Sunday, January 30, 2011


Some really good stuff over at last week...

Monday: A rundown of the too-slim discography of saxophonist Ike Quebec, and an optical illusion by Kokichi Sugihara
Tuesday: A review of L.A.-based thrash band Tormenter's Pulse of Terror
Wednesday: A review of drummer Gerald Cleaver's Be It As I See It, by R. Emmet Sweeney
Thursday: A review of Gang of Four's Content
Friday: A review of the album The Frozen Tears of Angels and the EP The Cold Embrace of Fear, by Italian symphonic power metal group Rhapsody of Fire

Also, please note that between now and February 15, you can get 15% off the print edition of Burning Ambulance by using the checkout promo code FIRESIDE305. So why not pick up an issue or two?


Here are 10 more All Music Guide reviews...

Anthony Brown, India & Africa: A Tribute to John Coltrane
Cauldron, Burning Fortune
Miles Davis, Perfect Way: The Miles Davis Anthology - The Warner Bros. Years
Destruction, Day of Reckoning
Full Blown Chaos, Full Blown Chaos
Neuraxis, Asylon
Primal Fear, New Religion
Primal Fear, 16.6: Before the Devil Knows You're Dead
Trap Them, Sleepwell Deconstructor
Trap Them, Seizures in Barren Praise

Wednesday, January 26, 2011


Kings (Tooth & Nail)
This San Jose, California-based quintet have the lyrical self-pity necessary to make it big in the contemporary screamo/alt-rock scene, which is all about mixing introspection and tantrum throwing; but musically, they’re much better than that. On “Heart Attack” and “Saints & Sinners,” guitarists Andrew Stanton and Dan Otis crank out arena-ready riffs reminiscent of vintage Mötley Crüe and other hair-metal acts (on “To The Moon,” they get deep into Junkyard/early Guns N’ Roses territory, and “The Elevator” offers a short but fairly shredtastic guitar solo), while bassist Joshua Case and drummer Eric Martin keep the machine driving forward. Frontman Austin Lyons, despite being so busy gazing into his own navel he’s probably cross-eyed by now, is a more traditionally melodic vocalist than most young screamers, which means I Am Empire have a better than average chance of breaking through to the rock mainstream, and that would be a good thing. Kings offers much more than cock-rock strutting; “Love & Despair” features a 30 Seconds To Mars-worthy “whoa-oh” break that’s sure to get crowds waving their hands in the air and singing along, and “Brain Damage” and “Hammers & Anvils” are moody, slightly psychedelic ballads. Overall, this is a very solid debut from a multifaceted, frequently quite rocking band.

Saturday, January 22, 2011


Here's what I wrote for this past week:

• Monday, a live review and photos (also by me) of the Matthew Shipp Trio
• Tuesday, a review of Fela Kuti's Teacher Don't Teach Me Nonsense
• Wednesday, a review of The Bug's Infected EP
• Friday, a review of Hugo Antunes' Roll Call
• also on Friday, this photo:


Here are some paintings by Alexandra Pacula. More can be seen here.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011


Here's the link to the poll itself, and all the affiliated essays 'n' whatnot.

Here are the 10 albums I voted for, with their placement on the final list:

1. Ayumi Hamasaki, Rock 'N' Roll Circus (#1001)
2. High on Fire, Snakes for the Divine (#162)
3. Rick Ross, Teflon Don (#34)
4. Iron Maiden, The Final Frontier (#273)
5. The Sword, Warp Riders (#179)
6. Kylesa, Spiral Shadow (#86)
7. Ratt, Infestation (#407)
8. Yakuza, Of Seismic Consequence (#673)
9. Flesh Consumed, Ecliptic Dimensions of Suffering (#1023)
10. Kill the Client, Set for Extinction (#1151)

Of those, I was the only voter for Ayumi Hamasaki, Flesh Consumed and Kill the Client.

I also sent in a long-ass comment, as follows (the parts they actually used are in bold):

Though I’m proud to vote in Pazz & Jop every year, it always ends up exacerbating my feelings of alienation from my so-called peers. I’ve never heard 80-plus percent of the music that winds up filling out the year-end lists published on Pitchfork, the AV Club and here at the Voice. (This year, I heard seven of Pitchfork’s Top 50, and two of the AV Club’s Top 25; I fully expect to have heard no more than two of the top 10 Pazz & Jop albums, and a maximum of five of the top 20.)

I’d like to offer my peers a deal: If you listen to Rotting Christ’s AEALO or Decrepit Birth’s Polarity (#s 7 and 9 on my year-end Top Ten for MSN Music) and find something thoughtful to say about either one, I’ll try and do the same for Kanye West or the Arcade Fire. If you listen to Ayumi Hamasaki’s Rock ’n’ Roll Circus, I’ll try my damnedest to make it through a whole Robyn song.

At one point, I was accused by a friend and colleague of “always us[ing] your ignorance of pop music as a pole to raise your flag upon. Like, I can't fault anyone for not caring about Adam Lambert, I'm faulting you because you constantly think it’s grounds for bragging rights. And yeah, you are def right about the music audience getting more stratified and retreating to more insular worlds, but I generally see this as a BAD THING and it’s hard for me to wrap my head around not wanting to see these walls topple.” And I admit that 2010 really sent my snarky D-bag side into overdrive, to the point where I was commenting on Facebook about how glad I am that I don’t get paid to care about Taylor Swift. But here’s the thing: My so-called peers don’t get paid to care about what I listen to or write about, either, with one or two exceptions, and they’re fine with that. So why am I expected to care about what I’m supposedly “missing”?

I write about what people are willing to pay me to write about. That’s mostly metal, with some side trips into jazz and Latin music. That takes up enough of my time that I listen almost exclusively to what people are willing to pay me to write about, with one or two exceptions, notably Japanese pop. In this way, I have been the beneficiary of cultural balkanization. Since most of the other critics filling out Pazz & Jop ballots are all busy listening to the same three dozen records, I can keep my calendar pretty damn full just by writing about stuff that sells as well as or better than the music reviewed on Pitchfork, stuff with a very real fan base that buys CDs (I know, right?) and T-shirts and tickets to shows, but that isn’t remotely cool in Voice/Pitchfork/Brooklyn Vegan/AV Club circles.

I’m far from unaware of pop music. I really liked the Diddy-Dirty Money and Rick Ross albums. I like Kelis and Kylie Minogue and Pink (though to my ear she’s never topped her third album, Try This, the one nobody else liked). M.I.A. isn’t pop music (she’d have to be popular—as in, sell some records—for that to be the case), but I’ve listened to every one of her half-baked, jabbering records at least twice. Outside of R&B-based pop music, I like Brad Paisley, and I liked Jamey Johnson’s The Guitar Song, though That Lonesome Song, from 2008, was clearly the better, more cohesive album. But for the most part, when I keep up with the so-called mainstream, it’s through videos. I don’t listen to the radio (terrestrial or online), but I watch MTV, VH1, Fuse and mun2 (the latter of which offers a killer hour-long show of norteño/Tejano videos everyone reading this should check out), and I’ll click links to videos on YouTube when I spot them on Twitter or message boards.

That kind of casual, semi-passive osmosis is how I know I haven’t missed anything by never listening to a whole Kanye West album. He’s a pop artist, so presumably his singles represent the best of his work, the stuff he’s presenting as the bait to lure listeners in. But I’ve seen the videos for every one of his singles, all the way back to “Through the Wire,” and not one of them has ever done a thing for me. I’ve had the same reaction to Taylor Swift, Katy Perry, Ke$ha and just about everyone else who sold what passes for a lot of records in 2010, and I don’t think it’s unreasonable to state that if I can’t make it a full minute into your video without switching the channel, I’m not gonna listen to your album.

Here’s the real problem, though. The Big Lie of generalist pop criticism (people who claim to cover “everything”) is actually two lies bound together. The first is that when you write about Kanye West, or whoever his equivalent will be in 2011, you’re writing about “mainstream” music. West, like every other musician on earth, is a niche artist—he may have millions of listeners, but there are untold millions more who have never heard him, may indeed have never heard of him. There is no mainstream. Critical consensus is built through publicity campaigns—writers (still, mostly) get records for free, and then they talk to each other about those records on Twitter, on Facebook, via email, and sometimes in person. And gradually a collective verdict emerges, with the token dissenters oftentimes anticipated and always genially taken into account, all under the unquestioned assumption that this is a record which Must Be Discussed. Which leads to the second lie, which is that the three dozen or so records that become The Sound Of [Year] cover all the bases. That outside the small pasture in which the pop critical community is carefully fed, tended and groomed by the labels and the publicists (and the musicians themselves, now), nothing of importance is happening. If the few dozen critics who write for the ever-shrinking roster of magazines and websites that cover “mainstream” music (including the “indie” division) don’t know about it, it must not be worth knowing about, basically.

But that’s absurd, and my own career path proves it. I write about metal five days a week for MSN Music. In mid-December, I posted a list of the 40 best metal albums of 2010. Mainstream and indie-minded critics, who consider themselves conversant in music, have probably heard as few of them as I’ve heard albums on their year-end lists. The music I spent all of 2010 listening to barely exists, as far as my so-called peers are concerned. And yet, I’m the one who’s considered ignorant when—if—these matters are discussed. The idea that metal (to pick only one) is a specialized genre, but “pop” is the mainstream, the baseline from which all other deviations are calculated, is utterly wrong. I’ll close with my response to the accusation quoted above, which could serve as advice to next year’s crop of eager children looking to break into the writing-about-music-for-money racket:

“Generalist, buffet-table pop criticism is dead. Specialist genre criticism is all that matters anymore, because listener communities are atomized, self-sealing and frequently hostile to outside input. I know who I'm writing for, and more importantly, I know who I'm not writing for. And I'm not gonna pretend to give a flying fuck about Taylor Swift or Kanye West just because all the other writers on my Twitter feed still think platinum-selling records ‘say’ ‘something’ ‘about’ ‘the culture.’ There is no monoculture. Pick a niche and grind it out.”

Sunday, January 16, 2011


Last week was pretty busy in BA-land. Here are the relevant links:

Monday: Mike DiRubbo, Chronos
Tuesday: Kenny Cox, Introducing Kenny Cox and the Contemporary Jazz Quintet
Wednesday: Earth, Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light 1 by Ioannis Sotirchos
Thursday: Grave Desecrator, Insult
Friday: a live review of Winter Jazzfest 2011, by R. Emmet Sweeney


Here are my 10 newest All Music Guide reviews.

The Absence, From Your Grave
Borbetomagus, Both Noises End Burning
Gerald Cleaver, Be It As I See It
Crystal Viper, Legends
Ehnahre, The Man Closing Up
Ehnahre, Taming the Cannibals
Fushitsusha, Live
Fushitsusha, I Saw It! That Which Before I Could Only Sense
Hour of 13, The Ritualist
Praxis, Profanation (Preparation for a Coming Darkness)

Sunday, January 09, 2011


There was a bunch of content posted at during December, and the beginning of January. Here's the rundown:

Nov. 30: Luis Lopes' Humanization 4tet, Electricity
Dec. 1: Endless Boogie, Full House Head
Dec. 3: Ivo Perelman, Mind Games/The Stream of Life
Dec. 8: Nicki Minaj, Pink Friday
Dec. 13: Knut, Wonder
Dec. 14: Thomas Köner, Knut•Teimo•Permafrost
Dec. 15: our third issue came out, with stories on Anthony Braxton, Jon Irabagon, David Weiss, the Moritz von Oswald Trio, 1960s Hollywood, and composing for orchestra, and an excerpt from Jeff Wagner's book on progressive metal, Mean Deviation. Buy it!
Dec. 16: Seijaku, Mail from Fushitsusha/You Should Prepare to Survive Through Even Anything Happens
Dec. 18: a tribute to Captain Beefheart
Dec. 21: Henry Threadgill Zooid, This Brings Us To, Volume II
Dec. 22: Miles Davis live circa 1982 (video)
Jan. 3: Rodrigo Amado, Searching for Adam
Jan. 4: Kings Destroy, And the Rest Will Surely Perish
Jan. 5: Diddy-Dirty Money, Last Train to Paris
Jan. 7: Rich Halley Quartet Featuring Bobby Bradford, Live at the Penofin Jazz Festival

Sunday, January 02, 2011


New year, same deal. Here are links to 20 recent All Music Guide reviews. Enjoy!

Children of Technology, It's Time to Face the Doomsday
Marty Ehrlich Quartet, Hear You Say
Mark Fell, Multistability
Rikki Ililonga/Musi-O-Tunya, Dark Sunrise
La Lupe, Puro Teatro: A Lady and Her Music
Tony Malaby, Tamarindo Live
Monareta, Fried Speakers
Ivo Perelman, The Apple in the Dark
Powerworld, Human Parasite
Profanatica, Disgusting Blasphemies Against God
Marcus Schmickler, Palace of Marvels (Queered Pitch)
Scorch Trio, Melaza
Times of Grace, The Hymn of a Broken Man
Ultralyd, Inertiadrome
Utada, Best
Various Artists, Tribute to Os Mutantes: El Justiciero, Cha Cha Cha
Various Artists, Whom the Moon a Nightsong Sings
Wino, Adrift
Yelawolf, Trunk Muzik 0-60