Monday, June 30, 2008

Talking to Old Friends (Odyshape), 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, 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.


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.


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

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, 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...