should do. He makes you sound good, but he'll make you a better musician when you leave the studio. During the Reign in Blood days, I remember [Rick] Rubin bringing out the best in my drumming, and Greg did the same thing."

It may be a little hard for long-time fans to imagine Slayer's Kerry King being willing — or able — to accept opinions from outside the group, but Lombardo says it's vital to do so. "I think once you stop absorbing outside influence, you can kiss your career goodbye. You're stuck in a rut, and you'll never grow. Part of being a musician is growing and continuously learning and re-creating yourself, and once you stop that, I think you stop all creative facets of your musical ability." Without fundamentally changing what it does, Slayer still seems to be moving forward rather than coasting on past glories, and its streak of not letting itself — or its fans — down is likely to continue.


Some website I've never encountered before today lists ten supposedly important books you can safely skip. I agree with some of his choices (wow, is Don DeLillo overrated, and One Hundred Years of Solitude is not Marquez's best book), can't comment on others (I've never read anything by Faulkner, Lawrence or Woolf), but I gotta speak up for John Dos Passos' U.S.A. trilogy. The imagistic stuff that the writer focuses on is such a small part of the book(s) as a whole that to call it a reason to skip the trilogy seems absurd. The heart of the whole massive project is the narrative of the characters as they move through the working and political world of the time, and that stuff is brilliant. It depicts an America that doesn't exist anymore, one that is well worth remembering, particularly in prose of the quality Dos Passos offers. I also think anyone who chooses to valorize Cormac McCarthy's All the Pretty Horses and The Crossing over The Road would be better off reading Louis L'Amour, or Harlequin romances. But by all means read the article and make your own judgments.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009


Spanish Harlem Nights with Raucous Trio Navegante
Making First and 115th a destination neighborhood

Camaradas del Barrio is a tiny restaurant/bar tucked beside a bodega at the corner of First Avenue and 115th Street. When I arrive after a five-block journey from the 6 train, the hardwood tables are already taken, small groups wedged together in laughing, raucous conversation. Inside, I wrestle my way down a narrow passage toward a stage that makes the Mercury Lounge look like the Hammerstein Ballroom. Everything is nudged up against everything else, yet the place doesn't feel crowded: It has that intangible sense of community that turns "hot, sweaty, and claustrophobic" into "intimate." Outside, other customers lean against cars, smoking and socializing. The night air, the traffic, and the full-throated contributions of neighbors and passersby do nothing to drown out Latin electro-rock trio Navegante, who are commanding the same stage they've taken every other Friday for close to a year. Tonight, it's their record-release party: Microcosmos, their debut CD (out on their own Rebel Ship label, named after the vehicle that takes them to every gig), is available.

The songs on Microcosmos combine live instrumentation—guitar and cuatro by vocalist Jean Shepherd, formerly of Radio Mundial; drums by Washington Alcebo "Wash" Duke; and bass by 19-year-old Guillo Colón, also of Yerbabuena ("There's the Cuban one and the Puerto Rican one; he plays for the Puerto Rican one," clarifies Shepherd)—with electronic touches ranging from hip-hop beats to techno synths. The rhythms bulk up funk and Latin grooves with thick, dubby bass, all topped by deceptively simple arrangements, keyboards, and effects-heavy guitars swirling around each other as Shepherd's vocals float over top.

Lyrically, those vocals are socially conscious without sinking into world-music gooeyness. Songs like "Aparencias," "Ladrones," and "La Optimista" imbue personal relationships with a broader perspective. Some songs dip into alternative rock, while others tilt more toward of-the-moment hip-hop and electronica: "Ya Verás" is a chant over a minimal, thumping beat reminiscent of Kanye West's "Love Lockdown." On the other hand, "Hermano" is dominated by an acoustic-guitar melody, percussion, and a straightforward programmed beat intended more for sober listening than wild dance-floor abandon . . . until the chorus comes in, the guitar fuzzes out, and it's time to wave your hands in the air.

There are many such moments during a Navegante live set. Tonight, Shepherd and Colón are shoulder-to-shoulder on Camaradas' tiny stage, singing in Spanish but addressing the crowd between songs in English. Colón's bass is much louder and more dominant onstage, with a hard-rock distortion and overamped sonic fervor that his bandmates match. Behind his kit, Duke slams out tough rhythms with a funk edge and a Latin groove that's always organic, never tacked-on or ersatz. The electronic elements are there, too, but live, Navegante become a band, not a project.

"I think it has a lot to do with all the influences you get throughout your life by being an American-born Latino in the United States," Shepherd says of their hybrid sound, equal parts Latin music, hip-hop, and rock. "I was born in the Bronx, raised in Miami, and I've been back here 13 years. So there's all this mix of culture that you have. You hear electronic music, then you go home and you hear salsa, and my family would get together and play salsa. . . . You're influenced by this huge amount of music that you're getting everywhere. I love rock music, I love music from London, space-rock bands—I love all of that stuff. And I think all that stuff ends up in the music naturally. That's why all the people from this neighborhood—the Puerto Ricans and the Dominicans, even if they're not from [the U.S.]—they get it, because they're living here now."

Indeed, despite mostly living in Brooklyn (Colón currently lives in the Bronx), Navegante are now part of Spanish Harlem's cultural life, thanks to their personal relationship with Camaradas co-owner Orlando Plaza; Shepherd has worked with the club's owners for much of its nearly five-year history. "Jean had another band, Radio Mundial, and I knew him from that," recalls Plaza. "So when he came to me and said he had this new band, to me, it was a no-brainer. I said, 'Absolutely. Whatever night you want, just let me know.' And it's worked out really well. He loves playing here, and our audience loves him."

Live music (Colón's other band, Yerbabuena, also plays there) has helped Plaza build a successful business in an area that doesn't have much to offer visitors—or residents, for that matter; he admits 115th and First is "not a destination neighborhood." But inside, the crowd is white, black, and Latin, indie kids standing next to hip-hoppers standing next to beautiful brown-skinned women dancing in pairs.

It might seem like a funny thing to say immediately before your record-release party, but Shepherd isn't too concerned about racking up record sales. "We're focusing on our live show," he says. "I met Chris, who does lights for us, when he was working at Irving Plaza. We became friends, and he said, 'I have these lights—do you think I could come and do lights for you?' He puts on an amazing light show, and we've been continuing to play here because he has given us the opportunity to build this small model of what we could do with a bigger stage. I feel like live music—getting the music across and transmitting that energy—is really important, almost more important than a big hit song, whatever that is these days."

Duke concurs with the idea that live performance is the only way to reach people in such a physical, directly emotional way. The collapse of the traditional retail model and the major-label star system has opened the gates for bands to flood in, build a cult following, and make a career of it. "It's wide open right now," he says. "I feel like mainstream music . . . I don't even know what that means anymore. There are a lot of successful working bands that have hundreds of thousands of fans, and you might not even know who they are." Navegante—making music that combines an organic, bohemian songwriting style with amped-up rock and electronic grooves—seem destined to be one of those bands. Their music isn't for everyone, but what is?


Haven't done one of these in a week or so, so here are links to ten recent reviews:

Anaal Nathrakh, Eschaton
Anaal Nathrakh, Hell is Empty, and All the Devils are Here
Bergraven, Till Makabert Väsen
Born of Osiris, A Higher Place
Church of Misery, Houses of the Unholy
Natalia Lafourcade, Natalia Lafourcade
Natalia y la Forquetina, Casa
Moss, Tombs of the Blind Drugged
John Patitucci, Remembrance
Paulina Rubio, Gran City Pop


The awesome metal site Invisible Oranges ran an excellent writeup on my book Sound Levels: Profiles in American Music, 2002-2009 on Friday. As part of that post, he offered a free download sampler that I put together containing the cover and three sample stories from the book: one on Mike Patton, one on the Melvins, and one on Oxbow. I now offer you that sampler here. Feel free to check out those three stories at this link, and if you like them, you can buy the entire book here. Enjoy!

Wednesday, July 08, 2009


Black Sabbath live at California Jam, 1974:

Tuesday, July 07, 2009


Gun Shy and Bikini Red, the first two albums by the Screaming Blue Messiahs, were reissued on CD today by Wounded Bird Records. These are phenomenal rock 'n' roll albums, possibly the best argument for England as a nation capable of rockin' made during the whole '80s. Yes, they had a novelty hit with "I Wanna Be A Flintstone" (a song that actually survives its goofy lyrical conceit), but ignore that. The song linked below opened that same album (BR, from 1986), and it's a goddamn scorcher. The last time I had physical copies of these two albums, I sold them on Amazon Marketplace for ridiculous sums. Now they're $11 each. Go get 'em.

Sunday, July 05, 2009


I recently spoke to Slayer drummer Dave Lombardo for a piece that'll be published in a week or two. Obviously, not all of our conversation made it into the final piece. So here's some interesting stuff that got cut.

What's your monitor setup like onstage? What are you listening to while performing?
That’s an interesting question I’ve never been asked before. Of course I have my drums, but I use a lot of the sound onstage. I’ll listen to my drums without anything, and then I’ll tell them to add some more kick and snare. I find a nice balance with the guitars. I try to keep it as low as possible, but real punchy. 'Cause your hearing starts deteriorating after being on tour for so many years, I’ve learned to just turn it down. It doesn’t need to be loud. I’ve had monitor guys put huge PAs behind me, but I’m only one guy. [I'll tell them] Please, just give me a couple of wedges, that’s all I need. So it’s basically gutar, a little bit of vocals, and drums.

What about the other guys? I've heard that they're listening to you, and you're driving the band from behind.
It’s kick and snare for them. I don’t even know if they have guitars in their monitors. Usually kick and snare is all I hear them saying they want in their monitors. It’s true, I do drive them. I’m known as the engineer, the locomotive driver. I’m driving this locomotive, and we’re onstage playing, going mach 10 downhill, and we’re about to fall off the tracks, but somehow I always seem to guide the band right back in, whether it’s [with] crazy drum rolls or I’m just locked into the zone where me and my drumsticks are one. That’s when I lose my mind sometimes behind the kit. The guys know it. They say that’s when the locomotive seems like it’s gonna go off the rails, but I always catch it and steer that in.

I don't know if you've seen it, but there's YouTube footage of Metallica playing the song "Raining Blood" in their backstage rehearsal room. If you talked to Lars Ulrich, how would you make him a better drummer?
First I would look at the position of the drums, I would look at his throne, how high his throne is in relation to him and his size and the drum set. I think it’s an ergonomic thing. The drums are so much a part of me or an extension of me that everything has to be properly placed for me to get as much energy or punch or attack velocity out of my drums. It has to be set up correctly. You can’t have an oddball drum sitting flat and trying to do a drum roll as fast as I do on an awkwardly positioned drum. If he would he ask me, ‘Dave, I have problems with this, what would you do?’ then I would explain kindly [like I would] to anyone who might ask me about drums.

The YouTube clip in question:

Wednesday, July 01, 2009


[From Westword.]

These Latinas may rock, but Girl In a Coma isn't making Latin rock

Though the band seemed to rocket out of nowhere with its 2007 debut, Both Before I'm Gone, San Antonio trio Girl in a Coma has been plugging away for nine years — since then-thirteen-year-old Nina Diaz played one of her songs for her older sister Phanie and their friend Jenn Alva. "Jenn said, 'Whose song is that?' I said, 'It's my song,' and she was like, 'No, really.' She thought I covered a song," recalls Diaz on the phone from Atlanta. "So they gave a look at each other and they asked me, would you like to be the singer of our band?" Now 21, Diaz has grown into a powerful frontwoman, her bluesy/punky guitar riffs and dramatic, Morrissey-influenced vocals bolstered by Alva's hard-driving bass and her sister's powerful drumming.

The group's second album, Trio B.C., is named for the sisters' grandfather's Tejano band, and it closes with a Spanish-language cover of "Ven Cerca," an early-'60s garage-pop song by the Mexican group Los Spitfires. But these girls don't consider themselves a Latin rock group; Diaz doesn't even speak Spanish. "I'm teaching myself on the road," she says. "Our tour manager Ernesto is giving me little classes, because eventually, I would like to write an album of songs in Spanish. I'm the youngest of three kids, and my great-grandma was the one that was from Mexico; my grandmother and my mom and me were all raised in Texas. So it was around me, but I never really picked it up."

Even more visceral and self-assured than the act's impressive debut, Trio B.C. is a powerful, stripped-down record that kicks from beginning to end. Songs like "Static Mind" and "Slaughter Lane" recall Social Distortion in the way that they blend roots-rock twang and punk venom, while a softer side emerges on ballads like "Pink Lemonade" and "Trail." Says Diaz of their evolution, "The '50s vibe that somehow seeped its way in there is surprising, because I was actually listening to a lot of Sonic Youth and Smashing Pumpkins and stuff when I was writing songs for this album. But Jenn's a huge Elvis fan, so there's always Elvis around somewhere, and I like to listen to Nina Simone and Billie Holiday and Roy Orbison."

Unsurprisingly, the outfit has been embraced by a slightly older generation of rockers; the early demos were produced by Morrissey guitarist Boz Boorer, and the threesome is signed to Blackheart Records — label boss Joan Jett sings backup on "Joanie in the City." Diaz calls her amazing. "She's a really strong person, and she always gives great advice," says Diaz. "And she's always ahead of the game." When pressed for tales of rock-and-roll debauchery involving the ex-Runaway, she laughs, saying, "Everything's been pretty innocent, pretty normal up to now. But ask me that question in ten years and maybe I'll have a story."


I just got Dudley Perkins' Holy Smokes in the mail. I haven't listened to it yet, nor have I heard any of his previous work, but check out this cover:

(Make sure you click on it to experience it in its full glory.) His wife, Georgia Anne Muldrow, is putting out an album of her own, Umsindo, on the same day (7/14), and the cover art for that one is pretty awesome, too...

It's like they're the Lee Perry and Alice Coltrane of neo-soul, or something. This is the first time in a while that an R&B album cover has genuinely sold me on listening to the music.


That's the cover of my new book. It's an anthology, containing 13 of my magazine features from the past seven years. The artists profiled are Tom Waits, Ornette Coleman, Mike Patton, Oxbow, Bill Dixon, Calle 13, the Mars Volta, Serj Tankian, Café Tacuba, Noah Howard, the Melvins, Sunn O))) and David Thomas of Pere Ubu. Each story comes with a short introduction, describing the circumstances under which it was originally conceived/assigned and written and/or providing some minimal "behind the scenes" description, so you can learn all about the indignities, frustrations and cosmic misunderstandings that are the life of a freelance music journalist in the 21st Century.

It's self-published, and only available from (I highly recommend using them for any similar projects you may have in mind, by the way; their interface is ridiculously easy to use and the copy of the book that's sitting on my living room table right now looks just like the product of any publisher you'd care to name. Paper quality is great, cover stock is sturdy and glossy...I am a totally satisfied customer.)

N.B.: Lulu also offers it as a download, but I don't recommend taking that option, because it doesn't include the cover, which I laid out myself and which features a nice photograph by my wife. So if you must have a digital version, email me and for five bucks via Paypal I'll send you one that includes the cover art. Cool?