Friday, July 11, 2008

Ice Cream Spiritual

I hear summer's old fireworks, my blaring alarm, and single rotating fan. Jumping off the couch, I scourer for my keys, and slam off the alarm. It’s 2 p.m. on a Saturday, and I am late for a date with rocky-road ice cream.

I havn't eaten anything for the past three days, (it's the price you pay when trapped in a washing machine); so I swipe up half a jug of Gatorade and a box of Fruity Pebbles before running out the front door. The July heat reminds me that I forgot to change out of my soggy Fugazi t-shirt and tie-dye Puma's, as I down the last bit of power juice with a mouth full of pebbles. After a couple minutes, or maybe more, my course drifts towards the sun. I go flying past the dairy parlor, and head for the river.

*check out the new Ponytail

The Long and Short

I want to say a little something about the new Iron Lung, Sexless // No Sex. They are easily one of my first power violence bands, and it’s great to see them still breathing life into the scene.

I first heard of them when they were playing Reno, before they moved to their current location in Seattle. A friend from school hooked me up with an Iron Lung/Lana Dagales split (2002), and it caved in my chest. They were just a two-piece (guitar/drum) band, but produced some of most horrific Punk I had ever heard.

Sexless reveals just how much the band has grown up. It runs three times longer than the split, and closes with the almost three minute long “Cancer,” moving along at a sludge pace. Don’t get me wrong, songs like “Contested” and “Liars” taste like steel-toed boots, and the album never comes close to sounding compromised. The guitar work is more diverse, from the complex and abrasive riffs on “Autojector,” to the spiraling melodies on “Lumbar Puncture Test," the attack takes new shapes, and with solid drums and vocals filling out the weight, Iron Lung take their songs to greater lengths.

A part of me misses the lo-fi "basement" production and industrial samples, but the core of the sound here is unmistakably Iron Lung. Is it really possible for a power violence band to sell out anyway? I don’t know how much longer Sexless // No Sex will be in print, so get to it.

A Guilty Pleasure

It's been a nasty good time over the past week, though when I try to tell my friends about it, they either cringe in disgust, or smile out of shock. My omission, the new Cliteater album is great, not to mention finger-licking fun.

Extreme genres like gore/porno-grind gorge not only on controversial topics like death and murder, but also sexual violence. While this pushes against my musical limitations, I have to admit there is a part of me that believes these guys are joking around, especially with songs titles like “Bruce-Dick-In-Son?” It would seem obvious on one hand to take the genre as seriously as the Braindead flims that influence them.

At the same time, it’s not really hard to believe that people would be up in arms about an album titled Scream Bloody Clit. If the genre's intentions are real, I feel that the themes are justified, in the sense that they aren’t advocating sexual violence, but showing it’s horrible realities from a brutally uncompromising perspective. Though this might be an uncomfortable conversation topic, it's dismissal is what the genre is challenging. It reveals crimes committed in daily life, and silently tolerated, in the workplace, home, school, and church. The themes and imagery of extreme metal are both comically and essentially, a kind of radical protest, reflecting these horrible acts as an opposition to the solidarity between violent sexual deviance and social control.

Back to the lecture at hand…

Cliteater stick to their guts on Scream, blending gore tropes with early grind/punk inspired riffs. They choose not to blast along the entire way, which by comparative standards makes for a more accessible listening experience. They have added a new guitarist (Susan Gerl ), to beef up the guitar tone. It’s great to see women on the music side of Metal, especially in gore-grind, a sub-genre where men dominate gender identity. If you don’t know the name Joost Silvrants (Inhume), you don’t know guttural vocals. He possesses an obscene range, and I was blown away when I first heard that he doesn’t use any pitch shifting. On “Impulse to Destruct” Joost takes the opportunity during the bridge to just go schizophrenic at the helm, spitting and screaming in every direction. There are some pitch-shifting vocals, used by the guitarist (Ivan Cuijpers), and are placed as dynamic punches before the band plunges into sonic oblivion. The comedic series “Positive Aspects Of Collective Chaos,” is kept alive with "Part III," ending to the sound of an accordion. Cliteater also has done a consummate job at borrowing from other Metal genres to diversify the album, like thrash metal (“Your Mouth, My Seed”), death metal (“Obese Obsession”), and death n’ roll (“Pedophiliac Cult”). While Cliteater's themes might be hard to swallow and their sound might turn your stomach over, Scream Bloody Clit is a bloody good time.

I also wanted to briefly give some love to the new Prostitute Disfigurement album, Descedents of Depravity. The high point of the album are the guitars; the songwriting has great flow between the riffs and solos, each holding their own and while playing off each other. The drum performance provided by Michiel van der Plicht is relentless, and the vocals (Niels Adams), are more in the mid-range, which I think it's an overall improvement for the band. Descendents also rocks one of the my favorite song titles so far this year, with “Killing for Company.” Check these out.

Flag Bearers

Stones Throw has to be one of the hottest labels in Hip-Hop. I have been listening to Guilty Simpson’s Ode to the Ghetto*, and while the album studio team is lead by the legendary Jaylib (Madlib, J.Dilla), it should be said that some of the albums best moments come courtesy of Black Milk.

It’s not to say that he is better by any standard, but his three tracks contain the Jaylib "sound" that his legendary predecessors can claim rites to. Each track is distinct from the other, which makes the juxtaposition of “My Moment” and “Run" wild since their respective synth use is almost alien. “Moment” is a slumped ride down to cruise, while “Run” is a fiendish riff looking for trouble. My favorite of the three is “The Real Me,” probably because it reminds me of Dilla (R.I.P.) almost instantly. The beat doesn’t sound like he wants be the man, but like their fingerprints have traced the same studio boards if you know what I mean. Black Milk is carrying on their tradition in the present, so remember the name and look for it in the future.

No matter if you are a fan of the past, present, or future when it comes to Hip-Hop 2008, the Roots have to be central to the conversation. There has been plenty of great stuff written about the Roots's Rising Down so I won’t try to repeat established ideas in print, but I will put my money down on this, they are the essential Hip-Hop artist/crew of my generation.

Rising in the mid-nineties, the Roots not only took a completely individual slant on the genre, but also immersed themselves in understanding their place in musical history. They ushered in the “Organic” thing as much as anyone without demonizing their notorious past. They sought to inform an audience off stage, as much as they unapologetically attacked their opposition while on it. ?uestlove has become an icon, and ambassador, for Hip-Hop music and culture. They tour probably better than anyone, always play an irreplaceable set, and continue to grow in audience despite their uncompromising musical direction and politics. They have played with Jay-Z, Fall Out Boy, Erykah Badu, and Stephen Colbert. The Roots are contradictory by nature, and singular in comparison. Rising Down is a great album, from one of the truly undeniable bands of my time.

*Guilty Simpson can get away with his lyrics/delivery, but Ode lacks dramatic content and memorable hooks. Not bad, but I'm there for the production.


I was initially going to write about the new Crystal Castles, which I have been digging on and is probably my favorite Electronica album so far this year, but when trying to choose my early favorites of 08’, I find myself digressing into Times New Viking’s Rip It Off.

Times New Viking is really a noise/garage band by obvious standards, but I get the same kind of feeling when listening to Fuck Buttons Street Horrrsing. They both really stress the high end of their sound, and allow the subtle white noises to carry the melody. While most songs stay under two minutes, Times New Viking still has something there. Confident vocals and keys are blanketed but audible, and songs like “Teen Drama” and “Relevant: Now” ride a wave underneath it all. Fuck Buttons Horrrsing is far more eccentric and grand in composition, but the cerebral distortion sticks around.

For me, there has always been something sterile about Electronica; I think it has something to do with programmed drums. While the songs structures relatively don’t really stray too far from conventional Pop, they come off sounding recycled instead of repeated. I don’t want to sound out of touch, but I never have been much into the tech. world, and what makes the Times New Viking's Rip It Off interesting for me, is that I feel the same kind of distance and intrigue with Fuck Buttons as I do a supposed garage band. It’s as much of a pitfall as it is a bridge.

Just check out the new Crystal Castles. eh...

Mighty, Mighty Joseph

I can’t stop listening to Mighty Joseph. Vast Aire and Karniege throw down together on Empire State, and have created my favorite Hip-Hop album so far this year.

There has been plenty written about Vaste Aire’s chunky chew delivery and talent for double take rhymes, while Karniege brings his own flar to a more traditional bark. The lyrics are straight up bananas, no joke*. Ranging from the home front, “Kidz (N.Y.C.),” to the party scene, “Night Life,” to gangland on “Anything Can Happen?,” these two MC’s rule the scene from behind the wheel, while keeping respected friends in the back seat throughout, with the likes of M.U.R.S, Genesis, and Vordul Mega.

As ridiculous as the lyrics are, the production is what keeps pulling me back. The synth drenched beat on “Legend” opens with a country sample and comes courtesy of master producer Madlib. The vocal samples on “Out the Gate” and “The Dark Ages” light up the place, while creeping piano keys on “Criminal Tales,” lurk in the shadows. On Empire, the sun never sets, and there is nowhere to hide.

It doesn’t really matter which reason you choose to listen to Empire State, just listen to it now! It has not left my rotation since I got a hold of it and I hope more people start to recognize the Mighty Joseph. Bananas.

*My favorite verse is Vast’s closer on “The Dark Ages.”

Tartarus Rising

There is an army forming in Greece. Last year saw Rotting Christ release another strong album, Theogonia (2007), to their catalogue and introduced me to a new sound in Metal. Press releases defined Rotting Christ as “Goth” for their synth use and approach to melody; a dramatic voyage in genre progression since it began with Grindcore. While thematically Rotting Christ can be associated with Black Metal’s tropes of the ancient world, the sound wasn’t nearly as harsh, the melodies and production values were radiant enough to break through the distortion, burning hotter than their Nordic forefathers. What about Viking Metal? While I have to admit I am not a big fan of the sub-genre, along with Folk Metal; the two share a similar relationship to Black Metal in ancestral imagery and progressive attitudes towards established melody? Eh, moving on…

I have been mulling over this ever since I got a chance to listen to Septicflesh’s (previously Septic Flesh) new album Communion. If Theogonia’s melodies stirred up enough heat to break through walls, then Communion has an army to topple them. What everyone will mention about this album is the 80 orchestral and 32 choral members whom were enlisted to back Septicflesh’s epic return. The band had split-up, and after a few years, are back with one of the biggest arrangements for an album that I have ever heard of. When this Titan raises up before you, it is truly something to behold.

The duration of the album is relatively short for such an enormous assembly, but what the album lacks in length, it makes up for by capturing the moment with plenty to spare. The orchestral work deserves repeated listenings, and elevates the melodies to soaring lengths. On the title track their Death Metal roots are expanded on when choral vocals echo after the assault like heat from the flame. Septicflesh has an amazingly diverse background as well, and an explosive attack on “Babel's Gate” shape shifts into some technical breakdowns that flaunt the bands musicianship now long recognized. Like I said earlier, the album is really all about melodies. Sung vocals on “Sunlight Moonlight,” build them like moutians, while booming horns and thunderous drums on "Persepolis,” turn them into avalanches.

Metal’s evolution has always been rooted in its international appeal and Greece has been playing an important role for some time, while continuing to harness a distinct sound. Whatever this “Greek” sound is, it’s on par with anything being released in sibling genres, and with more albums like Communion, Septicflesh will remain casting their shadow over the land.

In A Few Days

So Death Cab for Cutie has a new album coming out, and I’m sure it will be huge, if it isn’t already. I was part of the crowd that saw Death Cab move from an “indie” band to OC acclaim. Does this make them Pop? I have to admit I haven’t listened to Death Cab in a long time, but I want to say the last time I did, it was unfortunately at Starbucks.

So what’s new? You’re looking at it, but is it really any better? I saw Vampire Weekend last summer at a local bar in Eugene, this winter they played SNL. They released their debut album almost a month before, and were already hitting the prime time. I wrote about them, and so did everyone else apparently. Since these things are hit or miss, I am writing about two bands, and hoping for the best.

New Pop bands tease me from all directions these days. The Magistrates are from Essex, and I can’t stop listening to their new song “Make This Work.” This is ridiculous in one sense because they aren’t even with a label. They just have booking information and a band website, but there's something funky in the air. Falsetto vocals cry under pulsing neon keys, and make for Purple Rain anthems that won't quit. Fans of old school greats like Prince and Jamiroquai, not to mention new school names like Jamie Lidell and Hercules and Love Affair, will dig this.

If you dig Melt Banana as much as I do, and want some kick to your pop, I have to confess my affections for Glasgow’s DANANANANAYKROYD. They play “Fight-Pop,” which is basically everything Pop you would expect from Glasgow, infused with spacious breakdowns, and some noisy Hardcore Punk. They're opening for the Japanese noise crew in their hometown late June and are set to release an E.P., Sissy Hits, on Holy Roar earlier that same month. I would love to see them judging from their recorded live samplings, and from experience, I can tell you Melt Banana is unreal.

These two bands don’t deserve being mentioned in the same category. Melt Banana has been putting out splits since the early nineties and these guys have yet to hatch, not to mention fly. It isn’t fair to hope for the best when life is young, triumphs that come after early stumbles should be what leads to fame worthy of praise. Just ask Death Cab.

Battle Cry

I have been listening to the new Akrobatik for the past couple weeks, and for a first encounter, I am pretty impressed. Boston isn’t really the first place that comes to mind when you think about Hip-Hop from the Northeast, but Akro holds his own on his newest release, Absolute Value, while boasting battle tactics for the conscience few.

The album really caught me by surprise. I hadn’t heard about him at all going into Absolute, but did recognize parts of the album’s entourage. The most obvious attraction was “Put Your Stamp On It,” featuring production by the late J.Dilla and tag-team rhymes with Talib Kweli, but that’s just the beginning of guests that show up. Mr.Lif and Little Brother chip in on “Beast Mode” and “Be Prepared” respectively, even legendary MC Chuck. D throws down some narration on “Kindred” ft Brenna Gethers. Akro boasts, “...check the archives, back in 95” on the title track, and on Absolute, there’s a veteran crew to vouch for him.

Akro’s delivery is loud and in your face, just like his New York neighbors, but it’s the content that hits your from a different angle. He preaches that there is too much conscious Hip-Hop afraid to pull the trigger behind the mic, and too much commercial Hip-Hop selling guns not music, and on one hand I agree, but also have to take issue with the notion of an absolute voice in Hip-Hop. Akro has a style rooted in old school greats like KRS One, which is pretty much impossible to knock, it’s when his attack slows down on the R&B tracks, “Kindred” and “Rain,” that his Absolute Value seems to run out of ammo. The last track, “Back Home To You,” is a dedication to his wife and seems out of place, but I can’t hate, you should stick around anyway for the hidden electro-funk that follows.

Like I said, I can’t hate. The album is full of huge beats and Akro stands tall with them. “Soul Glo,” “Black Hell Breaks Loose” ft. Willie Evans Jr. & Therapy, “If We Can’t Build” ft. Bumpy Knuckles, and the title track rain down like angry fists and capture Akro at his best.

With the big names like Gnarls Barkley dropping this past month, and many to come in still a young year, Absolute Value probably won't claim this year's crown, which is fine by Akro; he’s got blueprints to the castle and stockpiles of dynamite. Check this one out.

Thrash to Death

Back in the nineties Metal was out, Punk was in. Remember when all your friends loved Reel Big Fish, Offspring was on MTV, Infest played 924 Gilman, and NOFX owned the Warped Tour stage? Things have changed.

The truth is that music does not possess this kind of solitude, since genre’s bleed into one another over time, but that is a different path. It’s still safe to say that in recent years Metal has seen a return to power, but it’s only a matter of time before the revolution. Bomb the Music Industry!’s Get Warmer was my favorite Punk album last year, and over the weekend I went searching for early favorites of 08’.

Paint it Black’s New Lexicon caught my attention when I recognized a Kid Dynamite connection. East coast hardcore junkie and Kid Dynamite guitarist, Dan Yemin , is in on the act, this time with vocal duties. The Kid Dynamite sound is there, spewing hardcore that gathers its form in catchy breakdowns, opener “The Ledge” puts this on full display, but that is not all New Lexicon has to offer. On the outro to “We Will Not” Yemin’s posi-ranting “Even when the ship has run aground / Don’t let the bastards get you fuckin’ down!” leads into background keys and dissonant electronic drums. This aspect is used sparingly over all, but on a hardcore album, a little goes a long way.

Short and mean is the name. Ceremony. They're a California power violence unit that have gained attention in the North Bay scene recently. Last year saw them release an E.P., Scared People (2007) that made waves in the Punk underground. They have a full length coming out late summer/early fall on Bridge Nine records entitled The Full Length, which I anticipate will receive tons of hype in the months to come. Their sound has been compared to Crossed Out, lurching riffs that explode into freak-outs, but power violence is Punk in a straight jacket, so freedom to experiment here is really limited. It’s on songs like “Making With The Stale Air” that they manage to capture my attention by balancing the attack with a jittery thrash riff.

In the Metal glory days of the eighties, it was thrash that ruled. Metal and Punk were thrown together, and a movement began* that would solidify America in Rock’s dark arts forever. The truth is that finding good, never mind great, thrash these days is hard to come by. Extremes in contemporary metal have caused thrash to essentially turn into death metal with heavy thrash tendencies, like Year of Desolation, who put out a wicked S/T last year and nailed this style. I ran into a band that does the exact same, just twenty years earlier. Corrupt is a Swedish thrash metal band that play a combo of thrash/death, but in the Kreator/Dark Angel/Slayer vein. It’s grimy and blistering, but those infectious riffs are what kill me in the end. The chorus and guitar solo on “Profits Prevail,” off their E.P. Silence Equals Death (2006), will bring a white-knuckle smile to your face, and remind you of why you still listen to those old Thrash albums over and over. They are slated to release a LP later this year on Blood Harvest records entitled Slavestate Serenades. Corrupt is a really good thrash band that I bet will only get better. Go!

*Sure NWOBHM/First-wave black metal were important too. sure.

Old Growth

The new Christine Fellows finally arrived last week and it’s spindly arms have entangled me back and over again. No one writes songs like she does. There have been comparisons to the Mountain Goats (John Darnielle), and I see why. They both have a dense lyrical style and an instrumental approach that leans towards the singer-songwriter warmth, instead of freak-folk obscurity that’s all the rage. More than any of these comparisons could say, the two belong in an elite group of lyricists out there. That is what their albums are all about, and it’s what I knew Nevertheless would be about. Ever so spindly, I am caught in a new place.

Nevertheless is a burgeoning adventure, spilling out of the house and into the spring overgrowth. Christine’s previous release, Paper Anniversary (2006), was a handful of diamonds, as brilliant as they were precious. Nevertheless is dramatically fleshed out in comparison, saturating in the spaces previously left hollow. Broad strings arrangements, backing choral vocals, and newly prominent drums have Christine and friends painting in the details. “What Makes the Cherry Red” is a montage at dawn, brimming over with droplets of percussion, wild strings, fluttering piano, and chirping birds. On “Yours, And With Ever Grateful Wonder” the song eventually digresses to the sound of a typewriter and spoken lyrics. She captures the opposing direction on the title track; with one of her most pop structured pieces to date. This time the songwriting has turned into a splendor all it’s own.

The lyrics are nothing less. Nevertheless is a phrase adaptation from author Marianne Moore. In the liner notes it reads that the title song and “What Are Years?” are responses to poems written by Moore, and she also references W.B. Yeats in “The Spinster’s Almanac.” The poetry penned here is breath taking, and quieter moments on the album, like “To A Prize Bird,” give her tender voice a chance to be alone with the words.

While most songs, in true Fellows form, don’t break the three-minute mark, they reveal a powerful new depth. Nevertheless showcases Christine Fellows as one of music’s lyrical heroines, wielding spells and new light. Destined to be one of this year’s best.

Epic in Concert

Last spring some friends from Portland invited me to hang at a local concert in Eugene. They had some friends who were traveling down the coast on tour, opening up for a band called Loom. True to college form, I ended up taking the opportunity to avoid my schoolwork in favor of a show and drinks with friends. I sadly missed most of openers, including their friends, but I did get to see all of Loom’s set. They came off like a band that was either five years behind the scene, or five ahead. I was given quick rundown of what to expect, At The Drive-In post-hardcore intensity with a violin that brings to mind Cursive’s instrumental formula. What got left out were the skirmishing math breakdowns that pass through briefly, then disappear behind an angry chorus. By the end of the show, I had joined into the crowd.

The night only got better. My friends picked me a Loom T-shirt and E.P., Angler (2006), as well as the record label, Exigent, sampler mix, The Colors of Sound Breathing V. 1. I gave the sampler a listen and really liked two bands, Gaza and Sweet Jesus. Sweet Jesus has release just a S/T, two song EP, and I have not heard any noise about future recordings or happenings, which is sad because they played a badass hybrid of punk spazz and metal sludge. Gaza has gained some attention and have released an EP, East (2004), and an LP on Black Market Activities, I Don’t Care Where I Go When I Die (2006), to solid reviews. The bands lyrics are whimsical, citing American Idol's Ryan Seacrest amongst others. In the end though, the lyrics are unintelligible, like most extreme metal vocals since the late eighties. Debating over the lyrical strengths is dwarfed by the intensity of the vocal performance, and Gaza's are nasty. What makes them stand out is that they demonstrate little concern for a specific genre convention; the guy is just trying to heave his lungs from his chest. The bands sound is a Math/Grindcore combo, somewhere between Botch and Meshuggah. The guitar work and grind-wall are bound by some chunky time signatures that stomp all over each other. In the broad world of metalcore, I can see these guys getting some love from the Dillinger/Converge pack that’s ready to step outside and go on the prowl.

This month I decided to check back in after not hearing much from the label. While Gaza has moved on to bigger things and Sweet Jesus hasn’t really moved at all, I was happy to see a new band making a their presence felt. Exigent is based in Salt Lake City but has recently moved into Portland and signed a band called Diesto. Isle of Marauder is Diesto’s first release with Exigent is some of the best doom metal I have run across this year. While Neurosis has been the genre’s bulldozer since the early nineties, bands like Isis and Pelican have brought progressive doom to the surface from the underground and are headliners of a recent trend in American metal, and now with Marauder, Diesto have begun carved their name in landscape. Their approach, in an already crowded room, grabs your attention almost immediately by scraping against the hammer throw with some Industrial-style production. It’s still heavy as hell, but rings coarse when compared to dominant codes in the scene. On their band web page they list "soul" as an genre influence, and you can hear it on the guitar solos strangely enough. The band also shows an early affinity for rock dynamics, like on “Monarch,” when instead of just rolling down a long treaded path, a seven minute march charges ahead into fist-throwing punk glory. The epic closer "Black Water" ceeps in with leading guitars, punishes for over ten minutes, then has the guitars return only to put the album to rest. Isle of Marauder is doom metal churned out of a junkyard compactor, and for Diesto, a very promising start. Check these guys out.


Today it snowed and I decided to give the new Ghostface a listen. As a precursor to listening to the album, I had heard all sorts of things said about the Clan regarding their new album and RZA’s production not being up to par. Both albums dropped within a week of each other, and with the added drama, it’s not hard to imagine battle lines being drawn between the two. This aside, The Big Doe Rehab continues the streak of amazing albums by Ghostface in recent years. It’s rare to find an artist that is this consistent. Big Doe doesn’t have the scope of Fishscale (2006), keeping subject matter in the status quo of drugs, women, and money. Fishscale was at times confessional, reflecting on the fast life. Rehab doesn’t dwell on the past as much as it gets caught up in the good times ("We Celebrate” ft. Kid Capri), while his talent for dramatic story telling is kept in tact, showcased on part II of the drug robbery series “Shakey Dog,” ft. Raekwon and Lolita. Production credits include The Hitmen amongst others, and continues Ghost’s signature feel for soulful sampling and New York ruckus. This is classic Ghostface Killah and just a flat-out great album. Thank you snow day.

Side Tracked

For the past couple years I have made it a major priority in my life to go up to Portland and see the Mountain Goats perform at the Doug Fir Lounge. The Mountain Goats are a must see, and the Doug Fir is a hip new spot in the rose city with a cool basement stage area, probably why John decides to play there every year. This year, he is actually coming to Eugene and playing the WOW hall, so I am actually debating seeing both shows this year. I could go on about the Mountain Goats* forever being one of my favorite bands period, but this sojourn has come to serve a different purpose as well.

Back in 06’ I walked about ten minutes late into the opening act for the Mountain Goats, a single woman was on stage with a very small arrangement of piano, keyboard, and iBook. She sang and played the keys behind a computerized percussion track, nothing really jaw-dropping at first listen, but I soon warmed up to something unfamiliar. Her name was Barbara Morgenstern, she’s German, sings in German, and writes some amazingly lush tunes for a living. Her piano and voice stood nicely in contrast to the digital background, partly because she was singing in German, a language that I know exactly kaput. As soon as I got home I looked into her newest release, The Grass is Always Greener (2006), and loved it.

The next year a band named the Pony Up! was rolling out the carpet. While I was less impressed this time around, a couple of songs later had friends and I wandering over to pick up their album, Make Love To The Judges With Your Eyes (2006), and flirt a little with the band. The album has grown on me, despite not having one of their best songs “Wet,” which I got to see live, while it did feature cool song title and single “The Truth About Cats And Dogs (Is That They Die).” If you can’t get enough toe-tapping indie pop, these are your girls.

This year the Goats crew are bringing along fellow North Carolina scenesters, The Moaners. They’re a female duo playing syrupy noise rock and it will be interesting to see an opener with some teeth this time. The band draws from Pavement/Sonic Youth's cluttered distortion and the upbeat, post-punk tempo that almost seems standard in today’s indie world. What makes The Moaners fresh is a grating blues guitar, slathered on top of the familiar mix. The guitar howls, not in a Hendrix kind of way, but like a stray dog at the front door. Similar “duo” bands like the Kills, don’t get this sloppy, who instead scratch at dance rock from the outside looking in, while the Moaners let their hair down and get their hands dirty. There's even a Saw and Harmonica that find time to slide in, adding a little depth beyond the standard guitar/drum uniform. While still a young band, they have captured my attention and got me debating which LP to snatch up when I see them in person, I'm just happy they chose to moan on my front stoop.

*The new Mountain Goats album, Heretic Pride, is out Feb. 19th. He has released one song over the Internet and is soon coming out with a video directed by Ace Norton. Goats rule!

In Review 07'

Now that the year has come to an end, I feel obligated to deliver a “Best-of-Year” list. I think that to some degree, these miss the entire point of good criticism because music doesn't conform to a linear set of standards. There is no constructive way to rate albums against each other since different genres strive for a different emotional release, and to a greater degree, language does little to describe emotion. Comparing Big Business’s Here Come the Waterworks against Marissa Nadler's Songs III: Bird on the Water is a free fall through the abyss and all I've got is a flashlight. It’s been good 07', so long:

Profanatica – De Domonatia
Babyshambles – Shotter’s Nation
Rock Plaza Central – Are We Not Horses
Prodigy – Return of the Mac
Old Time Relijun – Catharsis In Crisis
Black Moth Super Rainbow - Dandelion Gum
Laethora – March of the Parasite
Pissed Jeans – Hope for Men
Bomb the Music Industry! – Get Warmer
Scarface – Made
The Long Blondes – Someone to Drive You Home
Pig Destroyer – Phantom Limb
Bowerbirds – Hymns for a Dark Horse
Panda Bear - Person Pitch

These are in no order at all. Like I said, things like this are difficult contain. For example, Sa-Ra’s Hollywood Recordings didn’t make my list but was one of the most entertaining/funky pieces of music I have heard in a while. There were also tons of albums that I never got to listen to, including Christine Fellows's Nevertheless* and Foetopsy's In the Bathroom. Then there are some records that I technically shouldn't’t really be listening to in the first place, like Vampire Weekend’s S/T debut, which is officially released later this month. Hell, I haven’t even heard the new Radiohead album. On that note, don’t bother me - I’m busy.

*Sixshooter! I am STILL waiting…album please.


Back in 2003 I was fortunate enough to pick up Freeway's debut, Philadelphia Freeway. It came on the heels of Jay-Z’s The Blue Print (2001/my favorite Jay-Z album) and saw Roc-A-Fella records climb to the forefront of the Hip-Hop hype machine. They had a solid MC roster and two of the best producers in the game, Just Blaze and an up and comer by the name of Kanye West. Freeway had arrived at just the right time to take advantage of the momentum, and Philadelphia Freeway didn’t disappoint. The album featured Freeway’s distinct growl, not stopping to catch a rookie breather, and was almost entirely produced by the two dynamite sound boys previously mentioned. An impressive debut to say the least.

Now four years later he has returned with a follow-up, Free at Last, with intentions of bringing the fire back to life. The problem this time is that while Freeway was out, the home turf got a little messy. Beanie Siegel, the man who brought Freeway to Roc-A-Fella, ran into legal trouble and his State Property crew fell apart. All the chaos killed Freeway’s limelight going into a second release and he seemed to disappear off the map with his State Property peers.

On Free at Last, the big name producers are missing (the only returnee is Bink!) and have taken the hype machine with them. Bink!’s production is still strong, “Still Got Love” is one of the albums best tracks and he plays some funky live drums on “When They Remember.” Overall, the album lacks diversity and plateaus half way through, but some gems appear in the mix. The beat by Dangerous LLC on “Spit that Shit” is a solid Dr.Dre impression and Scarface* comes to the rescue on “Baby Don’t Do It.” The albums two worst tracks are the radio friendly "Roc-A-Fella Billionaires" ft. Jay-Z and "Take It To The Top" ft. 50 Cent, both executive producers on the album, evidence that Rap’s royalty no longer have the Midas touch. Free at Last, does not stand up to Freeway’s debut, but shows plenty of heart when the chips are down. He's proven he can make it on his own, which is actually something new this time.

*The new Scarface is ridiculous. It has yet to leave my rotation since it came out and should contend for “Album of the Year,” no matter the genre, more on this later.

Spellbound Pt. 1 and 2

1. Black metal, or at least as it is known today, got started back in the late 80’s in Norway (This does not include the first generation, but Venom also influenced Metallica, so there you go). Seeing as I was working with Saturday morning cartoons at this time, not Pagan Occultism, I really had no chance at hearing A Blaze in the Northern Sky, and even if I did, I’m sure it would have been traumatized me for months. So, like many fans of the genre, especially in the current world of Metal, we end up rushing the gate a little bit later…okay, a lot later. I admittedly was late getting into Metal, like less than five years ago. The nineties were amazingly cruel to the genre and in my neighborhood of Beanbag hippies and Chrisitan all-stars, the bleak underground of black metal was worlds away from my ears.

A decade plus, here I am dying to talk about the genre and even getting a chance to represent my home turf in the process. A far cry from Norway, America has always taken a back seat in black metal, owning the rites to death metal instead. While this year shows that Scandinavia is still strong with releases by seminal bands like Mayhem (Ordo Ad Chao) and Marduk (Rom 5:12), there are also some great efforts made in the good ol’ U.S.A.

Profanatica is from New York and has been around since the early days, and so underground that it took them almost two decades to release an LP. There were demos and “Best of” compilations along the way, but no definitive statement to match the second-generation greats, like Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk (Emperor) or Storm of the Light's Bane (Dissection). De Domonatia is one, a conjuring of satanic worship, and oddly second, a fusion of American prog/doom. Fans that are holding on to Deathcrushkvlt” will detest the guitar tone because it “drones,” instead of offering the scathing low-fi of traditional black metal. The album is full of classic tremolo work, but powerfully cloaked, mixed down to the extent that the guitar is almost indistinguishable from the bass, like a molten tide rising beneath Paul Ledney’s monstrous vocals. Even some of the dynamics drudge along, like on “Scourging and Crowning,” adding to the doom influence. Song titles and lyrics are pure blasphemy, with names like “A Fallen God, Dethroned In Heaven" and “Cursed Nazarene Whore.” To sum up, Ledney ends the album screaming “I’ll tear this fucking religion to the ground!!!” With De Domonatia, Profanatica is back in a huge way.

2. The Northwest. Surrounding Cascades and dense forests provide a view that never strays too long before turning up and into a bent wall trees. Most escape to the valleys to find some space to roam, but the regions trademark is the hymnal of roots that reach towards the heavens through a canopy of limbs. Then, it begins to rain. Throughout most of the year, a steady dirge of rainfall gathers the dead and rotting earth, and carries it to some swift and cold depth. The constant downpour seems to weigh on time as much as it does the land. A long grey winter soaks into your bones, the rising mist drawn in through every breath. You learn to live in a fog, wake in the night.

For Wolves in the Throne Room (and yours truly), this is home. Home, and then some, to the extent that they have decided to shed all trappings of “civilian life” and dwell completely immersed in the forests of rural Olympia, WA. Their second release, Two Hunters, is a reverent oath to their world, beyond the sight of average daily life, born from the hidden realms of a lost time. In the symphonic vein of black metal, Wolves in the Throne Room are reminiscent of Burzum’s brooding melancholy and extended composition. The production isn’t heavily tampered with, but the album sounds beautiful. The tremolo guitar work resonates powerfully without overpowering the low end, the drums aren’t triggered but audible when raining down. It gives great depth for the guitars and bass to well up from under, and surround the driving percussion.

The band chooses not to focus on Satan in subject matter, relying instead on nature’s unrelenting path and force. While the emotions that stir when in the alone in wilderness have always been a part of black metal, at least the second generation, it defines Wolves', and like Burzum, Two Hunters sacrifices raw aggression for a desolate serenity. Then, there are more subtle touches in the mix, adding some corners to turn. First track “Dia Artio” opens with sounds of the forest night before a sweeping synth takes over the reigns. On “Cleansing” a brewing storm is haunted by guest female vocalist Jessica Kinney, a rarely seen aspect in black metal, and is one of the albums greatest moments. While there is no real new ground broken with Two Hunters, Wolves in the Throne Room have created a triumph of black metal, true to their hallowed roots.

Current Beneath the Surface

Back in the mid nineties Hip-Hop was everywhere. In over just a decade it had crept from the streets of the Bronx, to growing in the household of Americana. Once the East vs. West thing came to a tragic ending, those in the Hip-Hop community needed time to slow down, reflect, leading to the rise in sub genre’s like "Organic Hip-Hop" and "Neo-Soul." Champion artists of this era, (Talib Kweli, Common, D'Angelo, etc.) tried to shift the spectrum of ideas in Hip-Hop, choosing a "grass roots" route over "the benjamins", on giving back to the community and culture. Even the mainstream got in on the act with The Roots teaming up with Jay-Z on MTV's Unplugged (which I love and is one of MTV's last great moments in musical relevancy.) Now with their best work behind them, the leaders of street Bohemia can be found at a diminishing well, (Mos Def/ True Magic), and trying new tricks…Peace, Love, GAP!?!? Where is a Resurrection when you need it?!! With the gangster world no longer in the dark and a conscience lost at the shopping mall, Hip-Hop is stalled looking for direction and new heroes to lead it.

The "indie" world has tried to enter the Hip-Hop ring since this decline, and from finding alternative voices/styles abroad (Dizzee Rascal, The Streets), to the hyping the explicitly absurd (Spank Rock), it would seem that eccentricity is the premium. MC's like Aesop Rock and MF Doom have landed on solid ground for some years and developed a strong following, but they own such distinct styles that holding up the same banner seems slighted and would probably be too exclusive to last.

Enter Oddisee. While calling him a hero for the next generation is reaching at best, especially since the "next big thing" has yet to really come into form, he is a fresh face that shows plenty of promise. Hailing from Washington, D.C., he got his start with DJ Jazzy Jeff and since then has taken his soul/funk-laden production to visible heights. Honestly, I am late getting to this album so you might already be up on this, but for those who don’t know, Foot In The Door (2006) delivers over thirty tracks, each goes down smooth, sinking deeper into a groove that warrants the hour plus stretch. It initially comes off as a mood album, since most don’t break the two-minute mark, acting more like beat samples more than actual songs. The longer cuts, often with guest MC’s, like “Boogie” featuring J-Live & Asheru, offer a glimpse of things to come. While this album was largely over shadowed, and rightfully so, by master producer J.Dilla’s (R.I.P.) Donuts*, Oddisee on Door has earned himself a place in line. It should be mentioned besides producing, he shows some talent for lyrics and delivery as an MC.

Until a full-length, main event, LP appears I will keep the megaphone out of your face and raise my hand from the corner, but when Oddisee gets his chance, I’ll be front-row. How many new faces in Hip-Hop deserve as much?

*If you don’t have Donuts? Get some!

From Eugene to Gainesville

It was the video killed it for me. Not in the Buggles, image trumps talent way, but because it had been floundering for some time and was going to come to an end sooner than later. By now music has broadened itself across so many mediums I wonder just how much control the individual has over the whole musical experience/consumption? Is it possible to avoid taking part in the packaged show? Would it have made a difference? I doubt it.

I was in my dorm room sometime in the winter of 03’. After a casual exchange about music with a friend from the dorms he mentioned that he had got word of this great band, “if you got the time for a listen,” kind of conversation. I would listen and keep listening but it wasn’t till the summer when the hooks had really sunk into me. For the scope of my college years I would hold onto them like my nights of Blue Ribbon. Headphones on the way to class, screamed through the early morning, sweat in the carpet floor.

a poetry spoken silently between me and the stereo

New Wave is Against Me!’s newest release and has put me to scale for the past months. I guess that everyone has a band or two that they hold onto through the years and in the process becomes something tangible to identify with, such is our post-modern world. Wave is a sign that the band is looking for a new/bigger audience. In the “Thrash Unreal” video the band plays while fake wine is poured on them, and Tom Gabel(songwriter/frontman) is shirtless like some boy-band/TRL gimmick. On the bands previous album, Searching for a Former Clarity (2005), the songs differed from their early work as well, but wasn’t reaching just for the sake of it. The production had cleaned up, there were songs you could dance to, new instruments; signs of a band maturing and taking chances. On New Wave, all of these qualities are pushed to the front, “Stop” is a straight up dance song, “Borne on the FM Waves” is a love ballad first, and “Animal” abandons Punk for Alternative accessibility. The album isn’t a complete loss, "Americans Abroad" and the title track come to mind, but I can’t deny the feeling that the glass is half empty. I have always found Punk's idealism a bit romantic, and such great intentions are probably doomed from the start.

So what now? Maybe I should write them off, another tragic casualty to the money and mob? Maybe I can forget all the times that I sung off key, forgot the lyrics, and still - remember nothing less? I doubt it.

Variety Pack

Vampire Weekend. They are a quartet from New York and after listening to them now for some months has brought me to a small conclusion. Canada is getting tired. It seems like every year our northern friends put out clusters of pop/indie bands that really are just building off the work that Broken Social Scene and The New Pornographers established years ago. While these bands are by no means a waste of time, their sound never really comes off tremendously original. While this middle of the road appraoch will always bring in enough fans by just being new to the scene, Vampire Weekend blends in some new touches and colors. On songs like "Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa" bongos are played behind some guitar who's rhythm's have a reggae bounce to it and call and response vocals are shared on "One (Blakes Got a New Face)". Their affection towards an African-style beat and melody coupled with great placement of strings and keys round up to a "larger than the sum of their parts" pop appeal. Singles like "Mansard Roof" and "Oxford Comma" are worth a listen if you want something to sink your teeth into.

From the Shadows

It’s fall. The trees have begun to fade, light escapes us, and my socks always seem to be wet. After much anticipation this summer, the change in season has seen the release by two Metal albums that I have to mention.

First there is Nordic Death Metal band Blood Red Throne. The tag on this band is that they play Florida inspired Death Metal while hailing from Norway, a country known for its Black Metal. Their newest release, Come Death, shows the band moving towards a powerful groove element, an aspect that they had only briefly plodded in before. Bassist Erlend Caspersen’s work is skull bending, absolutely titanic. Purists looking for an early nineties production effort or boxed in neck breakers will turn away. They will miss the rare, but great, breaths of Black Metal that show up on "Guttural Screams" and Gorguts cover "Disincarnated." It should come as no surprise since guitarists Tchort and Død formed the band while playing/touring together with cult leaders, Emperor and Satyricon. I would kill to see these songs live.

Earlier this year I did get the chance to see the Doom/Stoner giant, High On Fire. Their newest release, Death is the Communion, is a continuation of the break in sound inspired Steve Albini on Blessed Black Wings (2005), which new producer, the legendary Jack Endino (Nirvana, Soundgarden), sharpens instead of rounding off. High On Fire at first sounded like Matt Pike’s Sleep hangover*, familiar doom and gloom, while growing new teeth. For those truely stoned-cold, still waiting for Jerusalem to end, this will probably kill your high. Communion rocks barrel-fisted anthems that thrash and flaunt some major chops in their murky depths. The opening riff in “Turk” is a blistering ode to Megadeth and the album pack-leader “Fury Whip,” digs up the past like an exhumed South of Heaven. New double-kick currents, acoustic interludes, and Motörhead lovin’ soul come as a welcome whiskey shot to the chest. On Communion, High On Fire builds a Metal alter, then burns it down to the ground. Check these out.

Blogger for money

something about responsibility and promises? Basically I have to re-write we go.

the following pieces were written between 10/07 and 3/11.