Sunday, December 23, 2007

Friday, December 21, 2007

Thursday, December 20, 2007


Here are my album choices (I didn't vote for singles) for this year's Village Voice Pazz & Jop poll. Ten points each, as always, but this year I actually ranked them in order of the raw pleasure they gave me in '07 - the only real qualifier for such a thing* - instead of just listing them alphabetically, as I've done in previous years.

UGK, Underground Kingz (Jive)
Tego Calderón, El Abayarde Contra-Ataca (Warner Music Latina)
Baroness, Red Album (Relapse)
Arch Enemy, Rise Of The Tyrant (Century Media)
Belanova, Fantasía Pop (Universal Latino)
Skeletonwitch, Beyond The Permafrost (Prosthetic)
Machine Head, The Blackening (Roadrunner)
Wisin y Yandel, Los Extraterrestres 
(Machete Music)
Demiricious, Two (Poverty) (Metal Blade)
Behold…The Arctopus, Skullgrid (Blackmarket Activities)

*Though to be totally honest, if Pimp C hadn't died, my #1 and #2 albums would have switched places. That Tego disc is just bonkers.

Friday, December 14, 2007


The other day, a nice Canadian fella (is there any other kind?) called me up at the Metal Edge office, disrupting my enjoyment of Korperschwache's Sacrifice Of The Ouroboros (I See Your Bleached White Skulls On A Long And Pointed Row Of Bloodstained Sticks) to ask me some questions about Marooned and The Death And/Or Continued Zombie-Like Existence Of The Album. A few tiny snippets of that conversation, and a link to my L.A. Times op-ed from September, can be found here.

[Have I mentioned that Marooned makes an excellent holiday gift? Available now, at shockingly reasonable prices...]

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Tuesday, December 11, 2007


The trailer for the Wachowskis' (can't really call 'em the Wachowski brothers anymore, I guess) Speed Racer movie is viewable here. My take: It starts off a really good kind of holy-fucking-shit, but devolves into a sad head-shaking aw-shit by the end. I'm still gonna go see it, though. At worst, it'll be like a super-high-budget version of the Rollerball remake.


As is so frequently the case, I'm about halfway (or a little past halfway) through several books right now, including The Iliad, Alex Ross's The Rest Is Noise, and William Manchester's A World Lit Only By Fire. I've been slow to crunch through all of those because I've been reading mainstream fiction lately, too - a couple/three books by Harlan Coben (subject of a fascinating Atlantic profile a few months back), and Michael Crichton's Next. The latter intrigued me more than I thought it would. Crichton's prose is...well, to call it "serviceable" would be over-generous. It's crude, so much so that I found myself re-writing it in my head as I went. The book's structure is initially episodic, only congealing into a single narrative thread in its final quarter, and I had the feeling he was aiming for Burroughsian fracturing á la Naked Lunch - a series of incidents that make a larger point - but eventually it became just another techno-thriller, albeit one soaked in nerdy irony. Gawrsh, you mean DNA mapping technology could be used to venal ends by the creatively unscrupulous? Wowzers!

Anyway, this weekend, I grabbed up another book I figured I could pound through quickly - Steve Martin's Born Standing Up, a well-reviewed memoir of his early life and stand-up career. It's a short 200 pages or so, and Martin's style is clear and concise. Only a few lines seem like he thought they were funnier than they are, in the manner of his New Yorker essays. When he sticks to fairly straight storytelling, it's fascinating, and when he talks in relative depth about the carefully considered development of his stand-up style, it becomes very much worth the purchase price.

I should be clear: I don't find Steve Martin funny very often, and the only bit of "serious" acting he's ever done that I liked was his role in David Mamet's The Spanish Prisoner. The less said about stuff like The Jerk, The Man With Two Brains, Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid and Grand Canyon, never mind Parenthood or the Father Of The Bride movies, the better. But I greatly enjoy showbiz pros talking about the effort that goes into the generation of what seems effortless onstage. I love Penn and Teller and Ricky Jay for doing this for magic and sleight of hand, and in Born Standing Up, Martin puts his own comedy under the microscope, explaining how and why he arrived at the persona and style he rode to great success in the 1970s. There's very little repetition of actual jokes he performed - this isn't one of those comedians' books that consist of a transcription of the stage act. It's not a comedy book. It's a book about comedy, and a comedian's life. So if that interests you, by all means check this book out.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007


The following was posted on the Southern Lord forums last week regarding the long-awaited 2CD Burning Witch reissue, Crippled Lucifer (a copy of which is sitting on my desk as I type this):

all Burning Witch -CL re-issue cds have been recalled for re-packaging. We're hoping to get them back out in Jan.
any cds that are available are defective and should have been recalled by the distributors,/or sent back by the stores.

Well, the copy I imported into my iPod plays just fine, so I'm guessing the defect must be that the goddamn booklet is too thick to fit into a standard jewel case. Gotta have room for all those bleached-out photos, reproduction lyric sheets, weird diagrams, etc., etc. Here's a tip, guys: I don't care what Decibel and Arthur and the New York Times tell you: you're not makers of objets d'art, you're a goddamn metal label. Get the aesthetic wankery under control, huh?

Monday, November 26, 2007


I haven't posted anything in a while, because I'm in a floundering, befogged state of mind where I don't really have much to say about anything at all. So go read this instead. I am truly proud to know Phil Nugent; he's one of the best writers around. Go. Read. I'll be back around sometime soon, but there's no guarantee I'll have anything half this thought-provoking to offer.

Friday, November 16, 2007


L-R: "Metal" Mike Chlasciak, me, Rob fuckin' Halford.

Friday, November 09, 2007


Watching last night's Latin Grammys was an occasionally painful, occasionally baffling, frequently choke-on-your-food hilarious experience. I don't really work for Global Rhythm anymore, so I'm not obligated to pay attention, but I checked it out in hopes that at least a few of the performances would be, if not mind-roastingly awesome, at least cooler than those on the MTV Video Music Awards or Wednesday night's CMA Awards. And there were some good ones, along with some not-so-good ones.

First of all, though, what the fuck? Is Juan Luis Guerra dying or something? I understand that merengue, for the most part, is vulgar, ass-shaking music made entirely out of Casio presets, but does that mean the Latin Grammys have to give six trophies to the Dominican Republic's answer to Rubén Blades, only more boring? I can't stand Juan Luis Guerra's voice, I hate his fucking hat, and his music makes all the blood spiral out of my brain. But there he was, all 7'6" of him, thanking Jesus and his wife six goddamn times last night. Bah.

Oh, well. At least he wasn't ripping off more deserving artists, the way Jesse & Joy did, taking Best New Artist over Miranda!, who totally should have won.

But enough about the awards. I don't actually remember who won most of them, except for Aterciopelados, whose matching tracksuits - were they supposed to be parking attendants, or something? - were at least momentarily amusing, even if they're still annoying hippies. I think the whole evening built up to Ivy Queen's performance.

A moment, though, to make fun of Daddy Yankee, and reggaeton in general. All the reggaetoneros (except for Calle 13, who looked like the art-student hipsters they are, right down to the use of native people as fashion accessories, and Wisin y Yandel, who looked okay, except for haircuts so short the hair looked airbrushed on their gleaming skulls) looked like they were at the prom, and acted the part too, throwing gang signs at the camera all the way down the pre-show red carpet. Daddy Yankee attempted to stand out by dressing like a 65-year-old Jewish man; his suit hung on him like he was planning to gain 50 pounds in the very near future, and had informed his tailor in advance, and he performed wearing a hat that looked like he'd dug it out of Walter Matthau's grave.

But anyway, back to Ivy Queen. I know I said awhile ago I wouldn't make fun of her for looking like someone wearing a horse's skull as a mask, and I won't. Last night, she looked like a drag version of Madonna's Japanese phase from a few years ago. She performed "Que Lloren" (and admittedly, her performance was tight and her voice very powerful - the woman does know how to command a track and an audience) in vaguely Chinese - like, if all you know about Chinese culture is Crouching Tiger and paper lanterns in the take-out place, this would make sense to you - garb and surrounded by muscle dudes in gold demon masks. But the best part was the big video screen behind her, which displayed footage of samurai and geishas. Chinese, Japanese...whatever, right? Considering most Latino performers shout out the name of their country almost as fast as they thank Jesus when winning a trophy, she sure was comfortable lumping all Asian cultures together. Stay classy, Ivy Queen.

Saturday, November 03, 2007


Decapitated drummer Witold "Vitek" Kieltyka died in a Russian hospital from injuries sustained in a recent road collision. He was 23 years old.

Vitek and the band's singer, Covan (real name: Adrian Kowanek), sustained serious head injuries when Decapitated's tour bus collided with a truck carrying wood in Gomel, on the Russia/Belarus border.

According to the Polish Internet portal, Vitek underwent trepanation, a form of surgery in which a hole is drilled or scraped into the skull, and was due to be transported to a hospital in Krakow, Poland for further treatment. Covan's family released a statement Thursday, November 1 that the vocalist's condition had improved. At the time, he was still said to be at a hospital in Novozybkov, Russia, where he and Vitek were taken following the accident.

This really, really sucks. Decapitated are (were?) one of the best death metal bands in the world, to my ear, and Vitek's drumming was a huge part of that sound. His work on their most recent album, 2006's Organic Hallucinosis, was simply unreal - he shifted between blast beats, hardcore pounding and intricate rhythmic exercises better than almost anyone in the genre right now, really propelling the band forward. I can't recommend their studio work highly enough. Their debut, Winds Of Creation, was just reissued by Earache with a live DVD appended. It's not nearly as breathtaking as everything afterward - they were still in debt to older acts (the album included a cover of Slayer's "Mandatory Suicide") - but Vitek was only 15 when it was made, and his playing is already the equal of peers twice his age. I recommend starting with 2002's Nihility, though - it's one of the most unique statements in 21st Century death metal, from its eerily beautiful cover art to the throttled, almost industrial guitar tone. The riffs are intricate and brutal at once, frequently coming from unexpected directions to hook you right through the guts. 2004's The Negation - which includes another nod to forefathers, a cover of Deicide's "Lunatic Of God's Creation" - is even more compressed and assaultive. Indeed, Decapitated seemed to be finding ways to say as much as possible in the shortest amount of time with each album - Winds Of Creation was nearly 41 minutes long, but Nihility only hit the 35-minute mark, The Negation was just under 33, and Organic Hallucinosis barely over 32. Even so, they were getting heavier and heavier, and more and more progressive, in their knuckle-poppingly brutal fashion.

I saw Decapitated at BB King's in 2005; they were the band on the bill I was most excited to catch live. It was their first tour with Covan, who'd just replaced original vocalist Sauron. They weren't the most thrilling sight in the world, honestly (and the single-camera recording of the performance, offered as a bonus DVD with some editions of Organic Hallucinosis, did them no favors). A technical death metal song is about as easy to play as an Elliott Carter string quartet, so they were focused on their instruments to the exclusion of jumping around and making faces for the crowd's amusement. But seeing that music performed live was a kick in the ass all by itself, and they've toured the U.S. a few times since then. In fact, they were going to be one of the opening acts on the upcoming Amon Amarth tour, alongside Himsa and Sonic Syndicate. I'm still going to that show (NYC, 12/3) because I love Amon Amarth, but not having Decapitated on that bill, and knowing why they're not there, is gonna be kinda depressing.

Every member of Decapitated is an astonishing instrumentalist, so I'm halfway hoping they continue, but at the same time I really don't know where they're gonna find another drummer that's gonna take my breath away like Vitek did.

Friday, October 26, 2007


In which I get all political 'n' stuff. (Not political like my genius friend Phil Nugent, but political by the standards of this here apathetic, head-up-own-ass blog.)

Live At The Market Theatre
Four Quarters
Hugh Masekela is enough of a legend that he gets taken for granted. Or maybe he's just enough of a legend that what he's actually playing, on an album like this one, doesn't get heard over the din of what he played years ago, or it gets eclipsed by the myth of his life and his politics.

But this two-CD set demonstrates his skills as a horn player and showcases his skill at holding an audience in the palm of his hand. The band (saxophone, guitar, bass, keyboards, drums and percussion) glides effortlessly through long Afro-funk vamps, atop which Masekela lets loose long, rippling ribbons of notes or sings in a voice only slightly hoarsened by age.

Of course, politics are unavoidable. "We'd like to dedicate this song to people who lose their lives working in cheap labor," he says, introducing "Stimela." It's the beginning of a long monologue about the underside of the global economy, particularly the arduous and life-threatening existence suffered by gold and diamond miners in Africa. When the music gets going, though, it's so life-affirming that it almost balances out the despair Masekela is describing.

And just like it always does - whether in reggae, the blues, or Appalachian mountain music - that dichotomy between stark existence and transcendent music says something truly profound about the human spirit. This is a long release (two discs, one nudging the 80-minute mark and the other at 70), but few passages will inspire the feeling of "sitting through" anything.

The piano trio disc is usually gentle, melodic, and unaccountably pleased with itself - despite, or perhaps because of, the inherent limitations of the form. That said, this CD, a Japanese release from 2002 just hitting U.S. shelves, is a very well recorded example of the form, with excellent, energetic performances by all involved. It's never smart to underestimate drummer Billy Drummond, of course, and Eddie Gomez is a powerhouse, albeit one with the distressing habit of singing along with his own bass solos. Kuhn (who composed two of the disc's nine tracks, the other seven being standards) refuses to be intimidated by his thunderous rhythm section, dispensing melody and acerbic lyricism by the fistful.

Jacques Coursil's Clameurs is a completely different animal. Coursil bounced around the late '60s free scene, playing with Sunny Murray and recording two albums of his own - Way Ahead and Black Suite - for the legendary BYG Actuel label. This is his comeback effort, and it's primarily a solo trumpet disc with surprisingly effective synthesized string parts. But the heart of it lies in the spoken texts (included as a PDF file on the CD) by poets Monchoachi and Edouard Glissant, political essayist Frantz Fanon, and pre-Islamic poet Antar. The liner notes say, "The slave's cry, the shout of the oppressed, strangles in his throat...the shout is a free man's privilege." Coursil intends this dignified, solemn music to provide a voice to the historically voiceless. In other words, his politics - and the way he uses his art to express them - haven't changed since the '60s, even if he's not the fire-breather he once was.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007


The new issue of The High Hat is up, and as is typical with them, it took so long to arrive that I forgot what I contributed and read it with pretty much the same fresh eyes as anybody else would, stumbling upon it. So it's nice to see that my contribution was a pretty entertaining piece about the Swedish black metal band Marduk, whose early releases have recently been reissued by Regain Records, whose newest album Rom 5:12 represents a pretty impressive stylistic leap forward, for them anyhow, and who you really should be listening to, if you're not already. So go check it out, and read the rest of the site, too, because it's great.

Just for fun, here's a taste:

Marduk is pure evil. Evil with a capital “E” and five more e’s after it, and the second syllable pronounced like “Coupe De Ville.” Eeeeee-vil. Marduk’s so evil, the bandmembers haven’t been able to get entry visas to tour the U.S. since 9/11. They’re so evil, they have an album called Panzer Division Marduk. They’re so evil, they have a song called “Fistfucking God’s Planet.” Okay, stop laughing. Stop it right now!

Honestly, Marduk’s evilness is a little confusing. They’re a black metal band from Sweden, swearing allegiance to Satan, yet they’re named after a Babylonian god, for no reason that’s ever explained in their lyrics or liner notes. They seem to be a sort of black metal version of Marlon Brando in The Wild One.

METAL FAN: “Hey, Marduk, whatta you hate?”
MARDUK: “Whatta you got?”

[Read the rest here.]

Wednesday, October 17, 2007


Any one of which you could be listening to right now, instead of wasting your time worrying about whether indie rock steals "enough" from black people music.

(Top to bottom: Ayumi Hamasaki, (miss)understood; Fueled By Fire, Spread The Fire; Natalia y la Forquetina, Casa; Willie Colón, La Gran Fuga.)


This discussion is way more intelligent and interesting than the hack-ass article that inspired it.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007


This past weekend, I got the movie Primeval from Netflix. If you're not familiar with it, you're not missing that much. It's a sort of horror movie starring Dominic Purcell (one of the two leads from the indescribably crappy TV series Prison Break) and Orlando Jones, an underrated comic actor who got his big break on the equally underrated MAD TV. Those two, plus a damsel destined for distress and a few other incidental schmucks, go to Africa in search of "Gustave," a 25-foot crocodile that's been eating people for years. During their search, they run afoul of the local warlord, who calls himself Little Gustave in tribute to his less-evolved but equally predatory counterpart.

The movie holds quite firmly to its view of Africa as primitive hellhole where if you're not getting chewed on by prehistoric beasts, you're getting shot or raped by the savage natives - who haven't changed a bit despite trading nose-bones for post-colonial fatigues and AK-47s. So sensitive souls will doubtless find it regressive, even offensive. That's not the big problem for me, of course - I've been watching white-man-in-the-Third-World horror flicks going back at least to Wes Craven's The Serpent And The Rainbow, if not Deodato Ruggiero's Cannibal Holocaust, and I'm fine with their...uncomplicated racial politics. My big problem with Primeval is that it's boring. The crocodile is a fairly phony bit of CGI, and the thuggish Africans aren't half as intimidating as the project dealers in The Wire.

The only good scene in the whole thing, the only moment that displays even a glimmer of style, is one in which a little girl, swimming in a river, is eaten in a single bite, with no anticipatory Jaws-style music or anything. One second she's there, the next she's not, and there are no shocked reactions from adult bystanders, or anything - we're just off to the next scene. That filmmaking choice, in its way, displays a genuine attitude toward the cheapness of African lives to the filmmakers - an ugly attitude, but a clear one, and thus worth displaying on-screen.

But anyway, my point in typing this post isn't to talk about the movie, but its soundtrack. There's very little non-score music in the film; three or four songs, one of which rolls over the closing credits. But of those four songs, two are absolute scorchers - so awesome, in fact, that I paused the credits so I could write them down and seek out the compilations on which they appear.

The first is Moussa Doumbia's "Keleya." Appearing in two versions (one just under five minutes, one nudging eleven) on an album of the same name, it's a scorching hunk of Afro-funk that combines almost muezzin-like chanted vocals with Archie Shepp-esque buzzy/roaring sax and guitar that sounds sourced from a James Brown bootleg circa 1969 on the short version, and from a Can bootleg circa 1972 on the long take. Plus, the long take adds sardonic female backing vocals reminiscent of Afrika 70 at their best.

The second is "Allah Wakbarr," by Ofo The Black Company. It's available in a couple of places - the Luaka Bop compilation World Psychedelic Classics 3: Love's A Real Thing, or where I found it, on the 3CD set Nigeria '70: The Definitive Story Of 1970s Funky Lagos, a blazing 3CD set that also features early and/or rare tracks by Koola Lobitos, King Sunny Ade, and Fela with Afrika 70, among many others. Import-only, but well worth dredging up if you're at all into 1970s Afro-funk. (If you're not into 1970s Afro-funk, what the hell is wrong with you, anyway?) This track is even noisier and wilder than "Keleya," featuring a scraping-the-inside-of-your-skull-with-a-rusty-chisel guitar sound to open things up that would make Jack White wet himself, and a riff straight out of a 1971 cop show. Every sound, from vocals to percussion to that unbelievably hellish guitar, has been fed through so much distortion it makes Konono No. 1 sound like the cleanest Berlin techno you ever chilled to. These guys are like the Chambers brothers on crystal meth, borrowing Motörhead's PA. An absolute must-hear.

This has been Multiculturalism For The Uncultured. See you around!

Saturday, October 06, 2007


Part 1: One of the morning shows today had a piece on male contraception. Apparently, there's a new pill that, when combined with a patch, reduces a man's sperm count. So they did some dude-on-the-street interviews where dudes claimed that yeah, they'd be down with popping a pill as long as the scientists said it was cool, blah blah blah. Then they cut back to a scientist, or someone in a suit anyway, who said this might be the very thing in the next couple of years. But then he described the side effects - which were listed in big letters on the screen - as acne, weight gain and mood changes. So basically, it works on two levels, this pill. It reduces your sperm count, which reduces the risk of you getting anybody pregnant; but it also turns you into a fat, zitty-faced emo bitch, which reduces the risk of you getting laid anytime soon. Genius!

Part 2: I saw a commercial this morning for a nasal spray, and right as they were making the sales pitch, down on the bottom of the screen appear the words "We don't understand exactly how [Name of Nasal Spray] operates." Doesn't that pretty much fit the textbook definition of "rushing to market"?

Part 3: Has anybody else seen that ad for the drug that treats "restless leg syndrome" (something I get most often when I'm in line at the bank or post office, itching to kick the person in front of me in the ass to get them moving)? Noticed the part where they say the side effects of curing your twitchy foot may include "sexual, gambling or other compulsive urges"? Is it me, or does becoming a lust-crazed gambling addict sort of outweigh the relief of twitchy legs?

Wednesday, October 03, 2007


The title of the six-CD Miles Davis Complete "On the Corner" Sessions box set is misleading, and that's good. So far, only one of his Complete Sessions packages has lived up to its name: 2003's Jack Johnson set really did contain raw, fragmented takes that producer Teo Macero spliced together to create the side-long jams ("Right Off" and "Yesternow") that made up 1970's original A Tribute to Jack Johnson. The Bitches Brew and In a Silent Way boxes, though, did nothing of the kind, instead placing those albums in a broader context, surrounding them with contemporaneous studio work (cuts from compilations like Big Fun and Water Babies) and previously unreleased material. Each set covered a period of about a year, maybe 18 months, during which time Miles and his band were laying down many more tracks than Columbia's release schedule could handle. The five-CD Jack Johnson box covered only a few months in early to mid-1970.

This On the Corner set, by contrast, gathers all the worthwhile studio recordings Miles made between 1972 and 1975. And yes, it includes raw versions of jams that were later edited to become 1972's titular album—a relentless, seething masterpiece that's been my favorite Davis disc since I first heard it as a teenager in the late '80s. But it also piles up tracks from Big Fun and the 1974 double album Get Up with It, along with the one-chord, rare non-album single "Big Fun/Hollywuud" and about three hours' worth of previously unreleased studio tracks that are the equal of, if not better than, the ones we Miles freaks have been obsessing over for years already. [Read the rest here.]

Thursday, September 27, 2007


From Alternative Press:

Heavy Lies The Crown
The third full-length from New York hardcore/metal titans Full Blown Chaos holds to the pattern of their first two. So if you're down with an endless series of moshpit-propelling riffs and breakdowns, plus the occasional solo, while some thick-necked (and thicker-waisted) dude barks at you about unity, inner strength, betrayal and so on...Well, FBC do it about as well as it's been done since Judge broke up. FBC were ushered into the limelight by Jamey Jasta, releasing their first two albums on his Stillborn label, but these guys stomp much harder than Hatebreed, incorporating influences from Pantera, Slayer and even Napalm Death into their vein-popping riff-fests. The guitar-drums team of brothers Mike and Jeff Facci keep it crushing at all times, and if you're not shouting along with the gang vocals by album's end, you should just go listen to the Plain White T's or something.

From Jazziz:

No Place Like Soul
Jazz/funk/soul crew Soulive have featured numerous high-profile guests on previous albums, including John Scofield, Robert Randolph, Chaka Khan, and rappers Talib Kweli and Black Thought, among others. Formerly on Blue Note, they migrated to Concord in 2005 and are now the flagship act for the revived Stax Records, former home of soul legends such as Isaac Hayes, Sam and Dave, and Otis Redding.

This gives them a lot to live up to on their label debut, and luckily for their fervid fan base, they've met the challenge head on. Having become a quartet with the addition of full-time lead vocalist Toussaint, they're deep in the groove on these 13 raw but radio- and casual-listener-friendly songs.

The lurching groove of "Comfort" provides an admirable showcase for organist Neal Evans, as his drumming brother Alan thwacks the beat home behind him. The group occasionally heads off on unwise tangents, like the jam-scene-friendly fake reggae of "If This World Was A Song," "Callin'," and "Morning Light," but they redeem themselves handily with "Outrage," a hard blues-funk instrumental that's a superb showcase for guitarist Eric Krasno. The thick, molasses rhythm of "Yeah Yeah" is basically a four-minute argument for seeing Soulive in person, as it's the kind of track that'll drive a willing audience into an ass-shaking, hand-waving frenzy. And the album's next-to-last track, the instrumental "Bubble," makes them sound like an arena-rock version of Medeski, Martin & Wood. Though Toussaint never truly embarrasses himself, more instrumentals would be welcome, because these guys can really play, and play together, which is a rare thing. No Place Like Soul is ultimately a highly rewarding album for soul and funk freaks, barefoot jam-band fans - and pretty much anybody with a taste for groove.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007


I got a box containing 20 copies of Borbetomagus' new Live In Allentown CD this morning, which features liner notes based on an "Epiphanies" column I wrote for The Wire in late '05. This is one of my very favorite musical documents, by anybody, and now it's got 22 minutes of bonus material, so needless to say I heartily recommend that you run out and buy one. (I posted the notes awhile ago; they can be found here.)

Thursday, September 20, 2007


As a direct result of Marooned, a very nice lady at the L.A. Times asked me to write a guest op-ed about "the death of the album" (an idea I quite obviously don't buy). The resulting piece is in today's print edition, and here's the link.

Now, here's something else: the original text I submitted. They didn't do that much to it, but just for fun, feel free to check it out.

The album’s not going anywhere – as an object, or an idea.

In order to assemble my book Marooned, a sequel to Greil Marcus’s 1979 anthology Stranded, I asked a bunch of rock critics of my acquaintance which single album they’d take to a desert island. They were all up for it, but weirdly, I kept hearing from doubtful outsiders that the album was dead, that it was all about downloads and iPod playlists, that people don’t listen to music “that way” anymore. I don’t buy that at all.

Yes, CD sales are down, and yes, the amount of music available for download on the Internet increases every second. Tower Records shut its doors, labels are laying off staff – the record industry is in a panic. But albums aren’t going anywhere. Indeed, for serious music fans, these are the best of times.

For a few years now, it’s been possible to download “leaked” copies of new releases days, if not weeks, before the official release date. That’s worrisome to pop performers and the label execs backing them, who, like the producers of big summer movies, live or die by opening-week receipts. For more indie-minded artists, though, this sort of samizdat circulation of their work has become a valuable, even crucial marketing tool, because real fans treat a download like a test drive – or like a listening booth in an old record store. Nobody’s online trawling for every single album leaked in a given week, collecting them like baseball cards. They’re seeking the latest work by favorite artists, or investigating a new band recommended by a trusted friend. There’s a pre-existing desire to buy; all that’s needed to seal the deal is for the album to reward the downloader’s curiosity by being good.

Many albums posted online aren’t brand new, though. They’re old, and out of print. Abandoned by labels that couldn’t see a profit in keeping them commercially available, they’re shared, fan to fan, among small virtual communities obsessed with ’60s avant-garde jazz, obscure ’70s hard rock or regional hip-hop from the ’80s. Ever heard an MP3 crackle like vintage vinyl? Or one where the sound wobbles like a cassette on the brink of unspooling itself? I sure have.

In Marooned, I argue that the album remains vital because musicians make it so. Shuffling, the juxtaposition of songs at a computer’s whim, offers its own pleasures; sometimes I’m convinced my iPod has moods, and wants me to listen to three Ornette Coleman songs in a row before throwing me some AC/DC. But artistic intent deserves respect. If it’s safe to assume your favorite band sequenced their latest batch of songs the way they did for a reason, then common courtesy requires that you listen “in order.” Because they’re music fans, the anonymous souls uploading albums mostly exemplify this respect; when you’re downloading a record from a blog, you’re almost always getting a zip file containing a whole CD, not an individual track. Some jazz-oriented sites even offer scanned cover art, and PDF files of the liner notes.

Furthermore, the album as physical object isn’t going anywhere. Media types frequently fixate on so-called “early adopters,” their own unacknowledged class biases allowing the actions of the ultra-hip few to overshadow the slower progress of the poorer, less tech-savvy majority. But I still see more Discmans than iPods in my neighborhood, and outside the U.S., especially in Africa and the Middle East, a whole lot of music continues to be sold on cassette. The Awesome Tapes From Africa blog specializes in uploading digitized versions of these cassettes. Turntables may have become hipster status symbols, but that means vinyl records are still being pressed, too.

Certain genres – pop, hip-hop, dance music – have always been, and will always be, about the perfect song. Albums are ultimately more contemplative, presuming and demanding both commitment and patience on the listener’s part. But for those of us who love the idea of being permitted into an artist’s world for an hour or so, these are good times indeed. Ambitious, personal music, often arriving in elaborately packaged limited editions, is reaching the diehard fans it’s meant for. Blogs and downloadable MP3s get the word out, but serious listeners still head to their favorite record stores and lay cash on the counter for something they can take home, hold in their hands, and examine as they listen. There’s more music out there than ever before. And no matter what panicked record executives say, people are still grabbing it up, eight and 10 songs at a time, exactly as the artists intended.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007


I liked the Dillinger Escape Plan at first; they were sort of exhilaratingly berserk and ultra-precise at once, and that was still new enough to my ears to be interesting. But Calculating Infinity was ultimately just kind of exhausting to push through, and the EP with Patton was even more so. I barely remember what Miss Machine sounded like. I gotta tell you, though, I'm listening to Ire Works right now and it's really, really fucking good. Some of it sounds like their old stuff, but there are a couple of instrumentals that sound like Fantomas, and a couple of goddamn glitchtronica tracks (and no, I don't think it's just the stream fucking up). It's like their old stuff, but produced by Squarepusher. I swear, trying to put together a Top Ten for this year is gonna be a fucking nightmare. And I never thought I would find myself crawling back to a band I pretty much entirely shrugged off two records ago.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007


Electric Wizard are releasing a new album, Witchcult Today (doesn't that sound like a newspaper, like Women's Wear Daily for Satanists?), in November. I just got an advance from the publicist today.

I love Electric Wizard, but within the metal community my views are weird, even heretical. See, the Dopethrone album, which may have the greatest album cover in metal history

is musically kinda drab. It's big 'n' loud, but all the songs are the same - long, sludgy doom avalanches, with nothing to liven things up but the (very) occasional sampled bit of movie dialogue. Their second album - and Dopethrone's predecessor - Come My Fanatics... was much better. And in the early 2000s, the band underwent near-total upheaval. Guitarist/vocalist Jus Osborn is the only original member left at this point, and the group's gone from a power trio to a two-guitar quartet. Their 2004 album We Live (which may or may not even have had a U.S. release - the version I've got is on UK label Rise Above) was the debut for that version of the group, and I thought it was fucking great. Witchcult Today also features the two-guitar lineup, and it's fucking thunderous. Highly, highly recommended. Hope they tour the U.S. behind it.

Thursday, September 13, 2007


The Metal Edge website has been re-launched.

The first thing I put up was a longish interview with Henry Rollins, an abridged version of which will run in an upcoming issue of the mag. Enjoy!


Circle has been stalking the edges of Finland's rock scene since 1991. But the group doesn't compare itself to better-known Finnish rock bands like HIM, Lordi, and Finntroll. "The difference is that we regard ourselves as amateurs and draw influence from avant-garde and experimental music," explains bassist and group leader Jussi Lehtisalo. "In Finland, we are a 15-year-old relic that the older people don't remember and the younger people don't know -- except for a fistful of enthusiastic fans. Nowadays we are maybe best received in the U.K. and U.S.A., for which we are very grateful. I think this is a very good era for Circle." [Read the rest here.]

Tuesday, September 11, 2007


Cloak/Dagger hate your shitty Myspace band

...After releasing a 7” and some demo tapes (compiled by their new label, Jade Tree, into the online-only Piñata Breaks, Demo Takes), Cloak/Dagger are about to release their full-length debut, We Are. Not one of its 14 tracks touches the three-minute mark, but they’re exhausting nonetheless; it’s easy to picture band members’ fingertips flying off, severed by speeding guitar strings. The rhythms have thunder and swing, and Mazzola’s vocals never devolve into mommy-didn’t-hug-me screamo bullshit; instead, they burst forth like the last shout of a man who’s had all he’s gonna take from that asshole in the next cubicle, right before the shooting starts. [Read the whole piece here.]

Friday, September 07, 2007


Poland's Metal Mind Productions has signed one hell of a licensing deal with Roadrunner Records - and they've made arrangements with other labels as well. The result is a deluge of high-quality reissues of '80s and early '90s thrash and death metal records by bands like Pestilence (their super-proggy fourth and final album, Spheres), Defiance, Artillery, ZnöWhite, Paradox, Blessed Death, Sadus, Tröjan, Kinetic Dissent, Quick Change...I'm, like, drowning in this stuff all of a sudden. And it's fucking great.

I think ZnöWhite are the band that's leaping out of the pack right away, because they're the most atypical - a bunch of black dudes from Chicago (including two brothers on guitar and drums) with a blond, white girl singer who's every bit as vicious a fire-spitter as Angela Gossow is today, but occasionally opts for a Runaways-esque ballad like "Never Felt Like This," from their debut album, All Hail To Thee. Their best stuff combines furious thrash with melodic guitar solos and choruses. And when I say furious, I mean furious - AHTT only has seven songs, only one of which, the aforementioned ballad, is longer than three minutes; most are under two, which puts them closer to the Bad Brains than Metallica, frankly.

The other band that totally kicked my ass last night, while waiting for Mad Men to come on, was Defiance, a Bay Area thrash crew that released three great albums between '89 and '92. More street and a little more complex than Metallica, they were definitely a group destined to be appreciated by diehards, but that's probably why Metal Mind is only releasing 2000 copies of their 3CD career-overview boxed set.

Right now, I'm listening to Blessed Death's Kill Or Be Killed. Makes me wanna put on skin-tight black jeans and big white basketball sneakers, I tell ya.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007


In the Village Voice:
Fas - Ite, Maledicti, In Ignem Aeternam
When your album title's in Latin and your lyrics come in paragraphs as opposed to verses, it's easy to seem overly serious, to make jaded rock hacks wish you'd included a jokey cover (say, the Crazy World of Arthur Brown's "Fire") at the tail end of your latest opus. But the truth is, Deathspell Omega's very seriousness, along with their mix of frostbitten Northern roar and Gothic guitar clang, is what makes them one of the most impressive black-metal acts around right now. [Read the rest here.]

In the Cleveland Scene:
Burn Baby Burn
Burn Baby Burn is a lost treasure of Cleveland avant-garde jazz. Trumpeter Norman Howard was a contemporary of saxophonist Albert Ayler; the two worked together on one of Ayler's earliest discs, Witches & Devils. The title track, one of the sax legend's signature pieces, was actually composed by Howard. [Read the rest here.]

Monday, September 03, 2007


I'm not sure it would be possible for Throwdown to sound any more like Pantera without actually earning themselves a cease-and-desist letter from Phil Anselmo's lawyers.

Is there anybody out there who can tell they're listening to As I Lay Dying, and not Darkest Hour or Every Time I Die or...or...or? An Ocean Between Us is so generic it should come in a plain white jewel case labeled "Metalcore Album."

On the other hand, the new Black Dahlia Murder disc, Nocturnal, is great. A major recovery from the half-assed sham that was Miasma. (Once you've come up with a title as good as "Statutory Ape," you've set yourself a high bar, songwriting-wise. They never came close to clearing it.)

The album as a whole ain't metal by a long stretch, but Circle's Sunrise, from 2001, is about to come out in the States on No Quarter, and it's worth the purchase price just for the opening track, "Nopekunigas," and the closer, "Loki." The former is seven minutes of howling Judas Priest-meets-Can madness, and the latter is a 15-minute proggy drone that'll make your limbic system very, very happy at high volume. (Their new album, Katapult, is notable mostly for "Four Points Of The Compass," which sounds like a lost Tangerine Dream soundtrack to some early '80s Michael Mann project. Put your sunglasses on and drive a rain-slick, midnight highway with this one blaring.)

Sunday, September 02, 2007


I've been on vacation since Friday, August 24; I'm going back to work on Tuesday. Surprisingly, I've done relatively little record shopping during that stretch. I bought the following titles from Amazon early in the week:

Willie Colón, Guisando
Roberto Roena y Su Apollo Sound, 5 and El Progreso
Andrew Hill, Change

And I bought the following on Wednesday at a local store:

Tego Calderón, El Abayarde Contra-Ataca
V/A, Echo Presenta: Invasion
Fania All-Stars, Live In Japan 1976

(I also picked up seasons 2 and 3 of The Wire, which I've been working through one disc (two or three episodes) per day; I'll be done tomorrow.)

And that was it, until today. Today, though, I went to Target for some other stuff, and left with Belanova's Dulce Beat (Mexican electrodiscopop; two programming geeks and a cute girl up front; their live album's awesome) and M.I.A.'s Kala.

Now why the fuck did I buy Kala? Okay, it was only $9.99. It didn't hurt much. But I didn't like Arular or Piracy Funds Terrorism - I came away from both thinking

1) Nerd-ass whiteboy critics are letting their dicks do their listening for them, and
2) This chick is nothing but Tom Tom Club with a tan.

I know a guy - a former co-worker - who was practically doing the pee-pee dance on one foot, waiting for Kala to drop. And you couldn't venture online to ILM or Pitchfork or any other place where pasty, trainspotting elitists congregate without seeing five or ten simultaneous swirling discussions of the record's imminence. I didn't take part in any of those discussions, because I genuinely didn't give a fuck. I didn't like the last records, I'd been taken in by the hype once already and was sure I wasn't gonna get suckered again.

So why the fuck did I buy this thing?

I hate to say it, but I think some vestigial part of me still cares what Pitchfork people and Paste people and ILM people think. Not in the sense that I care about, or solicit, their opinions on the music I like and choose to write about (I'm damn sure not gonna be putting Pitchfork or Paste on the Metal Edge comp-subscription list), but in that I privilege - and mark your calendars, 'cause I'm pretty sure that's the first time I've ever used that word as a verb - their tastes over my own. I have a critical inferiority complex.

It doesn't surface very often. I swiped a copy of the last Wilco album off the Relix editor's desk, and listened to as much as I could stand before lapsing into a coma. I think I made it partway into track three. (I might have tried the same thing with the new White Stripes disc, had I not seen a couple of videos on MTV and known what a crapfest it was.) But in the case of M.I.A., and Dizzee Rascal before her, I've been suckered twice in a row. Which leads me to believe this is a two-part problem.

Problem 1: I believe that other critics, most of whom went to college (unlike me), know something I don't. This is almost certainly bullshit, since I know things they don't - namely, how to actually make records. I studied audio engineering. This makes my perspective on recorded music qualitatively different from that of someone who's caught up in the romanticism of singer-songwriter "authenticity" or indie guilt. Still, as someone who grew up in a middle-class New Jersey suburb and was groomed for college and some sort of socially acceptable career path but who then took a series of sharp turns off that path, I'm very vulnerable to the urge to defer to those who seem to have similar backgrounds to me but who made the "right" choices.

Problem 2: On some subconscious level, I have retained my own suburban whiteboy ideas about music made by brown-skinned people - that it has some inherent value greater than music made by people who look like me. No matter how much I love metal (and I really, really do), I still in some small way give the new rapper on the scene, whose stuff I'm going to have to download or (shock, horror) buy, a little more creative leeway than the new metalcore band whose CD lands on my desk with the day's other mail.

Combine the two - brown-people music beloved of the educated white elite youth - and you understand why I bought Kala today, and why the purchase fills me with shame.

Friday, August 17, 2007


(In addition to these two reviews, I've also got a one-page feature on producer/guitarist David Torn, which accompanies a CD review written by someone else.)

Panamericana (ESL)
This album is sung entirely in Spanish, but the label name, ESL, doesn't mean English as a Second Language. It stands for Eighteenth Street Lounge, a collective of Washington, D.C.-based DJs and programmers, with the most notable members being the Thievery Corporation.

The ESL "house sound" - a mix of dub, electronica, lounge and trip-hop - is represented in Aubele's work as well, although there are plenty of elements from his own Argentine background. Guests, too: legendary ska-funk band Los Fabulosos Cadillacs loan their horn section, and vocal cameos abound from Natalia Clavier, Vernie Varela, and Amparo Sanchez of Amparanoia. The album, from its title to its compositions, is meant to reflect the panoply of experiences that make up modern Latin American identity, and indeed, there's a strong feeling of cultural mixing and blending here, especially when the Spanish guitars and gentle, yet passionate, vocals are combined with dubby harmonica and horn parts and thick bass lines.

Jazz fans should know with no doubt that this isn't in any sense a jazz album. It's a programmed electronic disc with some live instruments and a collection of cool vocalists on top. But once accepted on its own merits, it's a thoroughly enjoyable journey up and down a highway that leads from tango to trip-hop and beyond.

The Enchantment (Concord)
An album of piano/banjo duos might not initially seem like the most logical project, but Chick Corea and Béla Fleck are in fact highly complementary musical spirits. Each man uses relentless displays of virtuosity to suck all the fun out of music, and neither Fleck's Ken Burns-esque hairstyle nor Corea's Scientology beliefs inspire enough laughs to tip the balance back.

Sure, there are some moments of relative levity here, bt for the most part, it's two poker-faced masters of their instruments tapping and plucking away for 54 minutes and change, sometimes following concurrent paths but more often wandering afield of each other.

Another drawback to The Enchantment is its strict "two instruments only" formatting - the utter lack of guest stars makes it very difficult to tell one track from the next, never mind livening up matters with, say, a kazoo or washboard solo. Except for the weird and honestly quite beautiful take on the old standard "Brazil," that is.

That track is a genuine standout. Corea plays the melody line and embellishes it organically, while Fleck hovers in the background like some kind of tiny robot hummingbird, only briefly taking the lead role himself. That's followed by the title track, though, which brings us back to the pattern of simultaneous monologues, punctuated by cursory acknowledgement by each player that there's another musician in the room.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

MAX ROACH, 1924-2007


Collie Buddz
With Umojah alongside DJ Tommy Fox. Friday, August 17, at the Grog Shop, Cleveland Heights.
Collie Buddz (born Colin Harper) is a white dancehall artist signed to Sony. He sounds like a quick answer to the question "Why is the record industry in trouble?" I mean, it's bad enough being a white dancehall artist, but one named after pot? Choosing a weed reference for a stage name screams, "I'm an asshole with nothing valuable to contribute." [Read the rest here.]


Pig Destroyer, "Suicide Through Decay" (38 Counts Of Battery)
New Kingdom, "Terror Mad Visionary" (Paradise Don't Come Cheap)
The Clash, "The Magnificent Seven (12" Version)" (The Singles box)
Eric B. & Rakim, "Microphone Fiend" (Follow The Leader)
John Coltrane, "Leo" (Interstellar Space)
Jonas Bering, "Storch" (Total 2)
Iron Maiden, "Sun And Steel" (Piece Of Mind)
Burnt Sugar, "Random Violets" (Black Sex Y'all Liberation & Bloody Random Violets)
Glorior Belli, "Deadly Sparks" (Manifesting The Raging Beast)
Grave, "Inner Voice" (Fiendish Regression)
Bad Brains, "I & I Survive" (Rock For Light)
Knut, "Bollingen" (Terraformer)
James Brown, "Coldblooded" (Make It Funky: The Big Payback 1971-75)
Napalm Death, "Devastation" (Leaders Not Followers Part 2)
Vital Remains, "Dechristianize" (Dechristianize)

Wednesday, August 15, 2007


The most conventionally rocking ensemble of Mr. Bungle and Fantômas frontman Mike Patton have finally embarked on a project worthy of their name with this release. Unfortunately, they also kind of drop the ball. The music is based on Native American pieces documented in a book found by guitarist Duane Denison, formerly of Jesus Lizard. He and drummer John Stanier recorded backing tracks - bassist Kevin Rutmanis has left the group and no replacement has been announced - and sent them to Patton, who laid his own vocals, electronics and effects on top.

Regrettably, rather than simply using chants, Patton has also written lyrics for many of the songs. Thus "Sun Dance" is actually a song on which he shouts "We're dancin' in the sun/Won't you come along" like he's in a third-tier '70s rock group. "Mescal Rite 1," which features vocals but no lyrics, is much better, despite echoey tablas and humming New Age electronics in the background.

The original idea's merits are apparent when Patton keeps quiet and lets Denison and Stanier interact. Their riffs and rhythms start as Native American-style throbbing, but expand into post-punk space without becoming goofy pastiche. But as is often the case when artists appropriate Native American imagery (or, in this case, the actual music), good intentions are often crushed by lunkheaded execution. This trio should have either gone totally instrumental, or limited Patton to the vocal exhortations on his Fantômas project.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Finished William Gibson's Spook Country last night (he's signing here in NYC tonight, but I don't think I'll go). It's pretty good; as a diehard member of the cult, I am not disappointed. The language is as spider-precise as ever, and - big step here - he's got a new story to tell.

Here is the William Gibson Plot, as iterated in every book from Neuromancer through Pattern Recognition: Young-ish but jaded person with some preternatural but utterly mediaverse-related skill/talent/ability is roped into a quest for some mysterious objay dart or cyborg critter that's loping about the net causing disruption. Dark forces chase said young skilled/talented person, and ethically gray-area forces assist. By the end, multiple plotlines converge as young skilled/talented person comes face to face with the creator(s) of the objay dart, and everything winds down kinda ambiguously, but happily.

This time out, maybe because the book is quite explicitly present-day (February 2006), there's not so much mysteries-of-the-net hoo-ha. In fact, the MacGuffin everybody's chasing is about as prosaic an object as you can imagine: a 40-foot shipping container. The fun comes not from the quest for the metal box and what's within, but from the interactions between the characters, who include a family of illegal-immigrant spy kids, a former alt-rock singer turned journalist, and Hubertus Bigend, the shadowy Belgian billionaire who was the comic heart of Pattern Recognition. I'm not gonna talk about the plot. Go buy it.

Thursday, August 09, 2007


I'm gonna be interviewed by Steve Fast, talking about Marooned (go buy one!) and related subjects, on Monday August 13, on WJBC radio in Bloomington, IL. If you're in broadcast range, check it out. Or listen here.


Today on PTW:

"Urban Fable #1: The Accidental Ruin Of A Romantic Populist"
from Misbegotten Man (I and Ear)
Don’t be put off by the opening 45-or-so seconds of this track (before the guitars get loud) from New York skronk-pop duo People. Yes, Mary Halvorson sings in a voice that’s got a little too much fairy-princess and precious-little-girl to it, and yes, her delivery seems indebted to ’80s Hollywood movie parodies of Greenwich Village performance artists, and yes, Kevin Shea’s drums are manic in a way that’s more “how many of these can I hit in the shortest span possible” than the free-jazz that’s his actual background, so the only thing holding it all together for a while is the delicate guitar melody. All of a sudden though, Halvorson steps on the pedal (“foot on the pedal/Never ever false metal”—Beastie Boys) and things get almost Minutemen-esque. Which is never, ever a bad thing. [Read the rest here.]

Wednesday, August 08, 2007


from We Are (Jade Tree)
The riff anchoring this 99-second shitstorm has the fury of pre-Rollins Black Flag (it’s a close cousin to “Nervous Breakdown”), but the discipline of X’s Billy Zoom. Cloak/Dagger call themselves a hardcore band, and that’s sort of accurate, but they’re clearly cognizant of punk’s limitations even as they get off on the rush of mounting this kind of headlong sonic assault. [Read the rest here.]

Wednesday, August 01, 2007


The new High On Fire album, Death Is This Communion, is currently streaming at the Relapse Records website, but you need to get a password from the publicist to hear it. On the surface, it's just another High On Fire album, but there are some subtle tweaks - Matt Pike's become a slightly better songwriter, offering some actual choruses this time out. This helps make it not necessarily one of the year's best metal releases (Machine Head and Arch Enemy are kicking my ass), but a damn good one. It's not crushing my head the way Blessed Black Wings did, but that's because, as I mentioned, the songwriting is a little more tempered this time out, a little more influenced by the melodic side of Motörhead (if that phrase makes sense to you, you're the target audience for this album). The song "Rumors Of War," which I think can be heard on the band's MySpace page, could have come off any of the last three Motörhead albums. Plus, I think I prefer Jack Endino's production to Steve Albini's - you can hear more than just the drums this time.


Today on PTW:

"Sacred Texts"
from Aluminum Lake (Drag City)
It’s a shocking thing indeed to find oneself with a single positive thing to say about anything produced by a member of the Fucking Champs, a band that exemplifies all that’s wrong with indie rock’s appropriation of metal tropes. But Tim Green’s side project has plenty to offer it seems. [Read the rest here.]

This week in the Voice:

Vintage thrash metal is back with a vengeance, and it's speaking Spanish

MySpace is a baffling labyrinth—it'll consume your whole day if you let it, and you'll usually come away depressed by what you hear and see. But click the right link, and you can be neck-deep in a wondrous new world before you realize what's happened. Or, in this case, a very old world that's somehow revived itself and gone bilingual.

For some reason, '80s-style thrash is making a major comeback in the metal underground, led by a wave of Latino-dominated bands from Southern California, Mexico, and South America. These new disciples are hardcore, sporting the Metallica-circa-'83 look—denim vests, bullet belts, tight jeans—and generally paying heartfelt tribute to the old school in their band photos, logos, and demo titles. Almost all these groups are unsigned, playing tiny shows with each other and maintaining a Net-based scene. Whereas their '80s counterparts mailed home-dubbed cassettes out to a circuit of zine-writing pen pals, these bands all stream (often downloadable) music on their MySpace pages. [Read the rest here.]

Tuesday, July 31, 2007


I really liked My Chemical Romance's song "I'm Not Okay (I Promise)," and I liked the video even more. It cracked me up on a regular basis while it was omnipresent on MTV. But the second single, the title of which I don't even remember anymore, kinda sucked, so I didn't buy the record. And the first single - I believe it was for the title track - from The Black Parade - was terrible, too, pompous and overwrought. But the new single, "Teenagers," is fucking tremendous. A 2:41 chunk of T.Rex with balls, the lyrics are just as overwrought as ever, but frontman Gerard Way's sense of humor, sorta invisible since that "I'm Not Okay" video, is front and center, and the song is basically a big stomping romp, with one of the best choruses I've heard in a couple of years:

Teenagers scare the living shit out of me
They could care less as long as someone'll bleed
So darken your clothes, or strike a violent pose
Maybe they'll leave you alone, but not me

The video's great, too - an audience of surly and apathetic high schoolers gradually rising up to seize the stage from a panicked-looking MCR. Plus, cheerleaders in gas masks. [Check it out here.]

I'm not endorsing The Black Parade as an album; it's uneven, and steals all the wrong ideas from Pink Floyd's The Wall. But this is one of the best songs of the year, no question.

Friday, July 27, 2007


"Said Lucifer In Twilight"
from Manifesting The Raging Beast (Southern Lord)

The French takeover of black metal continues apace. Glorior Belli are a furious act in the spirit of Deathspell Omega, Funeral Mist and to a lesser degree Antaeus; the band’s songs feature multiple tempo shifts, going from 1000mph blitzkrieg riffage to doomy despair and back. Guitarist/vocalist/ mastermind Infestvvs leans toward verbosity, though this track is the only one on the album that actually seems like a monologue with a backing band, much in the way that Deathspell Omega’s Kenôse did. (Anytime you’ve written a song where each verse begins with the word “Therefore,” you should go back and rethink.) [Read the rest here.]

Thursday, July 19, 2007


Hot Topic's sponsorship of the third-annual Sounds of the Underground tour is a great thing. It affords metalcore bands mainstream exposure without paying Sharon Osbourne $75,000 -- or whatever she would charge them to play Ozzfest with her zombie husband.

As with any package tour, however, the lineup for 2007's Sounds of the Underground is far from perfect. And unlike the makeup counter at Hot Topic, there's a dizzying number of choices -- 14, to be exact.

To help Clevelanders rock out, we present the "Hot or Not?" concert guide. Here are the bands to catch and those to avoid:[Read the rest here.]

Wednesday, July 18, 2007


King Britt Presents The Cosmic Lounge Vol. 1* (BBE/Rapster)
In the early '70s, jazz got spacey, Afro-spiritual, and overwhelmingly weird. From Sun Ra to Alice Coltrane to Pharoah Sanders to Kalaparusha Maurice McIntyre, artists began incorporating synths, African percussion, flutes, chanting, tablas, mbiras, and all manner of other exotic instruments into album-side-long pieces with titles often in Swahili or Hindi. DJ King Britt has compiled 11 relatively concise and lesser-known examples of this decade-long musical left turn and sequenced them (without mixing) into a trance-inducing yet thrilling glimpse of the way things used to be. [Read the rest here.]

*(I think compilations should never be titled Vol. 1; you're just setting folks up for disappointment. Put the thing out, and if there's demand - which, in this case, I don't think there will be, except from me and the readership of, say, Destination: Out and Church Number Nine - release a Vol. 2. But don't get my hopes up straight out of the gate. And if you're a band whose career is on the skids, don't flatter yourselves by exiting your major label deal with a "Greatest Hits, Vol. 1." Seriously. Come on. Anyway, my point is that this is a terrific compilation, I'm just disappointed in their use of the "Vol. 1" gambit.)

Tuesday, July 17, 2007


Carry On (Suretone/Interscope)
Chris Cornell can't dance. If he could, he wouldn't have transformed "Billie Jean" into a funkless piano-and-guitar dirge, a trick he pulls eight tracks into his second solo album...Cornell has one of the great voices in modern rock -- gruff, yet powerfully melodic. Frequently trafficking in unexpected imagery, his lyrics jump out amid the hard-rock clichés smothering contemporary radio. And on this album, he's got a solid backing band with another secret-weapon guitarist: the maniacal noise-sculptor and avant-gardist, Gary Lucas of Gods and Monsters. [Read the rest here.]

Friday, July 13, 2007

Thursday, July 12, 2007


Betty Davis
They Say I'm Different

Light In The Attic
The trouble with being a reclusive, mysterious legend is that it encourages collectors to seek your work out more avidly than they would if you were just some rube who made an album that went nowhere. Betty Davis, ex-wife of Miles, has been an object of fascinated projection from rock and funk geeks for decades. Now that her first two solo albums have been reissued, remastered and in fancy packaging that includes interviews with the reclusive Ms. D herself, the hype's at fever pitch.

They're both good records, because she had money and friends - members of the Family Stone play on the debut, and the follow-up's band is nearly as impressive. The grooves are thick and unstoppably funky, and the female backup vocals are sassy and soulful. The problem with Betty Davis' music is Betty herself. Her voice is slightly thin, and her pitch control ain't what it should be, so she overcompensates with mannered howling and shrieking that's almost minstrelsy - she sounds influenced by white, male rock singers impersonating black bluesmen, rather than by earlier generations of black musicians, despite namechecking Bo Diddley, Lightnin' Hopkins, Robert Johnson and others on "They Say I'm Different."

Whenever she's not singing, this music soars into the stratosphere. Some of it's among the best funk of the early '70s. But when she's roaring and caterwauling, it's hard not to be convinced that absence hasn't just made the heart grow fonder, but that it's made the ear lose some of its acuity. Folks seem to be hearing what they want to hear, not what's actually slobbering all over the mic.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007


If you're a Spanish-speaking artist looking to succeed without recording theme songs for telenovelas, packing your videos with thong-clad nubiles, or singing in English, the Latin Alternative Music Conference—the annual parade of concerts, parties, panels, and workshops, now in its eighth year here—is the place you need to be. It's also interesting if you're a music critic trying to trick editors into printing pieces on sound-collage whack-job Mexican Institute of Sound (shhh . . . he's secretly also the music director of EMI Mexico), Monterrey-based punk-pop band Panda, Chilean Franz Ferdinand impersonators Los Bunkers, or any of the zillion other fascinating and stereotype-shattering Latin acts bouncing around these days.

Fortunately for civilians, the LAMC also brings with it a mini-wave of killer live shows during its four-day lifespan. Herewith, a brief rundown of the awesomeness that will engulf Manhattan (and Prospect Park) for the next four days:

[Read the rest here.]


Found this love note from Dimitri Coats of Burning Brides in my inbox this morning:

From: "burning brides" [burningbrides@*******.com]
To: ************@*******.com
Subject: Total Douche
Date: Tue, 10 Jul 2007 12:12:22 +0000
What's up Phil? Thanks so much for the review in AP - a once decent magazine that now puts bands like 'Cute Is What We Aim For' on the cover. Glad you think I'm crying out for an ass-kicking. Looking forward to meeting you and letting you know what i think of your writing. -Dimitri

(The review under discussion.)

Sadly, they're not playing NYC anytime soon. And although they have a lot of reviews of the new album posted on their website, mine didn't make the cut. Darn.

Monday, July 09, 2007


The VH1 reality show Flavor Of Love Girls: Charm School had its season finale last week, and its "reunion" show last night. The reunion really crystallized my thoughts on the entire show, which were, more or less, that it was the greatest thing comedian/actress/host Mo'nique's ever gonna be associated with, and that VH1 really had no idea what they were getting when they green-lit the project.

Comedy is based in rage; sometimes it's well concealed, but frequently it's not. Mo'nique's work keeps the rage bubbling right below the surface, and a lot of it is based on race and class issues. She's written two books: 2004's Skinny Women Are Evil: Notes Of A Big Girl In A Small-Minded World and 2006's Skinny Cooks Can't Be Trusted, a cookbook padded out with comic anecdotes. Charm School, though, was a whole different animal. It put Mo'nique in the role of host/mentor/judge, jury and executioner, and along the way exposed the fault lines running through race and class in America, as highlighted and (some might say) exacerbated by reality TV.

The two seasons of VH1's Flavor Of Love were a horrorshow, a slow-motion car wreck in which ghetto women of every race, but mostly black women, abased and humiliated themselves in order to win the love of, or maybe just fame by association with, Public Enemy's cracked-out hypeman Flavor Flav. They got sloppy drunk, beat each other up, lap-danced Flav and whatever second- and third-tier rappers made cameos on the woman shit on the living room floor, possibly because running up the stairs to the ladies' room would have meant being off-camera for a moment. The entire show was an exercise in degradation, sullying everyone involved, from Flav and the women to the producers who put the thing on the air, to the audience. And I count myself as one of the injured parties, because I watched damn near every episode, and can't now come up with a good reason why.

Well, Mo'nique was watching, too, and she didn't like what she saw. So she corralled the most egregious, Springer-esque women from the two seasons, and brought them back for "charm school." Each week, one girl would be voted out, and the eventual last woman standing would receive $50,000 to make something of herself.

From its opening moments, the show was a slap in the face not only to the women, for what they'd allowed themselves to become while on Flavor Of Love, but to the viewers who'd watched before, and to the people who'd put the parent show on the air. Mo'nique addressed the women, who'd arrived in a half-sized school bus like the ones Special Ed kids ride in, before permitting them entry into the house, and she explained that she had been watching the shows, and, in her words, "America was not laughing with you, ladies; America was laughing at you." Once they were ensconced in the house (with assigned beds, to short-circuit any battles for prime real estate), each woman was required to surrender the odious nickname bestowed upon her by Flavor Flav; for the rest of the season, they would be exploring who they really were, under their real names.

There was a certain amount of reality TV superficiality to Charm School - the women ran a military obstacle course, and learned how to comport themselves on celebrity interview shows - but there were lessons worth learning offered as well. In one late episode, the women were confronted with their own badly damaged guy-radar, as they were asked to pick the best man out of a group of five or six. None picked the successful businessman; all picked guys who were either parolees or mama's boys expecting women to wait on them hand and foot. And one woman got drunk and all but naked on the dance floor, resulting in her eviction.

Every time Mo'nique evicted a woman, she seemed genuinely sorrowful, both for the bad behavior that had resulted in the eviction and for the opportunities she was unable to provide for all of them. The show was basically a slow and steady refutation of everything Flavor Of Love had tried to pin on these women. Mo'nique was determined, and the wrath in her glare frequently showed just how determined, to make these women confront themselves, and regain the dignity they'd so willingly surrendered for a few weeks of pseudo-fame. At the same time, she was shoving it in the viewers' faces, and the producers' faces. "See," she seemed to shout at us with every episode. "These are real people. They feel real pain. How dare you humiliate them, mock them. How dare you."

Which made the reunion show the season's crowning moment, psychodrama of the highest order. Because some of the women evicted from the house took Mo'nique's advice to heart, but others didn't. And when they reappeared on the stage, they seemed ready to slip back into the crass, profane, hair-trigger combative self-caricatures they'd been when we first encountered them. But Mo'nique wasn't going to let that happen. From her thronelike seat on the stage, she berated her former charges, insisting that they get through one hour of television without needing to be bleeped every third word, without punching or pulling each other's hair, without failing themselves and her. Brooke, the blond girl who'd gotten drunk and ground all over two men at the "mixer," was asked what her granddaughter might think of her behavior, and she looked genuinely shocked at the question, before opting for some babble about how white women weren't as conservative about public displays of sexuality as black women, so it was okay, it was just "flirting." (Mo'nique - and Becky, the other white contestant - nearly slapped her, but didn't.)

The show's concluding moments were the most powerful, though. Mo'nique confronted two women, Shay and Larissa, who'd joined forces to betray and hurt other contestants, and then had a falling out when Shay had qualms about their behavior, thus inviting contempt and the "snitch" label from Larissa. When she initially appeared, on camera from backstage, Larissa was in full Maury Povich mode, cursing and shouting over the host and Shay and anyone else who would dare try to point out her wrongness. When she strutted out onstage, she even yelled at Mo'nique, telling her she was "full of shit" and claiming Mo'nique had had it in for her since the beginning of the show. (A fair point, actually - Larissa was the one girl Mo'nique genuinely seemed to dislike.) But rather than shout back, Mo'nique began to lecture Larissa - and Larissa's mother, who clambered out of the audience to defend her daughter - about what kind of message her behavior was sending to the wider world. Not about what she could do for herself, but about what she could do for the people watching by acting like a rational human being instead of a blackface daytime-talk-show caricature. And as the credits rolled over a conversation that was still ongoing, at full intensity, Mo'nique's achievement was complete. Watching Jerry Springer or Maury Povich or Flavor Of Love can make you hate humanity. But with Charm School, Mo'nique tried to make you hate the producers who create such shows, and incite - whether with booze, male strippers, off-camera egging-on, or whatever - the poor and minority people who appear on them to humiliate themselves and each other. And, to my mind, she succeeded. Of course, there will continue to be shows like these. A new one, Rock Of Love, a sort of white version of Flavor Of Love with Poison frontman Bret Michaels as the center of the storm, will premiere next week. But I don't think they'll be seen in quite the same light. VH1, probably at least in part unwittingly, let Mo'nique come into their world, tear back the curtain, and point fingers. Good for her; not so good for them.

Friday, July 06, 2007


I've recently become intrigued by the music of Nik Bärtsch. (That's him in the middle.) A couple of writers I know have been yelling at me to pay attention to the guy for some time, but he only had one easily-available CD, Stoa (ECM, 2006). Well, one more writer just had Bärtsch's manager send me - in my capacity as Global Rhythm's managing editor - the guy's entire back catalog. That includes one solo CD, Hishiryo; two with the piano/bass clarinet/marimba/drums band Mobile, RGM and AER; and three by his currently best-known band, Ronin - Randori, Rea and Live, which I'm listening to as I type this.

In other folks' reviews, I've read comparisons to Philip Glass, James Brown and Steve Reich, and all of those apply. I'd also throw in early '70s Stevie Wonder - there's a lot of great electric piano sounds here. Ronin's music sounds like funk played by man-sized, infinitely patient spiders. It moves slowly, never working itself up into anything resembling ecstasy and never achieving release or catharsis. It seems like a loop, but there are tiny, incremental changes over the length of each piece (they're called moduls, and numbered - "Modul 11," "Modul 15," "Modul 8_9" - you get the idea) that do eventually build up into something quite impressive, but it's impressive as much for its restraint as for any affirmative musical gestures by the bandmembers. Bärtsch is the keyboardist, and he never attempts to dominate the ensemble; indeed, he barely seems to guide them. The drums tick along, the bandmembers lock in (must be that Swiss thing that keeps their timing so impeccable), and the band moves as one.

As with Reich, it's hard to imagine what the physical experience of playing this stuff must be like. It's probably like having an itch that an armed guard is preventing you from scratching. Similarly, I wonder what the effect on a live audience must be. Yeah, your leg is twitching to the beat, but not enough so's you want to get up and dance or anything - just enough that you gradually get twitchier and twitchier, driven close to madness by the metronomic and relentless buildup to...nothing, really. The band just stops at some point, after nine or twelve or fifteen minutes. Then they start again, playing a slightly different groove with the exact same Zen-like, loop-like, hypnotic qualities.

Yeah, I know, this doesn't read like an endorsement. But it is, I swear. You already missed his NYC debut - he brought Ronin to Joe's Pub on July 3 - but I'm pretty sure his back catalog just got U.S. distribution, so go check some of this stuff out. Your notion of what constitutes "funk" will be forever altered.

(N.B.: Everything I've said above applies exclusively to Ronin's music. The music Bärtsch makes with Mobile is much more jazz-inflected - the bass clarinet player takes what almost amount to solos - and the general vibe is much more ominous and creeping, reminding me of Goblin or some of the driftier, weirder passages on Bitches Brew. Equally highly recommended, but very different.)

Tuesday, July 03, 2007


Terrific Sly Stone feature from the August 07 issue of Vanity Fair. (I admit it - I'm not at all excited by the prospect of a new studio album. But I'd think long and hard about buying a ticket if he got the full Stand!-era lineup together for a Madison Square Garden gig.)

Wednesday, June 27, 2007


I haven't had time to do a "Learning Latin" post in a while. Two quick recommendations: the Fania All-Stars' half-studio/half-live Latin-Soul-Rock, which features guest appearances from Jan Hammer, Manu Dibango and Jorge (brother of Carlos) Santana; and Mon Rivera's Que Gente Averiguá are both awesome, but in totally different ways—unsurprising, seeing as the former was recorded 10 years after the latter. If you like Willie Colón's two-trombone sound, and who doesn't, you gotta hear where he stole it from (he acknowledged the debt with There Goes The Neighborhood, a 1975 collaborative album that kinda revived Rivera's career as his life was winding down).

But the reason I'm really writing this post is to direct you to this guy, who's writing lengthy, informed reviews of albums he then posts for download. So go check it out.


He's right, you know.

And this has been a pretty damn good year for metal, generally. Albums in addition to Pig Destroyer's that I have liked or liked-a-lot:

3 Inches Of Blood, Fire Up The Blades
Beneath The Massacre, Mechanics Of Dysfunction
Bergraven, Dödsvisioner
Dimmu Borgir, In Sorte Diaboli
Dir en Grey, The Marrow Of A Bone
Glorior Belli, Manifesting The Raging Beast
Immolation, Shadows In The Light
Job For A Cowboy, Genesis
Kekal, The Habit Of Fire
Machine Head, The Blackening
Megadeth, United Abominations
Minsk, The Ritual Fires Of Abandonment
Nox, Ixaxaar
Poison, Poison'd
Rwake, Voices Of Omens
Vital Remains, Icons Of Evil

and probably a bunch more that aren't in my iPod at present.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007


I listen to a lot more African music in the summer than at any other point in the year. I mean, sure, no matter what the weather's like there are times when Fela's records absolutely call out to you, but generally, I find the lilting guitars and gentle but insistent rhythms of King Sunny Adé work best when I'm looking for something that'll make me walk slow, to keep from sweating so much that I look like a serial rapist or something. Anyway, unequivocal recommendation time: you will find no finer summer CD than Kenge Kenge's Introducing Kenge Kenge (World Music Network). They're a Luo group from Kenya, playing all-acoustic music that's at the root of the country's benga dance music, and this CD is kicking my ass but good. Kenge Kenge is everything I thought Konono No. 1 would be—powerful, trance-like grooves, percussion thundering in my skull as high-pitched, almost distorted melodies careen all over the place and chanted vocals play off each other. Except where Konono's 15-minute jams just get boring after about 90 seconds, and the novelty of their distorted junkyard likembes wears off only slightly more slowly, Kenge Kenge's all-acoustic sound, with violins and flutes the melodic instruments, is like fife-and-drum music amped up to 11 and pounded out by methed-up lunatics. Seriously, this is gonna be one of my albums of the year no matter what else comes out in the next six months. Get yourself one and crank it up. This ain't no easygoing shit - this is killer.

Monday, June 25, 2007


Dear major record labels,

I know you're in trouble. Everybody says so, even people whose opinions are supported by knowledge and facts (and people like that make up a tiny, tiny minority in the music business).

So why are you signing Collie Buddz, Sony? Why are you allowing Steve Vai to make a 2CD set with a full orchestra behind him, Epic? Why isn't the former product self-released, and the latter on Sanctuary? (OK, Sanctuary is ceasing US operations this week. But it's not your job to pick up the slack for them, Epic people!)

Genuinely concerned,


(I write for AP every month, but I rarely see the printed magazine. This time, a copy fell onto my desk. So here goes.)

Hang Love (Modart)
Dimitri Coats is a total douche. He says things like, "If I died tomorrow, which I hope I don't, at least I know I have made what I feel is a great record. The kind of rock record you don't hear anymore. So I am free," with a straight face. Unfortunately, he's impossible to fully disdain, because while there's not much sonic originality on Burning Brides' third disc (ooh, a grungy power trio - how groundbreaking!), it's actually not the worst record I've heard this week. He's a decent guitarist; his wife Melanie's basslines support him adequately; and drummer Paul Beeman is the secret weapon, vying with the Melvins' god of thunder Dale Crover for heavy-footed rawk supremacy. Some tracks ("She Comes To Me") are a little too mid-'90s, but it's hard to deny the raw, skull-stomping power of the opening "Ring Around The Rosary," no matter how much Coats may be crying out for an ass-kicking.


Collie Buddz is a white dancehall "artist" who is signed to Sony BMG. I see large posters advertising his upcoming album whenever I walk in and out of my office. Gee, why is the record industry in trouble? I can't imagine.

Look, it's bad enough you're a white dancehall artist. But naming yourself after pot?

Choosing a "witty" drug reference as your band (or stage) name is an instant shorthand way of saying, "I'm an asshole with nothing valuable to contribute" (e.g. Bongzilla, Kottonmouth Kings). So, in a way, it's a helpful gesture on Mr. Buddz' part, one I appreciate. But then there's the part of me that wants to track him down and set him on fire, then do the same thing to the A&R guy who signed him to Columbia fucking Records, former home of Miles Davis and the David S. Ware Quartet and current home of Bob Dylan and other artists just a little too smart to name themselves after fucking weed. Seriously, is that the best we as a culture can do in 2007?