Saturday, April 15, 2006


The Wire doesn't post any of its contents online, so for the benefit of readers who can't find the April issue (in which my book is quite favorably reviewed by Edwin Pouncey, by the way), here are the three reviews of mine they published.

Fuck The Universe
Southern Lord
The great irony of Black Metal is that its screwfaced embrace of utter nihilism can inspire such a rush of raw joy in the listener. The Swedish outfit Craft have released two albums, and Fuck The Universe is their announced farewell gesture, a final hanging-up of the spikes. It begins, as does so much Black Metal, with a headlong sprint, guitars buzzing like circuits on fire and drums thumping emphatically. Like their compatriots Marduk, Craft leaven their chosen genre’s hilariously goading Satanism (like most other forms of rock ’n’ roll rebellion, it always seems aimed at an imaginary prude) with a dose of pure blackheartedness that feels equally put-on, but somehow not quite as transparently attention-seeking. “Thorns In The Planet’s Side” and “Earth A Raging Blaze” don’t quite redline the hate-o-meter the way Marduk’s “Fistfucking God’s Planet” does, but really, what could? Sometimes, a more general approach is the way to go. Hence Fuck The Universe. Lyrics aside, though, Craft’s strength is their combination of Death Metal’s repetitive crunch with Black Metal’s primitive buzz ’n’ howl, creating a speeding steamroller of sound reminiscent of the genre’s forefathers, Venom. They’ll be missed.

Beautiful Existence
Clean Feed
Absence makes the ear grow fonder. This disc finds Joe Morris picking up the guitar after three solid years of diddling around with the upright bass. Sure, he’s become more than proficient at the bigger instrument, but he must know what his listeners have been waiting to hear from him, and whether he actually cares or not, he delivers in spades. His fleet, ultra-clean lines jet through the air, notes stabbing like a zillion tiny darts, while longtime partner Timo Shanko on bass throbs away Jimmy Garrison-like behind him and drummer Luther Gray keeps the cymbals gently crashing, the rhythm as much implied as swung.
The added element here is alto saxophonist Jim Hobbs, who also plays with Shanko in The Fully Celebrated Orchestra. Hobbs is a talented player who only gives in to clich├ęd Ornette-isms once, on “Some Good.” Otherwise, he’s got his own ideas and deploys them judiciously, whether the underlying mood is bluesy and droning (“Knew Something”) or screeching and hectic (the almost overblown opening cut “Smear Spring”).
Even at his quietest, though, Hobbs threatens to overwhelm the proceedings simply because Morris seems intent on becoming one with the rhythm section. His cleanliness of tone and fleetness of line frequently permit the bass and drums to dominate, until it hardly feels like it’s his session anymore. Perhaps it’s a deliberate strategy to encourage careful listening. If so, he should inform his bandmates of what he’s doing, before he’s unwittingly drowned out of his own discography.

Four Guitars Live At Luxx
One of those surnames is bound to ring fewer bells than the others. Carlos Giffoni is a composer and improvisor. He is also the organizer of New York’s No Fun Fest, but he has only one solo CD, last year’s Welcome Home (also on Important), to his credit. Here, he’s heard onstage at a defunct Brooklyn space with two Sonic Youths and Nels Cline, who, it seems, has played with half the planet.
Moore and Ranaldo obviously have each other thoroughly figured out after nearly 30 years of professional alliance, and Cline is equally comfortable with jazz chords and oddly self-effacing bursts of feedback and skronk. The comparatively anonymous Giffoni is among friends who seem to consider him an equal.
Relative marquee value hardly matters, though. This is the sort of audio snapshot, free of any meaning deeper than ‘this happened,’ that renders improvised music irrelevant to the vast majority of listeners. The single 40 minute piece on offer is ultimately opaque; no matter how predisposed audience members might be to considering this sort of thing a fine evening out, it’s not really about them. While the music is the work of men who’ve spent their entire professional careers subverting earlier expectations of electric guitars and their players, a whole other set of expectations are met by releases of this type.

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