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 show...one 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.)