Monday, May 31, 2010


I bought Tom Petty's 4CD Live Anthology box a couple of months back (I saw it in Target for $22 and couldn't pass it up), and it's fantastic. The songs were recorded at shows in 1980-83, 1986-87, 1993, 1995, 1997, 2002-3 and 2005-6, and the band is so damn tight, even with a change of drummers, that it could all be one epic gig.

Now I've heard a few songs from the forthcoming album Mojo (out 6/15), and it appears the live-rock fervor has hit Petty in a big way, because the album was recorded live in the studio, with everyone playing in one room. I admire the cussedness of that; I like that Petty has stopped caring about anything but making records he's happy with. It's obvious to anyone who gives it a moment's thought that he's not gonna have a Top Forty hit, and I like that it's obvious to him. He's made a record that his existing fan base—folks who admire rock music as a craft—are gonna respond to, and he's gonna support it on tour. He's got a circa-2010 merch strategy for the record and the tour; if you buy a ticket, you get a digital download of the album on the day of release, and when the tour's over you can download eight live tracks. I think it's working; a lot of tickets to a lot of shows are gone already. (If I want to see him in New York—and I do—I'm gonna have to round up a review assignment from somewhere.)

I've only ever listened to one Tom Petty album, Full Moon Fever, all the way through. I really don't need to hear the cranky-old-man routine he cut loose with on The Last DJ. But his greatest hits disc is pretty much unassailable. And as demonstrated in the video above, the band kicks ass. I think I'm gonna buy his new album.


Bought and built this desk today. (I got it in black, of course.)


It's like that Ernest Borgnine-Lee Marvin movie Emperor of the North Pole. Who's gonna be the king of the fanzines or the king of the rock critics or something like that? And it's NOTHING. You're king of nothing! Dean of Rock Critics? It's like being Dean of Shitville. Being a rock critic is like the lowest fucking peg on anybody's poll. So I've never understood... although it's fun to get in fanzine wars and all that stuff but I don't really get why... There's no turf. What's the pay off of being master of this particular universe? I don't believe that there is one. Maybe unless you really get a lot of free records but you don't even get that anymore- you get downloads. So there's not even that inducement. It's not like chicks dig rock critics. What ELSE is it? Band you don't like will be friendly to you? You do it because you have to and it's really a liability more than anything else, more than a vocation.

Jason Gross has just published an awesome, absurdly wide-ranging interview with legendary underground rock critic Byron Coley, from which the above quote comes. I've been reading Coley since the mid-'80s in Spin, Forced Exposure and then (after years when it didn't seem like he was doing anything but sell records) The Wire. His "Underground" column in Spin was where I first heard of Borbetomagus.

This is a serious, thoughtful, in-depth conversation with a guy who's never had his life and work analyzed in this depth before. Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4. Go. Read. Learn.

Saturday, May 29, 2010


Like many people, I am on Bob Lefsetz’s email list. I get one or two emails a day from him. Most of them are rants about the shitty state of the music business. Which is fine, if unsurprising and redundant. Like Howard Beale says in Network, “I don’t have to tell you things are bad. Everybody knows things are bad.” Still, it’s fun to read Lefsetz’s splenetic spluttering. Sometimes he gets righteous about things like ticket prices and bullshit “VIP packages” that really are worth complaining about.

But his worldview is skewed and myopic, so much so that it makes even his valid points hard to support sometimes. I'll explain.

I’m guessing Bob Lefsetz is about sixty years old. And for that reason above all others, his worldview is obsolete and irrelevant. He suffers from the delusion that all Americans his age suffer from: that the way he’s always known it to be is the way it should be and the way it could continue to be, in perpetuity, if people could just be brought around to his way of thinking. But in fact, the music industry as people Bob Lefsetz’s age knew it is such a massive historical anomaly that to see it as anything else is farcical.

Let me break it down: Recording technology has existed for less than 150 years. Cylinders were introduced in about 1880, and by 1910 records had taken over. Tape recording was popularized in the 1940s. Various other inventions like the transistor radio, 33 1/3 and 45 rpm records and home stereos to play them on, etc., etc., caused popular music to go through a boom cycle. But this was also related to the economic and demographic changes that arose in the wake of World War II. The children of returning soldiers—you know, the Baby Boomers—had indulgent parents who gave them allowances to buy shit, and eventually they got jobs and bought more shit, and consequently they exerted a disproportionate influence over popular culture. And because this was the only world they’d ever known, they figured it was the way things were supposed to be, and the way things always would be. When they became record industry executives, they continued to believe that things would always be the way they’d been.

But the only reason things ever were like that—the only reason records ever sold in the “golden age”—was because the technology to freely duplicate them didn’t exist yet. If file sharing technology had been around in 1964, those same Baby Boomers would have downloaded the living fuck out of the Beatles’ albums. And the Rolling Stones’ albums. And every other canonical, classic rock artist who folks like Bob Lefsetz hold up as paradigmatic and worthy of emulation.

This is an idea that is literally unimaginable to Bob Lefsetz. Because he doesn't just believe technology has changed the market, he believes people have changed. This week, he wrote:
This business will not be vital again until there's a stable of stars, hopefully a plethora that people follow and want to see…Everybody else lives and dies on the hit single. If Christina Aguilera had fans, she'd be able to sell tickets without airplay. But she needs hits to get bodies into seats. In the old days, bands could tour without hits whatsoever. But that was back when music drove the culture, when you knew the players like sports team members, when you had to go to the show, when you were addicted to the radio.

Pretty much everything in that paragraph is wrong. First, the business will never be “vital” again. The monopoly on the means of distribution has been broken, and it cannot be rebuilt. There are no hit singles because the record industry doesn’t manufacture singles anymore. And Christina Aguilera? She’s a part of the old-school, obsolete, Lefsetzian worldview and business model. She was built by a machine designed to create pop stars, no different than a movie star of the 1930s created and maintained by a finely tuned publicity machine. It is literally impossible for an artist like Christina Aguilera to have fans that will manifest the kind of devotion that Phish, or Cannibal Corpse, can conjure up, because Aguilera has spent her entire career deliberately keeping fans at arm’s length. She speaks through carefully sculpted quotes in US Weekly or heavily edited interviews for MTV and VH1, not through Twitter or a blog. Bands that do that, bands that seem to have arisen from the same muck as their fans, are the bands Lefsetz says could tour without hits…but only “in the old days.” When he thinks about bands touring without radio support, he’s probably thinking of Grand Funk Railroad. He has no idea that it’s going on all around him.

Oh, and that whole thing about knowing the bandmembers like members of sports teams? Bullshit. Sure, people knew John, Paul, George, and Ringo. They knew Mick and Keith and Charlie. But who knew all the names of Ted Nugent's backing band when he was packing arenas? Who knew the names of the members of the Silver Bullet Band when Bob Seger was huge? Nobody.

Later he writes:
The radio. And then MTV. They centralized focus. They delivered a platform for star-building. Someone left of center could get exposure and make it. Like Culture Club. MTV broke Boy George big, radio followed. But FM radio built Hendrix and Cream, the music was so exciting you listened every night. Because everyone was different, everyone was testing limits, everybody wasn't the same. And if you don't think everybody's the same today, try listening to Top Forty radio.

This is the problem in a nutshell. Lefsetz still believes in a Top Forty. He still believes in top-down culture, in societal unification through pop music. He rants and raves that everyone around now is a “niche” act. That’s the worst thing you can be in Lefsetz-land—a “niche” act. He can’t imagine a universe in which people don’t care, don't think it's important, whether or not their neighbor is listening to the same albums, watching the same TV shows, reading the same books that they’re reading. He probably read Bowling Alone and nodded through his tears. And because of this belief system, which he's too old to shake loose, he has no idea how obsessed people younger than him are with music. The 17-year-old girl who wrote the letter to Alternative Press that I reprinted two posts ago? She doesn't exist in Bob Lefsetz's universe, because she's not buying records and he's never gonna go to Warped Tour and see her and all her screaming friends. Hell, we're talking about a guy here who didn't even write about Malcolm McLaren's death. I bet he'd never heard of the guy.

The idea of a monoculture was always bullshit anyway. Back in the hallowed Sixties and early Seventies, when Lefsetz’s cultural preconceptions were being cast in stone, there was one music magazine of any consequence—Rolling Stone. Maybe Creem. Anything Rolling Stone didn’t cover didn’t get covered. Now, people get their information directly from bands—at least if the bands are smart, they do.

The record industry was a bubble. It took a long time to burst, because it was entirely technology-dependent. But now it's burst, and all the ancillary industries around it—like music journalism—are deflating too. The only thing that's not going away is music itself.


Published this in the Village Voice almost a month ago and forgot to link it here...enjoy!

Reggaeton's in a weird but kinda awesome place in 2010. The raw, adrenalized dancehall-in-Spanish sound that vaulted into the mainstream pop consciousness back in 2003 (in large part propelled by two swaggering Daddy Yankee singles, 2004's "Gasolina" and 2005's "Rompe") is all but gone, replaced by a fragmented but ambitious style that can encompass the omnivorous, smirking cultural juggling act of Calle 13, the culturally conscious electronica of Tego Calderón, and . . . science-fiction club tracks?

Yes, the dominant sound of reggaeton in 2010 is futuristic electro-trance. The major artistic statements of the past couple of years have emerged from two artists: Powerhouse duo Wisin y Yandel, they of 2007's Los Extraterrestres and last year's La Revolución, remain lyrically pretty straight-ahead (as sticking to love and sex has allowed the duo to sell out arenas worldwide), though musically, especially on the latter album, they've delved into Euro-disco with thick, squelching synth lines. As did Don Omar's awesomely bizarre iDon, wherein the self-proclaimed King of Kings rapped about zero gravity on Kraftwerk-meets-Daft-Punk tracks like "Sexy Robotica," "Galactic Blues," and "Virtual Diva."

As for Daddy Yankee (real name: Ramón Ayala), he's always been a more complex and multifaceted performer than "Gasolina" and "Rompe" might indicate. His breakthrough album, 2004's Barrio Fino, packed plenty of the thunderous beats reggaeton fans demanded, but also showcased his sensitive side (and his English) on "Like You," and mixed in some salsa on "Sabor a Melao," a collaboration with Andy Montañez, former vocalist for El Gran Combo. His 2007 followup, El Cartel: The Big Boss, offered some pure reggaeton tracks and another "salsa-ton" song ("Ella Me Levanto"), but it was in large part a calculated pop move, a 21-track disc packed with guest spots by such ultra-street titans of Latin music as, Fergie, Akon, and Nicole Scherzinger, with production and songwriting credits for both Scott Storch and Kara DioGuardi. Though it sold very well, artistically it might have been a step too far; heard now, it seems like less than the sum of its many, many parts.

Daddy Yankee may have thought so, too; on 2009's soundtrack to his 8 Mile–ish movie Talento de Barrio, he returned to a harder, more explicitly urban sound, limiting the guests to fellow Puerto Rican artists. And now, on Mundial, while he's once again doing much more than the aggressive rapping casual listeners know him for, he's also riding the waves of rapid change in Latin pop. Multiple tracks here abandon the trademark reggaeton rhythm entirely, opting for a thumping electro 4/4. But very few do just one thing at a time. "La Despedida" is a hyperactive merengue track, with Yankee singing through a vocoder up top; "Daría" finds him in full loverman mode, backed by a booming hip-hop beat and a guitar-and-accordion melody that's pure vallenato (folk music from northeastern Colombia); "Mintiendo Con La Verdad" brings the accordion back atop a merengue rhythm; "Grito Mundial" is a soccer anthem propelled by massive Brazilian drumming.

Perhaps the most surprising track on the disc, though, is "Vida de la Noche," which is pure Daft Punk techno, with Yankee singing, rapping, and shouting out Guns N' Roses. In keeping with the album's high-tech sound, the cover looks like a patch on an astronaut's sleeve. Although Daddy Yankee and reggaeton have both been moving in this direction of late, Mundial is still a surprising album—an alien that new listeners may be surprised to find themselves loving.


From the letters column in AP #264, which just arrived in my mailbox:

I literally screamed when I flipped to the From First To Last feature in AP 262. You guys never mention From First To Last, and they're one of if not the best "scene" bands of my generation. I've practically grown up on them. Although I don't agree with some of the opinions expressed in the article (i.e., that Throne To The Wolves is better than the rest of their albums), I'm so grateful that you guys finally printed something about them. They deserve as much or more press than most of the bands AP goes on about. So, mad props.
Essy Lynn Davis
Oak Grove, MO

When I went downstairs to eat my breakfast, I ran straight into my May issue of AP. So of course, I opened it up, looked at the first few ads, then opened to the features list in the table of contents to see the most glorious words ever: From First To Last. Naturally, I flipped to page 86 to see my magazine graced with the lovely talents that have been my life since the ripe age of 12 when I went to my first Warped Tour in 2005 and saw their beautiful faces up close and personal. I have every album, including Aesthetic, and have loved the lyrics and music that has changed my life. And although their self-titled album was a slight disappointment, it was really awesome to read why exactly they created it and why they did what they did with it. It opened my eyes to truly how rough a time they were going through. And it was the first I heard of them not having Travis Richter. So thank you, AP, for further informing me on my favorite band in the world.
Morgan Tangent
Ventura, CA

I can say with relative confidence that nothing I've written for The Wire, not even the piece on Wadada Leo Smith, has ever inspired literal screaming.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Saturday, May 22, 2010


Another burst of reviews have gone live; check 'em out...

At the Gates, Purgatory Unleashed: Live at Wacken
Peter Brötzmann/Paal Nilssen-Love, Woodcuts
Dead Fader, Corrupt My Examiner
Enforcer, Into the Night
Enforcer, Diamonds
Excepter, KA
I Am Abomination, To Our Forefathers
Karma to Burn, Appalachian Incantation
Vektor, Black Future

I also reviewed Glitterbug's Privilege, but that one wasn't run, so here 'tis:

German techno producer Till Rohmann, aka Glitterbug, releases a two-CD set of semi-ambient, somewhat minimalist tracks inspired by the international travel his DJ lifestyle permits him, and the thoughts that travel inspires re global inequality, et cetera. As the science fiction writer William Gibson has said, “The future is already here, it’s just not evenly distributed.” But this is entirely instrumental music, so it’s easy enough to throw it on and let all philosophical and ethical questions vanish, swept away on a wave of humming and whooshing synthesizer melodies and unobtrusively thumping beats. Much German techno rides a fine line between ambient-ish music and steady, trance-inducing beats just loud enough to seemingly counteract the soporific effects of the keyboards, and Glitterbug is definitely in that zone; some tracks, like “After All,” do rise to the point of some kind of crescendo, but it takes eight minutes to happen, so the home listener might be excused for making the “get-on-with-it” gesture a time or two as this double disc patiently unfolds. Ultimately, there’s enough beauty here to make Privilege a compelling listen, though.

Thursday, May 20, 2010


Here's some really beautiful footage of Wadada Leo Smith, Louis Moholo and Steve Noble, filmed by someone named Helen Petts in London two weeks ago.

Here's a little more:

Sunday, May 16, 2010


Legendary metal singer Ronnie James Dio passed away early Sunday morning, May 16, from the stomach cancer he'd been battling since November 2009. The 67-year-old Dio had one of the greatest and most recognizable voices in metal history. His career began in the 1950s, fronting various rockabilly and R&B groups (Ronnie and the Red Caps, Ronnie and the Prophets) in upstate New York. "When you start, you do cover material, and whatever happened to be around, we did it," he told me in an interview last August. "We did a lot of blues, a lot of R&B material very popular back East—people like Sam Cooke, Jackie Wilson, the Isley Brothers, James Brown, those kinds of people. You did what was put in front of you."

Dio really found his niche in the early '70s, though, first with the boogie/Southern-rock-style band Elf and then alongside former Deep Purple guitarist Ritchie Blackmore in Rainbow. With his theatrical outfits and dramatic, sweeping gestures, not to mention his astonishingly powerful voice, he established a persona far larger than his relatively small physical stature, stalking the stage and commanding the audience's attention at all times.

After leaving Rainbow in 1978, he moved on to front Black Sabbath, and in so doing reshaped that legendary band in his own image. "When we did 'Children of the Sea,' I think that was the first one we wrote together, and that showed that I was more than capable of doing it," Dio recalled about taking over as Sabbath's lyricist. "And Geezer [Butler, bassist and primary lyricist during the Ozzy years] really didn't want to write. When I came in, he said, 'You're gonna write the lyrics, aren't you?' and I said, 'Well, I certainly hope so,' and he said, 'Oh, thank God, that's one job I never wanted.'"

Where the band had been focused on doomy rock and relatively down-to-earth lyrical concerns with Ozzy Osbourne up front and Butler doing most of the writing, when Dio joined, he brought his own interest in heroism and myth to bear on the albums Heaven And Hell, Mob Rules, and Dehumanizer. Last year, that lineup of Black Sabbath, now renamed Heaven And Hell, released one of 2009's best albums, The Devil You Know—a stunningly heavy, operatic meditation on mortality and doom, by four guys who helped invent a genre and got back together to show the youngsters how it's done.

But no matter how heavy the music was, Dio's fundamental optimism always shone through. "None of the songs end with 'OK, and now we're going to die,'" he told me in that conversation. "My manner is always to let people know that someone out there feels the same, and luckily I've got a stage to speak for them."

Of course, Dio also achieved solo stardom in the '80s, with albums like The Last In Line, Holy Diver, and Sacred Heart, and classic metal anthems like "Rainbow In The Dark," "The Last In Line" and "We Rock." I was lucky enough to see him live three times—first on his Sacred Heart tour in 1986, then as the middle act on the bill (between Motörhead and headliners Iron Maiden) in 2003, and finally in 2008, fronting Heaven and Hell on the Metal Masters Tour with Judas Priest, Motörhead and Testament. The latter show was my then-eight-year-old nephew's first concert, and I'm really glad he was able to see a true legend perform. The world of metal has suffered a great loss; we'll never see another performer like Ronnie James Dio.

Saturday, May 08, 2010


Another two weeks, another 10 reviews:

1349, Demonoir
16, Curves That Kick and Drop Out
Coffinworm, When All Became None
Bako Dagnon, Sidiba
Paul Dunmall/Chris Corsano, Identical Sunsets
Excepter, Streams
The Howling Wind, Into the Cryosphere
Eyal Levi/Emil Werstler, Avalanche of Worms
Warbeast, Krush the Enemy