Monday, June 29, 2009


First of all, all the luxury items blowing up kinda reminds me of George Michael's "Freedom '90" clip. Maybe this one could have used more supermodels instead of Harvey Keitel. Also, it's probably just me but Jay-Z kinda looks like Matthew Shipp here. Weird. Oh, and I hate the soprano saxophone - always have, even when Steve Lacy or John Coltrane played it. It's not a bad beat, though.


13-year-old British boy spends a week listening to a Walkman instead of an iPod, reports back. I remember wearing a fishing vest to school so I'd have enough pockets to carry all the cassettes I might want to listen to during a given day. Irony: the iPod adapter cord that links the device to my living room stereo is connected to the port where I'd otherwise plug in a tape deck, if I had one.

Bret Easton Ellis thinks The Hills is "a modern masterpiece," according to Gawker via Dutch magazine Fantastic Man. I'm not all that surprised by this, honestly. For years, I've been saying (not here, but in actual conversation) that The Hills reminds me of Ellis's work, not just because of the blond blandness of its cast and their conversations, but because of the creators' approach to the material. Every time a new scene begins, each character is identified with their name and position ("Spencer, Heidi's boyfriend"; "Audrina, Lauren's friend"). I can't tell whether the showrunners are telling us "these people are so faceless and interchangeable that we don't think you'll remember who they are, or be able to tell one from another, unless we regularly prompt you" or "you're so stupid - we can tell because you're watching The Hills - that we don't think you'll remember who these people are unless we remind you every two or three minutes." I think the former interpretation speaks more to my desire to believe the show's creators are deeply cynical, even possibly satirists under deep, deep cover. But who knows? Maybe we'll have to wait until the show goes off the air for its creators to speak honestly about their artistic intentions.


Constellations (Solid State)
File under: Metalcore without the -core
Pennsylvania-based metalcore band August Burns Red get harder and heavier with each release. Constellations begins with a drum roll and pick slide straight off a Disfear album, and things don't slow down much from there. This is a fierce, punishing album loaded with muscular breakdowns, screaming guitar leads and ass-kicking double bass drum thunder. ABR attempt sensitivity by ending "The Escape Artist" with some delicate piano, but it doesn't really suit them, so the band otherwise let fury have the hour (okay, 47 minutes). If they continue to up the heaviness stakes each time out, August Burns Red will be a band to watch - preferably from a safe spot at the edge of the pit - for quite a while.

Killswitch Engage (Roadrunner)
File under: Metal holding actions
The fact that Killswitch Engage self-titled their fifth album provides a clue to the sounds contained within. Killswitch Engage is a concise encapsulation of everything KSE do well, with no real filler and an obvious single in "Take Me Away." It's a meat-and-potates gutar-bass-drums record; some tastefully melancholy piano on the album-closing "This is Goodbye" is one of the few instrumental adornments. No special guests, no cover songs, no guitar solos; Killswitch are playing to their strengths, from guitarist Adam Dutkiewicz's masterful production assistance to Howard Jones' vague-yet-meaningful lyrics. The melodies are uniformly strong, even if one or two of the choruses seem a little tacked-on. "Save Me" is the worst offender in this regard, with a chorus so underpowered it threatens to derail the song. But there are also some pleasant surprises. The rhythm section gets a well-deserved spotlight on "Starting Over"; and "Light in a Darkened World" demands social engagement from the listener, a counterweight to the emotional navel-gazing of the majority of the songs. This album isn't going to change the way you think about metal, but Killswitch Engage aren't Mastodon; they just want to get the pit going, and this album will surely accomplish that.

This is a stripped-down, straightforward album. Is there anything you think will surprise longtime fans?

We sorta do what we do, and we really try to push what we do to the best of our abilities. We tried to focus on songwriting and vocals. I don't know if we'll really surprise anyone, but we touched on a few different things lyrically; and vocally, there are definitely things I haven't done before, just really cutting loose on some of the singing. We didn't turn into a pop band or anything.
What did producer Brendan O'Brien bring to the sessions?
Working with Brendan and Adam, I definitely got different ideas and got to try some different things. [O'Brien] definitely helped with the structure of some of the songs, saying, "Strip down this part of the song," or "Add this." He had really good ideas, and [when I was] coming up with some of the ideas for melodies, just saying, "Hey, add this to it," he came up with some stuff I really hadn't thought to try, so it was cool.
"Take Me Away" seems like a really obvious rock-radio single. Was that something you thought about when the song was being written and recorded?
Nope. Joel [Stroetzel, guitar], he's pretty much the metalhead of the band. He wrote it and we were all pretty surprised, like, "Wow, where did that come from?" When I heard it, it was an obvious fit for me. If it becomes something, that'll be a surprise. But it was just another example of us trying to step out and push what we do. There were no real thoughts of it becoming "the radio song."
A lot of the songs seem to have strong emotional content. What's your approach to writing lyrics?
I try to make them personal but somewhat vague. I kinda write a story and hope that people can graft onto it and take what they want from it. But I really try to make it easy to digest.
Can you talk about the song "Light in a Darkened World"? It seems to be outside of your usual personal territory, talking about social engagement with the larger world.
Once again, it's kind of like, "Take what you can from it." If you can make a difference in the world, go for it. Lord knows, we need somebody to stand up and change something, not just [President Barack] Obama. So yeah, it's not really a political song - I just wanted to mention Obama.


Here are links to six more reviews of new/upcoming albums:

Constants, The Foundation, the Machine, the Ascension
Darkest Hour, The Eternal Return
Death Angel, Sonic German Beatdown
Hardcore Superstar, Beg For It
Judas Priest, A Touch of Evil - Live
Risil, Non Meters, Volume 1

Sunday, June 28, 2009


I conducted the following interview with Flipper vocalist Bruce Loose (far left in photo) for an SF Weekly story which will run in a couple of weeks. In the meantime, here's a very lightly edited transcript of our conversation. I've been a Flipper fan since 1983 or 1984, when I was in junior high; they were one of the first punk bands I heard. I started out with the Dead Kennedys and Black Flag, Flipper and the Red Spot compilation, long before hearing anything by the Clash other than "Rock the Casbah," which was on the radio. When the Flipper catalog was reissued on CD and made available through the Amazon MP3 store late last year, I was overjoyed. And their twin new CDs, Love (studio) and Fight (live), are great, a very worthy extension of their artistic legacy. So enjoy this interview, and if you're in California, try to catch them live...they're playing San Francisco's Café du Nord in July, and doing some Warped Tour dates before that.

Is this the SF Weekly?
Yes, is this Bruce?
Yeah. So what’s up? Let’s speak.
Okay, please tell me about your surgery, to start. What was the story there?
Oh, I injured myself in high school gymnastics. It was a simple-looking injury at the time, they didn’t have extreme diagnostics, but they found out it was a total destabilization of my system starting. Over the years of working, various auto accidents, this and that, falling off the stage, things like this, my back just went through normal degenerative disc disease breakdown. I ended up having surgery utilizing three levels of my vertebrae with titanium bars and big screws. They were going to do it to my sacrum but I wouldn’t be able to bend at all if I did that, so they saved me that, but I’m riding on one bad disc there, and I do set off a little nerve pain now and then. But other than that, I’m way better than I’d been for the past ten years, 'cause I was basically in bed for the past ten years, unable to function. There was a large bone spur digging into the lowest level, and they did lamendectomies for that to release the compression. That was basically them taking a little auger, like you’d use with a piece of wood to ream out a hole, and they ream a hole around your nerve. Had they missed, I’d be paralyzed. But they did a good job. So there’s the story in a nutshell of what it is with my back. All these stories of major car accidents and that stuff – no, I’ve just had fender-benders all the time, and lots of lifting accidents. There was a time after the CBGBs [farewell shows], when we were touring with Bruno [DeSmartass], and we were in Providence, Rhode Island, and we were doing soundcheck and I walked right off the edge of the stage. There were no rails up, no colored tape, nothing. And I slammed down on my left leg, which is the one that has the nerve damage in it from the bone spur digging into it, and I hit so hard I knew something dislodged in my back. I went in for further diagnostics and they started me out on trying some sort of a steroid shot, and I responded to that, which meant they could do further investigation. And then I finally went to the UCSF Spine Center and was afraid of surgery for about a year and did shots for about a year until they didn’t work anymore, and then I gave in to the surgery. For me, it was a good thing. It’s restarted my life, rekindled everything. But you know, it’s kind of like a blessing and a curse. Here I was totally bashed up and I’m out pushing myself and there was a little stage fall. Seriously, I mean, you know, what’s a three-foot drop onto one leg? You could do that anytime, right? Well, not in my condition. There it is. That was kind of the final bump that pushed everything, and I’m glad it happened. Cause I’m so much better. They guaranteed me a 50 percent reduction of pain, and I’m sure I’ve gotten at least 85 percent. But the 15 percent that’s there, when it acts up, it’s pretty fuckin’ bad. So what do you do? You just fight through it. Take your medication and go. There’s that story in a nutshell.
Did getting through the surgery and everything give you the impetus to restart the band on a serious level?
Well, it definitely helped facilitate the physical ability for me to continue on in the band. It was getting hard there just before the surgery, it was really getting to be a push, and you know we were pushing to do those recordings with Krist [Novoselic] and doing shows at the same time to help meet costs and everything. And towards the end, right before the surgery, it really felt like the band was torturing me, but they weren’t doing anything other than trying to play. And it’s really being back onstage and having an audience, that’s what really got me back. It was doing that CBGBs show where I had to sit on a stool for 90 percent of the show. That show alone brought back why I do this and why I do what I do and what my fuckin’ stupid purpose in life is, you know?
Tell me about the whole thing with Krist. How did he come to join the band in the first place?
We were just sans a bass player with Bruno needing to step out and do his family and be on a real work schedule, and we were looking around for someone to play. And one of [Flipper drummer] Steve [DePace]’s friends in Seattle mentioned maybe Krist Novoselic would be a good idea. We got hooked up with Krist through Thurston Moore, and it was basically just to do the All Tomorrow’s Parties show in England, but when Krist came down and started rehearsing with us and learning our stuff and understanding where we were coming from, he just kinda popped out an ad-libbed bass line and we all went along with it, and it clicked. We all realized we didn’t have to just be sitting back and doing the same old stuff, becoming a punk rock revue type of band. So that was kind of a thing that affirmed to me that we still have some gumption about us. It could have been any bass player, in my mind, as long as they had pushed us to try. My writing has gotten a little bizarre and conceptual beyond what Steve and Ted could really comprehend what I’m doing – I’ve gotta simplify my stuff down and figure it out. My composing is stuck on some weird jazz level that works with some stuff but not everything. I gotta get out of those scales and go practice some other ones.
The new songs seem less negative than in the past…
Well, things change in life, right? I had one person tell me that I was angrier than ever, but that was the pain screaming through my body. Flipper has always been a means and a device for getting a message to people, and if it’s time to fuckin’ chill down the anger, it’s time to chill down the anger. There’s definitely hope in this world, I mean we may not make it through this bullshit of trying to go green and all this crap – you can’t just build a green society out of nowhere, you gotta go green from the get-go. Whether we all make it through this or not, it doesn’t matter. The time is now and that’s what you fuckin’ do, is what you enjoy. It’s rudimentary, it’s all planted in our brains already, we just need to follow it.
I’m intrigued by the live album, because it also seems to manifest the change you’re talking about. I started listening to you guys in about ’84, when I was still in junior high, but I never saw you live. But a friend of mine saw you play in the ’80s, and when I asked her what it was like, she said “I’ve never been so insulted in my life.” And I’ve also heard about [deceased bassist] Will [Shatter]telling the audience at one show, “The more you heckle us, the longer this song gets.” So are you less interested in battling the audience these days, or are people no longer showing up looking for conflict?
I’m challenging them even more, but I’m taking a different tack. I’m challenging them to have fun, to deal with the situation as it is and have a great time. The last show we just did in Auckland, New Zealand – we just came off a little tour of Australia and New Zealand – the audience was just so into it. They were so open and they came with no pre-concepts. They fed us great energy and that fed into the music and the music feeds me, and it’s magic when it happens. If you’re insulted, you’re insulted. If you get a good time out of it, you get a good time. I’ve noticed that when people come in with preconceptions about what we’re supposed to be and how we’re supposed to sound, those are the people who walk away going “I’ve been insulted,” “I didn’t like the music,” stuff like that. People that walk in open-minded have the best time. There was a young woman that came by in New Zealand, a professional woman, hanging out with her friends, had no idea what she was coming to see, and she was just like – she was so out there with her dancing and everything, and we hung out afterwards, and it was like…getting to know people, it’s a people-to-people exchange. We’re not a fuckin’ band up there trying to be rock stars. If we get there, whatever, fine. The connection is made to the people in the audience. One person at a time per show. I wish it was a hundred. I wish there was a thousand of me, that I could go out and talk to everybody at the shows. It’s hard to spread yourself, but you know…I don’t know what to say. I’m very jubilant about what’s going on right now. I’m having a really good time and expressing that in my stage show. Maybe people will be less insulted. Will was really into trying to take the shit out of the persona that we all think rock-star-ism is supposed to be. I have one friend who’s like, “Yeah, sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll!” He’ll call me up every once in a while like, “Man, I bumped into this chick at the show, we had sex, blah blah blah,” and I’m like, Okay, you had your rock ’n’ roll experience, you happy? It’s ridiculous. Just because you stand up and try and do a little something, people will have preconceptions. It’s funny what people walk away from, or what they think at all, or how they deal with it.
Well, in the ’80s, do you feel like there was a feedback-loop relationship with the hardcore audience, when you were playing with all these bands playing 90-second songs at a thousand miles an hour?
Right. Well, there was a lot of disconnection from the audience. Cause once again, you had an audience of kids that were expecting a certain thing. I found it very interesting that there were some hardcore kids that were very into the scene, but we’d win them over. They were like, “Wow, that was awesome,” or “That was beyond what I was expecting.” That’s always nice, to get a convert every now and then. But for the most part, they wanted only one thing, and they got that. They built that life, they did it DIY, and that’s all fine and wonderful, but where did it go? There’s small cliques that I’ve seen out in the suburbs, little kids in nowhere towns, and they start off with a hardcore scene and I don’t see them go anywhere from that. They don’t progress beyond it, they don’t push themselves to do something different. You find their shit at Hot Topic. To me it’s perplexing.
In a way, hardcore – and this is true of death metal as well – they’re kind of like folk music. They’re people talking to each other, and not talking to anyone else.
That’s an interesting analogy, ’cause folk music to me was just too wimpy in a certain sense. I grew up with late beatnik parents, who were influenced by the late ’50s scene in San Francisco. So they used to take me out to see all this stuff and do all this stuff, and they were always in a folk music club. And every Friday we’d get together with those people, and it seemed like they wanted to communicate but I think it was probably their genre and the medium they used. Last night, I was at a bar and there was an acoustic guitar thing going on, and I could tell the people that were coming up and doing blues and people who were coming up and trying to do some kind of folkie thing – it was just hokey. So that’s an interesting way of putting it. But it’s funny, the last real hardcore show I went to in Concord or Lafayette or someplace like that, I ran into one of these little hardcore cliques that were just sitting there, and who comes strolling along but these guys who called themselves the Rag Time Rebels or something like that. And the girl’s got a washtub bass, just playing a single string with a fuckin’ broomstick, and the guy’s got a mandolin, and they’re playing an acoustic guitar, and they came on after the last hardcore band and just stood up there and played. Nobody asked them to or anything like this, and to me that was more fuckin’ punk than the hardcore acts. They had the gumption to do something that was beyond what was already going on. I don’t necessarily always agree with the “folk-punk,” I guess, but we all live our different lifestyles.
So the old albums are finally out on CD…what took so long? Was there a rights dispute with Subterranean?
It wasn’t just Subterranean, there was also – we just needed to reel in our horses and take control of our recordings. And we basically set up our own publishing, our own record company, as the band. And we make sure that stuff gets out and somebody is printing it up and producing it. That’s what you gotta do. I see a lot of bands that put out their back catalog and after that nobody hears any more about it. So for us it was just getting it together, pulling in loose strings, and that’s when CBGBs called, when we started doing that. We had every intention of always putting that stuff out, it just didn’t get put out by the major labels that promised they would and stuff like this. So forget ’em. Gotta do it yourself.
People I knew were amazed to hear that Gone Fishin’ was finally coming out on CD.
Yeah, well, apparently that one – I didn’t know people liked it as much as they did, ’cause it never had as much vinyl sales with Subterranean in the beginning. But the whole relationship with Subterranean was very convoluted. Stories are all mixed up backwards, and certain aspects aren’t looked at but were done incorrectly. It was a learning experience for everybody. That’s all I can say about that one. The back catalog’s out. There’s evidence enough, we’ve gotta get down to DIY level.
So are you planning on doing national touring this summer?
Well, we had wanted to, but there’s some family complications going on with one of our members right now, so we’ve had to ease up until this situation clears up. We’re definitely out and doing stuff. You don’t put this effort into anything and then just drop it off. But it’s gonna be limited stuff over the summer. And also, that gives me – I’m finally doing the physical therapy that I needed to do because I can do it without a bone spur digging into me, so I’m working on that. And [current Flipper bassist] Rachel [Thoele] and I are getting along really well as a musician partnership, so we’ve got songs to write. So there’s another new Flipper record. You shouldn’t stop just cause you’ve gotta change members and go through this stuff. To me, they’re just private contractors. If it works out, they can join the fold. You work with people you’re doing stuff with. The relationship with me and Rachel’s been a long friendship, and so we kinda understand the same music and stuff. So mostly writing this summer. We do have that show coming up at the Café du Nord. Everybody should come down to that. It’s in our intentions [to tour], but you know, people have to deal with the things they have to deal with. They put up with a great deal with my back, other things can be given way to. It’s not gonna die or just fade off, it never has, it never will. That’s evident with people being happy with the back catalog being available. I hope they like the new stuff. 'Cause for me, it’s my heart’s passion. I was very challenged doing the lyrics for the new album and stuff, honing them in. I’m not completely satisfied with all of them, because I felt it was a short time to work in. Whereas when we worked with Will, we had a long time working on songs, and we would walk in and say we want to record these, having a plethora of songs to pick from. We’d come up with something new with different bass players, there’s a finite amount of limitation and that’s what you’ve gotta do, that’s what you’ve gotta work on. And to me not having the time to – you know, a good couple of years is what it takes you to learn how the delivery of a song is gonna go, what the right feel is, what lyric changes can happen. I’m finding that already with the stuff we did with Novoselic, I’m like Okay, well I’m still changing the lyrics here, still doing a different meter or a rhythm change with my vocals here, stuff like that. It’s just an evolutionary process, that’s what Flipper does. It evolves its stuff rather than trying to push it. So doing these pushed things was kinda strange to me, but give me five years down the road and I’m gonna be very happy with them. Five years too late.
I just wanna ask you one final question, about Will. Because he never really became a T-shirt martyr the way Sid Vicious or GG Allin or Kurt Cobain or Johnny Thunders did, and I’m wondering if you have any thoughts about why that is.
What do you mean, a T-shirt martyr? Like someone who was put on T-shirts that people wear?
Well, maybe people just didn’t get his message of being anti-rock star, which he was very much about. One of the – I think it’s recorded somewhere, but I can’t remember what song it is, but he talked about putting the band on a pedestal and not to do that, because when the pedestal breaks, it’s gonna hurt, and it’s not just gonna hurt you at the base of the pedestal, but it’s gonna hurt the people on top of the pedestal most of all. So I don’t know, you know? That’s a hard one to call. Maybe if he’d survived, he’d be a living icon rather than a dead icon. Maybe it’s crass to do that to somebody, put them out in that manner. I can understand some people who reach a certain level of fame, but look at Bob Marley. He’s on T-shirts everywhere, right? And all of his sons, whether they’re bastards or his real children, are all out trying to do something with the Marley name. And they’re all pretty much untalented, except for Ziggy. It gets really ridiculous. I don’t know what to think about that one either. Will was not the only icon of the band. He wrote, sure, 53 percent of the material versus my 42 and the rest of the band on its own or [guitarist] Ted [Falconi] or whatever. I don’t know what caused that and what didn’t cause that. I think he would probably be adored more if he was a living icon, had he survived, ’cause he was a brilliant lyricist. He came up with some good words and I’m enjoying still using his words, but doing completely different deliveries than what he did. Or refining his deliveries to a point that he either didn’t have the interest or couldn’t do. I don’t know, but it started out with me being the singer and him being the bass player, and slowly it evolved to where we were switching off, and in the end years it was more me playing bass through three quarters of the set and he would just be very ineffectual at the mic.


Friday, June 26, 2009


I really don't have much to say about Michael Jackson. I never owned a copy of Thriller, I think "Smooth Criminal" was the last song of his I liked and even then it was the kind of thing where I'd see the video as I flipped past MTV and say to myself, "Oh yeah, that's not bad," but never even consider actually watching/listening all the way through. I'm always deeply suspicious of the idea that any pop cultural figure is universal or a symbol of anything; sure, 65 million people (or whatever estimate you want to believe) bought Thriller, but that's out of a planet with billions of people on it. No matter how famous you are, somebody's never heard of you. And what did Michael Jackson's music mean? His songs covered standard pop and R&B territory, lyrically speaking; he sang about love, and sex, and dancing, and sometimes he sang those slightly off-putting, gooey charity anthems. I find his most paranoid stuff, songs like "D.S." and "Privacy," somewhat fascinating - but not in a music-I'd-like-to-listen-to-for-pleasure way. As uncharitable as it may seem, what I think of when I think about Michael Jackson is this: Here is someone who proved how high a black man can climb in America, as long as he's an astonishingly talented dancer and willing to (at least publicly) give up being black, or a man.

Actually, I retract that last part: that may well be how Michael Jackson himself saw his situation, but it seems clear that the American public liked him better when he was black. As he got weirder and whiter, his sales dropped.

Read John McWhorter.

Then watch this.

Monday, June 22, 2009


Eight new reviews, with more to follow (including the new Judas Priest, Darkest Hour and Death Angel releases):

As You Drown, Reflection
Graciela Beltran, La Reina de la Banda
Céu, Vagarosa
Darkness Dynamite, The Astonishing Fury of Mankind
Envy/Jesu, Envy/Jesu
Magrudergrind, Magrudergrind
Kim Lenz & the Jaguars, It's All True!
Ted Nugent, Motor City Mayhem


I interviewed Mars Volta guitarist/solo artist Omar Rodriguez-Lopez for the Village Voice website. You can read that here. There was some additional material that was cut for space and/or clarity, though, so here is the complete transcript I submitted:

Tell me a little bit about Octahedron; is it true it was recorded at the same time as The Bedlam in Goliath?
It started that way. I have a tendency to work on records simultaneously, at least two or three at the same time. But when Bedlam started sort of taking off and having its own life and its own problems, I had to abandon Octahedron completely, ’cause it turned into a fuckin’ nightmare of a record to make, and for the first time in my career there was no way I could sustain both projects. So I had to put all my energy into finishing the nightmare that was Bedlam. So when I finished it, I picked back up with Octahedron, and then it all made sense why it just wasn’t meant to be, why I couldn’t do them simultaneously.

A lot of the new songs are very quiet – and am I hearing drum machines?
Yeah, there’s drum machines and sequencers and that sort of stuff on there.

You’ve said that you give the musicians their music with little or no preparation in the studio; is that still your working method?
Yeah, the same this time around. But the interesting thing is, now I’m gonna have to come up with something new, because everybody’s getting used to it, and everybody’s getting really good at it. So on the lighter side, as a result, this record got made in three weeks. Plus the material is easier, it’s a different type of record. But everybody’s gotten used to that sort of gun-in-your-face mentality now, and just learning everything on the spot, and everyone’s settled into something, which is – the reason I started doing that in the first place was so they wouldn’t be settled. So I’m gonna have to start changing my methods of making records somehow.

How many of these new songs are likely to make the live set? Won’t this kind of material change the feeling of your performances, which have been pretty balls-out until now?
I’d like to play most of them if I can. We did one show where we did about half the record the other night, getting used to the songs, but the important thing is, a year or so ago, when we were touring for Bedlam, I realized that our show, as fun as it was and as intense as it was and as energetic as it was, it lacked any real kind of dynamic. You come and see us and it’s three hours of getting punched in the face. So I started throwing an acoustic set in the middle of our show. We had three acoustic songs from the old records, like “Televators” and “Miranda That Ghost Just Isn’t Holy Anymore” and “Asilos Magdalena,” just to break it up. And now with this record, our live show won’t suffer as much, because it’ll have a little of everything and be more dynamic.

Some people really responded well to the relentless, Santana-meets-’70s-Miles feel of the older shows, though.
Definitely, but that can’t go on forever. I’m starting to get bored of that too now. It’s just – my thing has constantly been following my instinct, changing and growing. You know how it is, you do the same thing for too long, you just start to get bored with it. You go to the same coffee shop and have breakfast at the same place, and it’s great for the first months or years or whatever. But at a certain point, you go to the next place around the corner. Everything in life works that way. Unfortunately for fans, the problem is once they’re barely catching on to the one thing they like, the creative person is already on to the next thing, so they get upset at the band. They say, “This is not the band I fell in love with. They should be doing this.” And there’s also the issue of, as human beings, we all want to have control over our lives and control things, so it’s natural that people should feel that they have some sort of control over what we should be doing or playing, and when they realize they don’t, it’s a bit of a letdown.

In a lot of ways, though, Octahedron is the friendliest Mars Volta record since De-Loused. You could really win over new people with this one.
Right, right. Well, I guess it’s just the nature of our approach, which is just to make a completely different-sounding record, and if we were getting more and more unfriendly, to go in the other direction. I never thought of it in those terms, I thought of it more like, what would be the opposite of Bedlam? And if Bedlam was an aggressive record that didn’t stop and was 50 minutes of pure chaos, then I wanted this to be a sort of tranquil, melancholy record, to reflect how I was feeling after finally finishing Bedlam. I had tranquility in my life finally, but it was bittersweet, because as much as I hated making that record, I fell in love with it at the end. I had this twisted sadomasochistic psychology with the record, so Octahedron started to reflect where I was at. And I talked about it awhile ago; even when we were doing interviews for Bedlam, I was talking about Octahedron being almost done, and how it would be more acoustic-inspired. Which of course, when you say something like that, people take it literally, so now they’re like, “This is not acoustic. There are electric drums and blah blah blah.” But it was acoustic-inspired, which means I thought a lot about Nick Drake and Leonard Cohen when I was making the record and conceiving the record. I had their spirits with me, and took that as a springboard to make my record. Plus, I’ve always wanted to explore a record that was more that side of my writing. On every record there’s an acoustic-based song, a song that started acoustic and then I just added layers to it. On De-Loused it’s “Televators,” on Frances it’s “Miranda,” and so on and so forth. So I always thought this would be something cool to explore when I was sick of playing bombastic, in-your-face music. And that’s exactly what ended up happening.

You’ve also got Cryptomnesia out now; when was that recorded?
Cryptomnesia was recorded in the summer of 2006, around the same time I did Old Money. It was a very, very fun record to make. I made that record in five or six days.

Similar working methods?
Yep, just brought the guys into the recording studio, said “Here’s Part One, let’s record it. Here’s Part Two, let’s record it. Here’s Part Three, let’s record it.” The only difference – the big difference, I should say – was having Zach Hill on the drum throne, who’s just a fuckin’ animal, and who like Thomas [Pridgen, Mars Volta drummer] has his own unique style and a photographic memory, so he’s able to just move through everything real quick. And with Zach the whole thing was, he’s into such far-out things and so open to trying things a different way that he didn’t flinch at my process. Normally there’s a growing-pain period when I introduce someone to the concept of, “Okay, here’s a part, learn it right now, we’re recording it.” “What does it belong to? Is it a chorus, a verse, what is it?” “Doesn’t matter, we’re recording it.” Usually there’s a growing pain with learning how it all works or why we’re doing it this way. But Zach’s an animal, he’s just like “Okay.” Learn the part, record it, do the next one. Just complete faith, complete work flow. It was a lot of fun. I made three records out of that session with that set of musicians, and we also did some actual collaborative work that we hope to put out one day too.

You have three times as many solo albums as Mars Volta albums. In what way can the Mars Volta be said to be your primary band?
In the way that I take it all home, I refine ideas and I save the best of the best of the best. Solo records are homework, and when I get to the best of the best or the core of what I’m trying to do, then I utilize that in the Mars Volta. I try out all my ideas in my solo stuff. That being said, I don’t compose thinking, this is a solo song, this is for the Volta. I just compose constantly. I’m constantly trying new things, and when it’s time to focus on the Mars Volta, out of three hundred songs I pick the eight songs or ten songs that I’m most interested to focus on, and I pull those out. And I take all the knowledge I’ve gained by recording these three hundred songs, what worked and what didn’t, and I apply it to my newest Mars Volta recording. So it’s like getting through all the mistakes and happy accidents and getting to the root of it all. And even then, I still make a lot of mistakes along the way that I end up learning from. But it’s a way of burning through my ideas. Going through stuff, getting bored of it, and getting to a place where I feel in my mind like I’m doing something fresh. Fresh for me, as a creative person.

Sunday, June 21, 2009


Adventurous musician Jessica Lurie gets vocal about her new recording

Vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Jessica Lurie plays the way she talks. Or maybe it's the other way around. In conversation, her ideas loop around a subject, approaching it from several complementary angles in rapid succession. And on her new album, Shop of Wild Dreams, her melodies and saxophone solos unfurl in skirling arcs, wending within the ensemble sound rather than floating atop it, like a silk ribbon being pulled along the bed of a quickly moving stream.
The Jessica Lurie Ensemble combines tunes that clearly hail from a jazz mindset with others that are less easy to categorize. Half the new album actually showcases the Brooklyn-based Seattle transplant's vocals.
"When you bring the human voice in, people can latch on to it," asserts Lurie, who plays tenor and alto saxophones, flute, accordion and baritone ukelele on the recording. "I feel like people understand my music better in some way. Or it's like the vocals prepare them to listen to other things in my set."

With a tone that resides somewhere between Norah Jones and Gillian Welch, Lurie's vocal delivery is gentle, nearly diffident, but genuinely swings. "I Don't Care If I Don't Care," the second track on Shop of Wild Dreams, is almost a duet between her voice and Allison Miller's drumming, which is simultaneously funky and melodic.
"I prefer to look at jazz as a very non-static form that's changing as the world becomes smaller and there are all these influences from all over the place," Lurie says. "If you wanna have jazz stop at 1952, post-bop, or say, 'As soon as Coltrane died [in 1967], that's it,' then it's hard for a lot of musicians today. Because I think a lot of players are coming from the jazz idiom and using it as a way to launch into other things. My new record has a bunch of jazz elements, but it's got Eastern European stuff and Afro-Cuban stuff. And while you can definitely put me in a jazz club, I can go into the jam-band festivals, too."
Indeed she can. Lurie's band on Shop of Wild Dreams - a working group when she's in town - features electric guitarist Brandon Seabrook, keyboardist Erik Deutsch, bassist and album co-producer Todd Sickafoose and drummer Miller. The ensemble shifts among funk, jazz, folk (Seabrook plunks banjo on a few tracks) and ethnic melodies reminiscent of klezmer-jazz and Balkan-jazz hybrids by artists like Steve Bernstein. They also employ the winding, angular grooves of Tim Berne.
"A lot of melodies that I create are in some ways a folk approach," Lurie notes. "I like melodies that can go on that longer road. It's like a song you're singing that doesn't have to be square. There's no reason for it to fall into some prescribed building-block [pattern]. You can let it wander where it needs to go and it'll bring you back to the top of the hill."
Lurie's hat-tip to the jam-band scene seems sincere; her jazz-funk trio, the Living Daylights, crossed her over to audiences at large outdoor festivals - a zone where many jazz players have found welcoming ears of late. "We toured around the country for 10 years," Lurie says of the Daylights, who emerged from Seattle in the 1990s. "And within that category of 'jam band,' whatever that means, there's a lot of players like Charlie Hunter and Karl Denson, who's [recorded for] Blue Note but also plays with Lenny Kravitz. There's a fair amount of jazz players that got swept up in that scene. One thing I've definitely noticed about the jam-band scene is that it's a bunch that really gets on the Internet and starts talking about players. There's an interested population, even if they're not into jazz music per se."

Friday, June 19, 2009


Following a last minute visa issue totally avoidable fuckup that forced the band to sit out Blackenedfest, Swedish black metallers MARDUK, their visas securely in hand shit together at last, have scheduled the following US tour dates with support from Withered and Black Anvil. Said guitarist Morgan Håkansson, “We are excited to finally be over in the States and do these shows after all the problems with the visas. The three shows in August are just the start. We are preparing for a full tour in the winter that will cover all the areas we missed on Blackenedfest. Please join us as we raise the Banner Of The Wolf!”

MARDUK Confirmed Dates:
8/12/2009 Sonar - Baltimore, MD
8/13/2009 Johnny Brenda's - Philadelphia, PA
8/15/2009 Gramercy Threatre - New York, NY also w/Tombs

I remain skeptical.


Guy loses his lunch to a hawk - in an East Village restaurant.

Thursday, June 18, 2009


Knock knock
Who's there?
Philip who?
Knock knock
Who's there?
Knock knock
Who's there?
Philip who?
Philip who?
Knock knock
Who's there?
Philip who?
Knock knock
Who's there?
Knock knock
Who's there?
Philip who?
Philip who?
Philip who?
Philip who?
Philip Glass

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


Here's the aforementioned Q&A with Terrance Hobbs. Lots of interesting stuff here, I think.

Westword (Phil Freeman): This is a headlining tour for you guys, right?
Terrance Hobbs: It's a co-headliner with Necrophagist, so either they'll be the last band or we will. We'll be flip-flopping, or something like that. So it's considered to be headlining.

WW: Will you be alternating nights, or flipping a coin, or something?
TH: That's what I've been told, but who knows what'll happen. It's metal, you know how it goes. Everything's always up in the air till the last minute.

WW: Can you just run through a general history of the band, for those who aren't familiar with you?
TH: We came out with our first CD at the end of 1989, beginning of 1990, the Human Waste EP. We did that on Relapse. Then in 1991, we came out with Effigy Of The Forgotten on Roadrunner Records; pretty much everybody who was into death metal and stuff like that knows about that record. In 1993, we put out Breeding The Spawn, pretty much our worst-produced record ever. But every now and then we'll re-record a song from it on a new record, just to make sure we can get the production value out, 'cause the music was good, it was just the production was terrible.
Then in '96, we came out with Pierced From Within, with a little bit different lineup; [drummer] Mike Smith wasn't in the band at the time. Then in 1998, we made another EP, after getting dropped from Roadrunner, which wasn't the greatest thing in the world for us. And pretty much after that, because the scene was in such shambles and we were having a hard time doing what we wanted to do as musicians, the band kinda disbanded after the Despise The Sun EP.
Then around 2004, our singer, who had moved away from New York, married, had kids, blah blah blah, turned around and decided he wanted to still play, so he called me up and the other guys and we've been back together pretty much ever since. We put out our first comeback album, which was Souls To Deny, and right after that, maybe two years later, we came out with our self-titled album. And the newest one, which'll be being sold when we come out there, is Blood Oath.

WW: You also did a self-released live album, right?
TH: Yeah, we probably won't have that at our shows this time, but it'll be distributed by Relapse and Sony, which is good. That one was recorded up in Quebec, in Canada.

WW: It was called The Close Of A Chapter - can you explain the title?
TH: We had never done a live album ever, so it was the close of a chapter for us -- other than the DVD, which'll be coming out soon, we've pretty much covered the majority of the bases from recording for a decade to turning around and making a live record. Also, we had been playing so many shows, playing that set so often, and coming out with a new record, that was the other reason for that.

WW: I thought it might have had something to do with the end of your Relapse deal.
TH: No, Relapse is still pretty cool. We put that out ourselves, and the Nuclear Blast contract had nothing to do with the live record, so Relapse offered to put it out, so we said 'That's great, you guys go right ahead.' It keeps the availability, which is great, because it's hard to even get the Roadrunner albums out there to the fans, you know? It's something to help keep us rolling along. Relapse was a decent label, I can't ever really say anything bad about them. They really pushed us to a certain degree. I think Nuclear Blast is doing a better job of it, but we'll see. That comes with time.

WW: The band's sound has always combined really skilled lead guitar playing and complex time signatures with extremely heavy breakdowns that sound influenced by New York hardcore. Can you explain how that blend came together?
TH: Absolutely. I've been here in New York my whole life, living maybe forty minutes outside New York, and a lot of the hardcore bands you might know of, like, let's say Cro-Mags, Agnostic Front, Sick Of It All, Merauder, Madball, Biohazard and so on, all those bands are very much part of the scene out here in New York. Us being death metal, it's a little bit different, but I guess it kinda rubbed off on us, or maybe it rubbed off on them, I can't really say, but there's common ground among all the bands out here with the breakdowns and stuff. I mean, most people can make that connection, because it's all based on us being part of the same scene out here in New York. Cause you know, you still hear serious metal riffs in some of the hardcore bands today, and vice versa. A lot of that had to do with the fact that we all grew up in the same scene. If I went to see a Cro-Mags show, there would be Destruction playin' along with 'em, and there was a big congregation of metalheads and skinheads and hardcore kids, and that really rubbed off on everybody's writing styles and the way we portray ourselves live.

WW: So you feel separate from, say, Florida bands or California bands?
TH: Yeah, absolutely. Most of the bands that were up here that decided to go down to Florida, like Deicide and Cannibal Corpse, they started here with us around the same time. But I guess for a band, the cheaper cost of living was better, so they all picked up and moved down there and obviously at that point, Florida was the big metal mecca in the United States. So everybody went down to record with Scott Burns and Colin Richardson. But for us, we're New York death metal and we'll always be in New York, that's just part of who we are. But Florida was the big thing, man.

WW: How did you first get into metal? Who inspired you as a fan and as a player?
TH: I started playing guitar when I was fourteen, and as soon as I got a guitar in my hands I was like Wow, this is a whole different world for me. I took to it a lot. In most dance music you don't hear guitar, so it was uninteresting to me unless it got heavy. So I started getting into the heavier stuff like Black Sabbath and Ozzy Osbourne and Yngwie Malmsteen, and of course Slayer and Metallica and the list goes on and on, you know? I could actually hear the guitars and what was going on, so that was like gold. It made me want to just sit down and play even more.
To this day, that stuff's still in my playing, in my style, and I believe everybody else in the band was brought up on that kind of music. In school, we had cliques of metalheads and cliques of punks and hardcore kids, so I was always exposed to all kinds of music, from Minor Threat and Uniform Choice to Slayer and Cryptic Slaughter, Ozzy and Dio to Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin. It just went across the board. So from what I could hear and decipher, being a young kid, those were the things that really led me into playing this kind of music.

WW: Do you think the racial and ethnic mixing of New York helped as well, and is that something unique to the East Coast, in your mind?
TH: For me, not necessarily. I couldn't really speculate unless I lived [somewhere else], but we always find people of different ethnicities in every city coming to the shows. There'll be some black people and Puerto Rican people and Mexican people and this, that and the other thing. They still come out to the shows and it's kind of refreshing to realize that it's not a one-race genre kind of thing that's going on in this music. I'm pretty fortunate to be able to talk to some of those people when they come out to the shows and they let us know that what we're doing is right.
But being in New York and having all the different races and ethnicities coming together and listening to music, it had a lot to do with me choosing what my style was going to be. I always liked the guitar solos, I always liked the breakdowns and fast grinding stuff, I always listened to thrash metal and things of that nature, and a lot of my friends out here were into it too. We'd all go out to the clubs and see whatever metal band was out there. It's an underground scene and we were very much part of it. Regardless of whether we were playing or not, we would go out and see people and hang out.

WW: The guys who were in the band from the beginning - were you friends from early days, or did you meet up when the band formed?
TH: What happened was, when I was about sixteen or seventeen, Frank Mullen, who is our singer to this day, he had moved from a different school district to the one I was in. And it turned out we had a lot in common 'cause we liked to listen to heavy music. So we had started trying to put together little groups under various names -- there were so many of them I couldn't even begin to tell you. But from that point we started playing battles of the bands at schools on Long Island, so him being from a different school district, we were able to go play there, and that's how I met Mike. Frank had gone to school with Mike and had known Mike, but coming to school with me and knowing me got us to play those battles of the bands and meet each other. And we've known each other since then, and always been friends.

WW: What's your role in songwriting? Do you work on lyrics or just focus on the music?
TH: I stick my nose in a little bit of everything, although on this latest record I tried to ease back a little bit, because I wanted the newer guys to be able to write more. After six albums, I don't expect everybody to want to buy the same record over and over again.
But if we write up some lyrics, I'll have something to say about structuring them or how we play them, and so would Derek [Boyer, bass], so would Mike, so would Guy [Marchais, guitar]. All of us stick our noses in where it doesn't belong. Like I would say, 'Hey Mike, can you play the drums like this,' even though I'm not the drummer, and he'll say, 'Terrance, can you play the guitar like this,' even though he's not the guitar player.
The same goes for the lyrics. There's always a little bit of input lyrically from me as well as from the other guys, and musically I'm always sticking my nose in, because that's my job. It's a big process; some of us write songs on our own, some of us write songs together, all of us write as a group as well. We all experiment a lot in the creative process and how to do things. If somebody has a good idea then we usually just roll with it.

WW: How do you see the new album moving your sound forward?
TH: Well, production quality-wise it's the best thing we've ever done, for sure. There was a lot of time spent on the lyrics, a lot of time spent on the actual musicianship, a lot of time spent on the album cover, so I feel it's a really, really tight package. As far as moving us ahead of the game, I'm not so sure. I mean, I would love to be a huge, giant band that everybody recognizes, but it's staying true to the roots of what Suffocation always was, which is a very heavy, aggressive breakdown type of band from New York. That's exactly what you're getting on the new album. Still, you can take it and compare it to every single record we have and you'll hear how much it blows them away. I'm pretty proud of it.

WW: Is there one song from Blood Oath that you would play for a brand-new listener and say, "This is my band"?
TH: Well, out of all the songs my favorite would be 'Images Of Purgatory.' It shows everything of the band; it shows some of the technicality, some of the breakdowns, the guitar work, the rhythmic part of it, and for us, that is really the main thing, just trying to portray ourselves in the correct light. If I was to give any song to somebody to listen to, I would say take 'Images Of Purgatory' first. Not that any of the other songs on the record are bad, but that one gives you a good overall sense of what we are.

WW: In the early days, it seems like death metal bands sounded really different from each other -- Cannibal Corpse didn't sound anything like Obituary, who didn't sound anything like Incantation. Do you think the style has become somewhat uniform?
TH: Yeah, absolutely. I think a lot of bands are starting to sound the same, especially now that it's a lot easier for bands to record their music at home via Pro Tools or any other type of recording program that's out there for a computer. So a band like Obituary, that was much slower and stood out on their own, or a Cannibal Corpse that stood out on their own, those are the ones that I listen to the most, because they're the most original to me.
A lot of new bands coming out are following that same vibe that everybody else is. The metalcore thing is huge, so you're hearing a lot of metalcore bands that are a dime a dozen. The death metal bands you hear now are all blood and guts and gore and Satan, so that becomes a little bit sterile, for me anyway. Personally, I stick with the old school death metal. I love my old school Pestilence, I love old Morbid Angel, I like Kreator, and all those bands are the ones I pay attention to the most.

WW: At the same time, you tour with a lot of younger bands, so who's impressing you?
TH: Well, I'll be honest with you, I like Whitechapel, and I definitely am liking Veil Of Maya, as far as metalcore-ish bands go. In death metal, I'm gonna go with Krisiun, just because they just rip your ass right the fuck out, and Psycroptic. Amazing band, really love 'em, I think that they're one of those new bands that don't fall into the category of sounding exactly like the next band. They're unbelievable, and they're great people. I can't say anything bad about 'em. I'm looking forward to playing with them again, maybe even hopefully get down to Australia and Tasmania, play some gigs in their home towns.

WW: Finally, you guys performed in a commercial for the History Channel in 2007, for their show on the Dark Ages. How did that happen?
TH: That's really funny. They had put out some type of advertisement, I guess, looking for a metal band in the New York area that would be willing to come out, maybe dress up in a little bit of garb. They wanted the heaviest thing they could find for something called The Dark Ages, which they figured would go hand in hand with the extreme metalness. They called us up, we happened to be free, one thing led to another and the next thing you know, we're in the middle of New York City, filming in front of this crazy camera crew. You know, we're underground, we'd never seen anything like that. It was really cool, and it was a really good learning experience for us, as far as how we really should be portrayed. It gave us a chance, which was really cool.


[From Westword.]

[I believe they're also gonna run the full transcript of my Q&A with Suffocation guitarist Terrance Hobbs (at far right in photo); if and when that pops up, I'll put it here as well.]

Suffocation is still deadly after all these years

Twenty years is a long time to do anything, but that's how long Terrance Hobbs has been playing guitar for New York-based death-metal legends Suffocation — well, aside from a five-year group hiatus between 1999 and 2004. Suffocation is about to release its sixth full-length studio album, Blood Oath, which inaugurates a brand-new deal with Nuclear Blast Records, and it's also headlining a major national tour alongside German tech-death freaks Necrophagist.

Suffocation's unique sound combines intricate lead guitar work from Hobbs and complex, polyrhythmic drumming by Mike Smith with churning, powerful breakdowns reminiscent of hardcore bands like the Cro-Mags and Agnostic Front; all the while, frontman Frank Mullen barks and roars. A lot of metal vocalists get compared to Cookie Monster, but Mullen's version is hilariously flawless. "We all grew up in the same scene," Hobbs remembers. "If I went to see a Cro-Mags show, there would be Destruction playin' along with 'em, and there was a big congregation of metalheads and skinheads and hardcore kids, and that really rubbed off on everybody's writing styles and the way we portray ourselves live."

Something else that separates Suffocation from the pack is the band's racial makeup: Hobbs and Smith are both African-American. "Being in New York and having all the different races and ethnicities coming together and listening to music had a lot to do with me choosing what my style was going to be," Hobbs says. Growing up, he listened to Minor Threat and Uniform Choice along with Yngwie Malmsteen, Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin, and that combination of influences makes Suffocation's music unique, not only among the pair's old-school death-metal peers, but within an increasingly cookie-cutter "extreme" music scene. Hobbs says much modern death metal strikes him as "a little bit sterile," but he sticks up for Tasmania's Psycroptic and Brazil's Krisiun, who he says "just rip your ass right the fuck out."

As far as his own career is concerned, Hobbs is realistic. "I would love to be a huge, giant band that everybody recognizes," he says, but admits that Blood Oath is unlikely to make them into mainstream superstars. The disc is "true to the roots of what Suffocation always was, which is a very heavy, aggressive breakdown type of band from New York. That's exactly what you're getting on the new album. Still, you can take it and compare it to every single record we have, and you'll hear how much it blows them away."


The original vocal track to Katy Perry's "I Kissed A Girl" laid over a power metal instrumental. Awesome. (Solos - guitar and keyboard - begin at 3:35.)


Two reviews of Skeletons, the new album by teen indie band Tiny Masters of Today, appeared online a consumer, I'm confused!

"So much current music inspired by the punk movement falls prey to easy formulas and predictable tropes. Tiny Masters of Today separate themselves from the pack due to their willingness to experiment, and not simply due to their age... The novelty factor of age will understandably follow the group, as it has become a key facet of their identity in the public eye. However, since this is their second album, the band deserves to move beyond novelty status... There seems (sic) to be simultaneous, contradictory impulses at work on Skeletons: the desire to move beyond kiddie novelty status and the desire to confront the challenges of youth. The filters on many of the tracks mask Ada’s vocals in such a way that one might think she’s a twenty-something woman. However, song titles like 'Abercrombie Zombie' and lyrics about bullies find the band simply trying to find their place in a grown-up world... Each song on Skeletons is an exercise in brevity that suits the spartan lyrical approach and punk spirit... On 'Real Good,' as on the rest of the album, the band exhibits a deft ability to avoid driving a hook into the ground. Songs are over before they have a chance to grate... the level of taste on display throughout Skeletons remains high." - Craig Carson, Popmatters

"It is easy to overrate music made by kids. First and foremost: the "they are pretty good for their age!" factor, which can override critical faculties and make us forgive the sort of artistic decisions we'd normally find boring or annoying in the work of adults... Nevertheless, if we're being very honest, the music made by children and young teenagers is almost always awful, and the Tiny Masters of Today, despite being signed to an EMI label, are not an exception to the rule... [T]he level of musicianship on the record is adequate, and at least on the same level as countless mediocre punk and indie bands... They are impressive only in comparison to a) other kids their age who have not somehow been encouraged to become a full-time touring band by hipster stage parents, and b) their least-inspired adult contemporaries. At their best, the Tiny Masters provide self-conscious kiddy variations on vaguely arty strains of punk and alt-rock, but there is very little practical use for this music besides causing adults to go, "awww, cute!" The lyrics are predictably banal and laughable, the vocals are uniformly flat and insecure. The melodies are not bad, but they are simplistic and mostly have the irritating cadences of playground chants and jingles. (Truly, much of the album sounds like a series of homemade Mountain Dew ads.)... It does not matter how old the authors may be - this is very shallow, unengaging music, and it is hard to imagine anyone truly caring about any of these songs." - Matthew Perpetua, Pitchfork

OK, I admit it: this is an album I wouldn't listen to on a dare. I imagine its target audience to be entirely composed of people who look like the lead couple in the movie Away We Go. I just found the stark contrast intriguing - and truth be told, it becomes even more stark if you read both reviews in their entirety.

Monday, June 15, 2009


The jazz business being what it is, Jazziz has gone quarterly. I've got three reviews in the brand-new summer issue, which is the first on the new schedule; consequently, some of these albums have been out for awhile. Anyway, here they are.

Decade (Doxy/Emarcy)
Clifton Anderson is not only Sonny Rollins' touring trombonist, he's also the saxophone legend's nephew. Decade, Anderson's second recording as a leader, appears on Rollins' Doxy label, and Rollins gets an executive producer's credit. About the only thing Rollins doesn't do is turn up for a guest solo. Nevertheless, the album offers some return on listeners' investment - about 40 percent worth, in fact.
Decade's 10 tracks are divided between two bands. Six tracks feature pianist Larry Willis, bassist Bob Cranshaw and drummer Al Foster, while the other four place Stephen Scott, Christian McBride and Steve Jordan in those positions, respectively. The latter band offers a more aggressive and stylistically adventurous approach, playing at a breakneck pace on album closer "Stubbs" (which also boasts alto-sax work from guest artist Kenny Garrett), and stripping down to a yearning piano/trombone duo on "We'll Be Together Again."
Throughout the album, Anderson's playing is smooth and thoughtful, with plenty of swing and almost no extraneous adults-in-Charlie-Brown-world wah-wah-ing. Unfortunately, on more than half the album, his band brings little to the table beyond technical facility. Yes, Cranshaw and Foster are great players, as proven by their mammoth discographies. But they sleepwalk through this session, swinging by reflex rather than from the heart. As a result, tracks like "I'm Glad There Is You," "Deja-Blu" and "I'm Old Fashioned" become mere background music. Without doubt, this Decade belongs to the younger rhythm team of McBride and Jordan.

Metamorphosen (Marsalis Music)
On the Branford Marsalis Quartet's Metamorphosen, the leader alternates among tenor, soprano and alto saxophones, his tone and phrasing on each instrument conjuring nothing so much as an angry bug trapped inside a light fixture. The album's at its best when it showcases the other members of the quartet, who have been playing as a unit for 10 years.
Pianist Joey Calderazzo contributes two compositions, as does drummer Jeff "Tain" Watts, while bassist Eric Revis is credited with three. The lone Marsalis tune, "Jabberwocky," marks his first recording on alto in 20 years, but Calderazzo and Revis are the standout performers on that track. Album opener "The Return of the Jitney Man" - a Watts composition that also leads the drummer's recent self-titled recording - is an upbeat, rhythmically complx yet hard-swinging fanfare, the kind of performance guaranteed to kick off a live set in roaring, vibrant style. The final track, Watts' "Samo©," does something similar, bringing the album full circle.
In between, an interpretation of Monk's "Rhythm-a-Ning" exaggerates the original's stuttering feel to ultimately distracting effect, while the album's final third is dominated by two intense tracks - Calderazzo's wistful "Last Goodbye" and Revis' three-minute solo bass turn, "And Then, He Was Gone." The performances on these two pieces provide album highlights, recalling the John Coltrane Quartet circa Crescent.

The Lovers, the Dreamers and Me (Concord)
The title of vocalist Jane Monheit's latest album cribs a line from "Rainbow Connection," a song from 1979's Muppet Movie with which she closes the disc. Along the way, she revisits a variety of moody material, from BIlly Barnes' noirish "Something Cool" to Fran Landesman and Tommy Wolf's melancholy "Ballad of the Sad Young Men." Unfortunately, she seems out of her depth.
Monheit's vocal technique primarily consists of gliding from phrase to phrase, as though half-asleep. Perhaps her lowered eyes in the CD booklet photos aren't contrived. If Monheit's delivery on "This Girl's in Love With You" is any indication, she could well be narcoleptic. This does a disservice to the lyricists whose work she essays. Fiona Apple is one of the smartest, most idiosyncratic singer-songwriters in contemporary pop, and to reduce "Slow Like Honey" to a drawling crawl strips the original of its weird, unsettling appeal. Similarly, Paul Simon's genius is as much about rhythm as vocabulary, but Monheit's take on "I Do It for Your Love" is all wafting strings and delicate tap-tap-tap cymbal work from drummer Antonio Sanchéz; she transforms Simon's portrait of domestic bliss into a fugue of ennui.
Backing musicians - including ringers such as vibes master Stefon Harris, guitarist Peter Bernstein and saxophonist Seamus Blake - do what they can, but the arrangements smother them. Tempos range from ballad to dirge, and Monheit seems reluctantly roused. Ultimately, The Lovers is too enervating even for background music.


Here are the previously promised links to new AMG reviews. Excited? You're welcome.

Iwrestledabearonce, It's All Happening
Molotov Solution, The Harbinger
Sworn Enemy, Total World Domination
Roberto Tapia, El Niño de la Tuna

Saturday, June 13, 2009


Somebody I follow on Twitter pointed in the direction of this K-Punk tirade, which I would have gotten around to soon enough (he's one of my regular stops as a reader). As always, he's got a few very good points in general, but my first and most visceral response is "Gee, sorry you live in England."

I say with total confidence that the decade we've just lived through will be recognised - and not in the far distant future, but very soon - as the worst period for (popular) culture since the 1950s: a decadent, despondent dead zone in which conformity was rebranded - in the media's lickspittle jester prattle - as 'light, upbeat, irreverent'.
The key to that statement is the parenthetically shielded word "popular," an endlessly mobile goalpost; any given eruption of awesomeness can be rejected as insufficiently omnipresent, thus leaving his despondent thesis intact. So if I point out, for example, the terrific and genuinely adventurous and forward-looking metal and jazz records I've been listening to lately (Steve Lehman's Travail, Transformation and Flow, Dodsferd's Suicide and the Rest of Your Kind Will Follow), well obviously neither of those is likely to sell more than 5000 copies worldwide, so what kind of cultural impact can they be expected to make? But of course the other important part is the whole "worst...since the 1950s" bit, a statement which no American could ever make with a straight face. The mind-crushing brilliance of American popular culture in the 1950s is not even open for debate: Elvis, Jerry Lee, Little Richard, Miles, Ornette, Monk...I'll stop there and let you keep the list going on your own. Unfortunately (for the English, not me), I say without exaggeration that I cannot name one British musician of the 1950s.

I spend a lot of time listening to music recorded, if not before I was born, certainly before I started listening to music in any kind of conscious way. I was born at the very end of 1971, but the vast majority of the rock records I listen to for pleasure (this is separate from the floods of new stuff I listen to because I'm being paid to do so, a sizable percentage of which I wind up liking and returning to) were recorded between 1968 and 1977. I believe that rock music peaked between 1969 and 1975, that it's been all downhill since then, and yes that includes punk.

AC/DC, Aerosmith, Alice Cooper, the Allman Brothers Band (nothing post-Duane), Bad Company, Beck Bogert & Appice, Black Oak Arkansas, Black Sabbath, Black Widow, Blue Cheer, Buffalo, Cactus, Captain Beyond, Cream, Deep Purple, the Doors, Emerson Lake & Palmer, the Faces, Foghat, Free, Funkadelic (Westbound era only), Rory Gallagher, Genesis, Grand Funk Railroad, Granicus, Groundhogs, Hawkwind, Jimi Hendrix, Randy Holden, Humble Pie, James Gang, Josefus, King Crimson (1972-74 only), Kiss, Led Zeppelin, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Frank Marino & Mahogany Rush, MC5, Molly Hatchet, Montrose, Mott the Hoople, Mountain, November, Ted Nugent, Pink Floyd (Meddle through Animals), Elvis Presley (his '70s albums are great), Radio Birdman, Savoy Brown, Bob Seger, Sir Lord Baltimore, the Stooges, Styx (first four albums only), Ten Years After, Thin Lizzy, George Thorogood & the Destroyers, Toe Fat, Robin Trower, UFO, Uriah Heep, Van der Graaf Generator, West Bruce & Laing, Wishbone Ash, Yes (The Yes Album through Going for the One), Neil Young & Crazy Horse, and ZZ Top...this is what I listen to, this is music I believe has no contemporary equal (don't even get me started on modern-day so-called "stoner rock" bands). Do I consider myself a nostalgist? Well, maybe...when K-Punk writes this:

In this present which is so given over to pastiche, pointing to previous historical moments can act as a resistance to pervasive, normalised nostalgia. The present is not necessarily the modern; that is the postmodern condition reduced to a formula. The correct perspective on the past in this respect can only be got at by considering it as a rival (to the) present. Imagine the two moments as competing presents, as it were laid out side by side: which one would you choose?

I find myself nodding in agreement. I would choose, indeed have chosen, from a purely musical standpoint, to live in an imaginary 1974 rather than a real 2009, however much pleasure I may derive from Amon Amarth or Lady Gaga. Would I actually wish to be an adult, aware and functioning in society, in 1974 America? I doubt it; technological advancements circa 2009 play a disproportionate role in the shaping of my daily life (work, leisure, even companionship to a degree). But more importantly, because it returns us to the point I made in my first paragraph: would I like to live in England circa 1974? I think the answer to that would be "Fuck no." There are other countries besides America in which I could quite happily live: Sweden, for one. But the UK is pretty thoroughly unappealing even today, and the so-called "culture" it produces is frankly horrifying. The half-decade or so window I delineated above was the last time England produced a large quantity of music worth hearing; even the bands they offered in the 1980s (Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Motörhead, the Police) had mostly gotten their start in the 1970s, with Napalm Death, Fudge Tunnel and Godflesh being the exceptions, and the 1990s and beyond have been a near-total wash (exceptions: Coldplay, Muse, the Music, Radiohead, a couple of retro thrash bands on Earache Records). So yeah, if K-Punk is extremely dissatisfied with the state of the culture, it's not surprising. He should fly over here for awhile. Maybe it'll perk him up a bit. I mean, when you're reduced to grasping onto the Marks (Smith and Stewart) as heroes, you're in more trouble than you realize.

Friday, June 12, 2009


I had an "I Don't Get It" moment this week when it was time to review the debut album by Iwrestledabearonce. They're a Louisiana band that mixes grindcore/death metal with half-assed attempts at jazzy prog-rock, throws in little bursts of electro, and has a female singer who goes back and forth between Cookie Monster roaring and sub-Evanescence emoting. It's one of the worst things I've ever heard, and it's in the Billboard Top 200 this week. I know that in 2009, that probably means it sold just over 1000 copies, but still, that's about 994 too many (I'm willing to grant a dispensation for each bandmember's mom buying one). Here are two of their videos.

And now, to atone for that, here's a video for my favorite Arch Enemy song.


Five more reviews from All Music Guide:

Artillery, When Death Comes
Job For A Cowboy, Ruination
Joe Morris, Wildlife
Roberto Tapia, Los Amigos del M
Träd, Gräs och Stenar, Homeless Cats

(Coming soon: Iwrestledabearonce, Molotov Solution, Sworn Enemy, and one more by Roberto Tapia. I turned in a review of the new Wisin y Yandel, but they seem to have double-assigned that one...weird.)

Wednesday, June 10, 2009


Faith No More opens their first reunion show, at London's Brixton Academy, with Mike Patton and Roddy Bottum duetting on Peaches & Herb's "Reunited."


[Here's the SF Weekly piece for which I conducted the Steve Albini interview a little further down the page.]

Renowned audio engineer Steve Albini has spent most of the last two decades running hundreds of recording sessions out of Chicago's Electrical Audio studios. Music geeks know about his work on totemic alternative rock albums like Nirvana's In Utero, PJ Harvey's Rid of Me, and most of the Jesus Lizard's '90s catalog. But young independent musicians wouldn't be lining up at his doorstep if Albini's work with his own bands, from Big Black to Rapeman to Shellac, weren't so stellar.

Shellac, which released its fourth full-length, Excellent Italian Greyhound, in 2007, plays minimalist rock that's noisy without being noise-rock. The group is frequently instrumental, but just as capable of affecting balladry and arty, complex structures. The aggression of the ranting "My Black Ass," which opened the group's 1994 debut album, At Action Park, is matched by the introspective explorations of "Didn't We Deserve a Look at You the Way You Really Are," the first track off 1998's Terraform. Albini plays guitar like he's cutting the strings with tin snips, while Bob Weston's muscular basslines bounce like telephone cables. Behind them, Todd Trainer thumps the drums with a hard rock groove and a Neanderthal single-mindedness.

Live, the band members are showmen without making a big deal of it. Most sets include a Q&A with the audience while Albini tunes his trademark Travis Bean aluminum guitar, and songs frequently mutate. "There's a large improvisation element," he explains. "We play different notes, I sing different words ... literally every thing about [a song] is substantially different, but we still think of it as the same song."

The band also tends to present unreleased material onstage. Seven years passed before Excellent Italian Greyhound succeeded its immediate predecessor, 1000 Hurts, but many of the songs on Excellent had been fixtures of the live set for years. There's material in the hopper in '09, though no plans to record just yet. "We want to make sure we're not making some mistaken choice just for the expedience of getting something recorded," Albini says. "We want to make sure that the stuff we're playing holds up."

Albini applies the same approach to the studio work he does for other artists. He prides himself on not exerting undue influence over the bands he records, preferring to trust that they know best what their music should sound like. "If you go to the barber to get your hair cut, you should be able to tell the barber how you want your hair cut," he says. "And when a band comes in the studio, they should tell me how they want their record to come out."

He's also defiantly analog, recording on tape instead of into Pro Tools, and eschews the artificially loud mixes that have ruined much modern rock — the result being that while radio probably won't play most of the albums he produces, the musicians and their fans will. "The band will have that record in their legacy, and they should be able to be proud of it," he says.

This straightforward, old-school approach has earned Albini a sterling reputation and helped Electrical Audio stay recession-proof. While it seems that everywhere you look these days, someone is crying bitter tears over the slow-motion death of the music industry, Albini doesn't seem worried about his end of the business. His clients are independent bands and labels, and he also earns "a very small amount of money from big labels putting out big-scale records. So we haven't really been affected by the collapse of the bigger, mainstream music industry."

As Albini points out, he's part of a larger network of artists who take responsibility for their own success — the musicians promoting their work on MySpace and Facebook, the clubs providing stages to tiny bands that will never break out of their local scene, yet persist nonetheless. And as long as those acts can pay the surprisingly small fee he charges ($700 a day for engineering, $400 to $600 per day for studio time), Albini will help them get their work on tape. Real tape.