Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Off The Beaten Path

I wanted to take a break from my usual direction of album/music writing and comment on something a little off topic. Defiance, OH is an amazingly cool band. They play a brand of acoustic punk that pretty much wipes the floor with other bands in there genre and most bands in general. They have four new songs released for something called this Icarus Project, which is the subject of interest for this entry.

The project is dedicated to creating space for greater understanding of those who have been diagnosed as mentally insane. The idea being challenged here is that too often societies create a narrow room for behavior and self-understading. Instead of classifying those who live outside of the norm as suffering from chronic illness, they should be understood as people seeing the world through a neglected lens. It's a contention that human suffering and plight are to often are placed on individual responsibility rather than society as a whole. You can find more information at the host site.

I wanted to dive into the notion of society being a the source of suffering and it correlation with the ideological undercurrent of Punk music as a whole. Anarchism and Punk are inextricably linked, and every adolescent romantic who hates "the system" knows it. Behold, the radical revolution!

What makes this project provocative to me is that it challenges the passive nature of participation within a musical context. Most genres do not require the same kind of historical/social responsibility that Punk does. This isn't to dismiss all the other crowds who would object to such an assertion, it's just that there isn't a lot of experimental space in the genre, so it's only natural that fans end up disseminating into accompanying watering holes, which brings us to the genius of the Icarus project. When madness can finds itself in human form, rather than an ideology/political argument that dies with a record deal, it's harder to walk away from or dismiss. This is Anarchism in the flesh, a human being located outside the lines, asking not for only social recognition, but self-affirmation by challenging collective awareness and responsibility. Music, no matter what form, should aspire to the same kind of moral high ground.

The vanity of Rock and Roll doesn't seem to be leaving anytime soon, but the loudest voices define themselves by those they drown out. Big props to Defiance, OH for supporting this project, and much love to the Icarus people for the courage to bring together all those who deserve a voice. Priceless.

Monday, September 28, 2009

It's Cold Out Here

Since more and more black metal bands are taking risks in an attempt to reach for new territory, there has been as much praise as upheaval. Last year Nachtmystium’s Assassins: Black Meddle, Pt. 1 was the band/album that many critics, including my own circle of friends choose to unload on. I could go on naming others that fell under the same lens, especially when it comes to USBM, but I would rather say good things than burn others down.

I am absolutely in love with Wormsblood’s Mastery of Creation. The album was released through Barbarian records, which is awesome since the same label has history with Foetopsy*. I don’t really know how much Wisconsin and Scandinavia have in common, but both areas know how to do ice cold music apparently.

What first struck me when I threw on Creation was how dissonant the drums were, writhing on the treble without any double bass. These guys know how to blast but nothing is ever overblown instrumentally, keeping closer to an earlier punk ethic. The experimental nature of the album resonates more with shrill electronica, but also gets away with creating the harmony one is used to hearing from black metal. The common course as of late seems that bands can't get anymore bleak, thus warming up to newer sounds shouldn't be discouraged in the name of artistic survival and progression. I can understand that, but Mastery wants to challenge what the hell is bleak in the first place?

Wormsblood howl at the moon, keep all the out-in-nature tropes, and offers some a simply perfect acoustic bridge on “Good Night.” Some fans may never warm up to USBM, which is fine and all that stuff. The haters should take note that isn’t any shoegaze hum; this sounds like black metal, that literally tastes like metal. It should be mentioned the album is collection of earlier demos and releases, but it's worth your time to check out if you're invested the conversation.

*What is up with great extreme Metal from Wisconsin? Check out Foetopsy's In the Bathroom

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Inside The Silver Lining

I have between moving out of my apartment, preparing to leave the states, and had my hard drive collapse, which is why I haven’t posted anything in some time.

To get this thing rolling again I wanted to delve into Blackout Beach’s Skin of Evil. The album is lyrically driven, telling a story linear fashion. It’s the vocals that provide the drama, like a man strapped to a chair and forced to watch a small computer screen as his only window to the world. Carey Mercer’s voice is tied down with leather straps in an aluminum tunnel, straining for some rest in an artificial cage.

Thin arrangement, electric guitars and synthesizers shake the metal timber and echo down the hall. The moments of acoustic warmth on songs like “Sophia, Donna, I Was Down The River Waiting” let a bit of light shine in and offer some relief from all the shivering.

The most amazing aspect of the album to be is how desperately alive the experience is. Mercer’s voice gives this prison a beating heart and grabs your attention from start to finish. Skin of Evil haunts while scratching for the surface.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

You're Gonna Need A Bigger Boat

Amongst all the chaos that Suffocation has wrought over the years (Blood Oath 2009), I wanted to concentrate on Mike Smith’s work for this entry, and how he changed the blast-beat. If you are unfamiliar with the history of the blast-beat, this isn't the time. I got work to do.

Any great antagonist never disappears, remaining daunting at every corner and cavity. The same goes for Jaws of the deep, Satan in the flesh, and Mr. Smith’s snare drum. Production techniques over the decades since their LP debut Effigy of the Forgotten have changed significantly, but his presence in the sound hasn’t.

Smith alternates between the two bass drums instead of speeding up on one; the later is considered the desired one because it drives the band harder. When Smith strikes the snare though, he changes this interpretation, by creating a downward-shatter-point, not a forward beat. Plenty of drummers in the extreme metal scene can play faster, but none can single handedly dominate like this. Each strike is so powerful that the snare doesn’t even get the chance to expand entirely before the next blow, creating a blur of intense notes that cave in on each other. The same consequence allows him permeate into other areas of the mix, distorting into the guitar section, while his kick and hi-hat flank their sides.

A lot of younger bands think being the fastest thing around is the only way to get noticed, they should take some more notes from Suffocation. This band has thrown on a hardhat for decades and put in enough work to own a place in metal history. Mike Smith just happens to be the catalyst with the cleaver.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Having to Crack the Window

Ever since Outkast has started to fade from the limelight, Hip-Hop just doesn’t smell the same. I always imagined Big Boi and Andre 3000 were carrying on the funk in the tradition of George Clinton and Bootsy Collins. Break-beats on the turntable sweltered in a purple and green haze made them one of most original and influential crews in the late nineties, if not the best duo of all time.

There will never be another space-bass or “brown-stallion horse with skates on“ but Abstract Rude is carrying on the tradition after the smoke clears with his newest release Rejuvenation. An established voice in the Fat Jack crew during the rise and proliferation MC’s in California during the nineties, he has a lyrical pedigree to be respected and a flow that makes bleach stank. The title track is a lyrical manifesto when he rhymes:

“My redirect / is filled with predicates / including subjects / my pronouns / build for the U and I / to use they judgment / my adverb and your clause supports / my course of action / My Preferential phrase / will add many more attachments / When paragraphs give life / sentences do time / hard times / hard rhymes / in every line.”

While playing Hip-Hop Historian on “Diggin It?”

“So call AB a chief rocker / a corner-box battle / could use a ghetto-blaster or a beat-boxer / to Dane to Dane the human beat boxer / to Rah Zeal and Kill Keel we rock well acapella / we keep developing high level intelligence / Fundamentally acceling every different era / from Jazzy Jeff to Jeff Jeff to Mos Def / to X-Clan and YZ and Wyclef.”

Rejuvenation is a solid release but I can’t help feeling Vitamin-D’s production starts to taper off half way through the album. The opening track “Hip-Hop Ryde” is everything I could ask for, with Abstract’s heavy voice lacing the melody on slow burn. Some of the other tracks don’t offer the kind of glow I was hoping for, I just wanted more funk. Long Live the Funk! Uh!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

There Goes the Neighborhood

Local band Circa Vitae were kind enough to give me their self-titled EP and asked for a review. Much love and respect 541!

The EP is full with electronic interludes like “Do Gees See Gods” and “Trace Mammoth (Holy Pachyderm),” while holding form on tracks “Stranger” and “Infinity is 8 on it’s Side.” “Smile” recalls some Rooney/northern-Cali sentiments, but most of the EP sounds more like the Flaming Lips.

The term “Indie Rock” has lost it’s footing in an ever growing pool. The Cira Vitea EP is one of the best things going on in Eugene and part of the watershed. This is for fans of The Evangelicals, Super Furry Animals, and Boards of Canada.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Elephant Band 2.

I have long held that in the end, Mastodon is Brann Dailor’s band. He is the original reason that I started listening to these dudes from Atlanta, and while he has toned down his role more than ever, this time it’s his songwriting that stands out. Like Mountain before, thematic inspiration is coming from the band, instead of playing the middle man like they did on Leviathan (Moby Dick). The drama of Brent getting in a fight/coma, an intensified touring schedule and media attention, and hometown lives left behind; provide the lyrics on Skye with a sense of corrosive tension and loss.

For the first time Mastodon was damaged, so a catharsis is understandable. There was even some conversation about the death of Brann’s sister? Skye, being an influence for the album, but I can’t really speak on that. One thing I did notice, that no one seems to be talking about, are the parallels between the albums story line and the one obvious missing element. Looking at their catalogue I think to myself; Remission “Elephant Man,” Leviathan “Joseph Merrick,” Blood Mountain "Pendoulous Skin"; all instrumental songs dedicated to the historical figure. When I first saw the track listing I was surprised to find the familiar piece missing and heard that it would be about Rasputin. The Russian mystic turned out to be a peripheral influence, while astral travel as liberation from physical confinement (pause) is the over-arching message...any connection to Merrick, who knows?

I would have liked a little more kick, or even switching "Quintessence" with "Ghost of Karelia" in terms of album placement, but I hope further listening will prove me wrong. I did catch them on Dave Letterman show, one honest strike against the performance quality due to staging compromises, but the off-key vocals are another big strike. While touring Troy will have to get more comfortable live if he wants to due the album justice, and the same goes for Brent. I will have see Mastodon live and let them prove me wrong. I’m loyal like that.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Elephant Band 1.

I have been waiting on Crack the Skye for about a year. What I mean by that is that I have been on a non-stop rescue effort to see why Mastodon “new album buzz” seemed overdue by the end of 07’. Out of respect, and what little journalistic integrity I might have, I need to say and have been a devout follower of these guys since 04’.

Out of all their influences Skye reminds me a lot of Neurosis. While this album sounds nothing like Through Silver in Blood or Times of Grace, they are all seamless in execution. In other words it's not made out of singles, a fear that I held firmly with the addition of new producer Brenden O’Brien. Thankfully, Mastodon and the new hot-shot producer hone their conceptual texture (wind/ethereal) with great diligence. The band had the fortunate chance to record the whole album, and then smooth out the details during the Mayhem summer tour. I have to admit that the production move from Matt Bayles to O’Brien was a positive one in the end. While the album does sound more compressed than previous works it fits like a glove. This album slowly churns and crafts its weight, which explains the Neurosis comparison, while keeping all the hallmark tones and superlatives that Mastodon has garnered over the years. The band also intends to play Skye in its entirety live, which adds to my out of many one assertion.

The biggest individual improvements are Bill/Brent's dueling guitar work, and Troy’s sung vocals. The two axemen have always been part techni-color(Bill) and part southern-southern(Brent), both perfectly showcased on "Divinations." Songs like “Oblivion” and “The Czar” provide Brent with more then enough space to solo and he doesn’t miss the opportunity to tear it up. The lead guitarist was also was the first member take a swing a sung vocals on Leviathan, a risk that paid huge dividends. Since then, Brann has been used sparingly while Troy started singing full time. This album would have been a huge mistake if Troy didn't improve his vocal skills, luckily it ended up being the single greatest improvement.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Don’t Play the Joker

The new MF Doom, now just DOOM, Born like this is a verbal tongue-lashing bent on squashing limp MC’s. While J Dilla and Jake One highlight production on the album, it can easily be said this is an emcee’s album.

Anyone who has come across a MF/DOOM album is familiar with the lengthy sample interludes, celebrity guests like Danger Mouse and Wu-Tang members, but recognize his work has always about the pen. 2Pac is a perfect example of an emcee who never really had transcendent production values on his albums, but will always be remembered for his lyrics, like them or not. As a lyricist, DOOM is coming from a totally different voice and perspective but both respect the discipline at the same level.

The tragedy is that in 2009 DOOM doesn’t have the same context as the 2Pac/golden era of hip-hop. His audience escapes to the basement while too many up and comers flock to the attic shelf for radio play and a quick dollar. On tracks like “Ballskin” and “Batty boyz” he shaves all sheep naked, and parodies the auto-tune scene on “Supervillian.” The album ends with “Bumpy message” summing it all up.

As much as I love J Dilla, see“Lightworks,” and Jake One; they aren’t Born like this. That slap across your face...is a man called DOOM. Check this out.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Is This Thing Working?

The new Bomb the Music Industry! album Scrambles is a great piece of music . I mean that not only in the “you need to hear this if you love punk/great music,” but because this band makes me feel good about life in general*. With a true DIY ethic, donated on-line music, make your own merch, and cheap all-age shows; Jeff Rosenstock and crew rock it for the kids.

Rosenstock is the ringleader and originally the sole musician. The electronic elements on tracks like “It Shits!!!” and “Saddr Wierdr” remind you just what a bored kid with a computer can do (think Adam and his Package). The change came 07’ when he got a full band to record and tour with, a change that has ultimately bettered his brainchild. The bands hardcore elements continue to be threaded into broader songs, but stays true on “Gang of Four Meets the Stooges (But Boring).” Bomb the Music's lyrics have always been drunk with humor and self- deprecating insight. On “(Shut) Up The Punx!!!” he screams “ The last thing I want to be / Is another negative asshole / Like God speaks through my acoustic guitar / and I have a perfect set of morals!”

What makes this gem stand out is the songwriting on anthems like “24,000,000” and “Sort of Like Being Pumped.” There is an emotional tenor driven by the decked out band that parallels Rosenstocks lyric conviction, for all that it's worth. Bomb the Music Industry! has always been comically vulnerable, on Scrambles they can unabashedly say they got it right.

*Others included in this category are classics like PB & J and Joe Paterno.

Monday, April 13, 2009

More Open Road Please

This past week the sun has decided to represent for a bit before inevitably retreating until mid June. The rising temperature has stirred my desire for making an escape.

Vulture Whale hail from Alabama but remind me of the Violet Femmes (Milwaukee, MI) amongst others, and even rock a little “the boys are back in town” groove on “Tote It to Cleveland, AL.” Their self-titled* album is with out a doubt a willin’ road trip I would leave blaring out the car windows.

They play with guitar twang inspired by spare change, and kick ass on the rockabilly “Guillotine." On songs like “Head Turner,” their opening lyrical humor is both cynical and disarming; “You look good / for a woman you age / I’ll let you know / when you need old lady shoes.” For those who initially perceived this as just another indie band who captured a hip band name without any substance will be surprised.

The album opens and closes with an electronica blip, the humor continues on “Sum Yung Scientist,” but laughs alone on tracks like “Sugar” and “What Do.” On their second album Vulture Whale captures how to smile at the rust gathering around the engine block and chase the sunset.

* I think Vulture Whale has two albums out, and both are self-titled.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Award Tour

So I’ve been listening to K’naan’s Troubadour. “America,” feat. Mos Def and Chali 2NA has been on non-stop rotation over the past week and is one of my favorite tracks so far this year. Mos Def takes the award for best verse after all the dust has cleared when he rhymes, “make that cake / hook that trick / lick my swagger / and suck my shit.” I haven’t really been down with Jurassic 5 over the past couple years, but Chali 2NA shows he’s still the lyrical Frankenstein that I grew to love so much, and his voice is a breath of fresh air in comparison to the other MC’s on the track.

Give respect where it’s due. In the end Troubadour belongs to K’naan. His bio begins in Somalia, moves to Canada, then America. Some times he rhymes in Somali and I have no idea what he is saying, but has a delivery that sounds a bit more familiar than a lot of foreign Hip-Hop artists. On “I Come Prepared,” feat. Damien Marley, he rhymes, “And Africans love them / Some B.I.G. / But 2Pac is official / Ed N.I.C.” Whether you agree with the assertion or not, he isn’t naive to the achievements and conflicts that preceded him.

As Hip-Hop grows more and more global I think new voices, in particular new languages, will provide vast roads of unexplored territory. K’naan’s Somali accent adds a subtle inflection to his delivery, and I find myself singing along to the words that I don’t understand. On “People Like Me” he rhymes “And we both liked American rap rhymes / Even though we didn’t understand one line.” I know how he feels.

On the downside, I’m not really about Troubadour’s dance hall feel, adding another unfamiliar theme for my American sensibilities. I am impressed, but also totally confused with headliners like Adam Levine of Maroon 5 and Kirk Hammett of Metallica stop by for cameo roles. This is Hip-Hop 2009, you reap what you sow, and we all have to eat. Check out Troubadour if this sounds like your taste.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

For They Know Not What They Do

Fact #1: Euronymous was one of the founding members of black metal legends Mayhem.
Fact #2: He also dug electronica.

I bring this up on the midst of listening to Wardruna’s Runaljod - Gap Var Ginnunga. The album isn’t old school black metal, it’s ancestral. But rather than get into discussing the cast of characters, or describing how awesome a goat horn sounds bellowing through a rainstorm; I want to talk about the survival, and future direction of black metal.

In the early nineties electronica had just started making a mainstream presence in America, a full decade after most European countries. This is the very time that black metal, a genre that once prided itself on barren distorition, is spreading over the Scandanavian countryside, while countries like France, Brazil, and America are getting into the act. Today it seems that electronica is the dominant counterpoint for all genres to experiment in, which is what I love about the offering by Wardruna. Runaljod is pure and simple, but carved out of acoustic wood work.

Black metal has been engrossed in the electronic possibilities for some time. From Dimmu Borgir, Blut Aus Nord, and Prurient, what is there really left to cover? I think that this album deserves notice on a micro-scale, a reminder that division is never dead, but born anew.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

In Review 08'

Lets get right into it:

Jamie LidellJim
“Another Day” captures gospel glow, “Figure Me Out” is a chunky piece of neo-soul, and “All I Wanna Do” is the slow dance you waited all night for. This album got tons of rotation.

PaavoharjuLaulu Laakson Kukista
Remember to put Paavoharju, and Fonal Records on your radar.

DiestoIsle of Marauder
One of the true surprises this year. The huge riffs in the last minutes of “Marauder” and barbaque-quitar-break at the end of “Mind Eraser” have a return value that competes with some of my favorite moments this year.

Christine Fellows – Nevertheless
Technically this is a Canadian release from last year, but Vampire Weekend is making every indie list this year, when their album leaked some twenty months ago. Nevertheless deserves just as much online clamor, if not more.

This is another album that no one is talking about. Oddisee will teach you soon.

Ceremony – Still You Feel Nothing
In other proletariat awards:
Paint it Black “Shell Game Redux” = best song
Vitamin X @ Satyricon Portland, OR = best show*

The Donkeys – Living on the Other Side
What makes the Donkeys different from other folk, indie, and other label mates are their bluesy lyrics and instrumental-grassroots-high on tracks like "Downtown Jenny" and "Dolphin Center." If you own Birkenstocks; kick a hippie, and ride with the Donkeys.

Scarface – Emeritus
What hasn’t already been said? I’ll say it again. Respect.

Ponytail – Ice Cream Spiritual
This album is crazy blur of Pop fun, like MTV played backwards in double time, but in a good way.

Prostitute Disfigurement – Decedents of Depravity
Roel’s lead guitar work on this album stands up to anyone within the genre. Previously, Dave Suzuki of Vital Remains blew me away with his lead work on Icons of Evil, and after listening to Decedents I believe the Roel is just as talented . The solos on “Concealed Insanity” and “Life Depraved” are perfectly balanced between melody and prowess.

Crystal Castles – Crystal Castles
Good music. Bad humans. Hate to Love.

I might write an Honorable Mention crew…

*w/ the glorious thrash-a-puss! Basically, a giant inflatable octopus was throne into the pit.