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?

Saturday, June 23, 2007


This story has, unsurprisingly, been making the rounds of various music-related websites I frequent.

A Swedish heavy metal fan has had his musical preferences officially classified as a disability. The results of a psychological analysis enable the metal lover to supplement his income with state benefits.

Roger Tullgren, 42, from Hässleholm in southern Sweden has just started working part time as a dishwasher at a local restaurant.

Because heavy metal dominates so many aspects of his life, the Employment Service has agreed to pay part of Tullgren's salary. His new boss meanwhile has given him a special dispensation to play loud music at work.

"I have been trying for ten years to get this classified as a handicap," Tullgren told The Local.

"I spoke to three psychologists and they finally agreed that I needed this to avoid being discriminated against."


The ageing rocker claims to have attended almost three hundred shows last year, often skipping work in the process.

Eventually his last employer tired of his absences and Tullgren was left jobless and reliant on welfare handouts.

But his sessions with the occupational psychologists led to a solution of sorts: Tullgren signed a piece of paper on which his heavy metal lifestyle was classified as a disability, an assessment that entitles him to a wage supplement from the job centre.

"I signed a form saying: 'Roger feels compelled to show his heavy metal style. This puts him in a difficult situation on the labour market. Therefore he needs extra financial help'. So now I can turn up at a job interview dressed in my normal clothes and just hand the interviewers this piece of paper," he said.

The manager at his new workplace allows him to go to concerts as long as he makes up for lost time at a later point. He is also allowed to dress as he likes and listen to heavy metal while washing up.

"But not too loud when there are guests," he said.

Just as unsurprisingly, a tool of my acquaintance has responded with statements like "I hope the Swedes get their Thatcher/Gorbachev soon" and "Yeah, I 'wish' they had that in America, so I could be a lazy-ass motherfucker and leech off people who actually work for a living. Yes, I wish the entire world was like Sweden, so I could sit on my ass all day doing nothing, and still collect dole queue cheques."

Because people like this tool of my acquaintance (who, by the way, teaches English in Taiwan for a living, precisely because life is cheap, the hours are short, and he's got a fetish to indulge) internalized the perverse "Protestant work ethic," they can no longer see that people who work for a living are to be pitied. Not because there's something innately horrible about work in itself, but because there's something innately horrible about selling your life. Work for what you want, and do as little as necessary to achieve as much as possible. Pay-the-rent jobs are all shitty, all a waste of time, all to be avoided as much as possible. It's the work you do for yourself that's virtuous; all the rest is evil, because it steals time you could be spending doing something enjoyable. Life is a one-way journey with no do-overs. Every moment you spend doing something you'd rather not be doing, whether it's working for an asshole boss so you can pay an asshole landlord or talking to someone whose conversation is like a drill-bit in the brain, is time you'll never get back.

I admire this guy, because he's come up with a terrific scam. If I could talk my boss into that, I'd do it in a minute. And if you can look at him and not feel the envy one feels when witnessing an artist at work, but only the contempt a scumbag yuppie feels for a homeless person, then you're the one who's fucked in the head, not him.

Thursday, June 21, 2007


Being diabetic fucks with my head a lot. It's instilled a real fatalism in me - I'm not gonna have kids, I'm probably not gonna see 60, so I might as well live the best life I can right now, which makes me work hard, write a lot, and buy all the books and movies and music I feel like having around me. But it's very difficult for me to get to any kind of understanding or psychological rapprochement with the disease, at least in part because I don't have anybody to talk to about it.

My dad was Type I, diagnosed at a year old or so, but he's dead - he died in his late fifties, a couple of years before I was diagnosed with Type II. And he never told me much about the disease - what it did to him, what he had to do to battle it - because I didn't have it and he was a private guy and we didn't get along that well anyway most of the time. I saw him injecting insulin a few times as a small child, but that's it. And once my parents divorced, and he didn't live in our house anymore, even that much exposure to the day-to-day reality of diabetes was taken away. So when I was offered the chance to interview Bret Michaels of Poison for the Cleveland Scene, and jumped at it, because (as you'll read in the story) he's diabetic, too; has been since he was six, and he's in his mid-forties now.

I told the editor that he should give me the assignment, over another writer who really wanted it, because Michaels and me were both diabetic and I would talk about that with him. And Michaels was completely open and welcoming on that score. I've had pleasurable conversations with celebrities before, every journalist has - the ones where you come away thinking "we could probably be friends, if this wasn't an interview/professional context." And that's part of a celebrity's job - to massage the media (and by proxy the reader/viewer) to create that impression of intimacy. (And writers are, obviously, complicit in the creation of that illusion, and worse things too, sometimes.)

But this was different...more like therapy. The first person I'd ever been really able to seriously discuss my disease with, other than a doctor or my wife (who doesn't have it), was a celebrity - one who gave me his assistant's cell number in case I wanted to come to his NJ concert and meet backstage, one on one, to talk more about our respective diseases and how we were dealing with them. I was more emotionally invested in this piece, at least while the interview/conversation was underway, than anything else I've ever written that was nominally about music.

And for the record, I stand by all my assertions about the quality of Poison's music generally and the new album in particular.

[Read the story here.]

Monday, June 18, 2007


Unclouded Day
Québecois drummer Michel Lambert has recruited some heavyweight companions for this disc. New York violinist Mat Maneri plays on seven of ten tracks, while guitarist Raoul Björkenheim appears on all but one, and vocalist Jeanette Lambert sings/chants the poetry of Emily Brontë on three. Things start off skittery and heavy, with Björkenheim crunching loud and metallic as Lambert rattles around his kit - one could be forgiven for misidentifying them as Han Bennink and Caspar Brötzmann, or perhaps something by the original line-up of Noxagt. When Maneri enters on the third track, proceedings get markedly more interesting. On "Blow West Wind," Lambert plays with brushes while Maneri offers Gypsy-like lines and Björkenheim sticks to the lower end of his instrument's range, sounding at times almost like a guimbri. On the next track, Björkenheim slides his fingers across the strings to create a cello-like sound, exploring some weird territory between classical, improv and prog rock.
Lambert's voice is relatively thin and her delivery is unconvincing. Nevertheless her presence on three tracks brings something out of the other three players, Björkenheim backing her with swaths of squalling noise, as Michel steps up his game. Ultimately, this is a winning live document of a group who are unlikely to reconvene anytime soon.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007


Rain, from South Korea, is apparently the biggest male pop star in Asia. I was gonna go see him at Madison Square Garden on the 23rd, but the show's been postponed "due to production scheduling conflicts. As this will be Rain’s first U.S. tour, his team wanted to make sure that they had enough time to organize shows of the caliber that Rain fans are used to" (according to an e-mail from his publicist). I see their point; if you can't totally destroy the audience's mind, why bother, right? Especially if the actual music (I got his fourth and most recent CD, Rain's World, in today's mail) is high-quality but not all that challenging Usher-esque dance-pop, sung in Korean—though he occasionally speaks English, and some choruses are bilingual. Regardless, I'm still looking forward to the show, whenever it is. I have a feeling I'm gonna be one of very few white dudes in the audience, except for maybe a few baffled boyfriends standing uncomfortably while their Korean girlfriends shriek and bounce.


from Draw Breath (Cryptogramophone)
The Nels Cline Singers have no singer; they’re, at least based on this evidence, a power trio with a thousand faces. Nels Cline’s shredding, Sharrockian reimagining of John Coltrane’s Interstellar Space (a duo with drummer Gregg Bendian) is perpetually fantastic, and 2006’s New Monastery, his tribute to recently deceased pianist Andrew Hill, was brilliant too. His work with Wilco pays the bills I bet, but it ultimately sounds and feels like sideman work. In any case, this latest Singers disc frequently brings Cline’s noisy side way out in front, as upright bassist Devin Hoff slaps and bows along beside him and drummer/electronics guy Scott Amendola whips the living shit out of his kit when he’s not emitting hums and buzzes and throbs like some kind of malevolent robot. [Read the rest here.]

Monday, June 11, 2007


"Ground Stump"
from Head Home (Ernest Jennings)
Bluegrass is close enough to punk that it’s no surprise a few acts have just jammed the two together—most notably the Bad Livers, who toured opening for the Butthole Surfers at the dawn of the ’90s, playing banjo-fiddle-upright bass covers of “Raw Power” and “Master Of Puppets” as well as originals and hillbilly chestnuts done at crystal-meth tempos. Brooklyn-based sextet O’Death don’t exactly do that; but they have a similar feel, and with some sonic weirdness reminiscent of Tom Waits albums like Mule Variations and Bone Machine added to the mix. [Read the rest, including an interview with two of the bandmembers, here.]

Friday, June 08, 2007


Free at Last
Avant-jazz titans the David S. Ware Quartet triumphantly disband—sort of

"I didn't disband the group," says saxophonist David S. Ware by phone from his home in Plainfield, N.J. "We came off tour in Europe two months ago." There's been some confusion of late, see, because a recent live album, Renunciation (AUM Fidelity), documents last year's final U.S. performance by the David S. Ware Quartet, one of the longest-running groups in New York free jazz. He says the group will reconvene for European festivals or one-offs if the money's right, but his bandmates seem comfortable with the idea of moving on to the next step in their individual musical journeys. And as far as American audiences are concerned, the David S. Ware Quartet is no more, period.

Ware claims not to see what the big deal is. "We don't work in America anyway," he says. "I coulda said that a long time ago. We almost never work in America—America's such a superficial place, full of superficial people. It doesn't even matter."

But to some of us, it does. [Read the rest here.]

Wednesday, June 06, 2007


13 songs by Deftones, who I'm hoping to go see on Friday night:

"No Ordinary Love" (B-Sides And Rarities)
"Knife Prty" (White Pony)
"Combat" (Saturday Night Wrist)
"Back To School (Mini Maggit)" (White Pony)
"Korea" (White Pony)
"Battle-Axe" (Deftones)
"Rickets" (Around The Fur)
"Good Morning Beautiful" (Deftones)
"RX Queen" (White Pony)
"Anniversary Of An Uninteresting Event" (Deftones)
"Mascara" (Around The Fur)
"Mein" (Saturday Night Wrist)
"Passenger" (White Pony)

Tuesday, June 05, 2007


Cult Cargo: Grand Bahama Goombay
Numero Group
This is a pretty much staggeringly awesome compilation of Bahamian funk from the late '60s and early '70s by artists you're virtually guaranteed never to have heard of before today. There are few lilting, reggae-inflected grooves here (the primary exception being the Mustangs' "The Time For Loving Is Now"), as one might expect from the denizens of a balmy island nation. No, the artists on Grand Bahama Goombay were the equals of their U.S. soul brethren, cranking up the distorted organs and picking guitars in perfect, James Brown-esque chicken style. There are some remakes of American songs here - Jay Mitchell takes on "Mustang Sally," while Esquires LTD work up a raucous version of "Theme From Shaft" that sounds like Chief Ebenezer Obey fronting a garage band. Vocalists on this disc run the gamut from the sweet female group the Gospel Chandeliers ("Honesty Is The Best Policy") to Mitchell's raw-throated belting on "Tighter & Tighter." Beyond its purely musical joys, this compilation documents a culture coming into its own - the Bahamas declared independence in 1973, and these songs, particularly those by Mitchell and Frank Penn, are as much about establishing an identity as they are about making pop hits. Just as American soul became a primary voice of the Civil Rights movement in the South, these Bahamian artists were expressing something ineffable and unique on their own terms, in their own communities. But, naturally, the primary reason to own this record is that it kicks incredible amounts of ass.