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.