Monday, March 22, 2010


Another day, another dozen (or 14, in this case) discs:

Ambarchi/O'Rourke/Haino, Tima Formosa (Black Truffle)
Black Breath, Heavy Breathing (Southern Lord)
Clorofila, Nortec Collective Presents Corridos Urbanos (Nacional)
F, Energy Distortion (7even)
Finjarn-Jensen, s/t (Shadoks)
Funki Porcini, On (Ninja Tune)
Haken, Aquarius (Sensory)
Danko Jones, Below the Belt (Bad Taste)
Maldita Vecindad, Circular Colectivo (Nacional)
Moses, Changes (Shadoks)
Ana Tijoux, 1977 (Nacional)
Andreya Triana, Lost Where I Belong (Ninja Tune)
Ufomammut, Eve (Supernatural Cat)
Anibal Velazquez y Su Conjunto, Mambo Loco (Analog Africa)

Sunday, March 21, 2010


Portraits (Artery/Razor & Tie)
This U.K.-based metalcore ensemble have perfectly cloned the sound of their Stateside peers. They've got the breakdowns, the doubled-up lead growls that make frontman Danni Winter-Bates sound eight feet tall and 400 pounds, the mostly clean but occasionally shouty chorus vocals from guitarist Jason Cameron and the ultra-downtuned riffage balanced out by occasional bursts of high-pitched dissonance referred to as solos. The drumming is precise, mechanistic and rarely any more intricate than it has to be--these boys are aiming for a Gothenburg-meets-Victory Records sound, and they achieve it. (There's also one acoustic number mid-disc.) If you're wondering whether they bring anything unique or unexpected to the table, the answer is no.
Is Portraits a pleasurable enough melodic metalcore album while it's playing? Absolutely. Will you remember it after it's over? Probably not--but history holds a lesson for us, as it so often does. In the early 1970s, a zillion faceless groups of young white men, many from the U.K., made heavy blues-rock and proto-metal albums, most of which disappeared into the void only to be rediscovered years later. And who knows? Perhaps four decades from now, there'll be a resurgence of interest in metalcore. Pack away a copy of Bury Tomorrow's album just in case they turn out to be 2040's answer to Toe Fat or Killing Floor.

Thursday, March 18, 2010


Regina Carter, Wandering Genius
Detroit's finest jazz violinist can find the soul in anything

It's been almost four years, but Regina Carter still remembers the phone call. It's not the kind of thing you forget.

"I get this call, it's probably nine in the morning, before I'd had coffee—I thought it was a prank call, and I wasn't too amused," she recalls with a laugh. "The person said, 'Obviously, you don't know about the MacArthur Foundation.' I said, 'I do know about the MacArthur Foundation—what's your name and number? I'll call you back.' I made my coffee and I called the number back and I said, 'Does this person work in your office?' and they said, 'Yes, we'll put you right through.' Then I was stunned. I can't even tell you. It was like everything froze."

The so-called genius grant, which Carter received in September 2006, allowed the Detroit-born violinist to go back to school, but perhaps more importantly, it helped alleviate some personal sorrows. "I'd had such a dark year the year before—gone through a huge lawsuit and lost my mother—so at that point, I needed some sunshine," she says. "I felt like that was the universe and my mother saying, 'Here.'"

Carter began studying classical violin at age four; she didn't even know there was such a thing as jazz violin until high school, when a friend introduced her to the music of Noel Pointer, Jean-Luc Ponty, and Stéphane Grappelli. A live Grappelli performance convinced her jazz was her destiny. "There was so much camaraderie between the musicians. This light went on, and I was like, 'That's what I want when I play' . . . not knowing the journey I was about to be faced with."

That journey has taken Regina Carter from the all-female jazz-pop quintet Straight Ahead to a solo career that's encompassed funky smooth jazz, old-style swing, classical, and now African music. She has played an 18th-century violin that once belonged to Niccolò Paganini, and done session work for Faith Evans, Mary J. Blige, and Detroit techno pioneer Carl Craig. On 2006's I'll Be Seeing You: A Sentimental Journey, she paid tribute to her late mother through interpretations of popular songs like "Sentimental Journey," "This Can't Be Love," and "A-Tisket, A-Tasket."

Her forthcoming disc, Reverse Thread, due out May 18, takes her music down a very different path. Her band includes longtime drummer Alvester Garnett, bassist Chris Lightcap, accordionist Will Holshouser, and kora player Yacouba Sissoko, who learned the instrument from his grandfather. ("You know when you hear that name or a rendition of that name, 'Oh, they play kora.' ") With MacArthur money behind her, she disappeared into New York's World Music Institute and re-emerged inspired by field recordings, particularly some tapes of the Ugandan Jews, a community that practices Judaism despite being neither genetically nor historically Jewish. Reverse Thread reinterprets melodies based on the Ugandan songs "Hiwumbe Awumba" and "Mwana Talitambula"; the former opens the disc, while the latter comes two tracks from its end, finding Carter's ultra-clean violin lines shadowed by Lightcap's bowed bass.

"Every culture of music on the planet involved a violin-like instrument, so my ear would always be drawn to that," recalls Carter of the decades of listening, studying, and playing that led her to this record, where folkish melodies combine with a gentle swing that occasionally erupts into full-on hillbilly fiddlin', the kora and accordion providing countermelodies. "Every music has its own groove or its own soul." Her own contribution isn't jazz, or folk, or "world"—it's all those things and more, pure human joy filtered through technical virtuosity.

Friday, March 12, 2010


The new Lady Gaga video, "Telephone," appeared today. As with her last four clips, it's an elaborate spectacle framing a song that's decent at best. I like Gaga's videos and many of her costumes, and her live performances - the bloody MTV Awards one in particular - are excellent. But her music continues to be utterly dependent on the visuals. It's a total package of which the purely sonic component is still the weakest part. "Bad Romance," "Paparazzi" and "Love Game" are good songs; "Poker Face" is half a good song (the imitation-Peaches portions sink the rest); I can't remember what "Just Dance" sounded like and don't feel like looking it up on YouTube to remind myself. And right now, less than a half hour after watching the "Telephone" video for the first and so far only time, I can't remember the song. This is partly because unlike any previous Gaga video, the song is not allowed to play from beginning to end; it's chopped up and bracketed by several dialogue and action sequences, some of which (the women's-prison segments) work very well, some of which (everything with Beyoncé) don't work very well at all.

Honestly, Beyoncé's presence is one of the biggest stumbling blocks for me. I don't like her music at all - her ballads are histrionic and bland, and her attempts to be uptempo and "hard"/"street" are unconvincing, when they're not just plain boneheaded ("Diva") - and her visual style is nowhere near as interesting as Gaga's. And perhaps most importantly of all, she's not weird or shocking, ever, which makes me wonder why she's in this video/on this song. What she does and what Gaga does are almost totally opposed. And crucially, Gaga looks like the future, while Beyoncé looks like the past. Which makes me wonder if the idea of the collaboration was Gaga's...

Oh, well; at least Beyoncé isn't just doing her usual thing here. Instead, she's dressed/made up like a RealDoll and singing/reciting dialogue in a hyper-stylized voice...basically, playing Nicki Minaj. Who has in turn been playing Lil' Kim (specifically, the Lil' Kim of the "How Many Licks" video) for a couple of years now. So she's found a new, twice-removed way to be uninteresting. An achievement of some small sort, I guess.

As far as Gaga's part of this production, it's a step down from "Bad Romance" and "Paparazzi" despite being a dramatically higher-budget operation - and yeah, you can see it all on the screen. Director Jonas Åkerlund has abandoned the labored grittiness of his videos for The Prodigy and Metallica and gone full LaChappelle here - I'm surprised the thing wasn't shot in Technicolor. The first third or so, which takes place in a high-glam women's prison and features a hermaphrodite joke in its opening minute that actually made me laugh out loud, is the best part of the whole near-ten-minute thing. The costumes are great, mixing the aesthetics of porn, gang culture, and Broadway in a way that really works. Gaga's thinner than she's been in previous clips, and she's wearing even less clothing, at one point dancing in a studded bra and thong with her hair half-bleached and curled with Diet Coke cans (the most subtle product placement in a film bursting with it) and looking like a demonic Amy Winehouse.

When she leaves prison and hooks up with Beyoncé, driving away in Uma Thurman's "Pussy Wagon" from the Kill Bill movies, my heart sank a little.

Previously, Gaga's stolen everything that caught her eye - costumes from old Samantha Fox videos and The Night Porter, imagery and a general vibe from Matthew Barney, Alien and The Warriors, Japanese kegadol (girls in bandages) fetishism...not to mention all the occult symbolism...but she's always made it her own. Gaga-world has always been its own thing until now, with references to Earth that were recognizable, but not blatant and pandering. The presence of the "Pussy Wagon" is clumsy, lowering the whole video to the level of rappers reciting dialogue from Scarface.

The video pretty much goes off a cliff from there - Beyoncé goes to a diner, poisons Tyrese (things perk up again when Gaga is seen in the kitchen, poisoning everyone's food as a recipe appears onscreen), and then the two women dance and sing in a diner full of corpses before driving off in the "Pussy Wagon." The End.

The mini-movie-ness of "Telephone" (which, lyrically, has nothing to do with any of this, though both Gaga and Beyoncé are seen using telephones at several points during the clip) points out what's been becoming more and more obvious with each succeeding Gaga clip - she's not writing songs, she's writing musical numbers. Without the visuals, they're no more interesting than it would be to listen to a Busby Berkeley number on TV in another room. I may well watch this video another time or two, though I doubt it - it's just not as good as her last two or three have been. But would I listen to the song by itself? Absolutely not. As I said above, even right now I can't remember what it sounded like. That seems like bad news for her label, which almost certainly had to lay out some money for a production this elaborate, no matter how many product placements they shoehorned in.

Thursday, March 11, 2010


Last week, Amazon offered a pretty damn good deal on the Led Zeppelin 10CD Complete Studio Recordings box from 1993. Ordinarily it's $115, but they were selling it for $70, so I decided to grab it, since I've only ever owned Physical Graffiti on CD. Also, I wanted to get this version, rather than the 2009 Definitive Collection, because, frankly, the newer remasters were likely to be compressed and limited all to hell. (I visited a couple of audio-nerd burrows to figure out whether this is in fact the case; opinions varied.) Also, the fetishistic quality of that set actually turned me off - the idea of miniature reproductions of all six In Through the Out Door sleeves and a version of the Led Zeppelin III sleeve with a working pinwheel just felt obsessive and pathetic. Music is sound. I care about sound quality, not playing with (or just sitting and reverently staring at) packaging.

I think I made the right choice. The discs sound fantastic. (Assuming you like Led Zeppelin, of course.)

I have this weird ambivalence about packaging. On the one hand, as a reader and writer, I love a really well-written essay, and some boxes/deluxe reissues have terrific liner notes. The Robert Palmer essay in the Ornette Coleman box Beauty is a Rare Thing is a good example of this, and I'm sure I could dig through my collection and come up with a bunch of others, but you get my point. The trouble is, boxes are also frequently (especially now when they emerge as labors of love from indie labels desperate to dissuade folks from just downloading the audio content) loaded down with extraneous crap. The Albert Ayler box Holy Ghost had a pressed flower, postcards, reproductions of zines, and on and on, when all I wanted was the music and the book. And the new 3CD/1DVD/7"/book/photos edition of Iggy and the Stooges' Raw Power just seems absurd to me. (The essays and "testimonials" are pretty much guaranteed to be a total waste of everyone's time, and I like Henry Rollins.)

So I like that the 1993 Led Zeppelin box pairs up the discs into little books, in the process juggling them out of release order so Physical Graffiti can get its own book. I like it because the perversity, the non-deluxeness of it, is so thoroughly in keeping with the spirit of Led Zeppelin, as I understand it: "Here's the album. No, there's no single. No, we don't have a publicist. See you on the road."

I also like it because it's that much easier to reconcile spending $70 on CDs that I'll immediately import into my MacBook and thence to my iPod. Maura Johnston, a writer who's too smart to waste her time talking about American Idol as much as she does, had a pretty good essay about ridding oneself of physical music and going digital-only on the other day. She's still got a romantic attachment to the idea of physical music-objects qua objects; "There was value in music having a physical presence—even those records that you’d only pull out for very specific reasons reminded you of their existence during a routine house-cleaning," she writes. "As music becomes less physical, its whole essence becomes more disposable."

I like having some stuff around in physical form, for the simple reason that my iPod and headphones are a unit, in my head. I have a cable that allows me to plug my iPod into my stereo, but I never do it. So there are certain CDs I keep around just because when I want to listen to them, I want to use speakers to do so. These range from Miles Davis's Agharta, which takes over my living room like a rabid animal when I let it loose in the apartment, to Ryoji Ikeda's Matrix, which uses ultra-high frequencies and panning to create effects that headphones simply can't duplicate - it's as much about audiology as aesthetics. And I have the feeling that although these Led Zeppelin albums are, indeed, gonna be permanent fixtures in my iPod, there are going to be plenty of times when I'm gonna want to hear "No Quarter" or "Achilles Last Stand" through speakers, at room-filling volume.


SXSW 2010 Showgoers' Guide to Bay Area Acts

Between March 17 and March 20, thousands of musicians, some signed and many more hoping to be signed, will descend upon Austin for the annual South by Southwest music conference. Nearly three dozen of these acts call the Bay Area home, so here are our picks for local bands worth checking out while in Texas. There's no way you'll be able to catch them all, but any of these recommended acts will put your night into the "win" column.

The Morning Benders
The Morning Benders have a mellow, drifting take on acoustic-guitar-and-organ–driven psychedelic pop, with occasional drum machine outbursts to imply modernity. That'll make fans of Badfinger and the Flaming Lips very happy, as well as groupies for Grizzly Bear — whose Chris Taylor coproduced the Benders' new record, Big Echo.

Hunx and His Punx
Hunx, aka Seth of Gravy Train!!!!, plays humorous and homoerotic garage-pop songs like "Hey Rocky" and "You Don't Like Rock 'n' Roll," splitting the difference between Shonen Knife and T. Rex, sonically speaking. The group offers first-take amateurism and juvenile humor — plus plenty of handclaps, which are always a plus.

High on Fire
The heaviest band since amps were invented, Oakland's High on Fire recently released Snakes for the Divine, the trio's most stylistically varied and assured album to date. Live, they'll celebrate by tearing your face off with pure metal fury. Matt Pike's gargling-gravel vocals and post-Sabbath guitar riffs will roll over helpless (and happy about it) audience members like a square-wheeled truck speeding downhill.

The Jacka
If the Jacka's lyrics are to be believed, he likes girls, going out to clubs, showing off his clothes and his car, and earning money in various extralegal ways. It's been a long time since hip-hop was about what you had to say in this way. Here, it's also all about how you say it, and the MC's voice adds a slight edge of gruffness to a 50 Cent–ish delivery, to impressive effect.

Mistah F.A.B.
Hyphy rapper Mistah F.A.B.'s minimalist electro beats and subdued delivery (not to mention his ultragarish MySpace page) can serve to mask real lyrical talent. He's known to fans as a Lil Wayne–level freestyler — and he serves his fans well. Though he's signed to Atlantic, he offers free downloads of almost his entire discography, from official albums to mix tapes, at his own site.

Sonny and the Sunsets
Sonny and the Sunsets are a low-key "beach pop" (imagine a cross between early Beach Boys and a bunch of dudes strumming and singing around a campfire) ensemble that includes leader Sonny Smith and Kelley Stoltz. There are dashes of Jonathan Richman and the softer side of the Velvet Underground in their songs, and they always seem to be enjoying themselves, a point in their favor.

Moon Duo
Moon Duo is a project featuring keyboardist Sanae Yamada and Wooden Shjips singer and guitarist Ripley Johnson. The music the two make is gentle, occasionally muffled drone-rock in the spirit of Silver Apples, Suicide without the hostility, and/or Stereolab without the pop hooks. It offers lots of oscillating hum and occasional stabs at melody.

Grass Widow
Grass Widow is a female trio making don't-mind-us garage-pop in the post-Shaggs spirit of Slant 6 or Shonen Knife, without the Japanese group's overemphasis on cuteness. Its members all sing in a way that combines Nico-esque calm with folky harmonies, while the music jangles along, occasionally revving up to near-rockingness.

Lyrics Born
Japanese-American rapper and producer Lyrics Born has made quite a name for himself as a solo artist, a member of Latyrx, and one of the founders of the Quannum label alongside DJ Shadow and Blackalicious. In addition to his continuing solo work, he most recently served as executive producer on Love and Understanding, the debut solo album by his wife, powerhouse R&B vocalist Joyo Velarde.

Lazer Sword
Production duo Lazer Sword makes "future bass" music — basically, electro with analog synth zaps flying in all directions and a goofy sense of humor. As DJs, a typical set may encompass Dr. Dre, Mr. Oizo, Keak da Sneak, and a dozen or so artists you haven't heard of yet, but soon will.

Wallpaper. is an AutoTune-happy, Chromeo-esque electronic duo that writes silly lyrics ("I'd hit on myself if I could") and song titles ("I Got Soul, I'm So Wasted," "A Million Dollars," "Pool Party"). So, you know, don't come looking for earnest pleas for world peace, but do expect to dance — and perhaps leave with less clothing than you arrived with.

Sleepy Sun
This six-piece band has found a unique and highly worthwhile path through the tangled, overgrown jungle that is the region between psychedelia, stoner rock, and proto-metal. It combines both sides of Led Zeppelin — the bombastic and the acoustic — with SubArachnoid Space's lysergic drift and pastoral folk, winding up with something quite beautiful and sometimes surprisingly heavy and rockin'.

Ty Segall
Ty Segall is a doctrinaire, minimalist garage-rocker. He started out playing shows as a one-man band, cranking up his distorted guitar and kicking a drum with a tambourine attached. You can hear echoes of Jon Spencer and Billy Childish in his sound, but he has a talent for hooks, too, even if he buries them under noise and reverb.

Thee Oh Sees
If you still don't know Thee Oh Sees, the group's name should provide a hint as to what it sounds like. Yes, like Thee Headcoats and Thee Mighty Caesars, they practice primitivist garage-psych with a slightly shambling rhythm section, bare-bones melodies, and seriously echoed and reverbed guitars. Thee Oh Sees add male and female co-lead vocals to the setup, though, for an X-ish feel.

Souls of Mischief
Souls of Mischief are Bay Area hip-hop royalty. Their debut album, 93 'Til Infinity, was named one of the Top 100 Rap Albums by The Source, when that magazine still had credibility in such matters. They're cofounders of the Hieroglyphics collective, and released their latest CD, Montezuma's Revenge, in December.


Swede Emotion
HammerFall make power metal appealing to U.S. audiences

Power metal doesn't seem to grab U.S. listeners. Maybe it's because American metal fans think of themselves as badasses unwilling to be seen smiling as they head bang. Or maybe because of an aversion to keyboard solos and upper-register vocals, bands like Helloween or Sonata Arctica never quite graduate to Ozzfest-headliner status. The ceiling seems to be large clubs and/or theaters. England's DragonForce is the rare power-metal band that's reached a sizable U.S. audience, but it's done so by embracing novelty status and letting the audience know the band is in on the joke. They smile a lot onstage and banter with the crowd, and their breakout video, "Through the Fire and Flames," is full of self-deprecating humor.

Swedish power-metal band HammerFall is equally adept at lightening the mood. You'll never catch founding guitarist Oscar Dronjak saying something as pompous as Manowar leader Joey DeMaio's infamous quote, "I'm prepared to die for metal. Are you?" Instead, the group filmed a 2006 video for their song "Hearts on Fire" (originally released on 2002's Crimson Thunder) co-starring the Swedish women's curling team, which got a fresh burst of exposure during the recent Winter Olympics, when it seemed like the weird shuffleboard-on-ice sport was broadcast six hours every day.

HammerFall have also recorded an astonishing number of cover songs, most of which were gathered on the 2008 compilation Masterpieces. The band throws itself headlong into Rainbow's "Man on the Silver Mountain," Skid Row's "Youth Gone Wild" and Kiss' "Detroit Rock City." But they also tackle relative obscurities like Twisted Sister's "We're Gonna Make It" and "När Vindarna Viskar Mitt Namn" by Roger Pontare (Sweden's entry in the 2000 EuroVision Song Contest; the title translates to "When Spirits Are Calling My Name"). Occasionally, they bring in guests: Accept's Udo Dirkschneider sang on HammerFall's cover of Accept's "Head Over Heels," and Helloween singer-guitarist Kai Hansen sang and played on "I Want Out."

"We like these songs," says drummer Anders Johansson. There's a more pragmatic reason for the covers, though. He explains, "In this band, basically one of the guitar players writes all the music. So since it's one guy doing everything, he has a hard time coming up with stuff, and there are always too few songs for an album. So he has to come up with something."

The idea of compiling the covers was a response to fan requests, says Johansson. "A lot of people would ask, Where can I get this track, where can I get that? So we put them on one album." Of course, the true connoisseur of HammerFall cover songs will have to buy the group's 2009 effort No Sacrifice, No Victory, which includes an absurd, shredtastic (two guitar solos) version of the Knack's "My Sharona."

Johansson has been HammerFall's drummer for 10 years — "11 in April," he says. He appears on every HammerFall album except the first two, and while he admits the band's sound is pretty much what it's always been, he says that's a good thing. "I think that we have matured a little bit, but then again, not that much," he says. "I don't think the band has changed extremely much. Maybe some of the arrangements, and some of the vocals with choirs, and things like that. But in general, it's basically like it's always been. People know what they're getting. If you change too much, people lose interest, it seems."

Of course, in America the problem isn't keeping people from losing interest — it's attracting their interest in the first place. "In the States, we play really small venues, small clubs, which, of course, is hard in a way," says Johansson. "The economics is not there. That's why we're not there so often. But you have to start somewhere, I guess."

He believes that your average, Cannibal Corpse T-shirt-wearing American teenager could be turned on to power metal, if only he or she were exposed to it. "If they know what heavy metal is, I would say [to them that] it's heavy metal, but it's faster sometimes," he says. "I like the American style of metal. But I like all styles of metal."

Johansson loves playing in the U.S., even if the venues are a little smaller. "The people that do come to the shows, they're really dedicated and really into it," he says. "The atmosphere's really great. If you have 500 crazy Americans, they have a lot easier time showing emotion. In Europe, people are a little more reserved. So 500 Americans sound louder than 1,500 Germans."

The one thing fans shouldn't expect at a HammerFall show is a drum solo. When it's pointed out that on the group's 2003 live album, One Crimson Night, the band's guitarists got two solos each, but the drummer got no spotlight time, Johansson has mixed feelings.

"I've never even thought about it," he says. "I'm a fusion drummer originally, so I could play a half-hour drum solos if people were interested. In metal clubs, it seems like they don't really want it so much anymore. When I used to play with Yngwie Malmsteen's band in the '80s, it was natural to play drum solos. And on the last tour, I had one, but now [the other guys] decided they don't want them again. I think there was one review that said, 'Oh, they had a typical long, tedious drum solo,' and the guys were reading this, and they decided to kick out the drum solo. I play drum solos in the songs sometimes, to make up for it."


10 more reviews from

Acrassicauda, Only the Dead See the End of the War
Avsky, Scorn
Brötzmann/Kondo/Pupillo/Nilssen-Love, Hairy Bones
Chocquibtown, Oro
The Dillinger Escape Plan, Option Paralysis
Elephant9, Walk the Nile
Finntroll, Nifelvind
Kongh, Shadows of the Shapeless
Marc Mommaas, Landmarc
This Moment in Black History, Public Square

Monday, March 08, 2010


Some decent stuff, and some rip-roaringly crappy stuff, in today's mail. I'll let you make your own judgements about which ones are which.

3ology w/Ron Miles, s/t (Tapestry)
The Austerity Program, Backsliders and Apostates Will Burn (Hydra Head)
Camila, Dejarte de Amar (Sony Latin)
Chayanne, No Hay Imposibles (Sony Latin)
The Claudia Quintet w/Gary Versace, Royal Toast (Cuneiform)
Dyland & Lenny, My World (Sony Latin)
Harvey Milk, A Small Turn of Human Kindness (Hydra Head)
Hayaino Daisuki, Invincible Gate Mind of the Infernal Fire Hell, Or Did You Mean Hawaii Daisuki? (Hydra Head)
Dan Pratt Organ Quartet, Toe the Line (Posi-Tone)
Thalia, Primera Fila (Sony Latin)
Julieta Venegas, Otra Cosa (Sony Latin)
David S. Ware, Saturnian (AUM Fidelity)
Xasthur, 2005 Demo (Hydra Head)


The World is a Thorn (Solid State)
On Demon Hunter's fifth album, they're throwing everything they've got at the listener, hoping something will stick long enough for their pro-Jesus message to sink in. The fast, heavy songs ("Descending Upon Us," "LifeWar," the title track, "Tie This Around Your Neck") blend nü metal and metalcore, with Mudvayne-ish choruses; the slower tracks ("Driving Nails," "Feel As Though You Could," "Blood In The Tears") slather on the electronics and synthesized string patches, winding up in Linkin Park territory. The breakdowns and bottom-heavy riffing that dominated previous DH albums The Triptych and Storm The Gates Of Hell are still very much present, though the occasional rapped vocals of earlier years have been replaced by even more shouting (and a little bit more crooning). They're committed salesmen of spirituality, and they're clearly unwilling to take no for an answer.

Throne to the Wolves (Rise)
From First To Last are coming out swinging, determined to earn back fans' trust after their disappointing third album, From First To Last, released to a resounding thud on Geffen imprint Suretone in 2007. Vocalist/guitarist Matt Good has finally become a true frontman; his sneering, whisper-to-a-scream vocal assault is captivating, and the band create a whirlwind of metallic riffs and thunderous beats (some real, some programmed) behind him. "I'd rather be a starving artist than a wealthy critic," Good howls on Throne To The Wolves' lead cut, "Cashing Out," and he's utterly convincing. With the support of a new label, Rise, FFTL have nothing to lose by being utterly themselves. The blazing electro-thrash of "Elvis Said" is balanced by the prog-metal balladry of "You, Me And The Significant Others," while the album's closer, "Now That You're Gone," creates dissonance with synth and Auto-Tune. Even with only two founding members still around, it's good to have the old, weird FFTL back.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Friday, March 05, 2010


Stuff that arrived this week:

Brown vs Brown, Odds and Unevens (Cuneiform)
Caspian, The Four Trees (The Mylene Sheath)
Caspian, You Are the Conductor (The Mylene Sheath)
Ron Contour & Factor, Saffron (Fake Four Inc.)
Stephan Crump, Reclamation (Sunnyside)
P.E. Hewitt Jazz Ensemble, Winter Winds - The Complete Works 1968-70 (Now-Again)
Ikonika, Contact, Love, Want, Have (Hyperdub)
The Internal Tulips, Mislead Into a Field by a Deformed Deer (Planet Mu)
Michael Leonhart & the Avramina 7, Seahorse and the Storyteller (Truth & Soul)
Ludicra, Tenant (Profound Lore)
New York Art Quartet, Old Stuff (Cuneiform)
Sevendust, Cold Day Memory (7Bros/ILG)
Starkey, Ear Drums & Black Holes (Planet Mu)
Testament, The Formation of Damnation Deluxe Tour Edition (Nuclear Blast)
Rudi Zygadlo, Great Western Laymen (Planet Mu)

Wednesday, March 03, 2010


Rodrigo y Gabriela/Alex Skolnick Trio

First things first: Mexican guitar duo Rodrigo y Gabriela doesn't play flamenco. Its mostly acoustic music features a little bit of flamenco, but it's more correct to say that the pair mixes together jazz, metal and global influences. However, Rodrigo y Gabriela's sound is expansive enough to include guest appearances: Its latest album, 11:11, features cameos from smooth jazz duo Strunz & Farah to Testament lead guitarist Alex Skolnick (whose trio is opening the show). The disc features eleven tracks dedicated to its influences, including tango composer Astor Piazzolla, Palestinian group Le Trio Joubran and Pantera's late guitarist, Dimebag Darrell. In performance, "RodGab" is kinetic: Rodrigo Sanchez spins out melodic, occasionally distorted runs as Gabriela Quintero strums forceful chords or beats out lightning-fast rhythms on her guitar's hollow body. This is no "sit quietly and applaud politely" show — even without electricity, it's pure energy.


New Orleans instrumental funk sextet Galactic has built a sterling reputation on the jam-band scene, rocking Bonnaroo, the seagoing Jam Cruise, and many other gatherings of the unwashed. The group's studio albums provide killer backdrops for a fistful of highly regarded guests. The 2007 release, From the Corner to the Block, was a hip-hop effort featuring Bay Area MCs Lyrics Born, Gift of Gab, Lateef the Truth Speaker, and Boots Riley, among others. On its latest effort, Ya-Ka-May, Galactic represents its hometown, past and present. The hard-grooving disc includes contributions from old-schoolers Irma Thomas and Allen Toussaint, as well as Trombone Shorty and the so-called "bounce" rappers Cheeky Blakk and Big Freedia — the last of whom will be at the Fillmore, along with Cyril Neville, when Galactic comes to town on Friday, March 5, and Saturday, March 6.


Thrash Landing
Kreator return to their primitive roots

Just as America had its Big Four thrash bands — Metallica, Megadeth, Anthrax and Slayer — Germany had a trio of homegrown powerhouses in the '80s. Starting in the middle of the decade, Sodom, Destruction and Kreator shaped a uniquely German thrash sound — punkier and more primitive than its slick American counterpart.

Kreator's debut album, 1985's Endless Pain, was recorded in 10 days, and it sounds like it. A grinding trio disc that combines the crude, hammering rhythms and caveman riffs of Venom with the lyrical nihilism of Motörhead, it's not their best effort — in fact, it barely hints at what they'd achieve only a year later — but it rocketed them out of obscurity.

When 1986's Pleasure to Kill was released, Kreator's reputation was secure. Songs like the title track, "Riot of Violence" and "Death Is Your Savior" proved that Europe had its own thrash thing going on. Indeed, it could be said that Kreator paved the way for death metal with frontman Mille Petrozza's guttural, barking vocals and the band's punishing sound. The brutality continued on Terrible Certainty and Extreme Aggression, and the group made some breakthroughs outside the recording studio — when the Berlin Wall came down, Kreator was the first metal band to perform in East Germany (a show later documented on At the Pulse of Kapitulation, a mid-'90s home video that was reissued as a CD/DVD set in 2008).

The 1990s weren't nearly as kind to Kreator, creatively or commercially. Beginning with 1990's Coma of Souls, they started to experiment, incorporating industrial elements and writing longer, more musically ambitious songs, with mixed results. Fans weren't pleased, and the band's profile dipped substantially. Even Petrozza's longtime partner, drummer Jürgen "Ventor" Reil, grew disgusted and left just before 1995's aptly titled Cause for Conflict, though he returned on 1997's Outcast.

Finally, in 2001, the group got back on track. Violent Revolution kicked off with "Reconquering the Throne," and the album lived up to that title's promise, delivering one reinvigorated blast of raw, crushing thrash after another. Reviews were rapturous, and the tour that followed saw fans returning in droves. Kreator then released their first live album, Live Kreation, which featured performances so strong, they even rehabilitated songs from the reviled Cause for Conflict, Outcast and Endorama.

Enemy of God, from 2005, was another collection of killer modern thrash. Since that album's release to another chorus of critical hosannas, Kreator hasn't slackened the pace. For the past five years, they've been touring the globe, only taking some time out to record another album, Hordes of Chaos, released in early 2009. Much shorter than its two predecessors, each of which offered 12 tracks and nearly an hour of music, Chaos features only 10 songs and gets the job done in less than 40 minutes — another sign that Kreator have come full circle and gone back to their primitivist thrash roots.

They promoted the album with one of the most hilarious videos ever, for the title track. The "Hordes of Chaos" clip cuts back and forth between Kreator playing the song atop a heap of bodies and the adventures of a head-choppin', limb-severin' barbarian who seems to own nothing but fur underwear, a big-ass sword and a generous supply of baby oil. "Jörn Heitmann came up with the concept," says Petrozza. "I think he wanted to visualize the Hordes of Chaos and use images from [painter Frank] Frazetta, Conan the Barbarian, etc. I think the results look amazing! There was a lot of waiting around on the set, so no exciting stories to tell, unfortunately."

In 2008, Petrozza told Metal Edge magazine, "No offense to bands that do anniversaries all the time — there's bands that celebrate the 10th anniversary, the 15th anniversary — but we're not into that. We focus on the present and the future of the band, not what we've achieved in the past, and I don't see a reason why I should have a special celebration. I think that's kinda lame, to be honest."

But for the band's 25th-anniversary tour, Kreator asked fans to vote for songs to be played live — and thousands responded. "The surprising thing is that our taste is not that far off from what our fans like," says Petrozza. "[But] there will be some songs in the set that we haven't played in a long time."

And even as they honor their past, Kreator are once again in transition. In May 2009, their label SPV declared the European equivalent of bankruptcy and shut down its U.S. division. Recently Petrozza announced, "We have just signed a worldwide deal with Nuclear Blast, the strongest metal label in the world!"

Petrozza's enthusiasm for the music is at the core of his being. He's had more success with Kreator over the past 25 years than Steve "Lipps" Kudlow and Robb Reiner had with Anvil, but he shares their attitude that metal is something you do out of love. Asked about his near 30-year relationship with drummer Reil, who had to skip a recent leg of tour dates due to medical problems, he says simply, "It's great! We both love metal! We are living our dream!"


Got a CD called Seahorse and the Storyteller, by Michael Leonhart and the Avramina 7, in today's mail. Here are the two paragraphs from the press release that nearly caused me to hurl the CD the length of the post office:

While on the road with Steely Dan in 2005, Leonhart came up with the idea to record a concept record that would meld the styles of Bollywood funk scores, '60s psychedelic rock, and the mythical storytelling of artists like the Beatles and Donovan. Seahorse and the Storyteller is a modern kaleidoscopic opera that in the words of Leonhart, "tells the story of two mythical creatures who meet, fall in love and begin piecing together the mysteries of each other's past."

Seahorse and the Storyteller is a record that defines genre generalizations and will prove to be one of the most enjoyable and interesting records of 2010. With quirky arrangements featuring strings, mellotron, fuzz guitar, horns, vibes, farfisa, gang vocals, and practically every percussion instrument under the sun, Michael Leonhart & The Avramina 7 have created a new and unique sound that heavily draws influence from artists like R.D Burman, The Beatles, Fela Kuti, and 60's psychedelic but manages to sound completely fresh and new and like nothing else out there.

[Grammatical and punctuation errors, inconsistent capitalization, etc., all in original.]

I would seriously rather have a lit match stubbed out on my eyelid than listen to this album.