Saturday, June 18, 2011


This is a long one, so get comfortable.

First up, some things Alternative Press's editors subjected me to:

Astral Rejection (Epitaph)
The second song on I Set My Friends On Fire’s sophomore (and sophomoric) album is called “Infinite Suck.” As they say in Hollywood, the joke writes itself. The duo of Matt Mehana and Nabil Moo is now the duo of Mehana and Chris Lent, with production assistance from Travis Richter of the Human Abstract. The music is as annoying as ever, mixing the worst qualities of Brokencyde, I See Stars and Agoraphobic Nosebleed into one swirling blend of cheesy rave synths, ultra-affected “extreme” vocals, talentless guitar mangling, ultra-primitive drum programming and song titles that probably seemed funny at the time (“My Paralyzed Brother Taps His Foot To This Beat,” “Life Hertz,” “Erectangles”). It’s hard to decide which is the album’s worst quality—Mehana’s scratchy-throated “extreme” vocals or his lame, off-key attempts to sing cleanly. Maybe it’s neither of those things; maybe it’s the lyrics.

At least there aren’t any lame hip-hop covers on Astral Rejection—the group’s debut, 2008’s You Can’t Spell Slaughter Without Laughter, featured their “hilarious” take on Soulja Boy’s “Crank Dat.” That’s a tiny, tiny plus. There are one or two moments on Astral Rejection that are briefly and superficially entertaining, in exactly the way drinking a bottle of Jolt Cola instead of eating lunch is temporarily satisfying. But both leave you with an empty, gurgling pain in your guts and the feeling that you made a very poor decision. (Buy it from Amazon)

Enhanced Methods of Questioning (Alternative Tentacles)
It’s not impossible to age gracefully within the confines of punk rock. Ian MacKaye’s done it; so has Henry Rollins. Jello Biafra hasn’t. And it’s too bad, because of the three, he’s probably made the greatest sacrifices for his art and his beliefs. Biafra is a true free-speech icon who spent years in court fighting an obscenity bust for a poster included in the Dead Kennedys’ 1985 album Frankenchrist. But based on what he’s been doing musically in the last few years, it seems like he may have finally lost it completely.

His first album with backing band the Guantanamo School Of Medicine, 2009’s The Audacity Of Hype, had some decent songs and featured a fairly killer lineup that included two guitarists, moving the music out of the realm of hardcore or punk and towards psychedelic hard rock. Unfortunately, the lyrics were a mixed bag—some songs were trenchant critiques of modern society, while others were already-outdated jabs at the George W. Bush administration. This new EP, while it’s still got some quality music on it, travels even further back in time to find things to complain about; “Dot Com Monte Carlo” is a tirade about how yuppies in the high-tech industry have made San Francisco too expensive for Jello and his punk-rock buddies to live in, a subject it’s difficult to imagine anyone in the rest of the country caring about, especially when he starts in on a highly specific list of streets and places that are overly yuppified. And “Miracle Penis Highway” is a seven and a half-minute(!) song about Bob Dole and Viagra, a subject that was already tired a decade ago.

And let’s not even get into the 18-minute closer, “Metamorphosis Exploration On Deviation Street Jam.” Okay, let’s. It’s a dubby, acid-fried, one-riff jam over which Jello relentlessly declaims his own iconoclasm and awesomeness, talking about how going against punk orthodoxy makes him super-duper-ultra-punk, or something. At one point, he talks about how he’s been into rock ’n’ roll since he was seven years old—in 1965. It’s hard to be sure whether he means to come off as punk’s pissed-off grandpa, or he’s just so lacking in self-awareness that he doesn’t take even an instant to question who would want to hear him jabber endlessly about this stuff. He should be admired for battling censorship, but he should have exercised some self-censorship before releasing a record this half-baked and pointless. (Buy it from Amazon)

Next, the latest batch of All Music Guide reviews:

A Life Divided, Passenger (Buy it from Amazon)
Ancestors, Invisible White (Buy it from Amazon)
Behemoth, Abyssus Abyssum Invocat (Buy it from Amazon)
bb&c [Tim Berne/Jim Black/Nels Cline], The Veil (Buy it from Amazon)
Cave In, White Silence (Buy it from Amazon)
Cerebral Bore, Maniacal Miscreation (Buy it from Amazon)
Gigan, Quasi-Hallucinogenic Sonic Landscapes (Buy it from Amazon)
HammerFall, Infected (Buy it from Amazon)
Hell, Human Remains (Buy it from Amazon)
Magos Herrera, México Azul (Buy it from Amazon)
Living With Lions, Holy Shit (Buy it from Amazon)
Daniel Menche, Feral (Buy it from Amazon)
Morbid Angel, Illud Divinum Insanus (Buy it from Amazon)
Joe Morris, Traits (Buy it from Amazon)
Lee Konitz/Brad Mehldau/Charlie Haden/Paul Motian, Live at Birdland (Buy it from Amazon)
Pitto, Objects in a Mirror are Closer Than They Appear (Buy it from Amazon)
Scar Symmetry, The Unseen Empire (Buy it from Amazon)
Starlicker, Double Demon (Buy it from Amazon)
Trúbrot, Undir Áhrifum (Buy it from Amazon)

I also reviewed Amon Tobin's ISAM for AMG, but they didn't use it, so here's that:

Amon Tobin
ISAM (Ninja Tune)
ISAM is pretty far from the manic breakbeats and jazz appropriations of Amon Tobin’s Ninja Tune debut, 1997’s Bricolage. Dense and complex, it recalls the late ’90s output of Warp Records (particularly the work of Autechre, Squarepusher and Plaid) more than anything else. Synthesizers squelch; programmed drums slam like concrete slabs; voices are reduced to squiggly background noises, only occasionally bursting out of the mix to sing nonsense syllables like “doot-doo-doo”; melodies are ominous and even militaristic at times. It surges and recedes, and the density of the sound is astonishing—although some elements seem like field recordings, in fact nothing is created from samples. Tobin has created an astonishingly focused, multilayered album in ISAM, one that is unlikely to ever find itself part of a DJ mix but which will undoubtedly reward close, attentive listening for years to come. (Buy it from Amazon)

Finally, and most importantly, I've written a new book, which will be available via Amazon's Kindle store on July 1. It's a novel called Hard Lessons, and this is the cover:

Hard Lessons, in two sentences: Freelance writer and part-time ESL tutor Harry Shaw went to a strip club to meet a potential new student. Now he's on the run from Russian gangsters and corrupt cops, trying to solve the murders of six kidnapped girls while saving a dozen more from lives of sexual enslavement.

Hard Lessons takes place in New Jersey. These days, when people think about New Jersey, they think of The Sopranos, or The Real Housewives of New Jersey, or the guido kids of Jersey Shore. But where I live, the stores have signs in Spanish and the streets are filled with Latino immigrants just trying to survive and make their kids into Americans. That's the New Jersey I'm writing about in Hard Lessons. And the problem at the book's center—human trafficking—is very real. At my local train station, the state government has posted flyers, in Spanish, advising people of the signs that someone may be a victim of human trafficking, and who to contact about it.

The book is, I think, a fairly mainstream thriller, the kind of thing that would do well in airports as a mass-market paperback if I'd gotten an agent and/or a major publisher to handle it. Instead, I'm selling it through Xynobooks, a friend's ebook imprint. It's going to be available to you, the consumer, at the very friendly price of 99 cents. Think you can spare a dollar for an exciting story of sex, violence, and political corruption? I think you can, and I thank you in advance. I'm proud of Hard Lessons, and I think you'll like it.


Lainad said...

Congrats Phil! Once I *ahem* clear some space on my credit card, I'm getting this.

Logan K. Young said...

I would gladly spare much more than a buck for sex. Double that for suspense...and a three pence for intrigue. Looking forward to this, Phil!