Thursday, June 30, 2005


This is kinda funny, but if there's one thing I've learned over the last couple of years of freelancin' and book-writin' and general struggling-writer action, it's that if you're a real writer, you barely have any kind of human interaction at all, let alone friendships, whether based on snarky popcult one-upmanship or anything else. If you don't wake up and immediately stagger from the bed to the keyboard to type type type until you pass out again sixteen hours later, you're a pussy and a dilettante.

See here for more on what charming motherfuckers us writers are. And here for the continuing adventures of the greatest writer alive.


Like Dylan Carlson's personal problems haven't thrown enough obstacles in Earth's path, they got themselves ripped off by a scuzzy con man. I decided to write a story on the band (which you can read here) without knowing any of this stuff, and when I started doing the research (you know, like a real journalist), it got pretty fun for a few minutes, talking to U.S. Marshals in Oregon and Alaska and whatnot. (Apparently, Josh Hunt was arrested in Chicago the other day, so that settles that.)

Oh, and on a totally different note...if they come to your town, go see God Forbid. They're fucking great.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005


I've never been able to really work the Voice. There are some critics who are in there just about every week, and I don't know how they do it, because every pitch I send gets tossed back with a "sorry, the section's full for months." And yet, when I send something on spec, I've got about a 20% chance of seeing it in print. But writing for the Voice is tough, because Chuck's a tough (albeit really, really good) editor; you've gotta bring your A game. So do I wanna sweat that much, mentally, for the possibility of absolutely no reward? Not really, I don't, no. I'm a businessman, not some teenaged lunatic with too much time on his hands. I don't have nearly enough time on my hands.

But sometimes I do bash something out and send it Chuck's way, and it lands in print. Like this week. Here are my thoughts on Trivium's Ascendancy.

Saturday, June 25, 2005


The central conceit of this article is true, but not universal. Yes, there are a lot of pissypants little twats running around these days. But the lit world has more than enough room for blustery fake macho, too: books like A Million Little Pieces and Another Bullshit Night In Suck City get hyped to the skies, and let's not even talk about the cult of Chuck Palahniuk. It seems obvious that the reviewer just got pissed off and decided to connect the dots between the three folks he was currently finding most intolerable. The plural of anecdote being data, and all that.

(For the record, I hate both the pussyboy artistes and the faux-knuckledraggers. I'm kinda hoping there's a Third Way, a middle path. (If there isn't, I'm doomed to a life of writing nonfiction.))

UPDATE: Speaking of writers who are neither pussies nor testosterone-addled psychopaths, there's a moderately interesting article on Michel Houellebecq in the L.A. Weekly. Hope the English translation of his new one doesn't take too long to arrive.

Thursday, June 23, 2005


Hey, you know who I like? Hate Eternal. Might even go see 'em play on Sunday night with Incantation and Krisiun, in NYC.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005


Last night I dreamed that I organized a recording session with pianist Cecil Taylor, Slayer/Fantomas drummer Dave Lombardo and Orthrelm/Flying Luttenbachers guitarist Mick Barr. We were in a really nice studio - it looked like Avatar, in midtown NYC. (I remember what that room was like, because I watched David Ware record Surrendered there.)

In the big main space, I'd gotten Cecil one of those 96-key Bösendorfer Imperial pianos with the huge, thundering low end - the one he plays on The Willisau Concert (Intakt). Man, that CD is life-changing; if you haven't heard it, go get one. Seriously.

Lombardo was in his own room with all his drums, including a giant gong like the one Alex Van Halen used to have. And Mick was isolated, too, miked super-close to capture that buzzy, ultra-trebley electronic tone he's got on the new Orthrelm disc OV (which is another must-hear; see if you can do better than Ben Ratliff of the New York Times, who claims to love it even though he hasn't made it all the way to the end yet).

I dreamt that the trio had two days of intense rehearsal before the all-day recording session, and that my only instructions to them (because who am I, after all, to tell Cecil Taylor, or the other two guys, anything about how to make music?) were to work out a couple Barr-Taylor unison phrases that they could use to anchor the proceedings, and that other than that, I just wanted avalanches and tsunamis. Some delicate moments would be fine, but I was after serious earth-moving, skull-cracking music.

And in my dream, that's what they gave me. I wound up with two CDs' worth of material, stuff that was unbelievably intense, with all the stylistic hallmarks of the three men combined into a roaring, living whole that was vastly more than the sum of its parts. Cecil's baroque explosions on the piano combined with Mick's insectile buzzing and Lombardo's hellish battery to create a music unlike anything ever heard on earth, and I sat in the control room, listening to it pour forth from the speakers like hot mercury, shimmering and seemingly possessed of its own consciousness as it filled the world.

It was beautiful. And if I ever win the lottery, that's what I'm going to spend the money on.

Sunday, June 19, 2005


Hardly anybody knows this place exists, so I rarely get challenged with answer-and-pass-along-to-five-friends internerd memes, but I spotted this one at Geeta Dayal's joint and figured I'd get on board regardless, since it pretty much has my name all over it...

Total volume of music on my computer: 97.61 GB. 18982 songs, 74 days, 20 hours, 9 minutes, 2 seconds. About to be zeroed out, though; as I type this, I'm in the process of burning all that to 23 DVDs so I have a clean hard drive for music software.

Last CD I bought was: A twofer - I picked up At The Drive-In's This Station Is Non-Operational and Gorillaz' Demon Days at Target.

Song playing right now: none, but the last thing I listened to was Silentist's "Kimono Mask" (see earlier entry).

Five songs I listen to a lot these days: George Thorogood, "Who Do You Love"; ZZ Top, "I'm Bad, I'm Nationwide"; Steely Dan, "Black Cow"; Ramones, "California Sun"; David Bowie, "Heroes." I have an iPod playlist labeled "70s Rock" (it also includes James Brown, Stevie Wonder, Sly & the Family Stone and Earth, Wind & Fire) that's pretty much my default selection when I leave the house.

Saturday, June 18, 2005


Saw Batman Begins this weekend. Christian Bale was okay; there's one great moment when, out at a fancy restaurant as Bruce Wayne, he pulls a Patrick Bateman face mid-conversation, but other than that he's kinda stolid and brooding/brutish, which is one interpretation of Batman (a popular one). I prefer to think of Batman as an obsessive, egomaniacal rageaholic with a grudge against the world, kinda like a muscled-up Ted Turner. Morgan Freeman is very good, Michael Caine is not as good as you've probably read in every single review. Gary Oldman is better than he's been in a long time, because he doesn't try to steal every goddamn scene he's in. He shuts up, shuts down, and serves the film. A nice change of pace for him. Cillian Murphy, as the Scarecrow, is pretty damn scary, and the visual effects on him are terrific. Liam Neeson was better in Kinsey than he is here, playing David Carradine as Sean Connery's character from the Highlander movies. Katie Holmes? Hated her long before she became Tom "My Space Religion Can Sue Your Skeptical Ass Out Of Existence, So Pretend I'm Sane" Cruise's prop. Thanks for showing us your tits 'n' ass in The Gift, Katie; it's on DVD, so we (the sensible male viewers of the world) got no further use for you. Go be with Tommy Boy.

Other big events this weekend: bought some music software (Reason 3.0, ReCycle 2.1) and an Oxygen8 MIDI keyboard. Got a project in mind; it's all gonna be done on computers, but it's not "electronic music" in the way that's traditionally imagined.

Also, got the next novel about 3/4 plotted. Should have a complete outline by week's end, at which point I'll disappear from sight for a few months so I can pound the keyboard in earnest. Who knows, maybe while I'm writing that one I'll find an agent who'll help me sell the last one.

Tomorrow's gonna be a take-it-easy day; gonna burn all the AAC files on my hard drive to DVDs, to free up space for music software installation, and study for audio engineering class. Gotta read 75 pages on microphones. Ya, and also hoo.

Friday, June 17, 2005


I love Silentist. Once you hear them/him/it, you will, too.

Because I'm a semi-pro rock hack, with credits hither and yon, I get lots of records in the mail. I don't get everything, of course, or anywhere close to it. There are tons of great metal records I hear about later, and have to go scrounging for like a cash-paying civilian. Then there are things I hear about, and am able to cadge from the label or the band, for free. Two recent good ones are Silentist, and Mandarin Movie.

Silentist is the project of Mark Burden, who used to be in some bands I've never heard of. He used to have bandmates, too, but recent message-board postings indicate that Silentist is now a one-man show, Burden playing live drums and shouting along to tapes of guitar and piano.

The piano is the part that makes them cool. See, Silentist sound kinda grindcore; they've got urp/growl vocals mixed way down low, and guitar that sounds like the strings are just hangin' off the neck, and blast beats. But the lead instrument is piano. And not Jerry Lee Lewis style piano, or Professor Longhair style piano, but Matthew Shipp style piano. Pounding, repetitive, fists-on-the-keys out-jazz stuff. With a grind rhythm section. Dude, it's fucking killer. The only recorded document so far is a four-song, 19-minutes-and-change EP, Nightingales, out on Celestial Gang and available from the link above (or from Aquarius Records, which is where I read about them in the first place). Seriously, this guy is on some whole other shit, and if you're any kind of metalhead or free jazz freak (and especially if you're both, like me), you gotta hear this. I'm really hoping for more music from this guy soon, because this EP says 2004 on it, but if he puts something new out, I can write an article somewhere (probably The Wire) and get him the attention he totally deserves.

Mandarin Movie don't really need my help as much, I don't think. It's the latest project from the increasingly weird Rob Mazurek, cornet player and electronics guy from the Chicago Underground Insert-Number-Of-Players-Here and Isotope 217. A biggish band that also features guitar from Alan Licht, bass and more electronics from Matthew Lux, trombone from Steve Swell, double bass and still more electronics from Jason Ajemian, and drums from Frank Rosaly, their first disc is a pretty rip-roarin' thing. No blast beats, but if you remember the band God, well, MM obviously do, too, but there's more going on here than mere crush-'em-all noise-jazz attitude. This is thoroughly thought-out stuff, not just a rehashed Machine Gun with laptops. There's a progression from least to most unfriendly, which is a nice thing in a time when "out" records usually start with their baseball-bat-to-the-temple tracks, thus building up a glut of idea-less boring pieces for the stretch. Nope, this is a very solid record indeed. Nice for the summer, especially if you're hankerin' for a feud with the neighbors. Plus, the model on the back cover is totally hot in a chilly, European, vaguely freaky way.

Thursday, June 16, 2005


Pieces like this one are why I like the Cleveland Scene, and enjoy writing for them. Cleveland is a town that brooks no bullshit from bands. If you aren't bringing anything with you but the accumulated swoons of the NYC writerazzi, the Scene and its readers can't be bothered. I write for them every chance I get, not only because it's a great spot for metal reviews, but because it's an oasis of honesty in the rock press.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005


I thought hip-hop was about the triumph of artifice. That no serious critic believed rappers were real gangstas, or that hip-hop lyrics were reflections of objective reality (or that they should be). Hip-hop aficionados have frequently used this unreality as a defense mechanism, buffaloing anti-hip-hop voices and painting them as literalist buffoons who take it all way too seriously.

So this review of the new Coldplay album is a little puzzling, coming as it does from a fairly prominent critic best known for his work on hip-hop.

Behold the quotes that tell the story:

>the music of Coldplay traffics in the melancholy of the individual, a mythic individual who feels for all of us. And as the band's profile grows, the conceit of that individual grows increasingly difficult to stomach.

>There are epic tissue-boxes of emotion, but no objective correlative to account for the tears.

>It's strange for a man as morally outspoken and well-meaning as Martin to defer to such generically pop instincts—to retreat to the ambiguous power of crying "Aaahhh." But it's almost stranger for him to offer a collection of songs infected with the same low spirits as 2000. The State of Coldplay has never been stronger and Martin, with his celebrity wife and new child, has cobbled together a pretty good life. If it's not the sadness of worldly affairs that gnaw at the aching heart of Coldplay's songs—and the lyrics suggest not—it can't possibly be his own life, either. Maybe it's those bastard shareholders. Worse yet: Maybe it's nothing at all.

Is Hua Hsu really saying what he seems to be saying – that because Chris Martin is rich and famous and married to a rich and famous movie actress, his melancholy lyrics ring hollow? Maybe even that he’s got no right to be melancholy at all?

That’s always been an absurd argument. It was leveled against nu-metal bands in the late 1990s; they were called suburban whiners for their songs about broken families, existential despair, etc., with critics lining up to offer one variation or another on “Whatta you got to complain about? You’re a skate-rat from Glendale.” The flipside, of course, is the praise for “real” artists like Steve Earle, whose drug problems and arrest record give him extra gravitas in the eyes of many critics. (Nick Hornby deflated this myth expertly, saying that if drug abuse made you a genius, Elton John would be the greatest genius rock music had ever known.)

So the question is, why is Hsu taking such a – yes, I’ll say it – rockist tack in coming after Coldplay? (And yes, I realize this spot is turning into a Coldplay amen corner. I’ll stop after this post, probably.) Would he make the same charges against Snoop Dogg, a multimillionaire movie actor who continues to pretend to be a gangsta?

Tuesday, June 14, 2005



I've been reading ABC News' political newsletter "The Note" for quite awhile now. You should too; it's a pretty horrifying document. The only framework they have for the events and actions they describe is that of Washington, D.C.'s entrenched society - the ultra-rich "elite" journalists who cover every president and host the latest crop of Senators and Representatives and Secretaries of this and that at cocktail parties. So, basically, it's a gossip site disguised as a news organ, because anybody that's not in favor with the cool kids of Washington journalism gets handed the shitty end of the stick on a daily basis, in smarmy prose reminiscent of a high school yearbook. The actual consequences of government policy mean nothing to the people who write the Note; to them, it's all about the political ramifications (and mostly the ramifications for the Republicans; as rich kids, they're all conservatives at heart, though they never come out and explicitly say so).

So the other day, just for the hell of it, I sent them an e-mail. It read as follows:

I've been reading the Note since the middle of the 2004 presidential campaign, and I must say it's one of the funniest things I've ever encountered. It's the perfect parody of the insular, snobbish, in-crowd mindset of Washington journalism. You've captured everything: the craven subservience to power, the swooning over empty Republican chest-beating, the total ignorance of issues that matter to non-millionaires, the snide sidelong shots at people who understand those issues, and - particularly when you talk about Howard Dean - the pissiness of people who believe themselves elite and can't quite understand why nobody else is listening to their pearls of wisdom. It's like a transcript of a cocktail party attended exclusively by ultra-rich child molesters and whores. Congratulations on the brilliant work, and remember the words of satirist Michael O'Donoghue: "Making people laugh is the lowest form of comedy."

About an hour later, Lisa Todorovich, one of the Note writers, e-mailed me back, saying,

Golly!  Such praise.  Thanks for writing!!!!!

I thought that was so cute 'n' funny, I decided to share it with Atrios. He posted it. So for a brief moment, I are a political (i.e., "real" blogger). If a Google search sparked by reading my e-mail on Atrios brought you here, know that I mostly talk about music.

Thursday, June 09, 2005


I'm already foreseeing an all-metal Pazz & Jop ballot, with plenty of competition for every spot. There are just so many good records this year...

Judas Priest's Angel Of Retribution, High On Fire's Blessed Black Wings, Immolation's Harnessing Ruin, Bleed The Sky's Paradigm In Entropy, Lost Soul's Chaostream, Napalm Death's The Code Is Red...Long Live The Code, Meshuggah's Catch 33, and All Shall Perish's Hate.Malice.Revenge., and the summer's barely begun (and I've probably forgotten some!). Plus, new stuff coming from Pelican and Khanate!

Dude. Seriously. Dude. You can take all your internet sensations (M.I.A., Crazy Frog, whatever else those assholes in England are wasting their time with), all your indie pinups (White Stripes, Bright Eyes, blah blah blah) and hang 'em in your ass. This is metal's year.

The record you gotta hear, though, maybe even more than all those others I just listed, is the new Hate Eternal, I, Monarch.

Most of the death metal hype is falling on Nile's Annihilation Of The Wicked at present, which I just don't get. Nile play too damn fast, like nimble fingers is a goal in itself. Okay, lots of times it is, but I much prefer a death metal band that's willing to slow down and let the riffs really get their claws into my chest. Suffocation came back last year with Souls To Deny and totally had it down - the record was just as good as Effigy Of The Forgotten or Pierced From Within, I swear. Decapitated did it on their last two records, Nihility and The Negation: technical brilliance coupled with total flesh-gouging heaviosity. Lost Soul did it all over Chaostream. And on I, Monarch, Hate Eternal blow all the fucking doors and windows open. This is some next level shit: totally crushing, and fucking mind-roastingly complex. Street date is 5/28, and they're touring before and after that date with Krisiun, Incantation, and All Shall Perish. (Oh, and Jungle Rot, too, so get there 20 minutes late or so.) The NYC date is 5/26, and I can't fucking wait.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005


The Voice didn't have space for this, so here 'tis.


In the New York Times, the same crusading paper that warned us about those Nazi bastards in Rammstein, Jon Pareles backhandedly complimented Coldplay, talking about the band's "heart-on-sleeve lyrics...insisting on its own benevolence." But thrilling contrarianism regarding (his words) "the most insufferable band of the decade" was the assignment, so he bravely revealed that "when he's not mixing metaphors, [Chris Martin] fearlessly slings clichés." In the New Yorker, Sasha Frere-Jones continued the prosecution, testifying that the lyrics used to be "introspective mash notes," but now they're "a thousand coffee-mug mottoes strung together, inspirational at first blush but completely devoid of substance."

Why this fixation on lyrics? And why the selectivity? Blues dudes, death metallers, and rape-happy rappers all get passes. The words aren't the point with Coldplay, anyhow; the swelling chords and pumping piano are the (marketing) hooks. Steve Albini said of Big Black, "Lyrics seemed a necessity, so we had some." Martin would probably agree.

Musically, X&Y is an impressive progression (except for the poorly chosen, "Clocks"-cloning first single, "Speed Of Sound"). "Square One" layers Goth guitars over Tangerine Dream keyboards. "What If" (lyrically no dumber than "Imagine," by the way) has a huge rising wave of strings at the end, not unlike the THX sound-demo at the beginning of a movie. The title track has really pretty psychedelic ooh-aahs on the chorus. Then there's the borrowed Kraftwerk melody on "Talk," much-hyped but hard to actually pick out. The first two Coldplay albums were basically the cheap and expensive versions of each other. (Not a bad thing.) X & Y sounds a little bit like both of them, but demonstrates more than enough evolution to justify its existence. Anyway, the whole point of forgettable lyrics is that you can forget 'em for an hour, and enjoy good music, well played.


The book is done. Sent the final, final versions of the last chapters to the publisher this morning. Off to the printer it goes; onto bookshelves it thuds, early September.

On to the next thing(s), which this week is (are) a piece on serial killers and the women who love them, an interview with the band Manntis (the ones who should have won MTV's Battle For Ozzfest, but didn't), a review of the new Hate Eternal album, and some other easy stuff.

On another subject, why does everyone hate on Coldplay's lyrics? I love the new album, just like I loved the first two albums (even though this one is actually really, really different from them), and I barely even notice that they have lyrics. When Chris Martin sings "I wrote a song," in the beginning of "Yellow," half the time my brain turns it into Mick Jagger singing "I rode a tank" in "Sympathy For The Devil." (Not that Martin sounds anything like Jagger; it's just that each of them seems to hit the same three notes in the beginnings of their respective phrases.)

X & Y is a really good-sounding record, and it doesn't sound much like the first two Coldplay albums at all. Lots more synths, lots of interesting rhythmic stuff, new guitar tones (some almost Goth-y ones, others lifted from U2's Achtung Baby, specifically "Zoo Station," the song that made me think U2 was actually gonna become a band I could give a shit about)'s a good fucking record. Critics need to stop worrying so much about the fucking lyrics, and listen to the music. That's what people hearing the singles from X & Y (and yeah, I admit that "Speed Of Sound," "Clocks" clone that it is, was a poor choice - it's far, far from the best song on the record, and "Square One" would have been a much better first single) are gonna focus on. Really. I swear. When I saw Coldplay live last time around, there were people singing along, but only on the choruses. This ain't some Morrissey-esque thing where weepy teens memorize every line. It's about the big chords, and the warm feeling in your chest that these songs inculcate.

Friday, June 03, 2005


As seen on other blogs, here are the first 10 songs my iPod threw at me this morning...

ZZ Top, “I Got The Six,” Chrome, Smoke & BBQ
Naked City, “The Ways Of Pain,” Torture Garden
Bad Brains, “Hired Gun,” I Against I
Method Man, “Method Man (Remix),” Tical
Louis Armstrong, “Once In A While,” The Compete Hot Five And Hot Seven Recordings
Sam Rivers, “Point Of Many Returns,” Contours
Earth, “Coda Maestoso In F(Flat) Minor,” Pentastar: In The Style Of Demons
Naked City, “Thrash Jazz Assassin,” Torture Garden
Andrew Hill, “Cantarnos,” Black Fire
Alice Coltrane, “Affinity,” Transfiguration

Thursday, June 02, 2005


I'm too tired right now to respond to this so-off-base-it's-almost-kinda-cute mini-essay at the length I feel it deserves. So more tomorrow, or over the weekend. For now, suffice it to say that one visit to would remove any doubt as to Stephen O'Malley's possession of a fully functional sense of humor.