Thursday, October 30, 2008

TVontheRadio - Dear Science

Feel free to browse metacritic for the reviews. Also go to their myspace page (www.myspace.com/tvontheradio) to listen to the entire record. It's all there!

This album is boring. I've given it around six listens all the way through. Tried headphones of differing quality, car speakers, laptop speakers, and home speakers. The record seemed to work the best on bikerides for me, as the lack of dynamics is suited to a ride with lots of outside noise. That said, the lack of dynamics make this record a boring experience for sitting down and listening.

The way in which the record sounds is what bothers me most. What struck me initially and still holds true is the fact that the album has two distinct realms: the vocal, and the instrumental. The organic vs. the inorganic. This could be an interesting thing to work with through the album, but no great revelation came to me (this is not a record that is interested in recording). Many of the tracks have a Main Melody Line (doubled or not) that appears to the listener as One Take. Then there are various overdubs that jump in and out of the mix willy-nilly. The overdubs are panned in awkward places and are especially apparent when wearing headphones . It has the appearance of laziness in arrangement. There is a lack of emotional impact to the vocals as well. The instrumental tracks lack dynamic subtly, and so when the vocalists got passionate, I felt uncomfortable, like there was an awkward friend doing karaoke at a bar and getting a little too into it. The instruments were never allowed to breathe with the vocalists, thus making the voices sound ridiculous and the instruments like a moving brick wall.

Arrangement: Most of the songs have programmed drums, guitar, bass, keyboards, various electronics (?), strings, horns, female vocals (appearing randomly at the end of the record in duet). Oh my, the drums bug the hell out of me. Very basic and could potentially be made interesting, but they come across more like a click-track than anything. All of the instruments sound like they're trying their hardest to be exactly on the beat and playing at exactly the same volume level throughout. It sounds careful, not tight. Each instrument also appears to be mixed in isolation. When the horns come into the mix a quarter of the way through the album, it does not sound exciting or new. The horns sound like close-miked horns. The strings sound like close-miked strings. The electric guitars sound like close-miked electric guitars. The drums sound like presets (save a few tracks, where they sound actually interesting "Halfway Home" (the toms) or "DMZ" where they sound like REAL drums). All of these super clean instruments sound too matter-of-fact and appear stale and lifeless. The electric guitars chug along to finish two or three of the tracks on "Dear Science" in a way that sounds glib and redundant. There is no interesting NOISE to the sounds on the record, so to prolong outros and such made my attention wander to places elsewhere.

The songwriting! To me, boring! Nursery rhyme melodies! Simple forms! This is pop, rock, and electronica. There is nothing avant about the way in which sounds are arranged. In fact I agree with the reviewer from Pitchfork who talked about TVOTR's live performances and how these songs could be made more interesting in a live setting. I agree. Strip away the redundant and unnecessary overdubs and streamline the arrangements. Then rehearse a lot with the band. And make sure to use a real drummer. Bam. "Powerful" "pop/rock" musc. This record isn't bad, it just sounds like well-polished demos.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Take That, Magma!

This is simply put one of the most overwrought, tangled and verbose reviews ever.

"This bizarre and unique jazz-rock has sci-fi trappings."

As you tell, my sarcasm is thick today. Thank you Allmusic guide, for once again reinforcing the idea that any review is better than no review.

Brilliant.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Slowly. Slowly. Take it All In.



This drumset is 308 pieces. 308. Three hundred and eight. Separate. Drums.

I've had my share of drum-related pant tents, but good god does this inspire the ultimate rager. There is simply no way in holy hell that a drummer could properly play on this set. Mostly, I imagine a lot of desperate flailing, and many attempts at the longest descending-note tom fill. Ever.

I mean, let's give you a little perspective. Here's Terry Bozzio's kit:


This drum kit pushed the limits of time and space for me already. Count the foot pedals: 15 can be assumed (some of them are blocked by 1 of 22 toms in his set-up). This kit can be played but only Bozzio or perhaps Keith Moon on adderol. Maybe.

But 308 pieces?! I wanted to delve further into this urban legend, so I of course checked Youtube. You are not going to believe what I found.



DO YOU BELIEVE?! DO YOU! That, dear friends, is a drum boner. Flaming helmet indeed!

Monday, July 28, 2008

Swell Maps - Jane in Occupied Europe

Here is my abridged review of this amazing experimental pop record. It won't win any awards, but I simply wrote it while listening, so the whole thing only took me about forty five minutes. Allmusic has a two sentence review. I'm pretty sure I have more than two sentences. Point being, I hope someone stumbles onto this while looking for reviews, and can actually read about how it sounds.

Robot Factory - cranking and whirring buzzes, and a ghostly organ drones away in the background, unsure if it accepts the clanging percussion. Epic enters on bass and snare, tight and crisp, as the chaos of the off-kilter percussion envelops him. About a minute later...

A huge bass and drum hook up leads into a messy, strange organ and vocal led romp, with Epic pounding out a nice-Beefheartian backwards drumbeat. Huge build-up leads to an amazing saxophone break played by Jowe Head. "Border Country" is a standard guitar-led track that wouldn't sound out of place on Nirvana's Bleach. Dissonant, but glaringly catchy. Intro-verse-chorus-verse-chorus-instrumental bridge-verse-chorus-out. You don't get a standard structure from Swell Maps too often, but they pull it off fantastically.

"Cake Shop Girl" is a guitar and synth-led track, rather catchy if not for Jowe Head's low, mumbled vocal. It sounds like it came out about five years too early, and the same could be applied to the rest of the record. One can see how Jowe hooked up with Television Personalities' Dan Treacy later on in their careers, what with the synth lead and pop sensibilities.

"Helicopter Skies" is a barn-stormer, the sound of guitars cranked up as loud as fucking possible. Another pretty standard song, but the insane volume, four on the floor beat, and the lead guitar creaking and swooping around the background create a song rife with tension. Always a fan of great outtros, the boys start to break down to quieter state as Epic plugs along on his crashes.

"Big Maz in the Desert" and "Big Empty Fields" are the true jumping off points in this record. Structure is abandoned for pulse and texture. The drums and bass in "Big Maz..." shutter along in a clumsy Krautrock groove, as the rest of the band seemingly leaves their guitars against their amps to feed back, pianos are bludgeoned, and percussion of course is thrown around the room. The bass drops out, the drums lighten up, and the boom! the bombast continues until you're in the fetal position with your headphones on. "Big Empty Fields," on the other hand, is crafted in chaotic subtlety. Again, a bass and drum hook-up pins the song down, while guitar harmonics and lonely sax create an alien landscape.

You know, I love crazy noise music. I do! But what follows the smooth and calculated improvisations is "Mining Villages," which is literally the sound of someone smashing typewriter keys while another person makes silly noises for about a minute. Stereo-damaging nonsense. Quintessential Swell Maps.

"Collision with a Frogman" is yet another drum/bass instrumental, with dissonant James Bond guitar fragmenting out until the song is bathed in flange and falls apart completely, revealing a new track "...Vs the Mangrove Delta Plan," an improvisation that comes deliriously close to boring the hell out of me.

"Secret Island" comes exactly when it's most needed. A classic rock/pop structure is a welcome respite from the noise hailstorms I've weathered, and the song is freaking great. Can't make out any of the lyrics, but that's never the point with the Maps.

"Whatever Happens Next" besides being the band's status quo, is a militant drone with thick gauzy fuzz guitar and group vocals. It's the sound of a band stuck in a loop, and the tension involved in that song is unmistakable.

If you want to know what it's like to ride a flaming chariot down Route 95 blind-folded, "Blenheim Shots" will take you there chariot-free. An absolutely blazing two-chord riff is pushed to the brink the moment the song begins, with Nikki Sudden's words stumbling and breaking over the verse, suddenly overtaken by a organ-led chorus, only to have the verse consume all before it.

I really like this song. I mean, Desert Island favorite style. The lyrics finish up, complete with Nikki saying, "OK, stop," as the song continues to blaze around him, but the musicians take no note. They build to furious climax, as a strange piano pattern starts to emerge out of the mix, eventually overtaking "Blenheim Shots." "A Raincoats Room" ends the album with stark beauty, the sound of 4 out-of tune pianos hammering out the same descending chord triads.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Raincoats - Ody Shape

It came about 3 days ago, and I've listened to it about ten times, so let's get down to the nitty gritty.

As a whole, the album is a beautiful mess, with three rules of structure musically speaking:

1. The music follows the words. As explained in the re-issue's liner notes, Gina Birch states they wrote most of the music in the absence of a drummer, so a metered beat occurs occasionally. In fact, most of the record abandons harmonic and rhythmic convention entirely, sometimes in the middle of a song. The effect is incredibly jarring. Unlike punk groups like The Clash, Sex Pistols, or even Wire, the band was wildly experimental. Birch again: "I think we always took punk philosophy very seriously and we rejected the traditional forms of rock music, that in fact most bands ultimately didn't reject." This is not sneering, sarcastic, clothespin and leather punk. This is music being ripped apart from the seams.

2. Instruments switch roles. The bass could be the lead instrument in a song. And then cello and violin. Suddenly a kalimba enters the fray. You get the picture.

3. Destroy all expectations. Listen freely and sit back, because this album is a fucking journey.


The album opens with the solemn "Shouting Out Loud," a bass-led piece that features This Heat's Charles Hayward playing a rickety percussion pattern auto-panned left to right with subtle interjections from an electric guitar and pizzicato violin. Although spare, the arrangement is rife with tension.The lyrics concern a wounded female contemplating her life/love. This will be a constant theme throughout.

"Family Treet" is as dense as they come on "Odyshape," with a mournful piano creating the harmonic boundaries. A bowed bass, violin, and breath-taking whispery vocals create a shimmering, constantly-shifting landscape, as the band moves from a plodding 4/4 to an antsy 5/4. The tempo shifts are chaotic, as some instruments shift before others, and melody lines seem to place emphasis more on texture than anything else.

My personal favorite "Only Loved at Night" follows, a song that respects a steady meter a little better than most. A shrill descending electric guitar line holds down the verse, with a glorious melody sung by Ana and harmonized by a huge bass guitar that almost over-takes the rest of the recording. It's when the chorus hits that I'm swept away. What sounds like a washboard and bells are struck in an eighth note pattern, as a lone kalimba picks out a stark melody. Ana intones, "Boys love her at night, girls love her in the dark," and goddamn I have to meet this girl.

"Dancing in My Head" is more free, as the instruments follow Gina's words concerning the battle between the spiritual and physical. Resembling a German lied, the song is a perversely "standard" tune compared to the rest of the lot. Former PIL drummer Richard Dudanski lends a hand on an assortment of percussion, a role he would eventually take as a full-time drummer on "Kitchen Tapes" and "Moving".

Another gem, "Odyshape," emerges in a cloud of digital delay. The dueling electric guitars and even Hayward's booming, clattering drums bounce and shimmer, as the women sing of the female image in modern culture, statements that still ring true.

I'm not glamorous
or polished in fact
I'm no ornament
it could be my bodyshape
I wonder if I'll ever look right


The guitar/drum combo sway back and forth, teetering on the brink, a microcosm of the album as a whole. Just an amazing song that pulls you in.

"And Then It's OK" and "Red Shoes" both rely on natural pulse and feel rather then conventional rhythm, with infamous experimentalist and Writemare favorite Robert Wyatt providing percussion flourishes. "Baby Song" song is almost funky, driven primarily by Hayward's stalwart drumming and a direct-recorded guitar. The closer, "Go Away," is an angry plea for isolation. Screams of chaos meet with a physical and confrontational arrangement that ends with a bombastic swell of violin shrieks.


Took me freaking half an hour tops to provide this fan-boy narrative of a record review. Hope this gives people a better idea of what this album sounds like, instead of a completely useless three sentence fart that simply reinforces the album's existence.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

You Almost Have To Feel Bad For Black Kids

So, let's say you're one of the Black Kids.

You're from Jacksonville, Florida, which already sucks. I mean, ok, I guess you might get to see NFL bust Matt Jones walking around all white and beardy, but otherwise, gross. But anyway, you and your friends form a band, self-release a mediocre EP, and within minutes you're officially the Next Big Thing, as evidenced by constant, drooling coverage from NME and Pitchfork and the like.

So, you get a record deal, and you put out a record. And then THIS happens:

http://www.pitchforkmedia.com/article/record_review/51246-black-kids-partie-traumatic

Yeah...those guys who loved you and hyped you up and pretty much guaranteed good things from you? They won't even deign to write a SINGLE SENTENCE about your record. Because, meh, sorry, didn't you know Fleet Foxes are the tits now?

And what does that "sorry" imply, anyway? "Sorry, readers, that we kept talking about this shitty band for 6 months and now have to admit that they're shitty"? Or "Sorry, Black Kids, but your check didn't clear"?

Or is it just a simple declarative statement: "This is some sorry, sorry shit."

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Upcoming Scrawls

This week will try and touch on the following records:

The Raincoats - Odyshape

It's coming in the mail right now, and a review will be quick and painless, something to erase bad memories from one's tainted mind

La Dusseldorf- Viva!

Klaus Dinger, he of the staple motorik drumbeat, unveils his krautrock masterwork on my ears. The world explodes.

Hawkwind - Space Ritual

Lemmy on bass, proto-punk riffing, saxophone orgies, terrible cosmic poetry. It's gonna be awezome.

Rolling Stones - Emotional Rescue

Oft-forgotten weird Stones album. The title track is really weird. That's all I got right now.

Swell Maps - Jane From Occupied Europe

A travesty of an album review by allmusic leads me to review and then submit said review to allmusic. Will it be rejected? Most likely. Ah well.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Talking to Old Friends (Odyshape)

Allmusicguide.com, for all of its amazing content, falls short sometimes. Here's another example of a completely glossed over review that describes not a single note of music. As soon as I get a copy to listen to, I'll write a allmusicguide-style review that I'll submit to them. Perhaps they'll enjoy an actual review compared to this lame synopsis:

"It was the late Kurt Cobain (with some help from labelmates Sonic Youth) who initiated Geffen's reissue of the Raincoats' catalog. And listening to Odyshape, it's easy to see why Cobain loved them so."

A little background info, not bad. Also, members of Sonic Youth were among those (not just Cobain) who pushed for the re-releases. Also, the second sentence is completely unnecessary.

"There's an emotional directness about these songs that hooks you from the start. Mostly you hear about emotions and situations, sometimes indirectly, almost as if you are eavesdropping on a conversation. Then it hits you: it's almost like you're talking to old friends."

I've heard live versions of these songs, and I agree with him. But what about the music? Is it messy or tight? Did you know that This Heat drummer Charles Hayward plays drums througout the album? That Robert Wyatt makes an appearance? I mean, these are notable items that would attract many listeners to said record. Why not go into any kind of detail here?

Instead, we get a half-baked "talking to old friends" statement that belongs in a Eagles review. Also of note, the final three sentences scream, "COP OUT!" like no review I've seen in a while. Completely lazy.

"That's the way the Raincoats' music works: it's deceptively simple, but extremely complicated. Also, as on this record, it makes demands of the listener."


So, how does the music work? It's both simple AND complicated? I understand the concept, but WHERE in the Raincoat's album Odyshape, lies the truth in your statement? Again, the second sentence is redundancy realized, a classic "what in the hay bale does the second sentence truly represent?" kind of thing. I feel like I am once again compelled to read the liner notes.

"But songs like "Red Shoes" and "Dancing in My Head" say this far more eloquently."

OK, thanks. We get two song titles, not a single lyrical reference point, not a single musical reference point, outside of the fact that one should be prepared for a challenging music experience that contains simple and complicated parts. Oh yeah, and the songs sound like old friends.

And that's it. As far as I can tell, there are no drums, guitar, bass or instruments of any kind on the album. I have no idea what the band sounds like. For a band whose sound is shambling and epic, and then suddenly stilted and primitive, any kind of explanation for what the listener can expect would be nice.

Furthermore, I accept any criticism, but any commenter who believes that Allmusicguide should be free of critique "because there is soooooo much music to review" should ask themselves a question: Since when is quality less valuable than quantity? Should any one source lower their standards just to pat themselves on the back for having the most reviews?

Friday, June 27, 2008

Getting Sick Nasty

Best way to start the day: How about a drum lesson from the 9/8 Satanic beatsmith himself, Professor Phil Fucking Collins?


Freaking yes!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

This Heat - Deceit

Although much hallowed already, I'll take a gentle stab into Deceit.

Charles Hayward, drums, voice, tapes, says this of the two albums:

"The way that we explained it to ourselves was the first one[This Heat 1] was the dread, the fear unspoken, unrationalized. The second [Deceit] was the fear slightly more rationalized. The dread and fear thing was this whole (nuclear) mutually-assured-destruction thing that was happening at the time. We all thought that we were going to die in about two, three years. We really did."

After listening back to these albums a second time, I can understand what he's talking about (although whether or not the albums were meant to be conceptual is up in the air). One thing's for sure, the band was more focused and indeed song-oriented this time around.

That's not to say that radical experimentation takes a backseat. "Sleep" opens the album with piano tape loops, both looped and live percussion, and and a choir of ragged voices. The vocal harmonies are most notable for Charles Bullen's(guitar, tapes, bass, keyboards, vox) deep bass, usually singing a full octave below Hayward's and Gareth William's tenor and baritone ranges. Most of the harmonies move in parallels instead of Beatles-style triads, which create a very heavy and almost menacing feel that permeates the record. Hayward's singing is barely that, as he prefers to deliver his words with atonal shrieks and primal howls. He saves the rage for future tracks though, and

Each song has its own unique structure. "Sleep" is very simple, hypnotic as the title implies. They follow this strange beauty with one of the most abrasive, aggressive and downright brilliant slices of post-punk I've ever heard. "Paper Hats" opens with a circularly-picked detuned guitar and corresponding tom to hi-hat syncopations, with quiet lyrical questions exploding into a storm of screams and splash cymbals. As the song builds to a climax, a hailstorm of taped effects rings out over a rollicking beat as the guitars hew away frantically, giving way to what some consider the birth of post-rock. The final 3 minutes are dedicated to a muted A flat power chord resolving to an E in a time signature that I still can't count, but have learned how to play. The hi-hat is the center, as it's eighth note open/close pattern is endless. The kick drum only hooks up with the E in the guitar at the end of each phrase, to give extra emphasis to the shift in time signature. The snare is used for color, and behind this strange rhythmic muscle (no bass guitar in the entire song!) echoed and distorted tape effects radiate and shift constantly until you realize that the tapes are a room-recording of the band playing the same section slower, so as to cause a phase out as the song fades to nothing.

And that's just one song. Shades of Henry Cow, Can, Faust, and Soft Machine in just over 6 minutes.

"SPQR" is a bass-less barn-storming classic, as a four-on-the-floor drum approach bereft of the snare drum is augmented by complex cymbal polyrhythms and a guitar approach that sounds like Bullen won't be content until he saws off every last string. It's a frantic piece that also features a saxophone, dub effects and fine mixing with lyrics that reveal, "We're all Romans, we know all about, straight roads, every straight road leads home, home to Rome." Just an unbelievable lyrical idea, delivered with battering ferocity under the guise of a simple rock song. This is followed by my personal favorite "Cenotaph."

If anything defines angular sound, it is the first few bars of "Cenotaph." Again, Hayward's constantly pulsing hi-hat and pitched up snare lead the way, as a guitar and bass pick single notes against each other seemingly at random. Only until the section is repeated do you recognize the method to the madness, as every last note is repeated in sequence. The group vocals are in fine form, with no fluff harmonies, only octaves and parallel fifths. The lyrics are breathtaking, describing a post-nuclear war and resigning to this horrible inevitability, "History, history, repeats itself," making sure it's beaten into the listener's skull. The song's jagged guitar work and wandering bassline collapse after a strange bridge (including directly recorded guitar?), eventually succumbing to a ghostly saxophone planing on a forgotten riff as the band is overtaken by a delay and reverb effects.

The second side of the album is unflinchingly bleak, which is saying a lot. "Shrinkwrap" is "Sleep's" obnoxious ADD-riddled little brother, with a constant, "You lie you lie, you lie" vocal tape loop hammering away in the background. "Radio Prague" is the one near-miss on the album, a literal taping of radio with someone working the faders, giving way to the hardcore/hard rock/prog of "Makeshift Swahili." A tad more traditional than the other cuts, the band slices funk up with drone, as Hayward howls his way to an epic primal-screaming conclusion. Here's a live version (warning: this performance is insane).

"Independence" is a beautiful curio, combining crisply recorded acoustic guitar, a flute organ, what sounds like a live flute, and drums with a liberal re-interpretation of our nation's Declaration of Independence. Strange and dark, the song gives way to the epic "A New Kind of Water," which somehow maintains an air of optimism amidst the doom-laden imagery and howling guitars. The true power of the track lies in the bass and drums, hooking up for some of the most powerful interplay put on magnetic tape.

As quickly as it begins, the record is over with "Hi Baku Sho (Suffer Bomb Disease)," a sparse instrumental held up with harmonium variations, looped and distorted voice and other found sounds.

An insane step forward for a band who just one year previous had only fleetingly attempted to write "songs," Deceit is a document of late 70's fear and paranoia. We all joke about the Cold War now, but the fear was real, and Dr. Strangelove scenarios had been accepted as truths. Although representing an era almost 40 years in our past, Deceit is ageless, a truly innovative work that bobs and weaves its way out of conventional pigeonholing until today, when Mark E. Smith's words ring true:

The experimental is the new conventional

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Music Rec

Hooray for new format! I am a terrible writer, thus I have no balls to critique critics. Music recommendation for the week:

This Heat - This Heat

This is from '79? Or thereabouts. (Thank god I don't have to write a review of this). There are three contributers to the record. We hear them function as a unit of guitar, 'boards, and drums, but they're all multi-instrumentalists. I make note of this because it was strangely apparent, even on the most studioriffic tracks that some aspect of performance was occurring. I'm getting ahead of myself.

This record is exactly what I've been looking for for the past two years. Ever since I fell in love with compositional technique from the second half of the 20th century I've been searching for a record that presents like-minded material. That wasn't my only criteria, though, as I wanted a RECORD. I didn't want some poorly recorded live performance by a group of faceless instrumentalists, written by some out-of-touch pansy, and delivered to me via an orchestra - the tonal equivalent of the 8-bit generation of videogame consoles (hardcore, yes, but unable to deliver my idea of gameplay). I wanted a record and This Heat delivered.

"Testcard" opens the record. 47 seconds of a quietly recorded high-pitched synthetic drone. Sounds like a combination of modified sine waves with radio interference. This is such a typical way to open a work, but because it's so short, it comes across as inconsequential. After such an abstract opening, This Heat hit us hard with second track "Horizontal Hold." This song introduces us to the band. It begins with a room mic on them, the drums playing fast in 4 but being felt in a groovy 2; guitar quickly strumming some mid-range distorted cluster; while the keyboard lurches a bass groove highlighting M7th and octave leaps. Typical punks! But after only a handful of repetitions of the groove, the listener is suddenly taken out of the recording room and is presented with an abstract landscape of percussion. Everything is now close-micced (miced? neither look right). We hear the click and clack of the drums and guitar, while the keyboard continues the up and down motion of the previous chunk, only now stretched out with an extreme low chord followed by a lower midrange one. This continues for just a short bit before the band explodes into a section that highlights the tonal expanse that the band can take up. The guitar plays a searing lead riff, the drums making clear use of the crash while providing a stomping rhythm, while the keyboard presents more frequency-filling sine waves. This is all juxtaposed with utter silence. Classic. And yet so poignant!

I won't go on to describe the rest of the song, as I just wanted to talk about enough of the music to display an attention to detail of composition and construction. In order to convey the performative aspect of the material presented, they played with mic-placement in a way that allowed for them to do something as abstract as close-micing (and thus placing the instruments on an abstract plane to be delivered through the speakers and understood within the listening room) and still convey the SUCKERPUNCH of what a fucking tight band they are. As I said earlier, there are some rather abstractly recorded moments, but because of the way they present their awareness of micing issues, one never loses that visceral feeling. And that, to me, is totally awesome.

In order to keep this recommendation from being striaght-up analysis, I'll be briefer and more excited for the rest.

There is singing on four of the tracks. Perfectly executed! There's a wonderful balance in the way they move from instrumentals to songs with vocals without any break in the continuity. It's amazing! Speaking of continuity: although "Horizontal Hold" is all about rhythm with pitch-content kept to a scant dissonance, This Heat do not hold back from lyricism and display a keen sense of memorable lines (even when they're being as clever as controlling pitch-content do we find that they never let their intellectualism of pitch choice get in the way of simple experience enjoyment). WOW! They're amazing.

Did I mention that (since this was released as an LP originally) the A side is the same aesthetic experience as the B side? Rhythmic openers ("Horizontal Hold" and "24 Hour Loop"), followed by unmoored keyboard drones which ease into a songy moment ("Not Waving" and "Diet of Worms"/"Music of Escaping Gas"), etc. I'll let you put together the rest! It's fun! And that seemingly inconsequential opening "Testcard" becomes something immensely powerful and spine-chilling when it returns to close the record (the context is BRILLIANT!).

I like this record. It is experimental, yes, but everything is brilliantly executed and there is NO FAT on this record, as every moment lasts just as long as it needs. This Heat made a record that I love. And these last few weeks with it have been so much happier for it. So get it, k?

Friday, June 20, 2008

Scott Walker - Scott 4

I picked this album up at half.com, a nice subsidiary of eBay for the monetarily challenged.

Known for his hit with hilariously-named outfit the Walker Brothers (none of them were brothers, Scott was the only Walker, they were British, he was American) "The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore," Walker has the kind of voice that could quiet a room with one note. A deep, full baritone that is bereft of any strain or exertion, Walker's strange, dark poetry breathes better with less instrumental frills.

Music

Much contention lies in what makes a song "a song." I hate putting this shit into quotations, which should tell you what side of the fence I stubbornly root myself to. Walker's songs range from the traditional Soul verse/chorus style ("Get Behind Me", "Duchess"), to almost German Lied style ("Boy Child", "Angels of Ashes") bereft of any shift in structure. Walker extends himself further into country("Rhymes of Goodbye"), the poignant closer that goes from clumsy slide guitar verse to a soaring chorus. Although unfocused at times, you can feel Walker's confidence in every chord.

Walker's previous solo ventures were stuffed with echo-chambered strings and over-wraught arrangements. On 4 he manages to reign in the fluff, maintaining a tempermental balance between stripped down folk rock (acoustic guitars, bass, drums) and the 60's pop bombast of a string ensemble aided with backing vocals and church organ. Tracks like "Hero of the War" exemplify this approach to a T. The drums hammer out a Bo Diddley riff on the floor tom, eventually punctuated with a tambourine backbeat. The guitars ignore simple chords and drone on open shapes, lacking any real definition besides holding up the harmonic base of the piece. The string arrangement consists of small ensemble of violin and viola, whose swelling charts are doctored with a vintage phase effect.

Let me be honest in saying no great boundaries were broken (Walker saved that for 1995's avant-rock Tilt, but that's another review), but his mastery of 60's songwriting and his progression to linear song-writing make this a more than rewarding listen.

Words

Besides clunker "Seventh Seal", Walker draws from a dark palette to construct his lyrics. Songs about Josef Stalin seemingly coming to back from the dead, cryptic passages evoking mythical creatures and dead cities, and most importantly, lyrics that were overwhelmingly melancholy, but not in a "hey, i'm sad, look at me crying" way. The darkness of the words pervert the sweetness of the arrangements to create a constant, sizzling tension that Walker channels into his delivery. My favorite lyric, from the second track "On Your Own Again", is a study of impact. The song is sung in past tense, as Walker laments a break-up. But the final line takes the listener back to the beginning, in which he imparts the bizarre feeling of ecstacy one feels at the start of a relationship:

Except when it began
I was so happy I didn't feel like
me


I broke up the lyric as the final verse dictates. The music slows and pauses, as apprehensive as the singer, evoking the exact rush of confusion and happiness the lyric expresses. Instead of saying he's no longer sad, he describes his happiness as an entirely alien emotion. Awesome.

There is, however, one stiff. "Seventh Seal" is exactly as it reads, a synopsis of Ingmar Bergman's film of the same name. Lyrically, it does what it's assigned, but I'm not that geeked out over that film (Wild Strawberries, now that's a different story). Musically, it's just an R'n'B beat with assorted percussion. Compositionally, the only moment of interest is the incredily awkward key change halfway through, which is so glaringly obvious that it defeats itself.

While shrouded in Spector-like orchestrations, the album has aged decently. The re-release includes a booklet of photos and lyrics, with no David Fricke bio or anything. I like Scott Walker for this very reason; he giveth, and he taketh away.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

A Refresher

After taking a brief hiatus to ponder the true direction of this blog, I've come to some conclusions.

a) unending vitriol is still funny, but instead of just railing on bad reviews, I think it's time we write new reviews for said terrible ones. That way something constructive comes of it all.

b) continue to point readers to Metacritic.com, possibly the best place to read about new records on the planet. Forget Rolling Stone, forget Pitchfork, Spin, this site collects them all and then averages out the total score. This is cool. And fun. So instead of telling people to avoid certain sites, I'll just funnel your asses to this one. Believe!

c) giant drumsets are still the bee's knees. Read that point again. The BEE's freaking KNEES. Some things will change. Tommy Lee rotating inside a sphere of drums will not.

d) if my fellow contributors will not contribute, then contribute they will not. Don't worry reader(s), that's not a threat meant for you. Namely, all my friends who never post are goners. Besides mattie.

e) I don't care who you're associated with. You could be Greil Marcus for all I care. If you write something awful, we will pounce. But take note that I failed grammar in high school, so I ain't exactly the bee's knees.

f) Recommendations. If I can get anyone on this blog to fricking contribute, there will be 5 album recommendations a week, from now to eternity. These albums could be old, new, out-of-print, or all of the above somehow. We like these records, but not because we have a shady deal with some investors. Music's great, right? Right?

All right, I'll shut up and post this thing. No pictures or anything, I promi...

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Alex Henderson Strikes Again!

Ahem:

When conservative commentator Bill O'Reilly attacked Ludacris' explicit lyrics on The O'Reilly Factor in 2002, he inadvertently did the Atlanta-based MC an enormous favor. Ludacris was already huge, but by making him out to be the forbidden fruit, O'Reilly inspired even more people to buy his CDs. Sex and violence sell, and rappers who are quick to offer cheap thrills -- Ludacris, Eminem, Lil' Kim, 50 Cent, among many others -- will have an easier time selling albums than the alternative rappers who are big on delayed gratification. But delayed gratification doesn't mean no gratification at all -- only that listeners need to be patient, which is the best way to approach an alterna-rap disc like Celestial Clockwork. Columbus, OH, rapper Illogic doesn't go for cheap thrills or the quick fix on this 2004 release. He doesn't scream the "n-word" at the top of his lungs every 30 seconds; he doesn't use the phrase "bitches and hoes" constantly or brag out about sleeping with countless groupies. Illogic is one of rap's intellectuals, and the heritage that he brings to the table -- influences like De La Soul, Q-Tip, and Common -- makes for a more nuanced, lyrically complex hip-hop experience. Illogic thrives on jazzy beats, and like a lot of the jazz recordings that have influenced his alterna-rap, Celestial Clockwork doesn't favor immediacy. But for those who are patient, gratification eventually comes. Illogic can be overly self-indulgent at times; that's another thing he has in common with many jazz artists. Illogic's self-indulgence sometimes gets the better of him -- much like a John Coltrane solo that was memorable even though it lasted ten minutes more than it needed to. But because Illogic's creativity is at such a high level, one can live with his excesses -- and more often than not, Celestial Clockwork paints a favorable (if imperfect) picture of the Midwestern alterna-rapper.


Woof.

Friday, April 4, 2008

We are High Class Lit



Yeah, man, we don't give a crap about anyone's shit. Just like this guy.

For the record, demanding that allmusicguide.com changes some of its more horrendous reviews is not that outrageous of an idea. I mean, one sentence reviews that sum up an artists career? You really want those things to stick around?

This isn't nitpicking, we are in it to win it so to speak. We would like the artist and listener to benefit from decent reviews, because as much as we'd like to deny it, it is tastemakers like pitchforkmedia, allmusicguide, Rolling Stone and Better Homes and Gardens that influence what we listen to.

So yeah, sorry you were annoyed by our "nitpicking." Although, when viewing this body of work, aren't you just nitpicking us? Doesn't feel very good when I turn it around on you, huh? Probably makes you feel like the opposite of this guy:

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Proof that Allmusic subcontracts to high school kids

I appreciate the difficulty allmusic.com faces in trying to compile reviews of everything ever, but are they really so desperate as to hire high school kids? Maybe. Let's see what L'il Alex Henderson has to say about the band Winters:

Some bands choose names that are quite misleading. That's fine if the band wants to be ironic (Barenaked Ladies, for example), but in some cases, bands come up with names based on what they think they sound like or wish they sounded like instead of what they actually sound like. Winters, however, is a band with a very appropriate name; Black Clouds in Twin Galaxies, their first full-length album, really does sound like a dark, cloudy, bleak winter day. This British outfit essentially falls into the doom metal category, and Black Clouds in Twin Galaxies maintains a dark, melancholy, pessimistic outlook. Of course, dark lyrics are to be expected in doom metal, which has been influenced by Black Sabbath more than any other band. Winters' sound owes a lot to Sabbath, but they have many other influences as well — and those influences range from British psychedelic bands of the '60s and '70s (Pink Floyd, Iron Butterfly, late-period Beatles) to Nirvana and the Melvins. Some have described this 41-minute CD (which is hard rocking but consistently melodic and never flat-out brutal) as stoner rock, which is slightly inaccurate. There is, to be sure, a very thin line between doom metal and stoner rock (both are totally obsessed with Sabbath), just as there can be a very thin line between soca and calypso, death metal and black metal, or zydeco and Cajun. Doom metal and stoner rock can easily overlap, but while doom wears its sadness like a badge of honor, stoner rock has more of a tripped-out, hippie-ish "let's party, dude" perspective — and Black Clouds in Twin Galaxies is much too sorrowful to be called party music. It is also a well-crafted and enjoyable outing from these British doom metallers.


Leaving aside for a moment the fact that he's definitely yet defiantly wrong about this being doom metal...doesn't AMG employ an editor? Didn't someone read this and say "Thanks for the 7th grade book report on the roots of Doom Metal, but your review sucks"?

Well, I just did.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Weirdest Admission Ever

Weird, straight from Pitchfork.

"Unclassifiable" is usually lazy shorthand for albums featuring both guitars and keyboards.

Hm...

So, this is pretty ridiculous. In reviewing Alopecia's new record, the critic lays down that slam dunk on his contemporaries. See below for the illustration of said action.

Andrea Varejao(the critic) is demolishing Chris Bosh(the critic's contemporaries).

Is this a sign of things to come? Are people actually willing to write lucid, analytical pieces that honor and respect the music they are being paid to review? My mind is melting as I try to comprehend the gravity of such an occurence...

Friday, March 7, 2008

NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO

"Swell Maps' debut album was a scattershot affair, ranging from blistering three-chord punk to free-form noise experiments, that was intriguing, yet frequently incoherent."

One sentence. One fucking sentence. That's it. In terms of describing the record, no vague term is more efficient than "scattershot." Fucking thing could sound like anything. This is a joke.

Guess who?

Not Pitchfork.

Stephen

Thomas

Erlewine.

How could you do this Stephen? How could you even call this a review? It's a mistake, a smudge, a fucking inkstain.

Terrible.

Be Ambitious, Just do it Slowly

This is the message that Dusted Magazine had to deliver to The Big Sleep in this wonderful review.

I get it, not everyone wants a band like At the Drive-In to morph overnight into Mars Volta. But still:

"The Big Sleep have also gotten better by huge leaps with each outing, delivering on the promise of their earlier songs without maturing too ambitiously."

Duh...

Okay. Big breath.

Ambition is this amazing force that propels most creatures to do anything. Most associate ambition with human greed and a drive, a passionate motivation to strive for something better. Essentially, to be ambitious is to desire improvement.

In some cases, ambition can cause one to make terrible decisions. Take U2's existence. They wanted to save the world. And now they get to walk around saying they are doing it, they are IMPROVING THINGS. The only thing they are improving is the notion that it's okay to call someone the Edge who is so obviously behind the cutting edge of guitar technology that I can't even come up with a fucking joke about it. Oh, never mind, here:
Pictured: The Grammies, where mediocrity meets talent!

Let's get back to the review at hand. The reviewer essentially claims that the band played their ambition card perfectly. I think we all know what too ambitious is(listen to Imperial Bedroom). What is too ambitious to this errant scribe? Big Sleep were a band who emulated Sonic Youth and Trans Am, who buried most of their melodies in guitar noise(sounds familiar, huh?). Now their voices are louder in the mix, and, according to said scribe, "Less suspense, more drama; cleaner noise, bigger noise, better noise."

Less suspense? Seems like you spend a lot of the review talking about the tension the album creates(ie. "Morose breather “Little Sister” is unremarkable on its own, but its place at the apex of a five-song rise in tension illustrates the big-picture design the band works so convincingly."). So, what? How?

How? How is the noise cleaner? Less guitars, more synth feedback? Tape loops? Crazy percussion? Casio army? Please, tell me more about this band and the...Oh, never mind.

No one cares about the music. It's just words on paper. They don't have to mean anything.

On the Subject of Derek Bailey

After acquiring an album or two of avant-guitarist Bailey's finer offerings, I decided to peruse AMG for further recommendations. And then I found this.

"Throughout his career, Derek Bailey has primarily been involved with atonal sound exporations on his guitar. This solo session (available as an Italian LP) features Bailey on 14 sketches getting a wide variety of noises and sounds out of his instrument. All but the most open-eared listeners will probably think of these performances as random noise but there is a method to Derek Bailey's apparent madness."

This is an album (Diverso No. 2), not a career overview. But really, that's all it is. Every once in a while, allmusic thinks it can provide filler. Notice the first sentence, where an insanely general comment is provided for background. And the second sentence, which refers to the tracks as "sketches." I'm trying not to view this as a back-handed put down, but c'mon. Just because there isn't a verse/chorus structure doesn't mean they aren't songs. DO NOT TRY TO BECOME A GREAT AUTHORITY ON WHAT MAKES A SONG A SONG. DO NOT TRY TO COME UP WITH A NEW TERM TO DESCRIBE HIS TECHNIQUE.

The third sentence is what really steams me off. Derek Bailey plays improvisational music. When the author lays down the "method to madness" line, what he means is Bailey improvises skillfully. I don't why that's such a huge fucking egg to swallow.

Terrible.

more bullshit about difficult music

my brother from another mother j-temperence has done some superb work exposing the concept of "musical exhaustion" for the intellectually lazy bullshit that it is. i generally try not to cover the same ground that he has, but this column is too perfect.

it's one thing when someone complains about an album being too damn difficult to listen to ("sitting there doing nothing as music came from the speakers was just so TIRING"). it's entirely another when a critic pats himself on the back for mustering the strength to put up with it.

mark richardson talks about a lot in this article. he talks about hearing trout mask replica for the first time and not liking it (this is kind of a giveaway). he says, "at first, the music in my mind sounded so much better than the reality." wow --- the music in your mind, huh? better than trout mask replica, huh?

moving on...

"difficult records serve as barometers [a tool for measuring air pressure], showing the limits of your current taste and understanding: here's where music gets too noisy; here is where it gets too atonal; this is that place where i don't know what the hell is going on." first, i'd like to quickly note that music can't be atonal in degrees. either you have a tonal center, or you don't -- there is no space between those categories. this is something most critics don't know. second, i'd like to slowly note that the way he conceives of taste is revealing.

critics never complain about music being too easy. such a thought would force them to revisit almost every assumption they have about rock music. if someone were to point out that vampire weekend's new album is really really boring because the band doesn't take any chances, then you'd have to start asking yourself who else doesn't take any chances (interpol, lcd soundsystem, sufjan stevens, black kids, black kids, black kids). NOT experimenting never raises any of these intellectual concerns. the "boundaries" that come up are always defined by the things that are too "noisy", or too "atonal" (i.e. "too fucking hard!!!"). the fundamental assumption is: everyone likes a good pop song, but nobody likes a nerd.

moving on...

"when i was a teenager i read in some guide that john coltrane's a love supreme was one of the great jazz records. and when i first bought it, having been exposed only to coltrane's contributions to kind of blue and miles davis' records of prestige, a love supreme sounded atonal and nutty, like nothing i imagined music could be. this 'free jazz' is some bizarre shit, i thought to myself. which now sounds silly to those weaned on wolf eyes and deerhoof, and abrasive punk rock."

what. the. fuck. i'm having a hard time expressing my anger over this paragraph. a musician probably wouldn't make this mistake, would never think that wolf eyes makes coltrane's later works easier to listen to, by virtue of being more experimental. i'm of the opinion that many of the indie-tards who throng to noise shows in williamsburgh still wouldn't know how to handle ascension, out to lunch, or jazz advance. maybe the lack of digitized screeching would strike them as "boring" (nothing compared to wolf eyes). that's probably for the best. if they bothered to notice harmonies, the whole thing would become "too atonal".

and besides, ornette coleman was black which means he probably couldn't experiment as well as white people who've been to college and know how to make feedback.

FUCK! FUCK! FUCK YOU STUPID ASSHOLE PITCHFORK DOUCHEBAG!!!!!!!

that felt good.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

A Taste of Neal

The words that join with the music on this song by Rush are just...I don't know, let's just take a look...

"Digital Man" (1982)

He'd love to spend the night in Zion
He's been a long while in Babylon
He'd like a lover's wings to fly on
To a tropic isle of Avalon

His world is under anesthetic
Subdivided and synthetic
His reliance on the giants
In the science of the day

He picks up scraps of information
He's adept at adaptation
Because for strangers and arrangers
Constant change is here to stay

He's got a force field and a flexible plan
He's got a date with fate in a black sedan
He plays fast forward for as long as he can
But he won't need a bed
He's a digital man


This. Is. Awesome. First off, it's established that this Digital Man hangs out and records conversations. Many of have gone through that phase in 10th grade where you wander around with a Dictaphone recording snippets of dialogue, fully expecting to incorporate them into future avant-garde projects. And then you find the tape 10 years later and wonder why you were such a toolbag.

This Digital Man can get along with anyone, as he is "adept at adapting." He must have a full pantload of friends; I mean, he has a fucking force field. That would be enough, but a flexible plan? I'm assuming he's referring to either his previously trumpeted adaptability or his health care plan (he is Canadien). Good health care, a sweet force field, adaptable to any social scenario, what else can someone ask for in a digital friend?

Oh yeah, his hot date with fate. In the back of a black sedan, no less. Dude has style from his Digital shoes to his Digital follicles. There is a drawback here, as Digital Man prefers to use his music-listening bad habits as a metaphor for living. I understand, he's digital, but I don't want to listen to everything on fast forward. It makes me anxious, Digital Man, anxious! What could you do to possibly win back my favor?

How about never needing a bed? Sleepovers are no problem for Digital Man. You don't need to worry about Digital Man complaining about rent or needing a place to stay. Digital Man only needs a decent firewire connection and a room to power down in. No hassle, man.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

I'VE HAD IT!


If I have to read ONE MORE fucking review that refers to the music sounding vaguely "Morricone-esque", I am going to rip out my brain and punch it in the throat!

Friday, February 29, 2008

in which our hero hates on Black Kids once again

pitchfork has a news bulletin up about Black Kids' upcoming world tour. it contains a couple of curious formulations.

for starters, "without a full-length album, a label [...], a proper tour of their own home country, or even a fully functional website to their credit (er, 'coming soon'), Black Kids have managed to win hearts around the globe."

apparently, a musician's goal is "to win hearts". because, of course, immediate popularity is exactly as high as any creative person should aim. also, pitchfork's own role in Black Kids' popularity is completely removed from the equation. even though the sentence, as it's written, begs the question: then how DID they get so fucking popular?

for seconds, "never underestimate the power of a catchy tune, people. or, in the kids' case, four of 'em."

a few words for whoever wrote this, borrowed from the master shake: "who bothered to spawn you, and why?"


on a more serious note, i don't underestimate the power of "a catchy tune", but i do think everybody over at the fork overestimates the value, rarity, sticking power, and artistic merit of a song that makes you want to hum along. for christ's sake, there's more to music than catchiness. a lot fucking more.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

A new language, pt. 1

Temps' talk of the critic needing to acknowledge the medium in which the album was experienced brought something else to light for me. There is no existing language for a critic to employ to speak about the way in which an album is produced. A critic has talked about emotional landscapes (belch), harmonic contents, forms, tempos, rhythms, etc. for centuries. And yet when approaching the way in which a record sounds we simply get vague, tired descriptive words, genre concoctions and a listing of the primary instruments.

"Got a Good Feelin' Down Hee-are" is an exciting, upbeat reggae-Tron number where the infectious cowbell competes for the listeners attention with heavily delayed vocals.

And in case they can't figure out how to describe the song any better, they pull out some lyrics and expect us to somehow envision how those words SOUND! One shouldn't finish a review and think: Oh, they certainly seemed to like that record, but, sadly, I didn't know the composers they referenced nor the newly birthed genres they're discussing, thus in buying the record I am putting all of my faith in the publication.

The point I'm trying to make is this: reading reviews could be fun. I love recorded music. I also love to think about recorded music. Thus the thought of some sort of publication, be it net-bound or printed, writing about the way in which music sounds is so entirely exciting that I am salivating. Part of what temps and uticas have covered so far with this blog is to show that many critics fail to write about what the music sounds like. What I propose, though, is that critics don't have a language with which to talk about recordings.

More later.

Maxim Only Good For One Thing

As Richard Meltzer would say, that one thing involves, "Pulling the pud." Maxim is full of pictures like this:


which would enduce any 12 to 1,000 year-old male to say, "Gee whiz, why is her body all gleaming?"

The answer of course is because she is beautiful and not photoshopped in any way, shape or form.

What Maxim is not full of is good music writing. Never in the history of 30 piece drum sets has any serious musician looked to Maxim for music reviews. Ever. So when it was revealed that a critic from their magazine had reviewed the Black Crowes new album without listening to it, was I surprised? No. Here's an excerpt from the supposed review:

"They sound pretty much like they always have: boozy, competent, and in slavish debt to the Stones, the Allmans, and the Faces."

Probably spot on, but I'd say they would make some attempt at modernizing their sound, falling flat on their stoned, Southern faces.

Look, Maxim had no actual credibility in music journalism to begin with, so this is no great blow to an empire. It's just kind of hilarious. That it would happen to a band like the Black Crowes is even more fitting. An aging group of rawkers who got rich covering a Grateful Dead song, championing pot, and marrying Goldie Hawn's similarly talent-less but cute daughter, I mean, how good can this album be? There will be worse records for sure, but better ones? Yes, umm...yes.

This is embarrassing for anyone, although the crime committed here is one that often goes unchecked and unpunished. People who get paid to review records have been known to give an album one spin on one sound system. MP3's, car speakers, shitty portable CD players, doesn't matter. They take that single experience and type it into written law. Even stranger still, they usually never reveal whether they listened to it through headphones or not.

This drives me out of my mind, as listening and experiencing music through different mediums should be a much larger topic of discussion. And no, not just the same-old, "Well I listen to vinyl," bullcrap, or the even worse, "I only listen to over-compressed, alien-frequency-filled MP3's."

If any human being is reviewing albums using computer speakers as a reference point, I will annihilate you with my mind. I swear to god, if your common sense led you to make such a decision, then your common sense should guide you quite easily off the edge of a cliff.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

so i heat the milk then pour it into the coffee? wait -- start over


yesterday evening, every starbucks in the nation shut down for three hours to train their baristas. many addicts were momentarily disappointed; a few might have gone home and hurt somebody they love. all in all, probably a good day for red bull.

here's what i think:

1. according to wikipedia, "'barista' refers to one who has acquired some level of expertise in the preparation of espresso-based coffee drinks." if you need to train someone in the ways of making coffee, they shouldn't be referred to as a 'barista' until AFTER they've completed their grueling, tip-less three hours.

2. coffee beans are grown and harvested almost exclusively in the third world, with most of the legwork being done by peasants who earn the planet's most popular salary, less than one dollar per day. this isn't particularly relevant.

3. music publications all over the world (both print and online) should do something similar. make every critic stop writing for a few days, sit them down and show them a movie that explains a few things (i.e. you shouldn't say "waltz" if you mean "slow", words like "vibrant" and "cohesive" are actually quite vague, professional critics are just listeners with editors, and so on). i'm not sure this would result in any sort of lasting improvement (as with starbucks baristas, personnel turnover is rapid). but for once, at least they'd have to pretend to try.


p.s. starbuck is the name of the first mate on the pequod in moby dick. he is a peaceful man, but he was too weak to follow his conscience, so moby dick kills him just like he kills everybody else.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Neal, Baby, Neal

This is a new favorite of mine. Dig in!

Sweet memories
I never thought it would be like this
Reminding me
Just how close I came to missing
I know that
This is the way for me to go
You'll be there
When you know what I know
And I know...

You know we've told you before
But you didn't hear us then
So you still question why
No! You didn't listen again
You didn't listen again


This is a portion of "Lessons," recorded by Rush in 1976. Notice the bridge in which Neil Peart uses nine lines to say nothing at all. Also, as sweet as these lyrics are, remember that Geddy is shredding his throat to them.

Any set of lyrics that feature an exclamatory "No!" are boss.

Believe it.

Monday, February 25, 2008

eight easy steps to indie stardom

1. make sure you're signed to one of those indie labels that's actually a globe-spanning corporation (sub pop, matador, rough trade, etc.). this is crucial, because being independent makes it very hard to sell lots of records.

2. write a bunch of songs about how miserable it is to be a white male who writes songs for a living. you need to include at least two or three songs about how getting laid all the time makes you feel sad; for some reason, college girls love that shit.

3. keep it simple. cull the songs you've written that contain more than three sections. verse, chorus, verse will do just fine (throw a bridge in here and there if you must). try to avoid anything unpredictable, as it will distract the audience from your unhappiness.

4. dance beats are in. if the term "bedroom pop" doesn't apply to your music, use them.

5. get a cooler haircut. throw away every article of clothing you own that fits. pierce something. anything.

6. your album cover must be artsy, but not artistic. provocative sexuality is a plus, unless it's TOO provocative, which is a serious minus.

7. get a good review on pitchfork (8 or above). if you've followed steps 1-6, this should be a piece of cake.

8. sell oodles of records to debt-ridden college graduates. try hard to live large for half a decade. because, motherfucker, nobody's buying your fourth album.

Friday, February 22, 2008

A Reflection



A nice, standard drumset. Pretty crazy, right. Just wanted to give some perspective when considering

THIS!



You can learn more about Mike at extremesportdrumming.com, where you are encouraged to enjoy

THE LONGEST 60 SECONDS OF YOUR LIFE!

This website makes me happy.

And through sheer coincidence do I provide you with this guy.

Make It Good



Thank you Dennis Wilson, for your amazing ballads.

And your giant head and beard.

Belong: Colorless Record EP: Pitchfork Generalizations

Hey, there's a new album out! And guess what, the band has been described as "droney" and "shoegazey!" Can we get any lazier than this? How about you waste an entire paragraph talking about how the New Orleans-based groups first effort was associated with Hurricane Katrina, only they recorded it BEFORE the hurricane? And then you tell us why the association works! Thanks!

Let's see, the review looks innocous enough, until we pull these little guys out:

"Belong use feedback and drone to overwhelm the tunes.
-Voices inside a collapsed mineshaft, maybe, or echoes from a kid stuck in a well.
-Belong take the happy-sad melody and banish it to the horizon, where it can just barely be heard through the thick chords.
-...sings abstractly pained lyrics...barely audible over a swarm of fragile yet menacing guitars"


What do these lines have in common? They're the same goddamn thought repeated over and over again.

But, lo!!! I snuck in a line from an AMG review of "Isn't Anything" in there. Could you tell the difference? Neither could I.


"Someone overhearing it in my vicinity likened it to Robert Pollard trapped inside a seashell, which made some sense"


My Conversation with Person Who is Overhearing the Belong Record I'm Reviewing

Person: Wow, that's a crazy record you're listening to.

Me: Mm-hmm.

Person: Kind of sounds like Robert Pollard trapped inside a seashell.

Me: Ye...what, what did you say?

Person: It sounds like Robert Pollard, trapped in a seashell.

Me: What the hell's that supposed to mean?

Person: You know, if Pollard was in a sea...

Me: I know what it literally means, but how can you say that? Are you referring to how you can't hear the lyrics?

Person: Yeah, you know?

Me: No, I don't. Because if you put Robert Pollard in a seashell, and you pick up the seashell to listen to the ocean, you'd hear a really drunk, divorced old guy sing "I am a Scientist" to himself. You might not even be able to hear the ocean.

Person: Yeah, but...

Me: Yeah but nothing. That's a terrible comparison. Terrible.

Person: I was just saying...

Me: You were just saying nothing. That's what I'll imagine; this conversation never happening.


"...a message in a bottle rolling along on the heavy waves of the chords."

Where oh where have I heard an oceanic reference in regards to shoegaze before? From Allmusicguide overview of MBV: "they rode crashing waves of white noise to unpredictable conclusions." AMG review of Slowdive: "...swelling waves of flanged guitars, layers of wispy vocals floating in and out of the mix...", Rolling Stone's review of "Loveless": "Bilinda Butcher and Kevin Shields gently breathe pretty tunes into the thick, sweet waves of droning distortion."

I could go on forever, but it's tedious and annoying. It's the old adage, "How many ways can you say the same fucking thing about shoegaze/post-rock music since 1988?"

I'm sorry, but drone has been around FOR CENTURIES. There has to be a better way to describe an album. When you take away the references to feedback, drone, and hazy, barely audible vocals, you get:

-the album is not in anyway related to Hurricane Katrina
-all four songs are pysch-pop covers
-the last track demonstrates the band's approach to constructing music

Look, if this is all the band sounds like, I'd be willing to say...oh, wait, I'm sorry. They beat me to the punch.

"...it could have been made by a lot of bands."

Ah yes, so why would you recommend an album of psych-pop covers by yet another droney band, let alone give it an 8.4 out of 10? Maybe it was the sequencing of the songs? Nope, you didn't seem to mention that. Perhaps the production value...no, guess not. You talked about the songs, but moreso about how they were covered in "thick chords."

If the album is full of drones and feedback and sounds like a lot of bands, why not focus on what makes the album DIFFERENT. In my estimation, all I have to do is turn on my iPod and remember what I didn't like about Deerhunter.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

A Taste of Neal

This is an excerpt from the band's seminal/hilarious "Moving Pictures." I love the album cover, as it features some guys moving(!) giant pictures(!) into a museum. The Peartman is gonna get a little nostalgic on us:

"My uncle has a country place
That no one knows about
He says it used to be a farm
Before the Motor Law
And on Sundays I elude the eyes
And hop the Turbine Freight
To far outside the Wire
Where my white-haired uncle waits"


May these words of wisdom help you through the day. Also, I wonder what the hell "the eyes" are he's eluding? And to hell with that Motor Law. To hell with it!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

A Taste of Neal

From now on, we will begin every week with quote from our favorite rock lyricist, Neal Peart. Much like Rev Run texting in his bathtub, Neal inspires us all to take a look at our lives and say, "I could probably fit another bass drum in there."

Thank you Neal, sincerely.

Friday, February 8, 2008

These Halls Were Built For Canadiens, Too

As I troll the interweb for new info regarding the Rock and Roll Hall of fame, I stumble onto this page. A simply wonderful wall where we realize that yes, there is a growing movement to include everyone's favorite pasty, technically prowessed, gilded cage-singing band into the hallowed shrine.
Although not particularly cherished by hip critics, Neil Peart, Geddy Lee and the other guy (poor Alex Lifeson) have changed a lot of peoples lives for the better. Check out these words of reverance:

In my youth Rush gave me the not only the World but the Universe.
I Thank You.
Lisa


Such are the powers of a giant fricking drumkit. Such formality in her writing, although this is the band that gave her the control of the universe. Of all the people in the World, I did not expect someone named "Lisa" to rule over all matter, great and small. Maybe someone named Krondak the Powerful, or someone who has "Powers" for a last name. That's reasonable. But the decision is up to Rush, so who am I to say?

And now is where the discussions of influence, longevity and technical prowess are thoroughly discussed. In my mind, longevity is not the greatest gauge of a band's greatness. Many truly great and influential acts came and went in record time:

Television, Suicide, Wire, Swell Maps, Sex Pistols, dB's, Gang of Four, the Zombies, My Bloody Valentine, Nirvana, Slint, Silver Apples, New York Dolls...

Really, the argument for longevity as a valid basis of greatness is incredibly muddled. Some bands original line-ups last only one or two albums, as members are replaced and the band carries on. King Crimson is a good example. The original line-up of Robert Fripp, Ian McDonald, Michael Giles, Greg Lake and lyricist Peter Sinfield lasted a SINGLE record. Over the years Fripp is the only constant member as others shift around him (much like M.E. Smith of the Fall). However, the King Crimson name remains, making them yet another band that has lasted as long as Rush.

And then there is the question of how one accounts for a hiatus. Is the band considered together, or loosely affiliated? The grey area is looming larger as I type. In 1998, due to personal tragedy (Peart's wife and daughter both dying in separate instances), the band took time off. Geddy fired off a solo album (with Matt Cameron from Soundgarden?), but not a peep from the band till 2002. So, is thirty years really a fair amount of time?

I'm not really looking for answers, I just think that Rush is above all of this arbitrary one-ups-manship involved in the Hall. I mean, just look at this drumset!


A band like this has no use for awards or annoying ceremonies where everyone claps too much and old-fogey bands are joined by "new talent" like Rihanna or John Mayer. Although imagining Rush and Rihanna onstage is a wonderful thing.

Rush is too busy winning fans with Ayn Rand references and bass guitar solos. Who gives a crap what a bunch of idiots in Cleveland think. Drew Carey has nothing on Tom Sawyer!

Anyways, some more highlights from the Rush/Hall of Fame thread:

Turnerbudd says:

"The bias against Rush is unbelievable. Explain the reasons some of these people are in and Rush is not.Is it influence? Look at the artists who call this trio influential. "

Dream Theater? Metallica? Living Colour? Yngwie Malmsteen? And then a list of vague prog bands that only people from "Guitar Magazine" can name. They are influential, I guess...

"Is it musicality? Three of the tightest musicians as consistently lauded by every major publication.
"
Um seriously? Rush has consistently garnered terrible reviews from every major publication. And when they did get good reviews, you have to wonder. Greg Prato is a little too into Rush as evidenced by his review of Hemispheres.

"" Neil Peart had become one of rock's most accomplished lyricists by this point, as evidenced by "The Trees," which deals with racism and inequality in a unique way (set in a forest!)."

The Lyrics in question:

"The Trees"

There is unrest in the forest
There is trouble with the trees
For the maples want more sunlight
And the oaks ignore their pleas

The trouble with the maples
(And they're quite convinced they're right)
They say the oaks are just too lofty
And they grab up all the light
But the oaks can't help their feelings
If they like the way they're made
And they wonder why the maples
Can't be happy in their shade

There is trouble in the forest
And the creatures all have fled
As the maples scream 'Oppression!'
And the oaks just shake their heads

So the maples formed a union
And demanded equal rights
'The oaks are just too greedy
We will make them give us light'
Now there's no more oak oppression
For they passed a noble law
And the trees are all kept equal
By hatchet, axe and saw"


Look, I know I could get in trouble with Fair Use laws, but did you read those lyrics!? Trees forming unions, showing a complex range of emotions, and an all-comsuming quest to claim sunlight as their own?! Prato goes on to say that this record is probably Rush's best. Hilarious.

Turnerbudd goes on to say, "Trust me, I'm not one of those die hard Rush fans who do not listen to any other form of music (hey, no one applauded more than me when Mile made it in)."

Two things: Firstly, why lobby for a band to be in a hall of supposedly great musicians and then claim not to be a super-fan? Secondly, I'm assuming you're talking about Miles Davis getting into the Hall. Why is it so special that YOU clapped for one of the greatest artists of the last century, knowing that he was a lock to get in? Do you consider jazz to be that different from rock and roll, especially when the man helped fuse those same movement together (for better or for worse)?

AmazinFudd finishes an impassioned speech to act with these solemn words of solidarity, "Look out...for the force without form"; lets you and I become that force to effect the change. Let's throw three flaming spheres down their throats and keep doing it until our goal has been reached."

I mean, whatever you need to do to get the R&R HOF's attention. I personally would go down these routes:

-send By-Tor, knight of darkness, Centurion of evil, and devil's prince to sway the vote
-claim that La guillotine will claim her bloody prize
-Tell them the Necromancer is watching them with his prism eyes

In the end, Rush reminds us of what is truly important with this gem from Spirit of the Radio.

"One likes to believe in the freedom of music
But glittering prizes and endless compromises
Shatter the illusion of integrity"

So, what's the point Rush fans? Would you rather have integrity, or join the ranks of the arbitrary? The prism eyes are watching...

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

I've found a new low!

Just how short can a record review be? Four sentences, you say? Three?

Try two sentences.

Enjoy as Allmusicguide's William Ruhlmann gives us an overzealous account of Ultravox's Eno-produced debut.

"John Foxx proves to have an odd, Bowie-influenced vision, here aided and abetted by Brian Eno (then a Bowie crony) and Steve Lillywhite. "My Sex" and "I Want to Be a Machine" are standouts."

Notice the bizarre reference to cronyism (Eno is regarded as Bowie's crony? How/Why?). And while it's helpful that William chooses two cuts as high points, he fails to provide a rudimentary explanation in reference to:

1. the music
2. lyrics
3. the sound quality
4. group interplay
5. sequencing

These are all simple elements that make up a music review. Where are they? How do they go missing? Why?

For shame, allmusic, for shame.

Friday, February 1, 2008


Show me the New Way, Matthew Pinfield!!! Save me from your Hellfire!!!

It's February!!!

Let's celebrate the monotony with more monotony!!!

This here review tackles Louis XIV's Slick Dogs and Ponies. While I may agree that the album is lackluster, tell me oh Pitchfork, what does the album sound like?

"Electric Six-style stabs at lunkheaded disco or big, dumb, ultra-schmaltzy morning-after ballads."

You know, I hate a couple albums. I think we've skewered a couple songs/albums/artists/canons in our days here on the electronic interweb, but goddamn it what is the point of throwing bile at a group you already hate? Why not move on and listen to something that you might like? Why even waste your time? Why review an album when the lead singer, "...expresses some pathos here, a tad more profound than the pain of getting an erection while wearing tight jeans, but not far off." My guess is that you have a big list of awesomely gnarly put-downs, and you wait for hated albums to arrive. Eagerly. Because, what's the fun of reviewing music you enjoy?!? There is no fun, because without the hate, YOU PROBABLY WOULD HAVE NOTHING TO SAY BECAUSE ANALYZING THE MUSIC WOULD BE TOO MUCH TO ASK FOR.

Ahem.

Here is the only portion of a 4 paragraph review that discusses the music on this record (note: yes, albums actually contain music, what a strange and fantastically outlandish notion!).

"The hushed psychotic thriller "Stalker", a surprisingly subtle, clever song, almost encroaches on Gorillaz territory, with Hill doing a pretty spot-on Damon Albarn impression."

Besides the use of the term "piss-drunk stomper" a sentence later, that's it. I'm sorry, I don't care how trivial the music is, at least you can tell me the instrumentation? Maybe how you listened to it (MP3, CD, Tape), the pace of the album?

Nevermind. How's about a condescending put-down of all American listeners? Oh, that you can do? Thanks.

"The sentimental dimension of Slick Dogs only further depicts Louis XIV as an embodiment of everything American audiences just never "got" about glam rock. They're dazzled by the hedonistic aspects of the genre-- the (heterosexual) sex, the drugs, the big guitars-- but completely overlook the more complicated nuances."

Um, excuse me? What are you trying to say here? What? What are these "complicated nuances" you speak of?

"There are no sci-fi or fantasy themes explored here, and certainly no gender-bending."

Complicated nuances of Glam Rock:

1. Sci-fi/fantasy theme- I better get some goddamn dragons and shit, if not in the songs then in the album artwork. And goblins! Fuck! Goblins flying spaceships as well, otherwise, fuck it, it ain't glam, baby!

2. Gender-bending - Oh, so you think you're glam? What are you wearing? What, no pink thong? No purple mullet and hoop earrings? Stop making music, you aren't allowed, face-ass!

So again, let me conclude simply by saying IF YOU HATE A BAND, WHY IN GOD'S NAME WOULD YOU REVIEW THEM? In all seriousness, don't waste your brains on a band you're determined to abhor. Especially when you can use that time to go to music and writing school, hopefully for the last time.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

xiu xiu is not that weird

a few odd nuggets from pitchforks 7.9 review of xiu xiu's women as lovers:

"more scarily fucked-up than sensitive or emotionally open."

"a squeaking-helium hell of noise."

"women as lovers sounds no more conceptual than a spurting artery."

why is he pretending to like the record? also, the review says: "[xiu xiu's] art seems to be more about who he is than who he'd like to be."

this frustrates me. half of jamie stewart's songs are first person narratives from the perspective of a woman. how can it be about "who he is?"

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Ingrid Michaelson-VH1 Indie Strumpet

Here is our newfound friend Ingrid. She's tiny and glasses faced, and she sings touchy feely indie tunez.



"I try to express all my feelings in as little words possible."

Wow, a true innovator. Never has a lyricist ever gone after such an approach. Thanks VH1 for all of your groundbreaking work introducing new talent to the world.

Doesn't Ingrid remind you of someone?



Lisa Loeb, ladies and gentlemen, Lisa Loeb.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Simon Cowell, thou art an ass-face!

I love metacritic. Especially for posting reviews of ex-American Idols albums. For the record I believe only two members of American Idol (Carrie Underwood, Chris Daughtry) have any kind of career, Carrie thanks to her sudden switch to Christian Nashville, Daughtry thanks to record company. Clay Aiken continues to thrive on his "I'm tiny and probably gay" thing, and Ruben Studdard is still fat and has been dropped by his label. Taylor Hicks? Dropped from the label. That idiot white kid who beat boxed with Doug E. Fresh? Who cares?

This brings up another point: White people, you should not be beat-boxing. I'm white, I should know. Do you know what beatboxing is when white people take part? It's called acapella percussion. Did I just make you throw up? Good, at least you're not beatboxing anymore, asshole.

Anyways, I was perusing metacritic and found reviews of Jordan Sparks (this past year's Idol winner) new record. An eponymous release, the album received middling reviews from critics who obviously could not give less than a damn. Also, users chimed in, which is where the fun is truly begotten!!! Note: the albums are rated from 0 (terrible) to 10 (perfect).


Max A. gave it a 3:
Melinda Doolittle better than her.



This is sad as all hell. Max gave the record a bad score because he thought a different contestant deserved to win. Oh sad. He actually watched the show. He's basing his analysis on chagrin. Amazing.


Nick C. gave it a 0:
You know "music journalism" is in the sh.thole when this dumb slut gets good reviews. Pure corporate soulless auto-tuned garbage.



Ah, a man of my own tastes. Notice how he censors the word "sh.t" and then proceeds to call jordin a "dumb slut". Nothing like a little auto-tuning to make your ears bleed with outrageously perfect pitch.


Tikiri K gave it a 9:
An incredible effort for a debut CD - cutting edge R&B with modern POP inflections. The vocals are smoother than can be expected fro a 17 year old.



Dear Tikiri, please read Nick's section about auto-tuning. It should explain the unexpected vocal smoothness. Thanks.


Jonathan F. gave it a 3:
Honestly, how critics can respect artists like Jordan Sparks and Carrie Underwood more than Kelly Clarkson is beyond me.



This one threw me for a loop. At first, I was like, "Hey, he doesn't like the record. Maybe he'll say something snarky." And then I was like, "Oh. So you gave her a negative review for receiving better press than Kelly Clarkson?" Sad. I don't even know what to say. How do you measure past winners against each other (besides having a new season where past winners battle for right to say "Hey, I beat everyone else! I'ma gonna have a record contract!" and then they get dropped and end up having a career in informercials. Woof.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Greatest Thing I've Ever Seen. Ever.

A brief look into past angry finger-pointing

A long time ago, I was angry at Pitchfork. Big surprise, I know. They were in the midst of a huge Deerhunter campaign, attempting to mention the band at least once a day at some points last year. So I wrote a ridiculous rant that in effect accused Kranky Records and Pitchfork of collusion. Well, looking back through comments the other week I found this response, from a certain "Mr. Kranky":


whether or not someone likes a particular release is all subjective. but "collusion"? an empty claim since p-fork champions no other bands we work with, and we have not given them a single advertising dollar since their inception. so where is the evidence that we have collaborated with them on hyping this band? it only exists in your imagination.

mr. kranky

September 11, 2007 10:07 AM



Whoops. Looks like I hit a nerve. To clear up the issue, I was indeed making an empty assumption. I didn't care for the band's "Cryptograms", nor the subsequent fawning over said album. I was angry a band lost a member due to over-exposure, something any supposed taste-maker should be able to control. Who knows, it might've been Kranky records actually scolding us. But, something tells me it may be one of my friends (yes, I have friends, at least, as far as you know)trying to convince me that the site is actually being read. Read this section in particular:


"an empty claim since p-fork champions no other bands we work with..."


ummmmmm..........

how about Godspeed You Black Emperor? How about Low? How about Stars of the Lid? How about Chris Herbert? How about Out Hud?

C'mon, that's just a lie. Godspeed's the most obvious of them all, but all of this is besides the point. I rescind my accusation, I really don't think there's any collusion going on. I've always enjoyed Kranky releases (some more than others, obviously) and it's good to see a label that supports experimental bands still alive and kicking.*

Uticas, good to see you back. Otherwise, we would've sunk into a horrible bog of drum boners, keytars and Nickelback references. Actually, that doesn't sound too bad at all...


* I still reserve the right to accuse Pitchfork of collusion, only because it's Pitchfork**

** Well, unless we are sued for defamation, at which point, no way, it was PITCHFORK that accused US of collusion***

*** Get your facts straight before you sue us, you pompous ass-faces!****

**** This is not funny anymore*****

***** It's just obnoxious

up from the slums of shaolin

hey bitches. i'm back again after another hiatus again. thanks again to j-temp for having me.

i was going to write a big long year-end post about how lists R STOOPID, how lcd soundsystem sucks in a way that perfectly captures the idiocy of "indie" music fans, and how negative it is when critics foist their tastes upon lonely impressionable youths... but i never got around to it. i actually chose not to get around to it, because i realized that no matter how many years of awful lists go by, no matter how many times some bullshit record leaps to the front of a list because four critics love it, no matter how the specifics played out, the list itself is a COMMERCIAL exercise, which means they won't stop until people stop paying for music altogether (two years? three?).

when people complain about lists, they usually pick one or two, name a few records that shouldn't have been left off, and then generalize from those omissions until the writer settles on something that he can comfortably call a problem. but this method is silly. obviously readers won't agree with every item on every list. the issue is bigger than that. the project of whittling down every record released over a twelve month period into a list of 50 "essential" ones is hopeless. no amount of "expertise" can help a person accomplish this goal.

simply put, there is too much music. thousands of records slip beneath the collective critical radar. it would be impossible to listen to them all, foolish to try. unfortunately for critics, despite all of their analytical expertise, there just aren't enough days in the year. it hurts me, but i can't fault critics for this.

moving right along to what IS their fault, as soon as a group of these experts decides to compile a list of the "50 best" records of the year, they start lying about what their expertise is good for.

now, the fact that deerhoof's brilliant "friend opportunity" was exactly four worse than arcade fire's utterly embarrassing "neon bible", or the fact that bonnie "prince" billy's "the letting go" was inexplicably left off every 2006 best of list, the fact that the rapture outright sucks -- these sorts of things don't matter. specific injustices pale in comparison to the larger, more important injustice, which is that THOUSANDS OF RECORDS DON'T EVEN HAVE THE CANCE TO GET ON THESE LISTS, BECAUSE CRITICS HAVE NEVER HEARD THEM!!!!

of course, it's not an accident which records they don't hear. different groups of critics have different pools to choose from (which is why this list isn't the same as this list). important question: how are these pools settled upon, and who decides what gets left out?

i have a hunch the answer has to do with money and advertising (i.e. of course they were going to like the new animal collective album [released by domino records]; they'll like the next one too). i'm not making any specific payola accusations -- these schemes are more complex than record labels handing out bags of cash to quasi-intellectual under-sexed writers (if i'm wrong, i'd like my bag of cash now please now).

but this isn't about bribes. it's about interdependent business models doing what they need to in order to survive. as i hinted at above, there isn't much time left for the record industry. music is already free, and things don't become unfree -- unless of course demand outpaces supply, and anyone who's been to a record store in the last few years (anyone?) knows that isn't about to happen. this shit will not sell itself.

people just won't give their money to merge or matador without a little shove. and shoving people is, for the time being at least, a moderately profitable industry itself. neither business can survive without the other. and that is what these year-end lists are (except for the lists that are one voice's personal opinion, which are just narcissistic): a collaborative effort between record companies and record reviewers to keep their fledgling industries afloat for another few years.

kinda sad when you think about it.