Sunday, December 31, 2006


I was cleaning today and noticed a small stack of CDs I'd never bothered to listen to during '06, just kinda filed 'em away when they arrived. So I popped a couple of 'em in the player. The first was Whit Dickey's Sacred Ground (Clean Feed). This is the third album Dickey’s done for this Portuguese label, and I can't even remember the names of the other two, never mind what they sounded like. They all have the same personnel, more or less: Roy Campbell on trumpet, Rob Brown on alto sax, Joe Morris on bass (on one of the other two, there was a different bassist, so Morris played guitar), and Dickey on drums. Five or even four years ago, I'd have bent over backwards to find something nice or at least encouraging to say about a record like this, but I don't have it in me anymore to cheerlead for guys who are running on fumes, creatively. (If they're not, they're jacking off just to get the session fee and the few hundred guaranteed sales, and that's maybe even worse.) Can free jazz be formulaic and faceless? You bet your ass, and this is the proof.

I got better results with Catacombs' In The Depths Of R'lyeh (Moribund Cult). This came out in February, but I didn't pay any attention at the time, for reasons I can’t accurately recall right now. (It might have been because the label sent me some goofy solo-black-metal stuff at the same time – Fear Of Eternity, Striborg – and I probably couldn’t muster the energy to slot one more of their offerings into the player). It's doom metal at its most ponderous - basically, the tempo of early Swans with a lot more sustain in the guitar lines - and the vocals go down into Cookie Monster's sub-basement until they don't even sound like a human voice, let alone discernible words. Six songs in 72 minutes and some change (Track Two, “Dead Dripping City,” runs close to 17 minutes all by itself). It's not as good as Ahab's The Call Of The Wretched Sea, but it’s pretty good, and the title of the last track made me laugh – "Awakening Of The World's Doom (Reprise)."

Wednesday, December 27, 2006


I grabbed just under 60 CDs & DVDs from Tower on 4th & Broadway in Manhattan, two days before they went under - most everything in the place was down to 80 percent off, and it was pretty sparse, but there were still some things worth grabbing if you really knew what you were looking for. I got, among other things, the latest Kinky album, Joselo from Cafe Tacuba's second solo disc Lejos, a really nice 2CD Table of the Elements compilation, and Priestess's Hello Master. How did I miss this album when it came out earlier this year? I guess it didn't get much play on Pitchfork or ILM. Anyway, they're four Canadians playing retro-styled hard rock - mostly 70s, with a little 80s in the solos. They're on RCA, for some reason I can't figure out; they belong on Tee Pee. (The disc in fact was initially released on a Canadian indie in '05.) Big riffs, fleet enough guitar work, thudding rhythm section, a more than decent bawler up front. Guest organ on "Lay Down" brings 'em close to Uriah Heep territory. As the old saying goes, "Those who like this sort of thing will find this the sort of thing they like." I figured I'd like this as soon as I saw the cover*, so I grabbed it for just over three bucks, and so far I like it just fine.

*External link because I'm posting from a laptop and this browser won't let me use Blogger's image-embedding capabilities.


No, not Pazz & Jop. Voice jazz critic Francis Davis's first (maybe) annual jazz critics' poll, in which I participated with somewhere around 25-30 other writers, mostly NYC-based but some from other parts of the country, too. Here's the breakdown; Ornette Coleman won in a landslide, as he should have. Davis has an essay analyzing it all, while giving himself space for honorable mentions (which we mere voters didn't get, otherwise I'd have mentioned Kenny Garrett's Beyond The Wall and Odyssey The Band's Back In Time, both omissions I regret). N.B.: I'm the guy who said "hate jazz vocals, always have" on my ballot. You can see that ballot, along with most of the other contributors' ballots, here.

Speaking of critics' polls, how fucked is it that Celtic Frost's Monotheist made it to #32 on The Wire's Top 50 of 2006? I would have almost bet money that I was the only person who voted for it, but maybe someone else (Edwin Pouncey, I'm guessing) did, too.

Friday, December 22, 2006


Twelve Tone Tales Volume One
Twelve Tone Tales Volume Two

A confession: I don't understand twelve-tone theory. I looked it up on Wikipedia once, but by the time I got to the retrograde inversion, I was already yawning. And while this may well mark me as barely one step above a bug-eating ape, I don't care. Neither should any prospective listener allow self-doubt to keep them from exploring this pair of solo piano CDs. They sound great whether you approach after years of brow-furrowing study, or hear them after being raised to adulthood alone, in an unlit basement with absolutely no instruction in rudimentary human social skills, let alone the niceties of improvised and 20th century classical musics.

Schlippenbach sticks to keys and pedals throughout; no string-plucking or foreign objects to throw off anybody less than fully versed in avant garde pianistics. Occasional high-speed workouts like "LOK 03," which closes Volume One, are balanced by the title track and its three variations - each is as graceful and beautiful an exercise in balance as a cat crossing a ladder between two skyscrapers. The standards that close the set offer a 20 minute comedown from the occasionally stark heights scaled during the previous 90-100 minutes. They also serve as reminders that Schlippenbach can swing pretty hard when he wants to.

Trigger Trilogy
Conrad Schnitzler began his musical career in Tangerine Dream, though he left after their debut CD, forming Kluster with Dieter Moebius and Hans-Joachim Roedelius. He quit that group after three albums, and since the mid-70s he's been the creepy guy down in the basement, flinging cassettes and CD-Rs this way and that. A lot of his releases have titles that begin with "Con," but there's no scam to his scheme; he's just the Bartleby of the avant garde. Tour? Do press? Collaborate? He would prefer not to.

This triple helping of untitled electronica comes in eye-popping packaging. Each disc, if you believe the press release, was composed using slightly different methodology, but given the sameness of the CD layouts and the lack of information included with the item itself, it's safe to assume the sounds, not the means of their creation, are the point.

Disc One, "Solo Rhythmics," features Techno tracks so minimal they make Basic Channel sound like Gamble & Huff. Each thumps and hisses, crackles and zooms and eventually hums away into the void, subtly filtered into the next. Disc Two, "Mix Solos," is less pummeling and more interactive, the tracks blending into each other more seamlessly, even as they differ in style. Some sound like burbling and hissing 70s movie soundtracks, while others seem to come from a decade later. The stylistic shifting, between discs and from track to track, give the music a somewhat timeless feel, as long as one understands time to have stopped around 1985.

Disc Three, "Con-Cert," includes some eerily Autechre-esque moments, as well as some stuff that could have been culled from his earliest released recordings. That's the trouble with hermits - they tend not to notice that the world has kept on turning while they've been inside. Still, each of these CDs has an unsettling quality that, over the long haul of repeated listening, turns into something a lot like fun. Whether the maker intended his product to be greeted by anything so vulgar as listener enjoyment is a question destined to go unanswered, though.


In the past couple of days, I've downloaded a bunch of records that have been highly rated by others throughout the year but which never landed in my PO box or crossed my desk. I guess I'm gonna spend some time next week listening to them. But the great thing is, I don't have to write about them, I just have to listen and either enjoy or not. Pure civilian consumption of music - a pleasure I haven't allowed myself much of lately.

My recent acquisitions:

Project Pat, Crook By Da Book: The Fed Story (gave this one its first run last night; it's great)
Z-Ro, I'm Still Livin' (checked this one out yesterday too, and was kinda disappointed but will give it another shot because the first song, "City Streets," is fucking incredible)
Blut Aus Nord, Mort and The Work Which Transforms God
Spektr, The Near Death Experience
Scott Walker, The Drift (I listened to the first song from this already, and I'm not sure I'm going to wind up liking it - the musical backdrop is really cool, sort of between "good" Jandek and a slightly mellower Abruptum, but the man's voice is just unbelievably annoying, both because of how mannered it is and because of his actual tonality.)

Thursday, December 21, 2006


I bought Pimp C's Pimpalation yesterday (no real reason why, I was just browsing around in Best Buy prior to pillaging the 4th & Broadway Tower Records for whatever I could find, which turned out to be just under 60 CDs and DVDs for just over $200), and like many Houston rap releases of late, it came as a 2CD set with the "Screwed & Chopped" version as Disc Two. The only other one of these twofers I've actually bought was Mike Jones's album, but that was more enjoyable than I'd predicted it would be (I only bought it after "Still Tippin'" worked its way into my skull over a period of several weeks of repeated encounters on MTV), so I figured it was worth another shot.

Both discs are good, and I'm thinking about also picking up Project Pat's Crook By Da Book: The Fed Story and Z-Ro's I'm Still Living, tomorrow, before I go home for a week's "vacation." The point of this post, though, is that I started listening to the intro track to the screwed & chopped disc last night, while walking from the subway toward Penn Station, to catch another train back home, and between the slowed-down voice, the equally-slowed-down electric guitar riff in the background (the first song samples Tom Petty's "Free Fallin'") and DJ Michael Watts' narration, which is all about Pimp C's recent release from incarceration...well, the whole thing reminded me of Funkadelic's "March To The Witch's Castle," from Cosmic Slop. The same feeling of resignation, bleak horror, and depression hangs over both tracks, even though Watts is clearly attempting to conjure a mood of celebration. And when Pimp C tries to get celebratory on the song "I'm Free," it seems unconvincing. I think Houston rap might be the new Goth, as far as lyrical fatalism and despair is concerned.

Monday, December 18, 2006


Beyond The Wall

It's rare to hear an album that causes you to reassess an artist's entire prior career. But based on this brilliant new release, alto saxophonist Kenny Garrett has hidden depths that must now be teased out of earlier discs like Songbook and Triology - which until now had seemed like glib technical exercises.

Beyond The Wall features the rhythm section of pianist Mulgrew Miller, bassist Robert Hurst, and drummer Brian Blade, and two very special guests: tenor saxophonist Pharoah Sanders and vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson. These two are a direct link back to the first wave of free and avant-garde jazz in the early to mid-1960s, and they inspire their younger compatriots. The album opener, "Calling," is a modal piece based around Eastern-influenced melodic lines, exactly the kind of thing that inspired both Coltrane and Sanders to florid heights 40 years ago. Garrett has never sounded better than he does here, duetting with the older man as the rhythm section surges beneath them. It's not a screamfest - it's beautiful, spiritual music, the kind of thing jazz used to aim for all the time but rarely does anymore, except on indie releases that sell 1,000 copies to the same 1,000 people every time.

The rest of the album ranges from Latinate vamps like "Qing Wen" to gorgeous ballads ("Tsunami Song," "May Peace Be Upon Them"). The nearly 12-minute "Now" is the track that comes closest to matching the awesome beauty of "Calling," with both Sanders and Hutcherson soloing wildly as the rest of the group does its best to deserve such stellar company. Occasional and somewhat cheesy vocals can't diminish the impact of all these musicians working at the top of their abilities. This is a shockingly powerful album. Who knew Garrett had it in him?


Paperthinwalls has posted its year-end roundup, with every song downloadable so you can burn a nice 2CD holiday mix. My choice - Amon Amarth's "Runes To My Memory" - is toward the end of Disc Two.

Speaking of Amon Amarth, I saw them live last night, as the capper to my birthday weekend (I turned 35 yesterday). They played the Nokia Theatre, opening for Children Of Bodom (who I like, but didn't stick around for) along with Gojira, and Sanctity (who I deliberately arrived too late to see).

Gojira were good; heavier and faster than I'd remembered from listening to their newest album, From Mars To Sirius. Their riffs were almost Meshuggah-esque at times, while other times they stuck to a fairly routine Helmet-meets-Slayer thrash style. They're from France, but you couldn't tell by listening to them. Even their between-song patter was unaccented. I gotta download find a store that stocks their first two albums sometime soon; they impressed me.

I was there to see Amon Amarth, though. I saw them on their Versus The World tour in 2002 or so, at BB King's - one of five shows the Metal Gods tour (Halford, Immortal, AA, Primal Fear, maybe one more act I'm forgetting now) got to finish before the money ran out, or somebody's manager fucked somebody over some way or other - anyway, it fell apart all of a sudden after NYC, and since Immortal broke up not long after, I've always felt privileged to have been there. Even within the tight confines of BB King's, Amon Amarth were great, and won me over on the spot. The triple live DVD, Wrath Of The Norsemen, released earlier this year, showed them in their prime, though, headlining in Europe (numerous festival gigs, too) before ravening thousands-deep crowds. So I was really looking forward to seeing them on the Nokia's larger stage, and they delivered.

They're a pretty stripped-down band, both musically and literally: the singer and bassist play shirtless, while the guitarists play in plain black T-shirts and jeans, and it's hard to see the drummer behind all the cymbals. Their sound is death metal, without any of the fancy time signature changes or wheedly-deedly solos; they're very much about chugging, machine-like riffs and occasional outbursts of Iron Maiden-style dual lead guitar arpeggios. Johan Hegg's vocals are guttural, but clearly comprehensible, which makes sense because he's always singing about Viking life and heroic exploits, rather than sociopathic wallowing in serial rape/murder or cartoon Satanism. (They're Norse, not Christians, after all.)

The set was 40 minutes, tight and energetic from beginning to end. They began with the same one-two punch of their new CD With Oden On Our Side: "Valhall Awaits Me" into "Runes To My Memory." They followed that with the song I, and most of the yelling dudes immediately behind me, wanted to hear - "Death In Fire," the single and opening cut from probably their best album, 2002's Versus The World. That was as far into their back catalog as they went; every song they played came from their last three albums. "Death In Fire" was followed by "The Fate Of Norns," the title track from their 2004 disc. Then we got two more from the new album - "Asator" and "Cry Of The Black Birds," with taped ravens screeching on the intro and all. The last two songs of the set were "An Ancient Sign Of Coming Storm," the Fate Of Norns opener, and "The Pursuit Of Vikings," from that album. And that was it, they were out, and so was I. I was there for Viking metal, not Children Of Bodom's keyboard-heavy prog/power-thrash, fun as it can be in the right mood. I'd really like to see Amon Amarth play a two-hour headlining set, including tracks from their first three albums - Once Sent From The Golden Hall, The Avenger and The Crusher, as well as other recent favorites like "Thousand Years Of Oppression," "For The Stabwounds In Our Backs" and "Versus The World," but this short, concentrated dose was just what I needed last night. Hail the Vikings.

This post's title comes from "Heaven," by Talking Heads. I used it not because it had anything to do with Amon Amarth, but because my birthday also used to be my favorite aunt's birthday. She passed away a few years ago, and slightly less than a week afterward, I was riding the train to work and "Heaven" (the Stop Making Sense version) came up on my iPod, and I almost lost my shit. That song has always made me think of her, ever since, and it was playing in my head late last night as I was falling asleep.

Friday, December 15, 2006


United In Regret

Arsis are a two-man death-metal group from Virginia (they rent a bassist and second guitarist for live gigs). Their debut, A Celebration of Guilt, piled one knuckle-popping riff atop another like they were challenging peers and fans alike to keep up, but anthemic, almost arena-ready choruses were their secret weapons. It was a fierce combination...

Read the rest here.


Adolescents, "I Hate Children"
Bela Bartok, "String Quartet No. 4 - Non troppo lento"
Calle 13, "Electrico"
Prince Jazzbo, "Crabwalking"
Stereolab, "Wow And Flutter"
Iced Earth, "Watching Over Me"
Steve Reich, "Music For 18 Musicians - Pulses"
Thelonious Monk, "Monk's Dream (Take 3)"
Basic Channel, "Q1.1 Edit"
The Allman Brothers Band, "Midnight Rider (Live)"
The Mars Volta, "El Ciervo Vulnerado"
Blackbeard, "Cut After Cut"
Arsis, "Seven Whispers Fell Silent"
Van Halen, "Women In Love"
Cryptopsy, "Crown Of Horns"
3 Inches Of Blood, "Deadly Sinners"
Schoolly D, "We Don't Rock, We Rap"
Metallica, "Disposable Heroes"
Slayer, "Flesh Storm"
Xasthur, "Through A Trance Of Despondency"

Wednesday, December 13, 2006


I was asked to vote in one more year-end poll, being run by Voice jazz reviewer Francis Davis. Apparently the pool of voters is pretty small - only about 40 writers - so it's either gonna represent a really narrow consensus or a totally scattershot array of highly individualistic picks. My money's on the former; jazz is pretty arid lately. Anyway, here's what I submitted:

2006's ten-best new releases (albums released between Thanksgiving 2005 and Thanksgiving 2006), listed in descending order one-through-ten...

Ornette Coleman, Sound Grammar (Sound Grammar)
David S. Ware, BalladWare (Thirsty Ear)
Shot X Shot, s/t (High Two)
Frank Wright, Unity [recorded in 1974 but only officially released this year] (ESP-Disk)
Rudresh Mahanthappa, Codebook (Pi)
William Parker, Long Hidden: The Olmec Series (AUM Fidelity)
Nels Cline, New Monastery (Cryptogramophone)
Fred Anderson, Timeless (Delmark)
Art Ensemble of Chicago, Non-Cognitive Aspects Of The City: Live At Iridium (Pi)
Jason Moran, Artist In Residence (Blue Note)

The year's top three reissues, again listed in descending order...
Weather Report, Forecast: Tomorrow (Legacy)
Sonny Stitt, Stitt’s Bits: Bebop Recordings 1949-1952 (Concord)
Rufus Harley, Courage: The Atlantic Recordings (Rhino Handmade)

I was also asked to choose the best jazz vocal album of the year, but I didn't listen to any. I hate jazz vocal. Always have. Somewhat similarly, I defaulted the Shot x Shot disc into the "best debut" category, because, though it probably reflects very poorly on me indeed, I didn’t pay much attention to new artists this year.

So that's it. I'm officially finished assessing 2006. I can now move on to a solid two weeks or so of listening to music for pleasure, before I have to start logging new shit for next year's survey consideration.

Monday, December 11, 2006


"It" being the purpose of music writing: to make you hear with new ears. Go check out Hank Shteamer's blog entry about Rush. I know, I know. Go read, then watch the clip at the bottom, and hear that song like you probably haven't heard it in years.

Thursday, December 07, 2006


I was asked to participate in both major music critics' polls for 2006, because I'm in with the in crowd like that. I submitted the exact same ballot to both. Here 'tis:

Amon Amarth, With Oden On Our Side (Metal Blade)
Celtic Frost, Monotheist (Century Media)
Ornette Coleman, Sound Grammar (Sound Grammar)
Decapitated, Organic Hallucinosis (Earache)
Deicide, The Stench Of Redemption (Earache)
The Melvins, A Senile Animal (Earache)
Napalm Death, Smear Campaign (Century Media)
Razor X Productions, Killing Sound (XL)
Various Artists, Total 7 (Kompakt)
David S. Ware, BalladWare (Thirsty Ear)

This differs slightly from the Top 10 I sent to The Wire for their upcoming January 07 issue, which ran as follows:

Celtic Frost, Monotheist (Century Media)
Ornette Coleman, Sound Grammar (Sound Grammar)
Decapitated, Organic Hallucinosis (Earache)
Deicide, The Stench Of Redemption (Earache)
The Melvins, A Senile Animal (Earache)
Naçao Zumbi, Futura (Trama/Circular Moves)
Nachtmystium, Instinct: Decay (Battle Kommand/Southern Lord)
Razor X Productions, Killing Sound (XL)
Various Artists, Total 7 (Kompakt)
David S. Ware, BalladWare (Thirsty Ear)

Then there was the Global Rhythm Top 10, which was chosen half by me and half by my co-editor. Here's that run-down:

Ali Farka Touré, Savane (Nonesuch)
Thomas Mapfumo, Rise Up (Real World)
Cibelle, The Shine Of Dried Electric Leaves (Six Degrees)
Mariem Hassan, Deseos (Nubenegra)
Nuru Kane, Sigil (World Music Network)
Marisa Monte, Universo Ao Meu Redor/Infinito Particular (Metro Blue)
Rosa Passos, Rosa (Telarc)
Patrice LaRose/Julia Sarr, Set Luna (No Format/Sunnyside)
Gigi, Gold & Wax (Palm Pictures)
NOMO, New Tones (Ubiquity)

I will also be filing a ballot for Francis Davis's Voice jazz critics' poll, which will likely differ substantially from all the lists above (though it, too, will contain nods to Coleman and Ware). When I finish that one up, I'll post it here, too. (Too bad I can't vote for all the great shit I've downloaded from Church Number 9 and Nothing Is in the past few months. Julius Hemphill's Dogon A.D. is probably my real jazz album of the year.)


Borbetomagus, "Aimi Studio, 9/22/81"
Godflesh, "Spite"
John Coltrane, "Stellar Regions"
Agoraphobic Nosebleed, "Freeze Dried Cemetery"
Merle Haggard, "Teach Me To Forget"
Knut, "El Niño"
Alice In Chains, "Rain When I Die"
Rufus Harley, "Eight Miles High"

Monday, December 04, 2006


A lot of folks have been spending a somewhat unseemly amount of time shitting on the Voice since Christgau and Eddy were shown the door. But by now, I've written as much under Harvilla as I did under Chuck, and I feel just fine about that. Even if I believed New Times Corp was evil incarnate, which I don't, I'm not the kind of guy who's gonna turn down a paycheck out of moral urgency. I spent five years editing a porn mag, after all. And external politics have nothing to do with the quality of my work, for good or ill. Anyway, here's my latest piece in the paper everyone loves to run down these days: a review of the Robert Plant box from Rhino.

Sunday, December 03, 2006


Technical death metal pioneers/gods Atheist played their first U.S. show in over a decade yesterday, at Baltimore's Auditory Assault Festival. I wasn't able to make the Amtrak journey down to see them, but I did interview the extremely friendly and utterly unpretentious bandleader Kelly Shaefer for this piece in the Baltimore City Paper. Shaefer mentioned the potential for other shows while on the phone with me, including a gig at BB King's in NYC sometime in early '07, but there's been no kind of announcement as yet, so all us obsessives will just have to wait and see.

Friday, December 01, 2006


While discussing the new rival-Pazz&Jop critics' poll Idolator is putting together (I expect to be invited to contribute to both the upstart and the OG poll, and probably will do both, in addition to contributing to Francis Davis's year-end jazz roundup), Simon Reynolds writes:

everybody, but everybody i know--including matos himself, usually a poptimistic sort--seems to be agreed that twas verily the shitest, dullest, nothing-a-gwan year they can remember

Pardon me while I call bullshit. I don't get this at all. I think there's been barge-loads of fantastic music this year. The trouble is, Reynolds and Matos and whoever else the two of them have been talking to haven't been checking for it because most of the best music in America right now is (shock, horror) METAL.

Just kicking through the Metal section of my iPod, I come up with the following great albums from 2006:

Arsis, United In Regret
Celtic Frost, Monotheist
Deftones, Saturday Night Wrist
Deicide, The Stench Of Redemption
DragonForce, Inhuman Rampage
Iron Maiden, A Matter Of Life And Death
Isis, In The Absence Of Truth
Lamb Of God, Sacrament
Mastodon, Blood Mountain
Motörhead, Kiss Of Death (there's no such thing as a bad Motörhead album)
Nachtmystium, Instinct: Decay
Napalm Death, Smear Campaign (there's no such thing as a bad Napalm Death album)
Slayer, Christ Illusion
Tool, 10,000 Days (remember when Reynolds was all about prog?)
Trivium, The Crusade (they're basically just doing early Metallica, but since Metallica stopped being Metallica about 15 years ago, somebody's got to pick up the slack)
Xasthur, Subliminal Genocide (Xasthur is pretty much metal's own Burial; if you want hauntology, check out his cryptic wailing)

In non-metal news, the new Pitbull album is great, the Calle 13 album (OK, November 2005, but everybody really discovered them this year) is amazing, and I've heard a couple of dozen brilliant discs from other parts of the world this year, too.

Folks gotta stop expecting US and UK mainstream pop to give them everything they need. That's pure laziness. "This pablum you're spoon-feeding me sucks! I demand you spoon-feed me a higher grade of pablum!"


Arch Enemy, "Marching On A Dead End Road": A just-under-two-minutes instrumental interlude. I always think, whenever my iPod starts me off with something like this, that it's got a plan for the rest of the sequence.

Darkthrone, "Sno Og Granskog (Utferd)": Maybe not, though. This is from one of Darkthrone's more ambitious albums; it's the final track, and it's a weird Laibach-ian chant-and-pound-the-big-drums thing, not a staticky-guitar-and-hoarse-screeching thing.

Eddie Henderson, "Omnipresence": A track from the extended Mwandishi family of albums (see Herbie Hancock's Mwandishi, Crossings and Sextant; Eddie Henderson's Inside Out and Realization; Bennie Maupin's The Jewel In The Lotus, which I just copped three tracks from the other day courtesy the fine folks at destination out; Buster Williams' Pinnacle; Julian Priester's Love, Love; and probably a bunch of others, too. Those three Herbie albums are the best things he's ever released under his own name. Fuck the Headhunters; Mwandishi was a progressive, staggeringly talented ensemble that did damn near as much to make fusion worthwhile as Miles himself.

The Cars, "Shake It Up": Not my favorite Cars song - that'd be "Candy-O" - but pretty solid.

Twilight, "Winter Before": Twilight is a black metal supergroup of sorts, a collaboration between five guys each of whom records as a solo act. The combination of approaches doesn't actually yield anything world-shaking, but they do come up with some surprises, like this cut; it almost sounds like the psychedelic doom of Esoteric, particularly when the hellhounds-roaring-in-the-fiery-pit vocals come in.

Scorpions, "Mysterious": A mid-90s experimental track from these boys. "Experimental" in this case means it's a cross between U2's "Mysterious Ways" and the Cult's "The Witch" (you know, that weird track from the Cool World soundtrack that was the best thing they'd done since Electric, so naturally it represented a direction they immediately abandoned).

Howlin' Wolf, "Tell Me": What can you say about the Wolf? Some of his phrasing and rhythms are so weird they make Captain Beefheart wholly unnecessary, that's what.

Ved Buens Ende, "You, That May Wither": Arty death metal, recently reissued to little or no fanfare. The vocalist sounds kinda like Mike Patton.

Miles Davis, "Side Car II": One more nugget of awesomeness from Miles' mid-60s acoustic quintet. Some days their stuff is too pretty for me, and I prefer the raw headlong mania (and frequent clams from the so-called leader [so-called because come on, Tony Williams was in charge of that band and we all know it]) of the live Plugged Nickel box, or some of the bootlegs I've got around the house. But this track, from Circle In The Round, is more than a footnote, and well worth checking out.

Son Of Bazerk Featuring No Self Control And The Band, "The Band Gets Swivey On The Wheels": This guy sounds so much like DMX that frankly the dog should send him a royalty check. I love love love this album, and couldn't believe my luck when it popped up on a hip-hop file-sharing blog a few weeks back.

The Jesus & Mary Chain, "In A Hole": The best thing about this song is the echo that comes in on the vocals toward the end, which hits like a steel garage door slamming shut, over and over and over. And the drumbeat and the guitar noise are so brutal at the beginning that when this first started playing, I thought it was early Godflesh.

Pitbull, "Que Tu Sabes D'Eso (Feat. Fat Joe & Sinful)": El Mariel is one of the top five hip-hop albums of the year, for real. The Clipse are fine, but Pitbull's tales of Miami are just as hard, and just as pithily phrased. Seriously, don't write this guy off as a bilingual party clown. This album is the shit.

Can, "Bel Air": A pleasing 20-minute interlude.

Slayer, "Temptation": A great riff emerges about 2/3 of the way through this. It's a very good song from a very good album (the weakest of a trilogy that, taken as a whole, pretty much smokes anything any other metal band's ever put out). The lyrics are dumb, but ignorable (not always the case with Slayer - they've come up with some fascinating lyrics in the past, and even on their new album).

Gang Of Four, "History's Bunk": I like the off-beat ranting vocal on this. He's not even attempting to make it into a "song," he's just yelling about all the anonymous ones who got it in the neck. That's as it should be. Real injustice outweighs melody. Napalm Death knew that on their first couple of albums, too.

Rammstein, "Wollt Ihr Das Bett In Flammen Sehen": Rammstein are just great. My wife hipped me to them after getting seriously into their discography while studying German, and now that I've read translations of their lyrics, I have a lot more respect for them than I did after I interviewed them. A horrible experience, that; Till Lindemann (vocals) just sat there staring at me and smoking in Nasty Little Man's conference room like Peter Stormare's character in Fargo. Occasionally, he'd make some guttural joke at my expense. The guitarist was moderately personable, but I'm not even sure any of the others spoke English, because they didn't say a word the whole time. The piece never ran.

Deftones, "Street Carp": The new album is their version of Disintegration, and this comes from White Pony, which was their version of Amnesiac. Electronic soundscapes, crunching guitar riffs, and agonized wailing from a weepy fat Mexican. You can't fuck with that combination.


I don't know why these Chicago bands keep trying to be chamber jazz ensembles: Cheer-Accident at PTW.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Monday, November 27, 2006


I gotta start checking out more often. Had I known this profile of Crazy Lou Dobbs was online, I could have saved myself $4.50. It's a pretty fact-heavy but useless piece, doing exactly what Dobbs himself stands most firmly against: giving all sides a chance to filibuster without ever calling bullshit on anybody. Sure, it's objectively pro-Dobbs; the photo's a goddamn campaign ad. But still, Auletta seems unwilling to actually sack up and take a side on Crazy Lou's frothings one way or the other. Me, I think he's the king of dinner-hour comedy - some of what he says is true, but it's true in the most felt-not-thought, no-such-thing-as-gray possible way. (And that dead-eyed female substitute they get to run the show while he's out patrolling the border, or whatever, is like something out of They Live.) Anyway, read and enjoy, but don't expect to come away with your mind expanded, or even changed about anything. Ken Auletta's an empty-suit access-broker, one more rich white typist whose reputation is utterly mysterious to me.


Here's a little thing I wrote about Sepultura for the Scene. I don't know; the idea that Andreas Kisser is the sole remaining original member bugs me somehow. I guess it shouldn't, given my feeling that Napalm Death, who have no original members, have only gotten better since their lineup stabilized (give or take the late Jesse Pintado) in 1990 or so, but it does.


Monday Morning 20:

Bad Brains, "How Low Can A Punk Get (Live)"
Blue Cheer, "Summertime Blues"
Willie Nelson, "She's Not For You"
Louis Armstrong, "I Can't Give You Anything But Love (Rare Take)"
Agoraphobic Nosebleed, "The House Of Feasting"
Marc Ribot, "Saints"
Wayne Shorter, "Super Nova"
Isis, "C.F.T. (New Circuitry And Continued Evolution)"
Isis, "Weight"
Falkenbach, "Laeknishendr"
Agoraphobic Nosebleed, "Lithium Daydream"
Che, "Blue Demon"
Louis Armstrong, "Gambler's Dream"
Decapitated, "The Fury"
Beck, Bogert & Appice, "Livin' Alone"
Melvins, "Queen"
T.Rex, "To Know You Is To Love You"
Warren Zevon, "I Was In The House When The House Burned Down"
Motörhead, "The Wolf"
Isis, "Celestial (Signal Fills The Void)"

Friday, November 24, 2006


Interesting article about the AARP getting into the music-marketing business, or trying to. I think it's a good idea. I've never believed in pop as community. Even when I was twelve and listening to American Top Forty every weekend just to hear "Rock The Casbah," I didn't think it meant I had anything in common with anyone else who liked that song. Music was already a solitary pleasure, something (taste) that separated me from other people, not something that bonded me to them. If someone recommended a record and I liked it, I was grateful, but I didn't invite them to my house so we could listen together. And while concerts aren't fun alone, I've always preferred going with one friend rather than in a group. So the increased narrowcasting of media outlets is a blessing as far as I'm concerned. There's no such thing as all things to all people, at least not where music or art is concerned. Once you're old/self-aware enough to know what you like, why not seek out as much of it, in as pure a form, as possible? If your taste changes, you can seek out another outlet that will give you an uncut and uninterrupted stream of whatever it is you've just discovered you like.

Example: I decided recently to dip a toe into dubstep. Off I went to, and downloaded five or six hour-long mixes by various DJs. I soon discovered that the stuff wears mighty thin mighty fast, that its vision of urban (American) black culture verges on gangsta minstrelsy and black-dick fetishism, and that I didn't need any more than what I already had, and maybe not even that much. But when I wanted to hear dubstep and nothing but, I knew where to go. The same is true of death metal, and of free jazz. There's still an element of surprise, but within narrow and prescribed parameters. And that's how I like it.

(Jello Biafra called a DKs compilation Give Me Convenience Or Give Me Death. That's the problem with him; he doesn't see what a grand and glorious thing target marketing is. Or maybe he's just pretending not to; he sure seems to know exactly where to find each year's crop of dumbasses ready to lap up his pesudocontrarian spiels. Always going for that anti-marketing dollar. Very smart.)

See, the thing is, not only do I not want to share what I like with you—beyond getting paid to write reviews of it and occasionally talking about it on this here blog—I don't want to have to hear what you like. (Especially if you like mainstream hip-hop and R&B, or reggaeton, or mainstream country.) The supposedly halcyon days of the Sixties and Seventies, when "free-form" radio would play just any goddamn thing at all right next to any other goddamn thing, sounds like a nightmare to me. If I like Grand Funk Railroad, what in the fuck is gonna make you think I wanna hear Melanie? Nope. Keep your singer-songwriters over there, and let me fry my brains with amp damage over here. We'll wave at each other as we pass, like Sam and Ralph.


(Tradition is tradition. So even though, or maybe because, recent political events have given me slight hope that this country might be worth saving after all...)

Thanks for the wild turkey and the passenger pigeons, destined to be shit out through wholesome American guts.

Thanks for a continent to despoil and poison.

Thanks for Indians to provide a modicum of challenge and danger.

Thanks for vast herds of bison to kill and skin leaving the carcasses to rot.

Thanks for bounties on wolves and coyotes.

Thanks for the American dream, to vulgarize and to falsify until the bare lies shine through.

Thanks for the KKK.

For nigger-killin' lawmen, feelin' their notches.

For decent church-goin' women, with their mean, pinched, bitter, evil faces.

Thanks for "Kill a Queer for Christ" stickers.

Thanks for laboratory AIDS.

Thanks for Prohibition and the war against drugs.

Thanks for a country where nobody's allowed to mind their own business.

Thanks for a nation of finks.

Yes, thanks for all the memories - all right, let's see your arms!

You always were a headache and you always were a bore.

Thanks for the last and greatest betrayal of the last and greatest of human dreams.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006


The Carnegie Hall Concert

Pianist and occasional vocalist Keith Jarrett's solo concerts are among his most impressive achievements, whether they're mammoth documents like the six-CD (down from 10 LPs) Sun Bear set or this relatively intimate, 110-minute excursion from last year. This return to unaccompanied performance after a decade (in North America anyhow) marked a substantial change of style. Despite the fact that all tracks (save the encores) are untitled improvisations, they seem like structured and fully thought-out compositions. Some creep toward the 10-minute mark, but others barely last more than three. Jarrett has clearly come to realize the limits of discursive nonstop performance, a form few can pull off with consistency. Even Cecil Taylor occasionally falters in solo performance, although he can always recover with a two-fisted outburst of volume and power - an option Jarrett prefers not to exercise. Carnegie Hall is delicate and romantic even at its most energetic moments.

The set is somewhat oddly packaged: On this night, Jarrett apparently performed a 33-minute set of five pieces, followed by another five-part second "set" of equal duration, and a five-song encore that included "Paint My Heart Red" and "My Song," along with the standard "Time On My Hands." Despite sharing its title, "True Blues" is another improvisation (as is the first encore "The Good America"), not a version of the Modern Jazz Quartet track. Disc One contains the first five tracks of the primary performance, while Disc Two holds the second five and the encores. One could quibble with this structure, arguing in favor of the 10 untitled pieces appearing together, followed by the encores on their own disc. But if it's all gonna wind up in an iPod anyway, the question becomes academic. And anyhow, the point is the music, which is pure beauty, rewarding to the longtime fan and the first-time Jarrett listener alike.

Friday, November 17, 2006


So I got this Rhino Handmade set by Rufus Harley - who apparently passed away earlier this year - in yesterday's mail. He was the only jazz bagpipe player to date, an idea which immediately appealed to me, and I might not be alone. Given the general popularity of drones within the indie music community of late, as well as the mini-vogue for 60s jazz (think of all those BYG and ESP reissues of the past few years), Harley's moment might well have arrived. The set is called Courage: The Atlantic Recordings, and it stuffs all four of his studio albums for the label, recorded between 1966 and 1970 (Bagpipe Blues, Scotch & Soul, A Tribute To Courage and King/Queens) onto two discs, along with one previously unreleased cut from the King/Queens sessions and a track from a Sonny Stitt album on which Harley blew. I listened to Bagpipe Blues and the first four tracks from Scotch & Soul on the way to work this morning, and...well, I was a little let down.

I'm not saying the music's bad. It's not. The two or three cuts on Bagpipe Blues that actually feature the bagpipes are pretty great, particularly the opening title cut, which puts the pipes atop a kind of blues-march rhythm that works very well. But it's too short, and fades out before any kind of real catharsis is achieved - a disappointment for an album from 1966. I get the feeling that producer Joel Dorn was treating Harley as a novelty act (I get that impression from a lot of the Roland Kirk albums he worked on, too) while pretending/loudly protesting that he wasn't doing anything of the kind. This impression is solidified by the fact that the bagpipes actually only appear on less than half the album; on other tracks, Harley plays flute, soprano and tenor saxes. The bag is there to get curious record-buyers out of the store with a new purchase, but the majority of the record is straight modal/bluesy jazz, fine, but hardly surprising. The same is true of Scotch & Soul, where only three of seven tracks actually feature the bagpipes. (The Sonny Stitt track, "Pipin' The Blues," which closes Disc One, is ironically a much better showcase for Harley than many tracks from his own first two albums - he takes a terrific, high-energy solo over pulsing organ and a hot, funky/swinging drummer, effectively seizing control of the song from its putative bandleader.)

I'm looking forward to checking out the other two albums, particularly King/Queens, which features bagpipes on six of its seven tracks, and despite the slight feeling of producer-induced bait-and-switch, I highly recommend picking up Courage: The Atlantic Recordings, even at the inflated Rhino Handmade price of 2 CDs for $39.95, whenever they issue it (it's not on the site yet).

Thursday, November 16, 2006


I don't get free copies of The Wire unless I ask for 'em, and I only do that when I've got the cover story, and it takes my local newsstand almost the whole month to actually get copies, so I just read the new one yesterday. Here's my sole contribution to it.

Sunn O))) & Boris
Southern Lord
The idea of Boris and Sunn O))) collaborating is both natural and brilliant at first, but doubts quickly set in. On their own, both groups have developed highly individual sonic vocabularies which seem to share common roots in the late 80s/early 90s Pacific Northwest heavy rock scene - Sunn O))) are descendants of Earth, while Boris are named for a Melvins song - but are in fact largely incompatible. Sunn O)))'s drumless roar doesn't really benefit from the addition of Boris drummer Atsuo's cymbal crashes and thundering kick/snare action. On the other hand, Boris are perfectly capable of droning on and on all by themselves (cf. 1996's Absolutego or 2001's Flood), so why do they need Greg Anderson and Stephen O'Malley?
Altar works as well as it does because all involved understand that transcending earlier successes, not rehashing them, is the key. So even more guests are invited to the party, like vocalist Rex Ritter on the keyboard-driven pastorale "The Sinking Belle (Blue Sheep)" and former Soundgarded guitarist Kim Thayil, one more feedback wave on the ocean of sound that is album closer "Blood Swamp." Earth leader Dylan Carlson makes the most of his appearance, doing his cowboys-in-hell guitar thing all over the 28-minute "Her Eyes Were Wet With Venom," a bonus track only available on the limited edition two-CD version, which is well worth tracking down.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006


Here's a piece I wrote awhile ago (so long ago, in fact, that I forgot I wrote it) about technical death metal, old and new. If I'd had more space, I'd have gotten into the weirdness that is Francophone Canada (Voivod, Gorguts, and now Neuraxis and Cryptopsy), but I think I made my general points pretty well. I did forget to mention that folks should under no circumstances waste their time listening to Behold...The Arctopus, though, so heed that advice now.


This Slate piece brought back fond memories for me. My dad was a huge fan of "bus plunge" stories; when I was younger, and he was still alive, he told me about how the papers used to pack the bottoms of columns with these little nuggets of anonymous mass death. By the time I started reading newspapers, this kind of thing had faded away. I wish they'd bring it back. All those dead foreigners in their plunged busses and flipped ferries deserve some kind of memorial, even if it's just in a tiny filler piece at the bottom of a newspaper column.

Friday, November 10, 2006


Longer than usual commute this morning (train stopped for an open bridge).

Yoko Kanno, “ELM”
Deep Purple, “Child In Time”
Steely Dan, “The Royal Scam”
The Cables, “Baby Why”
John Coltrane, “It’s Easy To Remember”
Iron Maiden, “Gates Of Tomorrow”
The Doors, “My Eyes Have Seen You”
Sol Hoopii, “Hula Breeze”
Eyehategod, “Anxiety Hangover”
David Bowie, “V-2 Schneider”
Decapitated, “The Eye Of Horus”
Destruction, “Nailed To The Cross”
Agoraphobic Nosebleed, “Black Ass, White Dick”
Venom, “Voyeur”
Sonny Stitt, “Sunset”
Brant Bjork, “Kinda 65 (Return Flight)”
The Fall, “Hip Priest”
Bebe, “Revolvió”
Converge, “Lonewolves”
The Ramones, “Cretin Hop”
Bad Company, “Bad Company”
Alarm Will Sound, “Gwely Mernans”

Thursday, November 09, 2006



Let's pretend the Doors are not one of the most overplayed bands in that wasteland of sonic saturation, classic rock radio. Let's also pretend that deluxe, super-fancy boxed sets like this one are not aimed at middle-aged, deep-pocketed fans who already own most of the music within them in at least one other format—that, instead, they're about bringing an artist's or band's music to brand-new listeners in the most efficient manner possible.

Given those two conditions, what do we learn about the Doors by going track-by-track, album-by-album through the six CDs that constitute Perception? The first notable fact that leaps out at the listener is that the Doors discography is pretty much split between three very good albums and three pretty bad albums, and the running order must have been seriously discouraging in real time, because the debut was great, but the three discs that followed it were disappointments, with a few interesting ideas scattered among them. So only diehards were still paying attention by the time the final two discs—Morrison Hotel and L.A. Woman—dropped in '69 and '70. Those two albums, though, showcased a muscular band toughened up by misguided experimentation (on the schizophrenic The Soft Parade in particular) and transformed into a blues-rockin' machine with a little of what would soon become prog-rock sprouting in the corners of their sound.

Jim Morrison was a pretty good singer, especially when he let his Florida redneck background seep around the edges of his Sunset Strip Dionysus mask. Still, do yourself a favor—ignore the lyrics and listen to the band. The Doors could really play, in a variety of styles—the Latin jazz instrumental "Push Push," one of the many outtakes here, and the disco breaks on "The Soft Parade" are about as far from "Light My Fire" as one can get. Furthermore, the album cuts are frequently more impressive than the singles. "The Changeling," a Junior Walker steal that opens L.A. Woman, is the equal of the album's title track, and would have made a much more impressive single than the portentous "Riders On The Storm." Yeah, this band the Doors, they're not geniuses or anything, but they've definitely got their moments.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006


To celebrate the removal of the crooks and the pedophiles from Congress (you can have one, but not the other, and if you're a Bible-thumping freak, you for sure gotta go - thanks for playing, Rick), here are two reviews from this week's Voice. The Isis one is the same one that ran in the Scene already, but the Meat Loaf takedown is new. Go download "Bad For Good" if you can find it online - the album's a real piece of crap, but that song's great.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006


This is being published in the UK in April. (No known US release date.) Will it be as good as the greatest celebrity autobiography ever written? Of course not. Will it be at least as good as Lemmy's? Probably. I'm not the world's biggest Fall fan by a long shot, but I'm sure hoping my local library scores a copy.


Got this thing in the mail today—The Singles, a 19-CD set of every Clash single, packaged in lil' replicas of the original 7" sleeves. Each A-side is paired with every B-side from every country, every 12" promo version, etc., etc. This means the "London Calling" disc has seven tracks, and "The Magnificent Seven" (disc 14) has eight. Most of the others have two or three. A total of 66 tracks—that's probably two full-length CDs, maybe three at most. But heck, it sure is purty. Aging punks, whip out those platinum credit cards. Joe would have wanted it this way. Right?

(no reflection on the quality of the actual music which is fucking awesome and life-altering, yada yada, blah blah blah...)

Monday, November 06, 2006


Got the new Arsis album, United In Regret, in Saturday's mail. It's even more mind-roasting than their full-length debut, A Celebration Of Guilt (I haven't heard the in-between EP, A Diamond For Disease, though I'm almost surely going to buy it when they come to town next month). These two guys (vocalist/guitarist, and drummer) are making highly intricate but also extremely melodic death metal that, to be frank, blows Necrophagist's last album right out of the lake of fire. It's not as fist-pumping as Arch Enemy or some other Scandinavian acts; more in the spirit of the recent Deicide album, packed as that was with loop-de-loop guitar solos and other ear-pleasing treats, amid Benton's usual yammer. (Oh yeah, Arsis are also another one of the young bands who've decided Satan really doesn't need them bigging him up all the time; their lyrics nudge right up to being intelligent.) It comes out tomorrow, so go pick it up. And they're on tour, so go check 'em out. I saw them as part of a Willowtip package at BB King's awhile back (Necrophagist/Neuraxis/Arsis) and left with ACOG in my backpack, so I hope you'll be as impressed as I was.

Friday, November 03, 2006


Today I'm listening to Arch Enemy's Doomsday Machine, and yeah, it was on my top ten of 2005, but holy fucking hell. I've listened to so much stuff since then that I'd frankly forgotten how skull-crushingly, ass-rapingly awesome this album is. "My Apocalypse" alone is worth a dozen metalcore bands' entire careers. (Not I Killed The Prom Queen, though. I got their album in the mail the other day, and was surprised to find myself air-drumming. Clearly, further attention is required.)

Thursday, November 02, 2006


I thought this was gonna run in the Village Voice first, but the Scene beat 'em to the punch. In any case, here's my review of the new Isis album.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006



I needed something to watch on Halloween, and I figured John Carpenter was a safe bet. But rather than reach into my DVD cabinet and pull out The Thing or Prince Of Darkness (the two of his films I own), I decided to get Cigarette Burns, his episode of Showtime's Masters Of Horror series, from Netflix. I was disappointed.

Carpenter's directing skills haven't gone soft; he's as economical and powerful a storyteller as ever. In fact, I'd argue that Ghosts Of Mars is a better movie than Assault On Precinct 13, and Vampires, its first half in particular, is criminally underrated. But he had bad material to work with here, and he couldn't save it.

The story is basically this: creepy Eurotrash film collector Udo Kier hires dumbass ex-junkie horror-revival theater owner Norman Reedus (best known, if he's known at all, as Wesley Snipes' traitorous sidekick in Blade II) to find the one existing print of the legendary film La Fin Absolue Du Monde, which provoked mob violence and death in the theater at its sole screening. Off we go: stooge seeks film, wallows through decadence and degradation, including a totally gratuitous decapitation (though to his credit, Carpenter throws in a nice line of deflating dialogue immediately afterward - "That's not art, that's just murder!"), stooge delivers film to rich creep, everyone gets their comeuppance. This is an old story, told lots and lots of times in different ways, and it always fails at the same point: the reveal. Remember how un-creepy the images on the unholy videotape in The Ring were? When we inevitably get to see La Fin Absolue Du Monde (and by the way, hearing Reedus mumble his way through that title about six dozen times in an hour gets really fuckin' old), it looks like a particularly arty Deicide video - an angel having its wings sawn off, a woman scraping her fingernails off against a wall, in black and white of course, and 1, 2, 3, yaaaaaaawwwwwwnnnn. Once the film-within-a-film actually started rolling, I ceased to give a shit. Sure, it'd basically been a gorier ripoff of 8mm to that point, but I'd been willing to ride along with Carpenter because there were a few good lines, especially one riff on the idea of removing the "cigarette burns" (the small circles that appear in the corners of movies to indicate an upcoming reel change, or if you're watching it on TV an upcoming commercial break) from films. But economical storytelling doesn't help when you've got a crap story to tell.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006


Bought the new Deftones disc, Saturday Night Wrist, at lunchtime. Produced by Bob Ezrin, though damn if I can tell what he brings to the table that Terry Date, their prior collaborator, didn't. A little more fullness in the bass sound, maybe. SNW might be the most openly indebted to the Cure's Disintegration of all their albums, too. In any case, their nü-art-metal cred stays immaculate. On first listen, it's impressive as hell - proggier and gloomier than almost every track off their last "real" album except for the single, "Minerva," and that one got old fast; something about the way Chino howled "And God bless you all" just grated on me. I didn't start paying attention to these guys till White Pony (I liked "My Own Summer (Shove It)" but didn't go all the way to buying Around The Fur), but when I did, I fell hard. They're one of the few can-do-almost-no-wrong bands around, to my ear (another being Amon Amarth, who I'm gonna write a whole bunch of words about sometime soon), and they're not nearly as big as they should be. Go buy this album.

Thursday, October 26, 2006


Couldn't access Blogger for some reason yesterday, so this link is 24 hours old already. Still, here 'tis: Swan Island, at PTW.

Monday, October 23, 2006


Here's my review of a snippet of Tony Conrad's Joan Of Arc, from PTW.

Speaking of movie theaters, I was in two of 'em this weekend - saw Marie Antoinette on Friday night, and The Prestige at 10:15 Sunday morning. Surprisingly, my wife and I were not the only people in the theater for the latter flick.

MA was the best of Sofia Coppola's movies so far, though clearly her work - it's all about a little lost girl trapped in a great big intimidating world full of unexpected responsibilities and demands, blah blah blah. Kirsten Dunst is more likeable than she's been (for me, anyway) in anything to date, and Jason Schwartzman, who I have consistently loathed to date, is not likeable, but he is tolerable, and that's a big step up. The best people in the cast are Rip Torn, as Schwartzman's father the King of France, and Danny Huston, as Dunst's older brother. (I've only just started paying attention to Huston - I thought he was terrific in the Australian "Western" The Proposition, playing a curiously dignified outlaw chieftain; he was kinda updating Hugh Keays-Byrne's terrifying work as the Toecutter in Mad Max, without the homoeroticism.)

It's a beautifully shot movie, filmed on location in Versailles (and almost nowhere else, which has been the biggest complaint about the thing from whiny critics expecting a bigger dose of politics - somehow Coppola's failure to take the side of the mob overshadows the achievement of her perfect evocation of palace life's suffocating, opulent insularity). Once or twice, when Dunst moves to a country house, we get shots of her running through the grass, loose white dress billowing and sunspots dancing across the lens, that seem like Virgin Suicides outtakes, but for the most part it's an indoor movie, the camera sliding down hallways and across vast sitting-rooms laden with elaborate furniture and even more elaborate clothing and wigs and pastries.

And about the music: it's a thrilling choice, particularly when the opening credits, in hot pink, flash across a black screen scored to Gang Of Four's "Natural's Not In It." That sets up a more active movie than Coppola ultimately delivers, but there are still some great scenes where the music brings everything to life in a way period sounds never could have - a whirling masked ball where everyone's dancing to Siouxsie and the Banshees' "Hong Kong Garden," and Dunst's 18th birthday party, set to New Order's "Ceremony." Oh, and the shoe-shopping scene, played over (an admittedly kinda distractingly/superfluously noisy Kevin Shields remix of) Bow Wow Wow's "I Want Candy."

One indelible impression I came away with is that Sofia Coppola is decidedly not her father's daughter, as filmmakers go. Where his impulse is always to go overwrought and big (The Conversation is the only counter-example I can think of right this second), she's very much about tiny moments and slowness - Dunst's long, boring carriage ride from Austria to France in the beginning of the movie is like something Werner Herzog would have shot, a real test of patience for an audience already jacked up on itchy postpunk rock. This is a very interesting movie that deserves all the plaudits it's received, and a wider release, too. I bet it'll be huge with teenage girls when it hits DVD.

Christopher Nolan's The Prestige is a very different movie - much darker, with no music that I can remember, and absolutely no sun-dappled capering through the fields. It takes place almost entirely in darkened London bars, restaurants and theaters, wherein two magicians, played by Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman, battle for supremacy/revenge. One kills the other's wife onstage, and it's on. Both performers are really good, but the best work is done by David Bowie as Nikola Tesla. Unfortunately, Tesla's involvement turns the movie into science fiction, where until that point it had been a tricky (Nolan is the director of Memento, remember) but ultimately grounded story, full of temporal leapfrogging and doubles, both onstage and off. It's hard to say much about the movie without giving away crucial secrets, so I'll just leave it at that. But reportedly there was a minimum of digital work done, because Nolan wanted to preserve the mechanics of 19th century stage magic, and good for him. (The brief presence of Ricky Jay as Jackman and Bale's employer, early on, is a plus for magic nerds.) Oh, and Scarlett Johannson's breasts are in the movie, too, attempting (but sadly failing) to escape from a number of fetching magician's-assistant ensembles. But in fine stage tradition, they're intended as misdirection, so try not to miss anything crucial while you're staring.

Sunday, October 22, 2006


I feel like I should go see Cecil Taylor at Iridium this Thursday. He's playing with Henry Grimes for the first time in 40 years or so (Grimes played on Conquistador!, Unit Structures and Into The Hot), and drummer Pheeroan Aklaff, who I mostly know from his late '80s work backing Sonny Sharrock. I feel like I should go because recent reports have indicated Cecil's starting to flag, finally, as he creeps toward 80; his recent solo performance was marked by shortness of breath and shaking hands, though he was still more than capable of tearing hunks of raw beauty out of the air. So, though I doubt it is, this could be my last chance to see him live.

I'm very, very glad to have been able to see Taylor twice in the company of my late friend Ken - once at a 1/2 solo, 1/2 trio Avery Fisher Hall performance, once with a trio at Iridium. And indeed, Ken's absence is part of the reason I don't particularly want to go this time. Live jazz without the friend in whose company I heard so many brilliant musicians, is still something of a raw wound, and is likely to be for some time.

The other reason I don't have quite the enthusiasm I might, though, is the presence of Henry Grimes. To be honest, I've been pretty disappointed by his comeback these past few years. The live disc with David Murray and Hamid Drake on Ayler is a perfect example - his tone's frequently muddy, he gets lost a lot, and he overplays. None of these things were true of his mid-'60s recordings or the live bootlegs I've heard of him behind Sonny Rollins in '62. So he's coasting on the good will of the community, whether he knows it or not. It's entirely possible he's not fully aware how much his abilities have diminished. (An exception that must be cited, in fairness, is his work on Marc Ribot's Spiritual Unity CD. He does a terrific job there.) I don't think Grimes has what it takes to keep up with Cecil. Not in 2006.

The other reason I don't want to see Cecil on Thursday is that on Saturday, I'm going to watch Aki Takahashi play two solo piano pieces by Morton Feldman. The difference between these two performers, and the material they'll be performing, couldn't be starker. And frankly, I think fresh memories of what will almost certainly be a convulsive, volcanic performance from Cecil will keep me from fully appreciating the slowly unfolding beauty of For Bunita Marcus (one of the two pieces Takahashi will be playing), making me frustrated with Feldman's glacial rhythms. No, I think it's better to approach Feldman with a relatively clear head.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006


In this week's Village Voice: my take on Nels Cline's Andrew Hill tribute CD, New Monastery.

In the new issue of Relix (the one with Tenacious -ugh- D on the cover), my take on the new Waylon Jennings box:

Nashville Rebel
Waylon Jennings is great, but overrated: weird but true. There are a ridiculous number of ridiculously good country songs on this box, particularly on discs two and three - "Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way," "I'm A Ramblin' Man," "(Don't Let The Sun Set On You) Tulsa," "Lonesome On'ry And Mean," "You Ask Me To," and too many more to list. Still, Jennings benefited quite a bit from his association with superior talents Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash (evidence: the numerous duets with each man that appear on discs two-four of this set). And gathering too much of any single performer's work in one place will point out the weird inconsistencies and stumbles as much as, if not more than, it'll highlight the triumphs, and there are some bad musical choices on display here. Duets with Nelson on covers of The Eagles' "Take It To The Limit" and Otis Redding's "(Sittin' On) The Dock Of The Bay" should simply never have been laid to tape. Similarly, his version of Elvis' "Suspicious Minds" (with wife Jessi Colter) is just wrongheaded; the raw Memphis soul of the original is wrecked by a terrible keyboard sound, ultimately transforming an anthem of obsession into just another country-radio love duet. In spite of his rebel posturing and his affiliation with the so-called "outlaw" movement of the 1970s, Jennings was too frequently willing to sweeten his music with such touches. A voice as rough as his shouldn't be surrounded with the female choruses that crop up so often here. Still, even if his voice was never half as evocative as Cash's, Nelson's or Merle Haggard's, the two middle discs of this set display his skills as a storyteller quite admirably. Oh, and for pop-culture ironists, yes, the theme from The Dukes Of Hazzard is included.


I just read Jessica Hopper's review of Coughs' Secret Passage, which as it happens arrived in my mail yesterday and went immediately onto the life's-too-short pile. But idle curiosity led me to click the link, and when I was just about done wading through a bunch of overwrought gender-fixated bullshit (the two male members of the band don't get mentioned until the third paragraph from the end, because JH is so busy girl-crushing on the singer for letting her pants fall down and getting all sweaty on stage, cause we all know what a big fucking statement sweaty punk skanks are in 200fucking6), I came across this line:

Coughs began in 2001 as a cross between an experiment and a dare -- no one in the band was allowed to play an instrument she already knew how to play.

Give me a huge fucking break, please. This makes Coughs the second girl band I've heard this month who make a thing out of not knowing how to play their instruments. (The other was Swan Island, who manage to almost rock exactly one time on their nonetheless-rapturously-praised-by-members-of-Sleater-Kinney debut CD.) What the fuck is that about? Did I miss the memo where technical competence was declared a tool of the patriarchy?

As I type this, I'm listening to Secret Passage, and, well, it ain't what the always-earnest Ms. H would have you believe it is. It's boring semi-tribal noise-rock with some briefly interesting guitar work that would be a lot more interesting if the guitarist in question could make more than one noise per song. There's a saxophone, too, but I'm not sure why. Hopper's new heroine, vocalist Anya Davidson, has exactly one vocal tone - full-on shriek, luckily mixed low enough to be annoying, but not a deal-breaker as long as the two percussionists are doing their Swans-meets-Slipknot thing in the far corners of the sound-field. Occasionally, Davidson sounds about half as interesting as Eyehategod's Michael Williams, but most of the time, she sounds like the school bus driver on South Park. Even if they learned to play, Coughs would probably be terrible. But if they did that, they'd just be playing The Man's game, right?

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

500% MAN

Just downloaded the 2CD Bo Diddley Chess box. Holy fuckin' hell. You don't listen to records by him or Chuck Berry or Little Richard for a few years, and you start to forget. You start to view them through the misty haze of memory and the fog of their place in Rock History, and you forget how goddamn anarchistic those records were. I mean, Billy Zoom of the punk band X stole every one of his licks from Chuck Berry, but when you listen to the original recording of "Roll Over Beethoven" you realize that Zoom cleaned 'em up! These Bo Diddley sides are so raw, so soaked in from-the-bottomless-pits-of-hell reverb, they're psychedelic long before there was any such word. And Little Richard's Specialty Records sides are just flat-out explosive—there's no other word for it. He sounds like he's gonna overload the microphones with every note.

But never mind all that crazy talk. The 1950s were a time of boring conformity in America, and we were very nearly doomed to a life of Leave It To Beaver stultification until the Beatles came along to save us from ourselves. Right? Right?

Wednesday, October 04, 2006


My review of Trivium's The Crusade (street date: Tuesday, 10/10).

Tuesday, October 03, 2006


Ken Johnson died. You probably didn't know him. He was my best friend for almost 20 years. He came home to his apartment last night and fell asleep. His girlfriend discovered him this morning. His little brother just called me. They don't know yet what happened, or what the arrangements will be.

Ken was the guy I'd always go to shows with. The one person I knew in high school who I still hung out with. The first time I ever heard Keiji Haino was at CBGBs with Ken, in 1991. A decade later, Ken next to me at Irving Plaza, watching Ted Nugent, and eventually looked over and asked, "You're not appreciating this on any kind of ironic level at all, are you?" He went to two Ozzfests with me (2004 and 2005). We went to CBGB one night because there was nothing else to do, with about eight bands on the bill, and were standing by the pool table talking when gradually our heads began to perk up and one of us said "What the hell was that?" That was Thinking Fellers Union Local 282; Ken went backstage and bought a T-shirt and one of their albums, on vinyl. We saw Slayer; we saw Fishbone with the 2 Live Crew opening up; we went to the Vision Festival almost every year; we saw an all-night King Sunny Ade gig in 1990. So many more gigs, too, in so many places I can't even remember them all. My wife has always had right of first refusal whenever I decide to go see a band, but anytime she said no, I knew I could invite Ken and he'd be up for it. He came with me to see GG Allin at Space At Chase in 1992; you can see us walking out the door afterward (the show cost us $10 each and lasted 10 minutes before the cops arrived) in the movie Hated.

We met in an art class in high school. He listened to the Cure, and Metallica, and not much else, back then. I gave him Ministry and the Minutemen, and we started exploring other stuff together. Occasionally, early on, I'd talk him into buying something neither of us was sure about, like Diamanda Galas's You Must Be Certain Of The Devil, by swearing up and down that I'd heard it, and it was brilliant. On the weekends, we'd sit on his couch watching Headbanger's Ball and 120 Minutes and Video Jukebox, a real-life Beavis & Butt-Head. We successfully shoplifted an 8-VHS set of Berlin Alexanderplatz from the local video store once, just to see if we could; never did watch the damn thing.

Another old friend, Mike Nuzzo, a guy I'd known since the fourth grade, died a year or two ago. My two best friends from childhood are both dead now. I'm gonna be 35 in December. What the fuck kind of world is this? And who's gonna go to gigs with me now?

Monday, October 02, 2006


Lately all I want to listen to is early-'70s blues-rock/proto-metal. It doesn't matter how big or how obscure the band was. I like Cactus as well as ZZ Top, Buffalo as well as Sir Lord Baltimore. Deep Purple, Atomic Rooster, Mountain, Cream, AC/DC, Blue Cheer (and Randy Holden's solo disc, Population II), Grand Funk Railroad,Ted Nugent, the James Gang...they're all in my iPod. My copy of the first Josefus album, from 1970, hasn't come in the mail yet; we'll see how much I like them. I have also thus far failed to investigate Humble Pie and Free, but they're sure to get their turn soon enough.

This stuff has always been paradigmatic, for me. When I was studying audio engineering not too long ago, I didn't want to learn how to make pristine records like Steely Dan's Aja, much as I love those guys. I wanted to learn how to put three or four guys in a room with some mics and some amps and get a sound as stripped-down, yet crushing, as the Grand Funk album.

Anybody making music that doesn't follow these rules is just gonna have to work harder to gain my approval (assuming they're seeking it) than a random trio or quartet of knuckle-draggers cranking out variations on "Baby Please Don't Go" or "Mississippi Queen" for 40 minutes. The visceral pleasure of big, stomping, feedback-laced crunch-rock has a grip on me nothing else can quite match, not even death metal or free jazz. Much as I love tech-death (both old and new school - Cynic, Atheist and Death did one thing, Neuraxis and Necrophagist and Arsis do a whole different thing, but both are fine by me), it doesn't have that swing that Mountain or Cream or even the Jeff Beck Group has. (Though the Beck albums - Truth and Beck-Ola, both about to be reissued by Legacy with a bunch of bonus tracks each - have a really fractured rhythm thing going on that's almost anti-rock at more than a few points. They really seem to be actively subverting, say, "Jailhouse Rock," turning the original's groove into a lurching, square-wheeled-car rampage. And I'm sorry, but Rod Stewart was always a horrible vocalist. It sounds like he recorded "Shapes Of Things" in a single take, and if there were any notes there to be hit, nobody pointed them out to him. His reputation is totally inexplicable to me.)

Anyway, I don't know how long this phase is gonna last, and I don't know how it's gonna interfere with my job as a world music magazine editor or my freelance work as a jazz critic. But right now no album of, um, highly evolved music, even one as brilliant as, say, Jason Moran's Artist In Residence, sounds half as good to me as Sir Lord Baltimore's "I Got A Woman."

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Wednesday, September 27, 2006


Here's me taking apart some Norwegian band called 120 days, at PTW.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006


Here's my PTW write-up on the thoroughly undistinguished Canuck-punk outfit the Cancer Bats. Now I'm gonna go spend a week or so listening to the 9CD Robert Plant solo boxed set, which just arrived. Big '80s drum sounds, ahoy!

Wednesday, September 20, 2006


This morning’s long-ass commute-into-NYC playlist:

Fushitsusha, “Untitled,” Live II
Bad Brains, “We Will Not,” Rock For Light
Ornette Coleman, “W.R.U.,” Ornette!
Judas Priest, “Some Heads Are Gonna Roll,” Metalogy
Judah Tafari Eskender, “Rastafari Tell You,” Best Of Studio One
Trivium, “Washing Me Away In The Tides,” Ascendancy
Waylon Jennings, “The Chokin’ Kind,” Nashville Rebel
Pantera, “Cowboys From Hell,” Far Beyond The Great Southern Cowboys’ Vulgar Hits
Aerosmith, “Spaced,” Get Your Wings
Grant Green, “Moon River,” The Complete Quartets With Sonny Clark
Lynyrd Skynyrd, “Comin’ Home,” The Essential Lynyrd Skynyrd
Aphex Twin, “Pissed Up In SE1,” Analord
Cardinal Rex Jim Lawson, “Nume Inye,” Lagos All Routes
Witchman, “Amok,” Explorimenting Beats
Iced Earth, “Burnt Offerings,” The Blessed
Cactus, “Underneath The Arches,” ’Ot ’n’ Sweaty
The Pogues, “The Old Main Drag,” Rum, Sodomy & The Lash
Sunny Murray, “Giblets,” An Even Break (Never Give A Sucker)
Grachan Moncur III, “Monk In Wonderland,” Evolution
Superpitcher, “Shadows,” Total 2

Tuesday, September 19, 2006


This month in The Wire:

Sound Grammar
Sound Grammar

The quartet behind Sound Grammar have been touring since 2003, and the effect of all that roadwork is immediately audible. In 2003, they were aggressive, tearing into these pieces as though their working model was John Zorn's hardcore interpretation of the Coleman oeuvre, Spy Vs. Spy. Coleman barely engaged with group or audience, whipping his musicians through the material like a basketball coach assigning wind sprints. By April of this year, the same pieces had expanded into meditative, almost ambling journeys, the basses of Greg Cohen and Tony Falanga operating in harmolodic fashion as lead and rhythm instruments, Denardo Coleman keeping a relentless beat and his father going wherever the music took him.
Sound Grammar was recorded at a German concert in October 2005, and documents an in-between phase of the group's development. Cohen and Falanga are given occasional rein over the melody, but not as much as they've had in more recent performances, and Denardo plays remarkably well, sounding ideally suited to the music.
Ornette is, of course, Ornette. His violin and trumpet playing lacks the subtlety of his saxophone, but is judiciously deployed. His melodies are instantly recognizable - they bounce, full of a joy that renders his extensive use of a bent blues vocabulary almost paradoxical. This is as true of new pieces like "Sleep Talking" and "Matador" as of 1985's "Song X" or 1959's "Turnaround," both reappraised here. Sadly, the thrilling version of "Lonely Woman" performed as an encore at recent concerts doesn't appear. Ornette hasn't released a record in a decade, and this one is more a postcard from the road than a manifesto. At nearly 80, he's already moved beyond what's documented here.

Thursday, September 14, 2006


Okay, this "hipster metal" roundtable settles it: I need a subscription to Decibel.

(And one to Italian Vogue too, it seems.)


A brief piece on Lamb Of God for Westword, and a review of Light This City, on paperthinwalls.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006


The new Mastodon disc, Blood Mountain, comes out today; I bought mine at lunchtime, along with the new Rapture disc. On first listen, BM is a definite step forward from the already awesome Leviathan. The vocals are cleaner, but the guitar riffs are just as ferocious and possibly even more intricate than before, as are the drums. The songs are all in the five-minute range, which actually works in their favor - some of those Leviathan tracks didn't know when to end. Of course, there'll be a tidal wave of hype, and this Ben Ratliff piece is part of it, but it's much better than the rest of the "metal - not just for dumbasses anymore" stuff the Times has been printing this year. (BTW, the Boris/Sunn album ain't much at all. Get the new Isis instead.)

Friday, September 08, 2006


Moral law is an invention of mankind for the disenfranchisement of the powerful in favor of the weak. Historical law subverts it at every turn. A moral view can never be proven right or wrong by any ultimate test. A man falling dead in a duel is not thought thereby to be proven in error as to his views. His very involvement in such a trial gives evidence of a new and broader view. The willingness of the principals to forgo further argument as the triviality which it in fact is and to petition directly the chambers of the historical absolute clearly indicates of how little moment are the opinions and of what great moment the divergences thereof. For the argument is indeed trivial, but not so the separate wills thereby made manifest. Man's vanity may well approach the infinite in capacity but his knowledge remains imperfect and howevermuch he comes to value his judgements ultimately he must submit them before a higher court. Here there can be no special pleading. Here are considerations of equity and rectitude and moral right rendered void and without warrant and here are the views of the litigants despised. Decisions of life and death, of what shall be and what shall not, beggar all question of right. In elections of these magnitudes are all lesser ones subsumed, moral, spiritual, natural.

—Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian

Thursday, September 07, 2006


My thoughts on the new Motörhead album, Kiss Of Death. It came out last week, and you should still buy it, but don't expect it to tear your world down like their last two. In fact, you could probably get the reissues first. Those live bonus discs really do deserve my highest praise-phrase: they are ass-rapingly great.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006


I spent the "holiday" weekend writing a 6000 word story on an artist to be named later (the editor gets mad when I give the game away in advance), so I'm tired. Here's a link to my review of Ecstatic Sunshine at PTW.

Thursday, August 31, 2006


Robert Christgau has been given the shove by the Village Voice. Weep, weep. Death of music journalism, blah blah blah. Too bad for whoever inherits his desk, says I.


My review of Lamb of God's Sacrament is running in Cleveland this week. So's my write-up on this year's Relapse Contamination Tour.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006


I haven't posted anything on in a couple of weeks, but today you can read my take on Teeth Of The Hydra, then listen to the MP3 and decide whether or not I'm completely full of shit. (About the band, or my doom-vs.-sludge theorizing; your call.)


Four-day weekends are nice.

Wednesday morning start-the-work-week random 11:

Pig Destroyer, "Verminess"
Agoraphobic Nosebleed, "Hammer Fight"
Arve Henriksen, "Paralell Action"
Bad Brains, "F.V.K."
Cream, "Sleepy Time Time (Live)"
Thelonious Monk, "Japanese Folk Song (Kojo No Tsuki)"
DJ Krush, "Day's End Feat. Kazufumi Kodama (After-Dusk Mix)"
Early Man, "Brain Sick"
Clifford Thornton New Art Ensemble, "15th Floor"
Alice In Chains, "We Die Young"
Miles Davis, "My Funny Valentine"

Thursday, August 17, 2006


I bought the fancy new double-disc version of Apocalypse Now, which is one of my top five movies ever by anybody (the others, today anyhow: Repo Man, Blade Runner director's cut, The Big Red One posthumous long version, and Road House tied with Day Of The Dead) yesterday. I am disappointed and angered by it, for one very big reason.

The set features both versions of the movie - the 1979 original, a/k/a/ "the good version," and Apocalypse Now Redux, a/k/a "what the fuck were you smoking? Seriously...the French plantation scene? Dude..." - along with an assload of bonus features, including full-length director's commentary tracks for both versions, a lost scene that's extremely damn creepy and dream-haunting, a bunch of other extended scenes in very rough form that wouldn't have added much of anything to either version of the flick and in some cases are pretty inexplicably weird, and a fistful of behind-the-scenes stuff about the sound mixing and the editing and all the stuff only hardcore geeks like me care about, but hardcore geeks like me care about those things a great deal indeed. (Side note: wasn't it great how I used "fistful" and "assload" in the same sentence right there? I know that's the kind of thing that keeps you folks coming back.)

Here's the problem, though: rather than do the sensible thing and put Apocalypse Now on Disc 1 and Apocalypse Now Reallysux on Disc 2, along with however many bonus features could fit, or putting both movies on Disc 1 and all the bonus features on Disc 2, they (and by "they," I mean Francis Ford Coppola, since he had to have signed off on this thing) put "Act 1" of each movie on Disc 1, and "Act 2" on Disc 2.

According to Coppola's logic, Act 1 runs from the beginning through the massacre of the family on the sampan, and Act 2 picks up right after that - basically, Do Lung Bridge to the end.

So now I have to keep my bare-bones AN DVD for when I feel like watching the movie for itself (have I made my disdain for the re-edit clear enough yet?), and I can pull out the extra nerdy party pack when I feel like listening to Marlon Brando read "The Hollow Men" for 15 minutes. Damn you, Coppola!